The McMorrough Family

McMorrough family crest

(Crest No. 88. Plate 48.)

THE McMorrough family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founders of the family were Fiacha Baiceada, son of Cathire More, King of Ireland, A. D. 144, and Dirmuid Na Nagall, King of Leinster, A. D. 1170. The title of the heads of this sept was King of Leinster, and their possessions were located in the present Counties of Wicklow and Kildare.

The MacMurroughs, or sept of MacMurcadha, gave kings to Leinster for some time previous to the English invasion. They maintained their independenee and held the title of King of Leinster, with large possessions in Wexford and Carlow, down to the age of Elizabeth, and waged war with the English for many centuries. The ancient Kings of Leinster had royal residences in Dinnrigh, near the River Barrow, between Carlow and Leighlin, and at the Naas, in Kildare. In aftertimes they had castles in the City of Ferns, which was their capital, and at Old-Ross, in Wexford, and at Ballymoon, in Carlow. The MacMurroughs were inaugurated as Kings of Leinster at a place named Cnoc-an-Bogha, attended by O’Nolan, the King’s Marshal, Chief of Forth, in Carlow, and by O’Doran, the chief Brehon of Leinster, and by MacKeogh, his chief bard.

Of this line of kings, Dermot MacMorrough is the most celebrated, and he owes his miserable celebrity mainly to the fact that he introduced the Anglo-Norman invaders into Ireland. The Annals of the Four Masters represent him as constantly quarreling with his feudatory chiefs, and engaging in plundering expeditions on his neighbors’ territory, frequently in conjunction with the Northmen. His abduction of Devorgilla, daughter of O’Melaghlin, King of Meath, and wife of O’Ruarc, Prince of Brefney, is usually referred to as one of the causes that brought about the English invasion, although it occurred fifteen years before that event, and had, perhaps, no material bearing on it.

When Roderick O’Conor assumed the nominal sovereignty of Ireland he deposed MacMurrough, who had supported the former’s rival to the throne, Murtough O’Lochlaim (an O’Neill), who was killed at the battle of Leiter-Luin, in the County of Armagh; and Dermot, being doubtless aware of the desire of King Henry the Second of England to extend his sovereignty over Ireland, secured an interview with him, offering to become his vassal if the English monarch would restore him to his principality. MacMurrough died in 1171, despised by his masters and execrated by his countrymen. His death is thus recorded by the Four Masters in their quaint style: “Diarmaid MacMurchada, King of Leinster, by whom a trembly sod was made of all Ireland—after having brought over the Saxons, after having done extensive injuries to the Irish, after plundering and burning many churches, as Ceanannus, Cluin Iraird, etc.—died of an insufferable and unknown disease, for he became putrid while living, through the miracle of God, Colum-Cille and Finnen, and the other saints of Ireland whose churches he had profaned and burned some time before; and he died at Fearnamor (Ferns), without making a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as his evil deeds deserved.” Cambrensis, his contemporary, thus describes his appearance and character: “Dermidius was tall in stature, and of large proportions, and being a great warrior and valiant in his nation, his voice had become hoarse by constantly shouting and raising his war-cry in battle. Bent more on inspiring fear than love, he oppressed his nobles, though he advanced the lowly. A tyrant to his own people, he was hated by strangers; his hand was against every man, and the hand of every man against him.” And the same writer, who was notoriously prejudiced against the Irish, adds that the invaders encountered “no dastards, but valiant men who stood well to the defense of their country, and manfully resisted their enemies.” But the bond of Irish national unity being lacking, only those septs whose lands were seized rose against the invader, and they were consequently crushed in detail.