A 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 O”Sullivan'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 O'Sullivan.

Courtesy of the Southern Star