Hugh De Lacy

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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De Lacy, Hugh, one of the most distinguished of the Anglo-Norman invaders, came over in Henry II.'s retinue, landing at Waterford, 18th October 1171. The estates that fell to his lot were chiefly in Meath and Connaught. He was appointed Lord-Justice more than once, and vigorously maintained the English authority, building castles at New Leighlin, Timahoe, Castledermot, Tullow, Kilkea, and Narragh. His rising power eventually brought him under the suspicion of Henry, and he was twice called to England to give account of his stewardship. On the last occasion De Braosa was appointed in his stead. De Braosa displayed great incapacity, and De Lacy, reinstated, had to put forth all his energies to amend the injuries done to the English interest by his predecessor's unwise proceedings.

Under 1178 mention is made of Hugh de Lacy plundering Clonmacnoise, sparing, however, the churches and the bishop's house. Prince John, during his residence in Ireland, suspected him of using his influence to prevent the Irish chieftains from coming in to offer due submission. De Lacy's second wife, whom he married in 1180, contrary to the wishes of Henry II., was a daughter of Roderic O'Conor. His sudden and violent death is thus related in the Annals of Ulster: "A.D. 1186. Hugo de Lacy went to Durrow to make a castle there, having a countless number of English with him; for he was king of Meath, Breifny, and Oriel, and it was to him the tribute of Connaught was paid, and he it was that won all Ireland for the English. Meath from the Shannon to the sea was full of his castles and English followers. After the completion of this work by him, i.e., the erection of the castle of Durrow, he came out to look at the castle, having three Englishmen along with him. There came then one youth of the men of Meath up to him, having his battle-axe concealed, namely Gilla-gan-inathar O'Megey, the foster son of the Fox himself (chief of Teffia), and he gave him one blow, so that he cut off his head, and he fell, both head and body, into the ditch of the castle." O'Megey, who escaped, was probably actuated by motives of revenge for seizures of land by De Lacy. This murder was by some considered a judgment of Providence for his building the castle on land sacred to St. Columcille. Hugh de Lacy was buried in the abbey of Bective with his first wife.

His character is thus sketched by Cambrensis: "If you wish to have a portrait of this great man, know that he had a dark complexion, with black sunken eyes and rather flat nostrils, and that he had a burn on the face from some accident, which much disfigured him, the scar reaching down his right cheek to his chin. His neck was short, his body hairy and very muscular. He was short in stature and ill-proportioned in shape. If you ask what were his habits and disposition, he was firm and steadfast, as temperate as a Frenchman, very attentive to his own private affairs, and indefatigable in public business and the administration of the government committed to his charge. Although he had great experience in military affairs, as a commander he had no great success in the expeditions which he undertook. After he lost his wife, he abandoned himself to loose habits, and not being contented with one mistress, his amours were promiscuous. He was very covetous and ambitious, and immoderately greedy of honour and reputation."

Sources

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

148. Giraldus Cambrensis: Topography, and History of the Conquest in Ireland: Forester and Wright. London, 1863.

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