CHARLOTTE MURPHY explains the background to the long-running feud which erupted between the O’Driscolls of Baltimore and the merchants of Waterford City in 1368, following an attack on the Waterford fleet by the O’Driscolls. This feud continued on and off for almost two centuries, ending in the sacking of Dunasead, Baltimore and other O’Driscoll castles by another Waterford fleet in 1538.

It was Christmas day, a long time ago, the year 1413 to be precise, and the ruling family of O’Driscoll was feasting, drinking and dancing in its strong castle overlooking the harbour of Baltimore, County Cork.

The party-spirit was destined to be cut short however, by the shouts of soldiers, the clash of swords and the sound of steel upon the stone staircase of the castle.

The reasons for such an un-Christmas-like and un-Christian interruption went back many, many years.

One of the great Norman families which came to Ireland and acquired vast tracts of land to north-east of Waterford city was the le Poers. In July 1329 John Fitzthomas, first Earl of Desmond, was granted the office of sheriff of Waterford and Cork, thus diminishing the political and military power of the le Poers over what they believed to be their rightful area of influence.
This can be seen as the beginning of the bitter hatred between Waterford and the le Poers.

In order to cause trouble for the city and the earls of Desmond, the le Poers formed an alliance with the O’Driscolls; perhaps the most important family on the south coast of Ireland at this time.

The possible reason for the enmity of the O’Driscolls for the city of Waterford is to be found in the world of commerce. With their fleet of galleys, the O’Driscolls controlled much of the sea around County Cork and County Waterford.

Waterford harbour could be a very safe haven for ships from France, Spain and Portugal, with their lucrative cargoes of wine. But the galleys of the O’Driscolls could do much damage to this trade.

Another very important commodity which was exported from Waterford was fish. It was, of course, a substantial part of the city-dwellers’ diet but large amounts of hake, herring and salmon were exported from Waterford.

It seems clear that the city could be subjected to what was called ‘a black rent’ by the O’Driscolls; either it paid this blackmail, or its sea-going commerce could be damaged greatly or even destroyed.

The constant warfare proved to be very destructive for Waterford. This is made clear in 1375 when the Mayor and citizens were forced to send a petition to the King and his council in England begging for assistance.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own