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Forth O’Nolan – Ballykealey
Reference: Nolan Clan Newsletter, November 1998; extracts from an article about the Nolans of Ballykealy submitted by Kath Rogers, Sydney, Australia; editing for readability and accuracy by Roger Nowlan, December 2023
The Nolans being seated uninterruptedly on the Ballykealy townland in County Carlow, from the earliest periods of Irish history uninterruptedly down to about the middle of the last century, affords one of the most curious examples that can be adduced of remote and continuous connection between a family and a territorial possession, not only in this empire, but perhaps in all of Europe. The chief of our ancient writers, the national records, private monuments, monumental and traditional history, all bear testimony to the origin and pedigree of the O’Nolans.
Keating, the historian, in tracing the royal genealogies of Ireland, comes to Conn Ceadh Chathach, “the hero of the hundred battles”, whom he states to have had two brothers. From Eochaidh Fionn, one of them, descended O’Nuallain, otherwise O’Nolan in Leinster. Conn’s posterity were kings of Ireland, and governed in Tara; Eochaidh Fionn’s went into Leinster, at the time when Chucorb, the son of Modhacorb, was king of that province. The author details how the forces of Munster had conquered a large portion of Leinster. Chucorb entreated assistance from Eochaidh Fionn and a fuend of his called Laoighseach Cean More, with their followers, to drive them back into their own territories. The battle was fought at a place called Arthrodain, known now by the name of Athy. The Lagenians, or men of Leinster, had a narrow victory there and pursued the chase through Laois to a place called Ballaghmore near Borris-in-Ossory where they finally expelled the Munstermen from Leinster. Chucorb, being reinstated in his dominions, by the assistance of Eochaidh Fionn, out of gratitude, thought himself obliged to make a recompense for his services, and therefore he generously bestowed upon him The Seven Fothartuaths, and confirmed this donation by perpetuating the rights to his posterity forever. He rewarded Laoighseach with the Seven Laoighises, to be enjoyed by him and his heirs who took upon themselves the title of Kings of Leix, or Laois.
Keating authenticates this as follows: “Laoighseach Cean More, the first king of Laoighseach, or Leix, was brought up, and had his education with Eochaidh Fionn, (son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmar) the first king of Fothartuath; for which reason it was that the kings of Leix were obliged to be ready, upon all occasions, with a competent number of troops, to assist the king of Forthartuath, upon the first summons, and this custom was faithfully observed by the kings of Leix, to the time of Henry II King of England.”
English Corrobotive Evidence
Hanmer informs us, that “Hugh De Lacy built a castle, in Fotheret O’Nolan [aka Forth O’Nolan], for Raymond, and another for Griffin, his brother, the sons of William Fitz-Gerald. ”
This statement is clear and distinct proof that, at the earliest period of Norman occupation in Ireland the Nolans were in possession of what later became known as the barony of Forth in county Carlow. To understand this we must first understand that:
- Some century and a half before the arrival of the Normans Irish nobility had adopted family names; for descendants of Eochaidh Fionn Fuathairt the surname adopted was O Nolan and the lands surrounding their chief seat (Ballykealey next to Ballon Hill in County Carlow) had become known as “Forth/Fotheret O Nolan” in honour of the chief family for the territory.
- Raymond le Gros, the one for whom a castle was built in Forth O Nolan, was part of the first contingent of Normans to invade Ireland in 1169 accompanying Richard De Clare (Strongbow)
- By 1179, Hugh De Lacy had been appointed twice as Lord Deputy of Ireland and the Normans were firmly in charge of Leinster, Richard De Clare (Strongbow) having married Aoife (Eva), the daughter of the Dermott MacMurrough, king of Leinster (deceased in 1171) and asserted his right to rule over Leinster through battle as allowed under Brehon law; this naturally led to the building of castles in areas where they encountered resistance such Raymond’s castle built on the eastern edge of Forth O’Nolan
- Raymond le Gros is the progenitor of the Grace family in Ireland and his castle was built on the modern-day townland of Castlegrace, a townland on the eastern edge of the modern-day barony of Forth. The building of this castle, now in ruins, was part of the gradual spoliation over time of Nolan territory in Leinster. Many Nolans had already been driven out of the “Barony of Forth ” in county Wexford (no doubt one of the “Seven Fothartuaths” initially granted to the Nolans), and, over the next couple of centuries, there were further clashes between the O’Nolans wanting to defend their territories and Normans wanting to encroach on their lands.
These accounts, however, meagre as they are, of this continued warfare, afford, at all events, additional
confirmation, that “Foghird” (aka Forth/Fotheret O’Nolan) still continued to be the recognised “country” and property of the O’Nolans.
Camden’s 3rd vol. of the “Britannia” gives the following: “Philip Staunton was slain, and Henry Traherne was treacherously taken in his house at Kilbeg, by Richard, son to Philip O’Nolan. James Lord Butler, Earl of Ormond, burnt Foghird in revenge to O’Nolan, for his brother Henry’s sake. “
[Relating to these events] following are some dates and incidents mentioned by Professor Nicholls
during his lecture at the 1997 Clan Gathering.
- 1311 Henry O’Nolan chief of the Clan killed Sir John Traherne.
- 1312 Henry O’Nolan aided royal forces in putting down the rebellion by the Condons
and got a pardon for previous offenses.
- 1322 Henry Traherne killed Henry Nolan.
- 1329 Henry Traherne and Laurence Butler captured in the Traherne castle at Kilbeg by the O’Nolans.
- 1329 James Butler Earl of Ormond came and burnt the O’Nolan territory for 3 days.
Henry Traherne and Laurence Butler were released.
- 1331 Richard chief of the Nolans was captured in Duiske Abbey
and was forced to give his son as hostage.
- 1332 Richard O Nolan killed by the Butlers.
- 1340 Laurence Butler killed by the O’Nolans.
- 1354 Traheme sold Kilbeg to Sir John Cornwall.
The castle was destroyed by the O’Nolans and eventually it fell to them. 16th century records show that Ballintrane castle, as it was known then known was owned by the O’Nolans.
After 1354 there was a revival by Art Mc Morrough of the Kingship of Leinster. The Anglo Norman colony had been totally destroyed, partly due to the plague which swept the country at that time.
In 1394 Richard II King of England came over and got all the Irish of Leinster to submit to him. Cox tells us that “Gerald 0 ‘Byrne, Donald O’Nolan, Malachias O’Morrough, Rore Og O’Moore, Arthur O’Connor, and others, made their humble submissions through an interpreter, in an open field at Balingory, near Carlow, on the 16th of February. “ He says: “They laid aside their girdles, skeins, and caps, and falling on bended knee, did homage; which being performed, the Marshal gave each of them the Osculum Pacis.” That “they were bound in large penalties; O’Byrne, for instance, in 20,000 marks, and O’Nolan in £10,000 sterling.”
When he [Richard II] went back to England, things returned to normal.