The Ireland of O'Carolan

Decline of Native Irish Families

The seventeenth century, into which Carolan was born, was a disturbed time in Irish history. For the three hundred year period up to the sixteenth century the Normans consolidated in Ireland, building castles, establishing towns and introducing political administration. While important monuments around Nobber testify to long pre-Norman settlement, the village, close to Carolan's birthplace, emerged as a manorial village during the Anglo-Norman colonisation. Henry II had granted the province of Meath to Hugh de Lacy in 1172. He, in turn, granted the territory around Nobber, to Gilbert de Angulo or Nangle. By around 1215 the colonial village of Nobber was created. Over time Norman and Irish families intermarried and the Normans adopted Irish language, culture and customs. Surnames reflect the Norman origins of many families. These include Browne, Burke, Bermingham, Butler, Cusack, Keating, Welsh, Dillon, Fleming, Roche, Cruise, Tuite, Nugent, Power

Fanny Power

Fanny (Frances) Power was the daughter of David and Elizabeth Power from Loughrea in county Galway. She married Richard Trent in 1732. This tune was composed before their marriage because in the second verse Carolan hopes to dance at their wedding.

Courtesy of Dearbhail Finnegan

. Carolan composed many pieces for patrons with these surnames.

In the fifteenth century English power was weak allowing the Normans to continue consolidating their power in Ireland. Henry VIII became king in 1509 and set about imposing his authority in Ireland by granting legal title to the lands of Gaelic and Norman lords in return for their allegiance and adoption of English customs. This was the surrender and regrant policy. Henry's daughter, Mary, began the process of plantation in Laois and Offaly which Elizabeth continued in Munster. The Gaelic O Neill lords in Ulster had retained their independence from both the English crown and the Old English as the Normans had now become. They rallied Irish and Old English support to protect their lands and by 1595 were engaged in open war against the English crown. The Irish were finally defeated at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. This defeat marked the end of Gaelic lordship in Ireland and the start of the decline of the Gaelic and Old English aristocracy. In 1609 the plantation of Ulster, the most successful of the plantations, got underway.

The dispossessions of Gaelic and Old English families by the plantations and the introduction of a new, largely Scots Calvinist, population into Ulster, resulted in huge discontent and by 1641 rebellion again erupted. The native Irish were once more joined by the Old English and through the 1640s the Confederation of Old English and Irish waged war first against the Crown and then against the winning side in the English civil war, the parliamentary forces. Cromwell's arrival in Ireland in 1649 and his defeat of the confederate forces broke the rebellion. By 1652 the whole country was defeated and the decade of war resulted in famine and destitution. The "Adventurers" who financed the war and the soldiers who fought were paid in Irish land. Dispossession and confiscation again reduced native Irish and Old English families.

The Civil Survey of 1654 recorded the principal landowners around Nobber in 1640. These were all Irish Papists and included Lord Gormanstown, John Balfe of Cregg, Patrick Cruice of Brittas and Christopher Plunkett of Ardmagh. By the end of the century, as O Carolan was starting his musical career, the last three had lost their lands in the area.


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