White: History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans

Pdf White, Rev. P. History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Sons, 1893.
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The History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans by Rev. Peter White covers the history of County Clare from obscure ancient times to the late 19th century. The Dalcassian Clans, a dynastic group of related septs, are associated with the Kingdom of Thomond which encompassed what is now County Clare and portions of counties Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Offaly. The most powerful of the families were the O'Briens from whom emerged the most well known High King of Ireland, Brian Ború. The power of the endlessly feuding Gaelic Irish was ultimately brought to an end by British domination of Ireland from the 12th century onwards.

The origins of the Dalcassians or Dál gCais are obscure as ancient Irish history is interwoven with myth and legend. The Dalcassian clans who rose to prominence in Munster in the 10th century allegedly descended from Cormac Cas, or Cas mac Conall Echlúath, where the term "Dál", meaning "portion" or "share" of Cas originated. To bolster their prestige they claimed Cormac was the brother of Éogan Mór the founder of the Eóganachta, the dominant dynasty in Munster from the 7th century until the rise of the Dalcassians.

After many defeats the Eóganachta were eventually restricted to what became known as the Kingdom of Desmond which was the domain of the dominant McCarthy sept. The Dalcassian King of Munster Brian Ború became High King Of Ireland and defeated the Kingdom of Leinster and their Viking allies at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The opportunity to establish an Irish royal dynasty was dashed when Brian was assassinated in the wake of the victory and the various petty kingdoms of Ireland returned to their habitual warfare.

In 1169 a Norman army led by Richard De Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as 'Strongbow,' arrived in Ireland to restore the throne of Dermot McMurrough, the exiled King of Leinster. De Clare was promised Dermot's daughter, Aoife and the throne of Leinster after Dermot's death. To see off the challenge from De Clare, King Henry II arrived in Ireland in 1171 and declared himself Lord of Ireland. The Gaelic kings of Ireland were left unmolested as long as they paid tribute to Henry and became his vassals. The Norman stronghold became Dublin and a surrounding area known as the Pale.

After conquering Leinster and defeating attempts by the High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, to push them out of Dublin , the Normans advanced into Munster . Domnall Mór, a descendant of Brian Ború, defeated a force of Normans at Thurles, Co. Tipperary and later drove them from Limerick . He also assisted a revolt in Connaught but a renewed campaign by the Normans eventually overcame O'Brien's army and laid waste to much of Thomond and the Dalcassian stronghold of County Clare .

The kingdom of Thomond was broken up when the powerful Norman Butler dynasty established themselves in the Earldom of Ormond which included territory in Tipperary , Offaly, Laois and Kilkenny where they had their stronghold. Other lands in Kerry, Limerick and Cork were lost to the Earldom of Desmond which became the domain of the Fitzgerald dynasty.

The weaknesses of English rule and the assimilation of Norman families into Gaelic society meant that the Gaelic Irish gradually regained much of their power. However both the Gaels and the 'Old English' remained Roman Catholics following the English Reformation and repeated revolts were defeated during the Tudor and Stuart dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Cromwellian invasion and the Williamite Wars, copper-fastened Protestant supremacy. The O'Briens however had abandoned their native titles, converted to Anglicanism, pledged loyalty to the British throne and adopted English customs. Subsequent members of the O'Brien dynasty became the Earls and Barons of Inchiquin, Marquesses of Thomond and Viscounts of Clare.

By the mid 19th century, an Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning elite dominated the island of Ireland , economically, politically and culturally. The Gaelic dynasties had largely disappeared into obscurity and most of the Gaelic Irish were illiterate peasants living in wretched poverty. The Great Irish Potato Famine ravaged the poor of County Clare . In the latter half of the 19th century, the activities of the Fenians, the Land League and the leadership of Charles Stuart Parnell and his Irish Parliamentary Party forced through land reforms that broke up the landlord system. Most Clare tenant farmers like their counterparts across the country were able to purchase their own land by the turn of the 20th century.

In the decades after the publication of Rev. White's book, County Clare played a key role in the process which led to Irish independence from Great Britain in 1922. In 1917, Eamon De Valera, one of the surviving leaders of the 1916 Rising and a future Taoiseach and President of Ireland, was elected in a by-election as a Sinn Féin M.P for the vacant East Clare constituency. There was considerable violence in the county during both the subsequent Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War.

Following Irish independence, British peerages and Gaelic titles were no longer recognized by the Irish state. The verified descendents of the O'Brien dynasty and other Dalcassian familes continue to use their defunct titles for purely ceremonial purposes.

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