Akron Irish: What We Do for Love
by Lisa O’Rourke
I admit it, I am that person…I love love! I can’t wait for Valentines’ Day, read Jane Austen, watch Rom/Coms, just give it all to me! It is so pervasive that I have infected my entire family, which is amazing considering that I am at a gender disadvantage there; three to one.
You may think that I bullied them, but I like to think my pure enthusiasm and solid belief that love is indeed the answer permeated the minds of the men in my life. It speaks to their character that they endure me without criticism and even appear to absorb a little bonhomie from the experience.
In spite of all of this or maybe because of it, I decided that my reading list must expand. It has taken a macho turn, in an attempt to redress the omissions of my past, catching up on fearsome Hunter S. Thompson and his ilk, the snarky, inebriated wise-fools that assessed the world at large and suffered no fools in the process.
So imagine my surprise when in one of these tomes, I read that love is really the singular motivation to human action! What, in one of these books? It must be true then. But is it?
History seemed like a good place to test this theory. A quick search led to Irish stories that “changed history.” The quotation marks are there because the history that they changed was personal narrative.
I was after bigger fish; did it change the fates of countries for example? Yes, yes it did. The very nature of Ireland was changed due to love, probably not for the better, and by an O’Rourke no less.
It happened hundreds of years ago, back when Ireland was a feudal system, many chiefs with many fiefdoms overseen by a high king. Alliances between the fiefdoms were forged in some instances, through marriage.
Just such an arrangement occurred to a young lady named Dervorgilla, in the 12th century. She was the daughter of the chieftain of Meath, a reportedly lovely young lady who was promised by her father to none other than Tiernan O’Rourke, chieftain of Breifne, who was reportedly neither young nor lovely.
To complicate things further, she had some prior relationship with another, Dermot MacMurrough, who was the chieftain of Leinster at that time. The story goes that Tiarnan went out one day on a pilgrimage to Crough Patrick in Mayo only to return to find his lady had departed.
How she left is a matter of multiple interpretations, but she left with Dermot, and in no particular hurry, since she left with her furniture and cattle. She eventually returned to Breifne after spending years in Leinster, and Dermot was punished by being expelled from Ireland by the High King, Rory O’Connor.
Dermot did not take this banishment sitting down. He went to England and told his tale of woe to Henry II. When he returned to Ireland, it was with a champion in hand by the name of Strongbow, aka Richard de Clare. Strongbow was not fighting without reward and he got them.
Strongbow was promised Dermot’s daughter Aoife as a bride, and land in Ireland. He defeated the last High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, and was granted land in the East of Ireland, in Meath, which was known as the Pale. Rory eventually bent the knee to him and retired to the west of Ireland as the last High King of Ireland.
I first heard this story over a few pints in Cleveland. I was told was that the O’Rourkes were to blame for the English coming to Ireland! Tiarnan O’Rourke couldn’t keep his wife happy and then couldn’t let go of the embarrassment of losing her to another man and invited the English in to fight his cause and they never left.
That is a heavy charge to put against a family, love or not. I was half honor bound and half terrified to even look into this. I should have known better than to think that there could be an Irish history that was clear cut.
There as many versions and interpretations as I have fingers. The most prevalent version is that Dervorgilla was kidnapped by Dermot. I had to consult the Four Masters for some source information.
For the uninitiated, this is the Bible of Irish history. The “kidnapping” of Dervorgilla was probably done at her brother’s request to remove her from the potential harm in the fiefdom disputes. She was undoubtedly held by McMurrough to both anger O’Rourke, whom he did not like, and highlight his defiance of the other chieftains.
The idea of kidnapping was also a powerful tool in courting opinion with the other chieftains; it certainly painted Dermot as a bad guy. He probably wasn’t a great guy, but ambition and arrogance seem more attributable to him than any great love for Dervorgilla.
So, did love change the fate of Ireland? No, no it did not. Not unless we want to call narcissism and unbridled ambition love. This was not the Valentine that I supposed at the outset.
I wanted to think that some thwarted romance shifted history. And, not for nothing, the love part sells the narrative then and now. It sold the story and motivated some of the chieftains who backed O’Rourke hundreds of years ago.
But love does not live in politics. Politics is a sport, played by people vying for a top spot. Historians who put major political shifts down to love really want someone to blame, some vixen or enchantress to foist ambitious failings onto. At the end, the honest personal stories that I looked at first seem to be the only place to look for the answer.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her puppy, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].
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