Castles & Chieftains
The focus of the Annual O Driscoll Clan Gathering is always on people, because all who do attend are coming home to their O Driscoll ancestral home place. Everyone who bears any form of the name Ó Drisceoil / O Driscoll are descended from an O Driscoll, who at one time lived in West County Cork, especially in the area around Baltimore and the islands of Cape Clear, Heir and Sherkin. In this area are the ruins of many O Driscoll castles and other buildings and sites associated with O Driscolls.
Those who attend the O Driscoll Clan Gathering at Baltimore and the islands are always welcomed as being part of the family. They are in the home place from where one of their O Driscoll ancestors was born and from where a subsequent descendant left. No other Irish family have remained so long and so strong in numbers in their own place as the O Driscolls of West Cork.
Who are the Ó Drisceoil / O Driscolls?
Genealogists give the Uí Drisceoil / O Driscoll family a descent from Ith son of Bregon, a paternal uncle of Mil who was one of the first to settle in Ireland. The Ui Etersceoil or O Driscolls are named from one Eterscél who was head of the family sometime in the first half of the tenth century or from a later descendant Eterscél, son of Finn, who lived in the mid-eleventh century.
The O Driscolls can boast of their connection to the early Christian pilgrim, Saint Ciarán, born in Cape Clear island, who became the patron saint not alone of Ossory (Co. Kilkenny and Offaly, but also of Cornwall where he is called St. Piran.
From the twelfth century, O Driscolls were confined to an area consisting of poor land and a long and dangerous coastline, from Castlehaven to Baltimore including offshore islands. In their time they had seven castles (Tower Houses) within the territory they controlled, Dún na Séad, at Baltimore being the ‘jewel’ or the principal one. From their castles, they established themselves as great mariners on the south coast, engaging in piracy, feuds, warfare and controlling some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe.
After the Battle of Kinsale 1601, their fortunes of the O Driscolls declined, their castles were abandoned and became ruins, the remains of a number of which are still to be seen. The seventeenth century Finghin Ó Drisceoil, ‘Fineen the Rover’, although famous in song and story, set in train a series of events and land deals which were to reduce the O Driscolls to poverty and cause their leaders and many of their descendants to emigrate to England, Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.
They went as ‘Wild Geese’ to France and Spain and other places where they made a name for themselves in military, ecclesiastical and other affairs. In time in Ireland, they adapted to new ways and became merchants, journalists, authors, poets, sportsmen, educationalists, religious and legal figures. Their contribution to the armed forces, religious, economic, scientific, artistic, medical, cultural and political life of many countries has been significant. The O Driscoll Diaspora is worldwide with members of the Clan still rooted in great numbers throughout West Cork.
O Driscoll Castles
The location of the O Driscoll castles in the Baltimore general area provide a useful indicator of the extent of their territories and wealth.
Baltimore (Baile an Tighe Mhóir) became the seat of the O Driscoll Mór in the mid-thirteenth century. The castle in Baltimore, known as Dún na Séad, was built in 1215 by the English and it is probably the oldest of the O Driscoll castles. When exactly it came into their hands is not known. It has been completely restored by Patrick and Bernadette McCarthy and hosts the Annual O Driscoll Clan Gathering at Baltimore. Other O Driscoll castles or tower houses were at Oldcourt, Castlehaven, Castlenard, Lettertinlish, Rincolisky, Aghadown, Lough Hyne and Ardagh, as well as those on the islands; Dún an Óir at Cape Clear, Dún na Long in Sherkin and Dún na nGall in Rinn Garóige or Ringarory Island. There was also a fortification at Spanish Island which commanded the entrance to the Ilen river.
Choosing The O Driscoll Clan Chieftains
The mystery of who today should be called ‘The O Driscoll’, the hereditary chieftain of the clan still persists and each year at the Annual Clan Gathering the subject engages many O Driscolls from far and near as they meet with new friends and relations and others who can provide them sound family research guidance. In 1986 the West Cork O Driscoll community came together at Baltimore to celebrate their family heritage and so was launched what has become a highly successful annual event.
Prior to 2005 the Clan Chieftains were selected from O Driscolls who were permanently resident in Ireland. The inauguration in 2005 of Dave Driscoll of the UK as the first non Irish O Driscoll Chieftain brought new life, and excitement to the event and opened the door to the Irish Diaspora. While Chieftains can be chosen from any country those chosen from Canada, UK and USA have added a wonderful enriching cultural dimension to the annual get-together of members of the worldwide O Driscoll family. For a listing of O Driscoll Clan Chieftains, Click here