Normans hid in city to escape ‘ethnic-cleansing by clans’

 A medieval battle as depicted on this tapestry would not have been out of place in the 14th century Lee Valley.

Gaelic clans were involved in bloodthirsty ethnic-cleansing when they murdered, raped, pillaged and burned with such brutal ferocity it forced Norman settlers to abandon large parts of rural Cork and cower behind the walls of the city for many years.

That’s the claim of Dr Paul MacCotter, a UCC lecturer in history and genealogy, and one of the country’s foremost historical geographers.

His research has also led him to believe the famed Blarney Castle was built by the Normans in an effort to hold back the marauding Gaelic clans who were sweeping through the Lee Valley and slaughtering their brother settlers. The castle, like others in the area, had a tall, thin tower which he believes may have been used to light fires, which could be seen for many miles, as signals that Gaelic clans were on the warpath.

In the early 13th century, Normans began to inhabit the valley, but started fighting among themselves for supremacy.

The MacCarthy clan, who were Gaelic overlords in the mid-Cork region, had reasonable relations with the Normans, but a renegade branch of the family in the Kanturk area decided to attack the settlers and steal their cattle, primarily because they saw them as fractured and vulnerable.

The renegades were then joined by several other clans and the Barretts, who had been Norman allies, also joined, seeing an opportunity to expand their own lands.

At the time, 1330-1360, the Normans established themselves in quite influential settlements as far west into the valley as Kilmurry and Coachford.

The renegades were so vicious and disruptive to the Norman grand plan of total conquest that the so-called government, in England and inside the Pale, twice organised an army to crush them.

Professional soldiers were bolstered with local levies of freemen (“county posse”), who twice drove the renegades westwards out of the region, but only temporarily.

However, as Dr MacCotter points out, armies cost money and the Normans couldn’t afford to keep them in the region for long, let alone pay for a decent garrison presence which would have kept the disaffected clans under heel.

The clans came back with “a slash and burn policy”, no doubt on the back of suffering a lot at the hands of their would-be colonial masters and killed many hundreds, if not thousands of settlers.

“They [the renegade clans] were raiding cattle and taking them away, burning and destroying farms and houses, on top of murdering men and raping women or capturing them for ransom. They also destroyed market towns which the Normans had established in the Lee Valley area,” Dr MacCotter said.

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