A History of Castlegarde – Part 2

A History of Castlegarde – Part 2

Why was Castlegarde essential to The O’Briens’ of Thomond?

In 2011 I undertook to write the history of Castlegarde from the 13th to the 19th centuries. I regret to say it is proving a mammoth task, Dan Grace and I have done a lot of research but much more must be done before we can present it. So plese be patient.

In the meantime I thought it would be interesting for us to understand the necessity of building a fortress such as Castlegarde in such turbulent times as prevailed in the 12th century.

England had a key part to play in Irish history. In 1126 King Henry I of England made the court swear an oath of alligance to recognise Matilda his daughter as the rightful heir to the throne. However this was broken when Stephen of Blois his cousin succeed to the throne in 1135 inspite of the efforts of the barons resident in Normandy and those French who supported her Plantaganet husband.

Stephen fought a civil war for most of his reign, which included losing the throne for six months to Matilda. To obtain peace he made an agreement with the Plantaganets that on his death the throne would pass to the Plantaganets and not his son. In 1154 Henry II assended to the throne on King Stephen’s death. As a result, Strongbow, who had supported King Stephen against Matilda found himself very much out of favour with the new dynasty.

In 1154, Pope Adrian IV (the first English born Pope) was elected to the throne of Saint Peter, he proceeded under the Donation of Constantine, which was later proven to be a forgery, to claim the disposition of the Western European Islands, and under the Papal Bull Laudabiliter granted permission to Henry II for an invasion of Ireland to put the Church in order. The Pope thought the Brehon Society in Ireland which allowed divorce and concubinage was (in the words of historian Nicolas Furlong) “one where the compounding of sins had accumulated into an immoral mountain”. The Brehon laws were seperate to those of the Church, and in those days seperation of Church and state was almost unheard of outside of Ireland. A plan was then devised to invade Ireland by Henry II in 1155 which was overruled by the grand council, being oppossed by Henry’s mother Matilda and the Saxons.

In the meantime in Ireland Dermot MacMurrough was thrown out of contention for the Kingship of Leinster on the death of his uncle in 1126 by the High King Turlough O’Connor. He put his son Connor in his place, who within the year was deposed. Leinster was then given to Donal MacFéláin (1127). Dermot MacMurrough was further humiliated by Conor O’Rourke who attacked Wexford. In 1132 Dermot was again defeated by the King of Ossraige.

In 1137 Dermot with his new allies including Conor O’Brian (Thomond) took Waterford from the Sea, and then South Munster from the McCarthys. Dermot then made a treaty with the King of Meath, whose daughter (later Dermot’s mistress) was married to Tiernan O’Rourke. Dermot then aimed to become King of Leinster. In 1140 he helped the King of Meath beat off the armies of the High King, Brefine, and Airgilla, however his wifes brother MacFéláin and two others threatened him, whereupon his brother Murchaid turned on them beat them and blinded any captured leaders. Dermot from this point on (and thanks to his alliance with the new High King MacLoughlin) held the strongest kingship in Ireland for the following 25 years.

In about 1145 Conor O’Brien of Thomond got submission from the Norse of Dublin, ignoring Dermot MacMurrough. He then raided Connaught and turned on Wexford, but with all the excitement he dropped dead. He was succeeded by his brother Turlough, who promptly attached Dermot’s capital of Ferns. Dermot was so stunned by this he paid hommage and gave hostages to the High King (O’Connor) and both attacked Turlough O’Brien.

However O’Connor used the hostages to allow himself free reign to attack Dermot’s ally the King of Meath. He then gave the entire Kingdom of Meath to his son Connor, this was so exceptional that the reciepient was assinated within the year. The High King then raised Meath to the ground and gave half of it to Dermot and half to O’Rourke who was married to the deposed Kings daughter. Then Turlough O’Brien and the High King signed a peace agreement which lasted a year. From 1145 battles took place between all four central kingdoms, Ireland was likened to “a trembling sod”. Dermot MacMurrough looked on with interest from Ferns but did not take the field to intervean himself. In 1150 MacLoughlin became High King of Ireland and MacMurrough immediately made an alliance with him as Munster and Connaught were now proven enemies. O’Rourke and O’Connor then submitted to MacLoughlin. In the meantime Dermot allied with both MacCarthy and O’Connor attacked the O’Briens in Thomond where 7,000 men were killed “a black day for the South”.

In 1154 Dermot MacMurrough married Maura O’Toole, declared as his principle wife, her brother being Laurance O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin. In 1156 Tourlough O’Connor died, leaving his possessions (about one million euro in gold) to the Church. Rory O’Connor took over and imprisoned his three brothers, blinding the most capable one of them in order to protect his succession under the Brehon Law.

In 1165 Henry II returned from France to find big trouble in Wales, he called on Dermot MacMurrough to provide mercenaries to help his cause. Dermot responed with a large force of Irish and Dublin Norse, and went to Wales to secure Henry’s position. Meanwhile Tourlough O’Brien took the MacCarthys who were helped by the Ormonds, whose ruler he blinded. After this victory Tourlough was banished by Muirchertach. Tourlough was then given refuge in Ferns. In the same year MacLoughlin, High King of Ireland destroyed an Ulster rebellion, and took hostages. However MacLoughlin who was showing signs of mental illness killed all the hostages and as a result lost his grip on power and the respect of all his sub-kings. Dermot suddenly found himself alone and had to submitt to his enemies to whom his son Eana was given as hostage. He left Ireland for Bristol in 1168 to seek help from Henry II and had to go to France and wait over a year there to meet him. King Henry gave him permission to recruit from his vassels, Dermot returned to Bristol and obtained the support of Strongbow and Nesta’s sons primarily the Fitzgeralds and Fitzsimons.

Fitzstephen landed with a small contingent in 1169 and was successful in winning back the Kingship of Leinster for Dermot, a treaty was signed with the High King who took hostages and a committment that the Normans would leave Ireland. This treaty was broken by Dermot and the following year the big Norman landing in 1170 took place when Strongbow annexed Waterford. Dermot MacMurrough met him with his daughter Aoife whom Strongbow married immediatly.

Dermot was now back as King of Leinster in full power, but the High King allowed Tiernan O’Rourke to execute Conor MacMurrough, Dermots son, whom he held as hostage along with executing other members of the family. In the meantime Ossraige blinded Dermot’s other son Eana. Both of these incidents left Dermot shellshocked from which he never recovered. He died in 1171 a broken hearted man.

Strongbow thought he would be elected King of Leinster, but Brehon law prevented it, and to compound his situation Henry II gave him far less land than expected upon Henry’s arrival in ireland in 1171, he was still paying the price of his support of King Stephen. He died in 1176 (a disapointed man) leaving Aoife with two daughters and a son who died in infancy.

Donal Mór O’Brien, who was married to Dermot MacMurrough’s other daughter Urla, became King of Thomond in 1168. He submitted to Henry II in Cashel in 1171 but quickly found himself betrayed when Henry II granted Thomond to Philip de Braose in 1172. In 1175 Braose decided to finally take possesion of Thomond but was demolished at the battle of Thurles by Donal Mór O’Brien, who then to consolidate his power blinded his own two cousins to prevent them claiming his throne. However while Donal Mór was in Thurles the High King O’Connor and Raymond le Gros took Limerick, however a year late Donal Mór recaptured Limerick for Thomond. In 1178 he drove out the aincent rulers Ui Fidgenti from todays Limerick County.

We understand that in about 1179, Aoife MacMurrough, Strongbows wife, who was now a widow, joined her sister Urla and her husband Donal Mór and started building Castlegarde the “Cappamore Fortress”. Castlegarde was essential for the O’Brians defensive plans to hold the Normans at bay, and Aoife MacMurrough would have been glad to lend support to her sister as no love would have been lost between her and Henry II’s Lord Deputy Philip de Barross due to Henry’s dislike for Strongbow, and the fact he was trying to claim her sisters property. The quarrel with the Braose family continued well into the next generation when William Marshall (who married Aoife’s daughter Isabel) fought with them after his wife had defeated the King’s justicar to take back Ferns.

In 1189 Donal Mór established Holy Cross Abbey and in 1184 Kilcooly abbey, both of the Cistercian order, both stone structures with similar stone work to Castlegarde. Donal Mór died in 1194 after which his three sons fought each other for succession. His eldest son Muirchertach held Thomond from 1194 to 1198 when Conor O’Brien defeated him with the help of some Normans, and in the process publicised the completion of Castlegarde which would have been intentionally built in secret. The Kingship of Thomond was retaken in 1202 by Muirchertach who killed his brother Conor in the process. In about 1208 to 1210 Donnchadh O’Brian took the Kingship of Thomond and held it and Castlegarde until his death in 1242.