In the most important account of the twelfth century English invasion of Ireland, the author, Gerald de Barri, or Gerald of Wales also called Giraldus Cambrensis, tells several stirring and bloody tales. Few are more brutal than the tale of a mass murder in Mogeely in 1182.
In his book Expugnatio Hibernica (the Conquest of Ireland),, written about 1187, Gerald tells us that when Robert FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan had ruled Cork for five years, Milo set out for a parley in Lismore with Ralph, the illegitimate son of FitzStephen, and five knights. They broke their journey at Mogeely, with fatal consequences..
‘They were sitting in the middle of some fields, waiting to have a parley with the men of Waterford, when, along with five other knights, they were killed by the traitor MacTire, with whom they were due to stay that night, being struck down with axes from behind when they were off guard.’
Geraldus goes on to tell us that;
‘As a result of this disaster, the whole country was immediately thrown into a state of such disorder that Diarmait MacCarthaig and almost all the Irish throughout the whole region joined MacTire in throwing off their allegiance to the English and rising against FitzStephen…..‘
Matters were clearly very serious for the English, but there was a hero in the wings…..:
‘The former peaceful conditions were not restored there until Raymond succeeded as heir to his uncle FitzStephen and took sole charge of the city.’
The reference to a parley with the men of Waterford suggests that there was between the English in Waterford and the English in Cork at the time, but it seems that the whole point of going to Lismore was to parley with the Waterford men there and NOT at Mogeely. So the reference is very likely a mistake.
In an earlier post I featured a postcard sent from Mogeely to Ladysbridge in 1910. The postcard showed the peaceful village with most of the population posing for the photographer. This post will examine the most notorious event in Mogeely’s history – a mass murder by battle axe in 1182. In homage to the appalling scenes of the ‘Red Wedding’ in the book and TV series Game of Thrones, I’m calling this twelfth century butchery in Mogeely……the ‘Red Picnic.’
The small peaceful village of Mogeely is located over a mile and a quarter north of Castlemartyr. Both villages are in the same Roman Catholic parish, and although Mogeely is the smaller of the two villages, it boasts the grander church, completed in 1912. It also boasted a railway line, until it finally closed in the early 1980s, and a modern creamery, celebrated for its unique regato cheese!
So what was the background to the ‘Red Picnic’ of Mogeely?
When the Anglo-Normans invaded Cork in 1177, Mogeely was the residence of the local lord of Imokilly, a chieftain called Mac Tire. This is actually a patronymic or surname, since we don’t even know the man’s personal name. Mac Tire ruled Imokilly, which in those days did not correspond to the modern barony of Imokilly. The old Imokilly of the twelfth century stretched from the western shore of Great Island, where Cobh (the former Queenstown) now stands, to a line running from north to south somewhere between Mogeely and Killeagh. The area east of this line, as far as Youghal, would later be incorporated into Imokilly, while Great Island, and the civil parish of Mogeesha just west of Midleton, would be lost to Barrymore.
In 1177 there was serious trouble in the province of Munster. Since the so-called Treaty of Glanmire in 1118, the province had been divided into two distinct kingdoms, with a disputed area to the east. In the south, stretching from Lismore to Brandon in County Kerry, was the kingdom of Desmond, which the Anglo-Normans called the kingdom of Cork, from its capital city. This was ruled by the MacCarthaig or MacCarthy family, and the incumbent king in 1177 was Diarmait MacCarthy. He had succeeded his father in 1151 and managed to restore the much reduced power of his family in the area.
In the north lay the kingdom of Thomond stretching from North Tipperary to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, but also including Limerick city and some newly secured territories in modern County Limerick. The ruler of Thomond in 1177 was Donal O’Brien. King since 1168, Donal was a direct descendent of the famous Brian Boru who died just a millennium ago during the celebrated battle at Clontarf (1014). The O’Briens, a feisty and ambitious family, were considered jumped up upstarts by the MacCarthys.
The third area of Munster was Ormond (literally, East Munster) which effectively corresponded to the modern county of Tipperary. This territory was bitterly disputed between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys, because the MacCarthys were descended from the ancient kings of Cashel and had Diarmait MacCarthy’s grandfather, Cormac MacCarthy, had trounced the O’Briens in the 1120s, and secured possession of Cashel, County Tipperary, where he built Cormac’s Chapel, the most important building on the Rock of Cashel. It was probably Cormac who created the modern diocese of Cloyne in contravention of the Synod of Rath Breasail (1111) which had extinguished the older bishopric of Cloyne.
By 1177 the festering disputes between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys had erupted into open war again. The reason was that King Donal O’Brien had expelled the group of families called the Ui Fidgente from their ancestral lands in the middle of the modern county of Limerick. This finally achieved the long sought O’Brien ambition of bringing the whole territory west of Limerick city under their own control – they had already tried it when Turlough O’Brien had founded Monasternenagh Abbey on lands he had won from the O’Donovans in 1148. The Ui Fidgente families were long-standing allies of the MacCarthys, who gave them shelter in other parts of their kingdom of Desmond. This is how the O’Donovans, for example, came to be settled in South-West Cork.
It is not known if King Henry II of England saw this dispute between Thomond and Desmond as a opportunity, but in 1177 he decided that three men would be awarded license to conquer the ‘kingdom of Cork’ and the ‘kingdom of Limerick,’ as the Anglo-Normans called the two territories. Milo de Cogan and his relative, Robert FitzStephen, who would divide Cork between them, but would reserve the city and one cantred for King Henry. Philip de Braose was licensed to take Limerick.The contemporary historian of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, Gerald de Barri, or Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), wrote that the three men and their knights and men-at-arms sailed first to Waterford where they disembarked. They then travelled on foot and by horse to Lismore, which was clearly intended as the launch point. Lismore was the seat of a bishop (and papal legate) but it also seems to have been a private estate of the king of Desmond.
Very rapidly the party seized the eastern and central parts of Cork, especially around the harbour. Curiously, Geraldus does not mention any fighting during this invasion. King Diarmait MacCarthy decided to play for time and abandoned his city, moving further west. Once they had secured their lands in Cork, Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen decided to take their men north to help Philip de Braose to capture Limerick. But this expedition foundered when the citizens burned their city and de Braose lost heart.
On returning to Cork, de Cogan and FitzStephen began to sub-infeudate their lands. That is they divided it up into estates which they granted to their relatives and their followers. The cantred of Ui Liathain, now called the barony of Barrymore, was given to Philip de Barri, brother of Gerald de Barri whose book Expugnatio Hibernica is the most celebrated contemporary eyewitness account of the whole Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. However, Philip was not in Ireland at the time but in Wales, and according to Geraldus, Robert FitzStephen’s illegitimate son Ralph ‘stole’ the lands of Ui Liathain from de Barri. What is so interesting about this comment by Geraldus is that he does not attempt to hide the sheer greed and chicanery of the men who invaded Ireland. Mind you, his book contains a lot of family propaganda – the de Barris and their relatives the Carews could do no wrong in his eyes.
Geraldus tells us that for five years Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen ruled the kingdom of Desmond in peace after their invasion. Both men used their influence to restrain the rash behaviour of younger,wilder men in their respective parties. This was important, because a peaceful land would attract settlers from England and Wales. However all that changed dramatically in 1182. However it is not certain how much this peace extended to the displaced native Irish lords.
Milo de Cogan, and his newly married son-in-law, Ralph, son of Robert FitzStephen, and a party of knights set out to visit Lismore for a meeting. They travelled by way of Mogeely, the home of the former ruler of Imokilly, MacTire, now reduced to being a token local Irish landholder. This is the context for the mass murder of the English in Mogeely.
What does come out in Geraldus’s statement is that the Anglo-Norman party consisted of seven knights (Milo, Ralph and five others), but we don’t know how many men-at-arms and archers travelled with them on foot or horseback. The medieval manuscript known as MacCarthaigh’s Book gives an Irish account of the incident with the additional information that ‘slaughter was inflicted by the family of O MacTire.’ The ‘Red Picnic’ was a family affair – but not quite in the usual way of family picnics. The reference to ‘slaughter’ is common enough in the Irish Annals – you can slaughter a single individual or several people, the use of the word implies an element of butchery. In this case it might also support the idea that more than seven Anglo-Normans knights were given the battle-axe treatment in Mogeely. Clearly the Anglo-Norman party were relaxed and expected no trouble from MacTire – after all they were sitting in a field, with their guard down. Indeed I suspect that the party didn’t even post guards.
Were they having a picnic? I know that sounds silly, but it is actually possible that they were taking a quick bite to eat and a drink. Remember, during the twelfth century the main meal of the day was eaten in the early afternoon, in broad daylight. We don’t know what time of the year the massacre happened but it must have been during some dry and warm weather – even today you simply wouldn’t sit on wet grass or muddy ground in Ireland. Indeed there are illustrations from the sixteenth century of Irish chiefs having a feast outdoors, and one can easily imagine the same happening in the late twelfth century.
If the weather on this occasion was indeed dry and warm then the break would have been necessary for men who were probably wearing chain mail or, at very least, leather armour, and it may have been their first stop since leaving Cork earlier that day.. Anybody who has ever lifted a mail hauberk or jacket will be aware of the sheer weight of it, and even a leather jacket can bring on a sweat on a warm day in an Irish summer. Another thing to note about the above account is that Anglo-Norman knights on foot were very vulnerable attack by ferocious Irish enemies wielding two handed battle axes. It was the armoured knight on a trained warhorse who terrified the Irish.
Geraldus is clearly furious at this mass murder, calling MacTire a traitor. This would be true if MacTire had been allowed to keep his personal lands in return for some fealty exacted from him by FitzStephen. However the Irish Annals of Lough Ce mention the murder with some jubilation at the death of Milo de Cogan, suggesting that there was really no love lost between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans. The whole incident might lead you to imagine that the Red Picnic in Mogeely was an isolated local feud, but in fact it proved to be deadly serious – and not just for the victims.
The Red Picnic in Mogeely sparked off at least two decades of trouble and warfare for the Anglo-Normans as they tried to regain secure control of the land they had taken during the invasion of Cork in 1177/1178. Raymond le Gros did crush the initial revolt in 1183, but it seems that Robert FitzStephen was trapped in Cork city and may even have died there by the time Raymond had arrived. Raymond embarked at Waterford with twenty knights and two hundred men-at-arms, half mounted and half on foot. Sailing directly to Cork he relieved the city. There is a priceless irony in the fact that, during the Irish Civil War in 1922, the new Free State Army performed almost exactly the same action as Raymond, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, who were based in Cork Harbour. Like Raymond, the Free State Army sailed from elsewhere in Ireland (Dublin actually) directly to Cork and managed to secure Cork for the Dublin government and eventually put down the Republican forces in Munster.
Raymond was soon joined by his cousin, Richard de Cogan, who came with a picked force sent by King Henry. When some of the Irish leaders were killed and their forces driven off, it seems that a measure of peace had temporarily returned to the area. At the end of February (1183?) reinforcements led by Philip de Barri also arrived. Philip had come to secure his estates in Ui Liathain, the area from Carrigtwohill in the south to Castlelyons in the north, from the Glanmire river in the west to Conna in the east.. Along with Philip came his brother Gerald – the very historian we’ve quoted above. Philip’s descendants gave us the Irish family name Barry. Raymond le Gros established his nephews as the Carew family in Cork, while Richard de Cogan gave us the still current surname of Cogan in County Cork. It was really only in the years from 1206 to 1220 that the Anglo-Norman settlement of East Cork could get underway and set down firm roots, and even then Tadgh MacCarthy invaded Imokilly in 1216 and burned Cloyne.
Diarmait MacCarthy died in 1185 but was immediately succeeded by his equally warlike son Donal, who would invade Imokilly with ferocious intent in the 1190s, burning all the castles there, including Castra na Chore or Ballinacorra, another castle that may have given Castleredmond townland its name and a castle at Mogeely. Donal MacCarthy’s death in 1206 seems to have eased the pressure on the Anglo-Normans in East Cork, allowing for settlement to begin there. The MacCarthys, of course, are almost two a penny in Munster, especially in Cork. And the MacTire family, onetime lords of Imokilly, what did the Red Picnic do for them? By 1300 they had been reduced to the condition of local robbers, but their descendants are still around – their name is now Woulfe. Somehow it seems appropriate given the blood soaked picnic they perpetrated one fine day in a field near Mogeely in 1182.
Note: the texts quoted in italics in this post were taken from pages 187 and 189 of the translation attached to the definitive version of the Expugnatio. A.B.Scott & F.X.Martin, editors: Expugnatio Hibernica – The Conquest of Ireland by Geraldus Cambrensis. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978.
As for the Imokilly Regato Cheese PDO produced at Mogeely: here’s a link to show that this Italian style cheese is indeed made in East Cork and even has a product denomination (PDO) from the European Union! And no, Kerrygold is NOT a sponsor of this blog!
Imokilly Regato Link: http://www.kerrygold.com/products/kerrygold-regato-classic