City Between the Bridges: 27th Oct. 1945


City Between the Bridges: Text Version

October 27, 1945


There was once a city called Dun Chuirc, and later known as Dun Cowhey. We are told that this was the city Ptolemy, the great Egyptian astronomer and geographer of the 2nd century had in mind when he wrote of Altera Regia. Gentle reader, did you ever stand within the gates of that city of which I write? But, perhaps, that is a misleading question, for Altera Regia is no longer a city. Think not of it, however, as a Thebes half buried in the sand, or a vanished Carthage by the Middle Sea. It is not a vast and silent field of ruins; and it is thousands of miles nearer home than any of the places mentioned. In fact it is in Ireland, and if you carefully study the map you will find it marked in the fair and fertile county of Limerick. East of it lie the parishes of Dromain Ui Chleircin and Coolballysiward -now better known as the Town of (Fitz) Tancred; In the south it is bounded by the parish of Hackmeys; to the west rise the hills of Castletown Mac Eniry, and the highlands of Corca Muiceat; north a great plain rolls away to steep Teamaher Luachra. What remains of this city of Corc and Cowhey stretches between two bridges, that on its eastern suburb being known as The Railway Bridge, that on its western approaches as The Water Bridge. And this city-between-the-bridges is to-day known as Bruree.


Brugh Riogh (Bruree) – the fort of the King - –was the chief residence of Oilioll Ollum, King of Munster in the 2nd century. Like a still more famous man who was to be associated with Bruree eighteen hundred years later, Oilioll was partly of Spanish descent.

'The Spanish princess, beautiful Beara,

Daughter of Heber, the Castilian King,

Was mother of the valiant Oilioll Ollum,

And the virtuous daughters

Sgoithneamh and Coinioll.'

Before Oilioll died he ordained that the kingship of Munster should be held alternately by the descendants of his two sons Eoghan and Cas. After his Bruree became the stronghold of the Eugenians, as the descendants of Eoghan were called. Sometimes they were styled Kings of Bruree, and an old quatrain, attributed to St. Benignus, in the Book of Rights, tells us that they were free from tribute, and received annual presents from the King of Ireland.

'Tuarasttol righ Brogha righ,

O righ Erind can imshnimh,

Deich n-innair donna dearga

Is deich ngoill gan Gaedhilge.'

'The stipend of the king of Bruree,

From the king of Erin without sorrow,

Ten tunics brown, red mantles (tunics)

And ten foreigners (ie, foreign slaves) without Gaelic'.

The arrangement made by Oilioll regarding the right of succession to the crown of Munster was often a source of friction between the Eugenians and the Dalcassians, as the descendants of Cas came to be known. In 976 the ruling Eugenian chief was Donovan. His territory of Ui Fidgeinte stretched down to the Shannon:

'Dual d'O Donnabhain Dhuin Cuirc,

An tir seo 'na tir longphuirt,

Ba leis gan chios fo'n Maig moill,

Is na clair sios co Sionoinn.'

Now, Donovan was terribly jealous of Mahon, the young and newly appointed Dalcassian monarch of Munster, and with the aid of Molloy, a North Cork chief, and Ivar, a Dane, he plotted to kill Mahon. The unsuspecting king was invited to a feast at Bruree, and on his return journey was foully murdered by a party of Donovan's men at the Gap of Red Chair, on the Cork-Limerick border. Mahon's brother, the celebrated Brian Boru, was swift and terrible in his vengeance; he slew the perpetrators of the crime, burned Donovan's stronghold of Bruree, and established there a great fort called Dun Eochair Maighe.


The Normans conquerors came, fierce veterans of a thousand fights. They marched into the lands the Gael had held from time immemorial, and strong de Lacy castles sprang up on the banks of the Maigue, near Bruree. Years passed and the outlook of the De Lacys underwent a change; they joined the ranks of those other powerful Norman families who became 'More Irish than the Irish themselves'. Edy Lacy of Bruree was prominent in the Confederate Wars. It was he who attacked the strong castle of Lady Dowdall at Kilfinny. De Lacy flowed on the unconquerable Walls of Limerick during the Sieges. It was a de Lacy who in 1690 led a party of Jacobite cavalry eastward from Newcastle to burn Bruree, which was held by the Williamites. For the part they played they forfeited their great estates, and sailed with the wild geese, in the company of the descendants of those whom their fathers had dispossessed 500 years before. From Coolrus went young Peter de Lacy to win a Field Marshal's baton in the service of Russia. Others won fame in Spain, France and Austria.


The centuries moved on. The Penal night descended and killed everything except the people's Faith and their spirit of song. To Bruree came the Maigue Poets to hold their half-yearly sessions in the old royal fort of Oilioll. From Rathluirc, in the south, came learned Sean Clarach Mac Domhnaill, and from Croom, in the north, came that merry inseparable pair, Sean O'Tuama and Aindrias Mac Craith, to write songs that will outlast the centuries. Here in 1740 they held their last session. In 'Memorials of the Irish Bards' we read -

'Bruree, a handsome town fifteen miles south-west of Limerick, has four yearly fairs, and a good bridge over the Maigue, and is remarkable for the half-yearly sessions held there by the Irish bards as late as 1740.'

Still the years marched on in solemn procession, bringing with them many changes. The Irish language died in the district, and the national pulse continued to grow weaker till the clash of arms came in '67, when Bruree men handled their pikes and guns, and joined the groups that converged on Kilmallock Barrack. What though they failed to take it, their sons and grandsons would come back 57 years later to capture it for the Irish Republic.

The Land War raged, Father Sheehy, P.P. of Bruree, threw himself into the mighty struggle that was destined at last to break the power of the landlords in Ireland. He it was who coined the famous phrase: 'No man has the right to set bounds on the onward march of a nation.' Parnell, who was present when he used the phrase, so liked it, that he made it his clarion call.

A youth with a Spanish name used to serve Father Sheehy's Mass at Bruree. That youth grew up to be a Commandant in a glorious Irish Rebellion and to be the chosen leader of his people. One day he was to preside in the parliament of the nations at Geneva. What an honour for Bruree when her greatest son rose to address that august assembly in the old language of the Gael!

'The Dun of Oilioll and Corc and Cowhey,

The key fort of Brian;

Meeting place of bards and kings and heroes

Long lost in the depths of time.

And to-day little streets of shops cluster round

Its grey stone steeple;

And a quiet road winds past the home that gave

A leader to the people.'

previousPrevious - To Be or Not to Be: 3rd Feb. 1945
Next - At the Feis - 29th June 1946next