Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Researches in the South of Ireland (Author: Thomas Crofton Croker)

section 4



    1. Castles high fall in decay,
      And the Lords who once did hold them;
      Lords and castles pass away
      As our beads when we have told them.
Translation from an Irish MS.

The road leading from Limerick towards Cork is for some miles flat and uninteresting, though the horizon is bounded by mountains with an agreeable outline. The cabins of the peasantry are most deplorable; and the state of filth in which the owners live, inconceivable to an Englishman who has not travelled in Ireland. Twenty of these hovels sometimes succeed each other without a chimney; and invariably a stagnant black puddle is seen close to the door, appointed receiver-general of all kinds of filth, streams from which issue in every direction, one generally entering at the cabin door and trickling down over its mud floor: — ‘Such habitations,’ to use the words of Sir Richard Hoare, ‘teeming with a numerous population of children, pigs and poultry, present a truly deplorable and affecting sight to every man of feeling and humanity.’

About nine miles distant from Limerick, not far from the road, lies Lough Gur, formerly a place of consideration; its castle, which


stood on an island, being out of the reach of musketry, and the ruggedness of the surrounding country rendering the approach of cannon a matter of difficulty. Sir George Carew, in the beginning of 1600, shortly after he assumed the government of Munster, reconnoitered Lough Gur Castle, and found it garrisoned by more than two hundred soldiers, commanded by James Fitz Thomas, a near relative of the Earl of Desmond, to the history of whose ruinous fate the present chapter is chiefly devoted. On observing the President's approach, a few shots were fired from the castle, but without effect, and Sir George Carew returned to Limerick, where, after much parade in the preparation of ordnance to reduce Lough Gur, its surrender was purchased for sixty pounds from Owen Grome, who had been entrusted with its defence by James Fitz Thomas.

An Irish topographical manuscript without date, the writer of which I have reason to believe was John M'Donald, or Shane Clarah, mentioned hereafter, is at present in my possession, and lies before me with a translation. In it ‘Lough Guir’ is described as more than eight miles distant from Limerick, and remarkable on account of a beautiful and verdant hill, almost in the centre of the lake. ‘On the foot of this hill,’ (I copy literally the translation,) ‘at the north side, is a stately castle in the Gothic fashion. The hill is about an English mile and a half in circumference, and on its south-west side is the largest part of the lough; there, at the distance of three or four hundred yards from the shore, formerly stood a square castle rising out of the water, on the vault of which was planted, as I was told by Mr. Baily the owner of the place, five or six apple trees which then bore fruit; and on the edges of the vault he caused battlements to be raised to prevent their destruction by the undulation of the waters. I have been,’ continues the writer, ‘at this extraordinary orchard and vault, the owner of which partly supports himself by what money he receives from the curious who visit this place; there is but one causeway to the hill, no doubt


fortified by the ever-memorable Brien Boroïmhe in the Danish times, which has yet the remains of two out-works upon it.’

Near Lough Gur, and close to the road-side, a large Druidical circle of stones is to be seen, of which some description may be found in Mr. Twiss's Tour and Trotter's Walks through Ireland, but a severe fall of rain prevented my examination of this rude monument.

Two miles farther brought us to Bruff, or Brough, a wretched village, with the ruins of an old castle, mentioned in the Pacata Hibernia. Continuing our route we arrived at Kilmallock, sixteen miles from Limerick, and entered the town, under a dark and massive gateway, late in the evening. The gloom which partially obscured every object, as we drove along a street composed of mean cabins, mingled with the ancient stateliness of towers and embattled wails, produced rather a mournful impression on the mind not unfavourable to useful thought, but it was soon dispelled by the prospect of miserable accommodations and the consequential officiousness of our landlady.

From its present fallen condition and former greatness, Kilmallock has been called ‘the Irish Balbeck,’ by Dr. Campbell, whose description of the plate in his Philosophical Survey, (which, by the by, has very little if any likeness to Kilmallock,) proves him to be, though an agreeable and intelligent writer, no artist. — ‘There was something,’ says that author, ‘so picturesque in the perspective of this place that I could not help attempting to delineate it; I send you my essay, done, as you see it, in less than an hour; I must, however, remark to you, that I began upon a scale too large for my paper, and was not able to get in the whole town!emph>’

Kilmallock seems to have been gradually sinking into decay since the time of Cromwell, when it was dismantled and received much injury from the parliamentary army. Two (of the four) gateways still exist, and have a solid heavy effect, with a strong resemblance to Spanish or Moorish architecture. But it is from the main street


that a just idea of its ancient consequence may be formed; on each side are the remains of houses built of hewn stone, which seem to have been constructed on an uniform plan; and so excellent is the workmanship, the walls of many of them are now in perfect preservation, only wanting roofs and floors to make them as complete as when inhabited. These houses are three stories high, ornamented with an embattlement and a tasteful stone moulding on the outside, of this pattern: [...]3. The square window frames and large fire-places are well carved, in a bold and massive style; and such is the durability of the limestone, though exposed to the weather and casual injuries, that it retains the sharpness of the chisel as if only yesterday from the hands of the sculptor.

A chimney-piece in the shell of one of these buildings bears the inscription ‘SH 16 IHS 38 EH’

These initials I was told were those of Simon and Edward (more probably Elizabeth or Elinor) Healy; and as these houses were evidently built about the same time, this date satisfactorily points out the period.

The annexed sketch of the ground-plan of Kilmallock I have made from recollection, to assist the reader in comprehending the description; and have distinguished in it, by a deeper shade, such ancient edifices as still exist, from the cabins and mean houses of modern formation.

Little attention is paid by its present inhabitants to the preservation of the remains of its former importance. On the contrary they are daily destroyed. Whenever a hovel is required to be built, the materials are procured by breaking down part of these once splendid mansions, some of which have been lowered and fitted up in accordance with the neglect and desertion of the place, and the interior of others is occupied by sheds for cattle, or more loathsome pigsties.


The town walls, still retaining in some places their original height, may be traced uninterruptedly from the gate on the Charleville side to that on the Limerick, which I am inclined to consider a fourth part of their former extent.

A stream, named the Cummogue, runs close to the town, and falls into the river Maig; on its opposite banks are the ruins of two abbeys, which complete the vestiges of ancient Kilmallock. That on the same side with the town contains monuments to members of the Fitzgerald, Verdon, Blakeney, and Haly families, erected during the seventeenth century, and it is difficult to imagine more barbarous or grotesque pieces of sculpture than some of them exhibit; indeed it is surprising, after beholding the beautiful masonry of that time so conspicuous in the town, to find tombs of the same date, on which much labour has been bestowed — such unskilful productions. The bas reliefs copied from the Verdon tomb, bearing the years 1614 and 1626, may serve as an illustration; yet Ferrar, in his History of Limerick, says — ‘This monument was of excellent workmanship, and esteemed one of the best in Munster;’ and speaking of the uncouth figures I have sketched, says, they are ‘done in a masterly style in alto relievo.’ Were it not for the coincidence of name and dates I should doubt the identity of the monument. The singularity of a Fitzgerald tomb (equally rude with the Verdon) perhaps requires mention. A figure of Death is conspicuously engraven on it, with the hexameter verse ‘Non fugiam! prius experiar — Non Mors mihi terror.’

The chancel of this abbey has been fitted up and is used as a church. The ruined abbey on the other side of the water is of greater extent, but has too lonely and stern an appearance to be picturesque, circumstances which render it more sublime. The architecture, though solid, is graceful, and the great altar window, a


fine specimen of the chaste lightness of the pure Gothic style. In the centre of its chancel stands the family tomb of the White Knight, a title assumed by a branch of the Fitzgeralds, or, as they are frequently called, Geraldines, and, according to Camden, originating from the grey hairs of the founder of that line. In the pedigree of the Fitzgerald family, the titles of some of the branches settled in the south of Ireland are so romantic that they carry us completely back to the days of chivalry, as we find, beside the White Knight, the Knight of Glen, sometimes called the Knight of the Valley, the Black Knight, and the Knight of Kerry; appellations that continue to be bestowed on the lineal representative at the present day.

The ponderous slab that covered the White Knight's tomb is broken in two parts, one of which lies overturned beside it, and bears the following inscription:

I. H. S.
Hic tvmvlvs erectvs fv
it in memoriam illivs ste
mmatis Geraldinorvm qvi
vvlgo vocantvr eqvites
Iohannes cvm filio svo
Edmvndo et Mavricio fi
lio preefati Edmvndi
etmvlti alii eivsdem famil
iee hic tvmvlantvr preef

A boy tending some cattle, that had sheltered from the noon-tide heat in the shade of the abbey walls, seeing me examining this mutilated tomb, introduced himself with the exclamation, ‘The curse of Cromwell be on the White Knight. — He was the cruel and


bad man, Sir!’ and added, ‘They say 'twas the black bull that tattered it in this way, your honour; but 'tis my belief it was none of his doing, but the work of some kind of evil spirit or other. It was just broken and left as it is now four nights ago, and in my opinion 'tis a judgment on the White Knight, for he was the cruel and bad man!’

My new bare-footed acquaintance showed me an inscribed stone lying in the dilapidated cloisters which, with the armorial fragment copied near the Geraldine tomb, are the only monumental remains to be discerned in this abbey. The inscription in the cloisters has already been printed in Ferrar's Limerick and Mr. Weld's Account of Killarney; but being in itself curious I will not omit it, particularly as there is some slight variation in my transcript from that of the latter gentleman.

Tertia. lux. cæsos. memorat. Septembris. in. anno.
quem. legis. heu. nondum. tres. tenet. urna. senes.
marte. nepos. fratesque. ruunt. tria. pignora. justo.
jus . patriæ. causam . rexque. fidesque. probant.
integer. attritis. reperitir. candor. in. extis.
virginis. et. veri. purpura. martyrii.
lilia. purpureos. inter. sudantia. fluctus.
tres. meruere. trium. nomina. marmor. habe.
Frés: Geor:
Edw: Burgate.
Nep.: Alex:

M'Donald, (better known by the name of Ollistrum,) the leader of a party of Highlanders in the commotions of Charles the First's time, and who was treacherously murdered at Knocknisross, near


Buttevant, according to tradition was buried in this abbey, but the spot is unknown.4

Kilmallock, as the scene of many historical events, has numerous interesting recollections connected with it. In particular, the fate of the Desmond family, a melancholy picture that assumes even a more mournful tinge since the irritation of party feeling has subsided. — With possessions of nearly four counties, extending above 100 miles, and containing more than 570,000 acres, the Earls of Desmond, when actuated by private motives, were enabled to take the field


with an armed force so considerable as to excite just apprehensions in those who had the government of an imperfectly subdued country. But the history of Gerald, the sixteenth earl, who has been called Ingens rebellibus exemplar, is briefly given in Baker's Chronicle, and with so much affecting simplicity, that I am induced to transcribe the words.

‘Desmond possessed whole countries, together with the County Palatine of Kerry, and had, of his own name and race, at least five hundred gentlemen at his command, all whom and his own life also he lost within the space of three years, very few of the house being left alive.’

If, on the one side, it was necessary for the well-being of the country to suppress such desolating feuds in a question of individual property as that at Affane, (noticed in a subsequent paper,) and to prevent the oppressive and cruel extortion established by an Earl of Desmond, in the reign of Edward the Second, called coigne and livery, or the power of levying indiscriminately and at will whatever victuals, provender, and money, his necessities required; so, on the other, the Earl of Desmond seems to have been driven into rebellion by the unrelenting policy of those who had the direction of public affairs. — And it is to be feared there is too much truth in Dr. Curry's opinion, that ‘his vast estate was a strong inducement to the chief governors of Ireland to make or to proclaim him a rebel, their prey being insured to them in either case by his forfeiture.’

As securities for her husband's conduct and pledges of his innocence, their only son, an infant, together with O'Healy, Bishop of Mayo, and O'Rourke, a Franciscan friar of noble descent, were presented to Sir William Drury by the Countess of Desmond; but the Earl, though with expressions of loyalty, declining to comply with the summons of Sir William Pelham, (the successor to Drury as Lord Justice,) and hesitating in obeying the unnatural command to bear arms against his brother, who had been declared a traitor, was


also proclaimed one himself on the 2d of November, 1579, if he did not surrender within twenty days.

Desmond naturally doubted the faith of those who had already deceived him, by whom his property had been injured, his complaints neglected, and his grievances unredressed. When he complied with the summons of Drury to appear at Kihnallock, whither he came ‘with a well-appointed company of horse and foot, he was committed to custody,’ says Leland, ‘on bare suspicion; but upon making the most solemn promises of loyalty and fidelity, he obtained his liberty, retired from the camp, but refused to attend the deputy, and was therefore still considered as a favourer of foreign invaders and their cause. Upon this bare suspicion, (Sir Nicholas) Malby attacked his town of Rathkeal. — This the Earl considered as an unprovoked and unwarrantable attempt which he was justified in repelling.’

Two members of the council, the Lords Gormanstown and Delvin, refused to sign the proclamation against Desmond, and one hour after it was published, his Countess, we are told, ‘came to the camp to intercede for her unhappy Lord; but the forces had marched towards her husband's country, which they entered with fire and sword.’

The fathers 0'Healy and O'Rourke, who had become sureties for Desmond's loyalty, were executed, and his infant son was sent a state-prisoner to the Tower of London. Even as an additional goad to drive Desmond to desperate measures, the Earl of Ormond, his former rival, was named to take the field against him. So violent was the animosity existing between these two noblemen, that when, on a former occasion, they had agreed to a public reconciliation under the decision of a Special Commission, an aperture was cut in a door for them to shake hands through, ‘each fearing to be poignarded by the other.’

To state Desmond's case with impartiality, it is necessary to point


out that his haughty and tyrannic disposition made him regard the acts of others with suspicion; and though of English extraction, in common with most Irish chieftains, he knew not how to demean himself as a subject, and resisted every encroachment on his feudal dignity. A more dangerous man, therefore, to any peaceable government could not have existed — arrogant, oppressive, and ferocious. Irritated at the severe conduct of the English governors towards him, whom an invasion compelled to adopt decisive measures, the enraged Earl, collecting his followers on the Ballyhoura mountain, for the first time appeared as the avowed enemy of Queen Elizabeth, and proceeded to attack the town of Youghall, which he captured without much opposition, and deposited the plunder in his castles of Strancally and Lisfinneen, having garrisoned them with the invading Spanish troops. Elated by this success, the Earl, with a view to intimidate Sir William Pelham, wrote to him, stating that he had entered into a league for the defence of the catholic religion with the King of Spain, under the sanction of the Pope, and invited Sir William to co-operate with them. Immediately on such a declaration, Lord Ormond and Sir Warham St. Leger made a fierce attack on the estates of Desmond, destroying the tillage, burning and ruining his castles, and murdering, in cold blood, the foreigners by whom they were garrisoned.

A series of acts of devastation on the part of the English, that were vainly opposed by Desmond, ensued for six months, at the end of which time that nobleman, his Countess, and Saunders the Papal Legate, escaped with their lives only from the royal troops, and Lady Desmond once more appeared before the Lord Justice, beseeching him in tears and on her knees, forgiveness and pity for her consort. But Sir William Pelham remained inexorable; and coldly speaking of the Queen's clemency, referred to her Majesty's mercy, at the moment when Lord Desmond's brother, Sir James, was condemned


and executed by martial law, and his reeking limbs exposed to the public gaze on the gates of Cork.

A mutiny amongst the English army was suppressed by openly giving up Desmond's country to plunder instead of their pay; and the greater part of the population, to escape the revolting cruelties attendant on military exaction, fled for protection and found it, from the bravest and most noble of enemies — a British seaman — Sir William Winter, the Vice-Admiral of England, who was stationed off the coast of Kerry to intercept reinforcements from Spain, receiving many of the despairing fugitives on board his squadron.

During this time, the garrison of Kilmallock kept the adherents and forces of Desmond in check, so as to prevent their forming an union with the disaffected of the northern provinces, particularly with Lord Baltinglass, notwithstanding an effort made by Sir John of Desmond and Dr. Saunders. in which their attendants were made prisoners; and shortly after, Captain Zouch, the companion in arms of Raleigh, surprised, near Castle Lyons, Sir John, with his relative James Fitz John, of Strancally, both of whom were executed, and their mangled remains displayed in barbarous triumph.

Pursued from one retreat to another, the Earl of Desmond, after many ineffectual efforts at reprisal, and several narrow escapes, was forced ‘to keep his Christmas (1582) in Kilquegg wood, near Kilmallock,’ where being attacked, his followers were all put to the sword, and he and his Countess escaped by remaining concealed under a bank of the river, up to their chins in water. About the middle of the following year, Desmond's chief force, consisting only of sixty gallowglasses, was surprised in the act of boiling horse-flesh, and half of them slain by a party from Kilmallock, in Harlow or Agherlow wood. On the death of Dr. Saunders, who perished miserably, having fallen a victim to famine and the effects of exposure to the weather, and whose body was discovered partially


devoured by wolves, an intimation was made to Desmond that, on submission, his individual pardon would be granted; but the same unyielding spirit that animated this Earl at Affane inspired his reply — ‘Tell the Lords Justices,’ said Desmond, ‘that I would rather forsake my God than forsake my men!’

In September following, the Earl, accompanied by three horsemen and a priest, encountered a party of Lord Roche's followers, from whom, being well mounted, they escaped, except the priest, who gave a lamentable account of the extremes to which Desmond was reduced.

The last scene of the Earl's life is, however, the most tragical. His necessities having compelled him to take some cattle belonging to a poor woman, he was pursued by a few musketeers and kerns in the English pay, who on entering a little grove, in a lonely and mountainous glen, four miles east of Tralee, about midnight, discovered, seated round the fire of a ruinous hovel, four or five of Desmond's known adherents, all of whom immediately fled on their entrance, leaving one venerable and powerless old man: a soldier, named Daniel Kelly, made a blow at him with his sword, and wounded him so severely as almost to dissever his arm; repeating the blow, the old man ejaculated, ‘Spare me, spare me, I am the Earl of Desmond.’ But the appeal was made in vain; for Kelly struck off his head and conveyed it to the Earl of Ormond, by whom it was sent over, ‘pickled in a pipkin,’ to England, where it was spiked on London Bridge; and his body, after eight weeks concealment, obscurely interred in the little chapel of Killanamana in Kerry. For this service Elizabeth's ‘well-beloved subject and soldier, Daniel Kelly,’ was rewarded with a pension of twenty pounds yearly, which he enjoyed for many years, but was ultimately hanged at Tyburn.

The account given by Spencer of the state of Desmond's country, who was a spectator of it, exhibits a dreadful and impressive picture of the calamitous effects of civil warfare. He tells us, that ‘any


stony heart would rue the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glynns they’ (the people of Munster) ‘came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them — they looked like anatomies of death. They spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions, happy where they could find them, yea, and one another soon after, insomuch, as the very carcases they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able to continue there withal; — that in short space there was none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly became void of man and beast.’

In the Earl of Ormond's services against Desmond, the destruction of 46 captains, 800 notorious traitors, and 4000 common soldiers is enumerated; yet a letter that has been preserved in the Scrina Sacra, from Desmond to Lord Ormond, is written in that tone of submission which renders it but too probable that vindictive motives alone urged the latter to refuse every overture of Desmond's to obtain mercy.

Neither the death of Desmond nor the depopulation of the country restored tranquillity to the south of Ireland; and Elizabeth, by the advice of Sir Robert Cecil, sent over James, the only son of the late Earl, who had been educated in the Tower, under the eye of the English government, in expectation that the adherents of his father would rally around their young Lord and become peaceable subjects. This was the more desirable, as a remaining member of the family, termed in history the Sugan Earl, had assumed the title of Desmond, and appeared in arms against the Queen.

Reared in confinement, inexperienced in popular tumult, and ignorant of political intrigue, the young Earl James arrived at Youghall on the 14th of October, 1600, under the guardianship of Captain Price, and submissively waited on the Lord President of Munster, to whom he delivered dispatches explanatory of the purpose


of his journey into Ireland, and his patent of creation as Earl of Desmond, copies of which may be found in the Pacata Hibernia. The President sent the young Earl to Kilmallock, whither the news of his coming had preceded him, and the followers of the Desmond family crowded to welcome their chief, ‘insomuch as all the streets, doores, and windowes, yea the very gutters and tops of the houses were filled.’ — ‘That night the Earle was invited to supper to Sir George Thornton's, who then kept his house in the town of Kilmallock; and although the Earle had a guard of soldiers which made a lane from his lodgings to Sir G. Thornton's house, yet the confluence of the people that flockt thither to see him was so great, as in half an hour he could not make his passage through the crowd, and after supper he had the like encounters at his returne to his lodging.’ Old and young hurried into Kilmallock from the surrounding districts, the former showered their blessings on the Earl, the latter offered their vow of allegiance; and, according to an ancient custom, every one flung upon him handfuls of wheat and salt, as a prediction of future peace and plenty, so powerful was the bond of feudal clanship.

James, the young Earl, had been brought up a protestant in England, and the day following his arrival at Kilmallock, being Sunday, he attended service in the parish church. On his return his followers collected around him, and with tears and groans reproached him with his apostasy. They implored him on their knees not to forsake the religion of his fathers. James meekly urged, in reply to their vehement entreaties, the plea of religious toleration to be the true spirit of the Gospel; but this reasoning did not satisfy his adherents; they looked on him as an agent of the English government, sent amongst them to sap the foundation of their faith; and the very voices that yesterday were loudest in acclamations of joy, swelled the uproar of imprecations poured upon James Fitzgerald, for they denied his right to the title of his ancestors, whose


religion he had renounced. Every mark of ignominy and insult was heaped upon him by the infuriated crowd — they cursed him, they spit upon him; and abandoning Kilmallock, left the Earl of Desmond to return to England, where he died in obscurity a few months after. His dissolution is announced in the Pacata Hibernia, with an air of the greatest sang-froid. — ‘The eleventh (January, 1601) the Lord President had intelligence from England that James (the late restored Earle of Desmond) was dead, and that eighteen hundred quarters of oates were sent into Munster for the reliefe of our horses.’

The fate of the Sugan Earl, as he is styled, was little more fortunate than that of his predecessor. After one or two defeats he was hunted from place to place, and so closely followed that it was often known to his pursuers where he had been concealed the preceding night.5 The Galtee mountains were the chief retreat of the Sugan Earl; and his kinsman, the White Knight, being induced by money or fear, perhaps both, betrayed and seized him as he lurked in the cave of Skeenarinky, not far distant from Mitchelstown. Being forcibly carried to Kilmallock, he was thence conveyed to Cork, where he was tried and found guilty of being a traitor, on the 14th of August, 1601. But his life was spared by a piece of state policy; and the Earl, transmitted to the Tower of London, died there a prisoner, after seven years confinement, and was buried in its chapel. His brother John emigrated to Spain, and was distinguished as Earl or Count of Desmond, which title was also given to his son, Gerald,


who died in the service of a foreign court, without issue, about the year 1632.

The inhabitants of Kilmallock received a charter from Elizabeth, dated the 15th of April, 1584, granting them some valuable privileges on account of their good services against that ‘arch-traitor’ Desmond, during whose rebellion the place had been more than once plundered and set on fire. In the subsequent contests which have distracted Ireland, the town was used as a garrison, but there is nothing memorable recorded of it.

The title of Viscount Kilmallock was bestowed on Sir Dominick Sarsfield; and the circumstances attendant on that creation are somewhat remarkable from the title of Viscount Kinsale having been first conferred on him, notwithstanding its existence in the De Courcy family, who immediately petitioned the King on this usurpation of their right; and the Privy Council having confirmed it, Sir Dominick was forbidden to use the name of Kinsale and styled Viscount Sarsfield, with permission to make choice of any other, and he accordingly took that of Kilmallock, which was confirmed by letters patent, dated the 17th of September, 1627.