Battle of Downpatrick

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XX

In 1257 there was a fierce conflict between the Irish, under Godfrey O'Donnell, and the English, commanded by Maurice FitzGerald. The conflict took place at Creadrankille, near Sligo. The leaders engaged in single combat, and were both severely wounded: eventually the invaders were defeated and expelled from Lower Connaught. Godfrey's wound prevented him from following up his success, and soon after the two chieftains died. The circumstances of Maurice's death have been already recorded. The death of O'Donnell is a curious illustration of the feeling of the times. During his illness, Brian O'Neill sent to demand hostages from the Cinel-Connaill. The messengers fled the moment they had fulfilled their commission. For all reply, O'Donnell commanded his people to assemble, to place him on his bier, and to bear him forth at their head. And thus they met the enemy. The battle took place on the banks of the river Swilly, in Donegal. O'Donnell's army conquered. The hero's bier was laid down in the street of a little village at Connal, near Letterkenny, and there he died.

O'Neill again demanded hostages; but while the men deliberated what answer they should give, Donnell Oge returned from Scotland, and though he was but a youth of eighteen, he was elected chieftain. The same year the long-disused title of Monarch of Ireland was conferred on O'Neill by some of the Irish kings. After a conference at Caol Uisge, O'Neill and O'Connor turned their forces against the English, and a battle was fought near Downpatrick, where the Irish were defeated.[8] O'Neill was killed, with fifteen of the O'Kanes and many other chieftains, A.D. 1260. The English were commanded by the then Viceroy, Stephen Longespé, who was murdered soon after by his own people.


[8] Defeated.—O'Neill's bard, MacNamee, wrote a lament for the chieftains who fell in this engagement. He states that the head of "O'Neill, King of Tara, was sent to London;" and attributes the defeat of the Irish to the circumstance of their adversaries having fought in coats-of-mail, while they had only satin shirts:—

"Unequal they entered the battle,
The Galls and the Irish of Tara;
Fair satin shirts on the race of Conn,
The Galls in one mass of iron."

He further deplores the removal of the chief's noble face from Down, lamenting that his resurrection should not be from amongst the limestone-covered graves of the fathers of his clan at Armagh.