We may estimate the power of the de Lacy family in the second generation, from the fact that their expulsion required a royal army and navy, commanded by the King in person, to come from England. Although pardoned by John, the brothers took care never to place themselves in that cowardly tyrant's power, and they observed the same precaution on the accession of his son, until well assured that he did not share the antipathy of his father. After their restoration the Lacys had no rivals among the Norman-Irish except the Marshal family, and though both houses in half a century became extinct, not so those they had planted or patronized, or who claimed from them collaterally. In Meath the Tuites, Cusacks, Flemings, Daltons, Petits, Husseys, Nangles, Tyrrells, Nugents, Verdons, and Gennevilles, struck deep into the soil. The co-heiresses, Margaret and Matilda de Lacy, married Lord Theobald de Verdon and Sir Geoffrey de Genneville, between whom the estate of their father was divided; both these ladies dying without male issue, the lordship was, in 1286, claimed by Richard de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, whose mother was their cousin-germain. But we are anticipating time.
No portion of the island, if we except, perhaps, Wexford and the shores of Strangford Lough, was so thoroughly castellated as the ancient Meath from the sea to the Shannon. Trim, Kells and Durrow were the strongest holds; there were keeps or castles at Ardbraccan, Slane, Rathwyre, Navan, Skreen, Santry, Clontarf, and Castleknock--for even these places, almost within sight of Dublin, were included in de Lacy's original grant. None of these fortresses could have been more than a few miles distant from the next, and once within their thick-ribbed walls, the Norman, Saxon, Cambrian, or Danish serf or tenant might laugh at the Milesian arrows and battle-axes without. With these fortresses, and their own half-Irish origin and policy, the de Lacys, father and son, held Meath for two generations in general subjection. But the banishment of the brothers in 1210, and the death of Walter of Meath, presented the family of O'Melaghlin and the whole of the Methian tribes with opportunities of insurrection not to be neglected. We read, therefore, under the years 1211, '12 and '13, that Art O'Melaghlin and Cormac, his son, took the castles of Killclane, Ardinurcher, Athboy, and Smerhie, killing knights and wardens, and enriching themselves with booty; that the whole English of Ireland turned out en masse to the rescue of their brethren in Meath; that the castles of Birr, Durrow, and Kinnetty were strengthened against Art, and a new one erected at Clonmacnoise. After ten years of exile, the banished de Lacys returned, and by alliance with O'Neil, no less than their own prowess, recovered all their former influence. Cormac, son of Art, left a son and successor also named Art, who, we read at the year 1264, gave the English of Meath a great defeat upon the Brosna, where he that was not slain was drowned. Following the blow, he burned their villages and broke the castles of the stranger throughout Devlin, Calry, and Brawny, and replaced in power over them the McCoghlans, Magawleys, and O'Breens, from whom he took hostages according to ancient custom. Two years afterwards he repulsed Walter de Burgh at Shannon harbour, driving his men into the river, where many of them perished. At his death (A.D. 1283) he is eulogized for having destroyed seven-and-twenty English castles in his lifetime. From these exploits he was called Art na Caislean, a remarkable distinction, when we remember that the Irish were, up to this time, wholly unskilled in besieging such strongholds as the Norman engineers knew so well how to construct. His only rival in Meath in such meritorious works of destruction was Conor, son of Donnell, and O'Melaghlin of East-Meath, or Bregia, whose death is recorded at the year 1277, "as one of the three men in Ireland" whom the midland English most feared.
From the ancient mensal the transition is easy to the north. The border-land of Breffni, whose chief was the first of the native nobles that perished by Norman perfidy, was at the beginning of the century swayed by Ulgarg O'Rourke. Of Ulgarg we know little, save that in the year 1231 he "died on his way to the river Jordan"--a not uncommon pilgrimage with the Irish of those days. Nial, son of Congal, succeeded, and about the middle of the century we find Breffni divided into two lordships, from the mountain of Slieve-an-eiran eastward, or Cavan, being given to Art, son of Cathal, and from the mountain westward, or Leitrim, to Donnell, son of Conor, son of Tiernan, de Lacy's victim. This subdivision conduced neither to the strengthening of its defenders nor to the satisfaction of O'Conor, under whose auspices it was made. Family feuds and household treasons were its natural results for two or three generations; in the midst of these broils two neighbouring families rose into greater importance, the O'Reillys in Cavan and the Maguires in Fermanagh. Still, strong in their lake and mountain region, the tribes of Breffni were comparatively unmolested by foreign enemies, while the stress of the northern battle fell upon the men of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, of Oriel and of the coast country, from Carlingford to the Causeway.
The borders of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, like every other tribe-land, were frequently enlarged or contracted, according to the vigour or weakness of their chiefs or neighbours. In the age of which we now speak, Tyrconnell extended from the Erne to the Foyle, and Tyrone from the Foyle to Lough Neagh, with the exception of the extreme north of Berry and Antrim, which belonged to the O'Kanes. It was not till the fourteenth century that the O'Neils spread their power east of Lough Neagh, over those baronies of Antrim long known as north and south Clan-Hugh-Buidhe, (Clandeboy.) North Antrim was still known as Dalriada, and South Antrim and Down, as Ulidia. Oriel, which has been usually spoken of in this history as Louth, included angles of Monaghan and Armagh, and was anciently the most extensive lordship in Ulster. The chieftain families of Tyrconnell were the O'Donnells; of Tyrone, the O'Neils and McLaughlins; of Dalriada, O'Kanes, O'Haras, and O'Shields; of Ulidia, the Magennis of Iveagh and the Donlevys of Down; of Oriel, the McMahons and O'Hanlons. Among these populous tribes the invaders dealt some of their fiercest blows, both by land and sea, in the thirteenth century. But the north was fortunate in its chiefs; they may fairly contest the laurel with the O'Conors, O'Briens and McCarthys of the west and south.
In the first third of the century, Hugh O'Neil, who succeeded to the lordship of Tyrone in 1198, and died in 1230, was cotemporary with Donnell More O'Donnell, who, succeeding to the lordship of Tyrconnell in 1208, died in 1241, after an equally long and almost equally distinguished career. Melaghlin O'Donnell succeeded Donnell More from '41 to '47, Godfrey from '48 to '57, and Donnell Oge from 1257 to 1281, when he was slain in battle. Hugh O'Neil was succeeded in Tyrone by Donnell McLaughlin, of the rival branch of the same stock, who in 1241 was subdued by O'Donnell, and the ascendancy of the family of O'Neil established in the person of Brian, afterwards chosen King of Ireland, and slain at Down. Hugh Boy, or the Swarthy, was elected O'Neil on Brian's death, and ruled till the year 1283, when he was slain in battle, as was his next successor, Brian, in the year 1295. These names and dates are worthy to be borne in mind, because on these two-great houses mainly devolved the brunt of battle in their own province.
These northern chiefs had two frontiers to guard or to assail: the north-eastern, extending from the glens of Antrim to the hills of Mourne, and the southern stretching from sea to sea, from Newry to Sligo. This country was very assailable by sea; to those whose castles commanded its harbours and rivers, the fleets of Bristol, Chester, Man, and Dublin could always carry supplies and reinforcements. By the interior line one road threaded the Mourne mountains, and deflected towards Armagh, while another, winding through west Breffni, led from Sligo into Donegal by the cataract of Assaroe,--the present Ballyshannon. Along these ancient lines of communication, by fords, in mountain passes, and near the landing places for ships, the struggle for the possession of that end of the Island went on, at intervals, whenever large bodies of men could be spared from garrisons and from districts already occupied.
In the year 1210, we find that there was an English Castle at Cael-uisge, now Castle-Caldwell, on Lough Erne, and that it was broke down and its defenders slain by Hugh O'Neil and Donald More O'Donnell acting together. After this event we have no trace of a foreign force in the interior of Ulster for several years. Hugh O'Neil, who died in 1230, is praised by the Bards for "never having given hostages, pledges, or tributes to English or Irish," which seems a compliment well founded. During several years following that date the war was chiefly centred in Connaught, and the fighting men of the north who took part in it were acting as allies to the O'Conors. Donald More O'Donnell had married a daughter of Cathal Crovdearg, so that ties of blood, as well as neighbouring interests, united these two great families. In the year 1247, an army under Maurice Fitzgerald, then Lord Justice, crossed the Erne in two divisions, one above and the other at Ballyshannon. Melaghlin O'Donnell was defending the passage of the river when he was taken unexpectedly in the rear by those who had crossed higher up, and thus was defeated and slain. Fitzgerald then ravaged Tyrconnell, set up a rival chief O'Canavan, and rebuilt the Castle at Cael-uisge, near Beleek. Ten years afterwards Godfrey O'Donnell, the successor of Melaghlin, avenged the defeat at Ballyshannon, in the sanguinary battle of Credran, near Sligo, where engaging Fitzgerald in single combat, he gave him his death-stroke. From wounds received at Credran, Godfrey himself, after lingering twelve months in great suffering, died. But his bodily afflictions did not prevent him discharging all the duties of a great Captain; he razed a second time the English Castle on Lough Erne, and stoutly protected his own borders against the pretensions of O'Neil, being carried on his bier in the front of the battle of Lough Swilly in 1258.
It was while Tyrconnell was under the rule of this heroic soldier that the unfortunate feud arose between the O'Neils and O'Donnells. Both families, sprung from a common ancestor, of equal antiquity and equal pride, neither would yield a first place to the other. "Pay me my tribute," was O'Neil's demand; "I owe you no tribute, and if I did---" was O'Donnell's reply. The O'Neil at this time--Brian--aspiring to restore the Irish sovereignty in his own person, was compelled to begin the work of exercising authority over his next neighbour. More than one border battle was the consequence, not only with Godfrey, but with Donnell Oge, his successor. In the year 1258, Brian was formally recognized by O'Conor and O'Brien as chief of the kingdom, in the conference of Cael-uisge, and two years later, at the battle of Down, gallantly laid down his life, in defence of the kingdom he claimed to govern. In this most important battle no O'Donnell is found fighting with King Brian, though immediately afterwards we find Donnell Oge of Tyrconnell endeavouring to subjugate Tyrone, and active afterwards in the aid of his cousins, the grandsons of Cathal Crovdearg, in Connaught.
The Norman commander in this battle was Stephen de Longespay, then Lord Justice, Earl of Salisbury in England, and Count de Rosman in France. His marriage with the widow of Hugh de Lacy and daughter of de Riddlesford connected him closely with Irish affairs, and in the battle of Down he seems to have had all the Anglo-Irish chivalry, "in gold and iron," at his back. With King Brian O'Neil fell, on that crimson day, the chiefs of the O'Hanlons, O'Kanes, McLaughlins, O'Gormlys, McCanns, and other families who followed his banner. The men of Connaught suffered hardly less than those of Ulster. McDermott, Lord of Moylurgh, Cathal O'Conor, O'Gara, McDonogh, O'Mulrony, O'Quinn, and other chiefs were among the slain. In Hugh Bwee O'Neil the only hope of the house of Tyrone seemed now to rest; and his energy and courage were all taxed to the uttermost to retain the place of his family in the Province, beating back rapacious neighbours on the one hand, and guarding against foreign enemies on the other. For twelve years, Hugh Bwee defended his lordship against all aggressors. In 1283, he fell at the hands of the insurgent chiefs of Oriel and Breffni, and a fierce contest for the succession arose between his son Brian and Donald, son of King Brian who fell at Down. A contest of twelve years saw Donald successful over his rival (A.D. 1295), and his rule extended from that period until 1325, when he died at Leary's lake, in the present diocese of Clogher.
It was this latter Donnell or Donald O'Neil, who, towards the end of his reign, addressed to Pope John XXII. (elected to the pontificate in 1316) that powerful indictment against the Anglo-Normans, which has ever since remained one of the cardinal texts of our history. It was evidently written after the unsuccessful attempt, in which Donald was himself a main actor, to establish Edward Bruce on the throne of Ireland. That period we have not yet reached, but the merciless character of the warfare waged against the natives of the country could hardly have been aggravated by Bruce's defeat. "They oblige us by open force," says the Ulster Prince, "to give up to them our houses and our lands, and to seek shelter like wild beasts upon the mountains, in woods, marshes, and caves. Even there we are not secure against their fury; they even envy us those dreary and terrible abodes; they are incessant and unremitting in their pursuit after us, endeavouring to chase us from among them; they lay claim to every place in which they can discover us with unwarranted audacity and injustice; they allege that the whole kingdom belongs to them of right, and that an Irishman has no longer a right to remain in his own country."
After specifying in detail the proofs of these and other general charges, the eloquent Prince concludes by uttering the memorable vow that the Irish "will not cease to fight against and among their invaders until the day when they themselves, for want of power, shall have ceased to do us harm, and that a Supreme Judge shall have taken just vengeance on their crimes, which we firmly hope will sooner or later come to pass."