In the introduction to The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Rev. William Carrigan quotes a verse ascribed to a poet from Connacht. The verse establishes the boundaries of the kingdom of Ossory as they stood around the 3rd or 4th Century AD;

                From the Bearbha to the Suir westwards

                Extends Osraidhe of high sunny land,

                From the soft Bladhma to the sea.

The most irriguous fair part of Banba.[1]

Carrigan takes issue with the theory that Ossory stretched north-westward towards the region around Camross. However, even if the area around Camross was not part of Ossory at the time of the kingdom’s foundation in the 2nd Century by Aengus Osrithe, the area certainly was incorporated into the ancient kingdom a number of centuries later.

In the 5th Century, the Ossorians were pushed out of their territories in Tipperary around the modern towns of Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel by the Déise of Waterford. After generations of strife with the Déise, the Ossorians began to consolidate their old territories and, to compensate for their losses, they moved north-westward and annexed the land between the banks of the Nore and the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Before this expansion, Camross had been part of the Kingdom of Laois, as had Kyle, Castletown and Borris-in-Ossory.

This annexation was complete around the 9th Century. Around this time the Ossorians, as well as most of the other kingdoms of Ireland, were dealing with the grave threat of Viking invasion. The King of Ossory, Donnchadh Mas Giolla Phádraig, opted not to lend his support to Brian Ború in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Instead, Donnchadh allowed an old grudge with Ború’s Dalcassian tribe, who had taken his father prisoner thirty years prior, to cloud his judgement. After their victory in Clontarf, the weary and wounded Dalcassians made their return home to Munster. Donnchadh decided to amass his army and attack them when they were weak so as to avenge the imprisonment of the Ossorian king thirty years earlier. But Donnchadh was met by a surprisingly resilient force;

And when the wounded men heard [that the Ossorians wanted to fight] their strength and fury grew so, that every man of them was able for battle. And they said that to the son of Brian [Brian himself having been treacherously slain in Clontarf], and to the Dal-Cais, to go into the nearest wood to them and to bring out with them stakes to which they could put their backs, standing during the battle. When MacGillapatrick and the Osraighi heard of that great courage in the Dal-Cais, both whole and wounded, they declined the battle and avoided the Dal-Cais.[2]

Although the above account is recorded as having taken place near ‘Ath-I’ (Athy) there is an old story recorded in Castletown in the 1930s about the townland of ‘Gort na Clé’ (The Field of Stakes). This story goes that the townland got its name from Munster men tying themselves to stakes to fight as they returned from the Battle of Clontarf. This piece of local folklore has very obvious similarities to the story of the Ossorians and the Dal-Cais, raising the possibility that the encounter may have taken place a lot closer to Camross than the banks of the Barrow on the Kildare/Laois border.[3]

In 1103 the King of Ossory, Ruadh Mac Giolla Phádraig died in battle in Ulster.[4] His death catalysed a breaking up of Ossory into smaller kingdoms. The O’Kealys, chiefs of the Magh Lacha tribe around Aghaboe and Rathdowney, rebelled against the Mac Giolla Phádraigs and their leader, Fionn O’Kealy, became the first king of North Ossory. He assumed control of the lands around Camross which had been ruled by the Ui Fearchallains. During the reign of Fionn’s grandson, Diarmaid, the new High King of Ireland, Muircheateach O’Loghlan, led a bloody invasion of North Ossory. As John Feehan points out, this must have been a very bloody affair for the Annals of the Four Masters points out that the people of ‘Laeighis, Ui-Failghe and [North] Ossory…fled to Connacht’.[5]

In 1172, the old tribal lands of the Ui Fearchallain were given by the leader of the Norman invaders, Strongbow, to Adam de Hereford who built a stronghold in Castletown.[6] Into this area were driven much of the Mac Giolla Phádraigs who were expelled from their lands by William Marshall, the Earl of Pembroke. Marshall had married Isabella, daughter of Strongbow and Aoife McMurrogh. As husband to the heir of Leinster, Marshall set about establishing his friends and supporters all over Wexford, Carlow and Ossory whilst expelling any Irish who he felt could be a hindrance to his plantation. As the Mac Giolla Phádraigs had been sworn enemies to Marshall’s father-in-law, Dermot McMurrogh, they sat atop of Marshall’s expulsion list. The influx of displaced Irish with English and Welsh planters into the Slieve Blooms led to the simmering of decades of chaos that lasted for generations. The dominant clans who had managed to maintain their lands around Camross before the coming of the Normans, the O’Phelans and the O’Delanys, were likely as dismayed with the coming of the Mac Giolla Phádraigs as they were with their new English speaking neighbours.

After almost a century of tension, the bloodshed that had become part of life in the Slieve Blooms began to be documented by English authorities as it was beginning to have a monetary effect upon England’s frayed lordship over Ireland. In 1287 a fine of 100 cows was imposed on the ‘Irish of Slieve Bloom’ for disturbing the King’s peace. Naturally enough, the ‘Irish of Slieve Bloom’ had little intention of giving 100 cows to anyone so the fine was forcibly taken from them. A Norman, called John de Creppings, organised the retrieval of the cows and he was awarded 50 shillings for his trouble. This is how the incident is recorded in an official document of King Edward I;

The Irish of Sleblamethe [Slieve Bloom] account for £16. 13s. 4d. for 100 cows fine for having the King's peace. Paid $14. 3s. 4d. into the treasury by John de Creppinges who received expenses in seeking the cows in the regions of Slebamethe, bringing them to Kylkenny and keeping them there from Michaelmas to feast of St. Hilary next ensuing …. 50s. [were given to Creppinges] for his expenses and they are quit.[7]

In another official document of Edward I there is an account from 20 June 1305 of the people of Tipperary having to foot the monetary cost of keeping the people of Slieve Bloom at bay;

Because it was lately agreed in Co. Tipperary that the community of the said county should pay the price of horses lost in guarding the peace in the parts of Slefblame [Slieve Bloom], and now the Justiciar learns that Geoffrey Burgh lost his horse among the felons of those parts. Order to cause a writ to be made to the sheriff of the county to inquire of the value of the said horse and to levy the value from the said community and pay it to Geoffrey.[8]

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

[2] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 49.

[3] Helen Roe, in her research on placenames in Ireland, also acknowledges that medieval texts refer to this event having taken place in Athy. She goes on to suggest that the townland may have gotten its name from an ancient ford of stakes over the River Gully.

[4] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 51.

[5] Feehan, Slieve Bloom, p. 104.

[6] Feehan, Slieve Bloom, p. 104.

[7]Ireland Office, The Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland, 1899 (London) 2003, pp 489-90.

[8] Taken from CIRCLE, Trinity College Dublin’s online repository of reconstructed medieval Irish Chancery letters.

In 1306 an English man, Richard Taloun was charged with colluding with Irish enemies on his return from battle in the Slieve Blooms, specifically Henry, son of John O’Nolan.[1]  However, Taloun was given a pardon as he ‘did good service to the king in the war of Slefblame (Slieve Bloom)and elsewhere in the company of the justiciar’.[2] Further documents speak of goods having being stolen by the Irish from Offaly and that the English would not dare enter the region to retrieve their goods ‘on account of the Irish of Slefblame (Slieve Bloom)’.[3]

An official account from 1306 of a Justiciar, a representative of the King charged with maintaining his rule, entering the Slieve Blooms to take on the frightful locals shows the great lengths that the English were being forced to take when entering the mountains;

Formerly, on Thursday after the feast of Saints Simon and Jude … the Justiciar directing his journey towards the parts of Slef-blame (Slieve Bloom), to fight the Mcgilfatriks (Mac Giolla Phádraigs), Irish felons of those mountains, enemies of the King,  … With assent and counsel of the countrymen of Co. Kildare, that Albert de Keneleye, Sheriff, should have for the keeping of those parts for the advantage of the King and state horses equipped, and 12 guards continually with him in those parts, to resist the malice of the Irish ... at the cost of the King.[4]

Amidst all of the turmoil of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Mac Giolla Phádraigs eventually overrun the English in North Ossory (which then began to be referred to as Upper Ossory) and they re-established their rule over the O’Phelans and the O’Delanys in and around Camross. Around 1367 they gained control of the castle in Castletown.[5] By the early 16th Century, the shifting tides of Ango-Irish relations led to Brian Mac Giolla Phádraig submitting to King Henry VIII, thus becoming Lord Baron of Upper Ossory, Brian Fitzpatrick in 1537.[6] His marriage to the daughter of the loyal Earl of Desmond necessitated such a move. The agreement between Brian and the crown included the following stipulations;

The said MacGilpatricke doth utterly forsake and refuse the name of MacGilpatricke, and all claymes which he might pretende by the same and promyseth to name himselfe for ever hereafter by such name as it shall please the King’s Majestie to gyve unto him … The said MacGilpatricke …

[1] Public Record Office, Calendar of the justiciary rolls, or, Proceedings in the Court of the justiciar of Ireland preserved in the Public record office of Ireland, Vol. 2, p. 497.

[2] G. J. Hand, English Law in Ireland 1290-1324, (London, 1967), p. 62.

[3] Public Record Office, Calendar of the justiciary rolls, or, Proceedings in the Court of the justiciar of Ireland preserved in the Public record office of Ireland, Vol. 2, p. 497.

[4] Public Record Office, Calendar of the justiciary rolls, or, Proceedings in the Court of the justiciar of Ireland preserved in the Public record office of Ireland, Vol. 2, p. 497.

[5] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 74.

[6] Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory,Vol. 1,  p. 76.