thousand traditions hang on the name of Morty Oge O'Sullivan
Wednesday, May 5, will be the 250th anniversary of the shooting
dead of Morty Oge O'Sullivan by English soldiers at
his home near Eyeries in 1754. To commemorate this occasion
the Beara Historical Society are arranging an outing to
take place on Sunday, May 2, when the group will walk near
Dunboy where Morty shot and killed Puxley, then over the
hill to where Morty had his home at Eyeries.
The story of Morty Oge O'Sullivan Bere, Captain
of the Wild Geese, has been told in many forms in
a novel, in a saga by the Beara writer Standish O'Grady,
in many songs and poems composed by mourning friends, and
yet it is probably only little known by the present generation
of readers. In the Beara area, along the shores of Bantry
Bay, a thousand traditions hang on the name Morty Oge, the
heroic legend has hallowed his memory as that of a hero
martyr. Morty Oge, was the last of the chiefs of the princely
line of the O'Sullivan Beres, and was as picturesque
as the wild mountain scenery of his native place. He was
born in the 18th century in the family home, a little to
the west of the village of Eyeries.
The family was then broken in fortunes, and his mother,
no less than his father, was the descendent of a noble Irish
clan fallen on evil days. Morty was an only child, and it
seemed that when very young he was taken to the Continent
to be educated. He went in to military training in Spain,
and after visiting his native place and renewing his heritage
of chieftainship in the Beara territory, returned to the
Continent, where he fought in the Austrian War of Succession.
The official records of him announce in 1738 that Muirtead
Oge O' Sullivan, of Eyeries, in this country,
was then fighting on the side of Maria Theresa, and was
actually presented with a richly mounted sword for bravery
in her cause. It was told to us that sword was up to about
50 years ago in Cotter's Bar, The Square, Castletownbere.
Morty was next heard of fighting under Lord Clare at Fontenoy,
where he again distinguished himself by several acts of
bravery, for which he was appointed Colonel in the Irish
Brigade. It is commonly said of Morty that he wore a suit
of gold lace, but the story would seem to have it's
origin in the fact that he was presented by Lady Clare with
handsome uniform of dark green velvet, with collar, cuffs
and facings of gold lace.
He was a dark, handsome man fine figure and according to
local traditions was the finest man in the Irish Brigade.
Having, as it is stated by some, taken part in the battle
of Colloden, Morty returned from Scotland to his native
place, and married a lady of another branch of the O'Sullivans,
a native of Rossmacowen, in the same district. At that time
smuggling was very general and the local Loyalists,
no less than the less reliable of the population,
were always ready to take part and profit by this practice.
The Government decided to take some action to deal with
the situation and dispatched a revenue officer named John
Puxley. He and Morty were by no means on friendly terms,
and it would seem that the estrangement was due to Puxley's
wife, who took dislike to Morty and resented the superior
attitude adopted towards them by the hereditary chief and
his lady. At any rate, in the autumn of 1751, Puxley decided
to curb the power of O'Sullivan in the district. He
went to Dublin and made a series of suggestions to the authorities,
who were ready to adopt them, because Morty Oge was known
to be engaged in enlisting men for the service of France,
and conveying them in his vessel to the French coast.
This vessel was kept in a small inlet hidden away among
the rocks of the coast, almost inaccessible except for the
skilled men who manned her and knew every safe passage to
the open sea. The craft, it is known, carried eight swivel
guns and flew the flag of France at the masthead. Every
trip to the French coast meant scores of recruits of the
Irish Wild Geese and a return cargo of smuggled
goods. Puxley had a company of soldiers from Kinsale to
guard him, but the presence of these had no deterrent effect
on OSullivan's activities.
Around Morty Oge there was a body of trusted men, all sworn
to fealty and secrecy, and Puxley found difficulty in penetrating
the secrets of the smuggling and enlisting process.
One man who was in his service was Scully, who is descibed
as a ne'er-do-well, who had been roughly treated by
Morty Oge and who had never forgiven the injury. This man
was ready to serve Puxley in the matter of Morty Oge's
undoing. He it was who ultimately betrayed the Captain
of the Wild Geese into the hands of his enemies. The
story becomes tragic from the point that one day while Morty
Oge was away on the Continent, a cousin of his, a boy named
Denis O'Sullivan, boasted of the prowess of the chieftain
and his contempt for Puxley. This brought Puxley's
wrath on the boy and in an encounter with a revenue party
young Denis was killed. The story goes that they kicked
the young lad's body along the road. Following this
an old woman of the O'Sullivan clan, who had nursed
Morty Oge, visited Dunboy, where Puxley resided, and cursed
and threatened Puxley and his family with the vengeance
of Morty Oge. Puxley's reply was to go with a party
that night to the woman's house and set it on fire
around her. The locals were horrified and word of these
happenings were conveyed to Morty in France, and he returned
at once and sent a challenge to Puxley. This Puxley declined
with the offensive explanation that It did not become
an English gentleman to fight an Irish Papist. Fully
realising the strength of the wrath he had aroused, Puxley
made it his business to keep out of Morty Oge's way.
This he succeeded in doing until Easter Sunday morning.
It was the habit of the Puxleys to go to church on Christmas
and Easter Sunday mornings. On the way from Dunboy to Castletownbere
he was met by Morty Oge, accompanied by two of his men.
What exactly was the nature of the conversation that followed
is not on record, but apparently Puxley drew his pistol
and fired at O'Sullivan, and the latter returned the
shot, killing him instantly. Mrs Puxley was present an an
eye-witness of the whole terrible business.
The story goes that Morty then went to the Catholic church,
which was then at Derrymihan East, and addressing the congregation
said:My people, John Puxley will do you no more harm.
All here whom he wronged are now avenged. I shot him this
day. A price was now put on Morty Oge's head,
and spies were engaged to watch him. For a while he fled
to France returning secretly at intervals. Meanwhile his
wife died, leaving one boy. This boy was responsible for
his frequent visits to his native place, and in that responsible
for the final tragedy.
In the beginning of May 1754, Morty was in Eyeries at his
house, and the spies had notified the authorities of the
fact. From Cork a special force of forty soldiers and some
loyal volunteers sailed from Cove in the Speedwell to Castletown.
There was in the party a soldier named Harris, who had been
befriended by Morty some years before.
The night before the party set out from Cork this man gave
a letter to his young son and told him to deliver it into
the hands of O'Sullivan. It was a warning of the expedition
against him, and the boy faithfully carried out his father's
instructions and arrived exhausted at Eyeries and delivered
the message. The party duly arrived at Eyeries, and under
cover of darkness was approaching Morty's residence
when Harris, whether by accident or design is not known,
fell into a ditch and his musket went off. The attack was
at once called off, as the musket shot would have warned
Courtesy of the Southern Star