The Defeat of the O’Connors

Despite the fact that the O’Connor kings had acted in good faith as agents of Henry and his successors, it was only a matter of time before the Norman’s marched on their lands in Connacht.

In 1235, They crossed the river Shannon and, sweeping aside any opposition, took what are now the counties of Galway and Mayo. Towns such as Galway, Ballinrobe, Loughrea and Athenry were developed at this time.

Confined to a shrinking kingdom in Connacht, the claim of the O’Connors to be recognised as Ireland’s premier royal family became less and less realistic. Following the deaths of Rory in 1198 and of his brother Cathal in 1224, the idea of a Gaelic kingship for the whole of Ireland seemed to have had its day.

However, in 1258, at Caoluisce near Belleek, the sons of the O’Connor king of Connacht and the O’Brien king of Thomond (the family of Brian Boru) acknowledged Brian O’Neill as king of Ireland. This was a short-lived alliance, but it was a sign that the Irish strategy for dealing with the Normans were changing.

Similarly, when, in 1262, several Irish chieftains invited King Haakon of Norway to become their leader in an attack on the Normans, they were for the first time looking to other powers in Europe to help them in their time of trouble. Although this invitation was not accepted it had established a precedent. About the same time, the Irish began to employ the services of Scottish mercenaries, the gallowglass, or gall-oglaigh (foreign warriors).

Photo: O’Brien’s Castle, County Galway; destroyed by Cromwell in 1652.

Photography by Richard Ishida

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