Feidlim O'Connor, Prince of Connaught


From The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

ON Cathal's death his son Tirlogh was elected by the people, but immediately deposed by the lord justice, and a brother raised in his room. The new sovereign became involved in a quarrel in consequence of some unlucky misapprehensions, which led to his death in a riot that ensued. His murderer was discovered and executed.

Tirlogh assumed the sovereignty; but Richard de Burgo, who had himself a claim to succeed Cathal, for reasons not stated, thought proper to raise Feidlim to the succession. Such apparently was the course most favourable to his plans of self-aggrandizement. The obstacles his ambition feared were more likely to arise from the suspicions of the king of England, and the vigilance of his governors, than from a small provincial ruler, whom he considered as existing only by his favour, and whose name and authority he might hope to use as the mask and instrument of his designs. He was, however, mistaken in his choice.

From Feidlim, De Burgo received a lesson which belonged peculiarly to the experience of his time. Feidlim was a prince of very uncommon spirit and sagacity, and quickly saw and seized on the advantages of his position;--these are so obvious, that we may assume them safely. It must have been plainly apparent that by a tame submission to De Burgo, he could be nothing more than an instrument in the absolute power of that encroaching baron, who simply raised him to occupy a nominal right over territory which he found it dangerous to seize at once, until it should be effected by slower and more safe degrees, by means of a succession of arbitrary and oppressive acts. Sooner than submit to such an abject and precarious footing, Feidlim preferred to hazard all; but he had caution and foresight equal to his boldness. He justly reckoned on the troubles in which the turbulent ambition of De Burgo would quickly and frequently involve him; and relied also on the steady character of the English protection, could it once be obtained, free from the capricious intervention of the barons and their dependents. He formed his plans accordingly.

He commenced by resistance to oppressive and unjust demands. De Burgo, who was little likely to acquiesce in resistance from one whom he considered as the creature of his will and convenience, at once marched against him, and made him prisoner. Feidlim had the good fortune to escape. Still more fortunately for him, Hubert de Burgo, the English justiciary at this time, fell into disgrace; and, in consequence, his nephew was deprived of the government, and Maurice FitzGerald appointed in his stead. Feidlim, with ready sagacity, seized upon the favourable moment. Aware of the insufficiency of any means of resistance in his power, and reckoning justly on the effects of De Burgo's discredit, he made a pathetic and forcible appeal to the king, in which he set forth, in strong terms, the known fidelity of his father, Cathal, and his own--the extensive cessions they had freely made--the strong pledges of protection they had received--and the unjust and insatiable rapacity of De Burgo. To these considerations he added a strong description of his disregard of the royal rights in Ireland--his seizure of the king's forts--his depredations and military inroads upon his faithful liegemen--and his general assumption of powers altogether inconsistent with the fidelity of a subject. To this representation he added an earnest request to be permitted to repair to England, and cast himself at the foot of the throne, that he might more fully explain the crimes of De Burgo, and his own wrongs. This judicious step of O'Connor was successful. Henry was surprised at an account so different from those with which he had been duped, according to the consistent and fatal policy of his Irish barons and ministers, whose immunities were extended and their crimes concealed by continued misrepresentations to the crown. Of O'Connor, he had been given to understand that he had led an army of Connaught men into the king's lands, and had been defeated with the loss of 20,000 men. This monstrous falsehood induced Henry to act with caution. He wrote to O'Connor, directing him to defer his journey till he had, with the concurrence of the lord deputy, endeavoured to take the castle of Melick from De Burgo; after which service, when the province of Connaught should be peaceably settled, and delivered up to the lord deputy, he might be admitted to his presence, and his cause fully heard. In the meantime, the king wrote to Fitz-Gerald, apprizing him of this letter, and desiring him to employ trusty persons to ascertain the truth. This answer of the king's effected the immediate purpose of O'Connor, as it recognised him as a vassal, and authorized him to act against his oppressor. The consequence was, that he was allowed to enjoy his province without further present molestation, under the sanction of Henry's support. The gratitude of Feidlim was shown by loyalty and active service: in 1244 he accompanied Maurice Fitz-Gerald, with an Irish force, against the Welsh. The circumstances are mentioned in our notice of FitzGerald.

Of Feidlim there is nothing further worthy of remark to be distinctly ascertained. His life had been a succession of struggles, in which his energy, courage, and sagacity, were unremittingly employed, to maintain possession of the little that remained of his ancestral dignity and possessions. The comparative peace of the remainder of his life may be inferred from the silence of historians. The time of his death is not specified.