Revenge for Mullaghmast - The Rebellion of Owny O'Moore

After the death of Rory Óg various smaller bands of O’Moores and O’Connors attacked the settled English but they were disorganised and lacked the inspiration, or luck, of Rory Óg. Even Barnaby Fitzpatrick’s illegitimate brother, Callough, was in rebellion in the Camross area, albeit to little effect[1]

War weary O’Connor chieftains in Offaly approached English officials and sought to have some lands granted to the displaced Irish in return for peace. By this stage, Queen Elizabeth was in power and she was growing very frustrated at the huge cost of keeping the Irish in Laois and Offaly under control. Therefore she gave the Privy Council the authority to sanction a plan to give some O’Moores and O’Conors land in the ‘outward parts of Leix and Offaly’.[2] One can only surmise that such outward parts would have included the heavily wooded and thoroughly ‘outward’ Slieve Blooms. However, just as a settlement was about to be reached, a settlement which could have changed the course of Anglo-Irish relations, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald landed with a small force of continental troops in Dingle under the patronage of Pope Gregory XIII. A second, so called, Desmond rebellion had begun.[3]

Although this rebellion was as unsuccessful as the First Desmond Rebellion, it ended whatever chance there had been for peaceful co-existence between the native Irish and English settlers in Laois. The tumult caused by the rebellion made the prospect of negotiations very unlikely. The English planters finally began to benefit from a sustained period of peace to reaffirm their holdings in the area. It was not until the 1590s when a post-Mullaghmast generation of Irish launched another wave of rebellion.

Rory Óg O’Moore, the rebel of the 1570s, was married to the sister of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne of Wicklow. When Rory Óg was killed by Barnaby Fitzpatrick’s soldiers, his son, Owny, was sent to his uncle. Owny was trained by his uncle in swordsmanship in Ballinacor, near Tinahely. He grew up hearing tales of the heroism of his father and the butchery and barbarism of the perpetrators of the massacre at Mullaghmast. Owny became chieftain of Laois in 1593 and sought to continue his father’s legacy in terrorising the English planters and their supporters.[4] In 1596 he attacked the Cosbys of Stradbally and succeeded in killing Alexander Crosby, the same man Owny’s father had held prisoner years previously and the son of one of the main organisers of Mullaghmast. However, Owny’s forces suffered great losses shortly after the Battle of Stradbally Bridge and there followed a short period of calm as Owny went into hiding to regroup.[5]

But the calm was short-lived. The conflict which historians would one day call the Nine Years’ War was spreading southward from Ulster. Owny mustered as many men as he could as he sought to induce the Baron Fitzpatrick to join Irish forces against English rule. By this stage the title had passed from Barnaby, who had died young, to his younger brother Florence. Florence was resolute in his refusal not to join Owny in aiding the O’Neills and O’Donnells of Ulster. However, Florence’s loyalty to the crown was not shared by his eldest son and heir, Teige, who welcomed Owny and was eager to assist in any way that he could.[6]

Two of the most prominent castles in Laois and Offaly, at Stradbally and Croghan, fell to the rebels and hundreds of innocents were slaughtered as the maelstrom of violence escalated. In 1600 an old adversary of Rory Óg O’Moore was appointed President of Munster, the now knighted Sir George Carew. In April of that year Carew arrived at the residence of the ‘Black’ Earl of Ormonde, Thomas Butler. Butler, the commander-in-chief of English forces in Ireland and cousin of Queen Elizabeth, intended on meeting Owny O’Moore in the countryside near Ballyragget to discuss a peace. Carew, who had held off the forces of Owny’s father in Leighlinbridge decades earlier, was determined to accompany Butler.

So they set off the following morning, along with the Earl of Thomond, from Kilkenny city to the meeting place. They were only protected by a small body of cavalry. As they approached the place they could see an army of 520 men awaiting them. Carew remarked later that they were’ the best furnished men for the war and the best apparelled’ soldiers he had ever seen in Ireland.[7] Owny emerged from the crowd and approached alone to speak with Butler. An hour’s worth of talking yielded little headway. As the two continued to speak, Carew noticed movement in the shrubbery, that somewhat surrounded the area of the meeting. Owny’s men had managed to surround the area unbeknownst to the English. Carew immediately raised the alarm but Owny’s men soon swept upon them and captured Butler. Carew and the Earl of Thomond somehow managed to make their escape.[8]  The capture of such a prominent figure was an extraordinary coup for Owny. Teige Fitzpatrick offered the castle of Gortnaclea as a place to hold the prisoner, showing that the divisions between Teige and his father were deepening.

Owny’s achievement was somewhat tempered by Hugh O’Neill’s insistence that Butler be released.[9] However, in return for Butler’s release Owny ‘received in his place sixteen hostages, consisting of the eldest sons and heirs of the most honourable gentlemen who were subject to Butler’.[10] Despite the Earl’s release, the Lord Deputy, Baron Mountjoy, was livid. Mountjoy became determined to crush the O’Moores once and for all as part of a coordinated effort to bring about an end to the ongoing war. Mounjoy led a large army that marched towards the main residence of Teige Fitzpatrick in Castletown. On the way they employed scorched earth tactics, destroying the growing corn in every direction on their way towards a showdown with Owny.[11] On 21 August, as Mountjoy’s forces approached, Teige deliberately set fire to Castletown and fled.[12] When Mountjoy eventually engaged Owny’s forces, the battle was brutal and the more organised and better armed combined forces of Mountjoy and Butler defeated the O’Moores. Owny, fearful that his head would be severed from his body and be paraded all over the kingdom, willed his men to bury his head should he die in battle, a fate he duly met at the hands of Mountjoy’s soldiers.[13]

Owny’s death was the end of the resistance of the Gaels of Laois. The Annals of the Four Masters sum up the great loss that Gaelic Ireland had suffered;

Owny, son of Rury Oge, son of Rury Caech O’Moore, who had been for some time an illustrious, renowned, and celebrated gentleman, was slain by the Queen's people in an overwhelming and fierce battle which was fought between them on the borders of Leix, in the month of August of 1600. His death was a great check to the valour, prowess, and heroism of the Irish of Leinster and of all Ireland. He was, by right, the sole heir to his territory of Leix, and had wrested the government of his patrimony, by the prowess of his hand and the resoluteness of his heart, from the hands of foreigners and adventurers, who had its fee-simple possession passing into a prescribed right for some time before, and until he brought it under his own sway and jurisdiction, and under the government of his stewards and bonnaghts, according to the Irish usage; so that there was not one village, from one extremity of his patrimony to the other, which he had not in his possession, except Maryborough alone. After the fall of Owny … Leix was seized by the English; and they proceeded to repair their mansions of lime and stone, and to settle in the old seats of the race of Conall Cearnach, to whom Leix was the hereditary principality, for there was no heir worthy of it like Owny, to defend it against them.[14]

An end to centuries of dominance in Laois by the old Gaelic order was brought about soon afterwards when the leading families of all seven septs of Laois were transplanted to Tarbert in Kerry by Sir George Carew a few years later.

As for Teige Fitzpatrick, his support for Owny and the Earls of Ulster seemed to cost him his inheritance. His father travelled to Queen Elizabeth in a show of loyalty and he was regranted all of his land including strongholds in Gortnaclea, Castletown and Ballaghmore. His next eldest son, John, was to inherit all of Upper Ossory upon Florence’s death. However, as time passed on Teige’s son, Barnaby, successfully brought the matter to the King’s Council in Ireland. An arrangement allowing Teige to inherit half of Upper Ossory was made in 1618. This arrangement effectively split the area in two. The area around Camross and Castletown was inherited by John. He became the Baron of the Manor of Castletown-Offerlane. Teige and John’s younger brother, Edmund, lived in Derrynaseera. He oversaw much of the land in that area of the present parish of Camross.[15]

In an attempt to ease tensions in the area the Crown also granted pardons to a host of families in Upper Ossory. The descendants of this pardon populate much of Camross and Castletown to this day; Fitzpatricks, O’Brophys, O’Phelans, McKeenins, O’Dorans, O’Delanys, O’Bergins and MacCostigans amongst others.[16]



[1] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 83.

[2] Dunlop, ‘The Plantation of Leix and Offaly', p. 84.

[3] The head of the Fitzgerald dynasty in Munster was known as the Earl of Desmond.

[4] Feehan, Slieve Bloom, p. 106.

[5] Dunlop, ‘The Plantation of Leix and Offaly', p. 88.

[6] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 88

[7] Dunlop, ‘The Plantation of Leix and Offaly', p. 90.

[8] The Annals of the Four Masters describe this meeting as follows: ‘A day of meeting was appointed between the Earl of Ormond and Owny, the son of Rury Oge O’Mooreach, to have an equal number of men in arms and armour, to hold a conference; and the Earl of Ormond brought the President and the Earl of Thomond to be present, at his own side, at that conference. When they arrived at the appointed place, which was in the neighbourhood of Bel-atha-Raghat, they began to state their mutual covenants, and to argue their claims on each other, until a gentleman of Owny's people placed his hand on the reins of the bridle of the Earl of Ormond's horse, and finally determined to take him prisoner. When the President and the Earl of Thomond perceived this, they turned their horses back, and did not halt until they arrived at Kilkenny. The Earl of Thomond, however, was wounded in that encounter. Owny, the son of Rury, then took the Earl of Ormond with him into the fastnesses of his territory; and it was a wonderful news all over Ireland that the Earl of Ormond should be detained in that manner’.

[9] Taken from Thomas Butler’s entry on http://www.libraryireland.com/biography/ThomasButler.php

[10] Taken from University College Cork’s online Annals of the Four Masters archive: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100005F/text012.html

[11] Feehan, Slieve Bloom, p. 106.

[12] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 88.

[13] Dunlop, ‘The Plantation of Leix and Offaly', pp 90-91.

[14] Taken from University College Cork’s online Annals of the Four Masters: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100005F/text012.html

[15] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 92.

[16] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 90.