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The Normans – Part 5 Clan Revival

By the 14th century the Norman invaders (Land-grabbers) became known as Anglo Irish. The settlers within the Pale (Dublin and it surrounds) were called English; while the descendants of de Burgo in Connaught had become Irish? – like many other lesser Norman  families. Away from the Pale they had little opportunity of surviving if they did not do so. The Fitzgeralds or Geraldines of Kildare, the Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormond were the families of power and authority.  To whom were they loyal? – the best answer was to themselves. They were not trusted by the English, they spoke Irish, intermarried with the Irish, and fostered their children with Irish families. They attended parliament but apart from that sign of obedience, they ruled their large territories like kings. Had they united, they like an O’Neill an O’Connor or an O’Brien they could have ruled the country. The late Eoin 0’Mahony (q.v.), Cork lawyer and inimitable raconteur who popularized Irish family history in his lively broadcasts from Radio Eireann, said of these Norman families: “Numerically and historically the Burkes, FitzGeralds and Butlers are the three Norman families outstanding in the moulding of the history of Ireland following the invasion of 1169. They have been remarkably consistent in producing able churchmen, soldiers and administrators”. The Normans undoubtedly came to conquer and transform, but also to adapt themselves to the country as they did in England and Sicily.

The native Irish began building castles also in their new location. The O’Sullivan and the O’Callaghan Clans were forced to uproot themselves from Cashel and go to West Cork and South Kerry in the former and North Cork in the later case. The O’Keeffes’ had to move from Glanworth – north of Fermoy up the valley of the River Bride and Blackwater to poorer quality land at Glenville, Dunbulloge, Dromagh and  Cullain ui Caoimh (Ballydesmond) in Co Cork. The McCarthy Mor had to retreat to Macroom and the lands of South West Co. Cork. The O’Mahonys went westwards where they wrestled some land off the O’Driscoll, O’Cowhigs and others. The McCarthys were associated some 50 castles, the O’Driscolls and the O’Mahonys’ both with fifteen, the O’Keeffes with ten, O’Cowhigs, Coffeys with seven, the O’Sullivans with six, and the McAuliffes with  four. Several other native Irish built castles throughout the county. The tribes continued their pastoral farming as they had done from the earliest of times. Animals and animal products, cattle and sheep, wool, tallow, hides, butter, figure as prominently in the mediaeval records as they do in the most recent times.  In the words of D.A. Chart, Esq.; M.A. Public Record Office of Ireland (1908), speaking about the period  ‘From the earliest times, Ireland has been, just as she still is, primarily a country of pasturage. The — tribes were purely pastoral in their habits, even taking the cow as their standard value. Yet cereals were raised to the extent that they varied, probably, according as the country was peaceful or the reverse. In times of disturbance no holder of land cared to give a hostage to fortune by sowing his land with corn, which could easily be burnt or destroyed by his enemies. Cattle, on the other hand, in the eyes of both the English and the Irish, had the advantage that they could, at the time of need, be driven to some hiding-place or some defensible position, where they would be secure from capture. The bawn or fortified enclosure to which cattle were driven for safety at night or in war time, is a prominent feature in most of our ancient landscape’. However this was to change over time.

Market towns were developed around the Norman occupied lands. Very early on, at least thirty -seven market towns in Co. Cork were known to the English government in Ireland. At that time they were well within the English Lordship of Ireland. These market towns were the city of Cork and the towns/villages of Carrigaline, Buttevant, Ballyhay, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Cloyne, Mogeely, Tallow(Co. Waterford), Corkbeg, Glanworth, Castleyons, Shandon, Mallow, Bridgetown, Ballynamona, Carrig, Kilworth, Mitchelstown, Ballynoe, Carrigrohane, Ballinacurra, Doneraile, Dunbullge, Innishannon, Grenagh, Ballyhooly, Kinsale, Rinronone, Ringcurran, Ovens, Castlemore, Ballinaboy, Carrigaline, and Douglas. It will be noted that these markets were located in the areas most densely settled and heavily manoralised by the Anglo Normans. This was replicated afterwards in counties Limerick and Tipperary. Political security and productivity of the soil encouraged large- scale settlement from England and Wales, and not infrequently, even further afield.  This first of the major invasions of Ireland resulted in the formation of a new set of surnames belonging to Viking Norman families. Names in this category – such as Burke, Costello, Cusack, Dalton, Dillon, Fitzgerald Keating, Nagle, Nugent, Power, Roche, Sarsfield and Walsh became numerous. To this day these names are numerous, particularly in the coastal counties of the East and south of the country. In present day Co. Wexford, native Irish names like Murphy and Kavanagh are only native Irish names in the top ten names in the county, whereas the remaining eight are Anglo Norman names Furlong, Sinnott, Stafford, Walsh, Rossiter, Devereux, Butler and Power. Tenants of the Barrymore Estate in East Co. Cork 1776, gives one also the dominating effect of Anglo Norman names in that part of Ireland. Surnames such Forrest, Cotter, Barry, Walsh, Heafe, Coppinger, and Power were in the majority of Tenants of the Estate.

Civil war broke out in England after the 100 years war with France in 1453. The Earl of Kildare and Desmond sided with Yorkists, while the Earl of Ormond sided with the Lancastrians. The Earl of Desmond defeated the Earl of Ormond at the battle of Piltown in Co. Kilkenny. For fifty years afterwards the Earl of Kildare and Desmond held control of Ireland. The Munster Gerladines turned more and more to the Irish side after the Earl was beheaded in error by the Viceroy Tiptoft in 1468. The Earl of Desmond who succeeded did not attend an Irish parliament for nearly a hundred years.  Titoft was recalled and Thomas, Earl of Kildare was created Viceroy.  He was succeeded by Gearoid Mor, Garrett the great Earl of Kildare. He was the greatest of all the Geraldines and was all but king of Ireland until his death.  He like all the Geraldines supported the Yorkists and though Henry V11, a Lancastrian was King of England, was not powerful enough to replace him. Later Henry did replace him with Poynings, who was famous for introducing Poyning’s Law of 1494.  According to this law no parliament could be assembled in Ireland without the Kings consent, and no act passed by parliament could become law unless approved of by the King and his council. Poynings, however was not a success as viceroy. Henry recalled him and once more again made Gearoid Mor viceroy. He continued as viceroy and the most powerful man in Ireland until he died in 1513.

‘Irish society, traditional kindred based society, was politically and economically inferior to feudal society, with its intensive arable farming based on manorial organisation, which Norman-English society had become long before the invasion of Ireland. Moreover, Irish economic inferiority had important military consequences also and English superiority in arms was clearly demonstrated as the invasion and conquest of Ireland progressed. Thus “the use of mailed soldiers was itself an indication of socio-economic development… We have here an unequal struggle between an industrially advanced power and a pastoral economy’. – ref: Gillingham – English Imperialism. Gaelic Ireland because of its own weakness and rivalries was never able to completely overrun the colony, even when the latter was at its weakest and subject to the greatest threat. The development of urban life was one of the colonies greatest safeguards. The town’s development and survival were particularly well placed to form bridges between Gaelic and English Ireland, not least by the way of trade.  However this was to change under the reign of the Tudors – when absentee landlords became the order of the day.  Little did the Native-Irish know of the horrific times that would follow when “see no evil, hear no evil ….” became part and parcel of some of the Landlords culture.

Some Castle Pictures and History

Johnstown Castle Estate

Johnstown Castle Estate became home to two prominent Wexford families. The first owners were the Esmondes; a Norman family who settled in the county in the 1170s. They constructed the tower houses at Johnstown and Rathlannon during the 15th or 16th century. During the Cromwellian period of 1640s the estate was confiscated and changed hands several times before being acquired by John Grogan in 1692, whose descendents remained at Johnstown up until 1945 when Maurice Victor Lakin presented Johnstown Castle estate as a gift to the Nation.

Trim Castle was used as a centre of Norman administration for the Liberty of Meath, one of the new administrative areas of Ireland created by Henry II of England and granted to Hugh de Lacy. de Lacy took possession of it in 1172. De Lacy built a huge ringwork castle defended by a stout double palisade and external ditch on top of the hill. There may also have been further defences around the cliffs fringing the high ground. Part of a stone footed timber gatehouse lies beneath the present stone gate at the west side of the castle. The ringwork was attacked and burnt by the Irish but De Lacy immediately rebuilt it in 1173. His son Walter continued rebuilding and the castle was completed c 1204. The next phase of the castle’s construction took place at the end of the 13th century, and the beginning of the 14th century.

He was sent over to Ireland as procurator-general in 1177, Richard de Clare having died shortly before. The grant of Meath was now confirmed, with the addition of Offelana, Offaly, Kildare, and Wicklow. As governor of Ireland Lacy secured Leinster and Meath, building numerous castles, while preserving the Irish in possession of their lands. He was subject to an accusation that he intended to seize the sovereignty of the island for himself. The author of the Gesta Henrici, however, says that Lacy lost his favour with Henry in consequence of complaints of his injustice by the Irish.


Dungarvan Castle – King John’s Castle is an Anglo-Norman fortification founded in 1185. It was built in a very strategic location at the mouth of the River Colligan. From here, ships could be anchored and soldiers could command the narrow strip of land to the south of the Comeragh Mountains which linked East and West Waterford.

Lismore Castle

Lismore Castle was first built by Prince John in 1185, and a round tower, dating from the 13th century still stands today. Lismore was founded by St.Carthage in 636AD and by the 8th century had become an important seat for Monastic learning. The ‘Book of Lismore’, an illuminated manuscript dating back to the 15th century, and the Lismore Crozier from 1116, were both discovered hidden within the walls of Lismore Castle in 1814, and bear testimony to Lismore’s long artistic tradition. The Castle was the birthplace of Robert Boyle, the scientist whose name lives in ”Boyle’s Law” and was owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. Visitors to the gardens can wander in the footsteps of poets such as Spencer, Thackeray and Betjeman or even the dancing feet of Fred Astaire.

Carton House

Carton House the Earl of Kildare Stronghold. During a history spanning more than eight centuries, Carton Demesne has seen many changes. The estate first came into the ownership of the FitzGerald family shortly after Maurice FitzGerald played an active role in the capture of Dublin by the Normans in 1170 and was rewarded by being appointed Lord of Maynooth, an area covering a large3 portion of Co. Kildare including townlands which include Carton. His son became Baron Offaly in 1205 and his descendant John FitzGerald, became Earl of Kildare in 1315. Under the eighth earl, the FitzGerald family reached pre-eminence as the virtual rulers of Ireland between 1477 and 1513. However, the eighth earl’s grandson, the eloquently titled Silken Thomas was executed in 1537, with his five uncles, for leading an uprising against the English. Although the FitzGeralds subsequently regained their land and titles, they did not regain their position at the English Court until the 18th century when Robert, the 19th Earl of Kildare, became a noted statesman. Carton remained in the control of the FitzGeralds until the early 1920s when the 7th Duke sold his birth right to a moneylender. Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley in order to pay off gambling debts of £67,500. He was third in line to succeed and so did not think he would ever inherit, but one of his brothers died in the war and another of a brain tumour and so Carton was lost to the FitzGeralds.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle William the Earl Marshall built the first stone castle on the site, which was completed in 1213. This was a square-shaped castle with towers at each corner; three of these original four towers survive to this day. The Butler family bought the Castle in 1391 and lived there until 1935. They were Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde and lived in the castle for over five hundred years. They were a remarkable family, resilient, politically astute and faithful to the crown and to Ireland as dictated by the politics of the times. These loyalties determined their fortunes and career, and so too the fortunes of their seat.

Limerick Castle

The Viking sea-king, Thormodr Helgason, built the first permanent Viking stronghold on Inis Sibhtonn (King’s Island) in 922. He used the base to raid the length of the River Shannon from Lough Derg to Lough Ree, pillaging ecclesiastical settlements. In 937 the Limerick Vikings clashed with those of Dublin on Lough Ree and were defeated. In 943 they were defeated again when the chief of the local Dalcassian clan joined with Ceallachán, king of Munster and the Limerick Vikings were forced to pay tribute to the clans. The power of the Vikings never recovered, and they reduced to the level of a minor clan, however often playing pivotal parts in the endless power struggles of the next few centuries. The arrival of the Anglo-Normans to the area in 1172 changed everything. Domhnall Mór Ó Briain burned the city to the ground in 1174 in a bid to keep it from the hands of the new invaders. After he died in 1194, the Anglo-Normans finally captured the area in 1195, under John, Lord of Ireland. In 1197, local legend claims Limerick was given its first charter and its first Mayor, Adam Sarvant. A castle, built on the orders of King John and bearing his name, was completed around 1200. Under the general peace imposed by the Norman rule, Limerick prospered as a port and trading centre. By this time the city was divided into an area became known as “English Town” on King’s Island, while another settlement, named “Irish Town” had grown on the south bank of the river.

Glanworth Castle

Glanworth Castle. Dominating the village skyline, Glanworth Castle,- North East  Co. Cork once controlled a strategic crossing point on the River Funcheon. Built by the by the Flemings on lands taken from the O’Keeffes’, later taken over by Condons in the 13th century, the castle soon passed to another Norman family, the Roches(Lord FermoY, who effectively controlled much of North East Cork between then and the 17th century. Recent conservation work by the Office of Public Works, has now rendered the complex safe and accessible to the public, preserving for us a unique record of Medieval grandeur in Ireland.

Ashford castle

In 1228, Ashford was founded by an Anglo-Norman family by the name of de Burgo, after they defeated the O’Connor Clan, natives of Connaught (also spelled Connacht), for whom the Abbey of Cong is attributed. They built several castles, but Ashford was their “principal stronghold.”