Pass of Plumes
(9) June, 1598 The Annals state that the Earl of Ormond with a great host of twenty-four companies of foot and two hundred horse set out for Laois and encamped in the evening on a high hill on the border. Next morning he sent out his nephew, James Butler, (from whom great hopes in war and in peace had been expected), with a troop to reconnoitre the passes. On the very first pass Butler was met by Brian Roe O .Mordha, "that most • mischievous and malicious traitor", with 150 men who gave the Ormond troop a fierce and terrific salute and hemmed it in on- all sides. Butler was killed and his force utterly routed— a big blow to the Ormondians. Lord Ormond stated that the scene of this fight was in the great woods of Comagh—a name now obsolete. On the OML, 1563, a place called "the Comac" is marked not far from Ballyfin, and it is thought that the high hill on which the Ormond camp was pitched may have been Conlawn or Conlon Hill in the ancient Fearann, O Dunlaing (or, corruptly, O Doolan) territory—in the Slieve Blooms adjoining Ui Failghe. On the very day after the battle, Owney and Captain Tyrrell arrived and pitched their camp on hill right opposite that occupied by 0rmond. Before noon next day instead of continuing his projected march through Laois, Ormond and his force returned to Kilkenny. (Discretion perhaps was the better part of valour).
(10) August, 1598 Noting the success of the northern chiefs at Clontibret (Monaghan) and at Beal an Atha Bui (Yellow Ford), the southern chiefs, whose lands had been distributed among a gang of undertakers, applied to O Neill for help. The latter complied by sending Owny O Mordha and Captain Richard Tyrrell as his delegates to organise the south, which they did. successfully from Slieve Bloom to Kerry (except in Upper Ossory as will be related later).
One of the ablest of the southern "rebels" Pierce de Lacy of Brugh na Deise (East Limerick) whose lands had been "granted" to one Thornton, scornfully flung back a "pardon" granted to himself and set out to meet "O Mordha Laoise", one of the delegates of whose fighting fame he had heard. Among many wise suggestions made by de Lacy, was one to nominate James Mac Thomas (Fitzgerald) as chief, under the old and respected Geraldine title, "Earl of Desmond". The suggestions were submitted to O Neill who, by this time exercising the prerogatives of an Irish King, sanctioned them—the English contemptuously nick-naming Mac Thomas "The Sugan Earl" (Note the Irish qualifying word they used for the title).
Tyrrell remained for a time in personal attendance on the new Earl, and Owny returned to Laois, as the rumour had already reached Ireland of the preparations in England for the largest and best equipped army, under Essex, that ever took the field in Ireland. O Neill made no mistake in his choice of organisers. The campaign that followed was so successful that only in four places in all Desmond was an undertaker or planter left by the end of October. In the course of events it fell to Owny's lot to be the first Irish chieftain to man the Beama Baoil in Essex's campaign.
(11) September, 1598 The garrison in Maryborough seems to have been, as usual, in trouble all this time and was continually crying out for relief. About September 1598, the Earl of Ormond with a large force of 4,000 foot and horse, set out from Dublin to relieve the Fort. But at Blackford (Ath Dubh) at a little stream (formerly the boundary between Laois and The Pale) very near, and on the Stradbally side of, "The Bleeding Horse", he suffered a heavy defeat by Owny's relatively small force of 1,400. The "dangerous traitor" Tyrrell cannot have remained long with Fitzgerald of Desmond for he fought in this encounter too. The Earl lost 600 men and a great quantity of war material and provisions. He himself was wounded and barely escaped. Of Owny's force there were 60 killed and 80 wounded. Yet it is said that Ormond ultimately reached the Fort of Maryborough and relieved it, but the state papers do not say when or where or how soon he procured arms money and provisions for that relief—considering that he, in no great fettle himself, had 3,400 worn and wounded men to look after who themselves required relief. With severalother skirmishes the year 1598 was brought to a successful conclusion for the old territory.
(12) January, 1599 Ormond had again to relieve the Fort of Maryborough; on this occasion Laoiseach Og O Mordha, one of Owny's chief leaders, was killed.
(13) January, 1599 The rebels planned to assemble at Knocke Arde O Gurry with a view to attack Kilkenny city.
(14) 17th May, 1599 Beama na gCleiti (Pass of the Plumes) described in the next chapter.
(15) January, 1600 Some thirty 0 Mordha were somehow inveigled into the Fort of Maryborough and treacherously killed. The wily Owny avoided the trap, and in a short time after replied satisfactorily when he artfully allured the garrison out.
(16) April, 1600 Hugh O'Neill and Hugh Maguire of Fermanagh were doing a military tour of the reorganised south of Ireland about this time. Owny's capture in this month of the Earl of Ormond, Commander in Chief of the English forces in Ireland, causing consternation at home and abroad, was welcome news—at home anyway. Be dhual athair do. Like father like son. Rory's arrest of a deputy's nephew was indeed outrageous enough, but Owny's arrest of an Earl, and he the Commander in Chief of Her Magesty's Forces and a cousin to herself, "capped all". This too deserves a chapter to itself.
+Note to Point 9 above.
Comagh or Camach signifies something cam (crooked) probably a river. In the account of this battle there seems to be a mistake about its location. The sentence "he (Ormond) returned to Kilkenny implies that he set out from Kilkenny, in which case the high hills mentioned would be on or near the southern border of Laois. The OML 1563, shows a mountain, Sleunotigre, (a clerical error for Sleunocoigre, i.e. Sliabh na Coigcriche or Mountain of the Boundary, now called Knockogrisheen, 998 feet) situated between Ballinakill and the village of Clough in North Kilkenny".
A couple of miles away on the Laois side there is Knockardagur, 1001 feet, sometimes wrongly- explained as the Mountain of the Hatching. In old papers the final element is given as "gorrye" and "gorra" making the correct rendering Cnoc Airde Gabhra, the Height of Gabhair.
A great clay boundry bank formerly ran from one hill to .the other and on towards Doonane, separating ancient Laois and Ui Duach in Ossory for over four miles.
O D mentions an old boundary road between Tuadh Gabhra and Deas Gabhra (North and South Gabhra) around this locality.
Perhaps this old boundary is part of the pre-christian border between the two Gabhras, which taken together covered all Leinster and the present counties of Waterford and Wexford. It extended from the Shannon near Banagher in an irregular course to the coast npar the town of Wicklow.
Drimaiterrill townland (Drom an Tirialiagh, Tyrrell's Ridge) also. in Laois near the Kilkenny border, is probably so named after the brave Captain Richard Tyrrell who may have on this occasion or at some time encamped there.
BEARNA NA Gcleiti - 17TH May, 1599
The following notes have been culled from various reliable sources but principally from Canon O'Hanlon's "History of the Queen's County", and from a paper read by him on 11th May 1874, and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy for that year; also from a paper entitled "Barnaglitty" read by Lord Walter Fitzgerald in January 1904 for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, of which Association he was president.
The Canon, having resided during his school-boy days for two years in Pass House on the very scene of the engagement, and having frequently visited the place in later years, was thoroughly acquainted with the whole neighbourhood and with the traditions of the people.
Some few years previous to the reading of his paper he traversed the whole course of the encounter with a very intelligent local man, Garret Kehoe, then 74 years of age, who was able to describe from local tradition the spots where the action commenced, continued and ended—his account being well attested by the local tales of the up-turning of human remains from time to time along the line of march.
The Canon himself from state papers and the diaries of Esscx, and from his own and his guide's local knowledge, could have re-enacted the whole transaction.
BEARNA NA gCLEITI
ESSEX'S JOURNEY FROM DUBLIN TO STRADBALLY AND CROSHYDUFF
The years 1597 and 1598 were disastrous for the English in Ulster where Hugh O'Neill, Hugh O'Donnell and Hugh Maguire (warrior Chief of Fermanagh and son-in-law of O'Neill) were having things their own way, culminating on 14th August, 1598, in the great victory of Beal an Atha Bui, the echo of which resounded throughout the courts of Europe.
Elizabeth, exasperated, censured all around, and appointed Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, an experienced and (so far) succesful soldier, as Lord Lieutenant and Governor of Ireland.
On 13th April, 1599, he arrived in Dublin having with him a force of 16,000 foot and 1,300 horse, but "instead of carrying out his instructions and attacking O'Neill in force he accepted the advice of some members of the Council at Dublin who were personally interested in the undertakers' lands, and were concerned most. of all in recovering their own property or the property of their friends", (History of Ireland, Rev. E. A. Dalton, Vol. 3, page 150) and consequently he decided to travel southwards to subdue the Desmond Geraldines under their "contemptible Sugan Earl".
Having dispatched garrisons to towns north and south of Dublin he left that city on 9th May with a force of 3000 foot and 260 horse. His route lay through Naas, Kilcullen and Kilrush; he encamped on the 12th Tiillaghgory (Geraldine) near Athy where he was joined by Ormond from Carlow with a force of 700 foot and 200 horse. In Athy, after an assault on the castle which guarded the bridge, he remained two days (13th and 14th) to receive provisions from Naas and to repair the bridge. Leaving 100 men in Athy he dispatched 350 men to garrison Carlow and ordered 750 men to Offaly. (The Pass, of the Plumes has sometimes been wrongly ascribed to this Offaly route as near Monasterevan).
He would then have about 2,500 foot and 260 horse, (according to Bourchier's "Devereux" he had 3,000 foot and 300 horse) while most accounts agree that Owny O Mordha had only about 500 foot and 40 to 50 horse, roughly six to one.
On his road to Stradbally on the 15th he reached the passage of Ath Dubh (Black Ford) a strategic point where many a fierce attack had taken place. This had been hurriedly entrenched by Owny with the mention of engaging the English there, but he wisely withdrew his comparatively small force while closely observing every movement of the invading army, which arrived that evening at Stradbally.
On the 16th Essex resumed his journey but must have left the main part of his army about the western slope of Croshy Duff, as he himself set out (probably along an old road that branches via Kyle, Cappoley, the Ridge and the Downes), with 200 horse and 500 foot to relieve the fort of Maryborough which had been closely invested by the O Moores, and in which Francis Rush, the governor, and his men had been living on horseflesh for twenty days. (Earlier in the day he must have passed quite near Dunamase without any attempt at attack probably because of its strength and of the urgency of his mission).
Having supplied the garrison in Maryborough with provisions and ammunition, he returned to the main body without delay and all encamped that evening at the foot of Crosby Duff Hill.
Owny and his men, securely posted on the hills around, observed every movement, and from their thorough knowledge of the district could well foresee the enemy's plans and surmise his intended route to Kilkenny. Owny placed his small force in secure positions where he had the choice of attack (or retreat for a considerable distance along a road sloping and winding through natural declivities which were studded with woods and thickets, a road boggy for some distance around one vital point and ill-suited for Essex's large and heavily equipped army, but highly favourable for a resolute and daring leader, with a small body of courageous and devoted clansmen, in the dangerous defiles that lay ahead.
Next morning, 17th, having viewed the country from the top of Crosby Duff Hill, 600 feet, from where Owny's men, or at least some of them. could be observed a couple of miles away, Essex decided to move on. The question then arose as to whether his army should proceed southwards by the nearest way to Rosconnel on the Kilkenny border, that is by the near-by Pass of Cashel, or march by the mountain of .Sleenagree to avoid the disadvantage of the Pass. The decision arrived at was that the rebels should be sought rather than shunned because it was necessary to teach the Irish and the world at large that Her Majesty's army could and would in all places make way for itself.
This last paragraph is condensed from "Barnaglitty", Proceedings R S A., p. 21J5, Part III, Vol. XXXIV, 1904).
Note: The name Sleenagree (Sliabh na nGroigh, the mountain of the horses) is now obsolete. The OML 1563, shows -a-mountain or a mountain pass, Sleenagree, and a river alongside flowing southeasterly. On the modern map the river would appear to be about the western part of Upper Slatt and Doonane townlands. Two little tributaries are shown one of which (? Red River) flows near Kilgorey old church which appears fairly near the left bank.
Distances or relative positions of places cannot be accurately gauged on the old map.
On the modern map the road from Timahoe runs in the same general direction (S.E.) through Upper Slatt and Doonane, probably following along or near the old pass. This would appear to be a rather indirect and hilly route for Essex's army moving towads the Pass of Bellyragget.
OWNY MANS THE BEARNA BAOIL
Preliminary Note: The word "bearna" generally means a mountain-gap but here it means a pass through a morass on a very old road (later to become a coach road) from Stradbally to Ballyroan via Croshy Duff Hill. The morass lay between the small bog, Moinin (marked 12 on the little sketch) and the great bog marked 16. The old road wound its spongy way across the morass (where it was intersected at right angles by Garret's Lane, marked 3) and continued on by Pass House" marked 14, and by the Rock of Cashel towards Ballyroan. Accounts differ as to the course taken by Essex's army after the battle.
The very old road from Stradbally to Ballyroan marked 2,2,2 on little sketch crossed the Portlaoise/Timahoe road at Lamberton (which is off outside N.E. comer of sketch) and passed along in a S.W. direction between the townland of Hophall and Lamberton demesne. The present Ballyroan/Stradbally road marked 1,1 on sketch (hereafter for brevity sake called the new road) runs for a considerable distance on the southern border of Lamberton, the highest point of which is Croshy Duff hill. Beyond the ridge to the west stands the ancient church of Kilcolmanbane from which an old road, Bothar na Muc (9) runs southward to Cherryhill (11) crossing both roads— old and new. A great long stretch of the old white-thorn sheltered line of road, (2) still in tolerable condition, can be observed from a long distance descending the south-western slope from Croshy Duff. It meets the Ballyknocken road near Castleview House at Duff's Cross, 17. Here it turns at an acute angle in a south-easterly direction and proceeds along the Ballyknocken/Cherryhill road to a point about 60 yards or so beyond (south of) the present Ballyknocken cross (15, which was not then there because the new road to Stradbally had not been made for more than a hundred years later). Here it wheeled westerly and is now almost obliterated, but a scrutiny of the original O.S. Sheet 18 reveals that it took an S-bend, the first curve of which passed south-westerly along the present boundary of Pass townland for about two hundred yards. It then seems to have straightened out due west across the morass for about 400 yards until it struck in on the track of the new road, along which it continued for a further 200 yards or so. It then took the other curve of the S straight southwards and passed at the front (west) of Pass House-(14). After a short distance it crossed diagonally at Fogarty’s (as it still does) the new road at the Cawn (athan, little ford) of Cashed, just east of the Rock, and continued in a south-westerly direction across a couple of fields until it angled in on the present Portlaoise road near Cashel Cross at Connollys' house—the ground-plan of which lies parallel to the old road, not to the present Portlaoise road. It then continued through Ballyruin to Dooary Lane with a branch to Ballyroan and Ballinakill (The present Cashel/ Ballyroan road was not made till 1760).
Now yet another road, and a very important one in Owny's hastily conceived plan since he relinquished Blackford, must be considered. This old road, ("Garret's Lane, 3, so called because Garret Kehoe lived beside it at "Garret's Corner," a little triangular field which is still pointed out) is nowadays little more than a footpath within a double hedge. It too, like Bothar na Muc, seems to have come originally from Kilcolmanbane graveyard and passed southwards to meet Essex's old road, and at the meeting point became in course of time obliterated, but it reappears at the southern margin of the new road on the Cashel or West side of Ballyknocken cross, and proceeds up a gentle incline towards Kilvahan graveyard (13) which lies on another elevation beyond a little valley.
After about 250 yards, from the new road, it is now impassable because of brushwood where formerly there was a wood. At about half this distance it crossed right in the middle of the straight stretch of 400 yards (the vital point above referred to) between the two curves of the S which the English armyhad to traverse.
Around the point of intersection Owny must have had all possible obstacles placed—trenches made, trees felled, and for some distance back saplings plaited and interwoven---across the narrower spots along Essex’s marshy route. Here the heads of the English columns were held up and disorganised; and back some short distance eastwards around the present Kilvahan/Ballyheyland border, were there is now a long spongy four-acre field traditionally known as Moinin na Fola (12), the fiercest encounter of all took place. There is only one large field between the Moinin and the field in which Kilvahan graveyard (13) is situated, and another large field between it and the Cherryhill road (10), from which there is easy and unobstructed access to it from a gate near Cherry hill House (11). At the time of the battle the Moinin probably covered about seven or eight acres but its margins are now reclaimed and fenced off.
Pass House is situated three fields (about a quarter mile) to the west of it. From Bothar na Muc near which the first attack is supposed to have taken place to Pass House, following the crooded route, is nearly a mile and a half statute.
Note: Garret’s Lane, a strategic spot in this case, was of course well known to Owny’s men and was a real godsend at this juncture, too good not to be availed of.
AFTER THE BATTLE
The English in their accounts of the attack make very little comment. According tothe diary of Sir John Harrington who accompanied Essex, three or four of the English were hurt. Sir James Ware just brushes the rebels aside to let Essex pass through, but in his very next paragraph he has Essex applying to England for more troops. Other English historians do not mention the affair at all.
Sullivan Beare and the Four Masters give a very different account, although meagre as to detail.
For two hours, according to Essex’s own diary (quoted by Lord N. Fgitzgerald in his paper on “Barnaglitty), the transport was crawling through the Pass (which was only a short portion of the whole route from Bothar na Muc to Moinin-na-Fola) and during the whole course the attack seems to have been kept up at close quarters along the line interlaced with almost impenetrable thickets.
The remains of an old dwelling house known as Ned Duff’s (18) stood on the northern verge of the old road very near the corssroads at the road marked (7). In the digging of the foundations for Ned Duff’s house and out offices, about 1834, cartloads of human remains were exhumed.
About forty years ago a similar case occurred in the immediate neighbourhood. As a tree that fell a few years ago a skull was found in the roots. This area is very gravelly and seems to have been used for interring those who fell in the battle, a dry sand pit. Mr. Daniel O'Byrne in his History of Queen's County, Chapter XXIV, p. 111, states that the remains of the slain have been found in a high gravelly part between Ballykilocken Cross and Callyknocken castle. Local tradition supports Mr. O'Byrne on this point.
O Sullivan Bcare (who according to a note of O D estimated the English casualties at 500) states that the well-contested road, by reason of the helmet feathers taken from the English cavalry, was afterwards called Bearna na gCleiti—the Gap of the Feathers—which previously had been known as the Pass of Cashel.
Some years ago I was informed by the late Patrick Burke of Ballyknocken, that during the first world war, a field of his which had not been broker for "ages" was tilled, and numbers of horse-shoes found which were iron-plated or soled all across to cover the frog. A few of the shoes were sent to the RSAI who explained that in Essex's journey southward the fields and passes were spiked by the local people with caltrops or iron spikes made by the smiths. (Some specimens of caltrops are to be seen in the National Museum). This field, near point 6 on sketch, is about two-thirds of a mile in a north westerly direction from Moinin na Fola and not less than one third of a mile from the nearest point of the line of march (17). This would seem to indicate a wide divergence towards Maryborough Fort (relieved the day previous) and that some of Owny's men wen; prepared for this divergence by having arranged an ambush.
OH in HQC, p. 482, intimates that after the battle the English troops travelled southwards by Ballyroan, Rosconnell and the Pass of Ballyragget to Killkenny.
Some very intelligent traditionists, however, maintain that they took an old road, the continuation of Garret’s Lane by Kilvahan graveyard anmd proceeded southwards by Bothar-a-'clay through a Cullenagh mountain-pass.
Others think they followed Kyle Lane and a very old road SW. through Cappoley towards Lalor’s Mill, Colt Wood, and on southwards by BallinaKill.
Probably tile main army having got through the Pass at heavy cost, continued along the route (thereafter clear and unobstructed) as given by OH to Ballyroan, where they would be succoured by the Hetheringtons, and that scattered parties fled helter-skelter through the nearest pass or gap they met—one of which where the caltrops where found led widely away from any southern route. Harrington mentions that after the battle “troops came together on a great playne". The great plain, I think must have been in the Pass House— Ballyroan direction, as both the Kyle and Bothar-a'-clay routes are hilly. There is nothing resembling a great plain in the vicinity except the-large field in which Kilvahan graveyard is situated but this would be off the main route which (most accounts agree) the troops had gained after the battle.
On the main point anyway the site of the battle, there is now, I think, no doubt.
Now a good word for Essex. It is only fair to say of him (what cannot be said of his treacherous successors, Charles Blount, otherwise Lord Mountjoy, and Blount's wily partner George Carey, otherwise Sir George Carew) that he was a courageous man who knew well what he had to face at the Pass and resolutely faced it; that he made a fair open fight and that although before the battle he despised the Irish bands as "rogues and naked beggars" (they used often fight in strong leathern coats and bare legs) he was straight and manly enough to admit candidly when writing to the English Council on the third day after the battle, that the "people against whom we fight hath able bodies, good use of the arms they carry, boldness enough to attempt, and quickness in apprehending any advantage they see offered to them."
These words of this hitherto successful soldier may be regarded as an honest admission that instead of teaching the world an exemplary lesson in warfare at the Pass of Cashel Her Majesty's army learned a very salutary one.
The name of this historic hill is now forgotten outside a few miles; possibly because of the fact that it was for a long period overshadowed by the great house of Lamberton and its demesne, which coincided in area with it. In OS maps the townland is marked Lamberton Demesne which too is nearly forgotten since the lands were divided and the house demolished some years ago.
But in ancient times this hill must have been an important place. OH, in HQC, p. 479 (epitomising an account of the battle of the Pass of Cashel written by Sir John Harrington, in which it is stated that this hill was the rate-hill of the Province of Leinster) thinks that the term rate-hill bears some resemblance to rates and taxes which he says may have been levied by primitive assemblies called "Erriottes" (the quotes are OH's) or parliaments held by the brehons on certain hills.
The word "Erriottes" probably represents the Irish word Ohcacirta, meaning in Brehon times (pre, and early Christian) tribal assemblies, courts, fairs (aontai) including amusements; and in later times diverse matters in which some “Rory of the Hill” and his followers might be interested. There is many a hill in Ireland known as "Fair Hill". In later times fairs on hills were forbidden by foreign law, and the landlords, in laying out their villas and villages (on Rory's "acquired" lands), generally left a large open space for a fair green in the middle of the village where Rory and his friends as they fondly thought, could be kept under surveillance.
It is well, too, to remember that St. Faolan of Laois, one of whose cells or cills was in the vicinity, would have, of course, a Christianising influence on pagan rites and ceremonies, and that as a natural corollary (his hill would become in later times the selected historic and hallowed spot for the inaugurating ceremonies of Christian princes of Laois, who we learn in Keating were granted very special privileges, not accorded to other Leinster princes, by successive Kings of Leinster down to Norman times.
The hill, convenient to Dunamnse and situated in the middle of Ancient Laois, though not very high, yet commands an extensive view of the hills and plains of Leinster.
It is situated a little to the west of Money Cross in the angle made by the Portlaoise/Timahoe road and the Stradbally/Cashel /Ballyroan road.
PASS 0F CASHEL
This name for the Pass is now somewhat misleading as the nearest point of the townland of Cashel is about half a mile distant from any part of the pass, and the Rock of Cashel is over a mile away.
Cashel is a common place-name or part of a placename all over the country. A cashel was originally a circular stone fort and like an Irish rath or liss, was (with some few exceptions) of pagan establishment, but the name was often adopted in early Christian times to denote the wall around a church.
In all probability there was a cashel long, long ago on the Rock.
In his place-names of Co. Wicklow, Mr. Justice Price relates that Barna-cashel is the name of a townland on the top of a low hill in the barony of Shillelagh, but that there is no cashel or structure on the hill. He thinks that Barna (or bearna) in such case has the meaning of pass-way and that it refers to some old track across the gap between Bama-Cashel and another hill-townland some distance away on which there is an enclosure around an old church-site.
Similarly here the Pass of Cashel was the name given to the pass-way or old road to the Rock and its Cashel, and in all likelihood was known to the local Irish speakers as Bearna-Caisil, thus giving the concise name Bearna (Pass) to the neighbourhood, as O H suggests in his paper read in 1874 for the R I A.
The English accounts and the state papers give the name "Pass (or Passe) of Cashel," and sometimes incorrectly and misleadingly "Park (meaning Enclosure) of Cashel" to the scene of the battle. Their writers, who skipped very lightly over the attack, were not likely to give the name Pass of Plumes to the place thereby proclaiming to the world their own heavy losses. The name Bearna na gCleiti, in the Irish form—a name suggested by the number of plumes or head-dress feathers scattered over the pass after the battle. Tradition has it that the-richly caparisoned chargers were also decorated with plumes.
OD in a note stated that this name was obsolete in his time, but Lord Walter Fitzgerald, writing about it more than half a century later, entitled his paper "Barnaglitty"—just the very pronounciation or sound that would likely' be given to it by the local people about that time. This localised term "Barnaglitty" proves that it was common in the mouths of the people, and was superseding the old name Bearna Caisil.
It seems strange to us today that the exact positions of such historic places as Bearna na gCleiti and Moinin na Fola baffled so long the historians and topographers. Like Canon O Hanlon here, Dr. O Donovan in one of his OS letters says that he had much difficulty in locating the site of the Great Battle of Benburb. The only information to be extracted from the local people around Benburb was that someplace in the neighbourhood there was a great battle between the English and the Irish a long time ago. Thanks to the long and lonely labours and researches of patriotic scholars like him and Canon O Hanlon and Dr. Joyce, the fogs of national ignorance imposed by foreign influences and laws have gradually cleared away.
But the Queen had anticipated such an eventuality and had sent her ablest generals and heavy reinforcements to Ireland.
A new Deputy, Arthur Lord Grey, was sent to Ireland in August 1580. His first objective was a gathering of clans that included the Laois in County Wicklow. They had risen under Fiach McHugh 0 Byrne in answer to the call for war against Elizabeth. Lord Grey directed his army towards Wicklow and was joined by Francis Cosby, general of the Laois settlers. Arriving on the scene, he established a camp and against all advice, he sent his soldiers into the valley of Glenmalure against the clans. The English army advancing into the valley was cut down, Cosby (70 years old) was killed and Grey retreated.
Under John the son of the Earl of Desmond, this Irish force then attacked the forts of Laois before setting off to meet up with the Spanish army in Kerry. "All the men of Laois who were able to bear arms joined them" Annals of the Four Masters.
But they were too late. Lord Grey and the Elizabethan settlers of Munster, including the famous Edmond Spenser had got there before them. The Spaniards had surrendered to Lord Grey and all had immediately been put to death without mercy. The rebellion was put down with great severity. The English army now travelled from place to place crushing any opposition that remained.
In 1584 the chief of the O Mores died. Among his few possessions, he left two of his horses to one of his kinsmen. "I doe leave wth. Donell Oge O'Lalur too of the best garrons I have plowing with. Brien,G. Ed„ Advertisments for Ireland. Dublin, p.33
In 1587 we hear that Lord Perrot (fig.5d), as Lord Deputy, continued the campaign of suppression. "I caused to be hanged Conell Me Lysaghe 0 More, Lisaghe Me William 0 More Kellies and I have ConnellMc Kedaghe 0 More's head upon the top of the castle, so as there resteth not one principal of the 0 Mores (except Shane McRossa). I have also taken the young fry of all the 0 Mores, saving one whom I am promised to have. So I do not know one dangerous man of that Sept left." State Papers. April 1587, Letter of Perrot to Earl of Leicester.
THE LAST REBELLION
In 1595 the Irish of northern Ireland united against the crown forces under the leadership of Hugh 0 Neill. Battles raged in Ulster until England lost control of that Province. The Laois, in 1596 allied-themselves with 0 Neill and rose under their last Gaelic chieftain, Owney 0 More. The settlers retired behind their castle walls, but in a confrontation at Stradbally bridge Alexander Cosby (son of Francis) and his eldest son were killed. - account given in O Donovan's Four Masters, footnote for 1597.
Reinforcements from England of two thousand foot and one thousand horse were landed in the south of Ireland. - De Regno Hibemiae Commentarius, p.406. cf. Four Masters.
They joined up with the army of the Earl of Ormond who immediately launched an attack on Laois. Leaving Brian to harass the enemy, Owney went to Ulster to seek help confront O Neill in the north. Eventually he went to the north, made and armistice with O Neill and returned to his fate in England.
To repair the failure of Essex, Lord Mountjoy was now sent to subdue the country. His campaign was remembered as a particularly ruthless program of burning and killing.
In April of 1600 the Earl of Ormond came to a conference with Owney O More. During the meeting, Ormond (speaking in English) called the priest who was with O More a traitor. Some of O Mores followers took hold of the reins of Ormond's horse and those accompanying the Earl fled in alarm. So Owney took Ormond prisoner until the following June when he released him at the request of O Neill.
In August of the same year, Mountjoy with an overwhelming force of men set about the systematic conquest of Laois. Sending soldiers into the territory from different directions, he fought with the defenders every day, burning their settlements and destroying the fields of corn in the forest clearings. Owney wrote to Ormond that he was outraged by Mountjoy's criminal policy which was "a bad example to all the world." With the destruction of their food supply, he wrote, he would be forced to become what he loathed, a bandit living off the work of others. -Letter of Owney published in the Kilkenny Journal of Arch.
But in spite of all protests the campaign continued. "The army marching along the valley, the rebels coasted along the mountains. Divers of them came from the hill waving us to them with their swords, and calling us, as their manner is, with railing speeches...... all the way we burned all their houses in their fastnesses and woods." Carew Cal. vol. 601
Owney himself was surprised in the mountains by a group of soldiers and in the skirmish was mortally wounded.
Having finally penetrated the natural defences of the Laois kingdom, Mountjoy's secretary, Fynes Moryson, expressed his surprise that the land of what he considered a barbarous people should have such a civilised appearance, with it's well kept towns, roads and fields. It was he explained because the English army hadn't until then entered this territory.(!) After Owneys's death he assures us the spirit of the Laois is broken for ever -"they were so discouraged that they never after held up their heads."
Below is the account of these events as given by Moryson, Mountjoy's secretary, and as recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters.
A DESCRIPTION OF IRELAND BY FYNES MORYSON, SECRETARY TO LORD MOUNTJOY, LORD DEPUTY 1559 - 1603.
"But the best service at that time done was the killing of Owney mac Rory, a bloody and bold young man, who lately had taken the Earl of Ormond prisoner, and had made great stirs in Munster. He was the chief of the O More's sept in Leax, and by his Death (17th of August, 1600) they were so discouraged that they never after held up their Heads. Also a bold, bloody Rebel, Callogh mac Walter, was at the same Time killed; besides that, his Lordships staying in Leax till the 23rd of August, did many other Ways weaken them: for during that time he fought almost every Day with them; and as often were taken to ensure that no further rebellions would occur. Learning from their experience in Laois and Offaly the North was planted with English and Scots; -the plantation of Ulster.
In a report on the state of Ireland Sir J. Davyes wrote to Cecil that all was quiet in Laois. ".... they found the public peace well established within the Pale and counties adjoining, especially in Lease (Laois) and Offaly, which, being the seat of the Moores and Connors, they expected to find most subject to disorder; but they being well-nigh destroyed and rooted out by the late war, the Inglish families that are planted there begin to govern the country, and such of the Irishry as remain...."
THE MOVE TO KERRY
Most of our information for this period comes from the correspondence in the Calendar of the State Papers relating to Ireland, published in 1874. The letters generally abridged, are between government officials in Ireland and the crown ministers in England.
In a letter from Chichester, the Lord Deputy, to Salisbury, first minister of the crown in England, we first learn of the proposal to move the Irish clans out of Laois as a means of preventing further rebellion in Leinster. Although Chichester here makes the case, it turns out later that the settlers are very much involved in the project.
Jan. 26th 1607. (- 120) Sir Arthur Chichester to the Earl of Salisbury.
(Chichester) is now in hand to remove the Moores and septs out of Leixe, who have been always ringleaders in rebellion, and the notablest disturbers of the peace of the kingdom, shooting at the recovery of their lands taken from them for their rebellion and bestowed upon the English in the time of Queen Mary; since which grant they have been 18 several times in rebellion, and suppressed with great charge and loss of men. Their often revolt ministereth good occasion to remove them, and this last hath brought them so low that he conceives they may without disturbance put that design in execution; if they remain there, they will assuredly out again within a few years, and it were better they began with them than let the Moores attack themselves. Will not permit them to settle on Leinster, nor in the counties of Crosse and Tipperarie; all the rest of the kingdom is open for them, and, as he understands by them, they will make choice of Munster about Kyrrie; if they refuse to depart by fair means, wishes he might have the King's allowance to attempt it by force, for he is no way doubtful of them. When he has done with these, the like course must be held with the O'Connors of Ophaly; those countries being disburthened of those septs, there is great hope of a good settlement in all Leinster; and there is assured disturbance if they be not removed."
In April Chichester and the council of Ireland wrote to the Privy council of England, presenting their proposal to move the 7 septs or clans of Laois. Patrick Crosby is named as the man who could bring it about. This Crosby had been mentioned previously in the State Papers. The Earl of Ormond in 1603 complained that Crosby was interfering with his lands and he asked that this "base fellow" be stopped. There were complaints in 1605 that Crosby was trying to expel a landowner from "Tirbroine" in Kerry, which adjoined his own lands. Crosby also had a brother with lands in Kerry; the Rev. John Crosby, the protestant bishop of Kerry. The Queen's letter to the Lord Deputy, Lord Mountjoy, dated from the Manor of Oatland, 2 Oct. 1600, directing his appointment, describes him as "a graduate in schools, of English race, skilled in the English tongue, and well disposed in religion." However he is mentioned in a letter of Chief Justice Saxey (1604) on the poor progress of the Reformation in Ireland. "The bishops are more fit to sacrifice a calf than to meddle in religion."