Hugh Cathal

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIX

After the death of the Earl of Pembroke, who had obtained the pardon of Hugh de Lacy, a feud arose between the latter and the son of his former friend. In consequence of this quarrel, all Meath was ravaged, Hugh O'Neill having joined De Lacy in the conflict.

Some of the Irish chieftains now tried to obtain protection from the rapacity of the Anglo-Norman barons, by paying an annual stipend to the crown; but the crown, though graciously pleased to accept anything which might be offered, still held to its royal prerogative of disposing of Irish property as appeared most convenient to royal interests. Though Cathal Crovderg had made arrangements with Henry III., at an immense sacrifice, to secure his property, that monarch accepted his money, but, nevertheless, bestowed the whole province of Connaught shortly after on Richard de Burgo.

Crovderg had retired into a Franciscan monastery at Knockmoy, which he had founded, and there he was interred nobly and honourably. After his death there were no less than three claimants for his dignity. De Burgo claimed it in right of the royal gift; Hugh Cathal claimed it as heir to his father, Crovderg; Turlough claimed it for the love of fighting, inherent in the Celtic race; and a general guerilla warfare was carried on by the three parties, to the utter ruin of each individual. For the next ten years the history of the country is the history of deadly feuds between the native princes, carefully fomented by the English settlers, whose interest it was to make them exterminate each other.

The quarrel for the possession of Connaught began in the year 1225. The Anglo-Normans had a large army at Athlone, and Hugh Cathal went to claim their assistance. The Lord Justice put himself at the head of the army; they marched into Connaught, and soon became masters of the situation. Roderic's sons at once submitted, but only to bide their time. During these hostilities the English of Desmond, and O'Brien, a Thomond prince, assisted by the Sheriff of Cork, invaded the southern part of Connaught for the sake of plunder. In the previous year, 1224, "the corn remained unreaped until the festival of St. Brigid [1st Feb.], when the ploughing was going on." A famine also occurred, and was followed by severe sickness. Well might the friar historian exclaim: "Woeful was the misfortune which God permitted to fall upon the west province in Ireland at that time; for the young warriors did not spare each other, but preyed and plundered to the utmost of their power. Women and children, the feeble and the lowly poor, perished by cold and famine in this year."[6]

O'Neill had inaugurated Turlough at Carnfree.[7] He appears to have been the most popular claimant. The northern chieftains then returned home. As soon as the English left Connaught, Turlough again revolted. Hugh Cathal recalled his allies; and the opposite party, finding their cause hopeless, joined him in such numbers that Roderic's sons fled for refuge to Hugh O'Neill. The Annals suggest that the English might well respond when called on, "for their spirit was fresh, and their struggle trifling." Again we find it recorded that the corn remained unreaped until after the festival of St. Brigid. The wonder is, not that the harvest was not gathered in, but that there was any harvest to gather.


[6] Year.—Four Masters, vol. iii. p. 227.

[7] Carnfree.—This place has been identified by Dr. O'Donovan. It is near the village of Tulsk, co. Roscommon. It was the usual place of inauguration for the O'Connors. See note d, Annals, vol. iii. p. 221.