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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Clonmore Castle c.1534

County Carlow

Clonmore Castle, Co. Carlow - Francis Grose 1793
Clonmore Castle, & Church Co. Carlow 1850

Clonmore Castle. Source:
Clonmore Castle, Co. Carlow in 2011
Source: Google Street Map

Come Capture a Castle at Clonmore c.1534

from the book "Come Capture Castles" by Victor Hadden 

Not far from Hacketstown, in the east of County Carlow, can be found the old castle of Clonmore. Of all the castles of County Carlow (and in the fifteenth century, there were at least one hundred and fifty) none has more impressive remains than that of the "Castrum de Clonmore". Dr. Leask comments that it is "much ruined, but still retains some windows of thirteenth century type, trefoil-pointed lights in pairs". It has stood where it now stands for a period of at least six hundred years - and yet there is remarkably little to show for it on history's pages. It is clear, however, that in the first half of the sixteenth century, and possibly for long before, this old castle belonged to, and was controlled by, the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare.

The name of Fitzgerald is one of the greatest in all Irish history. In common with many of the Normans who came to Ireland in the twelfth century, they could trace their origins back to a common ancestor in the person of the beautiful Nesta, Princess of Wales.

Nesta must have been one of the most ravishing beauties of all time. Even in the company of Helen of Troy, Cleopatra of Egypt, or the Queen of Sheba herself, she could have tossed her pretty head and asked with confidence:-

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who is the fairest one of all?

In 1095, she married Gerald of Windsor, Constable of Pembroke Castle in Wales, but sometime afterwards, her cousin, Owen, fell in love with her. Owen was not only a notable lady-killer, but a man-eater of a man! The facts, as recorded by history, speak for themselves, for Owen surprised Pembroke Castle by night and, in order to gain admission into the room where Nesta and Gerald were, he set the castle on fire. Nesta pulled up a floorboard and let her husband down into a drain to effect his escape, leaving, it would seem, his beautiful young wife alone with Owen - her cousin after all!

So Owen carried her off and Gerald, who was described as "a loyal and prudent man", had to go to war to recover not only his wife, but his sons!

After a time, Nesta rejoined Gerald, who died in about the year 1136, and if so, Nesta must by then have been at least fifty years of age. And yet, either before or after, she was the wife or mistress of Stephen, Constable of Cardigan, and she had also been the mistress of Henry I.

Famous Soldiers

Seven of her sons became lords of Cantreds in South Wales, and from her, by various fathers, descended some of the most famous soldiers who came with Strongbow to conquer Ireland. Her children by Gerald were William Fitzgerald (her eldest son, and father of Raymond Fitzgerald); David, later, Bishop of St. David's, and two other sons. By Stephen, Nesta was mother of Robert Fitzstephen, and by Henry I, of Henry. She was also mother of several other sons and daughters - some, at least, of them by other lovers.

William Fitzgerald, Nesta's eldest son by her proper husband, had a son of his own (Nesta's grandson) who enjoyed the odd name of Odo, and since his home was at Carew in Wales, he was known as "Odo de Carew". Indeed, the same applies to many of his cousins, and hence it was that the surname "Carew" entered Irish history with the first Norman invaders. Many of Nesta's sons and grandsons, Fitzgeralds, Fitzstephens, Fitzhenrys and especially Raymond le Gros, were great soldiers and fighting men - and all of them were much more Welsh in their origins than is commonly realised. As Professor Curtis wrote in his "History of Ireland":-


"In Wales, they could conquer as widely as their swords, carry on private war, invade the Welsh mountaineers and divide the spoil among the Barons. This was to be their spirit in Ireland. But it was something the Gael could understand, and such men were to become, before long, almost as Irish as the Irish. The feudal class lived also in the tradition of the minstrels and the great chansons de geste of Charlemagne, Arthur and Godfrey; it was no great step for them to delight in the music, language and ancient epics of Ireland. Nationalism was scarcely known to these men, who had come over a century ago as Frenchmen, and had not yet become English.

"Adaptability was their genius and, proud as they were of their own blood, speech and traditions, they were ready to treat as equals any race that they could respect, and freely to intermarry with it. In Wales, they had absorbed Welsh blood, and doubtless knew something of the Celtic speech. In Ireland, the first generation of them were only too ready to make happy marriages with Irish princesses."

And so, from the twelfth century, for hundreds of years, the Fitzgerald family was one of the most influential in Irish history. The greatest of them all was Garret More, the eighth and "Great Earl of Kildare". He was Deputy Governor of Ireland from 1481 for most of the rest of his life. Early in the fifteen hundreds, he took possession of the great castle of Clonmore, and not only renovated it, but enlarged and extended it.

The Geraldines

At this period, the power of the Geraldines was at its height, and extended over not only Kildare and Carlow, but most of Leinster. Their strength was based on affection and loyalty as well as on force, and an official state document reported that the "English Pale be so affectionate to the Geraldines for kindred, marriage, fostering and adherence, that they covet more to see a Geraldine to reign and triumph, than to see God come among them".

But if so, for this very reason, they had rivals and enemies at court, and especially the House of Ormonde, and these conspired and whispered against them. To paraphrase Shakespeare, it was again the old, old story of -

"He was my friend, faithful and just to me, But Ormonde says he was ambitious; And Ormonde is an honourable man."

And so, after the death of the Great Earl of Kildare, when he was succeeded by Gerald Oge, the Ninth Earl, the English monarchy began to take a firmer hand in Irish affairs by imposing a policy of "surrender and regrant". This was effected through a stronger council and a more effective Lord Deputy whose aim was to restore and recover "the kings decayed rents and embezzled lands in Ireland".

Gerald OgeIn 1534, Gerald Oge was recalled for the last time to London and lodged in the Tower. Before leaving, he appointed as his deputy his eldest son, Thomas, known to the Irish and to history as "Silken Thomas", because of the rich garments worn both by himself and his bodyguard, and perhaps also, because of his distinguished and courtly manners. Silken Thomas was then a handsome and attractive youth of twenty-one.

The wise old Earl realised the dangers of the times and the treacheries that were abroad. He had warned his son to be guided by the advice of the council. It was to no avail. The pro-English factions, led by the Butlers of Kilkenny and Clogrennan, who looked eagerly for the overthrow of the Earls of Kildare, spread a rumour that Gerald Oge had been killed in the Tower of London, and that his son's life would also be taken.

Inflamed with rage at this apparent treachery, Thomas, an inexperienced and fiery young man, rode at the head of his followers into Dublin, and before the council his father had urged him to respect and obey, he formally renounced his allegiance to the king, surrendered his sword of state, and proclaimed a rebellion.


The rising that followed had little military significance, but Archbishop Allen of Dublin was murdered, with the result that Thomas was excommunicated by the Church. In 1534, the largest English army seen in Ireland for many years was sent to occupy Dublin, and Silken Thomas was proclaimed both accursed and also a traitor. The unhappy Earl of Kildare now died in the Tower of London, some said of despair; and the Butlers of Ossory and Ormonde, the Dullough and Clogrennan rose up in arms to take their long awaited vengeance on their traditional rivals in Carlow, Clonmore, Kildare and northwards to Maynooth.

Thomas FitzgeraldAll that winter of 1534, Thomas Fitzgerald ravaged the border country between Carlow and Kildare, in Meath and Offaly, and southwards towards Ossory. For a while, he made a truce with the Butlers, but it did not last for long. Early in the following year, the new lord deputy stormed the Geraldine Stronghold at Maynooth Castle, and many of the garrison were put to the sword. Lord Thomas now tried to rally his supporters but, at last, had to retreat to Thomond, intending to sail to Spain. Changing his mind, and unprepared to accept defeat, even in a forlorn cause, he spent some months in raids against the English Army on the borders of the Pale. He finally surrendered unconditionally to Lord Grey in August 1535.

He was now sent to London and placed in the Tower where he was soon joined by no less than five of his uncles, some of whom had been seized with injustice and with treachery. These six Geraldines were hanged together at Tyburn early in 1537. Deputy Lord Grey had pleaded in vain for the life of the unfortunate and ill-fated Silken Thomas, but he was not heeded - for Henry, in his wrath, was determined to extinguish, if he could, the whole Geraldine race. Thus ended, at the early age of twenty-four, the life of the colourful, debonair tenth Earl of Kildare.

And so it was that the Butlers helped to undermine and overthrow the great house of Fitzgerald, and thus opened up the way to the Tudor Reconquest of Ireland which was soon to follow. Not by any means for the first time in history, the frontier of the bitter conflict for supremacy in Ireland was in the area which lies between the counties of Carlow and Kilkenny to the south, and Kildare and the Pale to the north; and at Clonmore, the massive old castle once more changed hands. In 1538, it was granted to Sir Piers Butler, the eighth Earl of Ormond, for services rendered to the Crown during the late rebellion of Silken Thomas, its former lord.

Clonmore CHURCH

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