ONE of Cromwell's Five Counties, Kildare, had been held for a long time by a branch of the Geraldines, the descendants of Maurice FitzGerald; another, Wexford, had once been controlled by that successful adventurer (for Dermot of the Foreigners made him an overlord there) but later, becoming part of the Heritage of the Earl Marshal, it passed under the influence of the Butlers of Ormonde. Cromwell was not greatly concerned with the Geraldines, for of their two branches the one that held Kildare had been broken by Henry VIII. and made loyal to England, the other, the FitzGeralds of Desmond, had been almost annihilated in Elizabeth's reign; but he had much to do with the Butlers, for the Marquis of Ormonde commanded the Irish Nation. For hundreds of years these two Norman families had been lords of the South; Munster was divided between them. It was lucky for England that they had been rivals, hating one another and struggling for mastery. Some one should write the epic of their inherited war.
One of the FitzGeralds had been made Earl of Kildare in 1316, and afterwards others of them had wrested a realm in Desmond, the southwestern part of Ireland, from the MacCarthys, and had planted themselves also in Kilcolman and in Youghal and in the county of Waterford. One of the Butlers, who were descended from Theobald FitzWalter Le Boteler, had been made Earl of Carrick in 1315, and his successor had been made Earl of Ormonde (North Tipperary) in 1328, and their descendants, after being expelled from their first realm by the Old Irish, had established themselves in Kilkenny and Wexford. Beginning to rise at about the same time, these two Norman houses had flourished while greater ones fell; they were still expanding their realms long after the Heritage of the Earl Marshal and the Earldom of Ulster were things of the past.
At first, the Geraldines had prevailed in the long struggle between them, owing to the fact that Kildare was near Dublin and that their other strongholds were separate and out of the reach of the Deputies. Then the Butlers had gained an advantage, for the marriage of a daughter of their house to Thomas Boleyn, though at first it involved them in trouble, had given them influence later, and had afterwards made them Queen Elizabeth's kinsmen. By this means they had been enabled to abet King Henry VIII.'s subjection of the FitzGeralds of Kildare and afterwards to conquer the others when the Black Earl of Ormonde hunted the Crippled Geraldine down. During that inherited war these houses had filled the Annals of Munster with their interwoven tragedies. Where could you find a tale more romantic? Think of the Geraldines, and you will remember how the eighth Lord Kildare was made Deputy by Henry VII. because none could control him ("all Ireland cannot rule this earl?" said the King, "then let this earl rule all Ireland"), how the ninth, also a Deputy, was cast into the Tower by Henry VIII., and sent from it a silver heart and black dice to his son Silken Thomas, who then ruled in his stead, which tokens might have been read as a warning that any rash throw would be luckless, and that it would be well to be innocent, but were accepted as an appeal for vengeance, and how Silken Thomas, riding to Dublin Castle, flung down his sword of state on the Council table and plunged into rebellion, thus dooming himself and four uncles of his to the gallows at Tyburn. Think of the Butlers of Ormonde, and you will recall many things as dramatic. The provinces of Leinster and Munster were for many a year greatly concerned with both of these houses; and each has left a mark on them still.
The fortunes of war gave the Geraldines a place in the affections of Ireland never gained by the Butlers. The vanquished cause is dear to the Irish; and it so happened that the Geraldines of Kildare and of Desmond went down in rebellion (one branch to rise again when it was subdued, and the other to be mighty no more), and thus won the name of patriots. In addition to this it was remembered that they had always been reckless and pious and open-handed and loving. Now none of these qualities were shown by their rivals. There were strong men in Munster before these families rose; but they have been for the most part forgotten. You will find legends of O'Donoghues, MacCarthys, O'Sullivans, and others, in Desmond, for in that country the Os and the Macs found it possible to live overshadowed by the Geraldines; but even these are vague, and in the dominion of Ormonde, the realm of the Butlers, the old chiefs are forgotten, for that family ruled alone.
Kilkenny became the chief hold of the Butlers, for though in course of time they recaptured their former Palatinate, Tipperary, in one way or another, it was never so thoroughly theirs. Here they remained in spite of Cromwell; for the Marquis of Ormonde, though beaten for a time, was soon back and more flourishing than ever. Kilkenny Castle seems to denote their stable good-fortune; it has a look of immemorial security; and the city it dominates, Kilkenny of the Steeples, appears as fortunate. Indeed you could imagine that the whole county had shared that exceptional luck. It will seem vacant to you, if you compare it with an English shire, and its green valleys have Ireland's strange quietness, like the peace of a land recently swept by some terrible storm; but it will not suggest misery. It is orderly, because it is prosperous; as might be expected since it has so long been controlled by a house that was never accused of neglecting its friends.
In all this there is something deceptive. Most of that ivied castle is modern, and its ancient portion endured conquering sieges; that ecclesiastical city was sacked by Cromwell; and the folk of those valleys had more than their share of war. As for the Butlers, though they thrive now, it is after many vicissitudes. Yet they had a certain stability, an obstinate knack of surviving misfortunes and retaining their grip, and that kept this county Norman. Though you will not find many Norman names in it, you will remember that most of the knights and their followers took Irish ones after a time, and you will discern in the character of the people a better proof of that subjugating blend. They have the pride, the activity, and the shrewdness of Normans; for hundreds of years they have been very quarrelsome and very religious. They have fought much, and suffered greatly; but they have been permanent, and they have owed this to the Butlers; for when the Royalist Marquis, the first Duke of Ormonde, came home he made short work of the Cromwellian intruders.
It was not so on the neighbouring moors of Tipperary. This county, the heart of Ireland, and (unless I am misled by a natural kindness) the most excellently Irish of all, has attracted adventurers time after time; but it has made them its own. It was always a place of battles, and its appearance is martial. The bold moors bred fighters, and the rich fields were the spoils of the strong. There are few traces of the primitive wars or of the original Kings of Thomond and Munster: most of these are obliterated, and though you find only too many ruins, nearly all of them tell of subsequent strife. One indeed is a link with the more remote past: this is Cashel, the cathedral that stands high on a solitary rock. Cormac MacCullinane, King and Archbishop and Saint, began it in 827, though the chapel ascribed to him was built long afterwards by Cormac MacCarthy. The eighth Earl of Kildare burnt it—which outrage he excused by alleging that he had supposed that the Archbishop of Cashel was inside at the time—and Lord Inchiquin, "the Wavering Panther," sprang on it with his Puritans, stormed it through one of its painted windows, and filled its aisles with dead. So ended Cashel of the Kings. Holy Cross Abbey, too, dates from the times before the Normans arrived, having been begun by Donald O'Brien, King of Thomond. But almost every other ruin indicates Norman magnificence and the wars between the Butlers and Geraldines or the havoc wrought by Cromwell.
The people of Tipperary have a vivid remembrance of Oliver Cromwell and Murrough of the Burnings. The latter—Lord Inchiquin—showed such ferocity that even still they say of any terrified man that "he has seen Murrough," and the former trampled the county in his second campaign. Oliver had no need to strike terror here, for he had done it sufficiently at Wexford and Drogheda, and few had the courage to brave his blood-stained sword. Several of the strong castles surrendered without striking a blow; for instance, Pierce Butler yielded Fethard, and George Mathew, Ormonde's half-brother, was as pliant at Cahir. Clonmel alone fought to the last, and in that case the garrison were men from the North under Black Hugh O'Neill. The South had lost heart, persuaded that resistance was vain.
Then no part of Ireland was more thoroughly cleared of its former proprietors. A few came back from Connaught, and others, who happened to be allied with the Butlers, regained their lands later; but most of the landlords and farmers were uprooted. The greater part of the county passed to Cromwellians, many of them Puritan officers who had purchased the shares assigned to their soldiers. These officers were short-sighted; for if they had encouraged the veterans to settle there, in accordance with Cromwell's plan, they would not have been forced to permit so many Irish to remain or return. As it was, many of the peasants survived the storm that swept their masters away; but even the children of these have a foreign strain often, and you will find English names under the thatched roofs on the hills.
These peasants are a stubborn stock, to my mind the most manly and most worthy of honour in Ireland; they make strong farmers and excellent soldiers; they have a rough pride of their own, and a cheerful and bold cordiality. Here you find none of the subjected despondence of a broken race. As for the gentlemen, Cromwellians or not, of Fighting Tipperary, they were great in their time. They are decimated now and impoverished, and all their ways are over; but while they prospered and multiplied, they were second to none in exhibiting the virtues and the vices of Ireland. On these moors or in the meadows below them there are many old houses that were once famous and now are left desolate. Such a one, for instance, is Thomastown Castle. Just as Renvyle is a type of one kind of home, so Thomastown represented another. It was a huge castellated house: its upper story was crammed with many bedrooms and its other contained spacious and lofty halls. There were gardens beside it, made after the English fashion, and full of terraces and hedges—clipped in the likeness of impossible birds—and statues and grottoes; and around it there lay an orderly park of two thousand acres. It was dedicated to hospitality, after the Irish fashion. Yet its owners, the Mathews, were but recently Irish, being descended from George Mathew of Llandaff, who married his cousin, Lady Thurles, the first Duke of Ormonde's mother, in 1637. Tipperary had conquered them soon. Under this roof was born Father Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance, who worked wonders for Ireland because he loved it so much and understood it so well. When you see such houses as this in Ireland (and they are many) you will nearly always discover that they were the homes of families of English descent. In their wildest days they had something English about them; and so have all the wide lands that were held by the Butlers of Ormonde, for that family through all its career remained English in many ways, as in its skill in appropriating desirable places; it never became as Irish as the Geraldines did.