The Gospel Truth

An Irish Legend | March 4, 2015

There is nothing on this earth more important than family. The one thing I learned from my Introductory Sociology course in sophomore year at the Cross was that the family was most important building block in any civilization. I think that’s why that along with private property and Christianity it has been on the hot-list of all leftist ideologies since the French Revolution.

The clan or the tribe is just an extended family. I don’t think any nationality or race values its extended family more than the Irish. I know that is a fact because my wife tells me that almost every day. She is an O’Rourke through and through. In fact she also tells me that I should happy that she did not change my name to hers after we got married several years ago.

The O Rourke family surname is thought to be one of the oldest in the world, originating in the 10th Century following the death of a young prince named Ruarc.  The name Ruarc was a name originating with the Old Norse Hrothekr, meaning ‘famous king

We have been to her heartland four times—all in the 1990s. We went with a tour in 1992 and 1998. In 1994 we went with her brother, Michael O’Rourke and his wife. But instead of taking another tour we hired a driver to create our own itinerary.

The trip I will remember the most was the third trip, the one in 1996. Our daughter, Michelle had been to Ireland in 1994 to attend a two-week course on W. B. Yeats in his childhood vacation home of Sligo as part of a Ph.D. program in 19th century European Lit.

She brought her mother a wooden sculpture of her clan’s namesake, Brian O’Rourke, the last of the Irish chieftains. The wood-carver knew all about the O’Rourkes, a warrior clan that was very important in developing that western region, especially their home base in ground County Leitrim for several generations. Sir Brian had a castle seven miles outside of Sligo.

Two years later her brother was studying at the University of Dublin as part of a program through St. Louis University. We decided to take his sister and visit Matthew in Dublin. The visit would not have been complete without a side trip to the O’Rourke castle.

We took the three-hour train to Sligo where our first stop was to see the wood-carver, Michael Quirke who had made the woodcarving and told our daughter of the famed legend of Brian O’Rourke.

Michael repeated the story of Brian O’Rourke for us. After the Spanish Armada was devastated during its failed attack on England in 1588, Sir Brian and many members of the O Rourke family were thought to have helped many surviving members of the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish galleons out-numbered the English flight but were outgunned by the superiority of the latter’s large cannons.

Michael said that when one of the officers got back to Spain he later wrote his memoirs that depicted the supreme hospitality of the Irish chieftain.  When word of O’Rourke’s “treason” got back to Queen Elizabeth she sent an army to capture Sir Brian and bring him back to London in 1591 where he was drawn and quarter, a most brutal form of capital punishment. The English did the same thing to Scottish hero, William Wallace in the 14th century.  His execution was graphically portrayed in the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart in 1995.

The “official” Irish history fills in many of the gaps. Sir Brian O’Rourke claimed descent from one of the ancient kings of Ireland, and was remarked upon as a handsome and unusually learned Gaelic chieftain. He assumed leadership of his family in the mid-1560s, having assassinated his elder brothers, but his territory of west Bréifne on the border of Ulster soon came under the administration of the newly created Presidency of Connacht. His territory was centered on the banks of Lough Gill and in the area of Dromahair. Foundations of an O’Rourke tower house can be seen today at Parke’s Castle, close to Dromahair. (This is probably the ruins we visited in 1996.)

Although the English knighted Ó Rourke’s, in time they became unsettled by him. The English lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, described him in 1575 as the proudest man he had dealt with in Ireland. (That is saying something since all the Irish are proud!) Similarly, the president of Connacht, Sir Nicholas Malby, put him down as, the proudest man this day living on the earth. A decade later Sir Edward Waterhouse thought of him as, being somewhat learned but of an insolent and proud nature and no further obedient than is constrained by her Majesty’s forces.

Ó Rourke’s remained unhappy with English interference in his territories, and he was also content to be described as a leading Catholic lord. After Perrot’s departure, he assisted at least eighty survivors of the Spanish Armada – including Francisco de Cuellar – to depart the country in the winter of 1588, and was regarded as friendly to future receptions of Spanish forces. Although not proclaimed as a rebel, he put up a forcible resistance to the presidency – again under Binghams’s command – and would not be bridled.

Ó Rourke’s demands against the government grew with the violence on the borders of west Breifne. In peace talks in 1589, he did accept the terms of a crown tribute that had been agreed by his grandfather, but resisted the composition terms of 1585 and refused to allow the formation of a crown administration in the new county Leitrim.

Instead, he sought appointment as seneschal, or medieval steward who managed the retainers of a noble house. He was under the direct authority of the Dublin government, leaving him independent of Bingham. He also sought safe possession of his lands, a safe-conduct for life, and a guarantee of freedom from harassment by the president’s forces of any merchants entering his territory.

In return, the only pledge he was willing to give was his word. A member of the Dublin council, Robert Dillon of the Meath family, advised him to stay out – intimating that Ó Rourke would be taken into custody if he came in and submitted to crown authority – and Ó Rourke declined the government’s offers.

Sir Brian was arrested in Glasgow, where the townsmen sought a stay on his delivery into custody, fearing for their Irish trade. The denial of their request caused an outcry, and the king’s officers were cursed as knights of Elizabeth with the allegation that the Scottish king had been bought with English angels (a reference to the pension the king received from England).”

On the 3rd of November 1591, O’Rourke was drawn to Tyburn. On the scaffold Miler Magrath, Archbishop of Cashel, sought the repentance of the condemned man’s sins. In response, he was abused by O’Rourke with jibes over his uncertain faith and credit and dismissed as a man of depraved life who had broken his vow by abjuring the rule of the Franciscans. O’Rourke then suffered execution of sentence by hanging and quartering.

Stories like the legend of Brian O’Rourke and his clan go a long way to help understand why the Irish have always felt oppressed by their English Masters.  All this led to the bloody Easter Rebellion in 1916 and Irish Independence six years later because like William Wallace and Brian O’Rourke all men long to be free.

The O’Rourke legend will live as long as there are O’Rourkes to proclaim it.  Their family motto reads Serviendo Guberno, which translates to GOVERN BY SERVING.  My wife seems to fulfills that motto perfectly.

Editor’s note:  My mother told me her mother was a Dolan.  So I guess that makes me one-quarter Irish…though some true-hearted  Irish imply that I really am a Dolanski.


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at







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