Early history of Durrus and District

The village of Durrus with its surrounding townlands is a geographical entity of West Cork, Ireland, inhabited by humans since Neolithic times.

Prehistory to sixteenth century

Neolithic (3500–1500 BC) monuments at Coolcoulaghta and at Dunmanus are a testimony of a significant pre-Celtic population in the area. In 1700–1500 BC copper was mined at Mount Gabriel and at Derrycarhoon, suggesting that the local population was already integrated in the commercial web of continental Europe. Later on, around 500 BC, the Celts started arriving in a process that lasted for quite some time slowly overlaying the local population who adopted their language and culture. The Annals of Innisfallen state that St. Ciarán of Cape Clear came back to his native place from Rome in 402 AD and introduced Christianity to the South West. The new religion became firmly established and intermingled with old practices. By the sixth century a number of St. Finbarr's disciples including Cairne, Fiontan, and Eothail (who lived at Ard Eochill near Kilcrohane) were living in Muintir Bhaire. Some time the sixth or seventh century the family now known as the O'Mahonys from the Eoghanach in North Munster arrived in the area. By the eighth century they were well settled in Muintir Bhaire.

The McCarthys arrived in the twelfth century also from the Eoghanach. In 1185 they secured lands of the O'Mahonys but remained on good terms with them. Tadhg Rua McCarthy built a castle at Scart, now demolished, he was called Tadhg Rua na Scairte and the family later built Cul na Long, the fortified castle some 1 mile (1.6 km) outside Durrus. The O'Donovans also arrived in the twelfth century and secured some of the O'Mahony lands. By 1190 the 'grey foreigners' (Normans), had reached as far west as Durrus but were repulsed by the Desmumu (people of South Munster).

Herring fishery

From 1375 onwards the herring fishery in the South West was well established and tribute was paid by the French and Iberian fleets to the O'Mahony, O'Driscoll and McCarthy families. This conferred on them the right to fish and also to build on shore bases to salt their catch, as herring had to be processed within 24 hours. This prosperity gave rise to significant building of religious and tower houses in the overall area, in the first half of the fifteenth century. The O'Mahonys alone built twelve castles of which a number at Rossmore, Dunbeacon and Ballydevlin are in the area. They have minimal defensive features suggesting this was a time of peace and prosperity

An inventory of property belonging to Gill Abbey, of Cork was conducted in 1541. It included under Durruske, the vicarage of Durrus which also belonged to St. Catherine's in Waterford.

Parish boundaries

The boundary between the baronies of Bantry and Carbery coincided with those of Clann Taidhg Ruaidh and McCarthy's lands. The parts in Durrus Barony reaching from the site of Bantry Abbey along the bay to Rooska, was in the territory of O'Sullivans of Bantry. Clann Taidhg Ruaidh had no direct access to Bantry Bay, as the only townland touching it in both Carbery, Bantry and Durrus Parish was Killoveenogue. This was the property of Philip O'Sullivan in 1641. The territory of Clann Tadgh Ruaidh did not extend to the South side of Durrus Parish of Four Mile Water River. Here were the townlands of Coolcoulaghta, formerly Coorcoulaghta, Dromreagh, and Ballycommane. The first two formed part of the Taidhg O'Mahony lands, and the Earl of Cork acquired Dromreagh prior to 1641. Ballycommane was part of the lands of the Clann Diarmada (McCarthy of Cloghane) which were confiscated after the attainder of Domnall MacCormaic, and was acquired by Sir Cormac Mac Tadgh of Blarney, who later mortgaged it to Sir Walter Coppinger. The Clann Tadgh Ruaidh occupied the remainder of the old Durrus Parish, as far as the borders of the Kilcrohane Parish, which was the territory of the O'Dalys. From around the seventeenth century, the main focus of the area had shifted from Scart on the present Cork-Bantry Road and the Dunmanus Bay area, to the head of Dunmanus Bay. Canon Cahalane, parish priest 1955–1958, of Bantry, believed hat there may have been a 'lost parish', 'Inis Cuinge' between the present parishes of Durrus and Bantry and that Whiddy Island may have been part of it. An inquisition was held in 1731 which said that Aengus O'Daly of Ballyroon, Donnell O'Daly of Rossnacaigreagh and Teigh O'Daly of Mulanaskish Ahakista originally held their lands from the Carews, and from the 1331 escheat of the Carew lands, they became tenants of the crown

Hondius map 1591

In the Hondius map of 1591 the peninsulas of the South West appear, the Durrus river is named Fl. Bellemire and is shown flowing into Dunmanus Bay. This may be the Clashadoo River which flows past Cul na Long, it was called the Moire (Maighre) so it is possible the Bellemire is Beal Atha Maighre, the ford of the Moire.

Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Pilchard fishery c.1600–1750

There is historical evidence to document the pilchard industry in the South West Coast from Ardmore, County Waterford, to Ballinskelligs in County Kerry, from approximately 1600 to about 1750. This was an important industry with Bantry as the primary centre, together with outlying curing station called "Pallices" of which there were a number in Dunmanus and Bantry Bay areas. Fish was caught with the seine net, which together with the curing at the fish pallices had been introduced by English settlers in the period.

Battle of Kinsale and Carew's assault on Dunboy Castle 1602/Dunmanus Castle

The army of Carew embarked at Kilevanoge to lay siege to Dunboy Castle on the opposite shore. Later on Carew and Mountjoy employed the services of Aongus O Dalaigh of Kilcrohane the prime satirist of the times to compose a satire on 'The Tribes of Ireland'. He was stabbed in 1617 by one of the O'Meaghers of Tipperary as a result of one of his satires.

After the battle of Kinsale the O'Mahony family garrisoned Dunmanus castle and on 4 June 1602 one of Carew's officers accompanied by one of Sir Owen O'Sullivan's sons raided the castle and kept it killing four of the guard. The O'Mahonys regained the castle but in July Captain Robert Harvey recovered it. The previous March the under-aged ward of Carew, Donal O'Mahony, had succeeded as chief on his brother's death. As a minor and not taking part in the rising his lands were safe from forfeiture and the O'Mahonys continued to hold the castle. However, following the 1641 rising and the raid on Sir William Hull's fish palace involving the O'Mahonys of Dunmanus the lands comprising 1,594 acres (6.45 km2) were confiscated, taking effect in 1649.

Garrison 1620-1630s Four Mile Water

There was a garrison in Four Mile Water as well as other centres in the region, for example, Bantry, 57 soldiers, Crookhaven. Cul na Long Castle was built between 1610 and 1640 by Teige na Muclagh McCarthy in a transitional Irish-Jacobean style. Following the rising of 1641 the lands of McCarthy Muclagh belonging to Teig's sons Teige and Owen including Cul na Long were confiscated. In Paddy O' Keeffe's (Bantry antiquarian) opinion it was a unique example of the work of craftsmen who transferred the castle-monastic ornamentation to Cul na Long. He attempted unsuccessfully to have it taken into the care of the Office of Public Works. The property was granted to a Colonel Reide after 1641. It is believed that Lieutenant Nathaniel Evanson (he received 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) at Castle Donovan after the 1641 rebellion) moved to Cul na Long after 1660, as Four Mile Water Castle. The adjoining Durrus Court was known as Brookfield in 1823 and the residence of Evanson, a magistrate. It came into the control of Lord Bandon by purchase from the Evansons by Judge Bernard before 1731. The last direct descendant of the McCarthy Muclaghs died in a cottage in Dunbeacon in 1795. Fr. Dan McCarthy, P.P. of Durrus in 1793 and a classical scholar (he was interpreter between General Dalrymple and French officer Prosseau in 1796) was a McCarthy Muclagh. There is still a headland near Dunbeacon Castle known as Muckla Point.


In Bishop Dive Downes tour 1699, he refers to Vicar Thomas Holmes of Kilmacomoge preaching every fourth Sunday at Captain Evanson's house at Four Mile Water. Nathaniel Evanson the elder had three children, a son with no issue, a daughter who married a Beamish and a son Charles who married Susan Arnap in 1688. Their eldest son was Nathaniel, who married Mary Alleyn in 1724. Their grandson Nathaniel was at Four Mile Water in the 1790s. He married Mary Townsend Baldwin in 1784 and their children were Alleyn who was ordained and Tonson (Richard) who built Friendly Cove. He married Melian Donovan in 1812 who died childless and then Mary Beamish in 1816. They had no sons and Friendly Cove passed to William Beamish Morris who married their daughter Catherine. In Pigot's Directory of 1824 Nathaniel Evanson and Richard Evansonis are at Four Mile Water Nathaniel Evanson, Sea Lodge, Cork died in 1849 and the Rev. Alleyn Evanson died in 1853. In Slaters Directory of 1846 Allen Evanson lives at the court, Richard Tonson Evanson at Friendly Cove, Richard Tomson Evanson Jnr. at Ardgoina. There is no reference to them in Thom's 1862 Directory. There are two references to Evansons of Brookfield, Cork in the King's Inns Admission rolls for the early nineteenth century. The Rev. A. Evanson sat on a committee in Bantry in 1824 to petition against the withdrawal of the linen bounty.


One of the O'Donovans of Clann Lochlainn received land in fee simple at Ardahill, Kilcrohane but there is now no trace of this residence. Another O'Donovan of Clann Cathail held land of Congreve, Mount Congreve near Waterford and their house was at Fort Lodge (O'Donovan's Cove) near Ahakista. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries families in West Cork and South Kerry such as the O'Donovans, the O'Leary, the O'Sullivans, the Sweeneys and McCarthys managed to acquire leasehold interests as middlemen and had close ties of marriage with each other. Richard O'Donovan of O'Donovan's Cove is listed in Pigot's Directory of 1824 but was at Fort Lodge in 1846, as recorded by Slater as well as being one of Co. Cork's property owners in 187? at Carrigboy. Daniel O'Donovan of Ahakista cottage (now demolished) was a Magistrate according to Slater in 1862. Tim O'Donovan was at O'Donovan's Cove according to Thoms, 1862.

Sir William Petty's Census, 1659

This was compiled to provide a tax base which ultimately became a heart tax. The region was described as 'Part of Dunisse Parish.'

A table sets out the land ownership. The total area is 8,674 acres (35.10 km2), with 5,646 acres (22.85 km2) profitable, 3,078 acres (12.46 km2) unprofitable. This document is the Down Survey, completed 1656 and published 1685 as part of Hiberniae Delineatio in the National Library Ms 714. Petty, in 1687, believed that land values were substantially higher than in 1641 even though the population had not recovered to its previous level.

There was a major naval engagement in Bantry Bay on 1 May 1689 involving the English and French fleets and the French are believed to have won a marginal victory. The English had 22 vessels and lost 96 killed, 269 wounded while the French fleet was 28 vessels and they lost 40 killed, 93 wounded.

Rapparees 1691

In August 1691 Major Fenwick killed several rapparees near Macroom and several others were slain at 'Minterbarra.'


Modern history


  • Bantry Historical Journal, Vol 1,2.
  • Evelyn Bolster: A History of the Diocese of Cork, Tower Books, Cork, 1982, ISBN 0-902568-11-6,Catholic Central Library, Dublin
  • James I. C. Boyd, The Schull and Skibbereen Railway, the Oakwood Press, 1999 ISBN 0-85361-534-9
  • W.Maziere Brady: Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, (3 Vols, Dublin, 1864).
  • Tim Cadogan and Jeremiah Falvey, A Biographical Dictionart of Cork, 2006, Four Courts Press ISBN 1-84682-030-8
  • Seamus Cahalane, Cartographer's Carbery 1581 Map, Mizen Journal 1997
  • Archive of Dioceses of Cork and Ross, Paddy O'Keeffe, archive for list of priests, handwritten, dates preferred to those in diocesan archive
  • M.F.Cusack: History of the City and County of Cork, Guys, Cork, 1875, Catholic Central Library, Dublin
  • David Dickson:Old World Colony, Cork and South Munster 1630–1830, Cork University press, 2005,ISBN 1-85918-355-7
  • 'Under the Shadow of Seefin' Ann McCarthy
  • Irish words collected by Joe O'Driscoll N.T. Dunbeacon and Dublin in 1930s
  • John Quinn: Down in the Free State, War Time Crashes, W.W.11 (1) W.G. 1999, ISBN 0-9525496-5-4
  • Uilliam O Dalaigh:The O Dalys of Muintir Bhaire and the bardic tradition, 2006, Clolucht Bhearra.
  • Frank O'Mahony, The story of Kilcrohane
  • T.P. O'Neill, 'The Administration of Relief ', Studies in Irish history, the great famine 1845–52, Dublin 1956 p. 242
  • J.G.White: History and Topographical Notes, Catholic Central Library, Dublin
  • The Fold Magazine (Cork Dioceses), 2001, re Durrus Catholic Church
  • Fr.T.J.Walsh (Parish Priest of Durrus), An Irish Rural Parish past and Present Muinter Bhaire, Capuchin Journal 1972
  • Padraig O Maidin, Cork Examiner 19 November 1960 re tithes (from POK papers)
  • Donal J. O'Sullivan 'The history of Caheragh Parish, 'The Captain Francis O'Neill Memorial Company Ltd'., Caheragh, 2002
  • Reference; ‘A Census of Ireland c1659 ,from the Poll Money Ordinances 1660–1661’, edited Seamus Pender Irish Manuscript Commission, Dublin 2002 ISBN 1-874280-15-0
  • Colin Rynne: At the sign of the Cow, the Cork Butter Market 1770–1924,The Collins Press, 1998,ISBN 1-898256-60-8.
  • Richard S.Harrison: Bantry in olden days, 1992, published by author, also on Warner's butter, Southern Star 24 January 1990, Flax Growing in West Cork Southern Star 2 February 1991, Methodists in West Cork, Southern Star 9 February 1991
  • Willie Kingston: From Victorian Boyhood to the Troubles: A Skibbereen Memoir, Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol 1 2005, extracts edited by his niece Daisy Swanton and Jasper Ungoed-Thomas, grandson of Jasper Wolfe, and Vol 2.
  • Mizen Journals 1–12.
  • Bantry Historical and Archarological Society Journal. vol 2, 1994 ISSN 0791-6612 Journal
  • Office of Public Works Archaeological Inventory of Co.Cork
  • Penelope Durrell, Dursey
  • West Cork Railway inc. Colm Creedon's Works, Privately published Magazine Road, Cork
  • Diarmuid O Murchadha, Battle of Callann A.D. 1261, JCHAS, 1961 no. 204 p. 105/116
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