By Chris Lawlor

Feagh Mac Hugh O’Byrne, ‘the Firebrand of the Wicklow Mountains’, is synonymous with County Wicklow. By Feagh’s final year (1597), Lord Deputy Russell had identified him as ‘the cheife rebel of Lynster’. Feagh was born about 1544. After 1558, Queen Elizabeth I’s administration embarked on a policy of Anglicisation in Ireland. Such a policy was opposed to the Gaelic way of life practised by the O’Byrnes and other clans. The stage was set for conflict.

In 1572, Feagh joined his brother-in-law, Rory Óg O’More of Laois, to attack the Pale, an area of English rule around Dublin. By the 1580, Rory Óg had been killed, but the Desmond rebellion in Munster was supported by the Catholic Viscount Baltinglass in Wicklow.

Feagh supported the rebellion of Baltinglass, with this support culminating in the heavy defeat of English forces under Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton at Glenmalure on 25 August, 1580. The long, narrow valley provided perfect cover for

Feagh’s men and the English suffered heavy casualties almost from the beginning of their advance.

Retreating under continuous attack, they retraced their steps along valley floor. At this point, Feagh ordered the force led by Baltinglass (inactive until now) to attack the retreating English. Retreat became rout, and casualties piled up.

Defeat at Glenmalure was a huge setback for the authorities. It was a rout, and casualties were very high. The Annals of Loch Cé estimates the number of English casualties at over nine hundred.

Glenmalure was certainly one of the heaviest defeats ever suffered by Crown forces in Ireland. It caused panic within the Pale and on the streets of the capital, where a follow-up attack by Feagh’s forces was expected almost hourly once the calamitous news had come through.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own