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The Gaelic Population, 17th to the 19th Centuries

It is estimated that Ireland’s population at the end of the reign of Charles II (1685) was about 2,000,000 of whom roughly three-quarters were Catholic. (1) It is estimated
that the Irish population at the end of the 18th century was roughly 5,000,000. (2) “From the late 18th century the population of Ireland began to increase substantially. This increase occurred primarily among the poorer rural classes and, since a large proportion of that sector was still Irish-speaking, there was a disproportionate increase in the number of Irish speakers. There are no exact figures available, but in 1820 the number of Irish speakers was
estimated at 3,500,000 and in 1835 was estimated at 4,000,000.” (3)

Power, Violence and Coercion

In the 17th-early 19th centuries, Irish was removed by violence or coercion as the primary language from the four elite domains of that period:


In 1785, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland abandoned the Irish Language, Irish culture, and Irish nationalism so that they could get permission from the British Government to open chapels and to train priests (through English only) at Carlow and Maynooth. (4) Anxious to preserve this ‘Treaty of Maynooth’, the Catholic hierarchy made sure that no more priests would come, secretly or openly, from the Continent because Ireland’s freedom was almost always in their thoughts and Irish on their tongues. Henceforth, for Ireland’s millions of Irish- speaking Roman Catholics, the road to Heaven required English.

This Treaty of Maynooth had an economic aspect as well. To make a living as a priest, you needed to speak English.


Irish was removed from government in Ireland by the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the Treaty of Mellifont (1603), the Flight of the Earls (1607), the Cromwellian Conquest (1649-1653), Aughrim’s Great Disaster (1691), and the Treaty of Limerick (1692). Irish was removed from the Irish courts by the outlawing of Brehon Law (1605-1607). (5) Thereafter, making a living in government or the courts required English.


In an agrarian society, land is wealth. The confiscation of land by the British Government went forward without pause since 1603. At the end of the 17th century, roughly three-quarters of the population were Catholic (6) and typically Irish-speaking. The Penal Laws (1692) barred Catholics
from buying land, from obtaining use of land by lease longer than 30 years, from any government office, from holding commissions in the army and navy, from owning a
horse worth more than £5, from earning a living as a lawyer, from establishing a school or earning a living as a teacher, and from receiving education overseas.

These are primarily economic penalties. Under Mercantilism, trade was the only path left to the Irish Catholic to earn wealth. And trade was to be only with England and its English-speakers, not with the Continent or other countries overseas.

By 1778, “scarcely 5% of Irish land was left in Catholic hands.” (7) In other words, Ireland’s wealth had been confiscated from Irish-speakers and transferred to the new English-speaking landlords (i.e., the Ascendancy). Also, Catholics were not permitted to vote or sit either
Parliament, in Dublin or London. (8) Therefore, it was almost certain that Ireland’s wealth would remain in English-speaking hands for as long as the Ascendancy wanted to keep that wealth.


After the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1832, “they witnessed the passing of the old Hedge Schools, slowly giving way to the schools under the National Board. Parents were sending their children to them, because the fees were lower than in the Hedge Schools.” (9) In other words, the prices of the National Schools (in which only English was spoken) put the hedge schools (in which Irish was typically spoken) out of business. It was not by accident that the National Schools were transmitters of English language and culture. Pádraig Mac Piarais called them “the Murder Machine.” Nic Éinrí wrote: “It was their aim to kill the Irish Language. This following verse proves that:”

“I thank the goodness and the grace
Which on my birth has smiled,
And made me in these Christian days
A happy English child.” (10)

This kind of sentiment was still included in Irish textbooks
into the 1960s. (12)


Mar a fheicimid, the Irish Language had been removed from the four most elite domains of the nation by 1840. Forthe most part, Irish was made a language of the rural poor, spoken by the ‘ignorant peasant’ according to English-speakers, and it was stigmatized as such. (To make clear
this mental process of stigmatization, it was perceived as used by unimportant people for unimportant purposes and so was unimportant and unnecessary. In contrast, English
was perceived as used by important people for important purposes and so was important and necessary.) The Great Hunger convinced millions of the remaining Irish-speakers that English was necessary for a secure future, or even to stay alive. As noted by De Fréine, “the older generation instilled the importance of economic considerations into the young.” (13) In fear, many parents refused to speak Irish to their children, even though they had only an imperfect command or no command of English. (From this fact comes the title of De Fréine’s book, The Great Silence). As reported by Father Tomás Ó Ceallaigh in The Catholic Bulletin, April 1911:
“They had been brought up to believe that English was the top-notch of respectability, the key that opened Sesame, and they were determined that their children should not be
left without a boon so precious.” (14)

In contrast to the prevailing Irish-American opinion that English law stopped the speaking of Irish in Ireland, the Irish people themselves voluntarily abandoned the Irish Language primarily for economic reasons. Of course, a choice can be made again. There wouldn’t be anything to stop the people of Ireland from choosing Irish again if the
conditions were right.


1. Moody, T.W. and Martin, F.X., editors. The Course of Irish History. Cork: The Mercier Press, 1967. p. 206 2. Moody, p. 266

3. Ó Murchú, Máirtín. The Irish Language. Dublin: Government of Ireland, 1985. p.26

4. Ó Tuathaigh, Gearóid. Ireland before the Famine 1798- 1848. The Gill History of Ireland, Volume 9. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1972. pps. 46-47

5. This was done by means of the law cases Gavelkind (1605) Davies 49 and Tanistry (1607) Davies 28. See

6. Moody, p. 206

7. Moody, p. 220

8. Collins, M.E. and Ó Siochrú, Mícheál. Concas agusCoilíniú. Baile Átha Cliath: Gill and Macmillan, 1976. pps.191-195

9. Dowling, Patrick J. The Hedge Schools of Ireland. Dublin: The Mercier Press, 1968. p. 122

10. Nic Éinrí, Úna. Stair na Teanga Gaeilge. Baile Átha Cliath: Folens agus a Chuid, Teo. 1971. p. 31. The quote in the text above is my translation of “… bhí sé d’aidhmacu an Ghaeilge a mharú. Cruthaíonn an véarsa seo a leanas é seo:…”

11. Nic Éinrí, p. 31

12. Based on conversations with my friend Pádraig Ó Clúmháin (‘Patrick Clifford’ in English) of Scoil Ghaeilge Ghearóid Tóibín, Babylon, New York, who remembered phrases like “Oh what a good little English child am I” as a regular feature of his primary school textbooks.

13. De Fréine, Seán. The Great Silence. Dublin: Mercier Books, 1978. p. 81

14. De Fréine, p. 74

McCarthy Heritage Weekend in Dunmanway, Ireland 26-28 May, 2017

The weekend has been inspired by the life and work of Daniel MacCarthy Glas (1807, London – 1884, Southampton). The grandson of an emigré from Dunmanway, Daniel devoted many years to research into the genealogy of the MacCarthys in general and his own family in particular, without the benefits of indexed archives, the internet or Y-DNA. Apart from several books, including The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh and A Historical Pedigree of the Sliochd Feidhlimidh. The MacCarthys of Gleannacroim, his research, resulted in an enormous volume of correspondence not just with Irish addresses, but with McCarthys in North America and elsewhere, as Daniel himself lived at various times in England, South Africa, Italy and France. This correspondence was meticulously copied and retained in a family archive which has traveled the globe but, with the generosity of its most recent holder, is now to come to rest in the land of his paternal ancestors.

The weekend is expected to include:

  • An exhibition of a sample of Daniel’s family papers, correspondence and memorabilia, launched (on the Friday evening) with the story of their journey.
  • Talks by representatives of UCC (University College, Cork) School of History.
  • A talk on the latest findings of the McCarthy (Y-DNA) Surname Study (with an opportunity for newcomers to test).
  • A re-dedication of the three plaques to the memory of Daniel’s ancestors at St Patrick’s Church. (Two are seen in the current banner of our main (FTDNA) website).
  • A dinner / dance in celebration of Daniel’s life and work (Saturday evening, the Parkway Hotel).
  • A coach tour (subject to attendance)  of some ancient sites having association with the MacCarthys (Sunday).

The costs have yet to be fully evaluated, but based on the 2013 Gathering will be in the region of 70 Euros for the full weekend, including the Saturday evening dinner and coach tour. We will post further information as it becomes available, but specific inquiries on other than DNA matters should be addressed to Michelle O’Mahony at

Nigel McCarthy, director of the McCarthy Surname Study intends to be in Dunmanway from Thursday 25 to Monday 29 May so should be free to discuss further any aspects of your Y-DNA investigations outside the duration of the above program.

While it may not be quite early enough for this event, those of you crossing the Atlantic in search of your lost relatives should note that the go-ahead for Norwegian Air International (NAI) to pioneer direct ‘no frills’ services from (first) Boston and (later) New York into Cork was given on 2nd December. In the meantime WOW air will be operating services from a number of North American airports into Cork, but with (typically) a two hour stopover in Reykjavik.


Florence MacCarthy and the conquest of Gaelic Munster, 1560-1640

The original document can be found here.  This is a republication of John Dorney’s excellent dissertation on Florence MacCarthy.  You can find his other, and continuing work, on his online publication: The Irish Story at


 A dissertation submitted to the National University of Ireland

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for

the degree of

Master of Arts


University College Dublin.


John Dorney B.A.

School of History, 30 September 2003.

    Head of Department:                                                                                      Research Supervisor:

Professor Michael Laffan                                                                               Dr. John McCafferty

Introduction: Finian/Florence MacCarthy Reagh.

 Charles Smith, surveying the history of Cork in 1774, said of Florence Mac Donagh MacCarthy:

‘He was a man of extraordinary stature and as great policy, he had competent courage and as much zeal for what he imagined to be the true religion, and the liberty of his country’[1].

Finian MacCarthy was the subject of several other books and articles during the 19th century, which fitted him into the burgeoning nationalist narrative, before he slipped out of public memory. A scholar named Daniel McCarthy collected the voluminous correspondence from and about him in the English state papers, and published them (together with commentary of his own) in 1867[2]. In common with most Gaelic chieftains of the late 16th century, Finian MacCarthy himself fitted rather awkwardly into the politics of later generations. He was intermittently loyal to the crown, plotting against his neighbours, in rebellion with Spanish connivance and back to loyalty again throughout his career. Whatever zeal Finian had for ‘the true religion and the liberty of his country’ he never let it interfere with the hard headed pursuit of power and wealth within Munster and more specifically within territories of the MacCarthy clan. Nor were his priorities in any way exceptional among Gaelic aristocrats of his generation. This was a society of local and interchanging loyalties, where dynastic and self interested objectives were paramount. Why then did Finian (or Florence as he was known to the English) receive such a widespread and favourable press for over two centuries after his death? Why, indeed, is he worthy of study today?

Finian MacCarthy was a member of a pivotal generation of Gaelic Irish aristocrats. His  generation was the last to grow up and come to maturity in an intact Gaelic order. At the same time, he and his contemporaries were the first to attempt to integrate themselves into the English state, which was steadily strengthening its control over Ireland. At the time of Finian’s birth (circa 1560[3]) the MacCarthy territories were governed by several interlocking septs, hierarchically organised in a system of superiority and tribute. Succession to head of a sept was by ‘tanistry’ (election from an extended kin grouping), entitling the holder to overlordship over a specified area and people. Private armies were maintained and such law as existed was enforced by local lords. The presence of the English state in Ireland was hardly felt. By Finian’s death in 1640, south west Munster was governed by English common law and contained a substantial population of English settlers. The remaining native landowners held their lands by legal charter and their tenants paid a set rent and service in the English manner. The extended kin groupings of the sept or clan were replaced by the primacy of the nuclear family and primogeniture inheritance. Above all, the English authorities had a monopoly on legitimate violence, and private armies had been abolished. In between, there was the near extinction of the English interest in Ireland during the Nine Years War, in which Finian was ultimately to play a major role. It was this episode for which Finian MacCarthy was to be remembered in his locality for so long afterwards.

Finian MacCarthy first fell foul of Dublin Castle in 1588, when he was arrested as a precaution to prevent him becoming MacCarthy Mór and creating a powerful Gaelic lordship. During the Nine Years War, he briefly, with the aid of both the English and the rebels, became MacCarthy Mór, before again being arrested by the English, this time for good.

Finian’s career therefore, highlights the means by which the Gaelic Irish lords either accommodated themselves to the new order, resisted it or were overwhelmed by it. Very often, as this study will show, the survival or otherwise of the native dynasties depended on the luck, judgement or personality of its key figures, rather than any ideological or political factor. Nevertheless, study of his career can show the motivations and pressures that drove so many Gaelic lords into rebellion in the late 1590’s. Florence lived out his life and career against the background of the English conquest and colonisation of Munster, this study is also a an examination of this conquest and the evolution of English policy in the province.

A Note On Sources.

I have leaned most heavily on three primary printed sources. The first is Daniel McCarthy’s 500 plus page collection of the correspondence in the English state papers from and about Florence MacCarthy. Where the letters were reproduced in full, I have cited them by individually, along with the page number. Where I have used letters that were only quoted in McCarthy’s commentary, I have only given the page number. I checked Daniel McCarthy’s transcriptions against the original manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland and found them to be accurate and whole.[4]

For English policy and for the wider context of happenings in Munster and the rest of Ireland, I have consulted the Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, which are located at the National Library of Ireland. For a contemporary account (though very hostile to Florence) of the Nine Years War in Munster, I have relied mainly on Pacata Hibernia, which was written by the Lord President George Carew’s secretary, Thomas Stafford. Where my sources were in archaic English, I have modernised the spelling. The Salisbury and Carew manuscript collections also have letters concerning Florence MacCarthy, but I have used them less, as they mainly reiterate

Chapter 1.

Gaelic Munster and Florence MacCarthy’s early life. 1560-1583


Finian MacDonagh (better known as Florence) MacCarthy was born in Carberry in around 1560 as the son of Donagh MacCarthy, the MacCarthy Reagh – chief of the MacCarthys of Carberry[5]. In this chapter, I will outline Florence’s early life, and outline the structure of the society he was born into. This is important as Florence’s subsequent career was principally concerned with surviving the transition between a Gaelic ordered Munster and an English ordered one. Florence’s importance as a historical figure lies in the part he played in this transition. To this end, I will also examine English policy in south Munster with the regard to the indigenous Gaelic lordships, particularly in the wake of the two Desmond rebellions.


I. The MacCarthy Lordships and their Neighbours.


Southern Munster was at this time controlled by three main septs of the MacCarthys, with three principal lordships; Desmond (Deis Mún), Muskerry (Muisgraidhe) and Carberry (Cairbrí). Desmond, (not to be confused with the Fitzgerald Earldom to the north) was the largest of the three, located in the mountainous region of west Cork and southern Kerry and was, as Florence would later write, ‘the back and strength of Munster’ because of its rugged terrain that made it difficult to subdue[6]. George Carew would call it, ‘that rough and mountainous land…unfit for honest men to dwell on’.[7] The lord of this territory was the MacCarthy Mór, with authority not only over the dependent septs within Desmond, such as the O’Sullivans, but also superiority over all the MacCarthys in Munster. William St Leger the Lord President of Munster, warned in 1588 that the holder of this title would have ‘all the Clan Kerties [MacCarthys] at his devotion’[8]. In fact, this authority over the other two MacCarthy septs was relatively tenuous, as shown in the first Desmond rebellion which was initially joined by Donal MacCarthy Mór, but from which the MacCarthy Reagh and Muskerry chiefs stood aloof. Carberry, the territory of the McCarthy Reaghs, was situated along the south coast of west Cork, containing towns such as Rosscarberry and Kinsale, with its principle seat at Killbritain. Florence’s father Donagh was the incumbent MacCarthy Reagh, with his uncle Owen, his tanist or táiniste (second) being appointed to succeed him[9]. The third main MacCarthy lordship was in Muskerry, which was centred on Blarney and which abutted Cork city, the lord of which was Cormac MacTaig MacCarthy. Although these septs were distinct, it was possible for a MacCarthy of one line to become the chief of another, as Florence (albeit with the help of marriage) was to become MacCarthy Mór. In any case, the provincial aristocracy intermarried frequently, and thus Florence was related not only to members of the Carberry MacCarthys, but also to those of Muskerry, and on his mother’s side to the (Hiberno-Norman) Fitzmaurice Fitzgeralds, and the Roche family[10]. Before their destruction in the second Desmond rebellion, the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond dominated Munster, claiming tribute off the MacCarthys. Collateral branches of the Geraldines included the Fitzmaurice family and subordinate lordships such as, the Knight of Kerry, the White Knight and the Seneschal of Imolky. Other important families of Norman descent were the Barrys, whose country was to the west of Cork city, and the Roche family in north Cork.

  1. The structure of Gaelic Society in south Munster

It would be a mistake to think that everyone living within (MacCarthy) Desmond, Carberry and Muskerry was a MacCarthy, because they owed their allegiance to Clan Carthy. The MacCarthys were a ruling sept, believing themselves to be descended from the pre-conquest kings of Munster. The Gaelic Irish practised ‘agnatic patrilineal descent’, in other words the membership of family included all those descended from a given ancestor on their male side. In the MacCarthys case, this was Carthy, hence their name, ‘the son of Carthy’, or collectively, ‘the race of Carthy’. Each sept (branch) of this clan had a chieftain, with authority over his kindred and their territory. In theory, the holder of this office was elected by his kinsmen, but in practice, he was often selected by negotiation, brute force or outside interference. According to George Carew, the Lord President of Munster in the late 1590s, election and the approval of an overlord (‘giving of the rod’) were equally important in the succession of a chieftain, ‘the rod avails nothing except he be chosen by the followers, not yet the election without the rod’[11] Similarly, Florence would later deny the importance of the intervention of Hugh O’Neill in making him MacCarthy Mór, saying that it was a title that, ‘the O’Sullivans and the rest of the gentlemen, freeholders and followers of the  country laid on me’[12] On the other hand, O’Neill’s approval was of enough significance for Florence to go great lengths to get him to switch his backing from Florence’s half brother in law Donal to Florence himself. Moreover, the succession of the McCarthy Reagh lordship in Florence’s lifetime was decided by negotiation within the ruling kindred, with a hierarchy of seniority being decided in advance of the death of a chieftain, without any reference to the inhabitants of Carberry.

A Gaelic aristocrat like Florence MacCarthy could therefore aspire to authority over a very wide kin group as well as over his dependants and tenants. Throughout Florence’s life, this extended hierarchical kin group was to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he was to receive protection and manpower from his ‘kindred and friends’ (which is the literal translation of fine). Moreover, it was his seniority within the MacCarthy clan that enabled him to be a figure of such local importance, due to his capacity to command the loyalty of so many MacCarthys and MacCarthy dependants. On the other hand, the wide pool of potential successors to chieftainship in the Irish system was the source of endless conflict between Florence and kinsmen of equal rank. Donal na Pipi[13] would dispute inheritance of the land of Carberry, while Florence’s wife’s half brother, also Donal, laid claim to the title MacCarthy Mór and the lands of Desmond. Such infighting was  typical in all the Gaelic lordships of Ireland, the only unusual feature of the MacCarthy situation being that it was not resolved by actual violence. For this reason, the English described ‘tanistry’ as a barbarous method of succession and attempted to impose primogeniture inheritance.

The importance of the MacCarthys therefore was as major landholders and suppliers of the ruling lineages. Their power came from the number of ‘followers’ who owed them allegiance. These were smaller septs or clans who lived within the MacCarthy lands. St Leger, in 1588,  listed over 16 clans (MacDonochoe, O’Callaghan, O’Keefe and MacAulief for example) over whom McCarthy Mór had superiority. Over these dependants, MacCarthy Mór claimed a number of tributes and services, including the ‘giving of the Rod’ which meant approving, or perhaps countermanding, the septs’ choice of chieftain. Further obligations included their quartering of his gallowglass mercenaries, giving him military service in a ‘rising out’ and hosting him, including giving crops, meat and livestock when he was in their country. Most of the subordinate septs also paid a cash rent, the largest being £40 a year from O’Sullivan Mór and the smallest being 4d per annum from O’Donocho Ghlan[14]. The MacCarthy Reaghs had a similar, though less extensive, authority over their followers in Carberry, being overlords to, for example, the O’Driscolls, O’Mahonys and O’Donovans[15]. The payment of cash rents indicates some level of commercial activity in southern Munster, some of which came from taxing Spanish and English fishermen, who worked off the south coast[16].  It remained, for the most part, a subsistence economy, with some tillage, but primarily pastoral farming. An indication of this is that Florence’s half brother in law, Donal, when submitting to George Carew in 1602, paid his pledge in herds of cattle, sheep and garrans[17].

Despite the preoccupation both of contemporaries and historians with their ethnic origin, there was little to distinguish the 16th century Munster Hiberno-Norman lordships from their Gaelic counterparts. Their authority was fundamentally similar, being a military superiority over vassal lords, as were language and customs – Florence’s later correspondence with Fitzgerald rebels was largely conducted in Irish.  Moreover, like the Gaelic Irish, the ‘Old English’ dynasties had become very large, competitive descent groups, with primogeniture inheritance not always respected. The Earl of Desmond and Lord Barry in Florence’s youth had both gained their titles by killing better qualified lineal candidates[18]. Williams Lyons, Bishop of Cork, described them as, ‘those Irish of ancient English stock, now Irished altogether’.[19]

III. The MacCarthy’s Military Forces


The power of a ruling sept relied, in the final analysis, on military strength, both to fend off the incursions from neighbouring lordships and on occasion to coerce their own followers into obedience. It was for this reason that subordinate clans were required to quarter mercenaries and provide a ‘rising out’. Considering the importance of the independent military power of the Irish lordships, it is worth outlining its structure. George Carew made a report in 1600, at the height of the Nine Years War, on the type of military mobilisation that could be expected in the Clan Carthy area. Firstly, there was the gairm slua, or hosting; ‘a rising, upon a warning given, of all the able men of the country; every man to be furnished with sufficient weapon and three days victuals; and for every default, to be fined at a choice cow or xx livres of old money’[20]. Next there were ‘gall oglaigh’ or ‘gallowglass’, paid warriors, usually of Scottish descent, armed with axes and ‘charged on the country’ in time of war. The MacCarthy Reaghs permanently quartered 2 gallowglass septs on their territory named the MacSweeneys and MacSheehys who had been settled in Carberry by Florence’s great grandfather ‘Diarmuid an Dúna’[21]. St Leger’s report of 1588 shows that MacCarthy Mór’s gallowglass were quartered in groups of about 20 on most his dependant septs[22]. Carew’s third category of Gaelic soldiers was ‘kernty’ (ceatharnaigh or ‘kerne’), ‘a company of light footmen’ who were quartered in the same way as the gallowglass. Finally, there were ‘musteroon’, ‘a charge of workmen put in upon the Earl’s own tenants both for their wages and victuals, for any work or building he wanted to undertake’[23]. Florence’s own ‘rising out’ of his followers in Carberry amounted to around 300 men, which he led in the English service during the later stages of the Desmond rebellion[24]. During the Nine Years War, he was able to put over 1500 men into the field. The majority of these, however, were mercenaries or ‘bonnaghts’ (buannacht) hired on a short term basis and at the time of the Nine Years War, commanded mainly by landless aristocrats out of Connacht. Indeed, Florence complained that he was unable to arm all the followers that accrued to him as MacCarthy Mór, and was as a result forced to take on mercenaries[25]. Carew calculated that the potential military strength of MacCarthy Mór was over 2000 kerne, with 160 gallowglass and 40 horsemen, while MacCarthy Reagh’s was 2000 kerne, 80 gallowglass and 60 horse[26]. In addition, over 26 castles in Munster were held by the MacCarthys[27]

IV. Florence’s Education

Florence was educated both by his family’s hereditary Gaelic poets and Brehons (lawyers) and by Catholic priests of Gaelic and Old English extraction[28]. The O’Daly family were the poets of the MacCarthy Reaghs, and clearly Florence had a good education in classical written (as opposed to vernacular) Irish, a form according to Richard Stanihurst, a contemporary, that, ‘only one in five hundred can either speak, write or understand’[29]. In later life, while imprisoned in London, Florence would write a short history of Ireland in a letter to the Earl of Thomond, which according to John O’Donovan (who published it in the 19th century), showed a great familiarity with Old Irish texts such as the Lebor Gabála and Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh[30]. The account itself shows that Florence accepted the  traditional Milesian myth of the Gaels coming into Ireland, and expresses pride in the Irish ‘age of saints and scholars’ and their expulsion of Vikings[31]. Florence was further educated by a trio of Catholic priests, named Archer, Campion and MacEgan[32]. The first two, judging by their names, are of Old English origin, and from them, Florence presumably learned the English language and the use of common law, with which he would later show great familiarity. The MacCarthys in general were not isolated from the mechanisms of English law. Both Owen MacCarthy and Donal MacCarthy Mór retained lawyers in Cork city and (as will be shown later) the succession of the MacCarthy Reagh title was secured among the fine by a legal bond[33].


In addition, Florence could speak Latin, and quoted classical Roman literature in his history. He also signed a letter in Latin to the Pope in 1600, also signed by Hugh O’Neill and James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, the sugán Earl of Desmond[34]. MacEgan was a seminary priest, who spent much of his life in Spain. It is likely that Florence learned his Spanish from him. Florence’s later relationship with his religion is in some respects obscure. He never let it dictate his political choices, despite paying it lip service in his correspondence with the rebels, but neither did he ever conform to Protestantism. During his brief time as MacCarthy Mór, George Carew reported that he was known for speaking disrespectfully in public to Catholic priests. However, he was in correspondence with Irish priests in Spain – notably one ‘Dermutio Carty’ probably a kinsman of follower of Florence – letters from whom were discovered on his arrest[35]. While imprisoned in London, he entertained several Irish Catholic priests, and assisted at least one to complete his covert return journey from continental Europe to Ireland[36]. Late in life, he chastised one of his servants for converting to Protestantism[37]. In any case whatever his later convictions were, in his youth Florence was described by St Leger as being ‘fervent in the Old religion’[38].

V. The MacCarthys, the Desmond Rebellions and the English State in Ireland.


It has been generally agreed among historians that the initial impetus behind the Tudor conquest of Ireland was not the dispossession of the native lords, but their demilitarisation and assimilation into the English aristocracy. Tied up with this was the ‘reforming’ ideology that hoped to substitute the English language dress, customs and tillage agriculture for Gaelic (and Gaelicised) language, customs and pastoral subsistence economy. Above all, Dublin Castle wanted an end to the militarised, autonomous clan structures that had evolved in Ireland, and their replacement with rule by English common law, and a law-abiding, rent collecting aristocracy[39].


To this end, Donal MacCarthy Mór was made ‘Earl Clancarthy’ in 1565, and given legal charter to this lands by the Lord Deputy, Henry Sidney[40]. The rule of Dublin Castle was to be introduced into Munster by Lord President, the first of whom was to be Warham St Leger. Sidney also believed in small exemplary plantations of English settlers, and established one at Kerrycurrihy, near Cork city[41]. It was perhaps these intrusions that drove Donal MacCarthy Mór  to join the first Desmond rebellion in 1569 when he renounced his English title and attacked Kerricurrihy[42].

The MacCarthys Reagh and Muskerry MacCarthys stood aloof from the rising, and were praised by Sidney for their conduct[43]. MacCarthy Mór was terrorised back into submission in November1569. For the MacCarthy Reagh’s, the episode quite beneficial, as they asserted their independence both from the Geraldines and the main MacCarthy sept and made an important alliance with Sidney and Drury, the new Lord President of Munster. Indeed Sidney recommended that Donagh MacCarthy Reagh and Cormac MacTaig of Muskerry be made barons. Under Drury’s presidency, there was a host of ‘reforming’ legislation passed in Munster, for instance, abolishing private armies, abolishing the use of Brehon law and levying the native lords for the upkeep of the President and his forces [44]. However, as friends of the government, the MacCarthy Reaghs managed to remain quite unaffected by the intrusion of the English state into Munster (apart from paying £250 per annum to the new Lord President[45]). For instance, the first mention of ‘Finin [Florence] MacCarthy’ in the English state papers is in 1576, when the Cork juries reported an expedition of the MacCarthy Reagh sept through Carberry to enforce their customary rights;

‘we present that Owen MacCarthy and Donell MacCarthy, brethren to MacCarthy Reagh and Finin MacCarthy…daily at their pleasure take meat and drink with force and extortions for themselves and their train of horsemen, gallowglass and kerne of the freeholders and inhabitants of Carberry. And besides they take…a sum of money called cowe [‘cua’ – flesh meat – traditionally taken by the lord’s son] to the number of five marks of half face money yearly in every people within Carberry against the will of the freeholders, inhabitants and cessor of the country. ‘We present that Donel-na-Pipie and MacCarthy Reagh’s young son Finin…wrongfully came with force of arms to MacIneen Cromeen in Carberry Co. Cork and…have forcibly taken … the proper goods of Finin MacDermode…and their poor tenants in the name of said extortion called cowe’[46]

Florence’s first appearance in official documents shows how limited the effect of the English government was in Munster prior to the second Desmond rebellion. It was still possible for powerful lords and the kindred to enforce their traditional rights, and keep a private army, with little more than a rebuke from the English authorities. By the 1580s, however subordinate septs were beginning to appeal to the English to abolish these customary exactions by statute, and St Leger noted that by 1588, many of MacCarthy Mór’s ‘duties and services’ had been so abolished[47]. It is probable that more latitude was given to ‘loyalist septs’ in this regard. For example the MacGillapatricks (Fitzpatricks) of Laois have been shown to have kept the state out of their territory altogether until after 1600 by helping to subdue local rebellions[48]. In short, it was possible for Gaelic lords to be untrammelled by English incursions so long as they could provide a military alliance against rebellious neighbours. In these cases, ‘loyalty’ was a short term tactical consideration, rather than a commitment to becoming English gentry, as ‘reforming’ officials had hoped.

The second Desmond rebellion broke out in 1579. However, all the MacCarthy septs declined to join it.  As a result they were spared the destruction that ultimately befell much of the rest of Munster, although their territories were spoiled by English troops and rebels and Owen MacCarthy Reagh applied for £7479 compensation for damage done to Carberry after the war[49]. Donal MacCarthy Mór was suspected of disloyalty during the fighting, and had to petition the Queen for redress.[50] Similarly, Owen MacCarthy, the tanist of the MacCarthy Reaghs, was described by St Leger as ‘a notorious Papist, who would be in rebellion if he dared’[51]. However, Donagh MacCarthy Reagh led his followers in preventing the rebels from entering Carberry or drawing provisions there. When he died in 1581, Florence, by then in his late teens or early twenties, led around 300 men, with the assistance of an English captain named William Stanley and his lieutenant Jacques de Franceschi, under the overall command of the Earl of Ormonde. They drove Desmond’s remaining followers out of MacCarthy territory, ‘into his own waste country’ where his troops could find no provisions and deserted. Florence also claimed credit for the killing of Gorey MacSweeney and Morrice Roe, two of Desmond’s gallowglass captains.[52]


The aftermath of the rebellion had mixed consequence for the MacCarthys and for Florence himself. First of all, there was the matter of succession within Carberry, which had opened up on the death of Florence’s father. Donagh was succeeded as MacCarthy Reagh by his brother and tanist Owen, with Donal na Pipi being made tanist in his place and nominated as his successor. However, the title of a Gaelic chief was primarily a superiority over people rather than an ownership of land. Florence, as a result, inherited large and fertile estates from his father. Moreover, Owen, having respected Gaelic traditions of inheritance, made Donal na Pipi sign a bond of £10,000 to promise to do likewise, and name Florence as his tanist and successor rather than impose his own heirs. Furthermore, the bond was forfeit if Donal was to try to break up Carberry rather than transmitting in intact to Florence[53]. Thus, the families of the MacCarthy Reagh sept had negotiated the future integrity of their territory and of its ruling fine. However, it was just this confluence of territory and armed followers that, in the wake of Desmond wars, the English were determined to break up. Sidney, for example, wrote in 1583, advising ‘the dissipation of the great lordships; if among the English the better, if not, yet that they be dissipated’[54]. In the future, English policy in Munster would be dominated by the desire to dismantle the Gaelic Irish lordships.


Within the devastated and depopulated lands of the Fitzgeralds, a full scale plantation was set up. The Munster plantation was put in the hands of Undertakers, responsible for introducing English tenants into their seignories of 400-1200 acres and creating compact, defensible settlements[55] However, the MacCarthy lordships were not directly affected. In any case, MacCarthy Mór’s Desmond was not considered very attractive for settlement, being covered in mountains and bogs. Carberry was not eligible for plantation, as the MacCarthy Reaghs had been loyal in the rebellion. However, to the north of the MacCarthys, half a million acres of land were placed in the hands of an acquisitive new class of English undertakers. Furthermore, English government, now firmly established in the province, would be ever more intrusive into southern Munster and the MacCarthy lands. It was the three way struggle for influence between the new settlers, the indigenous lordships and the local government that would define Florence MacCarthy’s life as he entered into adulthood.



Chapter 2.

Florence MacCarthy and the consolidation of the English presence in Munster. 1583-1598


The middle years of Florence MacCarthy’s career saw the consolidation of the presence of the English government and settlement in Munster. They also saw Florence’s rise to prominence as a political figure and his collision with the nascent English government in the region. Florence began this period as a favourite of the authorities for the part he and his sept had played in putting down the late rebellion. However, his proposed marriage to MacCarthy Mór’s daughter, and the prospect of him becoming MacCarthy Mór himself reversed the affections of provincial government and resulted in his arrest and subsequent imprisonment ‘at discretion’. Florence’s crime was not so much what he had done, but what he might do as chief of the MacCarthys of both Desmond and Carberry.


With their goal being the ‘dissipation’, as Sidney put it, of the Gaelic lordships, the English saw Florence’s arrest as being a necessary precaution – an indication of their nervousness about the security of their new plantation in Munster. The years following Florence’s arrest saw his rivals (including Irish, English and even members of his own family) attempt to profit from his misfortune by gaining land at his expense. To this end they made concerted efforts to prove that Florence MacCarthy really was a traitor, who could not be trusted with large estates and thousands of followers. Florence, for his part, did not pause in trying to secure what he claimed was his rightful inheritance in Desmond and Carberry. In a wider context, these years were the scene of the influx of thousands of English settlers into Munster – including the MacCarthy lands. This chapter is also concerned, therefore, with the effects of the Munster plantation and the native reaction to it within the MacCarthy territories, in the years leading up to the destruction of the plantation in the Nine Years War.


  1. The MacCarthys, the Munster Plantation and the aftermath of Desmond Wars


There were three important consequences of the Desmond wars in Munster. The first was the smashing of the Geraldine dynasty which had dominated Munster for centuries. James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, whose father had been Earl before the late James, and who had been loyal in the rebellion, appealed for the Earldom to be left intact to him, but it was not be. The former Fitzgerald lands were confiscated en masse. Similarly harsh action was taken against the Barry family, whose head was kept in the Tower of London until his death, and whose heir was ordered to pay a fine of £500[56].

The second repercussion of the rebellion was the plantation of the confiscated lands in Munster with English settlers. In June 1584, a commission surveyed some MacCarthy lands in southwest Munster. The survey took in the territories of several MacCarthy dependant septs in both Carberry and Desmond and provisionally granted them to English undertakers[57]. However, Owen McCarthy Reagh managed to have the lands restored to him on the basis that he was the overlord of all the septs of that region[58]. Donal MacCarthy Mór – Earl Clancarthy – similarly managed to prevent the loss of some land to Valentine Browne, by citing his patent, but had to tolerate an undertaker named Alexander Clarke on the Clandonnell Roe lands, of which he was traditional overlord[59]. Other sectors of the plantation were equally chaotic.[60] Nevertheless, 500,000 acres were planted with English colonists.


It was hoped that the settlement would attract about 15,000 colonists, but a report made out in 1589 by Attorney Generals Popham and Phyton show that the undertakers had imported only around 700 English tenants between them[61]. McCarthy-Murrough and Canny suggest that each tenant was the head of a household, and that he therefore represents 4-5 other people[62]. This would put the English population in Munster at nearer 3000-4000, but it was still substantially below the projected figure. Roger Wilbraham, the Solicitor General, reported in 1587 that he had suspended judicial hearings on land confiscation because, ‘the Irishry have practised many fraudulent shifts for preserving their lands from forfeiture…and albeit their evidence be fair and very law-like without exception, yet because fraud is secret and seldom found for her Majesty by jury, we have put undertakers in possession’[63]. The MacCarthys were therefore probably a fortunate exception in successfully reversing the granting of their subordinate’s countries to colonists.

The third important consequence of the Desmond war was the devastation and depopulation of much of the province. Warham St Leger reported in April 1582 that up to 30,000 people had died of famine as a result of the scorched earth tactics of Gray and others.[64] Edmund Spencer in his famous account of end of the rebellion speaks of ‘a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man or beast’[65] . William Herbert reported in 1588 that, ‘this province’s waste and desolate parts…[are] by reason of the calamities of the late wars, void of people to manure and occupy the same’[66]. In 1588, St Leger reported on MacCarthy Mór’s lands that, ‘The most part of his land is waste and uninhabited, which hath partly grown by the calamities of the late wars, partly by the exactions that he hath used on his tenants’[67].


  1. The First Arrest of Florence MacCarthy and the insecurity of the Munster Plantation


Shortly after the end of hostilities in the Desmond war, Florence made his first visit to Elizabeth I’s court in London[68]. Donal MacCarthy Mór’s legitimate son, by contrast, fled to France, having been suspected of rebellion, where he died shortly afterwards, leaving MacCarthy Mór (Earl Clancarthy) without a legitimate male heir. Equally significantly, MacCarthy Mór mortgaged some of his lands, perhaps as a result of losses incurred during the fighting, or perhaps, as some English officials claimed, to finance his indolent lifestyle. The end result was that he lost some land at Mollahiffe to Valentine Browne of Lancashire and his family, who had been denied a grant of land in Desmond in the plantation. Florence also took the opportunity to buy Castle Lough, a strong and well located fortification near Kinsale[69]. On the death of his legitimate son, and as his land and title were held by English patent, Earl Clancarthy’s inheritance would pass to the husband of his daughter Ellen. Her marriage, therefore, would determine who inherited Desmond, the main MacCarthy lordship. It was Warham St Leger who first alerted London to the disquieting implications of her proposed marriage. In a letter to the Privy Council in May 1588, St Leger reported that Clancarthy had promised his daughter to Nicholas Browne (son of the undertaker, Valentine) for money. This had, however, ‘wrought generally in these parts a bitter discontentment’ as, ‘there is nothing the Irish more esteem than the nobility of blood, preferring it far before either virtue or wealth, so they abhor nothing more than disparagement, being more odious to them than death’. Ellen herself, Lady Clancarthy and ‘diverse gentlemen of the country’ had come to complain about her marriage to such a commoner, and, unless she, ‘was matched to someone of a noble house’, had threatened to hide her in O’Rourke’s country (in Ulster)[70]. As a result of his wife and kinsmen’s anger, Clancarthy had instead promised Ellen to Florence MacCarthy to ‘to continue the house in the name’. St Leger went on to highlight, the perceived dangers. He pointed out that Florence was already in line to be tanist of Carberry and was related to the MacCarthys of Muskerry, the Fitzmaurices and the Roches, and would inherit a huge estate and following as MacCarthy Mór;

‘How perilous that may be to make him so great, together with the alliances before recited, and the alliance he    is like to have by this marriage by which all the Clan Carthys are to be at his devotion. ‘If he should become undutiful…of which, although there be good hope to the contrary, yet what ill council he may do, he being greatly addicted to the brute sort of those remote parts’.

Even worse than being ‘greatly embraced’ by the natives, he was also  (in this year of the Spanish Armada) ‘much addicted to the company of Spaniards’, had learned the Spanish language and was, ‘fervent in the Old Religion’ which was why the Lady Clancarthy favoured him over Browne[71]. The marriage had taken place in secret, with a Catholic ceremony, and only O’Sullivan Mór as witness[72]. St Leger went on to list the extensive MacCarthy Mór inheritance, including superiority over 16 Irish septs (as alluded to in the previous chapter), rent from land and churches around Cork city and demesne lands of over 60 ploughlands. Should Florence not get this inheritance legally, he might to try to get it, by force. The urgency of such a possibility was underlined by, ‘the new settlings of the English, the discontentment of the Irish, the present state of the province [and] the expectation of some trouble in England’[73]. What was more, Florence was supported by the ‘officers’ of Clan Carthy such as O’Sullivan Mór, MacFinin, MacTybert and MacOwen[74]. Since preventing Florence’s inheriting Desmond was, ‘of great consequence to our inhabitation there’, the Earl’s patent to his estate should be taken over by the Queen on his death so that, ‘English gentlemen may be there planted[75]. On June 12th, St Leger reported that a counter faction had appeared, combining O’Sullivan Beare, Lord Barry and Donal MacCarthy (MacCarthy Mór’s illegitimate son – recently escaped from prison) to marry the latter to O’Sullivan Beare’s daughter and make him MacCarthy Mór.[76] O’Sullivan Beare should be arrested and ‘base’ Donal executed[77]. The logic of St Leger’s position is clear – in order to prevent the formation of a large, armed Irish lordship, which could only undermine the plantation and English government in Munster, it was better to use pre-emptive force rather than to be caught unawares in the event of rebellion or Spanish invasion. Since it was to prove such an enduring enmity, it is also worth examining the motives of the native faction against Florence. Donal MacCarthy’s interest is obvious enough –he wanted to be MacCarthy Mór. He was also a better qualified candidate than Florence under Gaelic custom to succeed his father. Owen O’Sullivan Beare was a subordinate of MacCarthy Mór and therefore had a vested interest in imposing one whom he could control. Barry similarly had an interest in joining a powerful alliance in the region and was a hereditary enemy of the MacCarthy Reaghs, who had fought against his father in the Desmond rebellions. It is also an indication of how the fragmented and militarised Irish political situation automatically produced counter factions to oppose powerful alliances.

Thomas Norreys, the vice-president of Munster, summoned Florence to Limerick on July 1 to explain his actions. He did not trust the young MacCarthy and did not believe his offer to forfeit his inheritance, ‘those words being so contrary to that which he often did attempt’[78] Like St Leger, he warned of the dangers of a powerful MacCarthy, ‘the greatest name and nation now in Munster’ and of Florence in particular who, ‘is allied to such as evil may be looked’, and who, ‘shows himself in all his behaviour and also in some open speeches to be discontented with this government’, and who is, ‘well affected and inclined to the Spaniard, being also generally favoured of all his country’[79]. Norreys held Florence in custody along with Lady Clancarthy, Teig ‘Merrigagh’ and MacFinin (followers of MacCarthy Mór) as a precaution. He also promised further arrests, including O’Sullivan Mór[80]. Florence was temporarily held in the custody of the Protestant Bishop of Cork  – William Lyons. Such was the fear of invasion and Irish rebellion, that harsh treatment was given to many Munster lords in late 1588.

In December, St Leger recommended the execution of Patrick Fitzmaurice, Patrick Condon, the White Knight and Donagh MacCormac along with the imprisonment of Florence in Dublin, ‘being a person that all the malcontents of this country greatly bind themselves to’[81] Florence’s new wife Ellen escaped from custody in February 1589, after St Leger threatened to disallow the marriage, ostensibly due to Ellen being underage (she was 14). She took refuge in Carberry with ‘a man of the said Florence’s’ Brian na Carda (Brian of the cards). St Leger, suspecting that Florence was hiding her until she came of age, promptly sent Florence to the Tower of London in June 1589 and confiscated his bond of £400 and Castle Lough[82]. Once in London, a whole new series of charges were laid against Florence which, it later transpired, had come from Lord Barry, the Brownes, and other local rivals of Florence. William Stanley and Jacques de Franceschi, officers with whom Florence had served during the Desmond war, had defected to the Spaniards and surrendered a fort in the Netherlands. Florence was accused of corresponding with them and with Irishmen in the service of the Duke of Parma – a senior figure in the Spanish Armada. Florence denied the charges and any correspondence with seditious Irishmen in his examination[83]. On May 14th 1590, Florence wrote to Burghley, Elizabeth’s chief secretary, claiming that Clancarthy wanted to marry his wife Ellen to Nicholas Browne against her will, and petitioning to let her live openly and not to let the Earl, ‘offer her any wrong or molestation’. He also asked that no one who had hidden her should be ‘troubled for the same’[84]. Florence’s shifting of blame onto Clancarthy must have been persuasive, because the following December, the Privy Council instructed the Lords Justices of Ireland not to confiscate the lands or castles of Florence’s followers, to release their hostages and return their goods as Ellen had appeared in Cork[85]. The following month, Florence was released to live within 3 miles of London, on a bond of £1000 paid by the Earl of Ormonde. Ormonde’s action was probably motivated by Florence’s military service under him and also by a wish to counteract the hostility of the ‘New English’ to the Irish lords.

St Leger referred to Florence as ‘greatly embraced’ and ‘greatly addicted to the brute sort of those remote parts’ and, ‘a person that all the malcontents of this country greatly bind themselves to’. How should this be interpreted? It is possible that he was simply bad-mouthing a man whom he had arrested on flimsy evidence. However, taken together with many other testimonies throughout his life-time, it does appear that Florence had a very large number of followers. Perhaps this was simply because he was a powerful hereditary lord, with many tenants and vassals. However, St Leger goes out his way to emphasise that Florence was followed by ‘the brute sort’ and ‘the malcontents’. This, suggests that Florence was popular with the Gaelic swordsmen and mercenaries of Munster, who as has been shown elsewhere, were the most inveterate enemies of the English government in Munster. In fact, St Leger explicitly states that Florence was supported by Clan Carthy’s ‘officers’. Moreover, the Carberry septs had a choice on which of the MacCarthy Reaghs to follow. Clearly Florence had some qualities of leadership that were deemed worthy of obeying.

Florence’s arrest and imprisonment took place against a background of violence and mutual mistrust in Munster between the natives and the English settlers and government. Although the Spaniards did not ultimately invade Ireland in 1588, reports from English officials there expressed grave concerns about the loyalty of the Irish and the unreadyness of the English military in Ireland. Herbert reported of ‘a continual vexation and disquietness between the undertakers and the natural inhabitants of the country’[86].  On a local level, ‘base’  Donal MacCarthy launched his own private war against the Browne family, who were occupying part of his sept’s patrimony. Valentine Browne reported in 1589 that Donal had, ‘gone to the woods and lyeth as an outlaw’ – alleging that he was secretly supported by Florence, who also coveted the land they occupied[87]. MacCarthy Mór may also have been complicit in the expulsion of settlers from his territory. St Leger reported in June 1589 that he had come with 100 men into Alexander Clarke’s lands at Clandonnell Roe and expelled him, Clarke barely escaping with his life. St Leger further added that Donal the bastard had murdered an ‘honest subject’ for, ‘reproving him in using Irish exactions’ and was ‘out’ with 15-20 swordsmen, ‘playing Robin Hood’[88]. St Leger’s allegations against Clancarthy have been put down to a personal interest in seeing his lands confiscated. However, it is possible that the Earl was using his son to enforce his traditional rights and expel planters from his territory while maintaining official ‘deny-ability’ for himself. William Herbert, an undertaker with a genuine passion for reform, called for the disbandment of the undertakers bands of soldiers[89], However, Browne and other successfully argued that the situation on the ground was not stable enough for the release of their soldiers. Donal’s local guerrilla campaign continued into 1593, directed against Nicholas Browne (now owner of his family’s land in Desmond, his father having died in late 1589), and the Herberts. In 1594, Browne reported, ‘[Donal] hath cruelly murdered my men, spitefully killed my horses and cattle, took prey of my town and laid diverse plots against my own life’. Browne described mounting punitive expeditions against Donal, ‘I have followed him through woods, rocks, mountains, bogs and glens’ (incidentally, an indication of the difficult terrain that made Desmond so strategically important) and claimed to have reduced his band from 60 down to 3[90]. It is probable that Donal had some sort of relationship – possibly bribery – with Thomas Norreys, the President of Munster, who never energetically prosecuted him or his band, and who recommended giving him a pardon in 1593[91], at a time when Donal was reported to have hanged servants of Browne, O’Sullivan Beare and Patrick Garland[92]. Norreys ultimately pardoned Donal in 1596 and supported him as a rival to Florence in Desmond. Norreys was known for handing out pardons to other ‘wood-kerne’ or Irish bandits.[93]. Donal na Pipi MacCarthy also resisted settler land claims in Carberry, although he chose the Court in London rather than the hills and bogs as the battlefield on which to face John Popham[94]


 III. Florence’s Imprisonment, Release and Legal Battles.


While in London, Florence’s wife Ellen gave birth to their first son in 1592. Florence wrote to Burghley asking for a maintenance grant, while he was denied access to his landed income and a protection against being arrested for debt[95] Ellen MacCarthy and her young son were sent home to Carberry, where, as the Bishop of Cork reported, ‘Finian’s’ child, ‘after the country manner is used among the people as a Young Prince, carried about the country with three nurses and six horsemen…and happy is he that can foster him for a month!…[he is sent] from month to month to the best of the family to be fostered with such songs of rejoicing and praise of his father Finian and the young imp’[96]. Geoffrey Fenton, Secretary of State  for Ireland, commented that the treatment of the child showed, ‘an inward pretence to raise an extraordinary greatness to the parents and to draw a multitude of followers’[97] However, the attitude of the government in England proved far less hostile and in November 1593, Florence was allowed to return to Ireland. What was more, Elizabeth I instructed the Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam to grant the £500 fine owed by the Barry family to be paid to Florence, ‘a subject of our realm who hath deserved to have some gracious consideration to had of him’[98]


Barry appealed the award, thus beginning a long standing judicial feud between the two men. Florence blamed, ‘mine imprisonment and trouble’ on, ‘Barry’s malicious means and misinformations’, and was quick to stress the rebellious past of Barry’s family, in contrast to his own loyalty. He also pointed out that he would not be able to pay off his creditors without the award, having already mortgaged or leased much of his inheritance in Carberry[99]. Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam was initially sympathetic to Florence and even suggested confiscating Barry’s land if he refused to pay[100].


However, Barry fought back by producing a very detailed list of Florence’s supposed treacherous actions – notably that Florence had sent a number of agents to England and the continent as spies for the Spaniards and William Stanley and Jacques de Franceschi.[101] Florence of course denied everything, except that the men mentioned were ‘of my country and name and somewhat akin to me far off’[102] In subsequent letters to government figures, Florence was ever more vitriolic towards Barry, saying that, ‘I deserve very well Her Majesty’s gift and he deserved very ill to live or enjoy anything under Her Highness, for his father was of no regard until he gained Barry Roe’s country by murdering the heirs thereof, and also got Barrymore’s country by treachery and deceit, being not of [that]…country nor kindred’. He also brought up Barry’s role in the late rebellion, and accused him of hiding Catholic priests and forwarding them to Spain[103]. Nevertheless the attitude of authorities towards the payment of the fine noticeably cooled in the wake of Barry’s (and other’s) accusations. Despite this, Florence continued pursuit of the fine for many years, increasingly banging his head off a brick wall. In the end, he claimed that pursuit of the fine had cost him over £500, more than the award was worth in the first instance.

The two rivals had both accused each other of disloyalty and rebellion to further their own petitions. The questions remains, was Florence MacCarthy running a web of spies throughout England and continental Europe in co-operation with Stanley? Certainly, Florence did have Spanish contacts – he acknowledged as much to the authorities during the Nine Years War and offered (disingenuously perhaps) to put them at the service of the English. Was Florence therefore really a committed Catholic rebel from the beginning, as Barry and others would paint him? In view of his loyalty in the Desmond war and his ambiguous behaviour in the Nine Years War, this is unlikely. It more likely that Florence was keeping his options open, given the possibility of a Spanish invasion.

Owen MacCarthy died in 1594 and was succeeded as MacCarthy Reagh by his tanist Donal na Pipi, as had been agreed. This meant that Florence was upped himself to the position of tanist or second after the chieftain. Almost immediately, however, the two kinsmen were embroiled in a dispute over land and inheritance. During Florence’s imprisonment, 29 ploughlands of his in Carberry had been taken by a planter named Rogers. The implications of this were important as it negated the bond made on the death of Florence’s father that Carberry must be passed on intact rather than divided or claimed by one family. Donal MacCarthy Reagh (as he now was) together with several local rivals of Florence such as Barry, Browne and the Chief Justice Popham therefore lobbied to have the country granted to Donal and his heirs[104]. Florence in defence of his right as tanist, wrote to Burghley in March 1595, citing the legality of the bond and of Gaelic custom; ‘the said custom [tanistry] being not generally abolished by statute, nor forbidden any of my name in particular; but a power only given to him that is in possession to surrender, and my father who succeeded his elder brother and his father and Sir Owen and this man having enjoyed this said country, all in Her Majesty’s reign by this custom’.[105] If tanistry was to be abolished however, Florence called for, ‘a division of the country between us who are lawfully interested therein, as was done with Brenhy [Breifne] for the O’Reillys and Anally for the O’Farrells, Beare and Bantry and diverse other countries besides’.[106] He also pointed out that he was as lawful an heir to Carberry as Donal, ‘or any other of the sept’. Therefore it would wrong to, ‘disinherit the whole sept because Donal na Pipy is the eldest brother’s heir, being a thing that was never done in Ireland hitherto’[107].

Florence also claimed lands in Desmond that had accrued to him by marriage and aspired to be MacCarthy Mór. In 1594, Nicholas Browne reported of Florence’s actions, ‘which terrify me very much’. He had gained possession of a castle at Downpatrick from Baron Courcey and was settling his followers on planted land at Kinalmeaky – preventing English settlement there. He went on that Florence and his wife were, ‘at variance’ over ‘whether his men or hers should inhabit my lands, which makes me somewhat jealous of this man’. [108] Incidentally the friction between Florence and his wife was to become a running, and for him costly, theme throughout Florence’s life. The charge was repeated in 1595 by Popham, who alleged that Florence wanted to be both MacCarthy Mór and Reagh by tanistry[109]. After imprisonment and expensive periods of lobbying at court, Florence’s financial situation was very poor, he claimed in 1595 that he did not have £3 rent anywhere[110]. Later that year, he also asked for the land he had mortgaged to Norreys, Pelham and Goreing to be returned to him[111]. The question of his inheritance therefore became all the more pressing. Geoffrey Fenton wrote to Burghley that Florence’s perilous situation meant that, ‘not one [other] is so fit to be made head of a faction’.[112]

Donal MacCarthy Mór, Earl Clancarthy, died in 1596.[113] Thomas Norreys, the Lord President of Munster pardoned the rebel, ‘base’ Donal MacCarthy and proposed to grant him some land in Desmond. He wrote that Donal was, ‘by us reclaimed to dutiful offices’ and ‘we think [it] shall be a very good occasion to settle great quiet in the country’[114] The purpose of this was erect a rival to Florence in Desmond, so that he could not claim supremacy over all the MacCarthys. Shortly afterwards, Norreys set up a jury to decide on the legality of landholdings within the MacCarthy Mór lordship. He recommended that Florence be given some land there as he had, ‘shown good carriage and endeavours in Her Majesty’s service’, He should not however, be given the title of MacCarthy Mór, or authority over any other lord or sept. In any case the country was, ‘remote, barren and of very little value’ and Donal would ‘disturb any who possess it’.  Norreys closed by recommending that Donal and Donagh MacCarthy should also be given some land to prevent, ‘the grief and discontentment that it may breed among the Clan Carthies to see the Earl’s heir… utterly disinherited’.[115]

This policy would appear to support the argument that English officials in Ireland did not have a systematic policy to dispossess Gaelic Irish landowners per se, but rather to break the link between large landed estates and thousands of followers and dependants. Florence MacCarthy, who was equally comfortable in English aristocratic circles as in Irish, had reasonable hopes of advancing himself as a landowner in the English order. However, the reality was that Florence MacCarthy came from a background that aspired to far greater power as a Gaelic chieftain than was possessed by English gentry. Moreover, in Munster native lords such as Florence were being increasingly squeezed by the ambitions of English settlers and the, occasionally arbritrary, force of the English military presence. This is evidenced by a letter from the undertakers, Gray, Herbert, Spring, the Brownes and the (Protestant) Bishop of Ardfert on the dangers of granting Florence MacCarthy further lands. It began by pointing out  that, as tanist of Carberry, he already had a formidable network of kinsmen, allies and followers and the nature of the Irish was, ‘only to follow their lord: not respecting any allegiance to their prince’[116]. Even more ominously, the colonists warned that, ‘he [Florence] cannot forget…the loss of so many of his near kinsmen and friends, if he would, his followers and kinsmen, who have ever been bloody and desirous of revenge, would never forget’.[117] This is indicative of the continuous low level violence that was taking place on the ground between the natives and planters. Donal MacCarthy’s war against the Brownes was one manifestation of this, but was far from the only one. MacCarthy-Morrogh has shown that attacks by natives on planters escalated from 1594 onwards, both in number and in the level of violence used.[118] Judging by the settlers comment that Florence’s followers and kinsmen were ‘bloody and desirous of revenge’ for the loss of so many of his near kinsmen and friends’, it is likely that by 1597, such killings were widespread in Munster and were not confined to attacks by the Irish on settlers. The Nine Years War in Munster can be seen as a major escalation of this spiral of violence, indeed, James Fitzthomas claimed that he was going into rebellion because of the many unjust killings by the English of Irish lords and gentlemen.[119] In this context, Geoffrey Fenton warned that Florence would be ‘a dangerous Robin Hood in Munster’ if he won leadership of the MacCarthys[120].

Even though Florence would receive a reasonable land settlement, it was well below his expectations as a Gaelic chieftain and certainly below what he thought he could achieve by exploiting the outbreak of rebellion and war in Ulster. Similarly, there were thousands of men in Munster – swordsmen, displaced aristocrats – who had never reconciled themselves to the English plantation and who plotted a return of the old order. The conflagration known as the Nine Years War would give them all, including Florence, their chance.





Chapter 3

Florence MacCarthy and the Nine Years War in Munster. 1595-1603


The Nine Years War was a convulsion that rocked Ireland from 1595 to 1603. It left an unknown number, but certainly tens of thousands dead. It was also a vital turning point in both the history of Ireland and the life of Florence MacCarthy. The war, which was begun by the Gaelic Lords of Ulster to prevent the intrusion of English government into their territories, rapidly spread to the rest of Ireland and very nearly extinguished the English presence there. However, by the end of the conflict in 1603, all of Ireland was for the first time under the real control of the English government in Dublin. Its close marks a decisive end to the Gaelic order of autonomous, armed,  lordships based on kin groupings. Thus, it could be said, the war was the zenith of Gaelic political conquest but also marked the final victory of the English state in Ireland.


Similarly, the war saw Florence MacCarthy’s years of triumph and disaster. The escalating crisis of the war gave him the opportunity to extract concessions from the English that he would never have achieved in peacetime. In fact he briefly forced them to reverse their policy of several decades and to grant him vast tracts of land and authority over thousands of armed followers – in short to recognise him as MacCarthy Mór – in return for his service against the rebels. However, Florence was equally, perhaps more willing, to hold this title by the authority of rebels and their allies the Spaniards, as he was by the Crown of England. As a result, he also professed to join O’Neill’s alliance, which in Munster was led by James Fitzthomas – the ‘sugán’ Earl of Desmond. For his dealings with the rebels, Florence was ultimately arrested and imprisoned for the rest of his life in London, having seen everything he had worked for collapse in ruins. Although Florence MacCarthy’s political allegiance was decidedly ambiguous, his priorities – to be overlord over the MacCarthys of Carberry and Desmond and to expel or keep out all intruders from his ‘country’ remained constant.


  1. The Early years of the War. 1595-98


The opening skirmishes of the Nine Years War took place in Ulster in February 1595 with Hugh O’Neill joining his Ulster allies in attacking the English fort on the Blackwater river. In May of that year he ambushed and mauled an English column at Clontibret in Monaghan.[121]  On July the 8th, Florence, who was, at the time lobbying in London, wrote to Robert Cecil, advertising the fact that his younger brother (Dermot Moyle) had been sent with 3-400 men to serve against the rebels with the Lord President[122]. In April of the following year, Florence, now in Dublin, voiced the opinion to Cecil that Tyrone would probably accept terms of a settlement but, ‘O’Donnell and the rest of those fools are grown into such extreme pride and folly by reason that they have neither wit, knowledge or experience to judge or weight Her Majesty’s power that they stand upon great terms’.[123] He added that he did not know O’Neill, but did know O’Donnell and could negotiate with him to, ‘bring him to some good conformity’. Also, he offered to use his kinsmen in Spain to learn the intentions of the Spaniards with regard to Ireland[124]. Already, Florence was using the war as a tool to gain influence with the English authorities, in order to further his land suits in Munster. His admission that he knew O’Donnell is interesting given that their respective territories were at opposite ends of the country. The two probably met in prison in Dublin in 1588, O’Donnell having been arrested the previous year and Florence being held there en route to the Tower of London.

The escalating crisis of the war provided the context to the settlement of the inheritance issues arising out of the death of Donal MacCarthy Mór – Earl Clancarthy – and meant that Florence was able to press for more generous terms than might otherwise have been the case. The preferred option of the English authorities was to distribute Desmond among the contending parties, including the Earl’s wife, the Brownes and his son Donal.[125] However, the desire to contain Florence was overridden by the need to secure his services in combating the rebellion. In May 1598, Norreys wrote to Cecil reporting that Florence had planted two of his kinsmen among the Spaniards as spies and asking that, as a result, his suit should be given a sympathetic hearing.[126] On June 18th, Ormonde made a  similar request to Cecil. Noting that Florence was again in London in pursuit of his inheritance, he advised, ‘in this dangerous time he can hardly be spared from hence, I heartily to pray you to favour him in his lawful suits so that he may be dispatched from thence’.[127] Early in the year, Donal MacCarthy took in 500 bonnaght mercenaries from the rebels and proclaimed himself MacCarthy Mór, thus upping the stakes in the inheritance dispute[128]. Although this may be seen as a blow to Florence, it also enabled him to raise his demands to the English government. He wrote to Cecil in February 1598, reporting that Donal had ‘a kind of superiority’ over the people of Desmond by virtue of being MacCarthy Mór and a campaign against him would take 1000 soldiers and cost thousands of pounds.[129] However, if he (Florence) was overlord of the area, he could command all the MacCarthy septs including Muskerry, Dowalla and Clan MacDonnell and could ‘recover’ those of his ‘people, friends and followers’ who were in rebellion. He would pay off the Browne’s mortgage to reclaim the land held by them.[130] and promised that if restored his traditional duties, he would give the state, ‘a reasonable reservation’ in taxes.[131] By now, Florence was using implicit threats and promises to pressurise the government into giving him concessions. He had gone far beyond his peacetime demands of inheriting the land left to him in Desmond.

The situation throughout Ireland was transformed on the 14th of August 1598, when the Ulster confederates all but wiped out an English army under Bagenal at the battle of the Yellow Ford, making the rebels, temporarily, the strongest force in the country. In October of that year, O’Neill sent mercenary contingents totalling about 3000 men to Munster under Captain Tirell and John Fitzgerald, Redmond Burke, and Owny O’Moore. William Weever, an English official, reported that O’Neill promised to restore all the Irish lords to their lands, ‘before English government’.[132]  His forces also used intimidation however and, ‘burnt and spoiled the most part of the country towns and villages in the county of Limerick’. Ormonde complained to the Queen that the English undertakers had ‘most shamefully forsaken’ their castles and estates and fled to the towns for safety.[133] Norreys wrote that only Barry, Muskerry, MacCarthy Reagh (Donal na Pipi) and FitzEdmunde were loyal.[134] Furthermore, Weever related that despite this, ‘the most part of the followers of the said noblemen and gentry went to the enemy’.[135] The raiders offered the Earldom of Desmond to James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald on the authority of O’Neill, warning that they would give it to John Fitzgerald if he refused.[136] The Annals of the Four Masters record that,

‘As the country was left in the power of the Irish on this occasion, they conferred the title of Earl of Desmond, by the authority of O’Neill, upon James, the son of Thomas Roe, … and in the course of seventeen days they left not, within the length or breadth of the country of the Geraldines … which the Saxons had well cultivated and filled with habitations and various wealth, a single son of a Saxon whom they did not either kill or expel.’[137]

Donal MacCarthy was also proclaimed MacCarthy Mór by O’Neill and by Fitzthomas, although O’Sullivan Mór, his principle úir-rí or sub-lord, refused to give him the Rod, as he was allied to Florence[138].

It was against this background of the sudden collapse of the Munster Plantation that the findings of the commission, set up by Norreys to decide on the MacCarthy inheritance, came out in March 1599. It found that the lordship. of Desmond, including the lands held by the Brownes should be given to Florence, he ‘being best able to recover those lands out of rebel hands’. Florence would have to pay rent to the Brownes, however, until the mortgage taken out by his father in law was paid off in full. Moreover, the commission recommended that that the, ‘chiefries, seignories, rents and superiorities of MacCarthy Mor were to be reserved to the Queen Majesty’s disposition’.[139] Florence, now pressed home his advantage. He petitioned claiming that the rent to Browne was too high, and that he could not make, ‘the country people’ pay it. However he would be able to afford it if he was granted the land given to Donal, ‘the Earl’s bastard’ and given the hereditary superiorities of MacCarthy Mór.[140] Also, the country could provide 1200 armed men, but after his imprisonment, Florence could not afford to, ‘arm, clothe or furnish them, or to horse any part of them’. So he asked for ‘a convenient charge [payment from the state] and [the men will] be well furnished’.[141] In other words, Florence was asking to be made MacCarthy Mór, with traditional ‘Irish exactions’ and a private army of 1200 (thus reversing English policy of the previous four decades), with English approval and funding! It was a bold strategy.

However, it seems that already Florence was playing a double game. Norreys wrote to the Privy Council in March 1599 that O’Donovan, Finian MacOwen MacCarthy (followers of Florence from Carberry) and Dermot Moyle MacCarthy (Florence’s younger brother)  were all in rebellion, reputedly with Florence’s approval.[142] This was not an unheard-of tactic. Hugh O’Neill used the rebellion of his Ulster allies for two years to try to force concessions from the government before finally joining the rebellion himself in 1595.[143] Norreys, recommended that Florence be detained in London for the time being. Shortly afterwards he was killed in a skirmish with the rebels and Herbert Power and Warham St Leger were appointed joint commissioners for Munster.


  1. Florence’s Return to Munster


Florence returned to Munster in triumph in late 1599. Technically, he had been ‘restrained’ or imprisoned since 1589 and had been denied the inheritance due to him by marriage. Now he was officially pardoned and had received everything he had ever asked for. However, the English authorities were not blind to the risks of their new strategy. Accompanying Florence back to Ireland was a sealed letter from Cecil to Essex stipulating how Florence was to be handled. Cecil explained that despite the doubts about his loyalty, Florence had been granted Desmond because, ‘the country is so far out as is already, and the lands he claimed possessed by rebels’, that the Queen had decided to give him responsibility to, ‘assist her service…, [rather] than to make him desperate’. However, the grant was to be revoked if; his arrival, ‘may be dangerous to our service’, his position, ‘gives him too great a greatness hereafter’, or if his authority ‘does abridge ye superiority over other Lords’.[144] Florence, was not long in consolidating his position and making further demands. St Leger and Power wrote to Cecil in December of 1599, and passed on Florence’s request for arms, since, ‘his own people and followers (whereof he has a great number) are altogether destitute of weapon and munition’. As a result Florence had hired 5-600 mercenaries from Connacht, ‘which he doth not altogether trust’.[145] He should also be officially given the title MacCarthy Mór, ‘which the bastard Donal do now usurp., withholding thereby the country…to the end that he [Florence] might…induce the country people to forsake the rebels’.[146] Two days later, Florence himself reported to Cecil on his efforts to ‘recover the country’. Fitzthomas’ troops had taken Castle Lough from O’Sullivan and  also taken Casltemagne. ‘No English forces could go over Slieve Luachra’. No local lords would serve with the English for fear of the rebels, ‘whereof there are a great number’, ‘although [they] do bear the rebels no affection’.[147] At this point, Florence described his first meeting with the rebels, he having a warrant to ‘parle’ with them on the government’s behalf. He was escorted to their camp. at Dowalla by Tirell and Pierce óg De Lacy of Limerick. ‘When I came, it passes how joyful they all were of my coming; only they misliked my mine English attire; but [they disliked] much more my piercing speeches on Her Majesty’s behalf, and against their foolish, senseless and damned action, to the undoing of themselves and all near them’.[148] The following morning, Florence asked them to stop. backing ‘base Donal’ against him, and hand over ‘his country’ (Desmond)  which they agreed to as long as he joined them. However, Florence refused and left the camp..[149] Naturally, Florence, in his letter to Cecil, portrayed his dealings as being steadfastly loyal. However, in truth, he probably negotiated a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the rebels at this point. It is likely that he did not join them outright as they refused to remove their backing from Donal MacCarthy. For example he claimed that the rebels looted corn and cattle out of Carberry, but despite his enthusiasm for petitions, Florence did not apply for compensation, nor did he attack them, as he later would all unwelcome intruders into his territory. Moreover, when the rebels proceeded into the country of Barry they (according to Barry) ‘took spoil of my poor tenants there, so they are in a manner quite undone…and now, by the said Florence’s means, my said tenants …are scarce able to sustain themselves’.[150]  While Barry is hardly an objective witness against Florence, it is suspicious that the rebels would single out his country in particular for spoil, it also shows what happened to those lords who genuinely rebuffed the rebels. In concluding his letter to Cecil, Florence asked for pikes and calivers (light muskets) to arm his followers. Furthermore, he asked for satisfaction, ‘concerning the title of MacCarthy, which the Bastard hath taken on him and which is a great motive for the foolish country people to follow him’.[151] Florence must be granted the title of MacCarthy Mór officially both in order to retake Desmond from Donal and because once he did so, ‘the people of this country, who are almost altogether for me, will, against my will, call me MacCarthy’. The use of this abolished title could lead to imprisonment, a fate from which Florence would rather flee Ireland than suffer.[152]

If ‘the people of the country’ were ‘almost altogether’ for Florence, this was not necessarily as a result of gentle persuasion. According to the testimony of a local man named John Annias, Florence had been terrorising the subordinate lords into recognising him as MacCarthy Mór. Stafford quotes him as saying that Florence instructed the his sub-lords to proclaim him MacCarthy Mór and sent his bonnaghts to plunder those who did not.[153]

Despite his pleas, Florence was unsuccessful in making himself MacCarthy Mór with English help..  As a result, when Hugh O’Neill led an expedition into Munster in early 1600, Florence would look to the rebels to secure the title for himself. The Four Masters tell us that in January, O’Neill, ‘proceeded to the south of Ireland, to confirm his friendship with his allies in the war, and to wreak his vengeance upon his enemies’.[154] Most of the lords submitted to O’Neill, with the exception of Barry, whose territory O’Neill, ‘traversed, plundered, and burned it, from one extremity to the other, …so that no one hoped or expected that it could be inhabited for a long time afterwards’.[155] Herbert Power wrote a very worried letter to the Privy Council, informing them it was likely that most of the rest of the local lords had submitted to O’Neill, as their countries had been spared Barry’s fate.[156] As for Florence, ‘Florence MacCarthy is come unto Tyrone [O’Neill] but by his letter assureth us of his loyalty. If he prove false they will endanger Kinsale, all the town being for ye most part of his alliance; but he hath protested much and as yet given us no cause to think him dishonest’.[157] The Four Masters recorded that all the MacCarthys came to O’Neill’s camp., including ‘two who were at strife with each other concerning the Lordship. of Desmond, namely, the son of MacCarthy Reagh, i.e. Fineen, the son of Donough, … and MacCarthy Mór, i.e. Donal, son of Donal’.[158] Judging from this description it appears that O’Neill still recognised Donal as MacCarthy Mór up to this time. However Florence succeeded in getting O’Neill to switch his allegiance to him. Florence would later claim that Donal, called him, ‘a damn counterfeited Englishman whose only study and practise was to deceive and betray all the Irishmen of Ireland’.[159] However, if Donal did advance this line of argument, Florence no doubt countered it by pointing out that he had far more land and followers than Donal had, – an argument that O’Neill, not known for sentimental gestures, would surely have found persuasive. Florence later claimed that O’Neill recognised him as MacCarthy Mór only after Florence appealed to Gaelic custom, saying that he, not Donal, was supported by, ‘both of the O’Sullivans, and all the rest of the gentlemen and freeholders of the country who ever elected him that was MacCarthy, lord of the country’.[160] However, it is much more likely that Florence appealed to realpolitik than to Gaelic legality to convince O’Neill to support him. According to Stafford in Pacata Hibernia, Florence, ‘was sworn on a mass book to be true to Tyrone and prosecute all hostility and cruel war against the English’[161]. Owen O’Sullivan testified to Carew on March 21st 1600 that he had heard Florence say at this time that, ‘he had almost as willingly die, as come under English government and persuaded all those he spoke with to be obstinate in action, telling them how long Ireland had been tyrannically governed by Englishmen’.[162]



III. Florence MacCarthy – rebel, loyalist or neutral?


Florence’s motives for joining O’Neill are rather ambiguous. All the evidence for him being an ideologically motivated rebel is second or third hand, from people with a reason to lie about him. The one piece of direct evidence is an intercepted letter from Florence to his kinsman Donagh Moyle MacCarthy, encouraging the latter to come in to O’Neill’s camp.. It reads, ‘I have come hither to Tyrone not so much for any danger of my own, as to save the country of Carberry from danger and destruction, which, if it be once destroyed, your living will be very scarce’.[163] This is much the same line of argument that William Lyons[164] later reported Florence using to the townspeople of Kinsale, and which Florence himself advanced in letters to Carew and Cecil. The best guess as to Florence’s thinking is that he was equally prepared to use both sides to further his ambitions and to keep the war out of his country. All the direct evidence from Florence at the time points to his negotiating with the rebels to become MacCarthy Mór (which O’Neill would have otherwise conferred on Donal) and save his country of Carberry from plunder. The evidence for a deeper commitment is lacking.  Nor, however, is there any indication that Florence felt himself honour bound to help the English authorities, and given his experience with imprisonment and plantation, the outburst reported by O’Sullivan (about the ‘tyranny’ of English government) is not necessarily to be discounted. In one sense at least, Florence was a committed rebel, and that was because he was determined to be MacCarthy Mór, complete with the traditional powers of that title,  a title that the English were determined to sweep away. Even if he had survived the Nine Years War, therefore, Florence may not have found a place for himself in English governed Munster. It is therefore possible, perhaps likely, that he favoured a rebel victory.

In justifying himself to Carew and Cecil later that year, Florence would claim that he co-operated with the rebels only to prevent the destruction of Carberry and himself at their hands[165]. Florence also alleged that he had been forced to deal with O’Neill by the captains of his soldiers, who, ‘grew into an uproar, mutinying against me and alleging me to be an infidel and a betrayer of themselves and all the rest of Ireland to Englishmen’[166] This is possible, as it fits with contemporary English reports that all the followers, even of loyal lords, had taken the rebel side. The Gaelic military class were the backbone of rebellion in late 16th century Ireland, because there was no future for them in the English order. As Colm Lennon has put it, ‘For them the options were bleak, they could turn to the despised activity of farming, or they could, if lucky, find employment in the small household band of the earl, or they could risk execution as ‘masterless’ men’ living as outlaws’[167]. So Florence may not have been completely disingenuous in his claims. However, while there is probably some truth in them, the fact that Florence took in 600 mercenaries for the rebels and kept up  a correspondence with them and the Spaniards would indicate that he placed at least as much hope in the rebel victory as he did in the service of the Queen.

The truth of Florence’s dealings with O’Neill soon reached the English authorities. The Bishop of Cork wrote to Cecil that, ‘a gentleman of good account and credit’ had told him that, ‘Florence MacCarthy is joined with O’Neill, surrendered his patent, and all his right unto O’Neill, hath yielded to hold his country of him, and joineth with him in the action’[168] The Government of Munster wrote to London  that O’Neill was on his way home, ‘having made Florence MacCarthy the governor of our province and given him the title of MacCarthy Mór’.[169] The Lords Justice remarked ruefully, ‘we that have known him longest did never look for other fruits of this Spanish heart’[170]. Gradually, the details were discovered. Justice Saxey wrote that Florence, ‘hath lately (as MacCarthy Mór) taken a rod  according to the Irish custom and holdeth the possession of that country by that abolished custom and not by Her Majesty’s laws’.[171] ‘Tyrone appointed him Governor of Munster.[172] The Bishop of Cork wrote, ‘Tyrone…hath deputed …Florence MacCarthy his MacCarthy Mór, the chief commander over the Irishry; and James Fitzthomas his Earl of Desmond over the English-Irish rebels’. He had also left 1000 mercenaries with Florence under the command of Dermot O’Connor of Connacht.[173] The south coast, now in Florence’s hands, needed to be well guarded against, ‘foreign forces, which doubtless Florence will by all means draw to him’. Florence had told the towns, ‘where he is well favoured’, that he had a warrant to deal with O’Neill, ‘for the better safety of him and his countries’ and that, ‘he continueth loyal to Her Majesty’[174]. ‘The Irish do believe this and hold him for a good subject, yea, and the English also’. Bishop Lyons did not agree, ‘sure it is that his joining with O’Neill was voluntary… he aimeth to be as big in the south as the other is in the north’.[175]


  1. Florence MacCarthy and military campaigns in Munster.


On the 27th  of March, Florence met Power and other English officials two miles outside Cork to explain himself. Evidently, the beleaguered Herbert Power, since the death of St Leger, alone as commissioner for Munster, was not impressed by Florence’s explanations, or mollified by the ambiguities of his position. All he knew was that the most powerful native lord in Munster had pledged his allegiance to the ‘arch-traitor’ Tyrone. As a result, he sent a punitive expedition of 1200 English foot-soldiers, and 100 cavalrymen[176], into Carberry under the command of a Captain Flower, with orders to, ‘burn and spoil such as were revolted from their loyalty’[177]. On crossing the Bandon river into Florence’s country, the English met with ‘a light skirmish’ with a party of Florence’s men, and killed 12.[178] Flower’s men marched for a week through the lands of Florence and his followers, leaving  a trail of devastation and death in their path[179].  At this point, Flower got word that he was being tracked by Florence and Dermot O’Connor with1800 men, and turned back towards Cork city.[180] According to Florence, ‘They did nothing but burn two castles of mine and kill as many men women and children as they found in them, and burned as many villages, houses and corn as appertained to any of my people’[181]. Flower left 250 men at Kinsale before marching back towards Cork, however, at a bridge over the Bandon, they fell into a carefully prepared ambush laid by Florence and Dermot O’Connor.

At first sight, it seems strange that Florence stood by and allowed the pillage of his country, only attacking the intruders on their way home. However, it must be remembered the military constraints that Florence and other Gaelic lordships operated under. He would only have received word of the incursion after the initial encounter between Flower’s men and his sentinels at the Bandon. At this point he would have notified his sub-lords and followers (presumably by messenger) to assemble his gairm slua and collected his bonnaghts from their quarters. By the time he had done all this, the English force would have been well into Carberry and possibly on their return journey. Secondly, Florence would have been aware that the English force was better armed than his and had more cavalry. His only chance of defeating them was to take them by surprise with an ambush when they had divided their forces, were tired, laden down with loot and least expecting it.[182] Fortunately for them, the English stopped just short of walking into the ambush (after noticing the sun glinting off the Irish helmets) and narrowly avoided a massacre. At this point, Florence’s men charged and the English foot-soldiers fled in disorder to a nearby castle, leaving the horsemen to fend off the Irish. However taking one volley of musketry from the castle, the Irish ran away themselves and were pursued for over a mile by the English horse.[183]. Flower reported the Irish casualties as 137 dead including eight ‘captains’ and 37 ‘sore wounded’ of whom 16 died later. He listed one lieutenant and 9 soldiers killed on his side with 16 hurt (including himself).[184] Another English eyewitness, Cuffe, thought that around 70 English soldiers had been killed[185], while Florence wrote that English casualties were ‘over 100’.[186] Of Florence’s followers, one important chieftain, O’Connor Carberry, died in the fight.[187]

Shortly after the skirmish, George Carew arrived to become President of Munster – a tough military veteran of warfare in Ireland, who quickly formed a very low opinion of Florence. Carew, together with Earl Thomond (Donough O’Brien, Carew’s main native ally), sent their first impressions of the rebellion in Munster to the Privy Council at the end of April. ‘I do find that the confusion and distemper thereof hath not been greater than it now is, since the first beginning of these troubles’. There were 7000 ‘able weaponed men’ in rebellion. The only loyal lord was Barry, who could not maintain a force since O’Neill had spoiled his country, all the rest being either in rebellion or complicit with kinsmen who were. Florence MacCarthy was the greatest threat because of the military potential of the MacCarthy clan. Carew and Thomond (both Protestants) blamed the Catholic clergy for the rebellion.[188] Two days later, Carew sent a personal letter to Cecil outlining his plans to retake the province. He advised that it was necessary to use native forces, ‘although there is no man that mislikes that companies should be bestowed on the Irish captains than myself’. Of his own 3000 troops, 600 were wounded or sick, and a further 700 manning garrisons. This left only 1700 for a field army, enough to send against either ‘MacThomas’ or Florence, but not against both. Carew would have attacked Fitzthomas if, ‘that idiot Florence did not hold me to attend his pleasure, whether he will turn subject or persevere traitor as he now is’.[189] Carew judged that if Florence was a traitor, as he suspected, ‘then he is beyond recovery, but if it be no more than he pretends, which is parleying … with Tyrone to save his country from spoil and fighting against Her Majesty’s forces between Kinsale and Cork’, then he could yet be useful. ‘Florence himself is by nature a coward and as much addicted to his ease as any man living and therefore unmet to be a rebel’, Donal, a veteran ‘wood-kerne’, would be much worse if he was still MacCarthy Mór. As for Florence, it was best to, ‘permit him to be neutral which I suppose he chiefly desires; being all times ready to join the Spaniards if they come, or return to be a subject if the rebels prevail not’.[190] Carew had decided, therefore, to ‘temporise’ with Florence and ‘prosecute’ Fitzthomas. While it may be disputed that Florence a ‘coward by nature’ or an ‘idiot’, Carew’s assessment of his political thinking was no doubt correct and it was unusually clear-sighted compared to the analyses of other officials. Florence in fact wrote to him the following day asking to be allowed to remain neutral, because if he went over to the English, his soldiers (in particular Dermot O’Connor) would abandon him and install Donal or Dermot MacOwen as MacCarthy Mór.[191]

Florence came in to meet Carew and the Earl of Thomond at Cork on May 6th 1600, Carew reporting to Cecil, ‘so fearful a creature I did never see, mistrusting to be killed by every man he saw’.[192] ‘As soon as he came unto me, kneeling, he humbled himself with many protestations of the sincerity of his heart and the true loyalty he bore towards her Majesty, desiring that I would receive him unto Her Majesty’s favour and that he would do her more service than any man in Munster’. ‘In general terms he seems as reasonable and dutiful as we could desire’.[193] The next day, Carew, ‘laid his faults before him’. Not just ‘doing ill’ but also not helping them against the rebels. He wanted Florence’s eldest son as a pledge, ‘for his good behaviour and on assurances of the services [he had promised]’. Florence refused however (as he had refused his son to O’Neill) claiming that his bonnaghts would ‘forsake him’. Carew decided to try threats, ‘At last, when nothing else would move him I…threatened him with sharp prosecution, protesting to neglect all other services, until his country was spoiled and himself banished; which did much amaze him’.[194] Florence countered by suggesting that he would give over his son if he was granted Desmond, the title of MacCarthy Mór or Earl Clancarthy and wages for 300 men – which seems to have amazed Carew in turn. The President told him that, he should plea for mercy rather ‘than to be so insolent in demanding of a reward’ and demanded what his intentions were ‘if he did not prevail in his desires?’. Florence replied that; he would not fight English troops unless they attacked his country again, his followers would not join the rebels, he would come in when summoned, would pass on intelligence from the rebels and would go to England provided he would not be imprisoned.[195] Neutrality was therefore the best that Carew could make Florence promise. Nevertheless, ‘I have from him as much as I desire, which is to have no cause to employ any part of Her Majesty’s forces against him’, and could concentrate on Fitzthomas. Ominously, he continued, ‘and when that work is finished, a few days will serve to humble Florence and teach him submissive entreaties and to forget to capitulate for land or title or charge’.[196] Carew’s hope for Florence’s neutrality rested on, ‘his extreme cowardice and the small account he makes of the Romish priests, railing at them openly in the hearing of all men’.[197] He also planned to ‘erect’ Donal MacCarthy to ‘yoke’ Florence, whom he did not expect to keep his promises, ‘cowards are faithless and so I think I will find him’[198].

For Florence, no doubt, the visit was a successful exercise in damage limitation, he having prevented giving up his son, or having to commit to the English side in order to be left alone. By May 14th he was back refusing to release his Connacht mercenaries, because of, ‘your vain, wicked and foolish captains’ and asking to Carew to recognise him as MacCarthy Mór, ‘which the O’Sullivans and the rest of the gentlemen, freeholders and followers of the country laid on me’.[199]  He reported attacking the O’Malleys, who had entered his country by boat and also said that a follower of his named Taig O’Falvey had recently returned from Spain, with the news that Mathew de Oviedo, the Spanish Bishop of Dublin had sent ‘treasure, weapon and munition’ to O’Neill.[200] However, if Florence was somewhat faithless with Carew, he was equally so with the rebels. Fitzthomas wrote to him on May 17 asking him to attack Carew’s troops from the rear when they marched to Limerick.[201] Instead of attacking Carew however, Florence made excuses and stayed put. Fitzthomas sent his supposed ally an angry letter in June, telling him that he had discovered, through informants and an intercepted letter, that there was, ‘a cessation’ between Florence and the English. ‘If this is true, it is far contrary to that I hoped and much beyond the confidence reposed by O’Neill and myself in you vowed fidelity and service to God and our action’.[202]

Carew had begun his counter offensive in Munster and, before taking to the field himself, tried several underhanded means to kill or capture Fitzthomas, conspiring with the mercenary leader Dermot O’Connor to capture him. O’Connor, who was landless, was offered estates in his native Connacht to betray his patron. He kidnapped Fitzthomas and held him in castle Lishin until he was rescued by the rebels as Carew was marching to arrest him.[203] Carew swept through Munster in the summer of 1600, breaking up concentrations of rebel forces, retaking castles and spoiling their lands. Florence MacCarthy, who was appealed to by both sides for help., did nothing more than write evasive letters to both the rebels and the Lord President. Fitzthomas wrote to him after O’Connor’s ‘treachery’, once again asking for help..[204] Carew wrote to Cecil, ‘what to judge of Florence, I protest I know not!’.[205] On the one hand, he had sent ‘good intelligence’ to Carew on the rebels. On the other hand, he had met with Fitzthomas, sent messengers to O’Neill and received rebel fugitives into his countries. His brother Dermot, who was consistently obedient to Florence, remained openly out in rebellion[206]

By September 1600, the war in Munster had tilted decidedly in Carews favour[207]. It was therefore in a state of desperation that Fitzthomas wrote to Florence on the 2nd of September, appealing to Florence for help., appealing to ‘your vow to God and this action, and defence of your own right’.[208] However, Florence was even less likely to openly fight Carew now that he was in the ascendant. Moreover, he now had to face the President himself, who had promised his ‘prosecution’ once he had finished with Fitzthomas. Florence’s only military action at this time was to burn castle Killorglin in Kerry and waste the countryside around to prevent it being garrisoned by Charles Wilmott, who commanded the English Tralee garrison.[209]

Florence, in early August, reported to Carew that ‘Donal the bastard’ had approached Fitzthomas, appealing to be allowed some land, ‘at my hands’ in Desmond. If he did not get it, ‘he takes God as his witness that it is not his fault to go against the holy action’.[210] Since neither Florence nor Fitzthomas would entertain him, this is exactly what Donal did. On August 30th, he submitted to Carew in order to hunt Florence, in return for which he was promised, ‘some portion of land’.[211] The following month, Carew reported that he had demanded Florence come in to submit immediately or ‘I will prosecute him as a traitor’.[212] ‘I have gotten a good bloodhound of his country birth to hunt him, out of the natural malice they bear him, and make no doubt but to send to the Queen his head for a present, except he do presently submit himself’.[213] Recruiting Donal was clearly of great importance (similarly to Henry Dowcra’s contemporary recruitment of Niall Garbh O’Donnell) because he was an alternative figure of authority for the local people and even more importantly, knew the terrain of Desmond, which was extremely mountainous and inaccessible. Florence obviously appreciated this threat, because he immediately submitted himself to Carew. According to Stafford, Florence had another enemy, even closer to home – his wife – who had been passing on secret information about him to Wilmott, the Governor of Kerry, and who, ‘compelled him to [submit]; for she had refused to come to his bed until he had reconciled himself to Her Majesty, saying that she knew in what manner her father had held his Earldom for Her Highness; and … she [wanted] to obtain some part thereof; but if neither of these could be got, yet she was not minded to go a-begging either into Ulster or Spain’.[214] This might be dismissed as fanciful rumour if Ellen MacCarthy had not later got a grant for land from the state for her service during the war, and if Florence himself had later not confirmed it by sending away, ‘that wicked women that was my wife’.[215]

Florence came in to submit to Carew at his camp. in Mallow, ‘bringing some 40 horse in his company, and himself in the midst of his troop., like the great Turk among his janissaries, drew towards the house the 29th of October, like Saul, higher by the head and shoulders than any of his followers’.[216] Carew refused to acknowledge Florence’s authority over his dependants and only accepted Florence’s pledge of loyalty as covering himself and his brother Dermot, ‘and those of the Clancarties [sic] dwelling upon the lands which Her Majesty hath granted to him’.[217] Florence would therefore no longer have political authority over the dependent septs of Carberry and Desmond. The President once again asked for Florence’s son as a pledge, and once again, Florence demurred, offering his foster brother instead. Carew concluded ‘Although I cannot judge his heart less corrupt that before’, his surrender, ‘gives an assured hope for the present establishment of this province, for upon him the rebels did build their last refuge’.[218]


V. Florence’s Arrest and the End of the War in Munster


From this point until his arrest in June of the following year, Florence appears to have identified Carew as a serious threat to his position and tried to stave off total victory for him in Munster until the Spaniards arrived  (as he knew they would). It may be that Florence’s strategy all along was to wait for the Spaniards invasion, when he could be sure of the rebel victory and not to be killed or dispossessed beforehand. In any case, he must have realised, after his submission, that Carew did not intend to leave him in place as MacCarthy Mór after the war.

On the 5th of January, he wrote to Philip. II of Spain, via his agent in Ulster, Donagh MacCormac MacCarthy, offering, ‘his person and lands as well as his vassals and subjects to your Royal service…to receive favour and aid…seeing as there is no other that can and will assist us better against these Heretics in this holy enterprise’.[219] Florence’s signature (MacCarthy Mór) was also found on a letter to the Pope, also signed by O’Neill and Fitzthomas, asking for the renewed excommunication of Elizabeth I.[220] Stafford says that letters were intercepted from Florence to Thomas Og Lacy (who was ward of Castlemange for Fitzthomas) telling him not to surrender to Carew, as supplies and reinforcements were on the way from Ulster. These letters were sent when Florence was still in Carew’s camp. at Mallow[221]. English raiding parties into Carberry and Desmond continued to be robustly opposed by Florence’s men. When in early 1601, Richard Percy, of the garrison at Kinsale, sent 60 men into Florence’s followers the O’Mahon’s country, ‘to get prey of the same’, they were attacked and driven off by, ‘Dermot Moyle MacCarthy [Florence’s brother] and Moylmo O’Mahon, the chief of his sept’.[222] Similarly when John Barry, the Sheriff of Cork, ‘made a journey into some of Florence MacCarthy’s lands, presently he was resisted and some of his men were murdered’.[223] Florence also continued to promise his allegiance to the rebels and tried to secure aid from them. In January 1601, he received a letter from O’Neill which sent, ‘our commendations unto you MacCarthy Mór’ and hoped, ‘that you will do a stout and hopeful service against the pagan beast’… ‘our army is to come into Munster and do the will of God’, ‘and since this course of Munster under God was left to yourself, let no weakness or imbecility be left in you, the time of help. is near you and all the rest’.[224]  Florence wrote to O’Donnell in February, apparently asking when he could expect the Ulster forces. O’Donnell replied that Florence had not been forgotten and that men would be sent as soon as they were available.[225]  A spy of Barry’s who was present at a rebel council of war in Ulster, reported that MacCormac (Florence’s agent) said that ‘MacCarthy Mór’ advised a Spanish landing in Cork rather than Limerick, because it was easier to take and would force the local lords to take the rebel side.[226] Shortly before his arrest, Stafford claims that Florence sent a ship. from Kinsale to Spain to receive arms and ammunition and wrote to Cahir MacShane Glass O’Mulrian of Leinster to recruit 600 men for his service.[227] One of the last letters Florence received before his arrest was from, ‘Dermutio Cartie’, a priest of the MacCarthy clan in Spain. He warned Florence ahead of the coming Spanish invasion, ‘it will be very necessary to be on your guard and not trust yourself to the English! For if ever again they get you into their hands, never more will you escape from them’.[228] It was prescient advice.

Fitzthomas was finally arrested by Carew in June 1601, having been reduced to hiding in caves with only a handful of retainers. Carew had most probably been waiting until this time to move against Florence and summoned him to Cork. The Four Masters tell us, ‘Fineen, son of Donough MacCarthy (who was at this time called MacCarthy Mór), went before the President at Cork; but as soon as he had arrived in the town he was made a prisoner for the Queen; but Fineen began to declare aloud, and without reserve, that he had been taken against the word and protection. This was of no avail to him; for he and James, the son of Thomas, were sent to England in the month of August, and … it was ordered that they be shewn the Tower … from that forward to the time of their deaths, … according to the will of God and of their Sovereign’.[229] Carew had technically violated the protection he had granted to Florence, but Cecil nevertheless congratulated him on removing such a threat.[230]. Carew also arrested Florence’s son, his kinsmen Dermot MacOwen and Taig MacCormac and his follower O’Mahon. Dermot Moyle, Florence’s brother, fled to Ulster, where he joined Tirrell’s force.[231] Cecil, who questioned Florence in London, found him, ‘a vain malicious fool’. Florence told the chief secretary that the charges against him, ‘would never be proved’. He also testified that the Spaniards were going to land in Galway, when he almost certainly knew they were headed for Cork.[232] On the 21st of September, 55 Spanish ships were sighted off Cork, and docked the next day in Kinsale. The Spanish invasion force included several kinsmen and followers of Florence, notably Dermutio the priest, Teig MacCarthy and Cormac MacFinian MacCarthy[233]. ‘Upon their arrival’, according to another witness the Spaniards, ‘specially demanded for Florence MacCarthy’.[234] Dermot Moyle returned from Ulster and Donal na Pipi MacCarthy Reagh temporarily joined the rebels. Carew, wrote ‘as yet no other septs…are in rebellion but the Carties and their followers, and the chief among them is Florence’s brother’.[235] Donal the bastard also rejoined the rebels, who looked to be on the verge of triumph. However, the battle of Kinsale in December saw a crushing victory for the Lord Lieutenant Mountjoy over the rebels and Spaniards. Dermutio Cartie and another of Florence’s followers, ‘Don Carlos Cartie’ were captured and executed.[236] Those who had joined the rebels (such as MacCarthy Reagh) generally submitted when Carew regained control of the province. Donal took his band into the mountains of Desmond, but submitted again to the Lord President shortly afterwards, bringing with him over 5000 head of cattle as tribute[237]. Dermot Moyle fought a guerrilla campaign from the fastnesses of Carberry, but was killed by mistake in an obscure cattle raid by some of his own kinsmen in 1602. MacCarthy Reagh took credit, but also buried Dermot ‘in great solemnity’ with his ancestors at the Abbey of Timoley.[238] Carberry was ravaged by several English forces until the end of the war, notably by Thomond.[239] By the end of the war it was ‘quite wasted’.[240]


Ultimately then, the Nine Years War, which at one point had promised Florence MacCarthy triumph on all fronts, led to his utter ruin. He was imprisoned for life, his closest kinsmen were killed and his territory plundered. In the aftermath of the war he would also lose all the land and authority he had gained at the start of it. The Brownes, English soldiers, Donal MacCarthy and Florence’s wife were among those re-introduced into his erstwhile countries.  The final forty years of Florence’s life were spent trying to piece back together some of what he had possessed before the war.

Chapter 4

Florence MacCarthy’s imprisonment and the Anglicisation of Munster. 1601-1640.


The last 40 years of Florence’s life represent a long twilight before his death. He spent the years from 1601 to 1640 in varying degrees of imprisonment in London, lobbying for some restoration of the lands he had held in Munster. However, this does not mean that these years are without significance. The years of Florence’s imprisonment were also the decades in which the project of Anglicising Munster finally came to fruition – only to be destroyed again in the wars of the 1640s. The fortunes of Florence MacCarthy and his sept and clansmen can show how the native elite fared in the first half of the seventeenth century and how they adapted to the new order. While Florence was in exile, his patrimony in Desmond and Carberry was dismembered piecemeal by various indigenous and colonial parties. The independent military power of the Irish lords was largely abolished, although ethnic and sectarian differences did not disappear.


  1. The End of the War and Carew’s Policy in the Aftermath of Florence’s Arrest.


Conceivably, George Carew arrested Florence with one eye on the future. The rebellion in Munster had, after all, petered out, and the President himself said that such was his control over Munster that he could be ‘a Tamerlane amongst them’ but he saw no need for extreme measures.[241] However, to have had Florence MacCarthy ensconced in the rugged terrain of Desmond, with thousands of armed followers and occupying vast swathes of land, would have been as serious obstacle to the reconstitution of the English plantation. In the immediate aftermath of his arrest, Carew and Cecil gave orders for Nicholas Browne and his family to be re-established in Desmond.[242] Carew in particular was very keen to see the English settlers return as quickly as possible.[243] After he had submitted for the second time, Donal ‘the bastard’ MacCarthy recovered the land he had held before the rebellion.[244] Ellen MacCarthy, Florence’s wife, who, ‘hath ever understood and repugned the undutiful courses of her husband’ was also designated for a grant of land and money.[245] In addition, several English soldiers were recommended for land grants in Carberry.[246] So even in the very early years of Florence’s imprisonment, he lost much of what he had achieved in the period 1599-1601. This can be seen as Carew’s successful dissipation of the MacCarthy Mór lordship, a process that would gather pace as the seventeenth century went on. Donal MacCarthy Reagh was formally released from his bond to Florence to keep Carberry intact by  a surrender-and-regrant deal with Carew in 1606. Carew was careful to stipulate that Donal was not to be given superiority over his ‘freeholders’ (dependants) and to hold his own land by English tenure and not as chief of his sept by tanistry.[247] Thus, it would appear that Carew was successful in sundering the connections between Gaelic clans and their ‘followers’ in south Munster. Certainly this was true of the former MacCarthy Mór country.


However, some evidence appears to indicate that in estates that remained under their traditional leaders, little may have changed in the relationship between Gaelic lord and their followers in the first half of the 17th century. Take, for example, the following contemporary description of Viscount Muskerry (Donagh MacCarthy)’s mobilisation of south Munster during the rebellion of 1641-42; ‘He was left a plentiful fortune by his provident father, who contrary to the known custom of the natives of Ireland, was free from any engagement of mortgage or any other encumbrance… [he had] many kindred and a multitude of dependants…[and he] raised an army of his tenants armed with skiens, darts, javelins and pikes…[to join] that cause wherein his kinsmen and friends were already engaged’.[248] Conceivably, it was only the upheavals of the Cromwellian conquest and the decimation of the Irish Catholic land-owning classes that finally ruptured this relationship.

Another indication that post-war Munster would be fundamentally different from what went before, is Carew’s abolition of the lord’s right to private violence. For instance, in late 1600, a small dependent sept of the Muskerry MacCarthys named the O’Learys fought stiff skirmish over stolen cattle with Dermot Moyle MacCarthy, and the O’Mahons of Carberry which left 10 of the O’Leary’s dead. Cormac MacDermot of Muskerry, their overlord, petitioned Carew to be allowed to take revenge on the Carberry MacCarthys, but Carew refused to allow it.[249]  In future, the forces of the state would have a monopoly on legitimate violence in Munster.

Florence attempted to appeal his imprisonment, using the last years of the war to try to gain some leverage with the government. He explained his actions in the by now familiar way of claiming that he was impecably loyal during the rebellion, dealing with the rebels only to ‘reclaim’ them or to defend his countries. Cecil, in forwarding the letter to Carew remarked that he sent them only, ‘because you may see how probably the witty knave can argue’. Florence offered the service’s of his foster brother Murrough na Mart (Murrough of the Beef – commander of his ‘foot-men’) against the rebels. He also offered to help to persuade the Ulster rebels to surrender by sending, ‘those that are best learned in that language and of special trust, credit and authority’- priests and poets. Florence recommended using his poets (the O’Dalys), since priests, ‘are by no means to be trusted with service to Her Majesty’. He finished by warning of a further Spanish expedition and expressing the hope that he could play the same part in O’Neill’s downfall as he had in the ‘cutting off’ of the arch-traitor Desmond.[250] By now, however, Florence’s intriguing was neither heeded nor acted upon by the English authorities.

As at the end of the Desmond rebellion, Carew’s troops remained quartered in Munster for some time afterwards, disrupting local life. Barry wrote to Cecil in 1604 hoping for, ‘a reformation of the extortions of government troops, soldiers, sheriffs and cessors, who do altogether impoverish this poor kingdom and commonwealth’.[251] The war had ended in 1603, with O’Neill’s surrender at Mellifont on March 30th. Tensions, particularly sectarian tensions, remained in Munster. In 1603, the townsmen of Cork and other Munster towns expelled government officials and Protestant clergy and called for public toleration of the Catholic religion[252]. Thomond in 1607 wrote that ‘both town and country’ were, ‘altogether ruled’ by priests and Jesuits. ‘I never saw them [the people] unsweeter or more obstinate than they are now’[253]. Although Florence was involved in a marginal way in some Irish Catholic intrigues in London, he was to be largely removed from the confessional politics of the new century.


  1. Florence’s imprisonment and life in London.


Florence himself was committed to the Tower with Fitzthomas. Cecil found that he had ‘protection’ for all of his known crimes and therefore, ‘we must only make him a prisoner by discretion’.[254] In other words, Florence would be held indefinitely without charge, and therefore could be held as long as the authorities felt was necessary. Although the terms of his imprisonment were relaxed over the years, Florence would never return to Ireland. Records of the Tower show that by St Micheal’s Day 1602, Florence’s health had already broken, as he was provided with, ‘a doctor and one to attend him in his sickness’. Fitzthomas appears to have had some kind of nervous breakdown in imprisonment, as he was afforded, ‘a watcher with him in his lunacy’.[255] The two men were treated reasonably well however, Florence, for example was given food, clothes and a barber, to the cost of £33 a year.[256] In 1604, the two were transferred to the prison at Gatehouse, Marshalsea.[257]. Nevertheless, Florence constantly referred to the debilitating effect that prison had on his health. Florence brought up his four sons in London, presumably with the help of his retainers there, although his eldest son died there not long after Florence’s arrest.[258] His estrangement from his wife however was final. In 1607 he reported that he had sent away, ‘that wicked woman that was my wife…whom I saw not nor could abide in almost a year before my commitment’[259].

In the early years of his imprisonment, Florence railed against his arrest while under protection. For example in a letter to Salisbury in 1608, he fumed, ‘all the most suspected persons of Ireland were here at liberty and freely in their countries’, unlike him, ‘none was ever tossed thrice to the tower and restrained seven years, without so much [proof] as might bring him once to be questioned withal!’.[260] However, such important figures as the Earl of Thomond, George Carew and Roger Boyle all lobbied against his release, even on bond to live in London. Florence was thus reduced to asking for, ‘the preservation of my life by…my removing to some other prison, where I may live among men in the hope that my health be recovered’.[261] However, as the years of peace in Ireland went on, attitudes to Florence softened, even among his former enemies. He was freed from prison to live in London in July 1614, on bonds of, among others, Thomond, Clanrickarde, Lord Delvin[262] and Randall MacDonnell – which incidentally showed how well connected Florence still was with the highest level of the Irish aristocracy.[263] He was briefly re-arrested in 1617  on the evidence of his servant Teig O’Hurley – a Protestant convert, who testified that he had kept a correspondence with Jacques de Franshesci and had helped transport Lord Maguire and several Irish Catholic priests to continental Europe.[264] The testimony also shows that Florence had seven Irishmen employed in his service in London, all but one of whom were natives of Carberry or Desmond.[265] Florence was briefly rearrested in November 1619, after charges against him from Barry, but was released into London again the following month. He was imprisoned for the last time for a few months in late 1624 and early 1625 after the death of Thomond, his chief bond holder.[266]


III. Land Disputes. The legal wrangling over Florence’s Estates.


Florence MacCarthy spent the greater part of his last forty years trying to prevent the loss of his remaining estates to various local lords, both planter and native. As early as march 1604, Barry, Florence’s old enemy, was petitioning to take over the lands of Finian MacOwen and Dermot Meah MacCarthy in Carberry.[267] De Courcy, (another native) wanted to be possessed of the castle and Head of Kinsale, which Florence’s father had bought off his family and which Florence had been leasing to the English undertaker Pelham[268]. Florence claimed that he had legal title to both pieces of land, in Carberry by the overlordship of the MacCarthy Reagh sept, and in Kinsale by legal purchase. Roger Boyle, the new Earl of Cork was also intriguing to take over Kinelmeaky in O’Mahon’s country. In fact, Florence blamed the Boyle and Browne families, who ‘coveted his lands’, for his continued imprisonment.[269] In 1611, Florence made a vain attempt at recovering some of the Carberry territory off Donal MacCarthy Reagh, who was possessed of it by a surrender and regrant deal. Florence argued that since it was the common property of the sept, it should be distributed among them and not given to one man. However, he himself implicitly acknowledged that his argument belonged to another era, as there were now many English freeholders and tenants in Carberry.[270] Up to around 1617, most of Florence’s land suits went against him. However, in that year, he had his first success since the Nine Years War. He argued that some of the land held by Donal MacCarthy in Desmond had been unlawfully seized by the late Earl of Clancarthy’s tenants and should therefore be returned to him, the heir[271]. The Privy Council agreed and wrote to the Lord Deputy to find in his favour[272]. Still more surprisingly, in 1630, the land originally mortgaged by the Brownes from Donal MacCarthy Mór was returned to Florence and his heirs.[273] The increasing mildness of government policy towards Florence probably reflects the fact that he was no longer a credible threat to the English settlement in Munster. Giving a few estates to the family of a one time aspirant MacCarthy Mór was no longer the risk it once was. Overall, the impression that Florence’s legal wrangling in these years gives is one of total dismemberment of the former MacCarthy clan lands in Desmond and Carberry. Not only were the lands divided among the fine, or taken by other lords, they were also settled by English migrants of lower social origin, who became freeholders there in their own right. This change at lower level would have done more than anything else to transform the social character of south Munster.


Part IV. Florence MacCarthy and History.


Florence MacCarthy was both a writer and a subject of history. In 1609 he wrote a short history of the ‘Irish nation’ to the Earl of Thomond. The piece is interesting in that it shows some of the ideological make-up of the Gaelic aristocrats at a time when their traditional world was collapsing around them. One interesting facet in Florence’s writing is his use of the word ‘nation’. He uses the term to describe a people or ethnic group – the Gaels in this case – not a state or political grouping. The Gaels of Scotland are therefore, ‘our nation in Scotland’.[274] He therefore does not share with Keating, Lynch and others, the inclusive definition of ‘Eireannach’ as opposed to Gaeil or Gaill.[275] In fact, he goes out of his way to blame the Norman lords rather than the natives for the wars and rebellions in Ireland subsequent to their invasion. This is a little strange considering that Florence was partly of Geraldine descent himself, although it can probably be explained by his own disputes with Barry and De Courcy who were of Norman ancestry. He does have some other points in common with contemporary Irish writers though. First of all, like Keating and others, he defends  the Irish against the charges of incivility, ‘although they [the Irish] are thought by many fitter to be rooted out than suffered to enjoy their lands, they are not so rebellious or dangerous as they are termed by such as covet it’.[276]

Furthermore, he glories in the ‘Golden Age’ in Ireland, when the Irish were famed for their ‘good laws’, their trade, their religious houses and their ‘learned men’, who were ‘esteemed’ by the Saxons and all of Europe.[277] Florence blames the Viking invasion for the decline in Irish civilisation and expresses pride in their eventual expulsion by the Irish nobility. There is perhaps, an echo of his own experience of war in Munster in his description of the Vikings, ‘that barbarous cruel and covetous nation, whose tyranny was to place lords and petty lords of theirs in every country…[and] had nearly half the goods thereof’.[278] In his attitude to English rule over Ireland, Florence again agrees with other Irish writers. The Irish nobility, he argued, had accepted the sovereignty of Henry II voluntarily to bring peace, which was disturbed not by them but by rebellious Barons –an implicit rejection of the view that the English could distribute the lands of Ireland by right of conquest. Finally, Florence, like poets such as Mac an Bhaird and O Luinin, celebrated James Stuart’s Gaelic ancestry.[279] James, ‘whose ancestors may have been Kings over all Ireland, who being the first of our nation that reigned over these three kingdoms, although all sorts are hard to be pleased in this world, nobody can deny him to be just King’.[280]

Florence died in around 1640. His was succeeded by his eldest surviving son Donal or Daniel, who converted to Protestantism and was soon writing to the authorities of Irish Catholic conspiracies in Munster.[281] An anonymous writer in 1686 wrote of him, ‘Of all the MacCarthys, none was ever more famous than…Florence, who was a man of extraordinary stature (being like Saul higher by the head and shoulders than any of his followers) and as great policy with competent courage and as much zeal as anybody for what he falsely imagined to be the true religion, and the liberty of his country… his grandson and heir Charles is to this day owned and styled MacCarthy Mór’.[282] Ninety years later, the description was repeated, almost verbatim, by Charles Smith, a descendent of Cromwellian settlers. He tells us that Donal na Pipi’s grandson also became a Protestant and was High Sherrif of Cork in 1635.[283]


However, the MacCarthy Reaghs as a whole were destroyed along with the most of the native nobility after the Cromwellian conquest. They are mourned along with the rest of the MacCarthy’s in Sean O Chonaill’s poem of 1650, ‘Tuireamh na hEirreann’.[284] As for Florence himself, he was accorded some respect by writers up to the eighteenth century. His memory was subject to a min-revival by Irish literary nationalists of the 19th century[285]. However, by the twentieth century he had slipped back to being a minor footnote in the history of the Nine Years war.




Florence MacCarthy belonged first and foremost to the Gaelic Irish nobility. Study of his career shows that right up to the end of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland, the Gaelic lordships of south Munster were still functioning in the traditional manner. Chieftains were still elected (notwithstanding intimidation and outside interference) from the sept’s fine, and by the chief ‘followers’ or sub lords. Traditional titles such as MacCarthy Mór continued to command widespread authority among the native population, as shown by Florence’s repeated contention that ‘the country people’ of Desmond ‘followed’ whoever possessed the title.[286] Moreover the lordships preserved their armed forces and their right to private violence until near the end of the Nine Years War, as witnessed by the feud between the O’Learys of Muskerry and the MacCarthys and O’Mahons of Carberry.[287]

Florence MacCarthy was a man who was in the way of the English colonisation and ‘reformation’ of Munster and who was ultimately destroyed by it. Could he have survived, as did his kinsman Donal na Pipi, and, most successfully, the MacCarthys of Muskerry? The question is, perhaps, misleading. Florence could have survived as a medium sized landowner, respected in the locality, but without any wider significance. He was, however, a man who was brought up in the culture of the Gaelic aristocracy, for whom lordship was a kind of petty kingdom, complete with the allegiance of the people in the territory and the power of a private army. Had Florence been prepared to abandon these things, he could have survived into the new century, but not otherwise. Moreover, as major Gaelic landholders, the MacCarthys, and Florence in particular, were squeezed by the vested interests of English settlers and administrators (two categories which tended to overlap) who tried various means, legal and otherwise, to expropriate them or diminish their authority. Having said all this, at the pivotal point of Florence’s career – the Nine Years War – the English authorities granted to him every aspect of Gaelic lordship that they had been trying to extirpate.

Why Florence MacCarthy managed to briefly become the MacCarthy Mór is fairly straightforward. It was absolutely vital for the English to recover the inaccessible country of Desmond and the MacCarthy clan from rebel hands and they therefore conceded whatever Florence asked for so that he could recover it. Why he lost everything at the end of the war is more complicated. Florence MacCarthy attempted to conciliate both the rebels and the English forces in order to emerge intact. If he had a preference for which side he wanted to win, it is difficult to discern, but it is clear that he wanted to be on that side, whichever it turned out to be[288]. While this seems a reasonable tactic for survival, it was arguably the wrong one. The end of the Nine Years War showed that those, such as O’Neill and O’Donnell (or even Donal MacCarthy), who rebelled outright and proved themselves difficult to subdue, could command good terms after they had submitted. Florence, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity to the English and therefore better removed than allowed to remain at large. He was also, doubtless, viewed as an impediment to the reestablishment of English population and ‘civility’ in Munster. For this reason, as well as for his intriguing with rebels and Spaniards and George Carew’s strong personal dislike of him, Florence MacCarthy did not survive the Nine Years War as MacCarthy Mór.

What can Florence’s career tell us about the nature of Nine Years War in Munster? The war is often presented as being introduced into the provinces by O’Neill’s dispatch of his mercenaries there in 1598. With hindsight however, it is clear that the years leading up to 1598 saw a steady and escalating level of violence between the natives of the province and the English planters. Donal MacCarthy had been ‘playing Robin Hood’ and attacking the Brownes in Desmond since 1589, other ‘wood-kerne’ like the MacSheehy brothers were responsible for over 80 attacks on settlers before 1598[289]. Notwithstanding the important religious element in the war and the role of the Catholic clergy in Munster and leaving aside simple intimidation by the rebels, there were primarily two social groups who joined the rebellion. One was the Gaelic military class, who deserted loyalist lords in droves to join O’Neill’s men in 1598 and 1600 and who Florence claimed pressured him into joining the rebels.[290] Their motivation is fairly clear, there was simply no future for them in an Anglicised, demilitarised Munster. The other rebel support base were disinherited native gentry such as Donal MacCarthy or James Fitzthomas, whose patrimonies were occupied by undertakers. Conversely, men such as Donal na Pipi and Lord Barry, who were in possession of their lordships and who had relatives with equally valid claims stayed loyal, in the knowledge that the English would back their kinsmen if they rebelled. Florence’s uncertain landed position may go some way towards explaining his ambivalent behaviour during the war.

Florence’s imprisonment, and the dismemberment of his former territories shows the extent to which Munster was re-settled with English colonist of various social backgrounds in the decades of peace between 1603 and 1641. The increasingly mild treatment of Florence himself also shows how the English perception of the threat of native rebellion declined in the years before the outbreak of rebellion in October 1641.

Florence MacCarthy’s life therefore spans the beginning of the penetration of the English state into Munster, its first attempts at colonisation, its military conquest of the old native military elite and its triumph in the seventeenth century. This study has, for this reason, examined his life in narrative form, to show how the Gaelic Irish elite dealt with the Tudor re-conquest. Through a mixture of cultural and political antipathies, tactical misjudgements and plain bad luck, Florence MacCarthy was, in the end, ruined along with the Gaelic order into which he was born.



Florence McCarthy Bibliography

Primary Sources

Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, Vol. CXXXV 1586-88, Hamilton, Hans Claude, Ed.,   London 1877.

Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, Vol. CXXXVI 1588-92, Hamilton, Hans Claude, Ed., London 1888.

Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland Vol. 1600-1601 Vol. CXXXVII. Atkinson, Ernest George, Ed., London 1905.

Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland Vol. CXXXVIII 1601-03.  Pentland, Robert, Ed.,

London 1912.

Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts 1599-1600, Brewer, J.S., Bullie William (ed.),London 1869

Cox, Richard,  Hibernia Anglicana,    London, 1689.

Gilbert, J.T., (ed.), Richard Bellings, History of the Confederation and War in Ireland, Vol. I, Dublin, 1882.

Miller, Liam, Power, Eilleen (ed.’s)    Richard Holinshed’s Irish Chronicles: The Histories of Ireland from the first inhabitants thereof unto the year 1509. Collected by Raphael Hollinshed and continued till the year 1547 by Richard Stanyhurst,                        Dolmen Press, Dublin 1979.

McCarthy, Daniel,      The Life and Letter book of Florence McCarthy Reagh, Tanist of Carberry, Dublin 1867.

O’Donovan, John (ed.),          ‘Letter of Florence McCarthy to the Earl of Thomond on the Ancient History of Ireland on the Ancient History of Ireland’,  The Journal of the Kilkenny and South East of Ireland Archaeological Society, Vol I New Series 1856-57, University Press,           Dublin, 1858.

O’Donovan, John (translator),            The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters [Annála Ríoghachta Éireann], Vol. 6, ed. John O’Donovan (Dublin, 1848-51) at

Salisbury Manuscripts Part III, London 1889.

Stafford, Thomas,       Pacata Hibernia 3 Vols. (1633),                             London 1810, Dublin 1896.

Spencer, Edmund,      A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596),            Located at

Secondary Sources.

Brady, Ciaran, Gillespie, Raymond, Ed.’s,    Natives and Newcomers – Essays on the Making of Irish Colonial society 1534-1641,      Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1986.

Brady, Ciaran,                         The Chief Governors,              Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1994.

Canny, Nicholas P,     The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland, Harvester Press Ltd,   Sussex 1976.

Canny, Nicholas P,     Making Ireland British 1580-1650,     Oxford University Press,        Oxford 2001

Cunningham, Bernadette,       The World of Geoffrey Keating – History Myth and Religion in Seventeenth Century Ireland,          Four Courts Press, Dublin 2000.

Cusack, M.F.,  A History of City and County of Cork,            McGlashin and Gill, Dublin 1875.

  1. Duffy, D. Edwards, E. Fitzpatrick Ed’s, Gaelic Ireland, Four court Press,    Dublin 2001.


Ellis, Stephen,             Tudor Ireland – Crown, Community and conflict of Cultures 1470 – 1603, Longman Group Ltd.,                 London 1985.

Falls, Cyril,      Elizabeth’s Irish Wars (1950), Constable and Co. Ltd.,         London 1996.

Hayes-McCoy, G. A., Irish Battles – A Military History of Ireland (1969),    Appletree Press, Belfast 1990

Lenihan, Padraig,        Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49,  Cork University Press,  Cork 2001.

Lennon, Colm,                        Sixteenth Century Ireland – The Incomplete Conquest,          Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1994.

MacCarthy-Morrogh, Michael,           The Munster Plantation – English migration to Southern Ireland 1583-1641,   Oxford University Press, Oxford 1986.

MacInnes, Alan,          Clanship, Commerce, and the House of Stuart,          Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 1996.

McCavitt, John,          The Flight of the Earls,           Gill & Macmillan,       Dublin 2002.

Morgan, Hiram,           Tyrone’s Rebellion,     The Boydell Press,                  Suffolk, 1993.

Morgan Hiram (Ed.),  Political Ideology in Ireland 1541-1641,        Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999.

O’Rahilly, Cecil,         Five Seventeenth Century Political Poems,     Dublin Institute for advanced Studies,            Dublin 1955.

O’Riordan, Michelle,  The Gaelic Mind and the collapse of the Gaelic World,          Cork University Press, Cork 1990.

 O’Mahony, Edward, ‘Baltimore, the O’Driscolls, and the end of Gaelic civilisation, 1538-1615’, Mizen Journal, no. 8 (2000): 110-127.

Patterson, Nerys, Cattle Lords and Clansmen – the Social Structure of Early Ireland, University of Notre Dame Press Indiana 1994.

Silke, John, J.,             Kinsale – The Spanish Intervention at the end of the Elizabethan Wars, Liverpool University Press,         Liverpool 1970.

Simms, Katherine,       From Kings to Warlords –The changing political structure of Gaelic Ireland in the later middle ages,    Boydell Press, New Hampshire, 1987.

Smith, Charles,                        The Ancient and present state of the County of Cork, Dublin 1774.



[1] Charles Smith, The Ancient and Present State of the County of Cork, (Dublin 1774) , p. 28

[2] Daniel McCarthy, The Life and Letter Book of Florence McCarthy Reagh, Tanist of Carbery, (Dublin 1867).

[3] Ibid. p.4

[4] London Public record Office: SP63/207 State Papers, Ireland. Elizabeth, Florence MacCarthy to Robert Cecil, May 6th 1600. N.L.I. microfiche n.3500 p.3118

[5] Daniel McCarthy,  The Life and Letter Book of Florence McCarthy Reagh, Tanist of Carberry, (Dublin 1869) p.2

[6] Florence MacCarthy to Cecil May 6 1600 in McCarthy, Letter Book, p. 274

[7] Carew to Cecil, May 29 1602, McCarthy, Letter Book p.353

[8] St Leger to Privy Council, May 14 1588, in McCarthy, Letter Book p.29

[9] The MacCarthys Reagh (Riabhach –striped) had literally ‘come down from the hills’ of Desmond two centuries previously and re-conquered Carberry from the Normans. They were later granted an English charter by Henry VII. MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, (Oxford 1986) p.85

[10] St Leger to Privy Council, May 14 1588, in McCarthy, Letter Book p.29

[11] Carew to Cecil, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 12

[12] Florence to Carew, May 14 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.281.

[13] McCarthy, Letter Book p.5 Florence’s uncle – so called after he looted pipes of wine from a wrecked Spanish ship.

[14] St Leger to Privy Council, May 14 1588, in McCarthy, Letter Book p.32

[15] Edward O’Mahony,  ‘Baltimore, the O’Driscolls, and the end of Gaelic civilisation’, 1538-1615, Mizen Journal, no. 8 (2000): pp 110-127

[16] ibid.

[17] Thomas  Stafford, Pacata Hibernia, Vol III 1633, (Dublin 1896) Vol. III p.169, Garrans were an Irish work pony

[18] FitzThomas to Sidney  1583, Florence to Burghley 29 November 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p.18 and p.121

[19] Bishop Cork to Cecil, April 2, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp 238-240

[20] Carew MSS vol.625, McCarthy, Letter Book p.222

[21] McCarthy, Letter Book p.217

[22] St Leger to Privy Council 14 May 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.32.

[23] Carew MSS vol.625, McCarthy letter book p.222

[24] Florence to Burghley November 29 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p.121

[25] Florence to Cecil, December 12, 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p.214

[26] Carew  MSS vol.625, McCarthy, Letter Book p.9

[27] McCarthy, Letter Book p.2.

[28] McCarthy, Letter Book p.6-7

[29], Liam, Miller, Eilleen Power, (ed.’s),             Richard Holinshed’s Irish Chronicles,           (Dublin 1979), p.18.

[30] John O’Donovan, (ed.), ‘Letter of Florence McCarthy to the Earl of Thomond on the Ancient History of Ireland’, in The Journal of the Kilkenny and South East of Ireland Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1858, p212, p.224

[31] ibid. pp 220-224.

[32] McCarthy, Letter Book p.6

[33] Ibid. pp.12, 21

[34] Pacata Hibernia, Vol. II, pp 309-312

[35] Dermutio Cartie to Florence, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.326

[36] Examination of Teig O’Hurley, 28 March 1617, McCarthy, Letter Book p.407.

[37] Ibid.

[38] St Leger to Privy Council 14 May 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.30

[39] see, Ciaran Brady, The Chief Governors, (Cambridge 1994).

[40] Colm Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland – The Incomplete Conquest, Dublin 1994, pp 211-213

[41] Ibid. pp 211-13

[42] Ibid. p.214

[43] McCarthy, Letter Book p.2

[44] Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland, pp 221-22

[45] Ibid.

[46] Cork Juries to Drury, 1576, in McCarthy, Letter Book pp 5-6 The Juries subsequently held a hearing into the matter, but nothing came of it, as the MacDermots were a small subordinate sept, and MacCarthy Reaghs were not only powerful but also allied to the English.

[47] St Leger to Privy Council, May 14 1588, in McCarthy, Letter Book p.32

[48] David Edwards, ‘The MacGiollapadraig Lordship and Tudor Reform’, p.79-98 in P. Duffy, D. Edwards, E. Fitzpatrick Eds., Gaelic Ireland, (Dublin 2001).

[49] Owen MacCarthy to Queen Elizabeth, July 1583, McCarthy, Letter Book p.20. Although the figure seems very high.

[50] Donal MacCarthy to Queen Elizabeth, May 1583 McCarthy, Letter Book, p.14

[51] McCarthy, Letter Book p.12

[52] Florence to Burghley, 29 November 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p.121.

[53] McCarthy, Letter Book p.21

[54] Ibid.

[55] Nicholas Canny,  Making Ireland British 1580-1650,             (Oxford 2001). p.130-132

[56] Elizabeth to Fitzwilliam, 7 August 1593. McCarthy, Letter Book p.90.

[57] Edward O’Mahony, ‘The O’Driscolls’, Mizen Journal (Mizen, 2000)  The septs in question were O’Donoghue Mór near Killarney; Teig MacCarthy of Mollahiffe; the MacCarthys of Clandermot in Beare and the MacCarthys of Clandonnell Roe near Bantry, all in Desmond. In Carberry, O’Mahonys of Rosbrin, Dunbeacon, and Kinalmeaky; and two other MacCarthys.

[58] Ibid., the undertakers were, Roger Warre, Edward Gray, Phane Becher and Hugh Worth

[59] Canny, Making Ireland British p.146, MacCarthy, Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, Oxford 1986, p.115-116

[60] McCarthy, Letter Book p. 16, for instance Popham, the Attorney General for Ireland, imported 70 tenants from Somerset, only to find that that the land had already been settled by another undertaker and he was obliged to return them home

[61] Ibid. p 17

[62] Canny, Making Ireland British, p.146

[63] Wilbraham to Lords Commission for Munster Causes, September 11, 1587,  (Cal. S.P. Ire. 1586-1588 pp 405-406)

[64] (Cal. S.P. Ire. 1574-1585; pp 361-362)

[65] Edmund Spencer, A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) p.104, Located at

[66] Herbert to Burghley June 1588, (Cal. S.P. Ire. 1586-1588. p.532)

[67] Ibid. p.33

[68] McCarthy, Letter Book p.20

[69] McCarthy, Letter Book p.24,According to Irish custom, mortgaged land was occupied by the lender until the debt was   repaid.

[70] St Leger to Privy Council 14 May 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.34.

[71] Ibid. p.30

[72] Ibid. p.31

[73] ibid. p.35

[74] Ibid. p.36 who were ‘accustomed to extortions, oppressions and spoils by which they were wont to be enriched, now bridled and restrained’

[75] Ibid. p.34 He also envisaged the abolition of private armies and of the authority of an overlord over other septs and lords.

[76] St Leger to Privy Council, 12  June 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.37. This was motivated ‘partly by the hatred borne to our new inhabitation, partly for the malice and dislike born to Florence MacCarthy, but chiefly by ye desire to strengthen their faction’. Their object was to, ‘do in those parts what they thought good [which is] no less to be prevented than the former drift of Florence MacCarthy’

[77] Ibid.

[78] Norrys to Walsyngham, July 1 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.39

[79] Ibid. p.40.

[80] Ibid. p.41.

[81] St Leger to Lords, December 7 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book p.55

[82] St Leger to Burghley, February 1589, McCarthy, Letter Book p.61

[83] Examination of Florence MacCarthy March 23-27, McCarthy, Letter Book p.67-68

[84] Florence to Burghley, 14 May 1590, McCarthy, Letter Book p.75

[85] Privy Council to Lords Justices, 15 December 1590 McCarthy, Letter Book p.77

[86] Herbert to Burghley, June 1588, (Cal. S.P. Ire. 1588-92), p. 528.

[87] Valentine Browne to Walsyngham, 16 October 1589, McCarthy, Letter Book p.50

[88] St Leger to Burghley, June 22 1589, McCarthy, Letter Book pp 72-73.

[89] Herbert to Burghley, October 20 1588, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.52

[90] Nicholas Browne to Burghley, December 4 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 123.

[91] Geoffrey Fenton to Burghley, March 15  1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 87

[92] Barry to Popham, 22March 1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p.88

[93] McCarthy, Letter Book pp 148-149 For example, three brothers named MacSheehy, who were arrested in 1598 for killing pigs to provision Tirell, were found to have been apprehended many times before, but pardoned by Norreys, despite having been responsible for robbing or killing over 80 English families. On the final occasion, however, they were not so lucky, having their arms and legs broken before being hanged from the north gate of Cork city

[94] Geoffrey Fenton to Burghley, March 15  1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 87

[95] Florence to Burghley, June 17 1592, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 81

[96] Bishop of Cork to Geoffrey Fenton, March 8 1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 82

Bishop Lyon’s use of the Irish form of Florence’s name was a common device used to show disapproval, in a similar manner, rebels like Fitzmaurice and Fitzthomas Fitzgerald were referred to as ‘MacMaurice’ and ‘MacThomas’ respectively when in rebellion.

[97] Geoffrey Fenton to Burghley, March 15  1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 86

[98] Elisabeth to Fitzwilliam, 7 August 1593, McCarthy, Letter Book p.90.

[99] Florence to Burghley, March 16 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p.97

[100] June 1594, Fitzwilliam to Privy Council, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.102

[101] Examination of Lord Barry, David Buttevante, June 27 1594 McCarthy, Letter Book, p.103 Among these were: William Hurley, a professor of law at Oxford, Cormac MacDonnell MacCarthy, in the Spanish army, Donagh MacCarthy, Florence’s ‘base’ brother who was in England, Finian MacCormac MacCarthy who had been sent to Stanley in Brussels and Owen MacCarthy, recently returned to Carberry from the continent

[102] .Examination of Florence MacCarthy, McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 106-107

[103] Florence to Burghley, November 29 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.119.

[104] McCarthy, Letter Book, p.131-133

[105] Florence to Burghley 21 March 1595, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.133

[106] Ibid.

[107] Florence to Burghley, April 1 1595. McCarthy, Letter Book, p.134 seeing that the law doth allow custom as well in England as in Ireland and that custom has been inviolable kept there’

[108] Nicholas Browne to Burghley, December 4 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.123-124

The followers were O’Mahons, Clan Donell Roe and Clan Dermot

[109] Popham to Burghley, July 8 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.135

[110] Florence to Burghley, April 1 1595. McCarthy, Letter Book, p.134

[111] Florence to Robert Cecil, July 8 1595, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.138

[112] Fenton to Burghley, October 7 1595, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.139

[113] John O’Donovan ed., The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters [Annála Ríoghachta Éireann], Vol. 6, (Dublin, 1848-51), p1994-1995 The Annals afforded him the following obituary, ‘MacCarthy Mór died, namely, Donal, the son of Donal, son of Cormac Ladhrach, son of Teige; and although he was usually styled Mac Carthy Mór, he had been honourably created Earl by order of the Sovereign of England. There was no male heir who could be installed in his place, or any heir except one daughter Ellen, who was the wife of the son of Mac Carthy Reagh, i.e. Fineen; and all thought that he was the heir of the deceased Mac Carthy’.

[114] Norreys to Privy Council, 14 January 1597 McCarthy, Letter Book, p.148-149

[115] Norreys and Robinson to Lord Treasurer, January 15 1597, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.152

[116] Gray, Herbert, Spring, Nicholas and Thomas Browne, Bishop of Ardfert to Privy Council, February 12, 1597, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.152

[117] Ibid..

[118] MacCarthy Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, Oxford 1986. pp 130-135

[119] Fitzthomas to Ormonde, 12th October 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book,p.176 ‘Englishmen were not contented to have our lands and livings, but were unmercifully [determined] to seek our lives’.

[120] Fenton to Cecil, February 14, 1597, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.177

[121] G.A. Hayes McCoy,     Irish Battles – A Military History of Ireland, (Belfast 1990),  pp 92-93

[122] Florence to Cecil, July 8 1595, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.138

[123] Florence to Cecil, April 13 1596, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 142.

[124] Ibid.

[125] Warrant, August 13, 1598 McCarthy, Letter Book p.155, Wilbraham to Cecil, May 25 1598 McCarthy, Letter Book p.153, Norreys to Cecil, May 30, 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.160

[126]  Ormonde to Cecil, June 18 1598 McCarthy, Letter Book p.161

[127] Ibid.

[128] Florence to Cecil, February 12 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.164

[129] Ibid.

[130] Ibid. although he complained that they had already been paid £2000.

[131] Ibid.

[132] Weever to Privy Council, October 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.177

[133] Ormonde to Queen Elizabeth, October 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.177

[134] Norreys McCarthy, Letter Book p.167

[135] Weever to Privy Council, October 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.177

[136] Ibid. That Fitzthomas was essentially a minor figure before the rebellion can be inferred by the fact that he brought only 16 horse and 20 foot of his own followers to the rebel service. His Irish detractors nicknamed him the sugán or ‘straw rope’ Earl, implying that he did not have the strength to be the legitimate Earl of Desmond.

[137] Annals of the Four Masters pp 2082-2083

[138] Weever to Privy Council, October 1598, McCarthy, Letter Book p.177

[139] Findings of the Commission on Clancarthy inheritance, March 16 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p.182

The report was signed by the Lord Lieutenant (Earl Essex), Lord Chamberlain, Lord Buckhurst, Anthony St Leger and Roger Wilbraham.

[140] Petition of Florence MacCarthy, March 16 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p.184 ‘a little provision of meal, butter and flesh due unto my father in law of certain septs of his followers within that country’

[141] Ibid.

[142] Norreys to Privy Council, March 26,  1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 191

[143] Hiram Morgan, Tyrone’s Rebellion, Boydell Press, (Suffolk 1993), pp 177-178

[144] Cecil to Essex, April 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p.210.

[145] St Leger and Power to Cecil, 10 December 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book p.212

[146] Ibid.

[147] Florence to Cecil,12 December 1599, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.213-215

[148] Ibid.

[149] Ibid. Florence reported that the main rebel force of 1100 had one meal of beef and water a day and 100 beds – given to people such as Fitzthomas the Catholic Bishop McGrath. During his night in the camp., he shared Fitzthomas’ bed – a traditional symbol of alliance or friendship.

[150] Barry to Cecil, February 12 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 217

[151] Florence to Cecil, 12 December 1599 McCarthy, Letter Book p.213-215

[152] Ibid.

[153] Pacata Hibernia, Vol. I, p.286

[154] Annals of the Four Masters p.2147

[155] Ibid. p.2151

[156] Power to Privy Council, March 4 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 234 His fellow commissioner, Warham St Leger was killed in a skirmish, where he shot dead O’Neill’s lieutenant Maguire, but himself died of a lance wound through the skull.

[157] Ibid.

[158] Annals of the Four Master, pp2151-2155

[159] Florence to Cecil, August 1602, McCarthy, Letter Book p.361

[160] Florence to Cecil, May 6 1600 McCarthy, Letter Book p.274

[161] Pacata Hibernia, Vol. I p.287

[162] Ibid. p.291

[163] Pacata Hibernia vol. p.288 all of Florence’s seized correspondence was translated by Carew, who had excellent Irish.

[164] Bishop of Cork, see below for details.

[165] Florence to Carew, May 3, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.270

[166] Florence to Cecil, May 6 1600 McCarthy, Letter Book p.274

[167] Colm Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland, p.222

[168] Bishop Cork to Cecil,March 5 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.235

[169] Government of Munster to Cecil, March 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.235

[170] Lord Justices to Cecil, March 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.235

[171] Saxey to Cecil 8 March 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.236

[172] Ibid. ‘and prefereth him, for that he is mere Irish, before Desmond because he is of the English race’.

[173] Bishop Cork to Cecil, April 2, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp238-240 Florence gave his brother Dermot and his foster brother Finian MacDonnell to O’Neill as hostages but withheld his eldest son.

[174] Ibid. Florence had told the towns, ‘where he is well favoured’, that he had a warrant to deal with O’Neill, ‘for the better safety of him and his countries’ and that, ‘he continueth loyal to Her Majesty’

[175] Ibid.

[176] Pacata Hibernia Vol. I. p.30

[177] Captain Flower,  report on ‘Journey into Rosscarberry’,  April 1, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp 242-243

[178] Ibid.

[179] Ibid. ‘we burned all those parts and had the killing of many of their churles and poor people, leaving not one grain of corn within ten miles of our way wherever we marched and took 500 cows which I caused to be drowned and killed’

[180] Ibid.

[181] Florence to Cecil, May 6, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.277

[182] See Paidraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49, (Cork 2001), pp195-196 for discussion of Gaelic Irish ambush tactics.

[183] Aylmer to Cecil, 21 April 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp243-244

[184] Captain Flower,  report on ‘Journey into Rosscarberry’,

[185] Cuffe to Cecil April 23 1600 McCarthy, Letter Book p.244

[186] Florence to Cecil, May 6, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.277

[187] Pacata Hibernia  Vol. I p. 31

[188] Lord President, Thomond & Council of Munster to Privy Council, April 30, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp259-260

‘the priests have, in their devilish doctrine, so much prevailed among the people in general in this province, as for fear    of excommunication very few dare serve for Her Majesty’.

[189] Carew to Cecil, May 2 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book pp262-264

[190] Ibid.

[191] Florence to Carew, May 3, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.270

[192] Carew to Cecil, May 6, 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.266-268

[193] Ibid.

[194] Ibid.

[195] Ibid. Carew commented, ‘he will run any fortune than be detained’

[196] Ibid. Carew, the military man of action’s frustration with Florence’s intrigues is palpable: ‘I never racked my brains more to beat reason into another man’s head than I did to him, but pride doeth so much possess him in being called MacCarthy Mór that his understanding is lost’.

[197] Ibid. It is likely that Florence’s loss of temper with the priests resulted from them pressing him to openly join the ‘Catholic’ cause, which to him would have been an unacceptable gamble.

[198] Ibid.

[199] Florence to Carew 14 May 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.281

[200] Ibid.

[201] Fitzthomas to Florence, 17 May 1600, Pacata Hibernia Vol. I  pp50-51 Fitzthomas calls Florence ‘cousin’ because he was a Geraldine on his mother’s side.

[202] Fitzthomas to Florence, June 1600, Pacata Hibernia, Vol. Ipp63-65

[203] Pacata Hibernia Vol. I pp73-82, McCarthy, Letter Book pp282, 292, Annals of the Four Masters pp2171-2175, . The rebels allowed O’Connor to leave Munster with his men but he was killed on his homeward journey.

[204] Fitzthomas to Florence, 5th July 1600, Pacata Hibernia Vol. I pp.87-88 ‘If your lordship. be not well at ease yourself, let your brother Dermot and the chief gentlemen of your forces, come without delay’ if you do not send them, ‘you tender the overthrow of our action’.

[205] Carew to Cecil, August 17 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.289

[206] Ibid.

[207] Pacata Hibernia Vol. I pp.120-123, Carew to Cecil, 23 September 1600 McCarthy, Letter Book p..310

Carew to Cecil, November 2 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.315, Carew routed Fitzthomas’ forces at Aherlow and reported having, over the summer killed 1200 rebels and taken the surrenders of over 10,000

[208] Fitzthomas to Florence, September 2 1600, Pacata Hibernia pp118-123, He argued that it was futile for Florence to expect fair treatment from the English, ‘you know the ancient and general malice that… they bear to all of Irish birth, and much they rave at present, so it is very bootless for any of us to seek their favours or countenance, which were but a means to work our total subversion’.

[209] Pacata Hibernia  Vol. II p. 292

[210] Florence to Carew, August 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.291-292

[211] Carew to Privy Council, August 30 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.308

[212] Carew to Cecil, 17 September 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.310.

[213] Ibid.,

[214] Pacata Hibernia Vol. IIp.126

[215] Florence to Salisbury 13 July 1607, McCarthy, Letter Book p.385

[216] Pacata Hibernia  Vol. IIp.138

[217] Carew to Cecil, November 2 1600, McCarthy, Letter Book p.315

[218] Ibid.

[219] MacCormac to King Philip., 5 January 1601, Pacata Hibernia, Vol. I p.299.

[220] Pacata Hibernia  Vol. I pp.319-312

[221] Pacata Hibernia, Vol. II p.135

[222] Ibid. p.166

[223] Ibid., p.169

[224] O’Neill to Florence, 27 January 1601, (Cal. S.P Ire 1601-1603, p.392) – All Irish letters are translated by Carew.

[225] O’Donnell to Florence, February 1601, Pacata Hibernia, Vol. I p.302 ‘we are no less grieved, for that you see us not, than we ourselves’. ‘There was not many in Ireland more of the mind than I, to have gone to visit you, had not strangers neighboured upon my country [a reference to Henry Dowcra’s landing in Derry]’. He promised to ‘send men to you, if they may be had’

[226] Pacata Hibernia, Vol. II p.281

[227] Ibid. on the intelligence of Henry Dowcra from a spy named ‘’Hugh Boy’.

[228] Dermutio Cartie to Florence, McCarthy, Letter Book p.326

[229] Annals of the Four Masters, p.2263

[230] Cecil to Carew June 29 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p.338.

[231] Carew to Cecil 13 August 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p.338

[232] Cecil to Carew September 10 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p.342

[233] Meade, Mayor of Cork, to Cecil, 23 September 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p.347

[234] John Dowdal to Cecil, 32 September 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p.347

[235] Carew to Cecil, 23 December 1601, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 347

[236] Ibid. as was Owen MacEgan, Florence’s priest and main Spanish contact.

[237] Pacata Hibernia Vol. III p. 169

[238] Ibid. p.173

[239] Ibid. p.149

[240] Richard Cox, Hibernia Anglicana (London 1689), p.452

[241] Carew to Privy Council, August 6th 1601, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.338

[242] Carew to Cecil, Cecil to Carew, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 331-332

[243] MacCarthy Morrough, The Munster Plantation, Oxford 1986, p.136

[244] Carew to Cecil, May 29 1602, in McCarthy, Letter Book,p353, he formally received 5000 acres for himself and his heirs in 1605, ‘for his late services and loyalty’ in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.379.

[245] Carew to Cecil, January 31, 1602, McCarthy, Letter Book p356. Ellen was granted 13 quarters of land and £150 a year, which was to be left to her sons, Teig, Donal, Cormac and Finian. in 16 April 1607, McCarthy, Letter Book, p.374,.

[246] Carew to Cecil, 13 August 160, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 338-3401 Captain Bostocke, for instance.

[247] Carew, Wilbraham and Popham to Privy Council, 2 July 1606, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.378. He was also required to ‘erect’ 24 new freeholders.

[248] J.T., Gilbert, Ed., Richard Bellings, History of the Confederation and War in Ireland, Vol. I, pp 67-68, 70.

[249] Pacata Hibernia Vol. III p. 139 This is especially important if one accepts Michelle O’Riordan’s claim that violence was integral to Gaelic aristocratic identity. See Michelle O’Riordan, The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World, (Cork 1990).

[250] Florence to Cecil, August 1602, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 359-365

[251] Barry to Cecil, March 2 1604, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p. 374

[252] John McCavitt, The Flight of the Earls, (Dublin 2002), p. 52-54.

[253] Thomond to Salisbury, September 19, 1607, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.383.

[254] Cecil to Carew, September 10 1601, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p. 342

[255] McCarthy, Letter Book p.344 Fitzthomas died shortly afterwards.

[256] Ibid.

[257] Ibid.

[258] Florence to Salisbury, December 1608 in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.387

[259] Florence to Salisbury, June 1608, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p. 385

[260] Ibid.

[261] Florence to Salisbury, December 1608, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.388

[262] Delvin, himself suspected of treason in 1608, demanded cast iron guarantees of his life and liberty before surrendering, and cited the case of Florence MacCarthy, who was, ‘imprisoned in the Tower on suspicion only, after he had his pardon’ cited in McCavitt, Flight of the Earls, (Dublin 2002) p.129

[263] Bonds to release Florence MacCarthy, 28 July 1614, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 398-399. The total bond was £5000.

[264] Testimony of Teig O’Hurley, March 28, 1617, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 403-409.

[265] Ibid.

[266]Florence to Privy Council, November 1619, McCarthy, Letter Book p416.  Florence to Privy Council, March 1625, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.418

[267] Barry to Cecil, March 1604 in McCarthy, Letter Book,p.374

[268] De Courcey to Salisbury, July 24 1607, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.382

[269] Florence to Salisbury, December 1608, in McCarthy, Letter Book, pp 384-389

[270] Florence to Salisbury, 27 November 1611, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.395

[271] Florence to Privy Council, April 10, 1617, in McCarthy, Letter Book,p.411

[272] Privy council to Lord Deputy, April 10, 1617, in McCarthy, Letter Book, p.412

[273] Judgement in MacCarthy-Browne case, 1630, in McCarthy, Letter Book,p.431.

[274] John O’Donovan (ed.), ‘Letter of Florence MacCarthy to the Earl of Thomond on the Ancient History of Ireland’,   The Journal of the Kilkenny and South East of Ireland Archaeological Society I 1856-57, (Dublin 1858) pp 203-229.

[275] Bernadette Cunningham, The World of Geoffrey Keating, (Dublin 2000), p.109

[276] O’Donovan, Florence MacCarthy to Thomond

[277] Ibid.

[278] Ibid.

[279] Cunningham, The World of Geoffrey Keating p.126

[280] O’Donovan, Florence MacCarthy to Thomond

[281] Daniel MacCarthy to Dorchester 1630, McCarthy, Letter Book p.437

[282] cited in O’Donovan, Florence MacCarthy to Thomond, This was the son of Daniel MacCarthy who converted to Protestantism.

[283] Charles Smith, The Ancient and Present State of the County of Cork, (Dublin 1774) p.27

[284] Cecil O’Rahilly, Five Seventeenth Century Political Poems, (Dublin 1955), pp 77-78

MacCarrtha Mór is a shliocht in aonacht,… is na trí mic rí do bhí fé sin, Tiarna Mór Musgraidhe méithe, is Maccarrtha Riabhach ó Chúl Méin’

[285] Daniel MacCarthy’s Letter Book of Florence McCarthy Reagh is the best example, but see also the chapter, ‘Florence MacCarthy, an Elizabethan Romance’ in M.F Cusack,., A History of City and County of Cork, (Dublin 1875). Standish O’Grady, was scathing about Florence and his contemporaries lack of idealism in his introduction and commentary to the 1896 edition of Pacata Hibernia, a good example of the 19th century tendency to confuse the politics of the present with those of the past.

[286] Florence to Cecil, 12 December 1599 McCarthy, Letter Book pp 213-215

[287] Pacata Hibernia Vol. III p.139

[288] Although I have suggested that Florence’s correspondence with the rebels, particularly after his final submission to Carew, shows a realisation that his hopes of remaining MacCarthy Mor depended on a Spanish and rebel victory.

[289] Nicholas Browne to Burghley, December 4 1594, McCarthy, Letter Book p. 123.  McCarthy, Letter Book pp 148-149.

[290] Florence to Cecil, May 6 1600 McCarthy, Letter Book p.274

MacCarthy’s Last Stand

Sir Charles MacCarthy inherited a difficult situation as British Colonial Governor of Africa’s Gold Coast.   Ongoing disputes with the powerful Ashanti tribe led to war in 1824.


Starting with a 6,000-man force, MacCarthy divided it into four uneven columns.    The column under MacCarthy’s own personal command numbered a mere 500, against 10,000 Ashanti.    When the Ashanti initiated battle on 20 January, the other three British columns were miles away and were unable to reinforce MacCarthy.

At the battle’s onset, MacCarthy ordered his bandsmen to play ‘God Save the King’, thinking this would scare the Ashanti away.    It did not.    A ferocious battle ensued; MacCarthy’s troops holding their own until ammunition began running out.    Hard-pressed, MacCarthy called up his reserve ammunition, only to find macaroni instead of bullets !

The Ashanti warriors overran and massacred the British force of 500, with only 20 survivors.    MacCarthy was killed, his heart eaten and his head used as a fetish for years by the Ashanti King.

Charles MacCarthy (15 February 1764 – 21 January 1824) was an Irish-born soldier who served in the French, Dutch and British armies, and was a colonial governor of various British territories in West Africa.

He was born in Cork in Ireland, the son of the French émigré Jean Gabriel Guérault and his wife Charlotte Michelle;  he changed his name at an early age to MacCarthy, his mother’s maiden name, on the advice of his uncle Thaddeus MacCarthy, a colonel in the French regiment of Life Guards of Louis XV.


In 1785, at the age of 21, he joined the Irish Brigade of the French army, as a sub-lieutenant in the Régiment de Berwick;  by 1791 he had attained the rank of Captain, and was serving with the émigré royalist army under Louis Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé in Germany.   He later served with the army of the Dutch Republic as a volunteer;  then in Damas’ Regiment (French Army), from 1793 to 1794, and was wounded in the leg during an action outside Louvain on 15 July 1794.


Regiment Berwick, Irish Brigade of France


Infantrymen of Irish Brigade of France

Infantrymen of Irish Brigade of France

Damas’ Regiment

Damas’ Regiment


Damas’ Regiment, French Army

Damas’ Regiment, French Army

He subsequently saw service in the Duc de Castries’s Regiment of the émigré army.    And, when the Irish Brigade of France was reorganized in British pay during late 1794 (to fight the anti-Royalist French Revolutionaries), he was appointed an ensign in the Irish Regiment of Le Comte de Conway (the 6th Regiment of the Irish Brigade of France), and saw service in the West Indies with the Irish Regiment of Le Comte de Walsh-Serrant (the 2nd Regiment) from 1796 to 1798.   Returning from Honduras on the transport-ship ‘HMS Calypso’ in June 1798 with the grenadier company of that Irish regiment, he was wounded whilst in a day-long action fighting off a Revolutionary-French privateer.


Duc de Castries’s Regiment


The Irish Brigade was disbanded as a whole in late 1798.

Charles MacCarthy received his first British commission on 17 October 1799, when he was appointed to command a company of the 11th West India Regiment, and transferred to a captaincy in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot on 15 March 1800.    He was appointed a Major in the New Brunswick Fencible Infantry (later the 104th Foot) on 14 April 1804 and remained with them until 1811, when he received a Lieutenant-Colonelcy in the Royal African Corps.

West India Regiment

West India Regiment

He married Antoinette Carpot in 1812, and had one son, Charles;  he would be adopted by his uncle, the (Count) Comte de Mervé after his father’s death, and succeed to that title on his uncle’s death as a naturalized French citizen.

Also during 1812 he was appointed the British Governor of Senegal and Île de Gorée.   When these territories were returned to France by the Treaty of Paris, he was appointed as the British colonial Governor of Sierra Leone.

As governor, he took a strong interest in the welfare of the colony, actively encouraging the building of housing and schools.   He was a correspondent of William Wilberforce, and founded many settlements for liberated slaves.

52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot

52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot

Royal African Corps

Royal African Corps

In addition, he arranged for the support and education of native children whose parents had been captured by slavers, in schools run by the Church Missionary Society.   As a result of this involvement, he became a campaigner for the complete suppression of the slave trade – whilst the slave trade was abolished in the United Kingdom and its territories, the slave trade was still active in West African waters, using ships nominally flagged in countries which had not yet abolished it.


MacCarthy was knighted by the British on 21 November 1820 ;  and on 19 July 1821 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General in West Africa.

After the African Company of Merchants was abolished in 1821, for its failure to suppress the slave trade efficiently, the Gold Coast was taken on as a crown colony, and placed under the government of Sierra Leone;  he became the governor of both.   ‘MacCarthy Island’ in Gambia was named in his honour whilst governor.



In late 1823, following the disagreements between the Fantis and the Ashantis (African tribes), MacCarthy declared war on the king of the Ashanti 1;   after organising the defences of Cape Coast, he set out with an expedition of some 80 men of the Royal African Colonial Corps, 170 men of the Cape Coast Militia, and 240 Fanti tribesmen under subordinate-command of their local chiefs.   He was accompanied by a captain and an ensign of the 2nd West India Regiment, as aides-de-camp, a surgeon of the same regiment, and J. T. Williams, his colonial secretary.


This was not the only part of his force;  three other groups of infantry were in the region, one of 600 regulars of the Royal African Colonial Corps and 3,000 native levies, one of 100 regulars and militia and 2,000 levies (under Major Alexander Gordon Laing), and a third of 300 regulars and militia and 6,000 levies. The plan was for the four groups to converge and then engage the enemy with overwhelming force.

word-imageOn the night of the 20th, still without having joined forces with the other three groups, MacCarthy’s force camped by a tributary of the Pra River.   The next day, at around 2pm, they encountered a large enemy force of around ten thousand men;  in the belief that the Ashanti army contained several disaffected groups whose chiefs were willing to defect, MacCarthy instructed the band to play the British National Anthem loudly.   The Ashanti responded by approaching closer, beating war drums, and his belief in intelligence regarding several disaffected chiefs being willing to defect was very quickly dispelled.

word-imageFighting started shortly thereafter;  the two sides were separated by a 60-foot-wide (18 metres) stream, which the Ashanti made no major attempt to ford ;  both sides contented themselves with staying firm and keeping up continual musket-fire.   However, MacCarthy’s British forces were lightly supplied ;  the ‘African bearers’ (native carriers) bringing the supplies up in the rear, which included most of the gunpowder and ammunition, nearly all fled after hearing the firing in the distance and then encountering African deserters straggling back.   Only one additional barrel of powder and one barrel of shot were brought up, and ammunition ran out around 4pm;the Ashanti then made a determined attempt to cross the river, and quickly broke into the British camp.



Almost all the British force were killed immediately;  only around 20 managed to escape.

MacCarthy, along with the ensign and his secretary, attempted to fall back;  but he was wounded by rifle-fire, and killed by a second shot shortly thereafter.


Ensign Wetherell was killed whilst trying to defend MacCarthy’s body and Williams taken prisoner.

On Wetherell’s return, he related that he had only survived through being recognised by an Ashanti chief for whom he had done a small favour, and was spared;

he was held prisoner for several months, locked in a hut which he shared with the severed heads of MacCarthy and Wetherell, kept as trophies of war.   McCarthy’s gold-rimmed skull was later used as a drinking-cup by the Ashanti rulers.

However, killing MacCarthy was not quite the end of the matter for the Ashanti :  and they were to about to have good reason to regret their ‘rough treatment’ of Sir Charles MacCarthy …

Brigadier Garnet Wolseley – ‘an Irishman on campaign’, West Africa

Brigadier Garnet Wolseley – ‘an Irishman on campaign’, West Africa

Sir Charles MacCarthy was quickly avenged by yet another Irishman in the British Army :  Brigadier Garnet Wolseley;  who was sent out from Ireland to restore British prestige in West Africa and to smash the upstart Ashantis.

Brigadier Garnet Wolseley 2 with 2,500 British troops and several thousand West Indian and African troops (including some Fante tribesmen) was sent against the Ashanti, and he subsequently became a household name in Britain. His Ashanti campaign was covered by war correspondents.

Military and medical instructions were printed for the troops.

However, the British government refused appeals to interfere with British armaments manufacturers who sold to both sides.


In 1873, Garnet Wolseley went to the Gold Coast in West Africa and, having made his plans and logistical arrangements before the arrival of his troops in January 1874, was able to complete the campaign in two months, and re-embark his soldiers for home before the unhealthy season began.    He fought the Battle of Amoaful on 31 January of that year, and, after five days’ hard fighting, ended with the Battle of Ordashu.    There were only 300 British casualties.


The Ashanti capital, Kumasi, was abandoned by the Ashanti tribe and it was briefly occupied by the British … and burned.    The British were impressed by the size of the

palace and the scope of its contents, including “rows of books in many languages.”


H.M. Kofi Karikari, King of the Ashanti


Queen Mother of Ejisu

The Asantahene, the ruler of the Ashanti signed a harsh British treaty, the ‘Treaty of Fomena’ in July 1874, to end the war.    Among articles of the treaty between H.M. Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and H.M. Kofi Karikari, King of Ashanti were that “The King of Ashanti promises to pay the sum of 50,000 ounces of approved gold as indemnity for the expenses he has occasioned to Her Majesty the Queen of England by the late war…”

Wolseley accepting the surrender of the Ashanti tribe

Wolseley accepting the surrender of the Ashanti tribe


The treaty also stated that “There shall be freedom of trade between Ashanti and Her Majesty’s forts on the [Gold] Coast, all persons being at liberty to carry their merchandise from the Coast to Kumasi, or from that place to any of Her Majesty’s possessions on the Coast.”    Furthermore, the treaty stated that “The King of Ashanti guarantees that the road from Kumasi to the River Pra shall always be kept open…”


Garnet Wolseley received the thanks of both houses of Parliament (and a grant of £25,000), and was promoted to brevet major-general for distinguished service in the field; he received the campaign medal and clasp and was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG), as well as being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.    The ‘Freedom of the City’ of London was conferred upon him with a sword of honour, and he was made honorary Doctor of Civil Law of Oxford university and a Legum Doctor of Law for Cambridge university.

Insignia of a Knight Commander of the Bath  

Insignia of a Knight Commander of the Bath

Insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George

Insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George

Africa General Service Medal, clasp ‘Coomassie’ - Back

Africa General Service Medal, clasp ‘Coomassie’ – Back


Africa General Service Medal, clasp ‘Coomassie’ – Front

Some British accounts pay tribute to the hard fighting of the Ashanti at Amoaful, particularly the tactical insight of their commander, Amanquatia: “The great Chief

Amanquatia was among the killed …    Admirable skill was shown in the position selected by Amanquatia, and the determination and generalship he displayed in the defence fully bore out his great reputation as an able tactician and gallant soldier.”

Ashantee War-Uniform of Royal Engineers destined for the scene of action

Ashantee War-Uniform of Royal Engineers destined for the scene of action

The campaign is also notable for the first recorded instance of a traction engine being employed on war service.    Steam sapper number 8 (made by Aveling and Porter) was shipped out and assembled at Cape Coast Castle 3.    As a traction engine it had limited success but gave good service when employed as a stationary engine driving a large circular saw.


Cape Coast Castle, inner courtyard


Cape Coast Castle (seaward)


But the Ashanti War of 1873 – 74 was not the end of conflict in the Gold Coast / Ghana region of West Africa.    It took another 50 years of intermittent warfare for the

British to finally and completely subdue the Ashanti tribe.

Foot Notes

 1         The Ashanti (also spelled ‘Asante’) Empire (1701–1957) was a West African sovereign state of the Ashanti people of Ashantiland (Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Central region, Eastern region, Greater Accra region, and Western region, of present-day southern Ghana).    The Ashanti ethnic group are a Akan origin, historically inhabiting an area known as Ashantiland.    They used their military power, which came from effective strategy and an early adoption of firearms, to create an Ashanti Empire that stretched from central Ghana to present-day Ivory Coast.    Due to the Ashanti Empire’s military prowess, wealth, architecture, sophisticated hierarchy and culture, the Ashanti Empire was studied by European scholars and had one of the largest historiographies by European, primarily British, sources of any indigenous Sub-Saharan African political entity.

From the 17th century AD, Asanteman king Osei Tutu (c. 1695 – 1717), along with Okomfo Anokye, established the Kingdom of Asanteman, with the ‘Golden Stool of Asante’ as a singular unifying symbol.    King Osei Tutu engaged in a massive Asante territorial expansion.    He built up the Ashanti army based on introducing new organization and turning a disciplined royal and paramilitary army into an effective fighting force.    In 1701, the Asanteman army conquered Denkyira, giving the Ashanti access to the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean coastal trade with Europeans, notably the Dutch.


Flag of the Ashanti Kingdom, featuring the central ‘Golden Stool’

The ‘Golden Stool’ is the royal and divine throne of the Akan people (Ashanti tribe).    According to legend, the High Priest and one of the two chief founders of the Asante Confederacy, caused the stool to descend from the sky and land on the lap of the first Asante king, Osei Tutu.    Such seats were traditionally symbolic of a chieftain’s leadership, but the ‘Golden Stool’ is believed to house the spirit of the Asante nation—living, dead and yet to be born.

Several wars have broken out over the ownership of the royal throne.    In 1896, Asantehene Prempeh I was deported rather than risk losing both the war and the throne.    In 1900, Sir Frederick Hodgson, the British Governor of the Gold Coast, demanded to be allowed to sit on the ‘Golden Stool’, and ordered that a search for it be conducted.    This provoked an armed rebellion known as the ‘War of the Golden Stool’, which resulted in the annexation of the Ashanti Empire into the British Empire, but preserved the sanctity of the ‘Golden Stool’.    In 1921, African road workers discovered the stool and stripped some of the gold ornaments.    They were taken into protective custody by the British, before being tried according to local custom and sentenced to death. The British intervened and the group was instead banished.    An assurance of non-interference with the stool was then given by the British and it was brought out of hiding.

In 1935 the stool was used in the ceremony to crown Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II.

The ‘Golden Stool’ is a curved seat 46 cm high with a platform 61 cm wide and 30 cm deep.    Its entire surface is inlaid with gold, and hung with bells to warn the king of impending danger.    It has not been seen by many and only the king, queen, true-prince Ofosu Sefa Boakye, and trusted advisers know the hiding place.

Replicas have been produced for the chiefs and at their funerals are ceremonially blackened with animal blood, a symbol of their power for generations.    The stool is one of the main focal points of the Asante today because it still shows succession and power.    Each stool is made from a single block of the wood of ‘Alstonia boonei’ (a tall forest tree with numinous associations) and carved with a crescent-shaped seat, flat base and complex support structure.    The many designs and symbolic meanings mean that every stool is unique;  each has a different meaning for the person whose soul it seats.    Some designs contain animal shapes or images that recall the person who used it.    The general shape of Asante stools has been copied by other cultures and sold worldwide.

the ‘Golden Stool’ being carried in public

the ‘Golden Stool’ being carried in public

Asantehene (King Opoko Ware II) next to the  ‘Golden Stool’ (on right) at Kumasi, Ghana

European contact with the Asante on the Gulf of Guinea coast region of Africa began in the 19th century.    This led to the Ashanti trading in gold, ivory, slaves, and other goods with the Portuguese.    On 15 May 1817 the Englishman Thomas Bowdich entered Kumasi.    He remained there for several months, was impressed,and on his return to England wrote a book, ‘Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee’.    His praise of the kingdom was disbelieved as it contradicted prevailing prejudices.    Joseph Dupuis, the first British consul in Kumasi, arrived on March 23, 1820.    Both Bowdich and Dupuis secured a treaty with the Asantehene.    But, the governor, Hope Smith, did not meet Ashanti expectations.

Asantehene (King Opoko Ware II) next to the  ‘Golden Stool’ (on right) at Kumasi, Ghana

Asantehene (King Opoko Ware II) next to the ‘Golden Stool’ (on right) at Kumasi, Ghana

Slavery was a historical tradition in the Ashanti Empire, with slaves typically taken as captives from enemies in warfare.    The status of slaves ranged from acquiring wealth and intermarrying with members of the master’s family to being sacrificed in funeral ceremonies.    The Ashanti used their personal beliefs to justify slavery and human sacrifice, believing that slaves would follow their masters into the afterlife.

word-imageAshanti homes in Asanteman, before British colonization

Ashanti homes in Asanteman, before British colonization

Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, Lord Wolseley

Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, Lord Wolseley

2        Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, KP, GCB, OM, GCMG, VD, PC (4 June 1833 – 25 March 1913) was an Irish officer in the British Army.    He was educated in Dublin and first worked in a surveyor’s office.    After being commissioned as an officer in the British Army, he served in Burma, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, China, Canada, and widely throughout Africa — including his Ashanti campaign (1873–1874) and the Nile Expedition against Mahdist Sudan in 1884–85.    He served as Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces from 1895 to 1900.    His reputation for efficiency led to the late 19th-century English phrase “everything’s all Sir Garnet”, meaning “all is in perfect working order.”

Gilbert & Sullivan deliberately modeled the character of ‘Major-General Stanley’ – the “modern Major-General” – on Garnet Wolseley, in the operetta ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.

        Cape Coast Castle is one of about forty ‘slave castles’, or large commercial forts, built on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana) by European traders.    It was originally built by the Swedes for trade in timber and gold, but later used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Cape Coast, or ‘Cabo Corso’, is a fishing port, and the capital of Cape Coast Metropolitan District and Central Region of south Ghana.

Cape Coast was founded by the Oguaa tribe.    The Swedish later came to build the Cape Coast castle and so, Cape Coast grew around Cape Coast Castle, now a World Heritage Site.    It was converted to a castle by the Dutch in 1650, then expanded by the Swedes in 1652 and captured by the British in 1664.

image055Trade was an important motivator in the creation of fortresses and settlements on Cape Coast.    The various European countries that came to what is now the coast of Ghana created interpersonal, lasting relationships with the indigenous peoples as a method of ensuring long-term economic gain.    The acquisition of gold, slaves, honey, and the many other African goods that comprised the African leg of the ‘Triangular Trade’ was increasingly detrimental to the inhabitants of Cape Coast.    Cape Coast was where most of the slaves were held before their journey on the ‘Middle Passage’.


the slave-ship ‘La Amistad’ (Spanish for ‘Friendship’) was a 19th-century two-masted schooner, built in Spain

the slave-ship ‘La Amistad’ (Spanish for ‘Friendship’) was a 19th-century two-masted schooner, built in Spain

The ‘Middle Passage’ was the stage of the ‘triangular trade’ in which millions of people from Africa were shipped to the New World as part of the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade.    Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for purchased or kidnapped Africans, who were then transported across the Atlantic by the Europeans as slaves;  the slaves were then sold or traded for raw materials, which would be then transported back to Europe to complete the voyage.    Voyages on the ‘Middle Passage’ were a large financial undertaking, and they were generally organized by companies or groups of investors rather than individuals.


Traders from the Americas and Caribbean received delivery of the enslaved Africans.    European powers such as Portugal, England, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Brandenburg, as well as traders from Brazil and North America, all took part in this trade.    The enslaved Africans came mostly from eight regions:  Senegambia, Upper Guinea, Windward Coast, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, West Central Africa, and Southeastern Africa.

Danish-Norwegian slaver, ‘Fredensborg’

Danish-Norwegian slaver, ‘Fredensborg’

a Dutch slave-ship arrives in Virginia, 1619

a Dutch slave-ship arrives in Virginia, 1619

An estimated 15% of the African slaves died at sea, plus mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself during the process of dominant warlike tribes capturing and transporting the less powerful and less warlike tribes as slaves to the European slave-ships.    The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the ‘Middle Passage’ voyage is estimated at up to two million;  a broader look at African deaths directly attributable to the institution of slavery from 1500 to 1900 suggests up to four million African deaths.

For two hundred years, 1440–1640, Portuguese slavers had a near monopoly on the export of slaves from Africa.    During the eighteenth century, when the slave trade transported about 6 million Africans, British slavers carried almost 2.5 million of them.



  Nobility is a social class that possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than most other classes in a society, and membership is usually hereditary.   The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages relative to non-nobles, or may be largely honorary (e.g. ‘order of precedence’), and vary from country to country and from era to era. Pic2Pic1Historically, membership of the nobility in Ireland and the prerogatives thereof have been regulated or acknowledged by the Gaelic-Irish and Norse-Gaelic kings and chiefs, and later by the monarch or government of the British colonizers, thereby distinguishing the nobility from other sectors of the Irish upper-class.   Nonetheless, nobility per se has rarely constituted a closed caste;  acquisition of sufficient power, wealth, military prowess or royal favour has often enabled commoners to ascend into the nobility.   Some writers maintain this regular infusion of ‘new blood’ (from upwardly-mobile commoners) has maintained the vitality of the nobility in Ireland through its long and turbulent history.The Irish Nobility refers to persons who fall into one or more of the following categories of nobility:

  1. The Gaelic nobility of Ireland who were or are descendants in the male line of at least one historical grade of king ().   This group includes the descendants of the Norse-Gaelic (Irish-Viking) kings as well.
  2. The Hiberno-Norman or ‘Old English’ (Ireland) nobility who were the descendants of the settlers who came to Ireland from Wales, Normandy and England after the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 – 1171 AD.
  3. The ‘Peerage of Ireland’ who owe their British titles to those created by the English, and later British, monarchs of Ireland in their capacity as Lord or King of Ireland.

These three groups are not mutually exclusive.   There is a high degree of overlap between groups 1 and 2 (prior to the Treaty of Limerick in 1691).   There is a lesser degree of overlap between groups 2 and 3 (prior to the declaration of the Republic of Ireland).   There is also a lesser degree of overlap between groups 1 and 3.   Such overlaps may be personal (e.g. a Gaelic noble who was ‘re-granted’ his titles by King Henry VIII of England), or they may be geographical (i.e. different noble traditions co-existing in neighbouring parts of the country, which were only distinguished by the date when they were finally conquered by the English administration in Dublin castle).

Clann territories were under the rule and control of a Chief, whom was elected by a vote of ancestral descendents (within three generations, a process called Tanistry) of the preceding Chief.    The designation as Chief was also referred to as a King (Ri), Lord (Tiarna), or Captain of his countrie (or ‘captain of his nation’), all of which were roughly equivalent, prior to the collapse of the Gaelic order.   The concept of a hereditary ‘title’ originated with the adoption of English law, the policy of surrender and regrant and the collapse of the Gaelic order during the period from approximately 1585–1610.   Because the election of a new chief would almost always be from the same family (or families) within a tribal area, each family developed a long history of ruling within an area, which gave rise to the concept of Gaelic nobility.   However, ruling titles did not pass by hereditary descent; rather it was by election and bloodshed, given the absence of criminal penalties for the death of an opponent.

An Irish Chief

An Irish Chief, 1570 AD From John Derricke’s The Image of Irelande, which was written in 1578, with the woodcuts created between then and 1581, apparently from memory (or possibly sketches taken while he was in Ireland.)

Subsequent to the end of the MacCarthy Mór sovereignty in Desmond, descendants entitled to the highest Gaelic designation of ‘Chief of the Name’ of the MacCarthy Mór family, are also properly styled as Princes of Desmond.   A secondary title of the MacCarthy Mór would derive from the lordship designation of his sept.   For example, the current holder of the MacCarthy Mór ‘Chief of the Name’ title, Liam Trant McCarthy, is also titled as Lord of Kerslawny, by virtue of his position as senior-most in descent through the line of Sliocht Cormac of Dunguile (the Lordship of Kerslawny).   Present-day Gaelic nobles might be styled as either Flaith (prince), Ard Tiarna (high-lord), or Tiarna (lord).

The word Tiarna is from the old Irish-Gaelic word Tigerna, meaning ‘lord’ in the Gaelic world, approximately equal in rank to a ‘Baron’.   An amusing example is James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven, a Norman-Irish nobleman of an ‘Old English’ (Catholic) family, called Tiarna Beag or ‘Little Lord’ because of his small height.

An Ard Tiarna is a ‘high lord’, approximately equal in rank to a ‘Count’ or an ‘Earl’, although many of such higher-rank still happen to prefer the Gaelic-title on its own.

These Gaelic-Irish titles no longer attach to any territories.   They are honorifics, or, in legal parlance, ‘incorporeal hereditaments.’   Any lands which historically related to any given title, have long since become simply footnotes in the history of the title.   In some cases, historically-provable Gaelic-Irish titles which resided (as ‘incorporeal hereditaments’) within the patrimony of Gaelic-Irish royal houses have been re-granted in modern times, in instances where the male line of the original title-holder(s) became extinct.


In later Gaelic sources, for example the Annals of the Four Masters, the term Ard Tiarna has also been frequently used to replace the title (king) in cases where the authors or current tradition no longer regarded earlier regional and local dynasts as proper kings, even when they are styled such in contemporary sources.

In Gaelic-Ireland each person belonged to an agnatic kin-group known as a fine (plural: finte) or clann (plural: clanna).   This was a large group of related people supposedly descended from one progenitor through male forebears.   It was headed by a male chieftain, known in Old Irish as a cennfine or toísech (plural: toísig).   Although these groups were primarily based on blood-kinship, they also included those who were fostered into the group and those who were accepted into it for other reasons.   (They would be better thought of as akin to the modern-day corporation.)

Succession to the chieftainship or kingship was through Tanistry.   When a man became chieftain or king, a relative was elected to be his deputy or ‘tanist’ (Irish-Gaelic: tánaiste, plural tanaistí).   When the chieftain or king died, his Tanist would automatically succeed him.   The Tanist had to share the same great-grandfather as his predecessor and he was elected by freemen who also shared the same great-grandfather.   This group of relatives was known as the Derbhfine.   Tanistry meant that the kingship usually went to whichever relative was deemed to be the most fitting and capable.   Sometimes there would be more than one Tanist at a time and they would succeed each other in order of seniority.   Some Anglo-Norman lordships in Ireland later adopted Tanistry from the Irish.

Gaelic-Ireland was divided into a hierarchy of territories ruled by a hierarchy of kings or chiefs.   The smallest territory was the túath (plural: túatha), which was typically the territory of a single kin-group.   It was ruled by a rí túaithe (king of a túath) or toísech túaithe (leader of a túath).   Several túatha formed a mór túath (over-kingdom), which was ruled by a rí mór túath or ruirí (over-king).   Several mór túatha formed a cóiced (province), which was ruled by a rí cóicid or rí ruirech (provincial king).   In the early Middle Ages the túatha was the main political unit, but over time they were subsumed into bigger conglomerate territories and became much less important politically.

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Gaelic-Irish society was structured hierarchically, with those further up the hierarchy generally having more privileges, wealth and power than those further down.

  • The top social layer was the sóernemed, which included kings, tanists, chieftains, highly skilled poets (fili), clerics, and their immediate families.   The roles of a fili included reciting traditional lore, eulogising the king and satirising injustices within the kingdom.   Before the Christianization of Ireland, this group also included the druids (druí) and vates (fáith).   The druids combined the roles of priest, judge, scholar, poet, physician, and religious teacher, while the vates were oracles.
  • Below that were the dóernemed, which included professionals such as jurists (brithem), physicians, skilled craftsmen, skilled musicians, scholars, and so on.   A master in a particular profession was known as an ollam (modern spelling:  ollamh).   The various professions — including law, poetry, medicine, history and genealogy — were associated with particular families and the positions became hereditary.   Since the poets, jurists and doctors depended on the patronage of the ruling families, the end of the Gaelic order brought their demise.
  • Below that were freemen who owned land and cattle (for example the bóaire).
  • Below that were freemen who did not own land or cattle, or who owned very little.
  • Below that were the unfree, which included serfs and slaves.   Slaves were typically criminals (debt slaves) or prisoners of war.   There is no evidence to suggest that slavery in Gaelic Ireland was anything more than a marginal phenomenon of luxury for the nobles.
  • The warrior bands (fianna) generally lived apart from society.   A fian was typically composed of young men who had not yet come into their inheritance of land.   A member of a fian was called a fénnid and the leader of a fian was a rígfénnid.   Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf.   But during the summer, from Bealtaine to Samhain, they were beholden to live by hunting for food and for hides to sell.

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Although distinct, these social ranks were not utterly exclusive castes like those of India.   It was possible to rise or sink from one social rank to another.   Rising upward could be achieved a number of ways, such as by gaining wealth, by gaining skill in some department, by qualifying for a learned profession, by showing conspicuous valour, or by performing some service to the community.   An example of the latter is a person choosing to become a briugu (hospitaller).   A briugu had to have his house open to any guests, which included feeding no matter how big the group.   For the briugu to fulfill these duties, he was allowed more land and privileges, but this could be lost if he ever refused guests.


A freeman could further himself by becoming the client of one or more lords.   The lord made his client a grant of property (i.e. livestock or land) and, in return, the client owed his lord yearly payments of food and fixed amounts of work.   The clientship agreement could last until the lord’s death.   If the client died, his heirs would carry on the agreement.   This system of clientship enabled social mobility as a client could increase his wealth until he could afford clients of his own, thus becoming a lord.   Clientship was also practised between nobles, which established hierarchies of homage and political support.


Ireland became Christianized between the 5th and 7th centuries.   Pope Adrian IV, the only English (Anglo-Norman) pope, had already issued a ‘Papal Bull’ in 1155 AD giving the Anglo-Norman King Henry II of England authority to invade Ireland as a means of curbing Irish refusal to recognise Roman law (an as a means of eliminating the Irish Church, which was Orthodox, not ‘Roman’), and to collect a ‘papal tax’ from every household in Ireland (which is still collected by the Catholic Church to this day, and which is known as ‘Peter’s Pence’).

Importantly, for later English monarchs, the Papal Bull, Laudabiliter, maintained papal suzerainty over the island:

“There is indeed no doubt, as thy Highness doth also acknowledge, that Ireland and all other islands which Christ the Sun of Righteousness has illumined, and which have received the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the jurisdiction of St. Peter and of the holy Roman Church.”                                                          

King Henry II


Pope Adrian IV



An Example of Papal Bull

In 1166 AD, after losing the protection of High King Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, was forcibly exiled by a confederation of Irish forces under the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair.   Fleeing first to the English port-city of Bristol, and then to Normandy, Diarmait obtained permission from King Henry II of England to use his subjects to regain his kingdom.

Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster

Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster

By the following year he had obtained these services, and in 1169 AD the main body of Norman, Welsh, and Flemish forces landed in Ireland and quickly retook the Province of Leinster and the cities of Waterford and Dublin on behalf of Diarmait.     The leader of the Norman force, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as ‘Strongbow’, married Diarmait’s daughter, Aoife, and was named Tánaiste to the Kingdom of Leinster.   This caused consternation to King Henry II, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman Kingdom in Ireland.   Accordingly, he resolved to visit Leinster to establish his authority.


Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke


The Marriage of Aoife and ‘Strongbow’ by Daniel Maclise (1854), a romanticised depiction of the union between Aoife and Richard de Clare in the ruins of Waterford

The Marriage of Aoife and ‘Strongbow’
by Daniel Maclise (1854), a romanticised depiction of the union between Aoife and Richard de Clare in the ruins of Waterford

Henry landed in 1171 AD, proclaiming Waterford and Dublin as Royal Cities.   Adrian’s successor, Pope Alexander III, ratified the grant of Ireland to Henry in 1172 AD.   The 1175 AD Treaty of Windsor between Henry and Ruaidhrí maintained Ruaidhrí as High King of Ireland but codified Henry’s control of Leinster, Meath and Waterford.   However, with Diarmuid and ‘Strongbow’ dead, and with Henry back in England, and Ruaidhrí unable to curb his vassals, the high kingship rapidly lost control of the country.   King Henry, in 1185 AD, awarded his younger son, John, the title Dominus Hiberniae, ‘Lord of Ireland’.   This kept the newly created title and the Kingdom of England personally and legally separate.   However, when John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King of England in 1199 AD, the Lordship of Ireland fell back into personal union with the Kingdom of England.

Arms of the Lordship of Ireland

Arms of the Lordship of Ireland

By 1261 AD, the weakening of the Anglo-Norman Lordship had become manifest following a string of military defeats.   In the chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land.   The invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce from Scotland in 1315 – 1318 AD at a time of famine, weakened the Norman economy.

Edward Bruce at the Battle of Faughart

Edward Bruce at the Battle of Faughart

The Black Death broke out in Ireland in the Year 1348 AD

The Black Death broke out in Ireland in the Year 1348 AD

The annalists give fearful accounts of this ‘visitation’.   Black Death appeared in Dublin first, and so fatal were its effects, that four thousand souls are said to have perished there from August to Christmas 1348 AD.   Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements.   After the Black Death had passed, Gaelic-Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again.   The English-controlled area shrank back to ‘the Pale’, a fortified area around Dublin.   Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords intermarried with Gaelic noble families, adopted the Irish language and customs and sided with the Gaelic-Irish in political and military conflicts against the English Lordship of Ireland.   They became known as the ‘Old English’, and in the words of a contemporary English commentator, were “more Irish than the Irish themselves.”

Ireland in 1450 showing lands held by native Irish (green), the Anglo-Irish (blue) and the English king (red).

Ireland in 1450 showing lands held by native Irish (green), the Anglo-Irish (blue) and the English king (red).

The authorities in the Pale worried about the Gaelicisation of Norman Ireland, and passed the ‘Statutes of Kilkenny’ in 1366 AD banning those of English-descent from speaking the Irish language, wearing Irish clothes or inter-marrying with the Irish.

However, the English government in Dublin had little real authority.   By the end of the fifteenth century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared.   England’s attentions were diverted by the ‘Hundred Years’ War’ against the French (1337–1453) … and then by the ‘Wars of the Roses’, which were a series of dynastic wars (1450 – 1485 AD) for the throne of England  (the ‘Wars of the Roses’ were fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, being the houses of Lancaster and York).   Around the country, local Gaelic-Irish and Gaelicised-Norman lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin.

Following the failed attempt by the Scottish Prince Edward Bruce to drive the Normans out of Ireland, there emerged a number of important Gaelic kingdoms and Gaelic-controlled lordships.


  • Connacht.   The Ó Conchobhair dynasty, despite their setback during the Bruce wars, had regrouped and ensured that the title King of Connacht was not yet an empty one.   Their stronghold was in their homeland of Sil Muirdeag, from where they dominated much of northern and northeastern Connacht.   However, after the death of Ruaidri mac Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair in 1384 AD, the dynasty split into two factions, Ó Conchobhair Don and Ó Conchobhair Ruadh.   By the late 15th century, internecine warfare between the two branches had weakened them to the point where they themselves became vassals of more powerful lords such as Ó Domhnaill of Tír Chonaill and the Hyberno-Norman Clan Burke of Clanricarde.   The Mac Diarmata Kings of Moylurg retained their status and kingdom during this era, up to the death of Tadhg Mac Diarmata in 1585 (last de facto King of Moylurg).   Their cousins, the Mac Donnacha of Tír Ailella, found their fortunes bound to the Ó Conchobhair Ruadh.   The kingdom of Uí Maine had lost much of its southern and western lands to the Norman Clanricardes, but managed to flourish until repeated raids by Ó Domhnaill in the early 16th century weakened it.     Other territories such as Ó Flaithbeheraigh of Iar Connacht, Ó Seachnasaigh of Aidhne, O’Dowd of Tireagh, O’Hara, Ó Gadhra, and Ó Maddan, either survived in isolation or were vassals for greater men.
  • Ulster:   The Ulaid proper were in a sorry state all during this era, being squeezed between the emergent Ó Neill of Tír Eógain in the west, the MacDonnells, Clann Aodha Buidhe, and the Anglo-Normans from the east.   Only Mag Aonghusa managed to retain a portion of their former kingdom with expansion into Iveagh.   The two great success stories of this era were Ó Domhnaill of Tír Chonaill and Ó Neill of Tír Eógain.   Ó Domhnaill was able to dominate much of northern Connacht to the detriment of its native lords, both ‘Old English’ and Gaelic, though it took time to suborn the likes of Ó Conchobhair Sligigh and Ó Ruairc of Iar Breifne.   Expansion southwards brought the hegemony of Tír Eógain, and by extension Ó Neill influence, well into the border lordships of Louth and Meath.   Mag Uidir of Fear Manach would slightly later be able to build his lordship up to that of third most powerful in the province, at the expense of the Ó Ruaircs of Iar Breifne and the MacMahons of Airgíalla.
  • Leinster:   Likewise, despite the adverse (and unforeseen) effects of Diarmait Mac Murchada’s efforts to regain his kingdom, the fact of the matter was that, of his twenty successors up to 1632 AD, most of them had regained much of the ground they had lost to the Normans, and exacted yearly tribute from the towns.   His most dynamic successor was the celebrated Art mac Art MacMurrough-Kavanagh.   The Ó Broin and Ó Tuathail largely contented themselves with raids on Dublin (which, incredibly, continued into the 18th century).   The Ó Mordha of Laois and Ó Conchobhair Falaighe of Offaly – the latter’s capital was Daingean – were two self-contained territories that had earned the right to be called kingdoms due to their near-invincibility against successive generations of Anglo-Irish.   The great losers were the Ó Melaghlins of Meath:  their kingdom collapsed despite attempts by Cormac mac Art O Melaghlain to restore it.   The royal family was reduced to vassal status, confined to the east shores of the River Shannon.   The kingdom was substantially incorporated into the Lordship of Meath which was granted to Hugh de Lacy in 1172 AD.
  • Munster:
    • The Kingdom of Desmond (South Munster) 


It was during this period that Finghin MacCarthy, King of Desmond, also known as Fineen of Ringrone (Fínghin Reanna Róin Mac Carthaigh), fought the Battle of Callann in August 1261, between the Normans, under John FitzGerald, and the Gaelic-Irish forces of the MacCarthy Reagh dynasty of Desmond.   The battle took place in the townland of Callan (or Collon) near modern day Kilgarvan, County Kerry.   The Anglo-Norman defeat at Callan is traditionally viewed as marking the expulsion of the Anglo-Normans, mainly the ‘Geraldines (FitzGeralds), from the south and their confinement to north of the rivers Maine and Laune.   North of the rivers suffered attack after attack from the MacCarthys for many years after Callan, but this is the region that would become Kerry.   It was largely Finghin MacCarthaigh’s victory against the Fitzgeralds that preserved Irish-Gaelic Desmond for the next three centuries.

  • The Kingdom of Thomond (North Munster):  despite huge setbacks, the descendants of Brian Bóruma had, by surviving the Second Battle of Athenry and winning the decisive battles of Corcomroe and Dysert O’Dea, been able to suborn their vassals and eradicate the Normans from their home kingdom of Thomond.   Their spheres of interest often met with conflict with Anglo-Normans such as the Earls of Desmond and Earls of Ormond, yet they ruled right up to the end of Gaelic-Ireland, and beyond, by expedient of joining the Protestant Church and becoming the O’Brien Earls of Thomond (a British title).

From 1536 AD, King Henry VIII of England decided to conquer Ireland and bring it under English control.   The Hiberno-Norman FitzGerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of the Lordship of Ireland (‘The Pale’) in the 15th century, had become unreliable allies for the English king … so, King Henry VIII resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions, or for foreign invasions of England.   To involve the Gaelic-Irish nobility and to allow them to retain their lands under English law, the English policy of ‘surrender and regrant’ was applied.

King Henry VIII of England

King Henry VIII of England

In 1541 AD, Henry upgraded Ireland from a ‘lordship’ to a ‘kingdom’, partly in response to his changing relationship with the papacy, which still had suzerainty over Ireland, following Henry’s break with the church.   Henry was proclaimed ‘King of Ireland’ at a meeting of the Irish Parliament that year.   This was the first meeting of the Irish Parliament to be attended by the Gaelic-Irish princes as well as the Hiberno-Norman aristocracy.

With the technical institutions of government in place, the next step was to extend the control of the ‘Kingdom of Ireland’ over all of its claimed territory.   This took nearly a century, with various English administrations in the process either negotiating or fighting with the independent Gaelic-Irish and ‘Old English’ lords.   The conquest of Ireland was completed during the reigns of England’s Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, after numerous bloody conflicts.

pic15 pic14

England’s ‘Tudor conquest of Ireland’  (or re-conquest) took place under the Tudor dynasty of English Kings and Queens during the 16th century.   Following a failed rebellion against the English crown by ‘Silken Thomas’ FitzGerald, the Earl of Kildare, in the 1530s, England’s King Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland by statute of the Parliament of Ireland, with the aim of restoring such central authority as had been lost throughout the country during the previous two centuries.   By conciliation and repression the conquest continued for sixty years, until 1603, when the entire country came under the nominal control of King James I, exercised through his ‘privy council’ at Dublin.   The English conquest of Ireland was complicated by the imposition of English law, language and culture, as well as by the extension of the Protestant ‘Church of England’ as the state religion of Ireland.   The Spanish Empire intervened several times at the height of the Anglo-Spanish War, and the Irish found themselves caught between their widespread acceptance of the Pope’s authority and the requirements of allegiance demanded of them by the English monarchy.   Upon completion of the ‘Tudor conquest of Ireland’, the polity of Gaelic-Ireland had been largely destroyed and the Spanish were no longer willing to intervene directly.   This left the way clear for extensive confiscation of land in Ireland by English, Scots, and Welsh colonists.

The flight into exile in 1607 of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell following their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the suppression of their rebellion in Ulster in 1603 is seen as the watershed of Gaelic-Ireland.   It marked the destruction of Ireland’s ancient Gaelic nobility following the English conquest, and it cleared the way for the ‘Plantation’ (colonization) of Ulster.   After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralised government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the Gaelic-Irish lordships.

After the destruction of the Old Gaelic Order which followed the Battle of Kinsale, the Irish in the island of Ireland have had to contend with hundreds of years of English rule, with every Irish generation has been repeatedly subjected to an on-going system of ridicule, persecution, and discrimination.   All of the historic English discriminatory legislation and Penal Laws regarding Ireland have impacted all Irish people to some degree or other – such as England’s actions to eliminate Gaelic law and culture.   Some particular actions by the British were also aimed at a particular segment or part of the Irish population.   One of those segments was small, and is actually now an extremely small percentage of the overall Irish nation (which is some 70 millions, worldwide).   These are the people who descend from the formerly ruling Gaelic-Irish families, pre-Battle of Kinsale –  who were the indigenous nobility of Gaelic-Ireland;  many of whose ancestors were killed by the English, or forced to leave Ireland with the ‘Wild Geese’, destined for a difficult and dangerous life in Europe and the New World – and, today, their descendants take great pride in the accomplishments of their Irish ancestors, and they wish to maintain an awareness of what the ancient Irish cultural and governmental/organisational history really was.

Since 1921, the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland have ruled the people of Ireland as successor governments to England’s rule from Dublin Castle … these successor governments, which are based on English Common Law and the Westminster parliamentary system (e.g. an unelected upper house), continue to use British titles as a form of respect in Ireland, while the old Gaelic titles are never mentioned.

Centuries of false propaganda and centuries of servitude on many levels, until Irish Independence in1921, resulted in a totally incorrect conception of the Old Gaelic Order of things, Chiefs-of-Name, etc.   Much of this was the result of deliberate English policy and prejudice, starting with their Surrender and Regrant policy of the mid 1500’s and culminating with the 1587 law under the first Queen Elizabeth I which ‘utterly abolished’ all Brehon law, Gaelic titles and successions, Irish cultural practices, language, religion, etc.    When in fact our Irish culture and governmental genius was far older and more advanced than theirs, only it was different, which the English refused to accept and thus decided to eliminate.   Forever.

And, the English laws to ‘utterly abolish’ all aspects of the heritage and culture of the Irish were added to, again and again, during the following centuries by specific local actions and other legislation.    The objective of the English was to completely eliminate the centuries-old Gaelic culture, referring to the nobility of Gaelic-Ireland as no more than ‘Chiefs of Savage Clans’ …

However, these ancient rights of the nobility of Ireland were never relinquished in international law, irrespective of the illegal suppression of our whole history by an invader, by force.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England and Ireland 7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England and Ireland
7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603

These Gaelic-Irish titles no longer attach to any territories.   They are honorifics, or, in legal parlance, ‘incorporeal hereditaments.’ *   Any lands which historically related to any given title, have long since become simply footnotes in the history of the title.

*     In law, a hereditament (from Latin hereditare, to inherit, from heres, heir) is any kind of property that can be inherited.   Hereditaments are divided into corporeal and incorporeal.   Corporeal hereditaments are “such as affect the senses, and may be seen and handled by the body; incorporeal are not the subject of sensation, can neither be seen nor handled, are creatures of the mind, and exist only in contemplation”.   An example of a corporeal hereditament is land held in freehold.   Examples of incorporeal hereditaments are hereditary titles of honor or dignity, heritable titles of office, coats of arms, prescriptive barony, rights of way, etc.

British titles have nothing to do with the former Kingdom of Desmond and have no relationship in terms of any Gaelic Irish titles anywhere in Ireland. They have nothing to do with the history or grants or definitions used by the Gaelic-Irish nobility when the Old Gaelic Order was operative in Ireland, or now.

Gaelic-Irish titles were – and are – the property of the various Irish royal houses and their subordinates per documentation, historical usage and ‘chief rents’ paid, etc.  

Gaelic-Irish titles and usages/inheritances have no legal relationship to any laws ever passed by any British government, or by any government in Ireland still ruled by a British government in one of its personalities.   Those governments had no right to outlaw Gaelic-Irish titles/practices, or legislate about Irish structures, however much those governments tried to abolish by force and duress the Old Gaelic Order, including Gaelic-Irish titles.    Thus English-inspired laws abolishing Gaelic-Irish titles (or abolishing ‘feudalism’ 1660 – 1662) or any other law on any subject passed when England/Great Britain/UK were controlling Ireland have nothing to do with the Old Gaelic Order, and are rejected as irrelevant.

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Those Irish structures and the Brehon Law relating to them are not subject to any laws passed relating to them by any current Irish government, as that government is a ‘successor state’ and operates under the historic English common law which it accepted in lieu of historic Irish law.   In effect, the Irish government of today has nothing legally to say either about historic Gaelic titles or about British titles emanating from the ‘previous’ de facto British government in Ireland.

(Nonetheless, there are people in Ireland – and in what was the Kingdom of Desmond – who still legally bear titles emanating from a British government prior to Irish independence in 1922.   And they and many of their ancestors have proved their total commitment to Irish nationalism and freedom.   Many are ‘Irish’ in every manner including their birth and passports, and are publicly devoted to the idea of an Irish nation – which encompasses people of all backgrounds as citizens.)

It is important that the history and heritage of the Irish-titles of Old Gaelic Order lives on.   And, it is important that there are suitable cultural custodians for this aspect of the Old Gaelic Order, who will ensure these icons of our Gaelic history and heritage survive, and that they are passed on to future generations of Irishmen.

The Kingdom of Desmond Association, is only one of many recent initiatives among individuals, groups, academics, etc. to ‘recapture’ the total treasure of Irish history pre-Kinsale.    Which we ourselves have neglected since 1921 as is evident from simply looking at our own textbooks in Irish schools, which teach our own children very little about the Gaelic order of things, seemingly preferring to imply that Gaelic Ireland was a ‘republican’ world – which it never was, of course.

It is not difficult to understand that, after 1921, the British Empire’s ‘successor’ Irish Free State and the ‘successor’ Republic of Ireland *, who succeeded the English at Dublin Castle (with the ‘Irish State’ simply substituted for the ‘English Crown’),  would be opposed to the concept of an English-style of aristocracy in Ireland.   But for these Irish ‘successor’ governments to turn their backs on the existence of the native Irish nobility of the Old Gaelic Order, was to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water.”

*     The Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland are ‘successor governments’ to the British Empire :  as part of Irish ‘independence’, Ireland adopted English Common Law;  and ‘Crown Land’ became ‘State Land’, etc etc …

And, when a Brit’ titleholder comes to Ireland, his Brit’ title is used fawningly by people in the Irish government, whenever he is addressed.

It would be a step in the right direction if Irish Republic ‘successor’ governments would use the old Gaelic titles as a form of respect in Ireland, in the same way they continue to use British titles as a form of respect in Ireland …

The Ancient Pedigree of the MacCárthaigh Family

  1. Adam
  2. Seth
  3. Enos
  4. Cainan
  5. Mahalaleel
  6. Jared
  7. Enoch
  8. Methuselah
  9. Lamech
  10. Noah
  11. Shem
  12. Arphaxad
  13. SHelah
  14. Eber
  15. Peleg
  16. Reu
  17. Serug
  18. Nahor
  19. Terah
  20. Abraham
  21. Isaac
  22. Israel (Jacob)
  23. Judah (Genesis 49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah…”)
  24. Zerah (Fenius Farsaidh)
  25. Ethan (Nel or Nuil, married Scota of Pharoah Cingcres)
  26. Azariah (Gaedheal Glas)
  27. Easru (Easruth, Esru, Asruth; 1487 B.C; Egypt)
  28. Sru (Egypt/Crete)
  29. Heber Scot (Crete)
  30. Ayhainhain
  31. Tait (Scyithia)
  32. Aghenoin (Scythia)
  33. Lanh Fionn (Macagon or Moldovia)
  34. Heber (Eibhear Gluin Fhionn)
  35. Adhnoia (Adhnon Fionn)
  36. Nein Nuail (Nuadhad Nuagatt)
  37. Alloid (Alldad Abbadh of Gothland)
  38. Earchada (Gothland)
  39. Deagfatha (Gothland)
  40. Bratha
  41. Breogan of Bregantia
  42. Bille Whilom (1060/1024 B.C.)
  43. Gallam (King Milesius [Miledh] of Gaul contemporary of King Solomon 970 to 930 B.C; married to Scota)
  44. Heber
  45. Conmaol
  46. Eochaidh Faobhar Glas
  47. Eanna Airgthach
  48. Glas
  49. Ros
  50. Rotheacta
  51. Fearard
  52. Cas
  53. Munmoin
  54. Fualdergoid
  55. Cas Cedchaingnigh; Revised the study of the laws, poetry, and sciences which had become little practiced since the death of Amergin the Druid.
  56. Failbhe Iolcorach; Ordered stone walls be built between neighbors’ lands.
  57. Ronnach
  58. Rotheachta
  59. Eiliomh Ollfhionach
  60. Art Imleach
  61. Breas Rioghacta
  62. Seidnae Innaridh; First to pay his soldiers and put them under discipline. Previously their pay was what they could get from their enemies.
  63. Duach Fionn
  64. Eanna Dearg;
  65. Lughaidh Iardhonn
  66. Eochaidh
  67. Lughaidh
  68. Art; slain by his successor, uncle of the 53rd Monarch
  69. Olioll Fionn
  70. Eochaidh
  71. Lughaidh Lagha;
  72. Reacht Righ-dearg; so called the Red King due to his having a hand in the slaying of Queen Macha of the line of Ir. The only woman who was a Monarch of Ireland. He subdued the Pictish nation in Scotland
  73. Cobthach Caomh
  74. Moghcorb
  75. Fearcorb
  76. Adhamhra Foltcain
  77. Niadhsedhaman; 83rd Monarch cc.319 BC. In his time, through “the sorcery and witchcraft of his mother, the wild deer were usually driven home with the cows and tamely suffered themselves to be milked every day”.
  78. Ionadmaor; 87th Monarch c.218
  79. Lughaidh Luaighne; 89th Monarch cc.198 BC
  80. Cairbre Lusgleathan
  81. Duach Dalladh Deadha; 91st Monarch c.168 BC
  82. Eochaidh Garbh
  83. Muireadach Muchna
  84. Mofebhis; his wife. (A mistake here that O’Clery decided to leave as is. She was entered in the Irish Regal Roll instead of her son, Loich, and O’Clery did not choose to disrupt the sequence of numbers.)
  85. Loich Mor
  86. Eanna Muncain
  87. Dearg Theine; He had a competitor, Darin, in the Kingdom of Munster, of the line of Ithe. Ithe was the uncle of Milesius and the first (Milesian) discoverer of Ireland. They took turns being Monarch with the other one being governor of civil affairs.
  88. Dearg
  89. Magha Neid
  90. Eoghan Mor [Owen Mor] or, Eugene The Great. A wise prince and great warrior. He battled continually with “Conn of The Hundred Battles”, the 110th Monarch in A.D. 122. Finally they divided the Kingdom into equal parts. He was eventually slain by Conn. His name gives rise to the Eóganachta
  91. Olioll Olum. His second son, Cormac Cas, branches off to BRIAN BORU. Olioll Married the daughter of Conn, who had slain his father. She was a widow of a chief of Conn’s territory and her son demanded of Olioll that he should benefit from the agreement of their ancestors. Olioll refused and banished Maccon out of Ireland. He retired to Scotland and there soon collected a strong party of friends and relations. With the help of his Ireland relations he made war upon Olioll. The Monarch Art-Ean-Fhear’s forces joined Olioll in the great and memorable battle against Maccon at Magh Mucromha, near Athenry, where Art and seven of Olioll’s nine sons,by Sabina, died. Their army was totally defeated. By this victory, Maccon recovered his right to the Kingdom of Munster, and became Monarch for 30 years, leaving the Kingdom of Munster to his stepfather Olioll Olum, undisturbed. Olioll had two sons left, Cormac Cas and Cian. Olioll learned that after the death of his son Owen Mor, a son had been born to him named Feach. From Cormac Cas came the O’Briens, MacMahons, O’Kennedys and other nobility of Thomond. From Owen Mor came M’Carthy, O’Sullivan, O’Keeffe, and the nobility of Desmond. From Cian came O’Carroll, O’Meagher, O’Hara, O’Gara, etc.
  92. Owen Mor
  93. Fiacha (or Feach) Maolleathan
  94. Olioll Flann-beag; King of Munster for 30 years
  95. Lughaidh
  96. Connal Corc; from him the city Cork was named. To shun the unnatural love of his stepmother, he fled in his youth to Scotland where he married the daughter of the King of the Picts. One of his several sons was Main Leamhna who remained in Scotland and was ancestor of “Mor Mhoar Leamhna” i.e., Great Stewards of Lennox; from whom descended the Kings of Scotland and England of the Stewart or Stuart Dynasty.
  97. Nathfraoch
  98. Aongus or Aeneas; first Christian King of Munster, had 24 sons and 24 daughters. This King was baptized by St. Patrick. Offering to plant his Staff, or Crozier in the ground, the Saint accidently pierced the foot of Aeneas, whereby he lost much blood; but thinking this was a part of the ceremony, he patiently endured it until the Saint was done. (But this same story is also told:”Eochaidh, son of Fiachra, son of Eoghan, was baptised with Eoghan; during the ceremony the Apostle’s Staff is said to have accidently pierced the naked foot of the prince.”)
  99. Felim; second Christian King of Munster
  100. Crimthann 125th Monarch A.D. 365
  101. Aodh Dubh [Duff]; reigned 15 years
  102. Failbhe Flann. Reigned 40 years. He had a brother Fingin who reigned before him and there is dispute as who was the eldest. Because of this the Heber line ends here and splits off to MacCarthy from Failbhe, and O’Sullivan from Fingin. Died 637 A.D.
  103. Colga(n)
  104. Nad Froich
  105. Daolghus
  106. Donnghail
  107. Sneadghu
  108. Artghail
  109. Lachtna
  110. Buadh chain
  111. Ceallachan (d. 954 A.D; Caisel)
  112. Donnchadh
  113. Saoirlmeathach
  114. Carrtacch – The McCarthy Dynasties spring from this name:
    1. MacCarthy Mor
    2. MacCarthy of Duhallow
    3. MacCarthy Reagh
    4. MacCarthy of Muskerry





The succession to the chiefship of a name in Ireland has been a problem since the destruction of the Gaelic order of things after the Battle of Kinsale (1601-02) and certainly after the Cromwellian (1641-1652) and Williamite Wars (1689-91). Throughout our history the government of society in Ireland was based previously on our own Brehon Law, which was very precise in terms of the matter of who and why and how society was ‘managed’. Each clan or sept or sub-sept of a ‘name’ had a Chief-of-Name who was elected from an hereditary group within the name itself. The actual election was carried out by the ‘Derbhfine’, who were all those of the chiefly family descended from a common great-grandfather. Normally the election took place during the chiefship of a person, and involved the selection of the ‘Tanist’ or the person who would succeed the chief at his demise or his otherwise being incapacitated.

The Gaelic system indeed was adopted by a number of Hiberno-Norse and Norman-Irish families, who had in effect become ‘gaelicised’ and handled their own governing via Brehon Law. It must be immediately stated that the Irish practices differed profoundly from the English and Continental systems based on succession to titles by primogeniture. That was a system whereby the eldest son succeeded his father and was not at all one in which there was any election.

While not perfect, the Irish approach was based on the premise that the ‘best person’ electable should inherit from the then serving chief. And therefore the electee could be a nephew, uncle, cousin, as well as any son and not necessarily the eldest. Yes, there were disagreements and even battles between an electee and one or more of those who were not selected, but who felt wronged. But by and large it was a very well-functioning system and in keeping with the Irish customs and social mores as well. For a Chief-of-Name of any clan was responsible for the whole clan and he himself was not the ‘owner’ of the land but rather the trustee for the land of the people within his chiefship. Thus avoided was any purely selfish motive of wanting his inheritances of property and lands or whatever to go to his ‘immediate’ family of his own son or sons. Whereas, again, under English law, the king or other noble was assured under primogeniture that his eldest son would succeed him (even if not really the most capable). And also of course, the English system was based on the king or noble being the owner in fee simple of all the lands he controlled, with the people receiving only what he allowed them to use for cash or other payments under a feudal system. The overlord always retained the power to reject a succession or to simply withhold recognitions as he saw fit.

One of the main contentions between the English and Irish from the entry into Ireland in 1169-72 was the differences between the English law of inheritances and tenure of lands and that of the Irish. The English came to be determined to impose their system and to totally eliminate Brehon Law and its processes of organization of society to include Irish chiefly inheritances.

We all know that indeed the English eventually succeeded, totally, based on their victory at Kinsale (1602), the Flight of the Earls (1607) and the great part of the Irish clan system was already gone due to Cromwellian organization and confiscations (circa 1655). The invader accomplished this infamy even though the bulk of Norman-Irish sided with the Gaelic-Irish in the 1641 uprising leading to the entry of Cromwell. Based on adherence to Gaelic values and Brehon Laws the invader lumped all together, Gaelic-Irish or Norman-Irish as simply ‘Irish papists’. And all suffered the same consequences of the harsh discriminatory laws imposed against all ‘mere Irish’.

Tanistic succession was specifically ‘utterly and completely abolished’ by a variety of laws stemming from the times of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. The penalties for using Irish practices such as tanistry and Brehon Law were severe, to include death! Irish ‘chiefly successions’ and usages were absolutely proscribed and those laws were thoroughly enforced after Kinsale.

Irish Chiefly Successions – The Current Situation

As said, chiefly succession under the Gaelic system basically ended in Ireland by 1655. And with the ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’ after the Williamite War (1691) was only carried on in exile, and that only within a limited number of families. Within Ireland only a very very few chiefly families were able to pass the titles along, as everything had to be done in total secret – which was extremely difficult given the control of the English government.

When the Penal Laws against Catholics and dissenters began to be relaxed, starting particularly in the mid-19th century, a few Chiefs-of-Name who managed to survive secretly in Ireland did begin to use their chiefly designations. Chiefs such as O Donoughue of the Glens, O Long, and O Conor Don. Then, when Ireland secured some vestige of freedom as the Irish Free State in 1922 there began to again be some interest shown in ‘the Gaelic Order’ and the historic chiefships. Of course the new Ireland was and is republican, and adopted English Common Law as the basis of its legal system – and did not revert to the historic Brehon Law. Those are complicated subjects which it is not within the scope of this article to discuss, dealing as we are with chiefly successions specifically.

By 1944 the government of Eamon DeValera recognized that some sort of recognition should be given to those who claimed to hold ancient Irish Chief-of-Name titles/designations. The responsibility for the control and administration of the policy was passed to an official in the National Library and an office of Chief Herald of Ireland came to be created. When Ireland appointed its first new Chief Herald, it did not reintroduce Irish Tanistry.   The Irish state granted ‘courtesy recognition’ to Irish chiefs based on ENGLISH primogeniture from the last known chief. From 1944 until 2003 that office indeed made the decision on which chiefships were correctly held and which were not. But the office made a number of errors, and actually should never have been involved in Irish chiefly successions in the first place. This is given that the Irish State does not recognise titles, including those of its own historic nobles, and in any case under Brehon Law it is only the Derbhfine of the clan which has control over the approval of the Chief-of-Name! By 2003 the government recognized the problems and contradictions and ordered the office of Chief Herald to cease to involve itself in chiefly recognitions. Thus the policy of ‘courtesy recognition’ ended.

As of now, 2014, therefore, here is the situation in a nutshell: in 1989 there was an initiative which led to the formation of Clans of Ireland, Ltd. This was certainly an excellent step forward, in terms of helping to organize ‘clans’ of people with the same surname. The organization continues to do good work, and there are about 70 or so clans which are members. Clans of Ireland has membership criteria, helps with meetings and general advice. That advice includes the recommendation that a ‘chief’ be elected from among those active in clan work. The great majority of clans do not have an hereditary chief, and thus the election of a chief is strictly ‘honourary’ and, of course, is outside of historic Brehon Law. Most elections are for a set period of a year or two, when another election takes place for a new honourary chief.

In addition to Clans of Ireland, the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains also came into existence (1991). This council is composed of the limited number of Chiefs-of-Name who indeed have been able to prove descent from a former Chief-of-Name who existed under the Gaelic order of things, pre 1691 – continuing secretly in Ireland or in exile. There are now about 16-17 members, though a few are inactive and do not attend meetings, etc., e.g. The Fox, The O Donnell. The council relied on the office of Chief Herald to vet eligibility, and made admissions based on that office’s approval of family descent. That has ceased since 2003 when the Chief Herald was removed by government action from continuing the policy of ‘courtesy recognitions’, as said. Since then the council has not made any admissions (though there are several applications which have been submitted, a few a number of years ago). It has made clear that it still wishes some sort of Irish government action as regards the hereditary chiefships, if not restarting ‘courtesy recognitions’ then at least registering descents. Besides the few hereditaries on the council, there are approximately 10 or so other claimants to hereditary titles who appear to indeed have valid claims to a chiefship or chieftainship of a branch of the name. A few recognized Chiefs-of-Name, for their own reasons, did not choose to become members of the council and have not applied for membership, e.g. O Neill Mor of Spain, O Carroll of Oriel, the current and legitimate MacCarthy Mor.

A few of the clans within Clans of Ireland, a few only, are headed by the hereditary Chief-of-Name who also belongs to the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs, e.g. O Brien, MacDermott Prince of Coolavin.

In summary, only those chiefs on the Standing Council can be said to be in continuity with the historic Brehon Law practices (though many of those succeeded under primogeniture versus Derbhfine selection). That is, they maintain the historic ‘center of gravity’ which is of the essence in terms of the perpetuation of a name/clan — election within a particular family via its Derbhfine and its descent from a formerly-reigning chief during the Gaelic order of things. It is only with an hereditary center that a clan can truly be reflective of historic Irish practices. The election of ‘honourary chiefs’ via Clans of Ireland is fine. No complaints if that is what a clan wishes to do, but now there is an alternate approach to chiefship succession, which can be fully in accord with Brehon Law. Brehon Law which does not have to stay ‘dead’, but it indeed can be reactualised and modified realistically for our own modern day. And in the light of the tragedy of the thousands of Irish names which have lost their centers of gravity due to the wars and persecutions. And to overcome the loss of their hereditary chiefships. The Scots know this, and it is now time to speak of the ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’ approach used in Scotland to overcome what the Scots regard as a great shame and an historic incorrectness: not having an hereditary chief.

The ‘Honourable Community’

In Scotland, as in Ireland prior to the demise of the Gaelic order by the end of the 17th century, a ‘clan’ (children, family), is known as an ‘Honourable Community’. This is the Gaelic culture, and organization, historic from time-immemorial. The invader of Scotland didn’t succeed in totally eliminating Brehon Law and tanistry, as he did in Ireland. And made some compromises so that the clan system was allowed, under Lord Lyon King of Arms, to be continued. English common law of course was an umbrella over it but tanistry and the historic value system did survive. And the clan indeed is recognized as a nobiliary body, and the chiefship as an incorporeal hereditament. And as reflective of the historic Gaelic system.

Of course, with no overall Great Britain/U.K. encouragement, wars and massive emigration, the Scots likewise as in Ireland ‘lost’ knowledge of descents from most of their hereditary chiefs-of-name. But in slightly more liberal times, at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a revival of interest in the Highland Gaelic Order and its Clans. Some of this actually stemmed from Lowland Scots, and Sir Walter Scott was influential via his writings. And it must be said that the revival was helped along by Queen Victoria’s interest. In summary, the clan practices of ancient Gaelic Scotland did not die and are ‘accepted’ within the U.K., as modified for modern times and as maintained by Lord Lyon. He is an officer of the British crown and thus his guidelines and practices have the force of law. It should be said before we get into guidelines for Ireland that our situation is different: we have no ‘crown’ or fons honourum for titles in republican Ireland; indeed titles are not granted in Ireland. When an Ad Hoc Derbhfine election takes place in Scotland, it is a requirement of law to have the election approved by Lord Lyon. For Ireland the Derbhfine is the final approval, and no governmental approval or approval by a body such as the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs is required, though there should be a ‘courtesy’ notification as will be explained below in Note 3.

Also included later will be a few references which go into detail concerning the Scottish system, with great emphasis on how the Honourable Community can only really exist as historic: that is with a hereditary center-of-gravity via an hereditary chief.

Suggested Guidelines for an Irish ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’

Obviously, a member or group of members of a clan/name must have interest in the whole idea of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine being a viable alternative for the selection of a chief. Versus the near impossibility of finding any more persons proved conclusively to descend from a chief or chieftain of name existing while the Gaelic order existed. As said, there was just too much lost due to the wars, penal laws, deliberate extirpation of our system of Brehon Law and tanistry. And the election of an ‘honourary’ chief, while very worthwhile in terms of clan revivals, is not grounded on the historic Gaelic system.

The guidelines follow, to include certain steps which must be taken:

  1. An organizing committee should be formed, to include a President and a Secretary. This is easier to do of course for those clans which are already members of Clans of Ireland or for those who are already otherwise organized, have their own website, etc. There are indeed a number of clans which are so organized but which are not members of Clans of Ireland, e.g. the Clan MacCarthy Foundation, the Doyle Clan, etc.
  2. There should be a minimum of nine members for the proposed Ad Hoc Derbhfine
  3. Wide publicity about the effort should be undertaken, via every possible vehicle. That is, via the clan internet site, phone calls, mailings, whatever it takes to get the news ‘out there’ among those of the Honourable Community. In order to inform that an Ad Hoc Derbhfine is in process of happening
  4. All known ‘armigers’ (those currently possessing a Coat of Arms) are ipso facto to be members of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine. Therefore, the organizers must do a thorough search worldwide to identify its armigers. This means contacting the office of Chief Herald of Ireland, Norroy & Ulster King of Arms in the U.K., possible other heraldry offices in such as South Africa, etc. The objective would be to ‘find’ the names of the armigers and then contact them with a view to explaining the Ad Hoc Derbhfine idea and soliciting their support
  5. Additionally, a list should be made of ‘principal people’ who because of keen interest in clan affairs could be invited to sit on the Ad Hoc Derbhfine. In short, the final composition of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine will include the armigers and acknowledged ‘leaders’ of the name (principal people – who should be encouraged to apply for a Coat of Arms by the organisers). Those eventually sitting on the Ad Hoc Derbhfine may be male or female, though according to Irish Brehon Law only a male may be elected as chief or chieftain of a name. The Scots system based on Pictish history always allowed female successions but that was never the case in Ireland (could the updating of Brehon Law allow for female succession?: certainly could be considered though not as part of this article.)
  6. Once the organizers have determined that they have done all that can be done in terms of locating the prospective members of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine, then that fact should also be communicated to clan members as widely as possible. It should be stated that the organizers must keep very detailed and precise record of all tasks undertaken, of all the people contacted and their responses, etc. This is to show that no rocks have been left unturned and that a true strenuous effort has been completed.
  7. A date for the Ad Hoc Derbhfine meeting and vote should be then set. The meeting need not be in Ireland (as the Scots require that the meeting be in Scotland). Indeed there need not be a face-to-face meeting, but it can take place via emails.
  8. The secretary of the organizing committee will solicit candidates from among those appointed to the Ad Hoc Derbhfine as to who wishes to put his name forward for election as chief/chieftain. Individuals may nominate a person other than themselves, but only those ‘leaders’ of the clan appointed to the Ad Hoc Derbhfine may be nominated. Obviously, there needs to be a period of time, a few months at least, between the setting of the date of the meeting and vote and the deadline for nominations. The secretary shall ensure that anyone nominated by another is in accord with being nominated and will serve if elected. Place of residence is not a consideration.
  9. On the date of the election, each individual voting will send his vote to the secretary. Who will then do the count and announce the result to the members of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine. And he will then propagate that result far and wide within the clan.

The ‘electee’ will take the title ‘Ceann Cath’ (Commander) and not immediately that of chief or chieftain of the name. A period of normally 10 to 20 years should elapse before the Ceann Cath is proclaimed as hereditary Chief-of-Name or Chieftain-of-Name of a branch of the clan. This is to allow time for any counters to the election; that is for someone with a proved hereditary descent to come forward with a counter-claim. The minimum 10 years may be further reduced to a 5 year period by decision of the Ad Hoc Derbhfine, if the person elected has been of a position of elected honourary responsibility with the clan for a significant period of time. Upon succession to the chiefship, the new hereditary chief has the right to the undifferenced original and historic Coat of Arms of the clan.

In closing, naturally any candidate for election should be versed in traditional Gaelic practices. That is, he should understand the Gaelic order of things pre the end of 17th century. And most importantly, he should understand the differences between a Gaelic/Irish chief and a noble of other European countries, where primogeniture succession was the absolute norm. With that system, the immediate concern of a king, or duke, or baron, or whoever, was focused on his own immediate family, his own sons and daughters. The others of his family, outside of the immediate descendants, were not of his concern relative to inheritances. In the Gaelic system of an ‘Honourable Community’, the chief was not the owner of anything! He was a trustee, for ALL the family, all the clan, and could leave nothing to his own sons or daughters other than what he may have possessed personally. He did not own the land; it belonged to the whole community, and he was responsible to the whole community, and not in any manner an absolute ruler. He was bound by the Brehon Law. His successor would be from a wider range than his own immediate descendants, from the Derbhfine of all descended from a common great-grandfather. Succession was by ‘tanistry’, with the Derbhfine choosing the ‘best man’ to succeed and maintain the clan and the Gaelic traditions which governed Gaelic society. So the election by Ad Hoc Derbhfine is the taking on of responsibility for the family, and the title of Chief-of-Name is one of responsibility to all of the name, everywhere, highest to lowest. And the projects the new chief undertakes should indeed be similar to what chiefs did when Gaelic rule was actual: projects that benefit all per historical Gaelic practices, to now include endowments for various purposes of help to clan members.

Thank you for your interest in this article.


  1. For a full exposition of the Scottish Gaelic-based system, there is nothing better than the book by Frank Adam, introduction by the then Lord Lyon of Scotland, THE CLANS, SEPTS & REGIMENTS OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS. 8th edition, Stirling, Scotland, 1984, of the original 1908 publication. Additionally, you can see on the internet (typing in ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’) various articles on the process. These include recent case histories for the Ad Hoc Derbhfines of the Maccauley and Duncan clans, where new chiefs were indeed elected to long-dormant chiefships.
  2. For an Irish perspective, there is the recent article written by The O Cahan, Chief-of-the-Name, on Irish chiefly successions, which may be accessed at the MacCarthy Clan Foundation website at The article speaks to the Ad Hoc Derbhfine process, very clearly. Title is ‘Irish Chiefly Succession in the 21st Century’.
  3. As said, the Irish Derbhfine is the ultimate approval authority over succession within a particular name/clan. As a courtesy, and per ancient practice as well, the succession should be communicated to the ultimate overlord of the territory in which the clan historically existed. Thus a newly elected chief/chieftain should advise as follows, in our opinion – but again, not as any ‘approval’ but simply for registration and future communication: Clans within Desmond – to MacCarthy Mor; within Thomond – to The O Brien; within Leinster – to The MacMurrough-Kavanagh; within Connaught – to The O Conor Don; within Ulster – to The O Neill Mor or The O Neill of Clanaboy. As one exception, in that Louth was never under a MacMurrough or part of Leinster under the Gaelic order, the notification for County Louth clans should be to The O Carroll of Oriel, as that family were important major kings at the time of the 1169-72 invasions and Louth was quickly overrun. Thus this relates to the traditional four provincial kingdoms that existed at the time of the demise of the Gaelic order – Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connaught with the one exception for County Louth. And it should be noted that the Chiefs-of-Name of these formerly-reigning royal families are all extant.
  4. As an aside, when a Scottish person is proclaimed and certified by Lord Lyon as chief of his clan, he is ‘full-fledged’. That is, he is then the same as those who are chiefs by proved hereditary descent, and can take his place on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. In Ireland as said there is no ‘governmental’ approval, but it is hoped that the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains will see fit likewise to ‘admit’ a person proclaimed as hereditary representative of his name. On that group, it is also hoped that the word ‘Irish’ in its title will come to mean ‘all’ Irish: for as of now it will only admit Gaelic-Irish, and excludes Norman-Irish and Hiberno-Norse Irish, etc. This we regard as incorrect. There are even now several proved chiefs-of-name/captains-of-the-nation who are Norman-Irish chiefs, whose families were gaelicised and which operated under Brehon Law and tanistry during the Gaelic order of things. More Irish than the Irish as the saying goes. Thus there is no reason why a Duke of Leinster (Fitzgerald), or a Viscount Gormanston (Preston), or a Barry or Burke or deCourcy, or the Knight of Kerry (another FitzGerald) should not be admitted. They are chiefs/chieftains of the name per the Gaelic order of things. These families provided many of the leaders of ‘The Wild Geese’, e.g. Dillon’s Regiment, to struggle on for Ireland in exile. One must recall that there are upwards of 100 million of Irish name in the ‘diaspora’ and 5 million Irish in Ireland.

This article was written and published by THE KINGDOM OF DESMOND ASSOCIATION, with the support and cooperation of THE CLAN MACCARTHY FOUNDATION (2014). It reflects the positive attitude of the two groups concerning the process known as ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’.

Irish Kilts and Tartans?

Are there Irish Kilts and Irish Tartans?  After all the Scottish people came to Scotland via Ireland and they descended from the Gaelic people of Ireland.  This article describes the details and dress of the Irish and answers the questions many have concerning them.