Cusack: A History of the City and County of Cork

Pdf Cusack, M. F., A History Of The City And County Of Cork, Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, 1875

A History of the City and County of Cork by Mary Francis Cusack (1832-1899), also known as Sister Francis Clare, was published in 1875. Cusack, a Catholic convert and founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, was a prolific author and Irish nationalist. In this work she provides a highly detailed social, political, economic, geological and natural history of Cork from obscure prehistory to the 19th century.

The first sections of the book describe the arrival of the Celts in Ireland , how pagan Ireland converted to Christianity, the arrival of Vikings and Normans in later centuries and the impact of these events to the Cork region. Cork initially a monastic settlement found by St. Finbarr before Vikings settlers founded a port there in the 10th century.

Following the Norman conquest Cork became heavily fortified receiving its charter from King John in 1185. However it was surrounded by Gaelic Irish chieftains who demanded tribute in return for not attacking the city. Half of the city population died during the Black Death in the 14th century.

During 15th century War of the Roses, a pretender to the English throne, Perkin Warbeck, received the support of the city mayor and citizens. However Warbeck and the traitors who supported him were ultimately defeated and executed. The nickname of 'The Rebel County' is said to originate from this period. The city became a major urban area and port in the centuries that followed as Great Britain established global empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Co. Cork was once part of the Gaelic Munster kingdom of Deas Mumhan and the most powerful Gaelic family in the region were the MacCarthys. The area was renamed Desmond by a branch of the Fitzgerald family who ruled Cork following the Norman invasion. Following the Protestant Reformation, the Fitzgerald dynasty remained Roman Catholic and rebelled. Their power was destroyed during the 16th century. County Cork was laid waste, its Gaelic Irish population massacred, starved or falling victim to plague before being colonised by Protestant planters.

Following the victory of British forces at Kinsale, Co. Cork in 1601, the power of the Gaelic Irish in Ireland was broken prompting the 'Flight of the Earls' which saw the departure of the O'Neill and O'Donnell chieftains into exile.

At the time Cusack or Sister Francis Clare as she was known, wrote A History of Cork City and County, the Irish peasants were impoverished while Anglo-Irish Protestant landlords, many of them absentees, dominated Irish society. The Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s had caused approximately one million deaths and mass emigration followed. By the 1870s, tenant farmers in Co. Cork still had few rights, went hungry and feared eviction.

Mary Anna Cusack was born in 1832 in Coolock, Dublin into a wealthy family and was brought up an Anglican. Her parents’ separation and the death of her fiancee, influenced her to join a Protestant order of nuns before her conversion to Catholicism. She became a member of the Franciscan Order of St. Clare better known as the Poor Clares and lived for a time in a convent in Kenmare, Co. Kerry. Shocked by the poverty in the area she condemned the activities the local landlord Lord Lansdowne and became a social and political campaigner. Her interests lay in the plight of the Irish poor in Ireland and America.

Her writings which included a biography of Daniel O'Donnell and Irish nationalist history raised money which she used for the education of young women. She won the support of Pope Leo XIII to found the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and created homes for women and girls in England and the United States.

However her confrontational stances made enemies among senior Catholic clergy and Cusack returned to the Anglican faith in 1888. She subsequently wrote books such as Revolution and War, the secret conspiracy of the Jesuits in Great Britain published posthumously in 1910 in which she claimed there were sinister Catholic plots to manipulate British and global politics. She died in 1899 and was buried in Warwickshire, England.


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