|Clare County Library||
in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Ennis Assizes & Letter from Edward Fitton, 1570
By 1570 the English were in a position to hold their first courts of law in the territory of Thomond. The assizes were held in the dissolved Franciscan friary of Ennis because Connor O’Brien, earl of Thomond, refused to give the government possession of Clare Castle. O’Brien was dissatisfied because of the appointment of his arch rival Teige McMurrough O’Brien as sheriff. The appointment of a sheriff would lead inevitably to a serious diminution in the earl’s authority, but the nomination of Teige McMurrough added insult to injured pride. O‘Brien refused to co-operate with Edward Fitton, President of Connacht, and eventually drove him and the assize judges from his territory. The altercation is neatly summarised under the year 1570 in the Annals of the Four Masters; a more detailed version of events is provided by the President of Connacht, Edward Fitton, in his letter to the Lord Deputy in Dublin. Fitton’s account provides interesting topographical detail: it appears, for instance, that no bridge spanned the Fergus at Clare Castle in 1570.
A proclamation for holding a court in the monastery of Ennis, in Thomond, was issued by the president of the province of Connaught, to the O’Briens and [the inhabitants of] upper Connaught. Teige, the son of Murrough O’Brien, who was at this time sheriff in the territory (and he was the first sheriff of Thomond), placed a quantity of food and liquors in the monastery of Ennis for the use of the president. The president arrived in the town about the festival of St Bridget. The earl of Thomond (Conor, the son of Donough, son of Conor O’Brien) was at this time at Clare, [and] the president on the third day dispatched a party of his guards, [consisting] of the chiefs of his people and his cavalry, to summon the earl. It was at the same hour of the day that these and Donnell, the son of Conor O’Brien, who was also coming to the earl, arrived at the gate of the town. The earl came to the resolution of making prisoners of Donnell and all those who were withinside the chain of the gate, and killing some of those who were outside. [This he did]. The rest of them [perceiving his intention] escaped, by swiftness of foot and the fleetness of their horses, to the president, to Ennis. On the following day the president departed, and the sons of Murrough, son of Turlough [O’Brien], i.e. Teige and Donough, conducted him out of the country, and guided him through the narrow passes and the wild and intricate ways. The earl followed in pursuit of them, and continued skirmishing with them until they arrived at Gort-innsi-Guaire on that night.
Letter from Edward Fitton, President of Connaght, to the Lord Deputy, Touching on the Disorder in Thomond, 1570:
May it please your Lordship to understand the whole course of our journey since we wrote last from Clonferte, [20 January 1570]; we came that night to Logereagh [Loughrea], from thence the next day to O Shaughnessy and so upon Sunday, being the 22nd of the month, to Inishe [Ennis]; whither came to us that night Mr Apsley and under him forty of his band.
When we came, we neither found provision for man nor horse, saving a little that the sheriff [Teige McMorogh O‘Brien] had brought in of his own charge, although both the earl [of Thomond] and a number of gentlemen that were at Galway before, were warned to levy and bring in both man’s meat and horse meat. Neither heard we anything from the earl before three o’clock in the afternoon of yesterday, saving that a man of his named William Nailande came to us about a mile short of the Inishe, whom we committed for not providing horsemeat.
Upon the earl’s coming we thought good to estrange ourselves from him because of his undutiful behaviour and because all the people under his rule in the country were fled away as though we were enemies. Nevertheless we gave him no evil words but thinking to reprehend him openly in the morning said we were busy and willed him to take his ease for that night.
The earl of Clanricarde being present with the earl, he neither seemed to excuse his doings nor talked one word with him of our being here. But when our message was brought to the earl, he said he would go to his next house [at Clare Castle], being but half a mile away, and come again in the morning; and sent word by William Martin to us that he might go home and fetch his English apparel. We answered him that in no case would we consent to his departing the town; nevertheless, despite all the persuasion my Lord Clanricarde could make upon him, he took his horse and went his way. We sent William Martin after him, commanding him upon his allegiance, that he should immediately come to us. Martin found him at his castle of Clare, and by occasion of the flood he could not get in till about midnight. Martin was well used at his hands and promised answer in the morning, which was, he was ashamed to tarry here [in Ennis], having no provision to bestow upon the soldiers. And also reciting the great injuries that Teige McMorogh, the sheriff, had done unto him, saying plainly that he would not be earl, if he were sheriff.
He concluded plainly that he would not come to us without protection and also that the earl of Clanricarde should meet him about a mile out of this town. We thought good to deny him and instead sent unto him the sergeant at arms with Mr Apsley and his band to guard the mace. And doubting that the earl would be in the ward of the castle, when the sergeant came, we sent Martin before them under the pretence of delivering an answer, that might justify the earl’s presence at the same time. But the earl not only took Martin in hand and kept him, but also sending to Apsley to come in, promising him such cheer as was there, overcame the gentleman. (This was contrary to our precise command that none should enter the castle.) And a number of soldiers to the number of ten were enticed likewise to go in, whereof some were killed and some taken; amongst them that were slain was old John McRobin. Whereupon the sergeant and the rest of Apsley’s company resorted hither to us safe again.
The news amazed us greatly and we resolved to go to the castle to speak to the earl, but coming thither and sending our trumpeter to the castle requiring the earl to come forth, we were answered that the earl was not there. And demanding where Apsley and Martin and the rest were, were answered that only the earl of Thomond could tell and that he would meet us tomorrow. But it is plainly judged that the earl hath both Apsley, Martin and the rest with him and is gone to Bonrattie.
The situation considered, together with our own strength, being now these twenty five of Apsley’s, we have resolved to retire ourselves to Galway.
And thus we humbly take our leave: From
Inishe, the 24th of January 1570.
Taken from The Halliday Papers, Fifteenth
Report, [Irish Council Book], Historical Manuscripts Commission (London
1897), pp 201-03. Abridged.