The Robin Hood of Laois
The Robin Hood of Laois
Rory Oge O’More was described in contemporary accounts by his English adversaries as the “Robin Hood” of Ireland. He was certainly regarded as a legend of his time, a romantic figure perhaps equated to Che Guevara by the native Irish who were fighting colonial rule during the Elizabethan Period. He wasn’t just a local hero but one of national importance, feared amongst his enemies and celebrated by his local clansmen.
Rory’s story began in 1538 when he was born in Co. Laois as the second son of Rory O’ More. Life didn’t start easy for the young Rory growing up in the turbulent days of 16th Century Ireland. The plantations of Laois had begun in 1556 and within that year Rory’s father was killed by his own brother in a power struggle that had begun within the clan. The following year his uncle Connell was put to death by the English for rebellion against the new plantation settlers such as the Cosbies and the Hartpoles.
As a result of these intrigues, Rory Oge assumed clan leadership by the age of 20, putting him in charge of the largest and most powerful clan in county Laois. Initially the new leader sought peace with the English and with the arrival of Sir Henry Sidney to Ireland in 1565, Rory Oge submitted and received a pardon. Peace didn’t last long however as more and more English settlers arrived displacing disgruntled clansmen from their homes and lands throughout the county.
By 1571 Rory formed an alliance with the O’Connor’s of Offaly, another county which had been planted by ardent English settlers. Smaller clans within the area united behind Rory’s banner and laid siege to the pale and by 1572 had managed to free the Earl of Desmond Gerald Fitzgerald from captivity at Dublin Castle. A brief peace ensued until 1575 when Sir Francis Cosby was made Seneschal of Laois. By now the campaign had become bitter and Cosby was ordered to destroy the O’More’s by “fire and sword” by Lord Deputy Sydney. Rory teamed up with the rebellious Earl of Clanricarde, Richard Burke and the O’Connor’s of Offaly to threaten the very existence of the English in Ireland. Armies were raised in London with many losses on both sides.
A partial truce was announced, with the English inviting the O’More’s and other clans to Mullaghmast on New Year’s Eve 1577 for a parley. Contemporary accounts mention a figure of over 400 killed by the English, a treacherous act which underlined the native Irish cause. Rory wasn’t among the clansmen on this infamous day in Laois history and vowed revenge despite such losses to his kinsmen and women. The same year saw an escalation in guerrilla warfare by Rory on the English. Over 800 houses were burnt in Naas by March and Carlow town was also badly damaged in a raid. A price of £1,000 was placed on his head and he became the most wanted man in the British Isles.
Nonetheless the fearless warrior captured Captain Harrington and Alexander Cosby (son of Francis Cosby), but their location was betrayed by an enemy of Rory’s and they were rescued by Robert Hartpole who ordered the execution of Rory’s wife. The Lord Deputy of Ireland was furious needless to say, and ordered more troops into Laois to hunt him down. Correspondences to and fro from England at the time show a sense of urgency and despair on behalf of the colonialists concerning the exploits of Rory Oge. One document claims Rory had cost the Crown 200,000l in damages over the course of his rebellion.
Rory wasn’t to fall slain to a foreigner’s sword but his end came during a raid into the MacGillapatrick territory of Ossory. He died in a skirmish with Brian Oge MacGillapatrick on June 30th 1578. The English made great pains to retrieve his head and place it on a spike at Dublin Castle as a crude reminder of a régime that was determined to stay no matter what the cost.
His death sent reverberations throughout the country and across the Irish Sea. He became a martyr and an inspiration for future rebellions in the coming years. His obituary recorded in the contemporary Annals of Loch Ce and the Annals of the Four Masters which speak of a great loss: “Ruaidhri Og O’Mordha was killed by Brian Og MacGillapatraic, and by the Foreigners; and there was not in Erinn a greater destroyer against Foreigners than that man; and he was a very great loss”.
Rory Oge left one son Owen Mc Rory O’More, who continued by the way of the sword in the same fashion as his father. These were scenes of some of the bloodiest in the History of County Laois. Would certainly make a good movie.
Thanks to Sean Murray for this fascinating retelling of the life and lore of one of Laois’ most famous sons. For more on the history of Laois click on Sean Murray’s page here.