Episode 3

Castle Islands & Conflicts of Connaught Pt.II

The MacWilliam Burkes

Politics at the beginning of the 14th century in Ireland began to complicate for the Anglo Norman occupiers. Their King at the time, Edward I, also known as the Hammer of the Scots, or Longshanks, was occupied with the likes of William Wallace and Robert Bruce in the Scottish war of Independence as well as a the constant land disputes of the Anglo French War which meant Ireland was, for the most part put on the back burner and received little to no funds or aid to help bring the many Gaelic rebels to heel, infact, Ireland was being used to aid the English in Scotland during that time, exporting food and men, one of the reasons for the Bruce invasion of Ireland which I’ll get to later on.

The Anglo Normans still maintained strength in battle and warfare in Ireland with superior armour, weapons and strategy, but the Gaelic chieftains began altering their methods of war. Akin to that of Brian Boru’s tactics a few centuries earlier, Guerilla war was implemented more and the Irish had great success continuing raids and surprise attacks using well thought out plans and familiar land to their advantage. Using this strategy as opposed to pitched battle which the Irish never had great success against the occupier with, the country was made near ungovernable and the Norman settlements were in constant fear of spring attacks from hoards of men appearing from nearby woods or flooding down from the mountains at any given time. This period began a shift where the native Kings and Chieftains started regaining lands and expanding on their territories. Divisions began to appear within the Anglo Norman aristocracy partially due to their lack of leadership from England. This created disputes and cracks in the alliances on the island and in turn created smaller factions, much more manageable targets for the Irish. Another cause of division was the gaelicisation of the Normans, as I’ve talked about on previous podcasts. These disturbances would lead to the West, Connaught, being unofficially free from English rule again for a time.

On the previous episode I ended with Richard de Burge, 1st Baron of Connaught, and I’ll continue their families story now with his grandson, another man named Richard de Burge. This one known as The Red Earl of Ulster and lord of Connaught. He was recorded by the Annals of Connaught after his death in 1326 as “the best of all the Galls of Ireland”. 

The Red Earl was a powerful man in politics and warfare during the late 13th early 14th centuries and outranked the justiciar of Ireland in all but title. He would bring both the O’Neill of Ulster and the O’Conor of Connaught to submission and as a friend of King Edward I would fight against King Robert Bruce and his brother Edward during the Scottish war of Independence and the Bruce invasion of Ireland in 1315, though not being as successful against Scottish forces on the Island of Ireland as we’ll see. He built Monasteries and castles during his time in Ireland, most notably Ballymote Castle, a rebuilding of Sligo Castle, the beginnings of Dunluce Castle and the stronghold of Northburg Castle. 

Northburg Castle & The Scottish Invasion

Northburg castle, built in 1305 at Inishowen modern county Donegal was a key location of defence in the province of Ulster for the Earl and was built accordingly. The most advanced techniques of construction and architecture at the time were used to build the structure also referred to as New Castle or Green Castle, whose ruins sits to the very east of Inishowen overlooking the mouth of water from the sea that connects to Lough Foyle. When the building stood whole, it would have been a daunting task attempting to gain entry. Two three story, seven sided towers of the gatehouse dominated the structure, looming above the entrance that was only about 6 foot in width. Any breachers in the main gate would have seen a rain of arrows, rocks and hot oil flying from both towers on entering an incline to the small courtyard. And with a lack of artillery yet in existence capable of tackling the 12 foot thick walls, it made for a hefty and effective defensive building. But that artillery came with time and in 1555 the castle was destroyed by the O’Donnells alongside Scottish forces using the “Gonna Cam” or “Crooked Gun” to bombard the fort. At the time the O’Donnells were in control of Inishowen and surrounding areas and had established themselves as a strong leading faction of the north over the previous century. The O’Dohertys who were a depended clan under the O’Donnells were permitted to occupy the castle where they essentially became lords of the peninsula, but a drift formed between the O’Donnells and O’Dohertys most likely caused by Sean O’Doherty, the head of Northburg who had, alongside many on the island at the time submitted to King Henry VIII and Sean became Ser John. Calvach O’Donnell whose sister had married into the O’Doherty family travelled to Scotland and took loan of Scottish artillery and men and took back the castle by way of destruction, leaving the once great building almost exactly in the ruinous condition it can be viewed in today with partially standing walls and crumbled towers. The castle did have some minor restorations done after the 1555 attack and was briefly garrisoned by English troops in the 17th century but was completely abandoned by the early 18th century. 

Ironically the castle was constructed and used by Richard The Red Earl de Burge to defend against the O’Donnells and the threat of Scottish invasion in the early 14th century. The fort held well against the native irish but in May 1315 the Scots would arrive. Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert of Scotland arrived with 300 ships and 6000 men off the coast of Antrim in agreement with the O’Neill clan to rid the common enemy from native gaelic land. Bruce and O’Neill worked together on a basis of joint culture, common ancestry and language hoping to achieve the liberation and autonomy that their kingdoms had known in ancient times. A letter from King Robert Bruce calling all Irish Kings and Chiefs to unite with them showed a respect and camaraderie in the common suffering they too have known and clearly sought a Celtic future for all the Western Isles. A beautifully romantic notion, as the strategy of opening a second front to the war of independence by implementing the Scottish invasion of Ireland would result in a major blow to English capabilities in the war on Scotland and would distract from the movements of Robert Bruce and concentrate the English attention on Ireland. I do believe there was some sincerity to Bruce’s words to Ireland but a specifically Celtic or simply Scottish victory would have meant the two brothers King Edward Bruce of Ireland as he was to be, and King Robert Bruce of Scotland would rule the greater part of these isles, with intention of liberating Wales and who knows for England itself, maybe a United Kingdom of Gael, loyal to a Scottish monarchy, it’s result either way would almost definitely provide better existence for Irish people than the history they did endure. 

Donal O’Neill, King of the O’Neill clan pleaded with the rest of the great Irish houses in one of the earliest attempts at unification against the English but was unsuccessful in doing so. Nonetheless, the Scottish and allying Irish formed a great number in Ulster and posed a massive threat, especially to the Red Earl. 

Richard de Burge had to act at once to protect his lands in Ulster and the Anglo Norman rule of Ireland but this union of Celtic forces would prove to be a more worthy opponent than that he had seen before. Edward Bruce had claimed Kingship of Ireland backed by the O’Neills and had already set out on his first campaign south where he burned as far as Dundalk, 80 km north of Dublin, before any major opposing force had been mustered together. Richard The Red Earl who had been in his lands of Connaught gathered an army as soon as word had reached him and chased a path of destruction north while Edward pulled back to Ulster. The Justiciar of Ireland, Edmund Butler had also began gathering an opposing army from Munster and Leinster who, on path north to Ulster offered to join his forces with The Red Earl to assure a quick and definitive victory but Richard refused, knowing of the destruction and depletion of towns and food stores an army that size would do to his lands, but ego must have been at play here too. The Red Earl, regarded as the most powerful man on the island shouldn’t need assistance from the Justiciar to look after his own territory, so he insisted on quelling the disturbance in Ulster himself.

Edward Bruce continued to pull his men back north leading The Red Earl to a crossing over the river Bann and deep into enemy territory, refusing to meet Richard in Battle until the right time. Once the Scots and Irish had finished sacking the nearby village of Coleraine, they crossed the river and destroyed the bridge, buying themselves a massive amount of time as de Burge and his men were left with no way of pursuing, and no sure lines of supply. As both armies sat camped on either side of the Bann river, the daily arrow fire back and forth towards each other, Edward Bruce began to contact some of the Irish nobility within the Red Earls army. One man in particular presented an opportunity for the new Scottish King of Ireland. Within the ranks of Richard de Burges force was the King of Connaught under Richards Lordom, Fedlim O’Conor. Edward offered Fedlim liberation from the de Burges and supported him as King of Connaught, if he abandoned the Red Earls side. But Fedlim’s cousin Ruadhrí O’Conor who hadn’t joined de Burge in Ulster saw an opportunity for himself as his King cousin and all his men had left Connaught. Secretly Ruadhrí got messages to Edward Bruce that he would immediately make war with the Anglo Normans and English in Connaught and expel them if he had his backing to do so. Naturally Edward agreed, on the terms Ruadhrí would not interfere with the agreement he had already made to Fedlim.

Ruadhrí started a war as promised but that was about the only promise he kept. Ruadhrí lay waste to the west with an army of Connaught, Bréifne and Gallowglass men and declared himself King of Connaught. The rightful King Fedlim soon caught wind of the news, as did the rest of de Burges army, so Fedlim gathered his men, marched south west and left Richard de Burge and what remained of his army, sat on the east bank of the Bann.

Supplies now running low for The Red Earl and his significantly smaller force, he began to retreat towards the town of Connor in order to restock what food he could and most likely try to re-enforce from Edmund Butlers previously unwanted alliance. This was the time for Edward to attack. He gathered boats and ferried all of his men across the river and began to chase The Red Earl down. The war hardened Scots, well use to fighting the English at this point, and the allied Irish, marched all the way to Connor joined together as an intimidating force where they eventually met with The Red Earl, face to face. No numbers are certain but it’s positive the Scottish and Irish heavily outweighed the Anglo Normans and their Irishmen. The thinned out and hungry army led by Richard de Burge were soundly defeated at the Battle of Connor on September 1st 1315. Ulster had officially been lost for Richard and to add insult to injury, the defeated Red Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connaught had no answer for the wars initiated by Fedlim and Ruadhrí on his remaining lands, and although Richard left the battle of Connor with his life, his right hand man and strategist, William Liath de Burge had been captured and imprisoned. The annals of Connaught record “Richard Burke, Earl of Ulster was a wanderer up and down Ireland all this year, with no power or lordship.”

In the complete securing of Ulster and expulsion or demand of submission of any remaining supporters of the English crown the next year of 1316, King Edward Bruce and the Irish allies made their way to Inishowen to capture the grand defensive castle of Northburg. Unfortunately there is no writings about the capture of the castle that I can find other than it was successfully taken by Edward and kept until 1318 and the Scottish and Irish held full control of the region. I imagine what garrison had been left at Northburg were put under siege and probably soon capitulated due to starvation and a lack of numbers. 

Edward Bruce strung together a great number of victories and put a major dent in the occupying forces of Ireland until 1318 at the Battle of Faughart. Edward faced an Anglo Norman army of 20,000 (probably an exaggerated figure), lead by three commanders, John de Birmingham, Roland Joyce and Edmond Butler. Bruce only hosting a few thousand men.  The Irish fighting with Edward insisted that they retreat and wait for reinforcements but instead he made the poor tactical decision of holding his ground. He was utterly defeated and killed. His head was sent to King Edward II of England and his body quartered and spread around Ireland. After what was left of the Scottish had fled out of Ireland, Richard de Burge began to regain his power over the north of the island and succeeded in taking back what was most likely an abandoned Northburg castle. 

For the next 7 years after the Scottish invasion had ended the Red Earl’s name doesn’t appear much in the Annals of Ireland but his climb back up the ladder of power to secure the lands which the next Earl of Ulster would hold is certain. After his death, the entirety of his responsibility was left to his grandson William who was just 14 at the time. William, known as the Brown Earl after he had been knighted by King Edward III took on the responsibility and ruled the region, but with the prowess of a man his age, labeled through history as a cruel and incompetent leader. He fought against neighbouring clans and family members through his teens until he found himself initiating a war that would determine the future and rule of the lands under his control for centuries, at the age of 20, in 1332 the beginnings of The de Burge civil war.

That year, the Brown Earl would defend an assault led by his cousin Walter de Burge who didn’t see the young William fit for his position and wished to take control of the west and north west of the island for himself. Walter was captured in defeat by William and imprisoned in Northburg castle where the neglected prisoner starved to death in the dungeon.

Within months of Walters starvation, the news had reached the homes of the all the de Burge family all over the island and for some of them, it was the last straw. Gylle de Burge, Walters sister decided that the Brown Earl’s time in power must end after the despicable treatment and crime against his own kin. In 1333 she conspired with her family by marriage, the de Mandevilles and the de Burges to have the young William de Burge captured and killed. While on route to Carrickfergus in Ulster, The Brown Earl met his faith and his short term as head of the de Burges was over. His death meant all the lands that his great grandfathers had conquered in Ireland and his grandfather had struggled to hold onto were left to his daughter Elizabeth, who was only 2 years old. The Brown Earl’s wife Maud Plantagenet, a relation of the Plantagenet royalty in England, saw the danger in her young daughter inheriting the desires of men and their armies so in a sensible reaction to her husband’s murder, they fled to England never to return.

With William, Maud and Elizabeth vanishing from the country in death and abandonment, all the titles and lands they left behind them were ripe for the taking.

Three men of the family name would compete for the complete rule of Connaught as it was at the time of Richard the 1st Baron. Edmund de Burge of Limerick, youngest surviving son of the powerful Red Earl. Edmund Albanach de Burge of north Connaught or modern county Mayo, oldest son of William Liath de Burge, who had fought Edward Bruce and was captured after defeat at Connor. Edmund was granted the nickname Albanach which means “Scottish” in Irish as he had been traded as a hostage while only a baby to Bruce to secure the release of his father in 1316. And lastly Ulick “Bod an Balcuigh” de Burge of south Connaught, modern Galway, a descendent of Richard óge de Burge who was a half brother to Richard the first Baron of Connaught. The lands in Ulster, now free from The Brown Earls rule were hastily taken back by the native Irish on word of the de Burge dispute and Connaught was set alight by the opposing family members.

The war was mostly fought in raids and skirmishes carrying on for five years between the three men, until a raid led by Albanach de Burge in 1338 created a turning point in the de Burge war. Edmund of Limerick and his men were visiting a monastery, the Ballinrobe Augustinian Friary for their weekly prayers on the evening of Sunday the 19th of April, 1338. The warm setting spring sun shining through the tall windows of the monastery with the remnants of winter still apparent in the wind blowing through the cracks of the building. The silence of prayer cleared the crisped air for a rumble of chatter and footsteps outside to be heard by Edmond and his men. Bursting through the arched door, Albanach and a raiding party began cutting down every man in sight, except for Edmund of Limerick. Several men were killed and Edmund was taken captive by Albanach and imprisoned at Lough Mask castle. Two days later Edmund was brought to a stronghold on Earls Island within Lough Mask where he was left for dead. For some time he must have wondered if starvation would be his faith just as Walter had died a few years earlier which began the whole conflict, but Albanach had other ideas for Edmund. After some time, Albanach took a frail and tired man in Edmund from the cell of the stronghold and walked him to the coast of the island. He fastened a rope around his neck with the opposite end tied around a heavy stone and pushed both man and rock into Lough Mask.

The conflict settled after Edmunds drowning and no side had gained much of an advantage in terms of land during the five year civil war, instead they had brought the destruction of their own houses and a massive blow to the Anglo Norman rule of the region. With no victor or decided leader of the family name or kingdom of Connaught, each branch declared their land Independent and officially created titles for the ruler of each region. The sons of the deceased Edmund de Burge of Limerick ruled as ClanWilliam in Castleconnell. The Galway MacWilliam Uachtar, more commonly known as Clanricarde was ruled by Ulick de Burge and in modern day Mayo, MacWilliam Íochtar (lower) was ruled by Edmund Albanach de Burge. 

The title MacWilliam being of Gaelic nature meaning, son of William, indicates that by that point the de Burges were forming into the Hiberno Norman race and we begin to see the name Burke appear from that point throughout history as they dispose of the Normanised de Burge title. The north had been regained by the O’Neill and O’Donnell clans and Connaught had been broken apart by internal Anglo Irish war which granted opportunity for the O’Conor family to take back control of their rightful lands. Still Kings of the region though under the thumb of the de Burges, Turlough Ó’Conchobhair had taken the Kingship of Connaught in 1324 and after the de Burge war had ended, 14 years after his assumption of government he was finally in a position to enforce his kingly power over the entire region of Connaught. He had Albanach de Burge banished for his crimes of war and destruction of the kingdom. The power once again swayed in favour of the Irish.

Albanach de Burge didn’t accept defeat after his exile however. On his leave he gathered a great fleet of ships and took residence on the islands off the coast of Connaught. Within this territory the sea faring clans ruled as minor kings and chieftains and Albanach would become very familiar with the O’Malley clan. The O’Malley’s had been minor kings of Umhall, known today as Clew Bay and a good number of islands surrounding the area since before the Vikings, in the mid 8th century. In fact the O’Malley’s can be traced back to the death of a man named Brian Orbson in 388AD, a High King’s eldest son who died during the battle of Dam Chluain, proving to be one of the ancient families on the Island.  

Edmund Albanach Burke would marry the future Chieftain of Umhall’s daughter, Sadhbh Ní Máillie though there is very little written of her or her father, Diarmuid mac Eoin Ó’Máillie who became Chief sometime between 1338 and 1362.

After conducting sea raids and plunder on the western coast, Albanach MacWilliam Burke was driven to Ulster by O’Conor in 1339 where he would mostly keep to himself. Biding his time and keeping a close eye on how the constant tit for tat battling and skirmishing played out in Connaught until an opportunity presented itself. In 1342 a great dispute erupted between King Turlough O’Conor and the Mac Diarmada clan of Magh Luirg, which gave Albanach the excuse and the allies he would need to overthrow the King of Connaught. The MacWilliam Burkes would side with the Mac Diarmadas along with a number of leading houses of Connaught to end King Turloughs rule and they placed instead, their own chosen King. Albanach had taken a leading role in the conflict and as a result became the most influential and strongest of the three de Burge factions and most powerful man in the west. Cementing a future for MacWilliam and its descendants who would carry on the title including his son and second MacWilliam, Thomas MacWilliam Burke, who was born of Burke and O’Malley blood. The beginning of a powerful line of men and women and not the only time we’ll see Burke and O’Malley at a turning point for the title of MacWilliam. The name and dynasty built by Albanach, his ancestors and his son would come under threat after centuries of control over Connaught when Theobald Burke, the son of Richard an Iarainn Burke and Gráinne O’Malley were forced to confront the last conquest of Connaught during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th Century. 

The 1500’s in Ireland and Britain was a century soaked in more messy politics, religious revolutions and war. Connaught, almost 200 years after the creation of the MacWilliam title,  was still the home to the Burke clan, although septs of the family and indeed many of the Anglo Norman families beyond the east of the Island held a different idea of identity and culture to that of their ancestors. A large amount of the foreign descendants by this point had dropped their lions, fleur de lis’ and their foreign language and became fully integrated into Gaelic society. A country that was for the most part free and self governing outside of the Pale. The Pale being the lands of Dublin, Meath, West Meath, Louth, Offaly, Laois and Kildare in modern geography that remained loyal to the British Monarchy. Dublin being the centre of British rule on the Island. The 16th Century saw 7 different Kings and Queens of Britain including Lady Jane Grey who was overthrown after 9 days and then executed in 1554 at the age of 16, but two Monarchs who are still widely talked of to this day reigned in this time period, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. 

Henry, A king known for his glutinous tendencies, execution of his second wife Anne Boleyn, his claim as King of Ireland as opposed to the lordship English Kings and Queens held before, and of course the reformation. The latter having more impact on Ireland at that time above the others. His creation of the Church of England and push of protestantism throughout Ireland would lead to revolt and rebellion. The country of Ireland known for its devout catholicism for a millennia before the Tudor ruling King Henry VIII would not easily accept a new faith simply because they were instructed to do so. A religious conflict that still simmers on the Island to this day, nearly 500 years later. Lords and Chieftains of Ireland who were once loyal to the crown and the Pope were forced to choose a side. Those who chose to remain Catholic fought for their right to practice their beliefs and became susceptible to death under The Treasons Act of 1534. Those who followed Henry would take The Oath of Supremacy which allowed the British Monarchy supreme governance over the church. I can’t help but see some irony here as the English had been trying their best to repress Irish tradition, beliefs and law since the early 14th century, beliefs and laws that saw multiple wives permittable if sustainable, trial marriages over the course of one year and divorce was common practice, these laws were still used though outlawed by the English and disapproved by the Catholic church. Some of the grounds on which a divorce could be claimed were as basic as a woman not keeping a good home, or a man becoming too fat! A position I’m sure Henry VIII would have liked to be in. 

King Henry saw to try and settle the stirring of violence in Ireland by peaceful means instead of sending ship loads of men to force the peace, as Henry’s extravagant lifestyle had left the Crown in deep arrears and men and ships cost money. After announcing himself King of Ireland, a title that would remain until 1800, he asked all kings and chieftains submit to him as their King, hand their lands over and obey English laws, then they would regain all their lands and receive English titles to rule them. This was called the surrender and regrant system. Hoards of Irish nobles accepted the peace offering for reasons of greed, safety, loyalty and bought time but, in the west of Ireland in the province of Connaught, one of two provinces retaining the most freedom from English law and influence along side Ulster, the clan MacWilliam of Mayo who had now become completely Gaelicised, stayed loyal to Irish tradition and culture, remaining mostly untouched by these new laws. The O’Malleys, another clan who refused to acknowledge an English Monarch or any other ruler over them in fact, shared the Burke mindset and continued their way of life as it always had been using Brehon law, Irish language and maintaining their Gaelic culture. 

O’Malleys of Clew Bay

Gráinne Ní Mháille, often anglicized to Grace, was born in 1530 to the O’Malley clan leader Dubhdara O’Malley. A seafaring family residing in the western region known as Umhall. Gráinne was brought up alongside her brother Dónal to learn the way of the seas, the dangerous passages of the west coast and the depths and shallows of the lakes and rivers, but Gráinne excelled over her brother and it was clear from an early age that she would not prescribe to the path of your average Irish woman of the time. A 16 year old Gráinne would be arranged in marriage to the Tániste, meaning second in command, of the O’Flaherty clan, Dónal an Chogaidh O’Flaherty or, Donal of the Battles in the year 1546, the year before the death of King Henry VIII. Initially she would see to her duties in her new home of Bunowen Castle to the far west on the Atlantic coast in the beautiful country of Iar-Chonnacht (West Connaught), birthing three children to Donal while he, being true to his nickname constantly fought with the neighbouring Joyce clan over whos land was whos. After giving birth to two sons and a daughter, Gráinne had grown tired of her domestic role in the household and was naturally drawn back to what she knew best. She took it upon herself to begin her new career as leader of a fleet of ships from the deep coast of Bunowen. She would become renowned after gaining the respect and command of a large fleet consisting of O’Flaherty men, plundering and raiding the coastal towns and attacking trade ships near Galway who’s people feared the brave O’Flahertys. So much so that above the west gate into Galway city, the locals had carved “From the ferocious O’Flaherty’s, Good lord deliver us”. After several years of proving her worth she had gained an equal entitlement as a clan leader if not more so than her Husband Dónal, and she was now seen as a high ranking member of the O’Flaherty clan. Which meant joining in the O’Flaherty struggle and keeping their lands from invading forces and fighting their many enemies, on this occasion the Joyce clan in the long contended land dispute for Castlekirk Island.

Lough Corrib & Hen’s Castle

Lough Corribs north coast runs right along the modern border of Mayo and Galway and sees its most north western point in Mayo run from Maam pier, east past Cornamona to the village of Cong were it dives south towards Galway City. The area has been of major importance through the history of Connaught as you might remember from the previous podcast. Cong, a village on it’s coast was home to High King Ruadhrí O’Conchobhar at the time of his death, the place of celebration for William de Burge and Cathal Crobhdearg O’Conor after their victory over Cathal Carragh. The “conga” of land as it is known in Irish “conga” meaning neck, in between its north coast and the nearby south coast of Lough Mask, a funnel which Richard de Burge 1st Baron of Connaught caught Magnus O’Conor’s men off guard and killed them, and Lough Mask where Albanach de Burge drowned his kin in an attempt to gain complete power over Connaught. A centre point of conflict throughout history and that wouldn’t change during Gráinne lifetime. Similar to Lough Cé the lake is home to a number of Islands but on a much grander scale as the second largest lake in Ireland covering 176 Km squared, it hosts somewhere around 1327 Islands both big and small in total. 

Another lough earning its name from ancient settlers, the Tuatha Dé Danann. This the name of a god of sea Manannán Mac Lir also known as Oirbsen. A name that carries weight from the west coast of Ireland to Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man, an island said to have been named after Manannán, the god who ferried dead souls to the afterlife. Lough Oirbsen as it was once known became corrupted over time to Lough Corrib. Coming from Maam pier just south of the heart of Joyce Country and east of Connemara, entering the western wing of the lough from Bealnabrack river it takes around twenty minutes by a small 4 man boat before you begin to see the emerging silhouette of Hens Castle on Castlekirk Island as I did on a cold January morning so dense with fog the wash of white reflecting off the calm glass like water blurred your eyes so as you had to look at the boat not to lose balance and refocus. The sudden gusts of wind rolling off the top of the nearby mountains and skimming the surface of the lough seemingly appearing out of nowhere sending deep ripples across the water. I could now understand how this inland sea could quickly be riled from it’s most calming state to terrible storm, as so many of the stories here tell of such instances where it would swallow men and ships in the blink of an eye. That and the navigation through the deepest points of 167 foot to the deceptively hard to spot shallow points of only a couple inches makes it a tricky mission if not versed in the mariner skill. On the Island that is no more than 100 meters long and 40 meters wide is the intimidating fortification of Hen’s Castle. One of if not the oldest mortared castles in Ireland. The two story building with towers at three corners and the entrance at the fourth corner  which faces the small pier and leads to steps up to an arched doorway and opens up to the first floor, was built by the sons of King Ruadhrí O’Conchobhar and was aided by William de Burge during a time of peace between them at the very beginnings of the 13th Century. Fedhlim O’Conor, great grandson of Ruadhrí, who was defeated by Richard de Burge, 1st Baron of Connaught saw the destruction of the castle here in 1233 as it was built by his enemy O’Conor kin and the de Burges. 

The lake which belonged to the Danes of Limerick before the Norman invasion and to the Tuatha De Danann long before that, would continue to change hands several times throughout the centuries. In 1061 the O’Conor’s would be banished from Lough Corrib and the O’Flahertys seized control. But in 1225 the O’Conor’s gained back the region by political means and between that year of 1225 and 1233 the castle was constructed. In 1256 de Burge entered the fray and took the lough, its castles and all of its resources for quite a time. It was under this, Walter de Burge who seized the entire region that Hen’s Castle was more than likely rebuilt after Fedhlims destruction as he’s documented as greatly fortifying the castles in the region to increase the power of the foreigners of Connaught. 

It’s difficult to say for definite who resided in the castle between the 13th century and the 16th but we do know that the Joyce clan who came from Wales and set themselves up north of the lough during the 1200’s had a long rivalry with the O’Flaherty’s as it was their land they had settled on. 

Castlekirk island became a focus of this feud in the late 1550’s while it was home to Gráinne O’Malley and her husband Dónal O’Flaherty. Dónal was well use to fighting back raiding parties within the wooded areas surrounding the upper lake and had defended the castle a number of times assumably, as it was known as Cocks Castle to the Joyce by way of his ferocious defence. But one raiding party of Joyce men stumbled upon Dónal an Chogaidh and his clan members on a hunting excursion in the nearby wood and took them by surprise. A melee ensued and Dónal alongside a good number of his men were killed. The Joyce men celebrated as if a single swing of a sword had finally earned them the lake and it’s prized fortification. There’s two possible ways the Joyce men reached Castlekirk island from here. It is possible at the time that there was a land bridge, either naturally occurring or man made, connecting the east of the island to a peninsula around 120 meters away as the water levels in the lake have risen since the 1700’s. This comes from the word of the locals and is told in Caesar Otway’s Tour of Connaught from 1839, apart from the local foclor though it doesn’t seem to have any other reference or bearing in historical fact so we can assume the men simply travelled by boat to assume possession of their new castle. But word had travelled fast to the fierce Gráinne O’Malley and upon the Joyce’ landing outside the castle unaware they’d meet much opposition on entering, her and her garrison gave great battle to the attackers, not allowing them an inch to advance on her dead husband’s children’s birth right. The Joyce men, unable to make progress on their attack and unprepared for siege fled from Gráinne and her men, with such respect for the woman warrior, they renamed the castle, Hen’s Castle. 

Gráinne remained here for a time after the death of Dónal but such a strongly built castle in a well chosen place wouldn’t long remain uncontested.

Some years after the Joyce’ attempt on Hens Castle, Gráinne would suffer siege by an English force from Galway. Completely outmanned but determined to hold the fort, she had the lead from the roof stripped and melted down. Her men then proceeded to throw the boiling liquid lead from the castle walls on top the besiegers and they fled to the coast of the lough. Gráinne seized the window of time to send a small boat from the island at night to light a beacon on the hill of Doon as a call to arms to nearby clans. This struck fear in the English and they headed straight back to Galway.  

The Last of the MacWilliam

Some time after the death of Dónal, Gráinne moved back to her homeland of Umhall and continued her ways at sea from Clare Island. The O’Flaherty men her husband had commanded now gladly followed her and left their homeland for Gráinne’s, a most unusual case in that age. She would once again be set to marry another leader of the region but this a more powerful and influential prospect, Richard an Iarainn (in Iron) Bourke. An Iarainn meaning in Iron as he oversaw iron mines on his land, but a more fun explanation some believe is that he constantly wore a set of outdated armour from an ancestor of his. Richard was a high chieftain of the MacWilliam clan and eligible for Chief MacWilliam as his father was, if voted into the position under Brehon law. Interestingly his place in the hierarchy had been set by Gráinne’s previous husband.

Dónal O’Flaherty had killed a man named Walter Fada Burke, or Walter the tall in 1549, as a favour to his Sister who was Walter Fada’s stepmother. This enabled her natural born son Richard, now husband of Gráinne, the eligibility of MacWilliam. A typically odd and complex situation of the era. Richard was a man well versed in battle and politics and held a lot of good coastal land, and if elected MacWilliam he would oversee most of the west as the most powerful man in Connaught. A great catch for Gráinne Umhall to continue her career at sea and climb the ladder of power in Ireland. 

Meanwhile in London, Elizabeth I had embarked on what would be her long successful reign as Queen of England but before her success would come an unstable period with very little security in her position. Under the laws of Catholicism, she had no claim on the throne as she was the child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Seen by some as an illegitimate marriage as Henry had divorced his first wife without permission from the church. Elizabeth knew well she needed to continue in her father’s footsteps and enforce the reformation and monarchical supremacy over the church throughout the lands in her control, or potentially lose that control or worse yet, be overthrown by the Catholic Queen Mary of Scots who had a legitimate claim. 

As Henry had done before her, she requested the head of each house of Ireland to acknowledge her as Queen and to take up the faith that cemented her seat, but the Mayo clan of MacWilliam refused once more and continued to ignore the request until 1576. 

The wild west of Ireland had become a concern for Elizabeth and it’s during the 1570’s the English start to make it a priority to bring its people to heel. The Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney who had served in Ireland for some years at this point and would later introduce structure to the region by braking apart the ancient kingdoms of Thomond and Connaught, creating Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon and had taken note of all the clans and leaders, enemies and allies of the counties while accepting most of their submissions under the surrender and regrant system. We begin to see the true beginnings of the English Government using its intelligence system to subdue their foes in Ireland. Queen Elizabeth had been using the divide and conquer strategy, pitching Irish clans against each other and bringing the weeknd parties in to submit and acknowledge her as their Queen, and with more information the tactics could only grow stronger. Henry Sidney entered Connaught in 1576 where he summoned Shane MacOliverus Bourke, the Chief MacWilliam at the time into Galway to demand his submission. Usually the MacWilliams would ignore such a request as they had done in the past and back their refusal up with their numbers in men, but Sidney knew of their stubborn history so he devised a new plan. Henry Sidney had gained the allegiance of the O’Donnell clan and their Gallowglass mercenaries who were dependants under MacWilliam before requesting to meet him, men who made up a great bulk of the MacWilliams forces. This was a serious blow to the army MacWilliam depended on to back his words, and Shane had no option but to head for Galway and meet with Sidney. Much to the upset of Richard an Iarainn, the táinste MacWilliam and his wife Gráinne O’Malley, Shane MacOliverus Burke returned to Mayo as Sir Shane Burke, a servant to the Queen under English law accepting the terms to pay 250 Pounds a year in rent and the activity of 200 soldiers every two months to the crown. The main issue upon his return being the electoral system under Brehon law no longer being in affect now that the chief, Sir Shane, had agreed to the implementation of English law in his territory, meaning Richard’s title as Tániste was meaningless and Sir Shane MacWilliam’s brother would now succeed him. 

Gráinne wouldn’t stand for this. With her respected reputation as a warrior and political force now unquestionably obvious on the island and succeeding that of her husbands at this point, it was Gráinne now with Richard at her side who feared the English lords were getting the better of her family. They marched to Galway to speak with Sir Henry Sidney. But when they arrived Gráinne didn’t storm into a room, red with rage shouting about occupiers of her land and country or even rights of their native laws, Gráinne as most leaders up to this point in the history of Ireland had no concept or at least no realistic grasp of a united country, she wished simply for the safety of her family, lands and her inheritance. Gráinne was smarter than to show herself as overly emotional as a substitute for authority to her enemy. Whether she knew it or not, I’m leaning towards her knowing it, her presence demanded that authority on its own. She met with Sir Henry Sidney and decided to side with him rather than oppose him, offering her naval power and army of 200 men and 3 galleys hoping to secure their position over the brother of Shane MacWilliam as a prefered alley in the future. 

Although Sidney agreed to her assistance her plan of sweetening him up didn’t work and it would take several years before the matter of Chief MacWilliam would be resolved. 

In 1580, Sir Shane MacWilliam MacOliverus Burke died and without taking a breath, Gráinne and Richard in Iarainn arrived to challenge Sir Shane’s brother and title with an overwhelming force of over 2200 men with support from the other chiefs of Mayo. The English took notice of these numbers and were quick to negotiate as they were heavily occupied with the counter reformation movement south of Connaught named the Second Desmond Rebellion and couldn’t afford to begin splitting forces. Richard and Gráinne had achieved their right under Brehon law to the MacWilliamship through the negotiations and although Richard Burke would promise to maintain English law, he would be inaugurated in the Irish tradition of MacWilliam at an ancient site near Kilmaine and refuse an English title to oversee his territory. Meanwhile the previous MacWilliams brother had to settle for the position of Sheriff of Mayo.

The son of Gráinne and Richard, Tibbot ne Long, or Theobald of the ships, named so as he had been born to Gráinne while at sea, wouldn’t be as lucky in keeping the west Irish and his title as Gaelic chief. Fitting to the position, the first MacWilliam, Albanach de Burge and his wife Sadhbh Ní Máillie who gave birth to the second MacWilliam Thomas Burke would share the same bloodlines of the final MacWilliam, son of Richard Burke and Gráinne Ní Mháille. Tibbot would continue to side with the Irish, maintaining the MacWilliam lands as Gaelic until a majorly defining war in Irish History began in 1593. The Nine Years War. Tibbet had agreed to raise an army and take part in the rebellion alongside the O’Donnells of Ulster, under Hugh Roe O’Donnell but his gathering of men caught the attention of the English occupiers and Tibbot was arrested and jailed in Athlone. Hugh O’Donnell needed every man he could get his hands on for a last stand and chance at freeing his lands and allies lands, he couldn’t do without the men of Mayo and without their leader there was little to no chance of securing it’s forces. O’Donnell in an attempt to recruit the western army inaugurated Tibbots cousin himself as the new MacWilliam Chief but by this time, Tibbot had already been freed from prison. 

Tibbots mother Gráinne, as influential as ever had travelled to London to negotiated his surrender and regrant with Queen Elizabeth in person and secured his release in 1594. Tibbot returned and quickly regained support in Mayo and his position as leader but O’Donnells attempt at placing a new Chief in his territory left a bitter taste in his mouth and he refused to join Hugh Roe O’Donnell or his ally Hugh O’Neill in the war. In the winter of 1601 Tibbot ne Long sailed his army south, towards the infamous Siege and soon to be Battle of Kinsale, a last stand and major battle of the war where Catholic Spanish allies of the Irish attempting to liberate the land and enforce a Catholic dominancy on the island where besieged, forcing a battle to ensue once the Irish reinforcements arrived. But instead of engaging, Tibbot sat on the sidelines and did not take part in the battle, leaving both sides guessing who he backed. As the harsh Irish winter brought cold winds and rain and the Irish coming from Ulster cut off the English supply lines, effectively laying siege to the besiegers, the Englishmen began to fall with sickness. The Irish were instructed by the Spanish to attack and break the siege they had endured for 77 days but even with the English armies dwindling numbers, the Irish were decisively beaten down and forced to flee from the waves of English cavalry and their lack of organisation. The Spanish troops surrendered and sailed home. Approximately 7000 died over the course of the events, mostly from disease. Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by King James I, who knighted Tibbot ne Long in 1604. With Sir Theobald Burke now a servant to the Crown seeing the end of the MacWilliam title and the Flight of the Earls three years later, an event that saw Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O’Donnell along side a number of Clan members of Ulster flee the country after the defeat of the Nine Years War, it had officially taken the English over 400 years to bring Ireland under control. And although the MacWilliamship ended here after more than 250 years of rule in Connaught, Tibbot ne Longs family would continue, marrying Maeve O’Conor of the Sligo O’Conors and having 8 children to carry on the name and legacy. Tibbot would become an MP in the Irish Parliament and spend the rest of his life fighting for Catholic rights until his death in 1629.

Thankfully the rebellions didn’t stop there and wouldn’t stop until the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 which became the Republic we know today. Though Ireland is still today not completely free of British rule nearly 850 years since the first English Monarch stepped foot in Éire, it is only a matter of time before a peaceful unification process begins for the first time in the small Islands deep and fascinating history. 

Episode 2

Castle Islands & Conflicts of Connaught Pt.I

Connaught Coat of Arms 1651

O’Conchobhair

Connaught at the time of the Norman conquest was the seat of the High King of Ireland, hosting the last true Gaelic High King Ruaidhrí O’Conchobhair (Rory O’Conor).

Rory who took the kings seat of Ireland in 1166 had no way of knowing how his early rule as king would become associated with what became known as the 800 years of oppression. Though it would seem that he did everything within his power to maintain the independence of the kingdoms within ireland and wouldn’t be right to put the weight of this term on Rory himself. In his first year as King, he would meet with Tighearnán Ó’Ruairc, King of Breifne, Diarmaid Ó’Maelseachlainn, King of Meath and the “Foreigners of Dublin”, as they were known, to lead an assault on Leinster and see the King of the province, Diarmait Mac Murchadha pay for his crimes against the O’Rourke clan of Breifne. In 1152, Mac Murchadha had abducted the king O’Rourke’s wife, Derbforgaill. 15 years after the abduction, The High King burned and destroyed the home of Mac Murchadha in Ferns and banished him from Ireland. Tiernan O’Rourke had his revenge. The event’s to follow the exile of Diarmait would see him still today regarded as the most treasonous of all Irishmen, as he requested assistance from a foreign force, King Henry II of England and hired Norman Mercenaries to help retrieve his kingdom of Leinster. We all know how that turned out, and if you don’t, I highly suggest you listen to the Norman Invasion series on The Irish History Podcast by Fin Dwyer. A greatly detailed series on the events.

Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise 1854
(Diarmait Mac Murchadha marries his daughter to leading Norman Strongbow in Waterford)

The Anglo Normans had a firm grasp on lands in the east and south of the country come 1172 and Kings and Chief men from the kingdoms within Ireland, had submitted to the English Monarch. Rory O’Conor himself sued for peace from Henry II and acknowledged him as overlord after conflicts with neighbouring kings and the foreign invasion had weakened his position, but he would only convene with the English King’s messengers on the edge of his home land of Connaught by the river Shannon and did not meet Henry in person. A back and forth ensued over the next few years between internal kingdoms and with the Normans. Both sides Irish and Anglo Norman seeing victory and defeat seemingly to no end, but in 1175 via emissary, Rory and Henry would agree on “The peace of Ireland” and both signed the treaty of Windsor. The treaty saw Rory maintain High Kingship of Ireland outside of Leinster, Meath and Waterford which would belong to king Henry. He would collect one hide per 10 animals slaughtered to be paid to Henry and would see the native Gaelic who had fled from the occupied lands return to their homes peacefully once they served their new Norman lords. Rory was also required to maintain the peace of the island as it was before, and if incapable of stopping a rebellion, he would be aided by the King Henry’s constable of the Island. This part of the treaty would prove the most difficult to uphold for both Kings.

Connaught

Rory maintained a lot of what he held before the invasion, apart from a dent in his status and power, the loss of some lands in the east and some cattle hides, most importantly he held his kingship and could rebuild. He may have seen the treaty as a way to lighten one of the many weights from his shoulders in that the Norman invaders would now have to settle peacefully or answer to their own king, and he could continue with his reign. Or more likely he knew the way of men during the age and used the treaty as bought time. This, the sensible route as the Normans couldn’t resist the idea of expanding their lands and that is what they did. Raids had been launched from the occupiers in the east and north where they devastated the land and killed a number of clan chiefs but nothing to the far west, into Connaught until 1177 when they crossed the river Shannon into modern Roscommon and tore their way through the province burning the lands and churches in front of them, their path being guided by Ruaidrí Ó’Conchabhair’s son Murchadh. Rory who was in the far west at the time, lead a force of men from Connaught and Munster immediately after he heard of the invasion and sought out victory. The foreign army of roughly 540 men raided from the mid north region of Connaught until they arrived at Tuam where word had spread of the march and the people had fled with all their cattle and valuables leaving little behind them. News arrived to Tuam where the men had been resting for three days that Rory had gathered a force and was on his way to meet them. The Norman men began their retreat but soon after, the Connaught men intercepted them and would have broken their army had Rory’s son not guided them to safety. The army fled until they were clear of the natives and reached Uarán just east of Galway city. But after one nights rest once again the Connecians tracked them and ambushed them. The Irish inflicted great damage to their force as they ran out of Connaught having no idea how many they had lost until they were outside the province.

Rory’s Son Murchadh was blinded for the treason of aiding the enemy.

Disturbance within the O’Conor clan deepend over the next decade with the rise of Conchobar Maenmaige Ua Conchobhair (Conor Moinmoy O’Conor), the son of Rory. In 1183 Rory had abdicated his throne to his son as he went on pilgrimage to Cong but after two years he failed to renounce his past and clearly regretted his abdication. Unable to commit to the life of a monk, in 1185 he left the monastery to regain his position of power. He alongside Domhnall O’Briain of Munster raided through west Connaught and eventually made peace with Conor Moinmoy through the unrest he had caused, and they decided to divide the rule of Connaught between them. But only the next year, Conor Moinmoy felt a duel ruling of the province restricted his authority and it was his time to take back the kingship for himself, so he successfully overthrew Rory’s influence and power and banished him to Munster. This begins the declining years for the last Irish high king.

His son Conor didn’t last long as king of Connaught however as he was killed at the instigation of Conchobhar O’Diarmata, Rorys foster son and a man Moinmoy considered a brother in 1189 and message was sent to Rory to retake his position as rightful king. Now in his 70’s, a very ripe age for the time, Rory headed North seeking allegiance to gain back his power in Connaught but at every turn, he was let down. He toured the island from Tyrone to Meath to Munster and must have felt utterly defeated gaining neither men or support in his travels. In 1191 he seemingly accepted his position and that time and man had moved on and set out to continue his penance at the Monastery of Cong.

Monastery of Cong

Cúnga na Mainistir

On the modern day boarder of Mayo and Galway, the ruined monastery positioned off of the east bank of the river Corrib serves as a central landmark to the small village of Cong that wraps itself around the north side of the church. The area became a site of religious practice during the 7th century when Saint Féchín built a small monastery there, unfortunately there are no remains of Féchíns abbey there today, but out of his 8 abbeys built in Ireland there still stands remains from the 1350 year old walls of Omey Island monastery off the coast of Connemara.

The abbey at Cong that stood at the time of Ruadhrí and some of which still stands today was founded by the king of Ireland and father to Rory, Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair in the 12th century. The monastery had been set ablaze in 1114 and 1137, both times being rebuilt by Toirdhealbhach, though not much is written about the attacks other than the latter was caused by men from Munster.

Cong Abbey 1867

Toirdhealbhach, in addition to founding the rebuilt monastery, had a decorative cross commissioned for the holy building that was meant to be mounted on top a staff or set on the altar of the church. This special holy relic is a statement of the status of the O’Conor’s and catholicism at the time. The centerpiece of the monastery, believed to have been made in Roscommon and brought to Tuam before remaining in Cong, is beautifully crafted with precious metals and stained glass in a traditional irish manner in parts and with clear European influence in others, surrounding an oak core cast in bronze, but it’s also famed for the piece of the “true cross”, that was housed centrally at the junction between the arms. The true cross being a splinter of wood that was part of the cross the son of God died on. Unfortunately the piece of the true cross has not survived the 896 years since Toirdhealbhach received it from Rome in 1123 but Cong Cross itself has survived in amazing condition and is viewable at the National Museum on Kildare Street in Co.Dublin. An inscriptions on the cross in Latin reads, “With this cross is covered the cross on which suffered the Maker of the World.”, another in Irish reads “A prayer for Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair, for the King of Ireland, for whom this shrine was made”.

Cross of Cong

Back to the abbey itself, the floor of the main church as you enter is made completely of tombstones with three massively tall and narrow windows overlooking the graves. In this room the locals will tell you Rory was once buried and then moved but there is no evidence of this. There is evidence of his family being interred at Cong though, his son Muirghis Cananach Ua Conchobhair, a rare man of peace for the time who was renowned for singing, poetry and his level of literacy died in 1224 and was buried in the monastery. As were two of Rory’s daughters, Nuala, Queen of Ulidia in 1226 and Finnuala in 1274.

Main Church

The monastery had additions built onto it throughout time and some of the arches and stonework have been repurposed and moved around. The detail and craftsmanship of these arches that still stand as you walk through to the chapter house and exit towards the river are regarded as some of the best in the country.

As you exit you begin walking the bridge over the river Corrib towards a forested area, a 15th century stone fishing hut sits literally on top of the river to the south, and as you come to the end of the bridge you are met by an arch with the sculpted face of Rory O’Conor peering down from its top.

15th Century Monks Fishing Hut
Sculpted head of Rory O’Conor

Rory would spend 7 years at the monastery of Cong until his death in 1198 at the age of 82. The Annals of the Four Masters record “Ruaidrí O’Conchobair, King of Connaught and of all Ireland, both the Irish and the English, died among the canons at Cong, after exemplary penance, victorious over the world and the devil. His body was conveyed to Clonmacnoise, and interred at the north side of the altar of the great church”.

As is usually the case after the vacancy and/or death of a great leader, a vacuum must be filled and people must be lead. In the turbulent era of the late 12th century with a constant swaying of power in Connaught and Ireland, two men looked to head the O’Conor province. After the former high king’s banishment and his sons murder, Cathal Crobhdearg O’Conor, Rory’s younger brother took leadership in 1189. The second man, who would contest the newly appointed leader was Cathal Carragh O’Conor, the grandson of Rory and son of Conor Moinmoy. After Carragh took revenge for his father Conor Moinmoy’s murder that year by killing Conchobair O’Diarmata, he and Crobhdearg tried to make peace as they had opposed each others claim to the kingship in 1185, but the peace would not be made until the year of Rory’s death, in 1198 almost ten years later. Assumably Carragh had held onto his resentment and felt as though his claim was still valid, for the peace made seemed to be part of a plot for Carragh to regain permission to Crobhdearg’s territory. The next year, in resemblance to his father Conor and Rory, Carragh overthrew Crobhdearg and he was banished from his home. Not wasting time, Crobhdearg sought out relief from Hugh O’Neill and his men of the north but they were soundly defeated by Carragh in Ballysadare modern County Sligo alongside his men of Connaught and a force of Normans from Limerick. After Cathal Carragh defeated the O’Neill army he was met by a second relief force lead by the notable Norman leaders Hugh De Lacy and John de Courcy from Uliad (East Ulster) and Meath. The Norman forces were completely slaughtered at Kilmacduagh. The defeated force fled from battle but were pursued to the bank of Lough Rea were many more were killed while few made their escape in boats across the lough. Carragh’s success in these battles, whilst due to the aiding chiefs of Connaught was also cemented by William de Burge and his Anglo Norman men of Limerick. William, the Governor of Limerick came from a renowned family, his brother Hubert was regarded as “the most powerful man in England next to King John” and they claimed ancestry from the Emperor Charlemange of the 8th century. It seemed as though William de Burge, first of his name in Ireland held no loyalty to either side of the warring O’Conor’s though as the next year in 1200, the defeated Cathal Crobhdearg met with him to solicit aid for his regaining of Connaught, which he achieved.

Carragh would continue to affirm his position in the province by officially assuming control of the Government, unknowing that his great Uncle, Crobhdearg had intentions of war and had recruited his former ally. Crobhdearg and de Burge entered Connaught and made their way to Roscommon with a force of Irish and Norman and set up military quarters in the houses of the monastery of Boyle. Carragh, now King of Connaught marched against them and set camp nearby the Monastery. For a week the opposing armies maintained their position with minor skirmishes taking place every day but no large force being pushed to battle. You can imagine how impatient some of the men grew as they sat in camp waiting for battle each day only to see small forces in the distance having it out, some returning successful and some not so. One man who succumbed to his impatience was the king himself, Carragh O’Conor. After a week long camp he left for a closer viewing of one of the skirmishes for a feel of the action and surely enough he would get his fill, as his men were pushed back by the opposing force and he became entangled in the melee and here, he was killed. A somewhat anticlimactic ending to Cathal Carragh O’Conor but a positive outcome for Crobhdearg and William de Burge as they then passed into Cong in West Connaught where they celebrated their victory during Easter. Upon the Norman men’s leave however, they requested payment for their service but received instead a slaughtering from the men of Connaught where 700 of them were killed before the rest returned to Limerick with William. Cathal Crobhdearg, brother of Rory once again sat as King of Connaught.

William de Burge’s involvement in this conflict would begin the de Burge’s own story in the province and see their name still relevant there today.

Richard, the son of William de Burge would become Justiciar of Ireland in 1228 four years after King Crobhdearg’s death and although the O’Conors maintained the kingship of Connaught it was mostly by Richards decision who ruled there. It was during the government of this man that they became the overlords of kings and chieftains of Connaught.

De Burge of Connaught

Richard de Burge Sheild 1250

Richard de Burge, Son of William, Justiciar of Ireland was met with opposition from the O’Conors soon after the beginning of his career on the island. The year of his arrival in 1228, a year of cold and famine in a barran and burned Connaught as the O’Conor’s fought over the kingship prior to his landing, Aedh Ó’Concobhar (Hugh O’Conor) had been elected King of Connaught. Two years after his election and Richards arrival, in 1230 Hugh with a handful of leading chieftains including Cormac Mac Diarmata of Lough Cé and Donn óg Mac Airechtaigh of Síol Murray (Roscommon) who after counselling Hugh into a rebellion, had pledged that “they would never own a lord who should bring them to make submission to the Galls” Gall meaning foreigner in Irish, not to be mistaken for Gael which refers to the native Irish. The Irish Chiefs and their King set out on a campaign of raiding and plundering Richard and the Normans with success, until Richard formed a major force of Galls from all over Ireland to confront them. Accompanying Richard on this conquest of Connaught was Fedhlim O’Conor, son of the previous king Cathal Crobhdearg, who he wished to place as a puppet king after Hugh and his men had been defeated.

The two armies met at the mouth of Galway, beside Galway city, on two sides of the river but the outcome was more or less a stalemate with only skirmishes commencing. Richard and all his men made the strategic decision to leave the camp and pursue Hugh and his armies supply of cattle, goods and his followers who had fled the battle area upon their arrival. After the successful retreat from the battlefield, Richard birthed an idea to intercept Connaught men travelling north by a commonly used passage between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask where they then came across some of Chieftain Magnus O’Conors men and killed some of his officers at Cong. This resulted in the submission of Magnus and the gaining of hostages soon after.

With only a few skirmishes and some clever thinking, Richard de Burge had the rebelling Irish army on the backfoot. Hugh and his men, now without supply or hostages themselves sought refuge with the O’Neil clan to the north where they could reassess their defense of the province, but Hugh’s decision was argued by the clan leader Donn óg Mac Airechtaigh insisting they stay on the attack. Donn óg took the initiative without Hughs approval and travelled to meet Richards army in the north of Connaught, very possibly in the mountainous terrain of Carrowkeel in Sligo. He would approach on their western flank with backing from a good number of Connacian chieftains. When they arrived at their position sat beside an old Cairn they saw the foreign army below. Donn óg ordered a force to attack and they sprung their trap on the Galls, killing many of them and undoubtedly feeling positive about the ambush, not realising that a large group of Normans had been split from the fighting force to surround the Cairn at which Donn óg and some of his kin oversaw the battle. With nowhere to go and any men who were at his side now dead or consumed in battle below, he was utterly outnumbered and meant for death himself. Standing alone armed with a battle axe he took five arrows before a horseman attempted to seal his faith, but bearing such wounds, Donn óg still fought off the horseman keeping him and his spear at bay for some time until the surrounding men charged towards the Irishman and killed him. Hugh, who had been waiting and watching the Galls from the east side was unaware of Donn óg’s faith and had not sent reinforcements as the attack had not been agreed on by him and the other men. He retreated as him and his men were spotted and given chase and they continued on their travels to the northern O’Neil.

Richard took this as a great victory and Fedhlim O’Conor, Richards chosen king of Connaught accepted the crown and his overlords in the de Burges.

In 1231 however, one year after this conflict, Richard smelled a rebel in Fedhlim and had him imprisoned. The kingship was restored to Hugh after he and Richard made peace. You can’t help but feel the hundreds of deaths leading to this point from Richards arrival were somewhat unnecessary and the release of Fedhlim by Richard in 1232 would have to result in war again between the O’Conors. Fedhlim, son of Cathal Crobhdearg did indeed gather a large force to regain his kingship and sought the destruction of Hugh and any of the sons of Rory that might oppose him. He invaded Connaught and did kill all of Rory, last king of Ireland’s seed, including Hugh O’Conor and with that, he had regained the kingship for himself and destroyed any castle that the sons of Rory and the de Burge had built, namely, Bungalvy, Castle Kirk, castle na Caillighe and Dunamon castle.

The man that sat in the kings seat of Connaught in 1235, Fedhlim O’Conor, initially used as a puppet king for the foreigners had secured the sovereignty of the region and freedom from the Anglo Normans and the English Monarch, an act that could not be met without resistance from the oppressor.

Richard de Burge, Son of William called on the noblemen from across the country and gathered an army intended to finally put down the rebelling nature of the Irish to the west. Lead by himself, Maurice Fitzgerald, who was then justiciar of Ireland, Hugh De Lacy, Earl of Ulster, Walter Riddlesford, Baron of Leinster and John Gogan of Munster, all of whom brought their forces on the conquest of Connaught. Entering first Roscommon where they blew through the kingdom like a plague leaving barren lands and empty monasteries behind them.

Fedhlim with Donnchad Ó’Brien of Munster attempted to beat back the Foreign army and met them in pitched battle but the mail clad horsemen triumphed over the Irish, forcing a hesitant submission from O’Brien as his men had been chopped down in great numbers. Many were killed on both sides of this battle but Fedhlim, still held his numbers and the Connician men who fought gained the greatest respect and credit having lost very few and fought hard and honorably but without the Munster men beside them and assumably after witnessing the size and capability of Richards army, Fedhlim went into hiding in Ballysadare at the home of the O’Domnaill clan. The Majority of the Connecain forces retreated to Castle Island on Lough Cé in Roscommon, the home of Cormac Mac Diarmata.

Lough Cé & Mac Diarmata Castle

Loch Cé agus Caislean Mac Diarmata

North east of the famed monastery of Boyle where Cathal Carragh O’Conor saw his end, a lough fed by the river Shannon hosts several small islands within. The lough known as Lough Cé was named after a Druid of the god Nuada who was first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, early settlers known vaguely from the records of Irish history and thoroughly through its mythology. Cé had been mortally wounded in the battle of Mag Tuired, a battle resisting the oppressive nature of the Fomhóraigh or Firbolg as they’re also known, the seafaring descendants of Noah and gods of chaos. He fled and rested in north Connaught where he eventually died. Once his body was buried where he lay, a flood of water burst from the grave, creating the lough that exists today, or so the myth tells us. To the south west of the lough lies Trinity Island, one of the smaller islands, now overgrown with trees and plants, yet still sitting in between the wild growth is the ruin of The Holy Trinity Abbey. A religious site since the 7th century with surviving architecture from the 9th century AD. The Island was gifted by the O’Reilly kings of Bréifne in 1215 to Clarus Mag Máilin where further building took place and the catholic practices of the White Canons commenced, The White Canons being a more strict order than those of the Augustinians.

Inside the Holy Trinity Ruin

The regular day to day structure of those inside the Abbey would become disrupted in 1228 however, when a number of monks left the monastery of Boyle for the Holy Trinity as the Cistercian Council of that year declared Boyle as become too Gaelic. An unfortunate and trending turn of the church to back the foreign invaders.

To the far east of Trinity island sits Castle Island, an island smaller still being about a third the size of the holy island, no more than 60 x 50 meters. Initially lands belonging to the McGreevy clan, who were the kings of that area for around 200 years before the Mac Diarmatas took total control of the region. The site was known at the time of Fedhlim O’Conor by the name, The Rock of Loch Cé. The Norman style castle with its bright white 8 foot thick lime washed walls had only two rooms one above the other 36 by 22 foot in diameter, with a skirting wall covering the oval coast of the island.

The castle appears in the annals of said lough after its destruction by lightning in 1184. That year a tremendous bolt struck the fortification and set its entirety ablaze. It is recorded that between 120 to 140 people died including “fifteen men of the race of kings and chieftains”. Those who survived the flames drowned in the lake, all but Conchobhar Mac Diarmata and a small number of his people.

Conchobhair MacDiarmata’s grandson Cormac would become king of Magh-Luirg an Dagda, a small region of north east Connaught and head of the castle in 1218 after the death of his Uncle Diarmaid.

The same Cormac that had convinced Hugh O’Conor along side Donn óg to rebel against the foreigner now harboured the majority of Fedhlims troops in his home. A necessary act as his faith lay in the Irish despite Fedhlims men having killed his previous commander Hugh, he stood uncompromisingly against the foreigner no matter the cost.

After Richard de Burges men performed great naval battle and plunder of Umhall, the western coast of the world defeating Magnus O’Conor and his army, they marched north east to challenge Cormac and his harboured soldiers.

As the Abbey on Trinity Island had become more welcoming to the English and Anglo Norman men in Ireland the decade previous to this conflict of 1235, the Justiciar of Ireland Maurice Fitzgerald decided to grant protection to the place of worship and to Clarus Mag Máilin, the Archdeacon as him and Richard and all the Gall men arrived at the lough. Fitzgerald and the other leaders marched to the bank of lough Cé and departed to Trinity Island to pay their respects and pray for a while. A suspiciously innocent act perceived from the not too distant Castle Island. Cormac and the O’Conor army must undoubtedly have heard of the continued sacking and submitting, burning and battling that was raging through their homeland and receiving word of the men responsible arriving at the coast of their lough, you can assume the panic within the castle grounds in assembling the men and readying for whatever may come next.

The guarding men peering over the battlements of Mac Diarmata castle at the calm water in the direction of a holy island housing the leading men who opposed their freedom with an enemy force resting on nearby land.

A rippling in the water would appear to the east of the castle and they would notice a fleet of ships entering loch Cé from the river not only with a large number of men on board but also carrying siege engines meant to crumble the walls of Mac Diarmata Castle and to crush the spirit of rebellion in all the Connaught men. The Anglo Army brought their ships into the lough and dismounted and raised a trebuchet on a small earthwork near the island. A non stop barrage of massive rocks were hurled towards The Rock of Loch Cé which would have sent waves of rumblings throughout the foundations of the fortification and the water surrounding it. The men inside, powerless for the most part with nowhere to go and no weaponry capable of countering the siege engine. Luckily for Cormac and the Connecians the walls were built strong and the assault on them from the Normans was not successful, unable to breach any entrances. The soldiers off the coast of the lough saw that the attack on the wall was hopeless and thought to devise a new tactic. Whether they knew it or not, the castle and people within had only ever been defeated by fire. First in 1184 and again in 1187 where Conchobhar Mac Diarmata’s wife had been killed among many others in an accident. The men at the coast begun tearing down the locals houses and anything that could be burned. They gathered it atop rafts they had built using barrels to keep it all above water and tied them to the back of a ship, ready for departure to the island haunted by fire. They set alight at least one of the fire ships as a beacon of their intent and they drifted across the water guided by the large galley ahead ready to land them and light up the remaining rafts and in turn the whole castle. The people on the island of Mac Diarmata were all too familiar with the stories of fire there, knowing only a handful had survived the burning or drowning of the past. With this knowledge, the men of Cormac and Fedhlim lost all hope and held only fear. They opened the gates and walked out, surrendering the castle before the galley had reached their coast. The west had been lost.

Lough Cé

The defeated men were ferried from the Castle Island and The Justiciar left a garrison of well equipped soldiers in the castle and hosted a feast in celebration. All the defeated Gaels were left without food, clothes or home, as the Annals of Loch Cé record “They [English] left neither peace, nor quietness, nor tranquility, nor happiness in the country; but the Gaeidhel themselves were robbing and killing one another regarding the residue which the Foreigners left in it on this occasion”.

The leading men of Connaught, Cormac Mac Diarmata and Fedhlim O’Conor where to submit to the overlordship of Richard de Burge and make peace with Maurice Fitzgerald after the defeat. Fedhlim would be forced to accept chieftaincy of 5 out of the 30 candreds (sub divisions) of Connaught while Richard oversaw the other 25 cadreds and became 1st Baron of Connaught.

As for the garrison left at the castle, they stayed for three weeks until they were locked outside after leaving the island by a man name O’Hostin who then handed it back to Cormac Mac Diarmata. The force now without shelter or way of re-entering fled the area and Cormac saw to the destruction of the castle himself, removing it rock by rock so as the Foreigners may never hold it again.  

The Kings of Magh-Luirg an Dagda remained in the area and still resided on the island after it had been rebuilt until Brian of the Carragh, the last resident of Castle Island died in 1592. As was the faith of most castles in the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell’s men seized the lands in the early 1650’s, and gifted it to the crown. The island went unoccupied until the building of the castle, or folly building that stands there now, meaning it was never meant as a defencive building but more of an architectural feat. The Stafford family who received the land destroyed the Mac Diarmata fort, keeping only the 13th century skirting wall and built the folly for the purpose of a summer house or place to entertain their friends in the early 19th century, but true to the curse of the island it was destroyed by fire due to an electrical fault in the 1940’s and has since been left abandoned.

Rebuilt Folly Castle on McDiarmatas Castle Island

If by chance however you have a couple hundred thousand euro, the island with all its fortifications and history is currently for sale. Though I recommend whoever buys it installs fire escapes.

Conclusion

In this year of 1235 most of the clans of Connaught had submitted to the powerful Richard de Burge after the pitched battle between him and Fedhlim and the siege of MacDiarmata Castle but years after Richards death which occurred en route to France in 1243, his descendants would succumb to the strong culture and way of the Irish and septs of the de Burge family would become powerful Gaels fighting for the freedom of all their own and Éire’s people achieving self governance and maintaining Brehon Law in regions of the country. In the second part of this podcast we will continue on with the de Burge’s among other families and their struggles through the physical and political battlefields from the 14th to the 16th century.

Episode 01

The Three Le Poer Castles

Co.Waterford
Le Poer coat of arms 1850
The Le Poer Family

In 1171, King Henry II visited Ireland shortly after the beginnings of the Norman conquest to meet with Richard de Clare (Strongbow). The visit was meant to assure his dominance over the Normans, who had left from Wales in 1169 on what became a mostly successful conquering of the island. During his stay he would also see to receive submission from Ireland’s major Kings. A charter written by Henry II at this time allowing people of England to reside in Ireland still exists today in Dublin City Library.  

Henry II Charter

After Strongbow took Dublin, the King was concerned that without his personal presence, the Norman’s of Ireland may establish an independent kingdom separate of Anglo Norman England. This could pose a much greater threat than the Gaelic tribes as the Normans were more advanced in warfare than the natives of Ireland.

In 1177 the King visited Ireland again but this time for administrative purposes rather than potentially threatening ones as Strongbow had died the year previously. He sought to appoint his youngest son and yet to be King, John Lackland as Lord of Ireland and grant lands to Anglo Norman Lords who would swear fealty to John. Among King Henry II.s accompaniment to Ireland were four men thought to be brothers from Devon, Sir Robert, Sir Roger, Simon and William Le Poer, with Sir Robert heading the clan. Sir Robert acted as Marshall of Ireland and was commissioned with Hugh De Lacy (later of Trim Castle) as Justiciars of Ireland, all after he became a grantee of lands in Waterford. Lands that were taken from the O’Flanagans by the king.

Seemingly an ambitious man, Robert was held in lower regards by Giraldus Cambrensis, or Gerald of Wales, the 12th century chronicler who wrote of him, he was “dishonorable and so lacking in activity” and according to some, he later settled in Mide (Meath). Sir Roger “ The Beardless”, on the other hand was written of by the same chronicler saying “There was not a man who did more valiant acts than Roger Le Poer who, Although he were young and beardless, yet showed himself a lusty, valiant and courageous gentleman”. Over time, the family built up a reputation with large forts and castles to defend that reputation on their lands of the entire County of Waterford, The land known as “Paorcha” or, Power’s Country, spanned from Waterford City to the Comeragh Mountains and the water beyond Lismore.

Map of Southern Ireland roughly highlighting the Le Poer Land – 1654

During the next few centuries the occupying Anglo Normans became Hibernicised by marrying into Gaelic families and becoming part of the Irish culture itself, which birthed the term Hiberno Norman or later, Anglo Irish, similar to the Dane invasion centuries earlier resulting in the Hiberno Norse.

As the crown granted the Le Poers more land and titles and as a result, more power, some of them began to consider Waterford their own country essentially, appointing their own judges for their courts using Brehon Law, and introducing their own leveys.


Dunhill Castle

Caisleán Dún Áil

The specific ancestral history of the Le Poer’s are somewhat uncertain until the 13th century under the reign of King John, which is exactly the period when Dunhill becomes apparent with some exterior castle walls that are still partially standing dating to this time period. The earliest mention of the now ruined church however, was in 1302 where a record of taxation exists for it’s serving area. Spanning between the Castle and the Church is where the medieval village of Dún Áil stood. A string of wooden houses with smoke billowing through their thatched roofs, people and farm animals roaming the muddy paths while being overlooked by the priest’s tower residence which was once attached to the front of the church.

The Name Dún Áil meaning Fort on the Cliff suggests that a Gaelic wooden Castle existed here until the building of a stone Anglo Norman castle, peering over the river Anne most likely erected by the Baron of Dunhill, Henry Fitz Philip Le Poer.

As mentioned previously, a large portion of the Le Poer clann had become hibernicised and obtained a fearsome reputation by the 14th century. Nearly 200 years after landing in Ireland with an English King, some of them were now openly rebelling against the crown. During this time they had frequently launched raids on Waterford City alongside the O’Driscoll Clan with mixed results. In September 1368 they suffered a Pyrrhic victory in Tramore after a bloody battle ensued. The Le Poers, led by John Le Poer 7th Baron of Dunhill and the O’Driscolls of Cork, en route to raid Waterford, were intercepted by the Mayor, the Sheriff and the Master of the Hospital of the City with a mass of locals, tradesmen and Englishmen behind them. All three men leading the defence were killed but as too was the head of the Le Poer clan, John and his Brother Benet, leaving no direct heir to Dunhill. The death of these crucial Le Poer leaders meant Dunhill Castle would be inherited by Nicholas Le Poer of Kilmeaden in the early 1380’s, uniting the two castles under one specific branch of the name. The new residing clan members remained mostly peaceful for the next few centuries, producing Sheriff’s of Waterford, though at times holding their position forcefully while still rebelling against the crowns law. This peace remained until the Cromwellian Wars of the 17th Century.

Sparked by objection to the Protestant plantation of Ulster beginning in 1609 resulting in an sectarian conflict between those and the Catholics, and exacerbated by betrayal in what should have been a bloodless rising, and a very achievable one at that, Ireland was torn by war by 1642. Two thirds of the country was controlled by the Confederate Irish and England was occupied by its own Civil War, leaving few Englishmen garrisoned in the country. A perfect opportunity for a full scale rebellion. Unfortunately for the Confederates by 1646 after many victories, the English Civil War ended and a mass of parliamentarian troops were ordered to Dublin and Cork. Over the next four years, Ireland would see great defeat.

Confederate Irish Flag

In August 1647, the Confederates would see it’s most devastating defeat at Dungan’s Hill, south of Trim Castle and the river Boyne. The Confederates most well equipped and best trained force, the Leinster Army consisting of 8000 marched on Dublin when they were caught off guard by Colonel Michael Jones with 6500 men at his back. The Confederates, under general Thomas Preston saw a loss of at least 3000 men, most of whom were slaughtered after a routing and surrender had occurred. A demoralising event they would never come back from, yet the Catholic Irish still pursued. With some of the Confederates mainly Owen Roe O’Neill, Head of the O’Neil’s and General to the Ulster Army refusing a peace with the English, in fact refusing to the point he saw his Ulster forces fight against other Confederates who sought out peace with England. He soon came to his senses though in 1649, as the next three years were marked with blood in Irish history, as the Brits thought to put an end once and for all to the idea of a free Ireland.

Owen Roe O’Neill

Just as Strongbow landed with archers, mailed armour and cavalry, boasting their advancements in warfare, Oliver Cromwell arrived with The New Model Army and their artillery units.

After massacring Drogheda as a sign of what’s to come, he secured the east coast of the island to assure a supply run from England, Cromwell then set his sites on the regions of Wexford and Waterford to take control of the ports at the Island’s major walled cities. The ports once used to receive supplies from other Catholic countries during the Confederate wars. Cromwell was not on this Island to defeat the Irish Catholics, he was on a conquest to eradicate them, taking their wealth and land and gifting it to his own men. One of the unfortunate families to be confronted with this unstoppable force, was the Le Poer Clan of Waterford.

Charles Landseer’s Painting of Cromwell on Horseback. – 1851

On the days before Oliver Cromwell marched on Dunhill castle in early December of 1649, The head of the household, Sir John Le Poer had left Dunhill to attend other matters. This meant leaving alone with a small garrison, Lady Gyles, his wife.

Lady Gyles was forced to defend her home at the arrival of Cromwell and the New Model Army.

She put every ounce of her ability into the defence against the battle warn army who struggled with the strategic placement of the fortified building, being impregnable from two sides and sitting atop a large hill, she stood with her men day and night encouraging them to fight until death and it was working in her favour. It seemed as though the attacking army were having little success, growing more exhausted with every blast of artillery and showing signs of inevitable retreat.

As too, the Garrison grew tired, The Lieutenant gunnar asked Lady Gyles for food and drink to refresh his men. For reasons unknown, possibly that the Lady wished to keep her men sharp, he was brought buttermilk instead of the customary beer. The gunnar took insult to this and was so displeased and in reality probably as a result of exhaustion, in an act of rage against Lady Gyles, he through up a signal of surrender from the battlements and let Cromwell and his men enter the castle with no resistance.

A massive explosion of gunpowder ensued inside the walls by Cromwell’s men, thought to have killed Lady Gyles, meanwhile the surrendering gunnar was taken and hanged by Cromwell, who was quoted calling him a “traitor”.

The land was passed to one of Cromwell’s men named John Cole but the castle was never occupied again. Over the last 350 years, weathering has taken its toll on what was left of the structure leaving behind a tower built in the 15th century with some remnants of the original 13th century walls.

Dunhill Castle Ruin – 2018
View from first floor at Dunhill – 2018

Curraghmore House

The 12th century site of Curraghmore is a rare and historically rich place and now regarded as possibly the most important country house in Ireland. The original wooden fort built by Sir Roger Le Poer evolved into a stone tower by the 15th century, constructed by Richard “The Bad” Le Poer. Richard “The Bad”, chieftain of the Le Poer clan took the position of Sheriff of Waterford though not with the support of the people in 1445 after the death of the previous Sheriff MacDaibhid Ruaid le Poer (The Red son of David), who was regarded as a good and fair Sheriff . A nickname like “The Bad” does not come easily in the late Medieval age. Richard who was in open rebellion against Henry VI frequently tormented the citizens of Waterford murdering, robbing and assaulting everyone from Bailiffs to merchants to commoners without a care as he ruled over Poarcha. For decades Richard managed to retain the title of Sheriff despite being opposed by the Irish Parliament in 1476 who recorded of the situation “There is no rule or government but murder and spoiling, robbery and universal rebellion.”

All nicknames aside, the tower he built at Curraghmore still stands here today but not as you might think. The Victorian mansion with Georgian ranges flanking both sides was built surrounding and encasing the medieval keep, being preserved as part of the house in 1700 by James le Poer. After his death in 1704 and the end of the male line le Poer of Curraghmore , the entire estate fell to his young daughter Lady Catherine who saw to a lot of it’s additions and renovations. Catherine married Marcus Beresford in 1717 and began a new line to Curraghmore.

Before The Georgian or Victorian ages though, there was a brief period when the Castle was endangered and a future of Lords and Earls of the Le Poer Clan was almost brought to an end.

Curraghmore was the second of the Le Poer keeps to have the Cromwellian Army marched on during the winter of 1649.

Cromwell and his men were rampaging through a cold, wet and windy Waterford with conditions so bad he was quoted saying “So terrible a day as I never marched in all my life”. Seizing, hanging, massacring without question, until his men reached Curraghmore Castle.

Residing in the castle at the time was John Le Poer 5th Lord and Curraghmore and his family. A family with some Catholic sympathies and possible involvements with the Irish Confederates. Though John’s Mother in law Kinbrough Pypho, who was a stern Protestant woman with power within the family, saw the Confederates in a more negative light. Mother of John’s wife Ruth who had died previous to the event, Kinbrough had written a letter after the beginning of the war in 1642 to the Lord Justice of Ireland explaining that John had “been visited with impediments” which had “disabled him from intermeddling with his own estate” and requested a guard to protect the Lord and their children from the horrors that the Confederates bestowed on the land. John Lord of Curraghmore had been declared a “lunatic” by 1629 and was incapable of taking care of his family or his land. The contents of this letter which would eventually cross Cromwell’s desk before he shipped to Dublin showed an allegiance from the Le Poer of Curraghmore and he replied in September 1649 that the family be “taken into special protection”.

Regardless of this promise, the New Model Army found themselves at the gates of Curraghmore two months after the reply. Sat idle, John was unaware an army marched on his walls for one intent or another, luckily his daughter of shrewd nature had noticed and quickly devised a plan. Somehow she managed to distracted John from the goings on and locked him in the dungeon of the castle. With John, still a mentally unstable and uncompromising supporter of the confederate cause, unable to curse the Protestant army which would have inevitably lead to the utter destruction of the castle and the Le Poer of Waterford, his Daughter opened the gates and greeted Cromwell’s emissary with the key to the castle.

This sign of loyalty in combination with the letter written previously and in addition to a promise made by John’s Daughter that her father would be willing to prove his allegiance if required, was plenty enough for the men to turn their backs and head on towards Dunhill Castle.

It’s not recorded if Cromwell and his men had planned to sack the castle or not, perhaps they didn’t recognise it as the Le Poer estate Lady Pypho had written from until greeted or maybe as the family stated more recently, they greeted Cromwell with tea and he went on his way.

The house is still today in possession of the Le Poer family, the estate claims a direct descendant of Roger Le Poer a traveller to Ireland over 800 years ago. There is some dispute to whether it’s correct thought as the ancestry get’s spotty at times. Only once however has the Barony fell to a woman as mentioned, The Lady Catherine Le Poer who married Sir Marcus Beresford and soon after his death in 1767 their son gained a title representing the lineage, The Marquess of Waterford.

Henry Nicholas De La Poer Beresford, 9th Marquis of Waterford (formerly Earl of Tyrone) has lived at Curraghmore House since 2015 and has spent most his life travelling back and forth to England to manage Farms, Stables and Polo teams. More recently however he and his family are working towards opening the house and grounds more often to the public to help with upkeep funds to care for the massive estate.

Henry N De La Poer Beresford


Kilmeadan Castle

Caisleán Cill Mhíodáin

Kilmeaden, now most notable for its cheese, ties in to the medieval history of Ireland though the castle itself lacks in historical documents unfortunately. The area was renowned for its markets and trade both locally and with the English, specifically Bristol in the 13th century as some records have shown.

The fort that once stood beside the bank of the Suir river roughly 10km west of Waterford City, thought to have been built by Benet Le Poer second son to the fifth Baron of Dunhill, may have provided safety to the port on the river and profited from import and trade.

The Lands of Kilmeaden changed hands several times in the 14th century, as the castles founder Benet died in 1328 as did his brother Sir Piers and his son John during a conflict with the Geraldine clann of Desmond. This left only Benet’s younger brother Eustace le Poer as heir to the estate. Later that century around 1370 a notable leader who was mentioned earlier, Nicholas Le Poer who united the houses of Kilmeaden and Dunhill resided in the keep where now lies a partial ruin that was once part of a manor house sat on the land of that ancient castle.

The first of the three Le Poer castles in Cromwells path to Waterford City were met with the same hostility they would show to Dunhill. The moated castle must have seen great blasts from the Army’s artillery units, destroying everything in their path. The castle was breached, sacked and burned.

John le Poer, Husband of Lady Gyles who had left Dunhill castle before it’s siege and destruction attended Kilmeaden once he heard of a marching army. He tried desperately to hold it from the Protestant troops but, his efforts were met with the harsh sentencing of Oliver Cromwell and he was hanged outside the castle from the nearest tree.

Two walls of a tower stand in that field in Kilmeaden today from an 18th century 3 gabled house. The surrounding area probably similar to that of the time the Le Poers held it, green with fields and farm lands, with the sound of the river passing it by.

Kilmeaden Ruin – 2018


Conclusion

The Le Poer family, or Power as the surname is known today, have stamped their name in history not only in Ireland but England, Wales France and beyond. The origins of the name have been debated but it’s thought possible that they are rooted in Irish ancestry from O’Pór.

According to Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh the 17th century Historian and genealogist who studied the families heritage at Trinity College Dublin, the O’Pór name which was Normanised to le Poer and then Anglicised to Power supposedly stemmed from Risdeard, brother of Iusdas “Eustace” who was the ancestor of Pór whos son was O’Pór.

The name that is still the most popular Surname in Waterford today has great stories attached to it from brave soldiers of the Williamite Wars to a man starved to death due to associated with an alleged witch. A name truly soaked in rich, farfetched and fantastic tales.

Route:

Kilmeadan Castle Ruin – https://goo.gl/maps/pGyTuwN8htu

Curraghmore House – https://goo.gl/maps/czm6ZMKKg9z

Dunhill Castle Ruin – https://goo.gl/maps/XtxHBXANSoB2

Introduction

in 2017 I started to realize I knew nothing about the country I lived in, Ireland. A country with structures out-dating the Egyptian Pyramids (Newgrange in Co.Meath. A Neolithic passage tomb) to the ceasefire of a sectarian war in my lifetime (The Good Friday Agreement which would see the end to the conflict between Paramilitary groups in the North of Ireland in 1998). How a country with such a deep well of history does not require the youth to take history in secondary school as I did not, is now beyond me in my 28th year. I was giving the option as a 13 year old to choose between Geography and History with no real understanding at the time to how that choice would affect me later in life. In reality both should be mandatory subjects in every school.

Newgrange Passage Tomb

I grew up in a house that lacked any sort of noticeable patriotism. We were a working class household and there was never much time for political debate or teachings about our roots, rather it was a get on with things kind of attitude. But I do vividly remember a day my Dad brought me to Dublin city center when I was no older than 7 to tell me about the great men that had freed our country.

Patrick Pearse (Pádraig an Piarsach)
Irish Proclamation

We stood outside the GPO (General Post Office) on O’Connell street and he showed me the bullet holes that the pillars outside it had swallowed from the back and forth in 1916 as the Irish Republican Army tried desperately to hold the building. Standing next to the place Patrick Pearse (Pádraig an Piarsach), an Irish teacher and poet sang out the Irish proclamation on that April afternoon announcing a Provisional Government and the ownership of Ireland to the Irish people beneath the shadow of Nelson’s Pillar, a British monument celebrating Vice Admiral Lord Nelson who had died after securing a victory at the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic wars. A monument that was blown up in 1966 and replaced by The Spire in 2003.

Destruction of Nelson’s Pillar outside GPO
Nelson’s Pillar

I remember the feeling of awe as my dad told me about these events that had happened exactly where I stood. That is what I am trying to recreate now 20 years on from my experience and gift to other people. Travelling around Ireland to places of importance in it’s history and telling their stories. The Podcast is intended as a guide for people to listen to and relive some of the amazing tales associated with those places as they experience them in person. You can walk around a ruined castle in Waterford and hear me tell the story of how it came to be ruined, but it can also be listened to as a stand alone piece of entertainment.

This blog will accompany the podcast with pictures of places and people mentioned, maps of the times and other visuals that I feel will aid the many stories I plan to tell.

The Irish History Guide – Peter Ashmore