O'Byrne: The History of the Queen's County

Pdf O'Byrne, Daniel. The history of the Queen's County. Dublin: John O'Daly, 1856.
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The History Of The Queen's County by Daniel O'Byrne was published in 1856. He describes the history of Queen's County from earliest recorded history until the 19th century. O'Byrne discusses the prehistoric monuments of its ancient inhabitants, the Gaelic Irish families, the coming of Christianity, the 12th century Norman conquest and the emergence of an Anglo-Protestant aristocracy. He also describes churches, monasteries, castles and other historical places of interest.

Laois has been inhabited for thousands of years. O'Byrne describes burial mounds at Clonaslee and Cuffsborough, hill forts at Clopook and Monelly and a standing stone and ring fort at Borris-in-Ossory and other ancient sites. The Gaelic Irish, who controlled the region, included the O’More, O’Lalor, O’Doran, O’Dowling, O’Devoy, O’Kelly and McEvoy clans. Laois gets its name from Lughaid Laoighesach who was an ancestor of the most powerful O'Mores clan.

Following the arrival of Christianity in Ireland , St. Canice founded Aghaboe Abbey, St. Mochua founded a community at Timahoe and an important Christian settlement was created at Dun Masc or Masc’s fort, on the Rock of Dunamase. In the 12th century religious orders such as the Augustinians, Dominicans and Cistercians arrived and took over many of the early Christian monastic sites and established new ones such as the Cistercian monastery at Abbeyleix.

In 1169 a force of Normans led by Richard De Clare better known as Strongbow invaded Ireland . The Rock of Dunamase was part of the dowry of Aoife McMurrough, the daughter of King Dermot of Leinster who promised her in marriage for his services in recovering his kingdom from his enemies. Strongbow claimed the succession to the kingship upon Dermot's death which was disputed by his son Donal MacMurrough-Kavanagh leading to a Gaelic uprising. The Normans initially built wooden forts and later stone fortresses such as Lea Castle . Castletown, Durrow and Timahoe were Norman towns.

A number of factors such as the Black Death, civil war in England , the burden of the Crusades and Scottish invasion weakened the power of the English in Ireland . The O'Moores and O'Dempseys and their allies launched repeated rebellions, launching raids on Dublin and the Pale, capturing the fortress of Lea Castle as well as building their own tower houses such as those at Ballaghmore and Cullahill.

These rebellions were brutally suppressed by the 16th century and Gaelic lands were confiscated. Under the reign of Queen Mary I and her husband Phillip II of Spain , the English plantation of King's County (Offaly) and Queen's County (Laois) began. The towns of Philipstown (present day Daingean) and Maryborough (present day Portlaoise) were established. However continued Gaelic resistance discouraged settlement and the plantation remained a series of military posts.

The Gaelic Irish and the Old English, descendents of the Norman conquerors, refused to renounce their Catholicism during the English Reformation. They suffered decisive defeats during the Cromwellian invasion and the Williamite Wars of the 17th century and thereafter Protestant aristocratic landowners would control Laois until the late 19th century.

The Gaelic Irish in County Laois became tenant farmers and peasants who lived in wretched poverty and became increasingly dependent on the potato for survival were decimated by the Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. O'Byrne's history is coloured by his nationalist sympathies and is historical writings are replete with bitterness against English misrule.

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