The Murder of Hugh de Lacy

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

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De Lacy has the credit of having done his utmost to render the Prince's visit a failure. But his efforts were not necessary. The insolence of the courtiers, and the folly of the youth himself, were quite sufficient to ruin more promising prospects. In addition to other outrages, the Irish had seen their few remaining estates bestowed on the new comers; and even the older Anglo-Norman and Welsh settlers were expelled to make room for the Prince's favourites—an instalment of the fatal policy which made them eventually "more Irish than the Irish." When the colony was on the verge of ruin, the young Prince returned to England. He threw the blame of his failure on Hugh de Lacy; but the Norman knight did not live long enough after to suffer from the accusation.[7] De Lacy was killed while inspecting a castle which he had just built on the site of St. Columbkille's Monastery at Durrow, in the Queen's county. He was accompanied by three Englishmen; as he was in the act of stooping, a youth of an ancient and noble family, named O'Meyey, gave him his deathblow, severed his head from his body, and then fled with such swiftness as to elude pursuit. It is said that he was instigated to perform this deed by Sumagh O'Caharnay (the Fox), with whom he now took refuge.

The Annals mention this as a "revenge of Colum-cille,"[8] they also say that "all Meath was full of his English castles, from the Shannon to the sea." Henry at once appointed his son, John, to the Irish Viceroyalty, but domestic troubles prevented his plans from being carried out. Archbishop Comyn held a synod in Dublin during this year, 1187; and on the 9th of June the relics of SS. Patrick, Columba, and Brigid were discovered, and solemnly entombed anew under the direction of Cardinal Vivian, who came to Ireland to perform this function. During the year 1188 the Irish continued their usual fatal and miserable dissensions; still they contrived to beat the common enemy, and O'Muldony drove De Courcy and his troops from Ballysadare. He was again attacked in crossing the Curlieu Mountains, and escaped to Leinster with considerable loss and difficulty.

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[7] Accusation.—There can be no doubt that De Lacy had ambitious designs. See Cambrensis, Hib. Expug. lib. ii. cap. 20. Henry II. heard of his death with considerable satisfaction.

[8] Colum-cille.—Dr. O'Donovan remarks that a similar disaster befell Lord Norbury. He was also assassinated by a hand still unknown, after having erected a castle on the same site as that of De Lacy, and preventing the burial of the dead in the ancient cemetery of Durrow.


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