The first episode in my latest podcast series ‘Fatal Feuds’ was released yesterday. The show looks at a series of related feuds that ripped Ireland apart in the later Middle Ages. These podcasts aim to bring the fascinating politics of late medieval Ireland to life. It was a cut-throat world of shifting alliances and violence.
Losing was a matter of life and death as the fate of a certain Brian O’Briain illustrated. He suffered a horrific death in 1287 after his one time allies – the de Clare family – turned on him. In a sign of brutal age they pulled him apart between two horses, decapitated him and then displayed what remained of his body hanging upside down.
The following maps and text explains some of the important places and people mentioned in the first podcast.
Listen to the show here
This map illustrates the important factions in Ireland around 1290. While there were dozens of powerful families in Ireland this podcast is primarily interested in Connacht and Ulster. The Lordship of Connacht and the Earldom of Ulster were ruled by the de Burgh family. Their most important vassals (in terms of these podcasts) were the de Mandevilles of Ulster and the Fitzthomas-Fitzgerald family in north Connacht. The Gaelic Irish O’Neill family of Tyrone and O’Connor family of Connacht were major powers as well.
The second map illustrates the key conflicts between up to 1294. Two early but important battles were the victory of the Norman colonists over the O’Neills in 1260 at Down and the defeat of the de Burgh family at Ath-an-Chip ten years later (this is covered in this podcast I made a few years ago). The single most important event in terms of the first podcast in the series was the destruction of Sligo Castle by Aed O’Connor in 1294.
Key People (There are no spoilers about future shows these notes dont mention anything past 1294)
Richard de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connacht
Born in 1259 he was the eldest son and heir of Walter de Burgh the Lord of Connacht. His grandfather had invaded Connacht in 1235 (covered in this podcast here) while his father was granted Ulster by the king in 1264 making the de Burghs the most powerful family in Ireland.They suffered a major defeat at the battle of Ath-an-Chip in 1270 (I made a podcast on this a few years ago – you can listen here)
His father, Walter, died in 1271 and his mother Aveline, in 1274. Richard, still a child, was summoned to court where he was raised. In 1281 he was granted his father’s lands and titles. He traveled to Ireland that year but returned to court where he spent the following four years. He moved to Ireland in 1285.
Aed Buidhe O’Neill
King of the Neill family, Aed pursued a policy of coexistence with the Normans. The Red Earl’s father Walter de Burgh arranged a marriage between Aed his cousin Eleanor de Nangle to cement their alliance. He died in battle in 1283. His descendants later formed the Clandeboy O’Neill family.
Perhaps the most important member of the O’Neill family in the later Middle Ages, he was the son of a king of the O’Neill family. This king – his father Brian – was killed after leading an invasion of the Norman Colony of Ulster. Donal represented a faction of the O’Neill family who were hostile to the Normans. He made two failed attempts to take power in Ulster in 1286 and 1291. On both occasions he was deposed by the Red Earl and replaced by Niall Culanach O’Neill, a brother of Aedh Buidhe. He killed Niall Culanach in late 1291, however the Red Earl stopped him taking power. By 1294 he was building his forces for another attempt at taking power.
John Fitzthomas – FitzGerald
A man who seemed destined for a life of obscurity his life was transformed by bizarre events. His cousin Maurice Fitzgerald, the Baron of Offaly had no male heirs. Rather than see the Fitzgerald lands pass into rival families, Maurice disinherited his female relatives and instead endowed John with large estates. He was technically Richard de Burgh’s vassal from his estates in Connacht. This was the source of the feud that exploded in 1294
Aed was the king of the O’Connor family from 1293 after the death of Magnus O’Connor. Supported by the de Burgh’s and the justiciar, he was deposed by John Fitzthomas ten days after he took power and replaced with Cathal O’Connor. However Cathal’s own supporters turned on him and assassinated him three months later and Aed was soon he restored to power. In 1294 he attacked on destroyed Fitzthomas’ Sligo Castle supported by the de Burghs behind the scenes.