• Wilde Irishe

The MacGiollapadraig’s Lordship and ‘Grany ny Costegan, shot’

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Last week we touched on the MacGiollapadraig lords, who in 1541 became notorious as the first Gaelic Chiefs to submit to “Surrender and Regrant,” giving up their lordship to the King in return for secure land titles. In abandoning the custom of selecting a chief and tainist from the extended derbfine, and adopting English primogeniture for his own offspring instead, the first Baron stands accused of giving away the rights of his clansmen. But, in a seminal volume of the recent movement to start focusing on Gaelic experience in the 16th/17th centuries, Gaelic Ireland: Land, Lordship & Settlement c. 1250-1650, David Edwards takes a closer look. He argues that historian’s prevalent ‘castle-centered’ view, which sees English policy in Ireland as ‘reform’ driven, lacks verification. Edwards questions the existence of any coherent policy of peaceful persuasion whereby the Native Irish were to willingly supplant their own customs with English norms advocated by Crown authorities in Dublin Castle. He argues that the plots, plats and plans that have been fodder for so many dreary studies were in fact wordy cover for outright military and colonial action.


map of Upper Ossory and surrounding territory including the Pale, with the Fitzpatrick arms displayed.
MacGiollapadraig's Upper Ossory lordship and neighbors

A glance at the map indicates why the MacGiollapadraig lords might seek accommodation with Dublin Castle in the 16th century, as government plantations crept ever closer and rival O’Carrolls and the Butler Earls of Ormond hemmed them in. But Edwards argues that political collaboration allowed the Barons of Upper Ossory to maintain an exceptionally healthy Gaelic culture right through the completion of the Tudor reconquest in 1603, all without interference from Dublin! He points out that the lordship continued to host three Gaelic medical schools and the O’Doran’s Brehon law school, and remained free of English plantation. Brian Og MacGiollapadraig, first Baron of Upper Ossory, got a crown grant to his own market town (Aghaboe, in 1543), allowing him to control economic conditions in the lordship. He and his successors continued to levy the traditional Gaelic exactions on their tenants until at least 1606, quartering their soldiers, dogs and horses on the tenantry, with rights to call them out for labour and carriage. The Barons were Gaelic cattle lords and stud lords, raising thousands of cattle and horses, with relatively little arable land under cultivation. Edwards says the lordship thus lacked a prosperous tenant farmer class, and to maintain the service of their few scullogs or ‘serfs’, the MacGiollapadraig lords naturally resisted English concepts of tenants and their rights. [More recently, Gerard Farrell has noted the presence of a sometimes prosperous biatach class of tenants elsewhere in Gaelic Ireland, and he also reminds us of the extreme mobility of all classes of Gaelic Irish tenants, who would decamp for another lord if they felt they were being treated unfairly. Unlike serfs, they were never tied to the land.]


The O’Doran brehons would continue to administer Irish law till the end (1606), modifying it to allow death by hanging for murder. This replaced the old eric, or blood money fine. Edwards says this was not any adoption of English Common Law, but rather an extension of martial law powers to the MacGiollapadraig lords. And martial law powers depended on the MacGiollapadraig army, whereas disarmament was the ostensible goal of Crown ‘reform’ policy towards the Irish lords. In fact, Barnaby Fitzpatrick, the second Baron, raised at court in England as 'whipping boy' to Edward VI, nonetheless continued the tradition of raiding in Kilkenny and Tipperary in 1574. While giving lip service to having his people adopt English ways, Barnaby’s instructions for governing his realm included the forbidden hiring of additional mercenaries (buannacht) when his standing force of 40 horse, 60 galloglass, and 60 kern might prove insufficient. In 1576 Barnaby again escaped punishment after invading Co. Kilkenny in pursuing his feud with the Butlers of Ormond. He would become infamous in 1578 when his kern killed the rebel Rory O’More while on government service, yet his lordship resisted any internal anglicisation until the Stuart era.


Fitzpatrick Arms, list of Barons of Upper Ossory, Brian na Luireach in Pale type knights armour

Like the Earl of Tyrone, Florence the third Baron of Upper Ossory updated his armed forces, and by 1601 his men had been converted to shot and pike. The MacGiollapadraig army now consisted of 15 horsemen, 35 shot, and 15 pikes. They are all listed by name in the Fiants of Elizabeth, along with their home places. Among the shot we find Gilpatrick O’Costegan and Shane McCostegan, both of Garranroe, and Grany ny Costegan of the Dirren [a woman]. The presence of this Grania among the shot underscores one reason for the adoption of firearms; a sick and underfed man can still fire a caliver, while he might be too weak to draw a bow or cast a dart properly.


German woman armed with a caliver, 1616
A German virago of 1616

Next week we'll go shopping in Kilkenny with Hugh O'Byrne.

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