Lady Margaret O'Connor

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIII

In the year 1447 Ireland was desolated by a fearful plague, in which seven hundred priests are said to have fallen victims, probably from their devoted attendance on the sufferers. In the same year Felim O'Reilly was taken prisoner treacherously by the Lord Deputy; and Finola, the daughter of Calvagh O'Connor Faly, and wife of Hugh Boy O'Neill, "the most beautiful and stately, the most renowned and illustrious woman of all her time in Ireland, her own mother only excepted, retired from this transitory world, to prepare for eternal life, and assumed the yoke of piety and devotion in the Monastery of Cill-Achaidh."

This lady's mother, Margaret O'Connor, was the daughter of O'Carroll, King of Ely, and well deserved the commendation bestowed on her. She was the great patroness of the literati of Ireland, whom she entertained at two memorable feasts. The first festival was held at Killeigh, in the King's county, on the Feast-day of Da Sinchell (St. Seanchan, March 26). All the chiefs, brehons, and bards of Ireland and Scotland were invited, and 2,700 guests are said to have answered the summons. The Lady Margaret received them clothed in cloth of gold, and seated in queenly state. She opened the "congress" by presenting two massive chalices of gold on the high altar of the church—an act of duty towards God; and then took two orphan children to rear and nurse—an act of charity to her neighbour.

Her noble husband, who had already distinguished himself in the field on many occasions, remained on his charger outside the church, to welcome his visitors as they arrived. The second entertainment was given on the Feast of the Assumption, in the same year, and was intended to include all who had not been able to accept the first invitation. The chronicler concludes his account with a blessing on Lady Margaret, and a curse on the disease which deprived the world of so noble an example: "God's blessing, the blessing of all the saints, and every blessing, be upon her going to heaven; and blessed be he that will hear and read this, for blessing her soul."[6]

It is recorded of her also, that she was indefatigable in building churches, erecting bridges, preparing highways, and providing mass-books. It is a bright picture on a dark page; and though there may not have been many ladies so liberal or so devoted to learning at that period in Ireland, still the general state of female education could not have been neglected, or such an example could not have been found or appreciated. Felim O'Connor, her son, died in the same year as his mother; he is described as "a man of great fame and renown." He had been ill of decline for a long time, and only one night intervened between the death of the mother and the son, A.D. 1451. Calvagh died in 1458, and was succeeded by his son, Con, who was not unworthy of his noble ancestry.


[6] Soul.—Duald Mac Firbis.—Annals.