O'Briens of Thomond

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXI

Hugh O'Connor renewed hostilities in 1272, by destroying the English Castle of Roscommon. He died soon after, and his successor had but brief enjoyment of his dignity. In 1277 a horrible act of treachery took place, which the unfortunate Irish specially mention in their remonstrance to Pope John XXII., as a striking instance of the double-dealing of the English and the descendants of the Anglo-Normans then in Ireland. Thomas de Clare obtained a grant of Thomond from Edward I. It had already been secured to its rightful owners, the O'Briens, who probably paid, as was usual, an immense fine for liberty to keep their own property. The English Earl knew he could only obtain possession by treachery; he therefore leagued with Roe O'Brien, "so that they entered into gossipred with each other, and took vows by bells and relics to retain mutual friendship;" or, as the Annals of Clonmacnois have it, "they swore to each other all the oaths in Munster, as bells, relics of saints, and bachalls, to be true to each other for ever."

The unfortunate Irish prince little suspected all the false oaths his friend had taken, or all the villany he premeditated. There was another claimant for the crown as usual, Turlough O'Brien. He was defeated, but nevertheless the Earl turned to his side, got Brian Roe into his hands, and had him dragged to death between horses. The wretched perpetrator of this diabolical deed gained little by his crime,[4] for O'Brien's sons obtained a victory over him the following year. At one time he was so hard pressed as to be obliged to surrender at discretion, after living on horse-flesh for several days. In 1281 the unprincipled Earl tried the game of dissension, and set up Donough, the son of the man he had murdered, against Turlough, whom he had supported just before. But Donough was slain two years after, and Turlough continued master of Thomond until his death, in 1306. De Clare was slain by the O'Briens; in 1286.

In 1280 the Irish who lived near the Anglo-Norman settlers presented a petition to the English King, praying that they might be admitted to the privileges of the English law. Edward issued a writ to the then Lord Justice, D'Ufford, desiring him to assemble the lords spiritual and temporal of the "land of Ireland," to deliberate on the subject. But the writ was not attended to; and even if it had been, the lords "spiritual and temporal" appear to have decided long before that the Irish should not participate in the benefit of English laws, however much they might suffer from English oppression. A pagan nation pursued a more liberal policy, and found it eminently successful. The Roman Empire was held together for many centuries, quite as much by the fact of her having made all her dependencies to share in the benefits of her laws, as by the strong hand of her cohorts. She used her arms to conquer, and her laws to retain her conquests.


[4] Crime.—We really must enter a protest against the way in which Irish history is written by some English historians. In Wright's History of Ireland we find the following gratuitous assertion offered to excuse De Clare's crime: "Such a refinement of cruelty must have arisen from a suspicion of treachery, or from some other grievous offence with which we are not acquainted." If all the dark deeds of history are to be accounted for in this way, we may bid farewell to historical justice. And yet this work, which is written in the most prejudiced manner, has had a far larger circulation in Ireland than Mr. Haverty's truthful and well-written history. When Irishmen support such works, they must not blame their neighbours across the Channel for accepting them as truthful histories.