McCarthy, Riordan, Kelleher, Barrett, O’Mahony, Murphy, Flynn and O’Callaghan. Irish ethnic cleansing!


The tower at Ballincollig Castle


Blarney. Note the older thin tower to the left.

Part of my research as a medieval historian is to examine in detail local events of long ago and how they pertain to Irish clans. The Norman conquest and settlement of part of Ireland happened after 1170, but by the early 1300s something historians call the ‘Gaelic Resurgance’ was occurring. This was where the Irish clans, who had been left only the marginal and poor bogs and mountains by the Norman settlers, fought back and attacked the colony and colonists. This was because the Norman government in Dublin began to loose control of the outlying areas of the colony due to factors like Bubonic Plague, famine, and the Scottish invasion of 1314 onwards. One of these areas ‘purged’ of Normans was the Lee Valley, that part of County Cork west of the city, and that’s what I’m blogging about here. This process began when two of the leading Norman lineages in the area, the Barrys and the Cogans, began fighting among themselves. Then one of the biggest Norman lords in Munster, the first Fitzgerald earl of Desmond, got the idea to expand his already extensive lordship in several counties by going into revolt against the Dublin government. His rebellion lasted from 1321 to 1346, when he was imprisoned. During his long revolt he hired Irish warriors from various clans to assist him. One of these was Diarmait MacCarthy of Kanturk. In his spare time, when not campaigning with the earl, Diarmait organized attacks in the LeeValley against the colony there. These begun in the 1330s, and were carried on in spite of the wishes of the MacCarthy kings, who were based in Killarney upon lands which they paid rent for to the Normans. Diarmait MacCarthy enlisted the help of many other renegade MacCarthys, as well as other local clans, some of whom had originally been driven out of the area by the Normans in the early 1200s, probably violently. Among these were O’Callaghans, O’Riordans, Murphys, O’Kellehers, O’Twomeys, O’Flynns, and others. The eastern part of the valley, stretching twenty miles west of the city, had been heavily settled by settlers of Norman, English, Welsh and Belgian ancestry, and these had developed a thriving agricultural economy centred around several market towns. MacCarthy and his followers adopted guerrilla warfare tactics, attacking the outlying homesteads (usually ringed by a rectangular fence and ditch), burning crops, stealing cattle, occassionally taking hostage and even raping the womenfolk. Some Norman knights were ‘flayed alive’, that is, whipped to death by the Irish. As the local Cogan lords had failed to halt the attacks, which went on for twenty years, by the 1350s much of the colonists had left and fled into the walled city of Cork, along with their cattle. Its important to note that we have records of the Irish ethnic cleansing in the valley but not the similar activity that the Normans had probably gotten up to. In response to these attacks the Dublin government sent a royal army down to Cork and, assisted by the local county posse, attacked and drove the Irish out of the area. This was in 1353. The settlers were ordered to return upon pain of loosing their lands, and some did. The lands of those who did not were granted to city merchants, such as the Lombards, who obtained the Blarney area (and built the first castle there). The problem was that such royal armies were expensive to organize and normally disbanded after the campaign was finished. The Normans did not keep large standing armies in the area. So after 1353 the Irish again attacked the remaining colonists, who once again fled into the city. The whole process was repeated again in 1366, when a second royal army again drove the Irish westwards. After this the Norman Barretts obtained a grant of the valley on the basis that they would resettle it. These, however, were Norman renegades who, although they did keep the Irish out, drove out those settlers who had returned and took over the entire area for themselves. The government’s efforts to restore order saw the Barretts burn the very suburbs of Cork itself, although they eventually agreed to a peace settlement which saw them agree to pay a fine of one thousand cattle. The English administration made one final effort to regain control of the valley during the early 1390s, when King Richard II came to Ireland and invested money in castle building. We know Ballincollig Castle was built at this time by Roger Cole, a Norman knight whose family came from Devon. It is likely that other similar castles were also built then, such as the original slim tower at Blarney, and another castle at Grange, a few miles west of Ballincollig. By the early 1400s however the MacCarthys finally and permanently overran most of the valley, leaving the Barretts only the few miles of territory immediately west of the city of Cork. Where did the Norman settlers go? Many probably returned to England, where they were responsible for the formation of a new surname, ‘Ireland’. This is because the English called them something like ‘John from Ireland’ which soon became a surname. For a recent newspaper article featuring an interview with me on this subject see and

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