The O’Moore Family

O'Moore family crest

(Crest No. 288. Plate 54.)

ON the green hills of Ulster the white cross waves high,

And the beacon of war throws its flame to the sky;

Now the taunt and the threat let the coward endure,

Our hope is in God and in Rory O’Moore!

Do you ask why the beacon and banner of war

On the mountains of Ulster are seen from afar?

’Tis the signal our rights to regain and secure,

Through God and our Lady and Rory O’Moore!

For the merciless Scots, with their creed and their swords,

With war in their bosoms, and peace in their words,

Have sworn the bright light of our faith to obscure,

But our hope is in God and in Rory O’Moore!

Oh! lives there the traitor who’d shrink from the strife—

Who, to add to the length of a forfeited life,

His country, his kindred, his faith would abjure?

No! we’ll strike for our God and for Rory O'Moore!

The O’Moore family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through Ir, the fifth son of that monarch. The ancient name was More, and signifies “Great.” It was taken from Mordha, a descendant of Laoiseach Kean More. The title of the chiefs of the O’Moores was Prince of Leix, and their territory was situated in Queens County and the Counties of Down and Kerry. They held the high rank of Marshals and Treasurers of Leinster. Their chief fortress was erected on a huge rock, a sort of Gibraltar rising from the plain, situated on a hill near Dunamase, near Maryboro, in Queens County. It was a place of almost impregnable strength, of which some massive ruins still remain. It changed hands several times between its rightful owners and the English of the Pale. In 1325 O’Moore recovered it, and held it four years, with the entire surrounding country; and again in the reign of Edward the Third took it, and after having been taken and retaken many times it was dismantled by the English in 1650.

Like some other independent Irish princes, the O’Moores coined their own money; we are told in Sir Charles Coote’s “Survey of the Queen’s Country,” that some of the silver coins of the O’Moores were in his time extant.

Rory O’Moore, a celebrated chieftain during the reigns of Elizabeth and Mary, defeated the English forces in a series of bloody engagements, and recovered his ancestral possessions, the territory of Leix, and valiantly held them till his death, eighteen years afterward. He was assassinated, in 1578, by a renegade Irish chieftain, Baron Fitz-Patrick of Ossory, who had exchanged his Irish chieftaincy for an English title. Among the many heroic exploits of O’Moore it is related how on one occasion, having been betrayed and surprised at his retreat in the woods by Robert Hartpole at the head of two hundred English, he single-handed performed the amazing feat of cutting his way through them with his sword, and escaping without a wound.

His son, Owen O’Moore, was a celebrated commander during the reign of Elizabeth, and defeated her armies in many bloody engagements. In the year 1599 the pompous Earl of Essex, Elizabeth’s paramour, marched against Tyrone with one of the largest and best-equipped English armies that had ever entered Ireland, consisting of twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse. In passing through Leinster he was attacked and harassed by the redoubtable Owen O’Moore, who cut to pieces a great number of his troops in a defile, since called Bearna Cleitigh, or the “Pass of Plumes,” from the great quantity of plumes that were found there, worn by the English knights who were slain, and of which those who escaped were despoiled.

Richard Dalton Williams, in one of his vigorous ballads, thus alludes to the incident:

“Look out,” said O’Moore to his clansman, “afar—

Is yon white cloud the herald of tempest or war?

Hark! know ye the roll of the foreigners’ drums?

By heaven! Lord Essex in panoply comes,

With corselet, and helmet, and gay bannerol,

And the shield of the nobles with blazon and scroll;

And as snow on the larch in December appears

What a winter of plumes in that forest of spears;

To the clangor of trumpets and waving of flags

The clattering cavalry prance o’er the crags;

And their plumes—by St. Kyran! false Saxon, ere night,

You shall wish these fine feathers were wings for your flight.”

· · · · · · · · · ·

And when they burst tremendously upon the bloody groun’,

Both horse and man from rear to van like shivered barques went down.

Leave your costly Milan hauberks, haughty nobles of the Pale,

And your snowy ostrich feathers as a tribute to the Gael.

Fling away gilt spur and trinket, in your hurry, knight and squire,

They will make our virgins ornaments, or decorate the lyre.

Ho, Essex! how your vestal Queen will storm when she hears

The “mere Irish” chased her minion and his twenty thousand spears.

Another instance of this chieftain’s prowess was shown when, at a parley held in 1600, near Kilkenny, by Sir George Carew, President of Munster, the Earl of Thomond and Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, O’Moore boldly took the Earl of Ormond a prisoner, and held him for two months, when he liberated him on the payment of £3,000 ransom.

The celebrated Roger O’Moore, who organized the great uprising of 1641, and whose extraordinary abilities and bravery are, perhaps, unsurpassed in Irish history, was one of Owen’s descendants. When, in 1640, Ireland was prostrate and carefully guarded, disheartened by defeat and her soil confiscated, O’Moore, though only a private gentleman and having no personal resources, undertook the vast enterprise of rescuing his country from the grasp of England, and succeeded. He created the Confederation, and in three years England did not hold a town or city in Ireland but Dublin and Drogheda. For eight years the Confederation, created by the intellect and courage of O’Moore, exercised supreme authority throughout the Island. All authorities are agreed, English and Irish, concerning the ability, the patriotism, the courage, magnanimity and lofty motives of O’Moore. He was a descendant of the chieftains of Leix, who, a century before, were treacherously slain at a banquet to which they were invited, by the consent of the English Lord Deputy, yet he never descended to measures of revenge or cruelty.

The most illustrious modern representative of the name was Thomas Moore, Ireland’s national bard, the immortal author of the Irish Melodies, “the poet of all circles, and the idol of his own.” Thomas Moore was of almost pure Celtic blood, and in temperament and genius was a thorough type of the intellect of his race. His genius has been recognized by all peoples, including the enemies of his own, and his poetic productions have been translated into all civilized languages.

This illustrious Irish name is to-day honorably represented in Ireland, America and elsewhere. The Most Rev. Dr. John Moore, present Bishop of St. Augustine, Fla., one of the most scholarly members of the American hierarchy, is a descendant of this family, and was born in Devlin, Westmeath, Ireland, in 1835.