Folk traditions of the Knights

'Traditions of Glin and its neighbourhood'

by Thomas F. Culhane in Home Thoughts from abroad - the Australian letters of Thomas F. Culhane published Glin, Glin Historical Society, 1998

The Knights of Glin

The earliest tradition I could find about Glin went back to 1569, when the knight, Thomas FitzGerald, was barbarously executed in Limerick. His mother, who was present at the execution, seized his head when he was beheaded and drank his blood. She then collected the parts of his dismembered body and put them in a linen sheet. When she set out for home with her precious burden she was followed by an immense concourse, including one hundred keening women.

Somewhere east of Foynes some soldiers tried to seize the corpse and in the fight that followed many people were slain. The body was interred in Lislaughtin Abbey in the tomb of his relative, the O'Connor Kerry.

There was nothing vague, however, in the tradition that was handed down about the massacre that took place in Cloonlahard on 12 March 1580.

When Pelham in his pursuit of the earl of Desmond was encamped near Shanid castle, a man named Mac Shane approached him and said that he would lead him to the Cloonlahard woods, where over four hundred people had fled for safety. Mac Shane, who had been a gallowglass in Desmond's army, was a man of repellent features and revolting habits. He fell in love with a girl named O'Dowd, who refused to have anything to do with him. The O'Dowd's were tenants of the Walls of Dunmoylan and lived at Balliston, a townland with an interesting history. They also sought refuge in Cloonlahard. When Pelham's troops, led by Mac Shane, entered the wood they found the people clustered together, kneeling in prayer. When the slaughter began some of the young people fled and escaped.

One of these was Philip Geoghegan, the ancestor of Morgan whom I have already mentioned. Philip's sister, who was married to Hugh Cummane, climbed an ivy-clad tree and escaped detection. She witnessed the merciless slaughter of her friends and relatives, which was all over in a short time. Only one person's life was spared. That was the O'Dowd girl, whom Mac Shane had taken prisoner. Pelham's troops soon vacated the woods and pushed on towards Glin. Mac Shane returned a little later, accompanied by his prisoner, and began to search the clothes of the dead. While doing so he laid aside his battle-axe. As he was bending down his prisoner seized the weapon and with one swift blow she clove his skull. She later married Dermot Dore, who also escaped from the carnage. She became a legendary figure and many people in that locality were proud to claim descent from her.

The tradition about the siege of Glin castle differs in many respects from the facts as given by Carew in Pacata Hibernia. We do know that tradition can be a completely distorting mirror, but the popular memory of a local event such as a battle, siege or massacre would be more vivid and more lasting and in essence more trustworthy than Carew's narrative, who was predjudiced and gives a complete travesty of the facts.

The garrison of the castle, according to tradition, was divided into two sections, one of which was commanded by Donall na Searrach Culhane and the other by Tadhg Dore. Before the siege began, Carew, who had the knight's child as hostage, sent an order to the knight to surrender the castle at once or else he would blow the child out of the mouth of the cannon. The knight's answer was remembered but can only be rendered here by algebraic symbols: 'Gread leat. Ta X go meidhreach fos agus Y go briomhar. Is fuiriste leanbh eile do gheiniuint'.

The assault on the castle then began under the command of Capt. Flower but was beaten back with slaughter by the defenders. Three brothers named Giltenan played a heroic part in repulsing the attack and slew some of the best of Flower's men. Carew called up fresh reinforcements, which he placed under the leadership of Turlough Roe MacMahon, who lived at Colmanstown castle, Co. Clare, almost opposite Glin. Turlough was a man of evil reputation who had already committed many dreadful crimes against his own kith and kin and against the Irish people at large. He was the father of the celebrated Maire Ruadh MacMahon. He is referred to in a poem of the time as

'Traolach Ruadh an fhill agus an eithigh
do mhairbh a bhean agus a leanbh in eineacht.'

The second assault also failed, but Turlough was determined to carry it through , for he hated with a hatred which evil men are known to feel towards those they have mortally injured. In the meantime the cannonading had played havoc with the defences of the castle. In the third attempt MacMahon was able to move in a large body of men who, after a gallant defence by the garrison, succeeded in capturing the castle. The Giltenans, Tadhg Dore and his brother, and Donall Culhane and two of his sons were slain in the final defence. Some of the garrison tried to escape by jumping into the water surrounding the castle, but only three men succeeded in getting away. These were Mahon Dillane, Lewy O'Connor and Donall Beag Culhane (whose father was slain in the last defence of the castle).

Such was the traditional account of the siege as handed down through eight or nine generations. The old people had some vague traditions about Captain Flower, who was one of the ablest and most ruthless of the Elizabethan soldiers who served in Ireland. He tried everything in his power to lay hands on Honora MacCarthy, the wife of the knight, Eamann na gCath. Some time previously he had invaded Carbery, the territory of her brother, Florence MacCarthy Reagh, and few things in the annals of warfare can equal the atrocities he committed there. He slew men, women and children and laid the whole district waste. Returning from this expedition he was severely wounded in an encounter with the followers of MacCarthy. This may account for the terrible scourge of treacherous hatred with which he pursued this helpless woman.

Readers will be surprised to learn that Dr. Robin Flower, that redoubtable Gaelic scholar, was a direct descendant of this man: 'mor idir na haimsearaibh'.

After the siege the knight, Eamann na gCath, went north and joined Red Hugh O'Donnell. He took part in the memorable march to Kinsale accompanied by some of his followers from Glin. All took part in the battle that followed. In that encounter the knight was wounded and was only saved from death by Donogh Costello, a member of a remarkable family that fostered children of the knights of Glin for many generations.

A garrison of twenty-one men was left in the castle after the siege under the command of Nicholas Mordant, a depraved savage whose lust for blood was appalling and insatiable. Mordant first appears in 1580 serving under Sir Nicholas Malby in Connacht. There he was guilty of the most fiendish atrocities.

He butchered in cold blood a son of Grace O'Malley and a five-year-old son of Brian na Murtha O'Rourke. He massacred over two hundred people at Carrick Molgreny, and two years later we find him in Thomond, where the Four Masters tell us that he put to death in an ignoble manner Donogh, son of the earl of Thomond, and his wife, Eleanor FitzGerald, daughter of the knight of Glin. He also took part in the murder of the Spaniards in west Clare, some of the survivors of the Armada. At the invitation of Bingham he was back in Connacht in 1586. A colony of Scotch settlers had taken up land in Ardnaree under the leadership of two brothers of Inghean Dubh, the mother of Red Hugh O'Donnell. Bingham and Mordant with a large force surrounded the settlement at night and slew men, women and children.

The old folk spoke as if an inhuman and implacable doom overhung Glin parish while Mordant was there, and they told dreadful stories of the satanic violence with which this sadistic monster savaged the whole district. Many of the Giltenans fell victims to his insane and murderous hate and it was said that he used to defecate and micturate on the corpses of those he had slain.

At that time there was living in Glin a famous bean feasa named Ellen Dore, a woman of great holiness and remarkable psychic powers. She advised the people not to seek sanctuary in Kilmurrily church, as she had a dream that she saw the church in flames and the people being murdered there. Some, despite her warning, went there and met their deaths at the hands of Mordant.

He was known as An Famaire Riabhach and became a bogey man. When people wanted to frighten wayward children they used to say 'chut an Famaire Riabhach.' His tyranny became so unendurable that finally the people were forced to take action against him. He was even more anxious than Flower to capture the knight's wife, and he was told that she used to take refuge at night in a wood near the Glin river. He approached the wood at night with his followers, whom he ordered to enter the wood and search for her. There they were ambushed and cut to pieces. Mordant fled on horseback when he realised what had happened. A few years later we find him in Clare presiding over an inquisition dealing with MacNamara lands. He then disappears from history.

After the battle of Kinsale the knight and his wife and family fled to Kerry and stayed with the Fitzmaurices of Lixnaw. There they were nearly captured by the Listowel garrison. They then retired to the fastness of Brosna, where many good friends guarded them zealously until the knight's estates were restored to him in 1603.

Eamann na gCath was succeeded by his son Tomas Spainneach, who with the sons of other Irish chieftains was at school at Compostella. This man played no part in the wars that followed 1641 because of ill-health. There was very little tradition about him, but the state papers and other historical sources tell us a great deal about him and about his nephew, Gearoid na gCapall, who succeeded him. This material will be dealt in a history of Glin parish, as I am only concerned with traditional matter here. Although Tomas Spainneach was an innocent man his estates were confiscated and given to Barker. Several other claimants tried to get them but they eventually were given to Gearoid na gCapall. This man was the son of John FitzGerald and Honoria O'Connor, a daughter of Sean Cathach, the O'Connor Kerry, who died in 1640.

Three of Gearoid's brothers perished in the Cromwellian wars. One of them, Sean Og, married a Miss Hickey of Dunmoylan. His descendants were known as the Ridire FitzGeralds. The Glin branch of this family became known as the Regan FitzGeralds, as one of them married a relative of Tim Regan of Ardagh, well-known Irish scribe and teacher. Margaret FitzGerald (Mrs. John Dillon) is now the last survivor of this ancient family.

The only tradition I could find about Gearoid na gCapall was very meagre. That referred to his exploits as a horseman and a duellist. He married Joan O'Brien of Carrigogunnell, a daughter of Donogh O'Brien, whose vast estates, including thirty castles, were seized by the Cromwellians. Some of this property was restored to Donogh's son, but that man's son, Donall Og, who played a prominent part in the Williamite wars, was finally dispossessed and the lands of his ancestors passed into alien hands. He then settled in Glin with his aunt, Joan O'Brien, the wife of Gearoid na gCapall. Some of his descendants still reside in Glin parish.

The knight Gearoid had two sons, Tomas Geannacach, who succeeded him, and Sean na gComhrac, a man whose fame as a duellist was even greater than that of Centy O'Rourke or the intrepid Baron Keating of Nicholastown.

The new knight married Mary FitzGerald, a woman who was known as the 'Baintiarna' and who played a great part in the affections and memory of the people.

She was a daughter of Eamann FitzGerald of Castlemartyr, who belonged to a junior branch of the Seneschals of Imokilly. Her mother, Cathleen Bourke, was a daughter of John Bourke of Cahermoyle. Daibhi O'Brudair wrote Cathleen's elegy. John Bourke gave Mary FitzGerald a substantial dowery and some time after 1701 she married Tomas Geannach. She and her husband were noted for their hospitality and generosity and it was said that in their time no one know hunger and poverty in Glin parish. Their home was also a meeting place for the bards. Aogan O'Rathaille wrote one of his best known elegies for the knight's son, Gerald. When Tomas Geannach died in 1732, Aindrias MacCruitin, Donall Ahern and other poets bewailed him in verse.

The Baintiarna's son, John, became a Protestant in 1730. His mother knew nothing of his perversion, but at the time she went to the priest and told him of a remarkable dream she had. Here are her words as given to me by Patsy Hanrahan: 'Deineadh taibhreamh dom tri oicheanta i ndiaidh a cheile. Cheapas go rabhas ag Aifreann ach go raibh an altoir iompaithe agus a cul leis an bpobal.'

The priest answered 'Ta an creideamh diolta.' Patsy, however, said 'D' iompaigh se a chasog ach iompo breige ab ea e, mar d'fhan se dilis don tsean-chreideamh go bhfuair se bas.' This John was a poet and has left a fine poem which he addressed to Eleanor, the daughter of Sean Laidir O'Connor Kerry. He knew many of the Munster poets of his day and seems to have befriended them all. He died on 10 August 1737. Several poets, including Micheal (mac Peadair) O'Longain, Eamann de Bhall, Ioseph O' Caoimh, Liam Inglis, Donall Ahern and Seamas FitzGerald, wrote elegies on him.

His mother, the Baintiarna, had settled some of her FitzGerald relatives in Glin parish, where many of their descendants reside today. One of these, named Muiris na Fallainge, was a native of Gortroe near Rathcormack. He was a brother of the poet James FitzGerald who wrote an elegy on John FitzGerald. Some time earlier we find James asking protection from the knight of Glin.

'Tabhair as no cuinse dam fein
do spiunfas na nealta so im cheann,
an bhfuil cumhdach id dhun dam no reim
no an bhfionntar gan bhaol dam dul ann.'

Another poem dealing with the abduction of the knight John by Cliodna, the famous Munster fairy, has been attributed to James FitzGerald. This poem has been studied by Brian O'Cuiv. Some verses of it were remembered in Glin parish.

After the death of the knight John in 1737, he was succeeded by his brother, Edmund, who was a Catholic. A younger brother, Richard, became a Protestant and tried to oust Edmund, but the latter, in order to save the estate, also conformed. It was at this time Micheal (mac Peadair) O'Longain, who was the knight's agent, left Glin.

The last of the Baintiarna's sons to become knight of Glin was Thomas, who married in 1755, Mary Bateman, ' a charming young lady with a fortune of £3,000. There was not much tradition about this man as he led a quiet life and devoted much of his time to the welfare of his people.

As the Geraldine blood of the knights of Glin became diluted through marriages with planter stock, they inevitably tended to become progressively more and more loyal and to abandon the ways of their fathers. The knight John Bateman, who succeeded his father, Thomas, was intensely loyal and from what I could gather he considered that failure to feel loyal towards England was a crime which merited the direst penalties and eternal damnation. He played an important part in the Volunteer movement of his time and was held in high esteem by the leaders of that movement.

The knight John Bateman was succeeded by his son, John Fraunceis, who was known as Ridire na mBan. This man was the subject of many an anecdote, some of which were doubtless apocryphal. He was fostered by the Costellos of Killeany and attended a famous classical school which was conducted by Eamann Kiely in Glin. Later the young knight graduated with honours in Cambridge University, but he was not, as Dr. Johnson said of a Scottish laird 'tamed into insignificance by an English education'. He never lost that fine patriarchal courtesy, generosity and good manners so well exemplified by his ancestors. Like his father he was loyal and an upholder of law and order. Notwithstanding that he was the darling of the local bards, and one of these, Muiris O'Ceirin, a Kerry poet, has left us some interesting poetry on him. In one of his poems Muiris refers to the knight as

'Fear croi, fear tapa, fear calma trean,
fear claoimh no bata in am catha nar staon,
fear caoin, fear cneasta, gan ghangaid 'na mhein,
do bhochtaibh do reifeadh gach geibhinn is daoirse,
is go dtabharfadh sud soar iad gan bhaochas on mbinse.'

Glin always seems to have cast a spell over Kerrymen and Muiris

O'Ceirin was no exception, as can be seen from the following verse:

'A Ghleann ud do-bheirim an barr duit
thar a bhfeaca na ar tharlaidh liom fos,
is ann ata na comharsain ba shoineanta gramhar
is ba mhaith os cionn clair i dti an oil.'

The knight's generous impulses, his kindly and sympathetic nature, endeared him to the people and were long remembered with gratitude. His weakness for the fair sex got him into trouble with Fr. Daniel O'Sullivan, a great priest who took an active part in everything that concerned the welfare of his people. Although these men were at first bosom friends, Fr. Daniel did not hesitate to denounce the knight's amorous exploits, which were causing grave scandal in the parish. This led to a lawsuit which is described by Archdeacon Begley in his history of Limerick. The knight was not the only culprit. Two catholic middlemen seem to have been the worst offenders. The posturings and posings and pathetic attempts of those men to be accepted as gentry were remembered and made fun of.

The knight suffered from alternating moods of hilarity and moroseness and for that reason Fr. Daniel called him Seon Gruama. Some time after the law-case the knight had installed a new lover, known as the 'caillichin', in a lodge he had built for her near the catholic church. On the following Sunday he was parading this girl in front of the lodge within full view of the people, who were awaiting Fr. Daniel's arrival from Loghill. The people were eager to see the priest's reaction to the knight's behaviour. When he arrived he said nothing at first. He had a habit of saying a line of poetry to one he addressed and expecting the other man to finish the verse. Turning
to Tim Costello he said,

'Sin e an tigh a thog Seainin'

and Tim replied

'mar aras geal don chaillichin
suite go deas fe scath na gcrann,
deanta go beacht, go laidir teann'

Fr. Daniel then turned to Tomas Culhane and said:

'Sin e an tigh a thog Seon Gruama',

Tomas answered

'Tre ain-mhian chun cailin stuama.
Go saoraidh Dia is Muire Ogh
an chaillichin on olc go deo.'

The priest evidently did not like their efforts, for he said:

'Caintear na fili ach ni hiad a bhionn ciontach,
mar ni thalann na barrailli ach an meid a bhionn iontu.'

There was more in the barrel, however, than Tim cared to take out of it, because he was a foster-brother of the knight.

The Rising of 1798

The knight John Bateman was on terms of intimacy with many of the officers of the Irish Brigade in France and especially with Count Daniel O'Connell. When the brigade was moved to England he promised Count Daniel that he would raise a regiment of men in his own district to fight the revolutionaries in France. He tried to do so but met with opposition from many quarters, especially from his brother, Gerald, who told him bluntly that England and not France was the enemy.

Later Gerald became the most prominent United Irishman in west Limerick and worked with Nicholas Sandes of Listowel in enrolling members into that society. Afterwards when the knight John Bateman heard of Lord Edward FitzGerald's death he assembled his tenantry at Cnoc an Aonaigh and started to preach war and revolution. Fr. MacDonnell intervened and told the people to go home. He told them that not long since the knight had wanted them to fight the French and now he wanted them to go unarmed and unprepared to fight the English.

The meeting broke up in confusion. When the knight Edmund became a Protestant in 1741 Micheal (mac Peadair) O'Longain, who had been the knight's agent, left Glin. Thirty years later, however, we find Micheal's brother, Sean, acting as agent for the knight Thomas FitzGerald. Sean O'Longain (of Glenagragara) was the father of the celebrated Tom Langan, one of the best known '98 men in Munster.

Gerald FitzGerald and Sandes had appointed Phil Cunningham of Gleann Liath, Moyvane, Bill Leonard of Aghanagran, Marcus Sheehy of Duagh and Pat Galvin as leaders in their respective parishes. Tom Langan (Captain Steel) had charge of Glin parish and surrounding districts. This man was of course a first cousin of Michael Og O Longain, who has written some poems on him. His father was John Langan, as already mentioned, and his mother was Ellen Culhane of Meanus.

Eventually all these men were arrested and sent to Botany Bay. Langan had narrowly escaped hanging because he refused to spy on his comrades. It was only the intervention of the knight that saved him from the gallows and got the sentence commuted to seven years transportation in Botany Bay. He with other prisoners was put on board the convict ship Anne, which did not leave Cork until much later.

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