History Series #2 From Ossory to the County of Kilkenny Ireland
In ancient times the area of County Kilkenny was known, among other names, as Osraighe and later Ossory.
Externally, the border of the medieval liberties of Kilkenny in the 13th
and 14th centuries adhered closely to the borders of the territory and diocese of Ossory.
The exceptions were the parishes of Grangesilvia, Kilmacahill, Powerstown, Shankill, Ullard, and part
of Wells , all part of diocese of Leighlin, and part of Catherlough [Carlow]
at that time. In addition, the modern Kilkenny parish of Tibberaghney in the southwest was then part of
what became the county of Tipperary. The most striking difference between the
medieval liberty and the modern county of Kilkenny was the inclusion of the old barony of Upper Ossory, which
were later divided into the baronies of Clandonagh, Clarmallagh and Upper Woods in County Laois (Leix).
About the time of the Anglo-Norman settlement in the thirteenth century, Kilkenny
was divided for administrative purposes into
twelve cantreds. These
were rooted in pre-Norman (pre-1170) political divisions of the kingdom of
Ossory, which were roughly based on Gaelic family territories or "tuaths".
At the time of the arrival of the Welsh-Normans (late 12th century) the
"tuaths" of Ossory were held by various Irish septs, ruled largely by a dynasty
which came to be known as Mac Giolla Phadraig (Fitzpatrick), princes of
The lands of the Ua Donnchadha (Dunphy, O'Donoghue, ...) sept of Mag Máil were in
the cantreds of Oskelan and Ogenty (in the barony of Gowran)
These lands were granted to Theobald Fitzwalter (Butler) in the late twelfth
An Ua Cearbhaill (O'Carrowill, O'Carroll, MacCarroll) sept occupied territory in the cantreds of
Kilkenny and Oskelan (northern barony of Gowran). The O'Kellys of Magh Mail (in
the cantred of Ogenty) occupied an area west of the Barrow, an area now
in the barony of Gowran. The O'Kealys (O'Kellys) were noted in northern Co. Kilkenny and southern
Co. Laois immediately following the Norman invasion. The O'Kellys of Laois (& Kilkenny), who were also located
in the eastern part of modern Co. Laois, were themselves divided into three branches, of Lea, Magh Druchtain and Galen.
The eastern section of the barony of Gowran, not included in the kingdom (or diocese) of
Ossory, east of the cantreds of Oskelan and Ogenty [see map], was occupied by various septs
under the lordships of the Ui Drona (Idrone), e.g. the O Riain (O'Ryan), as well as the Ui Bairrche.
At this same time the territory of Callan (barony of Callan, part of Kells)
was home to the Ua Gloiairn (O'Gloiran, O'Gloerne) sept according to O'Haerin's
Topographical Poem compiled in 1420. Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of 1837
mentions that Callan was the ancient inheritance of the O'Glohernys and the
O'Coillys or O'Callans.
The cantred of Aghaboe, aka Upper Ossory, included the traditional lands of the Ui Duach. About
1150 A.D. the northern section of Aghaboe held the septs of the
Ua Dubhslaine (O'Delany) of Coill Uachtarach (barony of Upper Woods, Co. Leix),
chiefs of Tuath-an-Toraidh, as well as the Ua hUrachan (O'Hourahan) of Ui Fairchellain
(parish of Offerlane in Co. Leix) The southern section was occupied by the septs of the
the Ua Bruaideodha (O'Broe, or O'Brody), as well as branches of the Ua Faelain (O'Phelan).
The Fitzpatrick (Mac Giolla Phadraig) clan were noted in Upper Ossory, particularly following the Norman
settlement, and later became earls of Upper Ossory.
The northern section of the cantred of Galmoy was occupied by the Ua
Caellaighe (O'Kealy or O'Kelly) in the middle of the 12th century. The central section of
Galmoy held the Ua Broithe (O'Brophy) sept at this time. The
Ua Caibhdheanaigh (Coveney, Keveney, Gaffney) of Magh Airbh and Clar Coill are noted
in the southern section of Galmoy (modern barony of Crannagh) at
the time of the Cambro-Norman invasion.
The cantred of Odogh (or Idoagh, now the barony of Fassadinin) was part of the
territory of the Ui Duach tribe into the 10th century. The O Braonain
(O'Brennan) clan were chiefs in this territory about that time.
The cantred of Knocktopher (barony of Knocktopher) was said be the center of
the Mac Braoin (MacBreen) sept of Na Clanna, chiefs of Magh-Seadna. The O'Phelans are
noted in the cantred of Erley (western portion of the barony of Kells) at the time of the Normans.
The ancient sept of the Ui Dheaghaidh (O'Dea) would
appear to have given its name to the barony of Ida (then part of the
cantred of Iverk or Overk). The O Caollaidhe (O'Queally, O'Kealy) were in
Ida prior to the Norman arrival. The O'Kealys of Ui Bercháin occupied an
area in the old barony of Ibercon, in the southern portion of what was to become the
barony of Ida. They were also noted as important chiefs of Crioch O'Muighe, perhaps
farther north in County Leix, in Magh Lacha. The term Ui Cuinn is equated to the old barony of Igrin (Igrine)
by O'Donovan (Miscellany of the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, 1846, vol. i.).
The Ua Bruadair (O'Broder) sept of Ui nEirc were established in Iverk at
the time of the Norman arrival. The name of Iverk may come from the ancient sept
of Uibh Eirc, i.e. the descendants of Erc.
The Siol Ui Luachra, i.e. the descendants of Luachair, would seem to have
given name to Shillelogher cantred (later a barony). The O'Sheas and
O'Clerys, immigrants from Munster, were noted around Shillelogher in the 12th century.
Following the death of Dermot MacMurrough in 1171, the Irish King of Leinster, the
Anglo-Norman leader Strongbow (Richard de Clare) became the Lord of Leinster
(which now included Ossory) through his marriage to Dermot's daughter.
Strongbow initiated grants of land to some of his followers,
including Miles Fitz David (the cantred of Iverk), Adam de
Hereford (the cantred of Aghaboe), and Griffin fitz William
(likely the cantred of Knocktopher). In 1192 William Marshall succeeded Strongbow
as Lord of Leinster and continued the process of land grants within
the province. Most of central Ossory was shared among William's knights.
Geoffrey FitzRobert was given the cantred of Kells; Thomas FitzAnthony,
the cantred of Ogenti; John de Erlee in
succession to Baldwin de Hamptonsford, the cantred of Erley; and William
Marshall retained the cantreds of Callan and Kilkenny for his own. The
other cantreds were divided among a number of lesser knights as well as to the
bishop of Ossory. The cantred of Shillelogher was divided among the
families of Grace (le Gros) of Tullaroan, St Leger of Tullaghanbrogue, de Valle of
Ballybur and Castleinch, fitz Gerald of Burnchurch, and Avenal of Kilferagh.
Galmoy was split among the bishop of Ossory, and the families of Bigod,
Drohull, Fanyn, Syward, Archdeacon, and Smith. The cantred of Odogh went
to de Rochford, fitz Warin (later Freyne), Devereux, St Leger, and to the
bishop of Ossory. The native Irish were still there and particularly dominant in the
northern portion of Ossory.
The political and social impacts to the native Gaelic septs in Ossory included a gradual replacement
of the Irish Brehon tradition of local chiefs, laws and territories with the political structure of
the Anglo-Normans [the Old English families] which centered itself around the establishment of
shires, manors, castles, villages and churches. The infuence of this Anglo-Norman oligarchy
resulted in the formation of the 'liberty' of Kilkenny [c. 1204-1214], later to become the 'county' of Kilkenny.