The striking evolution of Feagh McHugh O'Byrne's position on the Irish A political stage, from that of local clan warlord in the 1560s to the status of regional Gaelic rebel leader in the 1580s, has been consistently ignored by historians. That the head of a junior branch of the O'Byrnes could not only withstand the experience of military rule, but become the focus and coordinator of almost all rebel activity in Leinster deserves some explanation.
Feagh's career was moulded by the experience of Tudor government in the Gaelic borderlands of Leinster. Entrusted to army captains, with the power to rule by the sword, the semi autonomous lordships of the O'Tooles, O'Mores, Kavanaghs and O'Byrnes were slowly subjugated under the rough regime of garrison government. From Feagh's earliest appearance in the historical record he was determined to curtail the power of these garrison commanders and preserve the fortunes of his ancestral house. But it was also in the face of this threat that Feagh was forced to become more than just the leader of one small mountain clan, and in doing so was compelled to modify the traditional conventions and dynastic imperatives dominant within the Gaelic polity.
This paper sets out to examine the development and enforcement of government authority in southern Leinster and its impact on the existing political structure, in order to evaluate and explain Feagh's actions and political outlook. Garrison government reached its zenith during the 1560s, 70s and 80s, and hence this paper will concentrate exclusively on Feagh's role during this decisive period in his career.
The origin of the government's military strategy designed to contain, and ultimately subdue, the Gaelic lordships bordering the Pale took place under Edward VI (1547 53), principally under the English regent, Protector Somerset. His military strategy led to the appointment of crown officials, rather than local figures, to command frontier garrisons which would enforce the submission and future containment of the lordships in the surrounding areas. Though garrison government was employed in general to extend royal authority to these regions, its principal aim was to enforce the terms of the submissions that had been concluded with the clan leaders during the 1530s and 1540s. It should be noted that this arrangement developed as a less costly alternative to a thorough going confiscation and plantation of the entire region, a policy dubbed "the reformation of Leinster". This more radical strategy had been frequently raised and promoted by Anglo-Irish commentators and new English administrators, and had been at the core of the government's intended strategy following the collapse of the Kildare revolt in 1535.
Garrisons were established under Edward VI throughout the O'Toole, O'Byrne and Kavanagh lordships, and whilst their role was not simply limited to containment, it was not until the late 1550s that this system of administration became institutionalised with the appointment of individual military commanders to oversee the garrisons and their associated clans. These officers, initially styled "captains", had more extensive responsibilities within each lordship, and far greater power to enforce their authority. Not only were they required to prosecute rebels and felons, and collect the various tributes due to the crown, they were also to collect the unpopular extra parliamentary tax known as "the cess". Each captain was equipped with a retinue of government soldiers (forty in the O'Byrnes territory) and permitted to exact coign and livery to support them. But most importantly, each captain received a commission to rule by martial law.
Martial law made its first appearance in Ireland in the late 1550s, and was brought in by one of its most committed Tudor advocates, Lord Lieutenant Sussex. Those in receipt of a commission were given extra ordinary powers over those subject to its power. In general, commissioners were required to search out all disorders within their jurisdiction, and to execute all felons, rebels, "enemies" and "evil doers". The terms of the commissions were intentionally vague, though those who owned more than £2 per annum freehold or £10 in chattels were usually exempt from its remit unless they were actually caught in the act. Everyone else, in practice the vast majority of the populace, faced the prospect of sudden arrest and execution without warrant or trial, to be determined at the whim of the commissioner. At its outset, the prime motivation behind this judicial approach was to rid these territories of private soldiers, and hence make the Captains' jobs that much easier. In effect it became the standard judicial code employed throughout the country (especially within the Gaelic lordships) for most of the reign of Elizabeth I.
Garrison government reached its full maturity in 1566 under the lord deputyship of Sir Henry Sidney, when the captains received a written set of ordinances stipulating the full range of their responsibilities, privileges and governing powers, as well as being given the honorific title of "seneschal" of their designated area of authority. The two most important seneschals were Captain Nicholas Heron, with rule over the Kavanagh lordship in Cos. Carlow and Wexford, and Councillor Francis Agard, who was responsible for the O'Tooles and O'Byrnes including the Gabhal Raghnaill branch of that family under the leadership of Hugh McShane, the father of Feagh McHugh. Like the captains before them, the seneschals were given whatever crown land was available locally. Title to these estates had only recently been established by the government, and though ownership had been technically surrendered by the Gaelic proprietors under the terms of their submissions in the 1530s and 1540s, enforcing this in practice was an entirely different matter. It was up to the seneschals to make their possession a reality.
Feagh's first act to anger the authorities was a direct and flamboyant strike against two junior garrison captains, Henry Davells and George Harvey. In 1563, Feagh and his father captured them, probably with the intention of holding them for ransom. Though the prisoners were released without further incident and the abductees pardoned, it was still considered one of their more daring escapades when the O'Byrne poets sought to recount Hugh McShane's exploits. For a number of years Davells had been the deputy to Nicholas Heron, Captain of the Kavanaghs. Obviously then, the garrisons were considered a key threat to the continued survival of the clan. Throughout the 1560s Feagh continued to come to the government's attention as they proceeded to deal with his increasingly powerful father, Hugh McShane, leader of the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes. Both men seem to have actively supported dissident O'More clansmen in the late 1560s, and Feagh probably helped the rebel Sir Edmund Butler escape from Dublin Castle in November 1569. During 1571, Feagh began to link up with his brother in law, Rory Og O'More, the renegade leader of the dispossessed O'Mores of Leix. Rory's family had been systematically crushed over the preceding decades as part of the government's drive to plant Leix and Offaly. With garrisons and new landlords throughout the O'More clanlands, he was forced into an on off guerrilla war with the government in an attempt to preserve his family's fortunes. As a result, he rapidly became the leading Gaelic rebel in Leinster, a position he retained until his death in 1578. That Rory was married to Feagh's sister was no accident. Feagh's father went to great lengths to improve the status of his sept, marrying his children into the leading Kavanagh, O'Toole and O'More dynasties. But it was not until 1572 that Feagh became subject to the full gaze of an enraged administration. In that year he was charged with murder.
On 21 April 1572, Robert Browne of Mulrankan, one of the wealthiest and most influential landlords from southern Co. Wexford was killed. Though early government reports immediately placed the blame on Brian McCahir Kavanagh and Feagh McHugh O'Byrne, the whole incident was clouded by a great deal of confusion. It was unclear who had actually been responsible, and little attempt was made to determine the killer's motives. It was, however, a matter of serious concern for the government, and for a number of reasons.
The Brownes of Mulrankan had long been important and active government supporters and agents in the south east. Robert's grandfather had been knighted by Henry VIII, and his father Patrick Browne had been singled out by Lord Lieutenant Sussex as one of the most loyal and trustworthy men in the country. Patrick had earned this trust in action. During the 1550s he had seized a sizeable territory from the O'Murrough clan on the eastern banks of the Slaney between Edermine and Enniscorthy. Here he built a castle, Browneswood, which he garrisoned at his own charge. He was not alone in the pursuit of Gaelic land. Patrick Browne and Sir Nicholas Devereux were the most important native government agents in Co. Wexford, precisely because they had pursued these claims.
Patrick Browne's support for the government's agenda in the south east explains his unusual decision to marry his daughter to a brother of Brian McCahir Kavanagh, the leader of the Polmonty or St. Mullins branch of that clan. Since the 1540s the government had actively promoted this particular Kavanagh sept. This close relationship had been solidified in 1571 when Brian McCahir had signed a new treaty with the government, by which he agreed to pay a yearly rent for his sept's lands in return for the promise of a formal patent or grant to give him a valid title in common law to his estates. That Brian McCahir was implicated in Robert's murder only a year after signing this agreement, was of great concern to the authorities in Dublin.
Seneschal White was convinced that the murder demonstrated an even broader and more menacing coalition of anti government forces. Nicholas White, an influential Anglo Irish figure, had been appointed seneschal of Wexford in 1569. Moreover, his daughter, Mary, was married to Robert Browne. White was also a key client of Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's most important minister, and was at court in London when he heard about the death of his son in law. With such influential contacts, he was uniquely positioned to make the need for retribution and revenge a government priority. Most importantly, White was able to get the Queen directly involved in the affair. She wrote in person to the government, demanding action, extolling the valour of the young Robert Browne in the face of Gaelic attacks. She demanded that Brian McCahir, Feagh McHugh and his brothers be arrested and prosecuted (i.e. executed). But she went further, doubtless on the advice of Seneschal White. She claimed that Matthew Furlong was also at the murder, and accused John Furlong of Horetown and Matthew FitzHarris of Macmine of being accomplices to the deed. The last two were powerful Anglo-Irish border lords from southern Wexford, and Matthew Furlong (a younger brother of John) was the commander of the Furlongs' sizeable private army, and had been indicted in the courts for a number of raids during previous years. The existence of such a broad confederacy was profoundly disturbing for the government. In effect one of their key local figures had been rubbed out by hitherto loyal Gaelic and Anglo-Irish elements under the leadership of a rebel warlord, Feagh McHugh.
The Queen's strident demands for action raised all sorts of problems for the government, not least of which was the powerful range of interests they were being expected to deal with. With the Butler/Kavanagh revolt of 1569 such a recent memory, the authorities were unwilling to face the prospect of a new war in the area, feeling this would undoubtedly happen if they tried to enforce these orders. The first official response was carried out by the seneschal of the O'Byrnes' territory, Francis Agard, who in July attacked and killed a number of Feagh's followers in the Wicklow Mountains, including Feagh's brother who was allegedly present at Browne's murder. It was a punishing attack and within weeks Feagh McHugh and Brian McCahir were forced to come to terms with the Lord Deputy. They promised to apprehend Matthew Furlong (whom they recognised as the main culprit) and anyone else who had been directly involved, and deliver them to the authorities to be executed. This agreement was an obvious compromise, and though it may not have been what the Queen had ordered, it seemed as though the issue was settled. It was not. Days after reaching this understanding with the government, Nicholas White returned to the country from England determined to exact a more extreme revenge.
White brought with him a questionable promise from the Queen that she would pay £2,000 3,000 towards the capture of Brian and Feagh and anyone else involved in the murder. He ignored the Lord Deputy's solution, and immediately attacked those he blamed for his son in law's death with true ferocity. He ravaged parts of southern Co. Wicklow in the hopes of bringing Feagh to his knees. It had precisely the opposite effect. By the end of August 1572, Brian and Feagh had entered into a full scale revolt in the face of this new threat. It is important to point out that even the Lord Deputy recognised that neither of these two men had been responsible for any wrong doing since the Browne murder, and had been forced into this desperate conflict by the actions of Seneschal White. But whilst the state may have recognised that White was partly culpable for the revolt, they authorised him to suppress it within two months, giving him the command of 100 extra troops and an unusually extensive commission for martial law to force the rebels into submission.
But in the weeks that it took the government to raise these troops and send them into the south east, the rebels were able to mass their support which included not only Feagh and Brian's followers, but also other branches of the Kayanaghs and a large part of the Furlong army. Numbering 300 to 400 men, they attacked into the heart of Co. Wexford, destroying nine villages in Shelburne barony and routing the assembled freeholders of the county, killing thirty including the son of Sir Nicholas Devereux. They followed this up by destroying large parts of Sir Nicholas Devereux's estate around Adamstown. The revolt continued for nearly six months, linking up with the continued conflict of Rory Og O'More. It was reported that during the winter of 1572/3, the rebels attacked the Pale daily, "by daylight with bagpipes and by night with torchlight". . But eventually the combined efforts of Seneschal White and Seneschal Agard brought Feagh and Brian McCahir to submission early in 1573, after which they were pardoned. The Anglo-Irish participants in the conflict fared far worse. Matthew Furlong and his brother Robert were executed for Browne's murder and charges of treason. Matthew Fitzharris was imprisoned for his alleged involvement, an incarceration which lasted two years until the government finally admitted they had absolutely no evidence against him. In essence the terms of the Lord Deputy's original compromise with Feagh and Brian were adhered to, despite White's best efforts to ignore them. So what were the reasons for Browne's murder and the subsequent revolt? I have shown that Robert was deeply connected with the government's agenda for southern Leinster, both as a local government commissioner as well as his association with garrison administration. As fervent government supporters, the Brownes had incurred the wrath of many influential people in Co. Wexford, as the landlords of that county increasingly split along factional pro and antigovernment lines. In fact Sir Nicholas Devereux, the government’s other main agent, stated that he had been frequently attacked precisely because of his adherence to the state. Browne was also no doubt disliked by Brian and Feagh for his family's recent seizure of Gaelic land, and there was a jointure and dower dispute outstanding between the Kavanaghs and the Brownes.
However, the principal issue was land tenure and ownership. The entire region had been deeply destabilised by the Carew land claim in 1568-9. Sir Peter Carew, a wealthy Devonshire landlord, had claimed the barony of Idrone in Co. Carlow as his inheritance on the basis that his ancestors had held the land but had been disseized during the Gaelic resurgence in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century. His claim was energetically supported by Lord Deputy Sidney who simply disinherited the actual occupiers of the land (being the Kavanaghs and Sir Edmund Butler) by order of Council, giving the aggrieved parties no chance of presenting a defence. To enforce this contentious legal decision, Sidney had commanded the seneschal of the Kavanaghs to physically put Carew into possession against whatever opposition. Ultimately this all helped propel many of the Kavanaghs and Butlers into a major revolt.
But the issue of dormant medieval title remained high on the agenda. In the years following 1569, a number of new claims were made to lands owned by Gaelic families in Ireland, particularly those areas occupied by Brian McCahir's branch of the Kavanaghs. In the same year that the government concluded a new
treaty with Brian, they also opened up enquiries into these claims. Both enquiries, one in 1571 and another in December 1572 whilst the revolt was in progress, recommended that Brian be disinherited. These decisions flew in the face of a series of government treaties with that branch of the Kavanaghs, from 1543 to 1571, recognising them as the legitimate owners. Hence Brian had every reason to fear the worst when confronted by seneschal White's headstrong determination to exact vengeance.
So the land question was an issue, at least for Feagh's brother in law, Brian McCahir. Fearful of a repetition of 1569, Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam, brought a temporary halt to these land claims, as he had compromised with Feagh and Brian over Browne's murder. But ultimately all of these important issues, which display remarkable recklessness on the part of the authorities, were crowned by Seneschal White's excessive brutality on his return from England. Though he was never reprimanded for his actions (in fact he was praised for ultimately crushing the revolt) he was discharged from office as seneschal of Wexford in March 1573, to be replaced by a far more ruthless governor, Thomas Masterson. In the years that followed, it was to be Masterson as much as Francis Agard or Henry Harrington (successive seneschals of the O'Byrnes), who directed the government's garrison strategy in the south east and its dealings with Feagh McHugh.
Seneschal Masterson became one of the most significant garrison commanders of the Elizabethan period, having already spent decades as an officer in the royal army in Ireland. The younger son of a Cheshire gentleman, he arrived in the country with Sir Edward Bellingham in the late 1540s as a petty captain. Prior to this he had served briefly in Henry VIII's wars in France and under Protector Somerset in Scotland. For much of the 1550s he was assigned to the Leix/Offaly frontier and stationed at Fort Protector, receiving lands in the plantation in 1551 and 1556. By 1557 he had moved to Kilkenny where he was promoted to full captain. Despite a temporary command of 100 men at Carrickfergus in the wake of the assassination of Shane O'Neill, Kilkenny and the Ormond lordship were to remain his main base of operation until 1569. During this period he became the key government agent in the area. He was a commissioner for martial law in Co. Kilkenny from at least 1564, and was appointed sheriff of that county in 1567 and of the cross of Tipperary in 1569 when he was also given wide ranging powers of martial law over counties Kilkenny, Wexford and the whole province of Munster.
Important as these official appointments were in themselves, the central role he played for the government, and in particular Lord Deputy Sidney, was as a watchdog in the Butler heartlands. It was a sensitive post where he earned a reputation as a firm opponent of local autonomy, coign and livery, and the Anglo Irish in general. His ability to recruit spies and informants for the government received high praise from Dublin, but incurred the hatred of leading figures within Kilkenny. Therefore his appointment to active military service again in 1569 was a conscious decision by Lord Deputy Sidney to employ an experienced, informed and hardened operative to help enforce the Carew land claim, and bring order to the troublesome border with Feagh McHugh?
Masterson was appointed constable of Ferns with seneschal authority throughout northern Wexford in February 1569. As usual he was immediately armed with a commission to execute martial law throughout the area. He did not waste time. In June 1569 he attacked Maurice Duff Kavanagh, the leader of the Donal Reagh Kavanaghs, and his followers. Twenty three of the clansmen were killed, including Maurice who was reportedly slain by Masterson's own hand. This brutal assault set out the basic pattern of Masterson's rule in the region.
His authority was greatly increased when he was formally appointed seneschal of the liberty of Wexford as well as the north Wexford clans in 1573.
Furthermore, he received an unusually generous commission of martial law in 1572, allowing him to prosecute all with a freehold income of less than £10 (the usual was £2). This would have included many freeholders as well as the majority of the populace. Throughout the 1570s he had frequent recourse to this method of law enforcement. Though we do not know how many he was directly responsible for executing during these years, it was extensive. By its very nature martial law was summary justice and records were not kept. However, the extent of his use of this power was the subject of frequent complaints by many of the Kavanaghs and Kinsellaghs as well as Hugh McShane and Feagh McHugh O'Byrne.
Martial law was not, of course, the only aspect of Masterson's rule, but it did define its character. He summed up his own principles in a letter to Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam in 1575. In dealing with the clans he believed that force was the best option. He decried the granting of pardons or peace treaties with any of them: "I will request your L[ordship] no such thing to my name shame for I know the peace shall be never the better kept but be preserved for a time till the winter come". He believed that his authority and that of the government should be enforced militarily "in taking their horses from them and hanging their men”.
It has been argued that Masterson, and other seneschals were mavericks, intent on abusing the authority they were entrusted with by the government for their own private ends. But for most of the 1570s the actions of the seneschals were not only known about in government circles, but actually approved of, No doubt it was useful for the government to give these "borderers" (as they were sometimes called) a financial incentive to extend Dublin's jurisdiction. This was invariably in the form of leases or grants of crown land in the region under their governance. Masterson was the crown tenant of Ferns Abbey and Manor and other estates in the area. Agard and Harrington were given Newcastle McKinnegan in the O'Byrnes country. Richard Synnott, military governor of the O'Murroughs was given Enniscorthy, and so on. That these leases of lands would bring the seneschals into conflict with the clans under their rule who also claimed ownership was hardly a surprise. That the seneschals used their commissions of martial law to enforce their ownership was also not that alarming for the government. In fact, though Masterson used martial law extensively throughout the 1570s, executing and terrorising the Gaelic populace into submission, enforcing his ownership of crown land in the area, and enforcing the payment of various tributes, rents and other duties due to both the government and himself, only once did he have his powers curtailed. This was in 1576. In that year he was brought to the court of Castle Chamber by Brian McCahir Kavanagh, in a case concerning contested ownership of lands around Cloghamon, north of Ferns. Brian probably felt entitled to the land by force of his 1571 treaty with the government, but Masterson was the crown's tenant on the manor of Cloghamon. The dispute between the two men was not simply verbal. They accused each other of physical attacks and raids. But Brian's key concern was Masterson's use of martial law. Though the court typically did not resolve the question of who owned the land, they did require Masterson not to execute any of Brian's followers, even if they were charged with felony. But Brian was a powerful man whom the government was prepared to treat differently from the norm in order to avoid a new rebellion. Masterson's other opponents in the region, particularly the Kinsellaghs and the Art: Boy Kavanaghs, were either too politically insignificant or disloyal to generate any serious curtailment of his authority and power in the area. In fact it was his indiscriminate use of martial law which eventually persuaded the Art Boy Kavanaghs, who had long remained in revolt from the security of the Blackstairs Mountains, to submit to the government's authority in 1577 8.
Hence, despite the setback with Brian McCahir, Masterson was able to pursue his objectives unrestrained and with the committed support of Lord Deputy Sidney. In 1575, after a tour of the south east, Sidney commended the "policy and rule of Thomas Masterson" (his "good servant") by which the Kavanaghs had been brought to obedience and were willing to pay rent to the government. Though Sidney recognised that getting the clans to actually pay was going to be difficult, with chilling firmness he stated "pay it they will and shall. The Lord Deputy repeated his glowing praise of Masterson's style of governance in the following years, as he did that of Francis Agard, seneschal of the O'Byrnes territory. Of course Sidney's accounts of the state of these areas were written for his superiors in London, and were often exaggerated to give a generous slant on the success of his government. Though we can disregard his claim that the regions under Masterson and Agard's rule were so pacified that the people were as loyal as in parts of England, it is clear that he approved of the seneschals' method of government. In essence Sidney was an enthusiastic proponent of rule by martial law. And he was not alone. His predecessor Sussex had made it the centre of his judicial programme, and his successor, Lord Grey, was equally enamoured of its uses.
Though Masterson's area of authority did not extend to the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes, who were officially under the governance of Seneschal Agard, they represented his most serious opposition in the region. Agard, who seems to have been on amicable terms with the ageing Hugh McShane, was himself an old man by the 1570s. Hence military authority in the region seems to have devolved on Masterson. Feagh did not have the same relationship with Agard as his father, but whilst Hugh McShane was alive he could avoid serious confrontation with that particular seneschal. But Feagh viewed Masterson as a growing threat on his southern frontier and was determined to repel his attacks and led raids into Co. Wexford on a regular basis. Certainly Feagh's motivation was partly to increase the prestige of his family, positioning themselves as the best defenders of the various clans of the region against the depredations of Masterson and other seneschals such as Sir Peter Carew in Co. Carlow.
Throughout the 1570s the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes, under Feagh's effective military leadership, began to rapidly increase their military potential. In December 1573 it was reported that Feagh had hired a further 200 kern, and during the following year he prepared his soldiers for war, raiding the Pale regularly, even to the gates of Dublin, and imposing a range of "black rents" or protection money from the freeholders of Co. Kildare. Attempts by the sheriff of that county to stop Feagh's attacks met with failure. In November 1573 Feagh captured the sheriff, taking him prisoner and bringing him back to Gabhal Raghnaill. Though he was released under pressure from Seneschal Agard, the symbolism of such an act was very important. Like the capture of Davells in 1563, Feagh and his father were making it clear that they would not accept any interference in their domain. Furthermore, his military targets and actions were wide ranging, covering much of Cos. Wexford, Carlow, Kildare, Dublin, Queen's and King's counties, and Wicklow. However, they were frequently directed south towards the garrisoned stronghold of Ferns castle under Thomas Masterson's command. From 1575 to 1578 he raided Masterson's lands about Ferns, and burnt the town on at least one occasion. It seems likely that it was at this time that he attacked and partially destroyed Ferns Cathedral.
Feagh's raids were regularly met with counter attacks by Masterson and the seneschal of Carlow, Sir Peter Carew. Whilst Seneschal Agard tended to ignore most actions by the men of Gabhal Raghnaill, this does not mean he was always on "friendly" terms with them. For example, in the summer of 1576 Agard attacked Feagh and took him prisoner, in an effort to secure the Pale in the absence of the Lord Deputy and the army. But though Agard was prepared to be moderate at times, the situation was to change drastically following events in 1577. Firstly Agard died, and was replaced by an advocate of a more hard line approach towards the clan, his son in law, Henry Harrington. Harrington was also a relative of Lord Deputy Sidney, and had been given wide powers of martial law covering much of the country in 1576. In November or December 1577 he cut his teeth in the governance of Gaelic Leinster as well as transforming the political situation in the province at a place called Mullaghmast in Co. Kildare."
Robert Hartpole, constable of Carlow castle, Seneschal Cosby of the O'Mores of Leix/Queen's Co. and Harrington invited many of the leading members of the O'Mores to render military service to the crown at Mullaghmast, as well as settle a number of outstanding disputes. Most of the loyal branches of the family arrived, but not to an official reception as they would have expected. Instead they were cut to pieces by government soldiers. Over forty were killed in this massacre. The obscenity of this act had a profound effect upon the surviving Gaelic leaders throughout the area. The people who had been killed were not only doing their duty to the crown, but many were important clan leaders in their own right. Imposing authority by such brutal means was not limited to those responsible for Mullaghmast. We have seen how Masterson and others had used martial law extensively, and there is evidence that he attempted to lure the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes to a similar blood bath. Feagh apparently discovered the nature of the proposed meeting before it happened and ambushed the seneschal and his soldiers, killing many of them. It is even possible that it was at this time that Feagh captured Masterson and held him to ransom.
Rory Og O'More immediately raised the standard of revolt following the massacre at Mullaghmast. With an army of several hundred he attacked many government outposts in Queen's county, Carlow and elsewhere. As the leading Gaelic rebel in the province, this revolt could have rapidly escalated. It did not. Only a few months after the revolt had begun, Rory Og and hundreds of his followers had been killed. Government officials were jubilant, even one, Sir Nicholas Malby, went so far as to recommend that Hugh McShane and Feagh McHugh be hunted down in a similar manner. Moreover he felt certain that this would be authorised because Feagh was likely to go to war to avenge the death of his brother in law, Rory Og. Far from representing a government embarrassment as one historian has assumed, the massacre at Mullaghmast and the subsequent rout of O'Moore soldiers was considered a success. And such tactics probably had broad support from many leading officials and especially the military officers of the royal army."
The impact of the carriage of Mullaghmast, and Rory Og's death, on the Gaelic leaders of southern Leinster was profound. During 1578 the government pressed their advantage on the dissident septs to force them to submit to crown authority. Feagh McHugh's territory was ravaged on three occasions during the year by Masterson and Carew. So much so that Feagh was forced to come to terms with Seneschal Harrington, delivering pledges for his future conduct and recognising the Seneschal as his "captain". On 21 September Feagh personally submitted before the Lord Justice at Christ Church in Dublin (see Appendix below), and on 1st October Feagh and his father, Hugh McShane, travelled to Castledermot in Co. Kildare where they both formally submitted to the Lord Justice .51 They were not alone in their decision to yield to this new offensive from the government. On the same day Phelim. O'Connor, leader of the O'Connors of Offaly, and Shane McRory O'More, chief supporter of the dead Rory Og, also submitted. The following day similar submissions were taken from leading Kavanaghs, including Brian McCahir, at Leighlinbridge in Co. Carlow The government instigated terror had apparently worked, the Gaelic clans were prepared to surrender any remaining independent authority. But not without complaint. In their submission, Hugh McShane and Feagh McHugh complained bitterly about the "outrages" of Masterson and the other seneschals (see Appendix below). Their list of grievances were extensive, including frequent raids at which many horses, cattle and goods had been seized and numerous clansmen killed. They specifically noted that these raids had continued after Feagh's initial surrender to Harrington, and requested that the seneschals also be required to deliver pledges to guarantee the peace. Their request was ignored.
As for the other principal seneschal in the area, Henry Harrington, seneschal of the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles, he was likewise charged with excessive brutality, though not by Feagh McHugh. Shortly after acquiring office in 1578 Harrington arrested and hanged Luke O'Toole of Castlekevin, one of the principal leaders of that clan. O'Toole was convicted without trial and executed under Harrington's martial law commission. In return for this service (and with a sick irony) the government granted Harrington the wardship and guardianship of Luke's son and heir, Barnaby O'Toole. Furthermore, in July 1578, he was rewarded with a lease of the entire barony of Shillelagh. In other words Harrington set out to govern the area by the same methods as Masterson.
Once the main Gaelic leaders had submitted to the government in October 1578, the seneschals continued to prosecute those who remained at large, by whatever means necessary. These orders had been made clear to them by the Queen in May 1578, when she requested that any dissent in the Kavanagh, O'Byrne or O'Toole lordships be suppressed vigorously. As an example, during the winter of 1578/9 Masterson executed Gerald McMurrough Kavanagh, a prominent leader of the Donal Reagh Kavanaghs, based near Ferns. It was clear, following Mullaghmast and the events thereafter, that whilst the government had actively supported an aggressive military governance of these regions during the 1570s, this method was being sharply intensified. This was all made doubly clear when new instructions were issued to seneschal Harrington in November 1579. Henceforth, on pain of execution by martial law, no masterless men (including bards and rhymers) would be allowed live in the areas under his rule. Furthermore, he was authorised to arrest anyone he determined was of a bad disposition and execute them if they refused to co operate, apprehend supporters of rebels and seize their goods, and he was allowed to impose coign and livery for limited durations. These instructions enhanced the range and extent of the seneschal's power, and were no doubt partly enacted because a major revolt had erupted in Munster. The earl of Desmond and many other lords from the province rose in revolt during the summer and autumn on 1579. Despite many rumours that the revolt would spread to Leinster immediately, this did not happen until July 1580, and the timing of the Leinster revolt, if not the actual revolt itself, was determined by the conduct of the seneschals themselves.
Once the general revolt spread to Leinster in the summer of 1580 it was under the leadership of two men, James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass and Feagh McHugh. But it should not be presumed that the latter was destined to pursue this course, however likely it may have appeared. For example in January 1580, months after the war had begun in Munster, the government felt confident enough about Feagh's loyalty to release those pledges/hostages that he had surrendered to the authorities back in 1578. Feagh was warned that if he broke the peace he would face the combined military strength of Seneschals Masterson, Harrington, Carew and Constable Robert Hartpole." However, the actions of both Sefieschals Harrington and Masterson in April and May of that year played an important part in persuading Feagh to abandon the government and enter into rebellion.
During these months Senschal. Harrington stormed into the earl of Kildare's residence in Dublin, dragged out Tibbott O'Toole, who was staying there as a guest of the earl, and hanged him without trial on charges of murder. Once again this was martial law in action. But we would not even know about this incident, which caused enormous resentment within the O'Toole clan, if it had not been for the fact that the earl of Kildare was outraged. O'Toole had been staying at the earl's house under the earl's protection. As a consequence the government was compelled to take action and briefly imprisoned Harrington for his impropriety.
But all this was minor compared to the ferocious action of Seneschal Masterson on 10 April 1580. According to his own report the Art Boy Kavanaghs had mobilised for war. One hundred and eighty clansmen marched into county Wexford, through Bantry and Shelburne, imposing coign and livery on the populace. After they had been in the county for two nights Masterson ambushed them, killing fifty nine and arresting two more. This was no minor affray. Masterson wiped out a considerable part of the sept's forces, four of whom were captains. Moreover, most were actually executed and not killed in a military engagement, which would indicate that they had been apprehended first. Donall Spaineach, fast becoming the undisputed leader of the sept, escaped from the slaughter and immediately complained to the government. Feagh, on hearing of the attack, was appalled. He vowed to spoil all of the Seneschal's lands in revenge. But what probably worried Masterson most was that the earl of Ormond was furious. Ormond was unhappy that Masterson had killed one of his servants during the attack, but also that Masterson had chosen to attack a Gaelic clan that was under Ormond's government protection part of his strategy for winning the war. He was not about to let the matter drop. The issue came before the Council in May, and they continued to debate the matter for the following year. Masterson justified his unprecedented attack by listing a number of raids, thefts and other "offences" committed by members of the sept since 1577. However, his response to these crimes had not been to arrest those accused, or recover stolen property, but to obliterate the sept. Though there had been rumours of a coming revolt in Leinster, nothing serious had yet happened. Masterson's lethal assault on the clan not only destabilised government authority in the area, but probably played a determining role in the decision of most Kavanagh septs to rebel with Feagh McHugh and Baltinglass in July 1580. Even the government had to admit that their seneschals had overstepped the mark. Justice Pelharn commented, "i perceive many of the borderers have committed outrages in diverse parts", no doubt referring to Masterson's attack, and Treasurer Wallop singled out Harrington as responsible for all the disorders in the O'Byrnes territory because of his highhanded treatment of those under his rule. Days before Feagh entered into actual rebellion, the government received a report from Harrington on the state of the region. Apparently Feagh was ready for war with the particular aim of defending himself against renewed attacks by Masterson. In fact, true to his word,
Feagh's first actual act of rebellion was to lay waste Masterson's lands about Ferns as he had threatened he would do.
In the wake of Masterson's massacre of the Kavanaghs, and possibly for some time beforehand, Feagh began to rapidly improve his sept's military strength. On the eve of the revolt Harrington informed London that sixty shot had recently joined Feagh, and that he turned none away who wished to fight under his leadership. So much so that he had 600 or 700 soldiers under his command, by far the largest private Gaelic army in Leinster. Two years earlier, when the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes had submitted, they had registered a private army of 131 soldiers. In those two years they had recruited 500 soldiers, many of whom may have previously been supporters of Rory Og O'More . There were a number of reasons for Feagh's sudden rise to regional pre eminence, not least of which was the rapid disappearance of a whole generation of Gaelic leaders in the late 1570s. As noted, Rory Og O'More was killed in 1578, and it was some time before a clear successor emerged. Furthermore Brian McCahir Kavanagh died in the same year, after which his sept was plunged into a testy successional dispute. In 1579 Feagh's father, Hugh McShane, also died, thereby allowing Feagh to take full control of the Gabhal Raghnaill O'Byrnes. By 1580, by a process of elimination, Feagh was the most able dissident Gaelic leader in the province. But there was more to his success than simple default. He was involved in every stage of the Leinster rebellion, both in determining the tactics employed and organising the forces involved. There were rumours that Baltinglass and Feagh might have been involved in the Munster conspiracy from as early as August 1579, though it was only during the early months of 1580 that they jointly penned a letter to the Munster rebels declaring their intention of joining with them "in defence of the popes cause".
Once the Leinster revolt had begun they lost no time in co ordinating the two risings. By August 1580 Dr Nicholas Sanders, the papal legate, and Sir John of Desmond (the Earl's brother) had travelled to the province to confer with the rebel leadership there, and offer advice and assistance. When they returned to Munster in September, Baltinglass went with them. Sanders remarked favourably on Feagh's religious zeal, the principal issue which had determined his unlikely partnership with the Catholic insurgent Baltinglass.
Viscount Baltinglass, an Anglo Irish aristocrat with estates in Co. Kildare bordering the O’Byrnes was a leading adherent of counter reformation Catholicism within the Pale. Though there was some shock in government circles that Baltinglass could ally with the "base" Feagh McHugh, the Leinster confederacy spread to every Gaelic lordship in the province, and was rumoured to extend into Ulster and Connaught. From the moment the Leinster revolt began, both the Dublin and Spanish governments understood it to be under the joint leadership of Baltinglass and Feagh. Key letters were signed by both men, even though Baltinglass was the designated rebel commander. This was clearly because Feagh was the key co ordinator of Gaelic Leinster, militarily the most important dimension to the revolt, without which Baltinglass would have been incapable of mounting a serious challenge to the state.
Once the revolt was underway Feagh attempted to unify the Gaelic lordships of the province under his command. To this end he sought to appoint a new "King of Leinster" from amongst the Kavanaghs, and persuaded individual Kavanagh leaders (e.g. Dermot McMaurice, Dowling McBrian and Donall Spaineach) to take an oath recognising his personal authority. Similar oaths and alliances were taken by other provincial Gaelic leaders, like Phelim O'Toole in July 1581 and Teig McGillpatrick O'Connor in July 1582. Furthermore he received the active support of leading figures from the senior O'Byrne dynasty (Crioch Brannagh) such as Gerald Owre McTeig Og, after many years of hostility and confrontation between the competing branches of the clan. In fact Harrington reported that Feagh had persuaded all these prominent Gaelic leaders to swear an oath accepting his authority in all matters, and it was also stated that they could not make peace without Feagh's assent. This was a profound development. In effect he was confirming his position as the political heir of Rory Og O'More, seeking a new alliance of all the disaffected clans of Leinster. His attempts to utilise long dormant Gaelic titles, adding credence and popular support to this confederacy, was both a conscious appeal to tradition as well as being quite novel. This was all strengthened by the Catholic religious symbolism given to the oaths recognising his authority. In fact the importance of religious sentiment in the Gaelic revolt in Leinster was graphically illustrated in the first weeks of the rising when Feagh's troops were seen displaying "the popes banner".
As noted, Feagh's first action in the war was to attack Masterson's estates in Wexford. Following this he joined forces with Murtough Og Kavanagh, a Kavanagh leader of growing importance, to attack and bum ten villages on Seneschal Carew's estate in Idrone, Co. Carlow. That these officers were the early targets of the revolt was made crystal clear on 28 July 1580 when Feagh led hundreds of his soldiers to torch the village of Newcastle McKinnegan and lay siege to the castle there under Harrington's charge. The threat that Feagh now posed to the state persuaded the new viceroy, Lord Deputy Grey, to deal with the Leinster revolt before proceeding to Munster. Within days of arriving in Dublin he proclaimed that "we think it more than high time by speedy prosecution to have their [i.e. Baltinglass and Feagh] pride daunted". He led the royal army into the Wicklow Mountains where they were routed by the rebels at Glenmalure on 25 August 1580, giving Feagh his greatest military success of the revolt. In the ensuing months Feagh followed this up by attacking and destroying a number of Pale villages as well as Wicklow castle. By the end of the year he had been able to persuade many of the Kavanagh septs to rebel, which they did en masse in the spring of 1581.
It is not intended here to go through all the engagements of that war, but it is worthwhile looking at some of the key developments. Following their defeat at Glenmalure the government relied on the earl of Kildare and Seneschal Harrington to deal with Feagh's revolt, but despite some successful engagements they were not able to contain it. It was not until the spring of 1581 that the government felt compelled to take firmer action, and when they did it was decisive. Lord Deputy Grey, sent a substantial force into the region, which proceeded to attack rebels where they could, killing soldier and non combatant with abandon. As Treasurer Wallop put it as they marched to Wexford, their task was to "extirpate those generation of vipers out of Leinster" particularly Feagh McHugh." Once Grey arrived in the south east in June 1581 he attacked the Kavanaghs and O'Byrnes, pursued a scorched earth policy with respect to branches of the Kinsellaghs, executed a noted leader of the Donal Reagh Kavanaghs and forced Creon McMurrough Kavanagh (who was Feagh's candidate to the "Kingship of Leinster") to submit. In the following months, royal forces engaged the rebels on a number of occasions throughout the area. For example, in June Richard Synnott killed fifty Kavanaghs (of whom nineteen were soldiers). In July Masterson killed two hundred Art Boy Kavanaghs (of whom fifty were soldiers) and took a number of prisoners who were later executed. It was in the midst of these attacks that an engagement took place at Ferns Cathedral which may help explain some of the confusion surrounding Feagh and this place. O'Byrne and Kavanagh rebels attacked the town and the defending garrison was forced to make a stand at the Cathedral. A pitched battle ensued within the building and the small garrison won the day, killing around forty rebels. In classic fashion, as if to underscore his military authority, Masterson had the bodies of these rebels quartered and put on grisly display about the walls of the Cathedral.
But without doubt the most significant series of engagements for Feagh were directed against his own lordship of Gabhal Raghnaill. They began in earnest in April 1581 when Sir William Stanley burnt Feagh's main residence at Ballinacor as well as ravaging many other O'Byrne strongholds. Seneschal Harrington, with the support of Stanley and other newly arrived royal commanders, made a number of raids and attacks into this territory. They killed many soldiers and non-combatants and seized over 1,000 cattle belonging to the clan. These attacks were given added weight when Lord Deputy Grey invested two castles in the region with large garrisons, one of which was only three miles from Ballinacor.
In the aftermath of these attacks, Feagh declared to Harrington in July 1581 that he was ready to submit and deliver pledges. The Lord Deputy immediately ordered Harrington to accept this offer. Though he doubted that Feagh would keep such a promise, the government hoped that this would at least split the Leinster confederacy, pealing away Feagh and his "natural followers", and leaving Baltinglass isolated." This had been the intention behind a proclamation issued by the Irish Council offering terms to all the rebels, except Desmond and Baltinglass. But when Feagh came to negotiate his surrender "and understood that his petition was granted he made a mockery of it, declaring that he would never have pardon while he lived, for if he would, he could have it in despite of the Lord Deputy". He flatly refused to accept a pardon unless it was extended to the two rebel leaders as well. Feagh's disdain for the government's terms was made doubly clear days after the failed negotiations when Phelim O'Toole, a leading figure of that clan, publicly sided with the rebels acknowledging Feagh as his master.
Nevertheless, by 28 August 1581 Feagh had submitted and put in pledges, for which he received a pardon. Eager to send all available troops to the front line in Munster and remove the threat on the Pale, the government accepted a simple submission from Feagh by attorney, with no financial compensation. Secretary Fenton underlined the government's intention by remarking that Baltinglass had been left in "great astonishment" at the actions of his confederate. But there seems to have been much more to Feagh's unpredictable actions than Fenton or the government initially comprehended. Within days of his submission, it was reported to King Philip II that Baltinglass was leaving the country to muster support in Spain, and had made Feagh the commander of the Leinster rebels in his absence. Two months later the Dublin government became aware of this, though they ignored the obvious implications for months.
By June 1582 the government was informed that Feagh's followers had almost ceased all arable farming, instead seizing needed corn from estates in the Pale. Furthermore, Feagh was once more seeking to forge unity among the Kavanaghs under his complete authority, and had entered a new alliance with Teig McGillpatrick O'Connor. O'Connor's troops were hiding in the Wicklow mountains under Feagh's protection, as were a number of renegade Eustaces. His intentions were obvious, he had been preparing for the foreign invasion which Baltinglass had gone to the continent to organise the previous year. His submission in 1581 had been a ruse, giving the rebels time to regroup in anticipation of foreign assistance. But the summer brought no continental army and Feagh submitted again in September 1582. In November the Lord Justices received his formal submission and pledges, as well as those of his two most important supporters, Murtough Og Kavanagh and Teig McGillpatrick O'Connor. Even though the government did not trust these protestations of loyalty, acknowledging that they were just allowing Feagh time to rearm, they had received specific instructions from the Queen to deal with the rebels in Munster first. As the war entered its final year, and Desmond's position progressively weakened, the Dublin administration began expressing its dissatisfaction with the policy pursued against Feagh in far more strident terms. His submission could not be trusted; he was making "proud and presumptuous" demands and intimating that he would return to war if they were not met, he had threatened to kill a captain of the royal army, and so on. They argued that the Queen should appoint a firm Lord Deputy who would deal with him. Some bluntly recommended the return of Lord Grey. They clearly understood that because Feagh had not been militarily defeated, but had freely accepted the government's terms, he could return to war at any time. This was of singular importance.
As for the seneschals, even though Masterson's and Harrington's brutal actions in 1580 had solicited complaint from many quarters, and had led to Harrington's brief imprisonment in 1580 and Masterson's in 1581, they were lavishly rewarded at the end of the war with new leases of crown land. Having played important roles in the suppression of the revolt, the government could hardly do otherwise, but the question of whether these men and the system of government under which they operated had led to the revolt was not an issue which the government could simply ignore.
The seneschals, martial law and the whole edifice of garrison government was not without its critics, even within the ranks of the Dublin administration. The first indications that differences existed within the government on this key issue came in the late 1570s, and the principal commentator was none less than Lord Chancellor Gerrard. By 1577 he had become deeply critical of many features of the government of Ireland under Lord Deputy Sidney, not least of which was the continued military rule in the Gaelic borderlands of Leinster. He wrote a damning indictment of Masterson's treatment of the Kavanaghs, asserting that it was the seneschals excessive use of martial law and pursuit of private gain which had lead to so much conflict between the clans and the authorities. The solution, in his opinion, was to turn these areas into shire ground, in effect replacing military rule with civil government and a judicial system based on common law rather than the arbitrary use of martial law. He argued that the O'Byrnes, O'Tooles and the clans of northern Wexford had been sufficiently subdued to do this. He immediately appointed a commission to set out the boundaries of two new counties, to be called Wicklow and Ferns, the latter essentially representing the three northern baronies of Co. Wexford. The new counties were formally erected in 1579 but had a short history. No sheriffs were ever appointed, and after a brief flurry of interest again in the mid 1580s the legal entities of Wicklow and Ferns were allowed to lapse on the grounds that there were not enough recognised freeholders in the areas to fulfil the offices associated with the administration of a county. But this was only partly the reason. Despite the formal creation of the counties in 1579, which should have seen the retirement of the seneschals, Harrington was confirmed at his post in November 1579 with enlarged authority. Doubtless this was in response to the Desmond revolt, but it also seems clear that Gerrard was the only senior government figure committed to the idea in the first place. Even the Privy Council in London thought the plan was premature, and when Gerrard died in 1581 the impetus behind these new counties rapidly petered out.
But whilst Gerrard's plan for the introduction of common law by way of counties was shelved, the debate over the causes of the 1580 Leinster revolt was not. Despite the wide range of support for garrison government and martial law in general by such notable figures as the previous Lord Deputies, Sir Henry Sidney and Lord Grey de Wilton, and the influential army commander Sir Nicholas Malby, not to mention the seneschals themselves, the 1579-83 war had a deeply penetrating impact on government circles. The war had cost a fortune. During the course of the war, seneschals had come under individual attack from the earls of Kildare and Ormond, Sir Henry Wallop and other officials." Once the war was over, Lord Chancellor Loftus directly cited their conduct as the principal cause of the Leinster rising. In his opinion they had ruled in an arbitrary and absolutist manner for their own private gain. This stinging indictment was echoed in the writings of a number of other Irish officials at the time. But importantly, one of the most senior and respected English Privy Councillors, Sir James Croft, submitted a treatise on the future government of Ireland to the Queen in 1583. It contained a detailed critique of the use of martial law in Ireland, arguing that it was used in too many places, too often, and without the assent of the populace. It was also critical of the continued powers of the seneschals in general. With the support of Lord Burghley, it looked certain that these criticisms would be taken on board. And to a certain extent they were, though the manner in which the issue was dealt with revealed just how much all government figures relied on the seneschals to maintain government authority in the Gaelic borderlands adjoining the Pale.
As a result of these criticisms, the powers of the seneschals were initially incrementally curtailed. Firstly, the number of troops under their command was substantially reduced. Secondly, greater effort was made to see that these areas were served by the southern assize circuit presided over by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Nicholas White. On his first circuit in 1584, White reported that Feagh McHugh and many other inhabitants had attended the sessions with complaints against the extortionate demands and activities of the seneschals of their areas. But despite the new enforcement of common rather than martial law, it still saw the execution of forty eight prisoners in its first year of operation. Furthermore, martial law was not abolished. The number of commissioners was substantially reduced though, so that by 1585 it was generally only the seneschals and other senior local government figures who retained that authority. But despite these modifications, the actual legal powers of the seneschals were not reduced. In fact, with a new set of instructions in 1585, the range of their responsibilities substantially increased, with orders to enforce an oath of allegiance on all those aged over sixteen and to enforce the adoption of English manners and dress.
It was clear the government had no clear agenda for the area despite accepting the validity of many of the criticisms of the garrison regime. They settled on a fudge, trying to balance the common law against the extra ordinary powers of the seneschals. Lord Deputy Perrott even revived the plan to create counties Ferns and Wicklow, but only for the parliamentary advantage of having another four pro government MPs at the parliament of 1585. Once the parliament was over, the counties were allowed lapse again. The debate over the use of martial law raged on throughout the decade, being drastically curtailed in 1586 and temporarily abolished on the Queen's order in 1591.91
For the rest of the 1580s, Feagh abided by his submission to the authorities. He duly appeared before the Lord Deputy in 1584, delivering up his uncle and son to the government as pledges for his good conduct. Though officials such as Sir Henry Wallop could claim, with some justification, that Feagh was only biding his time until a new revolt broke out, or Spanish help arrived, Feagh remained publicly loyal throughout the remainder of the 1580s. In fact he aided the government in hunting down and executing felons living in Gabhal Raghnaill, and regularly appeared before the Lord Deputy in Dublin. On one visit he even arrived dressed in English apparel. But despite this show of allegiance, he could never be trusted by the authorities. The threat he posed had been clearly demonstrated in 1580 and the government were eager to eradicate this potential menace by any means, including assassination.
With the abolition of martial law in 1591 it may have been assumed that the seneschals would have been discharged. They were not, despite stringent opposition to their continued existence by the clans themselves and some leading figures in the Dublin administration. Sir Henry Wallop tried to have the office of seneschal of Wexford lapse after Masterson's death in 1590, on the grounds that there was already a sheriff and J.P.s operating in the county. He was overruled by the Lord Deputy and the office was filled by the dead seneschal's eldest son, Richard Masterson. The continued existence of these military governors was obviously considered to be too important to radically tamper with, and despite all the criticisms levelled following the Baltinglass/Feagh McHugh revolt the system of garrison government was not fundamentally altered. At bottom those who advocated the primacy of the common law were generally in a minority within the administration, and hence rarely had the opportunity to put their plans into effect. Garrison government, with all the associated brutality and violent oppression, was the favoured means of controlling the clans along the Pale's frontier, and this remained unchanged from the 1550s to the 1590s. From the government's point of view it had often been very successful, and whilst there were excesses, and the seneschals frequently executed their authority with private financial gain foremost in their minds, many powerful Gaelic families had seen their economic and military strength shattered and were therefore no longer a threat to the security of the state. With the gathering storm towards the last major war of the century, it was those families, who by reason of their geographic location had been best able to defend themselves in the face of garrison government, who had risen to prominence. Within the Kavanaghs, Donall Spaineach of the Art Boy Kavanaghs rapidly became the undisputed leader of the clan. His family resided on the Blackstairs mountains and in the equally well defended woodland of the Duffrey. His patron, and quasi king maker, was Feagh McHugh whose family had been able to escape the worst excesses of Seneschal Masterson and Harrington from within their mountain stronghold of Ballinacor.
In conclusion then, the imposition of garrison government throughout Gaelic Leinster was at the core of the Tudor conquest. Feagh's political outlook was forged in the fires of this military rule. Throughout his early career he sought to preserve the power and autonomy of his family, and to this end was increasingly drawn into a common struggle alongside the neighbouring clans in the province, particularly that of his brother in law, Rory Og O'More. In the aftermath of Rory's death, and the unprecedented government terror of 1577 8, Feagh became the principal dissident Gaelic leader in Leinster. His decision to enter into, and substantially organise the Leinster dimension of the 1579 83 rebellion, was a calculated response to a desperate situation. The revolt itself was a watershed in his political aspirations. No longer a local figure, he became the linchpin in a national uprising. His ability to utilise existing Gaelic strengths, his appeal to traditional titles, his determined advocacy of religious sentiment, his attempts to increase the unity and power of the neighbouring Kavanaghs, and his firm alliance with the Anglo Irish Baltinglass, all indicate both considerable political skill and the ability to modify his traditional dynastic priorities. Recently historians have debated whether a distinctly pan Gaelic "nationalism" arose in the bardic poems written for Feagh. By themselves these poems will probably never resolve the issue, but it is hoped that this paper has shown there is enough evidence to support Bradshaw's basic contention that the Gaelic political community (particularly Feagh McHugh and the O'Byrne leadership) were not incapable of transcending the existing political framework in their response to the experience of conquest.
Feagh McHugh O'Byme's submission at Christ Church, Dublin, 21
(P.R.O. SP 63/62/17)
To the right honourable the Lord Justice.
With all due obedience & humilitie ffeagh m' hue That where he came unto your honor simpley and dutifully submittinge him self to hir majesties grace & mercy havinge sought for nether pardon nor proteccon And albeit that sundry men would saye and judge of him to be a disturber of the common weale which brutes [i.e. rumours] proceded rather of malice then for any juste cause, for he did nothinge butt stode in defence of his cormtrie agayriste those which allwayes sought his distruccon, yet repentinge such as in times paste have berm by him dowen. And meaninge henceforth to live in due obedience to his prince & hir governor here for time beinge, he thought good to repayer unto your honor aswell to shew his greeffe as to make all the world understand how he is bente to loyaltie & dutifullnes henceforth to continue so as his adversaries be stopped ffrorn annoyinge of him and notwithstandinge in [ ? ] of his fformer doinges butt referringe himself to hir majesties moste gracious favour & clemencie. The causes whye he made any stirre heretofore were to tediouse in particulars to reherse butt in generall he protesteth before god & your honor it was through the manifould enjuries done unto him by his neighbors whoe killed his uncle, prayed his conntrre & sought his owen death diverse wayes, and ffor no other desire he had to live otherwise then become a true and fayethfull subjecte. And when he hath putt his pledges into the hande of Sir Henrie Harrington knight (whome he taketh to be his Capten) ffor kepinge of the peace he thinketh himself oppressed that his adversaries viz Thomas Masterson & Peter Carewe esquiers are not compelled to put in theire pledges all so, he hath allso at comandmente of his sayed Capten refrayned to comitt any hurte or seke any revenge uppon those which annoyed him since the time that your honor receved the sword albeit that three severall prayes have bene taken ffrom him by Mastersons men and others since your honour receyved the sworde viz the laste thursdaye after his cominge oute of newe castle ffrom his sayed Capten iiii` [i.e. 801 stod mares were taken ffrorn him that night and uppon ffryday after mastersons men came to his cormtrie & toke v [i.e. 100] stod with xl [i.e. 401 markes worth of houshould stuffe from him and allso at annother time the[y] toke iii [i.e. 60] kine owte of your suppliants cormtrie in profe wherof parte of your supliants men followed the pray to Rissellage & in rescuinge some of both sides were sleine. ffor theise and many other owtrags your Supliant hath omitted to seeke any revenge bycause he gave his word to his sayed Capten who promised him to have redresse uppon his comminge to your honor humblye cravinge her majesties pardon ffor the hurte paste and to cause the sayed parties to put in securitie hencefourth not to annoy yor Supliant or his termants. In so doinge he will undertake to kepe himself and all his hence forth in dutifull sorte not comittinge any spoyles or hurte uppon any hir majesties subjects and besids will do such service to hir majestie as shall be acceptable to your honor iff it shall please your Lordship or his sayed Capten to command him therunto.
[Endorsed:] Ffeough m' Hughes Submission in Cristes churche in Dublin the xxi of September 1578