A Visit To My Ancestor Ulick McElligott Castle “Bealagrellagh”.

Hidden deep in the country side village of BallyMacElligott, Co.Kerry lies Bealagrellagh castle. In English it translates at “Mouth of the miry ford” and is the last remaining castle of my ancestors who built four of them in the region in the 1500s. The 16th century is when my surname McElligott first appeared and began to take permanent shape. I won’t bore you with all the details but prior to this my name was McElias, then McElyoth and then McElligott. Don’t ask me how or why these changes occurred because I have not got a clue.

I take a shot in the dark when I say this but two McElligotts in the 1500s first appear as Landlords and heads of the family that are Ulick and John McElligott. Ulick is Irish for Little William. One of them is my grandfather and so I’ve decided on Ulick only because throughout my ancestry lineage the name William appears a lot, but then again with the English influence on Ireland back then, William was a popular name everywhere. In the history books Ulick plays the part as more of a father and leader out of the two, so I’ve developed this theory that him being the decision maker means he is head of the Clan and so I trace myself to him being the grandfather.

Regardless of which one it is, I call him my 16th century Grandad for now.

How were the castles lost? How did this great castle that dominated the fields of BallyMacElligott meet its ruinous fate? It goes back to the Desmond rebellion of 1569-73 and the second one of 1579-83 when the House of Desmond decided they’d had enough of the English. Long story short the McElligotts decided to give a helping hand to the house of Desmond. Earl to the house of Desmond was Gerald Fitzgerald who died in battle in 1583.

He (Gerald) was killed in bed and decapitated, his head sent to Queen Elizabeth I and his body displayed triumphantly by the English on the walls of Cork city. When Ulick McElligott decided to help. Queen Elizabeth sent him a warning that if he did, all his castles and land would be taken from him. Literally he would be dispossessed of everything he owned and his entire family placed in great danger.

Ulick decided he would obey the Queens order and close the doors of his castle to the idea of a rebellion. A lot must have been going through his mind but a week later he surprised the Queen by changing his mind and rebelling again. For this, the Irish lost the war, and Ulick and John were dispossessed of all their castles in the area along with their cattle and other lands. That was the beginning of the end for the Clan McElligott. The rebellion was mostly a political war against English rule trying to push its way through Munster, but also a religious one of Catholicism vs Protestantism. In the end, the English had the superior army, were well trained and put down both rebellions within a matter of years.

I broke into the field, lay my hands upon the old stones of the castle and I prayed for my ancestors who I’d no doubt called me down to pray for them all. It was a long 4 hour journey, but family is family even if they’re 500 years old or more I owe my existence to them. I’ve no idea why they approached me of all people, but I am that strange eccentric type mad enough to get in the car and come pray for them I suppose. The souls in purgatory go grabbing for those who will pray for them and it just so happened to be me.

I don’t know, but, maybe something was preventing them from moving on. Certain ancestral sins tend to cling to the lineage and a cleansing of prayer is needed to get rid of it. I don’t mean to say that we get punished for their sins as everyone is responsible for their own sin before the Lord and it’s not transferrable. What I mean to say is that our ancestors sins, while not transferrable can bring a bad spirit to the lineage that will torture it for centuries to come.

Prayer and blessings for them is the only solution to get rid of it. My ancestors at this castle would have held a sword and were suited up in armour in their day. 500 years later I came back suited up in a different sort of armour which is to say the spiritual weapons of prayer to help them in their anguish.

When I touched the walls of the castles I got an image of a man who cared more for the eternal castle in the heavenly Jerusalem than some brick and mortar that is here today and gone tomorrow. God and country was more important to Ulick and he sacrificed all his castles, land and riches in the name of the Lord and for the love of his fellow Irish countrymen against a vicious empire hell bent on dragging everyone else to Hell with them. I don’t know about you, but that is an ancestor I’m proud to descend from and an image I’m happy to frame and hang on the wall in the long term memory.

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