Text: Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh

Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh “The Triumphs of Turlough,” written in the mid-fourteenth century, depicts the struggle for supremacy between two different divided groups – native and incomer – in late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Thomond (North Munster, Ireland): the native Uí Bhriain dynasty was split between Turlough and his uncle Brian Ruadh, with one group of Anglo-Normans (the de Burghs) taking the side of Clann Taidhg (Turlough’s people) and Thomas de Clare (who had been given a grant of Thomond by King Edward I of England in 1276) taking the side of Brian Ruadh.

The following text was translated by Michael Newton from the edition in Standish O’Grady edit. and trans., Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh. London: Irish Texts Society, 1929.

§ 1. […] In the very centre of his estate and the residence of his nobles, on the north bank of the river next to Inishalee he [Donnchadh Cairbreach] built a noble residence of circular shape; he set himself to spend his wealth and his noble privileges wisely, keeping to sound judgment, serving God and the people, as he built many a temple and monastery, and as he did many other good deeds throughout the period of his reign. He was the first man to be called by the title “O’Brien,” discontinuing the title that had previously been the custom of his ancestors. He died after a reign of 38 years in the year 1241.

After Donnchadh [Cairbreach] entered into the rapture of angels [i.e., death], after receiving his last rites and confession, a great gathering of all of the rulers of leading families, the captains of peoples, and the heads of district assemblies happened at Moyare [Magh nAdhair] around Conchobar in order to ordain him as high-king after his good father. It was Sída [MacConmara], the noble tree with the large following, who first proclaimed him to be king, and the other noble leaders could do so after that.

That chief enjoyed great success and prosperity; for there was peace and calm and serenity in his days; there were extensive and joyous wine-feasts, and substantial, stocky showings of hospitality, and great honour, and magnificence during his time for his people and kingship; every aristocrat enjoyed his proper birthright, every hostel-keeper was in his ancestral place, so that in all directions divine prosperity and worldly comfort were fulfilled.

If the Gaels of Ireland had defended their inheritance faithfully against the foreigners [Gaill] as this king did, the foreign invaders would not have cause to exult themselves in this island of Ireland at this time, through the great wickedness and perversion that that have grown and seethed in them, compelling them to engage in tyranny, violence, and oppression against the Gaels, taking their blood and their land from them forcibly wherever they could manage it.

As this caused the Gaels much humiliation, they decided that they would depose that merciless tyranny of the foreigners by electing a single high-king above them all, so that they could regain Ireland for themselves, as had been customary. Therefore, they decided to establish a meeting where they would meet together on the banks of the island-filled Erne river, a place where a grand council where the nobles and authorities of the Gaels of Ireland would assemble. […]

§ 2. [year 1252] In olden times it was the custom, that when the ruler of a cantred [triucha céd “barony”] or a province would accept the gift or wage of another aristocrat, along with that payment he would likewise submit himself to that aristocrat who then became his overlord, and had to pay him rent and tribute. So, to make such a contract during that assembly, O’Brien sent 100 horses to O’Neill northwards across the river as a down-payment.

When O’Neill saw that, he became very angry and ordered that 200 horses wearing gold-studded white- trimmed bridles be sent back across the same river, which he had planned on bestowing upon the men of Ireland during the assembly. He believed that he had the greatest claim to Ireland, more than all the other Gaels, as he had the greatest right and ability; all of Ulster had already agreed upon him.

Upon seeing those horses with their bridles, Taidhg [O’Brien] sent them back along with the same number of armed warriors, in order to force the return of the payment [so as to avoid acceptance of the gift, and therefore contractual obligations]; that is when O’Neill realized the hubris and resolve of O’Brien, and travelled home in a bad mood. It is because of that dispute that the men of Ireland disbanded the assembly without choosing a ruler and without constituting mandates for themselves in order to defeat the foreigners; except for this, that they would hold another assembly in order to address this matter again. […]

[Taidhg] O’Neill would have been a good choice [as high-king], for from the time that he was mature enough to carry weapons, he was thinking and planning every day and every hour how he could deliver the Gaels from their oppression. There was nothing in the universe that he hated and detested more than the English; during his time and throughout his territory, he did not allow any of those people to occupy as much as a nutshell of land. […]

§ 3. de Clare built a castle of dressed stone at Bunratty, surrounded by a thick outer wall, containing a roofed impregnable dungeon, and having capacious lime-whited rooms. He settled himself there along with a great number of foreign peasants there, according to how many he could employ or bribe to come. All of the (native) nobility were forced to go to their own lands and after the inhabitants were expelled to the land of Tradree, the rotten de Clare gave that portion of the land to the foreign peasantry and to his Gaelic mercenaries for settlement. However, that land did not lead to an easy life, and it was not without considerable expense; for as soon as Brian’s army was dismissed, the military captains of Clan Cullen returned from the lavish borders of the land of Echtge, and they were constantly harassing and running off the troops of de Clare by day and by night. De Clare and his people were forced to build a wide-based, high-fenced trench running from the stream to the ocean in order to protect themselves from the violence of the nobles of the Clan Cullen. That trench often proved ineffective, for their enemies leapt over it and constantly assaulted them.

About Michael Newton

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