Early History of the O Driscolls

Where they came from, and when, is matter for historical conjecture and legend.   The "Genealogy of Corcalee" contained in the Book of Leccan (1418) suggests that the O'Driscolls descend from the first Celts or Milesians to arrive in Ireland.   This refers to the myth that Lughaidh, son of Ith, came from Europe to defeat the Tuatha de Danann more than 3000 years BC.

Following their victory the descendants of Lughaidh settled in West Cork, with their kinsmen taking the rest of the island.   Many generations and names are recorded in this "Genealogy", before the name of Eiderscel appears in the 10th Century - giving his name to the Clan.   The name occurs occasionally in records from that time, including an Awly Ó h-Eidirsceoil slain at Birr in 1154, Maccon Ó h-Eidirsceoil slain by Strongbow's men at Waterford in 1169 and, in 1235 Gaiscin Ó h-Eidirsceoil and his brother were among the Irish slain by the English at Tragh-li.  Whatever the truth of their early history, it is accepted that the O'Driscolls were indeed Lords of Corcalee by the time this millenium began.   They controlled considerable swathes of land, stretching almost from Kinsale to the East, as far as Dursey Island at the tip of the Beara Peninsula in the West.

The Sack of Baltimore

This event, immortalised in The Sack of Baltimore, a poem by Thomas Davis, has been much distorted in the retelling.   Davis tells of Algerian pirates who stole away the local people.   Baltimore, by 1631, was an English settlement. founded by Thomas Crooke in 1607, having been sold away by Finín the Rover.   Early one morning, at 2am, two Barbary Corsairs arrived in Baltimore Harbour, under the command of Captain Matthew Rice, a Dutch renegade.

They plundered and pillaged and caused general mayhem and departed that afternoon loaded with booty and 119 prisoners.   Not one of these was an O'Driscoll, and it appears that, in fact, all or most of the captives were English.   Some say that, on meeting the fearsome native women, the pirates determined not to risk taking them aboard their galleys.  15 years later, the English sent a Mr. Cason to Africa to redeem english captives.

Two of those redeemed were Baltimore captives.   Following the Sack of Baltimore, the English built a number of protective beacons around the coast, including the Beacon at Baltimore.   The event also caused the English settlers to move upriver from Baltimore, founding the town of Skibbereen in relative inland security.

The Mighty O Driscolls

The 10th - 16th Centuries can be regarded as the Golden Age of the O'Driscolls.   As Lords of Corcalee they controlled the coastline from Kinsale to Kenmare.   Their fortunes began to decline in medieval times, largely due to territorial incursion by other Celtic clans who were being dispossessed by the English in other parts of the country.   The O'Driscolls were driven back to a smaller base around Baltimore and its neighbouring islands.

In the 14th and 15th centuries the seas were teeming with piracy and passing ships were fair game to all.   The O'Driscolls had a handy protection racket operating around the coast, offering safe passage in the treacherous waters around the area, for a fee.   If it was discovered that a valuable cargo was aboard, safe passage often became imprisonment in Baltimore harbour, until a suitable ransom was paid to the captors.   On one occasion a ship laden with wine, bound for Waterford, was lured into harbour and captured.   The men of Waterford retaliated by sending a 400 strong expedition to revenge this act of piracy.   In 1537 they came and laid waste to the "castles" on Sherkin Island and Baltimore.   Despite efforts at restoration the expedition signalled the beginning of the end of O'Driscoll dominance.

The decline was completed by Finín the Rover, notorious double-dealer, and head of the O'Driscoll clan in the late 1500s.   He worked closely with the English, to the extent of being knighted and handing over the lands of the clan - not his to give - which were then granted back to him as his own personal property.   It seems he stood with the Irish Chieftains at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but was quick to revert to English allegiance following the defeat.   The balance of power shifted away from the O'Driscolls with the arrival in 1607 of English settlers to Baltimore. In debt and faced with this new challenge to his authority, Finín borrowed money from Englishman, Walter Coppinger.   Ever a rogue, the Rover probably had no notion of honouring the debt, and saw his property taken in repayment.   He retired, a broken man, to Lough Ine, where he died.