Laois through the ages

Laois through the ages

Laois through the ages

“Remember Mullaghmast” New Year’s Day 1577

 On New Year’s Day 1577 an infamous act of treachery was borne down on the native Irish of Co. Laois. Clansmen and women were invited to a parley or peace ceremony with the English just over the Laois border at Mullaghmast Co. Kildare. The fort at Mullaghmast is situated along a chain of low hills over-looking the Laois countryside to the west and the plains of Kildare to the east. The fort itself may have originated in the early Iron Age, with references to various battles being fought here in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries A.D. It is said to be the ancient seat of the O’Toole Clan.

Mullaghmast Rath

Mullaghmast Rath. Photo courtesy of

On that fateful day members of the seven septs of Laois arrived to what should have been a day of feasting and festivities. Instead a blood bath ensued leaving up to 400 unarmed men, women and children dead at the hands and swords of English settlers and troops who had plotted to rid the county of all its native leaders. Contemporary accounts suggest that up to 180 O’More’s died alone. Amongst them were clansmen from the O’Kelly’s, O’Lalor’s, O’Doran’s, O’Dowling’s, Devoy’s, McEvoy’s and members of the Offaly O’ Connor branch. The O’Dempsey clan had sided with the English settlers whose ranks included Cosby, Piggot and Harpole.
After the onslaught, the English launched attacks on native strongholds in the county, including an attack on O’Lalor’s castle which it is said that Cosby ordered the hanging O’Lalor’s wife on the postern gate, where it is said that her only child was hung from her long hair.
Various accounts written some years later dispute the numbers killed at Mullaghmast. Some authors say as few as 40 died, although the earlier accounts suggest much higher numbers. Nonetheless, the ghastly act failed to quell native unrest in the county. Rory Oge O’More emerged as a strong uniting force and continued resistance against native displacement from the lands of Laois. In fact the immediate years after Mullaghmast saw an increase in attacks on settlers both in Laois and within the pale, with the towns of Naas and Carlow burned to the ground by the end of 1577.

The events at Mullaghmast were so treacherous, that even English soldiers such as Captain Lee defected to the Irish cause. A rallying cry rang out across native territories; “Remember Mullaghmast”. The fort was again the scene of national sentiment on October 1st 1843 when Daniel O’ Connell held a monster meeting, which it is believed over 20000 attended. In his speech here he urged the crowd that had gathered to remember the 400 Roman Catholic’s that had perished some 250 years before. Today its high earthen walls remain as a stark reminder of the shadowy scenes of bitter struggle between the natives of Laois and their colonial adversaries.

It is interesting that the Rath at Mullaghmast has been in use from the Iron Age up until the Late Medieval Period, and even today as a monument to times past. I wonder how it looked in the 1570’s.

Article courtesy of Sean Murray’s Laois Archaeology page