was the last county formed because of rebellious clans
Wicklow was the last county in Ireland to be formed. Plans
to shire Wicklow had been in place since 1578 but rebellious
clans stalled them.
Finally in 1606, 400 years ago, the county was brought
under the full control of Dublin Castle. This, according
to The Last County - The Emergence of Wicklow as a
County 1606-1845, represented the break up of
the last bastion of Gaelic Ireland.
The Last County was a County Wicklow Heritage
Project book coordinated by Joan Kavanagh, Sean OConnor
and Fiona Walsh with FAS trainees. It gives a comprehensive
history of the county.
The three main Wicklow clans were the OByrnes, OTooles
and OKavanaghs. The OByrnes occupied the northern
part of Kildare. The OTooles occupied south Kildare
and part of north Wicklow. They were driven off their own
land and into the mountains in Wicklow by the Norman invasion.
They located themselves along the east coast from Newtownmountkennedy
to Arklow and up as far as Glenmalure by the early 1200s.
The two clans allied through marriage and declared war on
the incoming Anglo Normans.
During the 14th and 15th centuries the natives continued
to harass the invaders. There were incidents of open warfare
such as the burning of Wicklow town in 1306 when the O'Byrnes
and the OTooles conspired against the Butlers.
In the 1390s Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Lord Lieutenant
of Ireland, along with the Earl of Ormond, attacked the
OByrne Country and took the OByrne castle in
Wicklow town - the Black Castle, the ruins of which are
still in place.
The OTooles fought back and defeated the English,
spiking 60 heads on the gates of the OTooles
castle at Powerscourt. Together the clans fought the English
and killed the Lord Lieutenant in 1388.
Two branches of the O'Byrne clan emerged within the county.
The east branch, Crioch Branach, was based at Kiltimon Castle
while the Gabhall Ranalagh stretched from Lickeen to Aughrim
and Bahana to Glenmalure. Between them they occupied east
and west Wicklow by the 16th century.
The Gabhall Ranalagh OByrnes sided with the Fitzgeralds
in their war with the Butlers. Garoid Og Fitzgerald was
the Lord Deputy. On being summoned to England in 1534 he
appointed his son, Silken Thomas, vice deputy. On rumours
of his fathers death, Thomas rebelled against the
King. Many clans, including the OByrnes, joined his
revolt, which was successful for a time.
These alliances between Gaelic chieftains and English nobles
were viewed as dangerous by the English who set about breaking
Under a new systems, Thadeus, chief of the OByrnes,
agreed to sign a treaty with the King in 1535 in which he
swore to be a loyal subject. He requested that his territory
be shired and called County Wicklow. However, this move
was rejected by his clan and a new chief was elected.
During the mid 1500s there was a time of relative peace
and the authorities in Dublin were led to remark on the
good behaviour of the OByrnes.
By 1578 the authorities were preparing to shire Wicklow
to create a new county of Wicklow and Ferns. The army of
the Lord Deputy, Lord Grey, was sent to subdue the county
but was destroyed by Fiach MacHugh OByrne and his
ally Lord Baltinglass at the battle of Glenmalure in 1580.
The plans for a new county had to be scrapped in the face
of open rebellion.
Hostilities continued through to the turn of the century
and by the end of the 1500s the OByrnes were experiencing
great hardship. The defeat of the Irish in Kinsale signalled
the beginning of the end for the Gaelic chieftains
old way of life. The final bell tolled for them with the
Flight of the Earls.
The time was right to bring the OByrnes country
under the full control of Dublin Castle. It is generally
accepted that the county was finally shired in 1606.
With this break up of the last bastion of Gaelic Ireland
and the OByrne clan the last county in Ireland was
created, it is reported in The Last County.
In 1606 efforts got underway to dispossess the OByrnes
and the OTooles of their lands in Wicklow. Phelim
and Redmond OByrne, sons of the great Fiach MacHugh
OByrne who was killed in 1597, were given temporary
grants to part of Baghall Ranalagh. The rest was declared
royal lands. Phelim fought the issue for many years.
In the years that followed, former OByrne territory
was granted to Sir William Parsons, Sir John Hoey, Sir Henry
Harrington and Sir Laurence Esmond, among others.
Phelim continued his fight for the return of his lands and
petitioned the King in 1623. A commission of enquiry was
established but found against him. After his death his sons,
Brian and Hugh, continued his quest. The former Gabhall
Ranalagh was also changing hands.
By 1641 the OByrne holdings had been reduced to 20,000
acres from 75,000 acres. Cromwell dispossessed the OByrnes
of Gabhall Ranalagh in 1649.
All the information for this article came from The
Last County - The Emergency of Wicklow as a County 1606-1845
Courtesy of The Wicklow People