A History of Castlegarde – Part 3

History of Castlegarde – Part 3
1242 A.D. – 1588 A.D.

In our first article we covered the sturcture and defensive design of Castlegarde Castle. In our second article we looked at the reasons for its construction and its necessity to the O’Briens in the context of the Norman invasion.

This article will deal with what is a difficult period in Irish history to research, especially when it comes to land grants and ownership of property. In many cases during this period the crown granted lands that it only had a titular right to but did not have de facto control over. Therefore the holders by title and official Lordship of an area did not necessarily mean they were in control of its government or economy.

We have done painstaking research on both medieval land grants and annals in order to try and establish a picture of the times. However while we can easily hypothesise on the ownership of Castlegarde and its lands from fragmented material, there are still some gaps that we would love to fill. So if anyone has any further information that they would like to volunteer regarding the period covered in this article we would be grateful for their assistance.

Following the death of Donnchadh O’Brian, King of Thomond in 1242, Castlegarde was in the heart of a territory where there was a long period of marcher warfare. A march was the medieval term for disputed border lands where nobles who held titular land grants from the king would conduct private warfare while attempting to obtain de-facto control of the granted lands.
This fighting lasted right up until 1409, where evidence of a murage grant (the right to raise taxes) to build walls and strengthen the defences of ‘Garth’ now know as Castlegarde would suggest it was firmly under control of the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond or at least their staunch O’Brien supporters by this date.

The Fitzgeralds (then barons of Desmond, the earldom wasn’t created until the 1500’s) where granted the lands of Desmond and Decies in 1259 by Prince Edward, later Edward I of England. The grant would have given them titular power over marcher lands bordering the O’Brians, however such was the flux of the borders in this hinterland of East Limerick at this time that the castle and surrounding lands may have changed hands on a number of occasions.

The situation was further complicated by rivalries between the Desmonds and the Butler Earls of Ormond. While both were nobles appointed by the crown such was the fighting between them that their shared border could also have been considered a march.

It is hard to establish if the Desmond Fitzgeralds were ever actually granted the lands and Castle at Castlegarde directly or if more likely they merely held the overlord-ship of its O’Brian tenants through force of arms.

We know that it was held by a Norman knight called Hugh Purcell in 1296 and we can establish that it was held by the Fitzgeralds at the time of the defeat of their rebellion in 1583; but also that it appeared to be held by an O’Brien tenent of the Desmonds in 1573. The O’Brien tenancy with Fitzgerald overlords is mentioned by Sir Henry Sidney as follows “the barony of coonagh was leased by the crown to the Desmonds and sub let to McBrien O’Brien of Coonagh”. At this time it is believed that Castlegarde fell within the bounds of the barony of Coonagh.

The Grandissons who held the barony of Coonagh appear to have lost it some time between 1300 and 1400, and it is speculated that because of this it became crown land, possibly let in tenancy to the Fitzgeralds at this time, who in turn granted it to the O’Briens.

The name of Brian “Bouy” of Castlegarde appears on a list of gentlemen not in rebellion in 1586. Given the Christian name Brian, it could suggest that he was a descendant of the O’Brien tenants holding Castlegarde for the Desmonds, as the name Bouy appears to be a possible nick-name as opposed to a surname.

There were two Desmond rebellions over a period of 14 years, which eventually led to the downfall of their power in Munster and confiscation of all their lands. The first started in 1569 and in 1572 an attack on Castlegarde by crown forces led by Sir John Perrot (later Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Perrot realising the strength and importance of Castlegarde, then on the main road from Cashel to Limerick and located on an easily defended rock, decided to take the castle.He brought cannon with a large force,and it is recorded that it took some time to take the castle due to the cannon getting stuck in nearby boggy roads.

The attack appears to have been unusual in that at the time Castlegarde was held by O’Brien supporters of the Desmonds. However following the success of his expedition it would seem that Sir John Perrot came to terms with the O’Brians, as he handed over control of Castlegarde to Murrough Keogh O’Brian under conditions laid down by Perrot himself.

The second Desmond rebellion began in 1579 and it would appear that the O’Brian holders of Castlegarde stood by their word to Perrot and did not partake. The evidence for this is the name of Brian Buoy (thought to be an O’Brian) who appears on a list from 1586 as proprietor of Castlegarde and held to be not in rebellion against the crown.

The rebellion ended in 1583 and by 1584 all the Desmond lands totalling some 600,000 acres had been confiscated by the crown and divided among loyal supporters by Sir John Perrot, who by then was Lord Deputy of Ireland. However it took the next four years to fully orchestrate the hand over of such a vast amount of land.

The recipient in 1588 of Castlegarde ejected Brian Buoy (O’Brien) possibly to make room for their own more steadfast supporters, or perhaps because Brian Buoy sat on the fence during the Desmond rebellion.

And so during the reign of Elizabeth I (who was incidentally a fluent Irish speaker) ended what was most likely an O’Brien ownership and tenancy of Castlegarde that lasted over 400 years from the time it was built by them and Aoife wife of Strongbow.

Who got the lands of Castlegarde, known then as Castlenygarde from the crown in 1588? The next article will answer this and cover the period from 1588 onwards in our ongoing series of the history of Castlegarde.

Article written by David Thompson and Daniel Grace, 2014