1595 Rausakeera inauguration a one-off?

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—I would like to take issue with Declan Keenan’s article, ‘An inauguration of a MacWilliam Íochtair at Rausakeera, Co. Mayo, during the Nine Years War’ (HI 29.6, Nov./Dec. 2021), in regard to the supposed use of Rausakeera for the initiation rite of Bourke chieftains.

I suggest that Red Hugh O’Donnell was a master of the invention of tradition, and that the staging of the 1595 inauguration was a one-off that has been subsequently taken as the end of a long history of such events at Rausakeera. I would like to challenge Declan Keenan, or anyone else, to provide supporting evidence for his assertion and, indeed, evidence that the ringfort in question was ever used as an inauguration site for any local . I rather think it would be a universal ‘nil return’ for both.

The first MacWilliam was Edmund Albanach Bourke, who established his own Gaelic fiefdom in the 1340s with his clan HQ at Cloonagashel Castle, close to the present town of Ballinrobe. As I have argued in my article ‘The Templars and the Holy Rood of Ballinrobe’ (HI 29.3, May/June 2021), the site of the present town was an ancient centre of pilgrimage and a natural choice of venue for the launch of a new chieftain seeking Gaelic Irish acceptance. Why travel economy when you can go first-class?

I am reminded of the sagacious words of my old university professor: re-search means ‘to look again’. And in the case of the theatrical O’Donnell faux inauguration, re-search is long overdue.—Yours etc.,

Co. Cork

I respectfully disagree with the points raised in your letter. In addition to the recorded inauguration of Theobald MacWalter Ciotach Bourke at Rausakeera, there is also that of William the ‘Blind Abbot’ Bourke. The Blind Abbot (succeeded by Theobald) was also inaugurated at ‘Rahessekyre with all Irish ceremonies contrary to the order …’ (Calendar of State Papers, Ireland, 1589, p. 251). These inaugurations, at the close of the sixteenth century, were well documented, owing to Crown concern around the resurgence of Gaelic customs in Mayo. Therefore the inauguration of Theobald MacWalter Ciotach had precedent, as did that of the Blind Abbot, in all likelihood. Consequently, the inauguration of Theobald was not a ‘one-off’, as you suggest.

These sequential, documented, inaugurations occurred after the Composition of Connaught, a period when the Bourkes were attempting to re-establish and emphasise their customs and traditions. Therefore these rites were likely guided by precedent or, at a minimum, influenced by protocol set at the preceding inauguration. The coming of these candidates (not to mention rivals) to Rausakeera is not random; evidence points towards Rausakeera being part of their inauguration tradition. After all, ritual and protocol were an intrinsic part of Gaelic inauguration.

Finally, in relation to your point ‘why travel economy?, mounds and ringforts (open-air assembly places) were widely used, if not favoured, for inauguration ceremonies in Gaelic Ireland. The Bourkes, a Gaelicised lineage, would have had to choose a place ‘which might lend some antiquity’ to their past and created one at Rausakeera (E. Fitzpatrick, ‘Assembly and inauguration places of the Burkes in late medieval Connaught’, in Gaelic Ireland: c. 1250–c. 1650: land, lordship and settlement, p. 360), which became an important assembly place (at a minimum) for the Bourkes as early as 1333 (Annals of Connacht, Corpus of Electronic Text Editions, 1333.11, p. 271).—Declan Keenan


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