The De Courcy Family

De Courcy family crest

(Crest No. 20. Plate 68.)

THE De Courcy family is of Norman extraction, and came to Ireland in 1170, settling in the present Counties of Cork, Antrim, and Down. Sir John De Courcy, its founder, was one of the most prominent of the early Norman invaders. He was descended from the Dukes of Lorraine, in France, his ancestors having come to England with William the Conqueror. De Courcy was a man of great stature, strength, and courage, and the exploits attributed to him by the chroniclers of the time give him the character of an Irish Cid. King Henry the Second granted him all the lands he could conquer in Ulster, and he plundered and subjugated a great part of ancient Orgiall and Ulidia—Down and Antrim—establishing his chief castle at Downpatrick.

After many bloody contests with the native owners of the soil De Courcey parcelled out the conquered territory among his followers. He was afterward created Lord of Connaught and Earl of Ulster by Henry the Second. During the reign of King John he fell into disfavor with the king for having declared that the death of the rightful heir to the English crown, Prince Arthur, was effected through the commands of John; and Hugh de Lacy was created lord justice, and instructed by the king to send De Courcy a prisoner to London to be hanged. The latter defeated De Lacy’s force in a battle near Down.

After the defeat at Down De Courcy offered to fight De Lacy, which this cowardly lord refused, alleging that as he was the representative of the king in Ireland, it would be beneath his dignity to enter the lists with a rebellious subject. He then proclaimed De Courcy a rebel, and offered a large reward for his capture. Failing in this, he succeeded in bribing the servants and followers of De Courcy to betray him into his hands. They informed De Lacy that De Courcy was a man of such gigantic strength, and always so well armed in public and private, that no man durst lay hands upon him, but that upon Good Friday yearly he wore no arms, but remained alone doing penance in the churchyard of Downpatrick, when, if De Lacy would have a troop of horse in readiness, they could, by the directions of themselves (the betrayers), apprehend their master.

De Courcy was attacked according to directions, and being unarmed he ran to a wooden cross that was standing in the churchyard, and wrenching the shaft from its socket, used it with such effect that he killed thirteen of his assailants and disabled many more of them before he was overpowered. For this service King John created De Lacy Earl of Ulster.

De Lacy’s character should be relieved of some of the odium attaching to it by his conduct in relation to the betrayers of De Courcy, for instead of rewarding their treachery in betraying their master, he had all of them hanged.

De Courcy was committed to the Tower of London, and finally died in exile in France about 1210.

The De Courcys, his successors in Ireland, were created Barons of Kinsale, and in consideration of the fame of their ancestors, were allowed the peculiar privilege of wearing their hats in the presence of royalty—a right which the Baron of Kinsale exercised on the occasion of George the Fourth’s visit to Ireland in 1821. Some of the De Courcys of Cork changed their name to that of MacPatrick.

A branch of this family have been Barons of Kilbarrock, in the County of Dublin, since the reign of King John. The founder of this family was also a Sir John De Courcy, who was killed by the De Lacys. It is stated in a pedigree of the MacCarthys of Loch Luigheach, now Corraun Lough, in Kerry, preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, that this branch of the MacCarthys descend from a daughter of Sir John De Courcy.