The Battle of Clais an Chro 1170 AD

Eamonn Kiely

Dermot Mac Murchu, who brought the Normans to Ireland made two forays Into Ossory in 1170. In his first venture his army killed Donnoha Mac Giolla Padralg, the leader of the Ossory men. Donall, his successor revolted and refused submission to Mac Murchu, the one time king of Leinster. Mac Murchu arranged another onslaught on Ossory with old Vikings under compulsion, from Wexford towns Irish, and of course. Normans. The appointed leader Donall Caomhanach led 5,00o men of Ui Cinnsealaigh from Wexford, through the barony of Forth In Co Carlow, crested the Barrow at the Bridge of Loughlin. He came via Sliabh Mairge by Coolcullen and Muckalee to Maigh Airgead Ros and the river Nore. Here the waters of the Dinan and the Nuenna and the Airgne intermingle with the Nore and sometimes inundate the surrounding countryside. Lest anyone Is lost by now we are just short of Freshford Padraig Mac Carthaigh covers this story in Some detail in the Old Kilkenny Review of 1972.

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Donall Mac Giolla Padraigh had assembled his forces along with Munster Allies in the pass or defile of Atha Ur – Freshford in a defensive posture. The area was thickly wooded in that era so Mac Giolla Padhaig made use of this and even added to it by plashing. This system whereby trees and bushes are half cut and knocked down to be Intermingled with their fellow trees making the passage almost impenetrable to any attacking force. A weaker defending element would be well advised to avail of this cover and not venture beyond it.

The Norman portion of Caomhanach’s army, armed with the bow which carried death at a distance, and were flanked on either side by a squadron of horsemen with long lances, shields, helmets and coats of mail. They little feared the Irish, armed with pikes and darts. Even the Gallowglasses on the Irish side with their broad battle axes held little threat. There was no doubting the bravery of the Ossorians but you must adapt your battle plan to the capabilities of the enemy vis a vis that of own troops.

The advance units of the two armies engaged each other on the banks of the Nuenna where it flows into the Nore. A running conflict ensued for about half a mile along the Nuenna and through Cuil Iseal. The Ossorians retreated to where the Airgne joins the Nuenna. Here is where the main Ossory Army were in their defensive position. The plan worked well for them so far. This spot is called Clais an Chro – The Hollow of the Slaughter, reminding us of the fierce fight which happened here.

The Normans and wexford men advanced into the wooded and boggy defile. Three days of fierce fighting ensued with the 2,000 Ossorymen holding their own against their 5,000 opponents. Defence is to attack as 1:3, so the weaker- numbered Ossorians If they held their ground and their well defended Position could have withstood the assault. This appeared to be the case when the Wexfordmen began to break off the attack. The Norman cavalry were particularly handicapped in the wooded and plashed terrain. Maurice De Prendergast, their leader withdrew to the more open countryside of Ard an Chro where his cavalry could operate more effectively In open country. The retiring troops, as perceived by the Ossorymen, provoked the Impetuous defenders to leave their well structured position to pursue and hopefully destroy their erstwhile attackers.

When the Normans reached the hard open ground, they turned and charging their pursuers speared them with their long lances and scattered them in utter route. Mac Murchu’s troops, who had fled earlier in the day to thewoods returned and joiningin the melee, fell upon the wavering and retreating Ossorymen and killed many of those whom the lances of the Normans had speared. It was a total defeat for the Ossorymen, Prendergast is celebrate in a poem for his chivalrous action on another occasion in saving Irish who had been entrapped by the Normans with a view to a massacre. Aubrey De Vete records it “To Ossory’s king they had given their word”.

An tUasail MacCarthaigh in bis Old Kilkenny Review article adverts to the wealth of Irish names that survive in the Freshford area pertaining to this battle. He says “the first study of our own, history is the study of our own locality. The eyes of the fool are on the ends of the earth; a bird’s eye view of history Is too dim and indistinct. So let us get back to home work and fieldwork”.

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