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The MacAuliffes - a Warrior Clan
"The clansmen who battled with
   Saxon foes;
the chief of the lordly dome;
The bard at whose call the stout
   clansmen rose
in death undistinguished all
   calm repose.
they are gone to their silent
home."
From Legend of Mealane
he emergence of the MacAuliffes as a separate clan came at about the same time as the beginning of English colonisation in Ireland; invasions occured on a recurrent basis over the following centuries, culminating in the middle of the 17th century with land confiscations on a large scale.
The records show that most of the conflicts involving the MacAuliffes in the earlier centuries were battles with their neighbours.  Later, however, they were to become involved in some of the most fierce resistance to English rule, and the consequences would change them forever.

Local Conflicts
For a long time after about 1400 A.D. not much is to be found in Irish records concerning the MacAuliffes. Some records which do exist refer to the uneasy relationship which existed between the MacAuliffes and their neighbours, especially the Fitzgeralds.

A passage from the Miscellaneous Irish Annals records that

"In A.D.1398 Amhlaoibh Bodhar, MacAmhlaoibh Eala, was killed at Claonglais, as he was going to the house of James, Earl of Desmond."

This tells us that Auliffe the Deaf, then chieftain of the MacAuliffes, was killed at Clonish, County Limerick, as he was on his way to pay his respects to James, the Earl of Desmond. Over a long period the two neighbours, MacAuliffe and the Earl of Desmond, had an 'on again, off again' relationship, varying between alliance and war. It would seem that at this time, 1398,  the MacAuliffes recognised some sort of allegiance to the Earl.  Clonish, in the Barony of Upper Conello, was ruled by the Lord of Clonish, a chieftain of a minor branch of the FitzGerald whose lands bounded those of the MacAuliffes in the mountainous region of the Cork-Limerick border. The slaying of MacAuliffe resulted in an ongoing feud between the two clans which finally resulted in a pitched battle between them more than a hundred years later.  That event is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters which records that (in 1535)

    "MacAuliffe gained a great battle, in which were slain the lord of Clonish, and  Fitzgibbon and a great array of the Sheehy clan. In the beginning of the conflict Maolmuire mac Briaine MacSweeney, MacAuliffe's constable, was slain."

(The Annals of the Four Masters is one the most important sources of early Church history and Irish genealogy. It was compiled in the 17th  century by four friars from the Franciscan friary near Donegal Town ).

This conflict was of a local nature with a minor branch of the FitzGeralds and seemingly did not affect the good relationship the MacAuliffes had at that time with the Earl of Desmond.


Cattle- raiding was a frequent occurrence in those days and a cause of friction between neighbouring clans. The battle described was probably the result of one of these raids, but was clearly on a large scale to have merited such a mention in the Annals. MacSweeney was a gallowglass, a kind of professional soldier. As MacAuliffe's commander, he was in charge of the defences of Castle MacAuliffe, training of the men for war, and leading them into battle. Although in this conflict MacAuliffe emerged victorious, MacSweeney's death would have been a great loss.
Sketch of cattle raid
16th century depiction of a cattle raid.
Strategic Position of Clanawley
Clanawley was the northern outpost of MacCarthy country and a very strategic one at that. In times of conflict the MacAuliffes maintained observation posts near the tops of the Mullaghareirk Mountains.  From there they had a sweeping view of the barony of Duhallow, a large portion of the Cork/Limerick borderland, the Golden Vale as far as Limerick City, the River Shannon to the north, the hills of west Limerick and the Kerry plain. Most of that sweep of country, with the exception of Duhallow, was ruled by the Earl of Desmond, chief of the Fitzgeralds, who had expansionist aims and occasionally came into conflict with the MacCarthys and, because of their strategic position, the MacAuliffes.

At other times, it seems, the clans of Duhallow also entered into some sort of alliance with the Earl of Desmond. The Fitzgeralds, one of the 'Geraldines' who had arrived with the Normans, were by now thoroughly Irish; they spoke the Irish language, they were patrons of of the poets, scholars and musicians and, most importantly, they were staunch supporters of the Catholic faith. Pressure from the English was causing the clan system to fall apart and old loyalties were changing.  The MacDonagh MacCarthys, the MacAuliffes, the O'Callaghans and the O'Keeffes helped Gerald, the last Earl of Desmond, when in 1665, he was defeated by the Butlers at the battle of Affane, in County Waterford.
This relief map by Microsoft shows the strategic position of Clanawley, which is shown roughly contained within the red circle on the map. Clanawley's upper boundary in the Mullaghareirk Mountains on the Cork-Limerick border (top of the circle) overlooks lower country in many  directions.
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Foreign Oppression
The 16th century brought a tighter grip on Ireland by occupying English forces which was to continue until modern times. Refusing to submit to foreign domination, the MacAuliffes participated in numerous battles against English forces. Ultimately, through confiscation and treachery, they lost their ancestral lands and Gaelic way of life.

In 1579 the Earl of Desmond led a rebellion against English rule, and was joined by the MacAuliffes under the leadership of their aged chieftain, Malachy. A month later  the frail Malachy, further weakened by the rigours of the campaign, died in rebellion.

In January 1580, English forces were joined by the the Earl of Ormond, a Butler and traditional enemy of the Fitzgeralds, in a campaign of vengeance against the Earl of Desmond and his supporters. Clanawley, the land of the MacAuliffes, was not spared, and a terrible war of extermination took place.

Savage warfare was not uncommon in those days. Ten years earlier the MacCarthys, accompanied by MacDonagh, MacAuliffe, O'Keeffe and others had invaded Roche territory in Fermoy, driven off several hundred sheep and cattle, and killed many men, women and children. Even by the standards of the time, however, the attack on Clanawley was particularly vicious and clearly designed to punish a clan which had continually irritated the English.  Men, women and children, including the old and feeble and babes in arms, were put to the sword. Those who could sought refuge in the mountains or in the bogs and woods. Homes were burned to the ground, crops destroyed and cattle were driven off to feed the armies of the Queen.

In 1583 MacDonagh, MacAuliffe, O'Keeffe and O'Callaghan paid their respects to the Earl of Ormond and gave pledges of good behaviour. The Desmond  Rebellion ended in 1583 with the treacherous murder of the Earl. Clanawley was then a wasted land. The Annals of the Four Masters records that;

      "From the Rock of Cashel westwards to the sea,
      the low of a  cow or the sound of a
      ploughboy's whistle could not be heard."


In 1585 pardon was granted to "Melaghlin MacAwly, captain of his name, Ellaen MacAwly, Ellynny MacAwly.  etc."  Melaghlin or Malachy, the chieftain mentioned here, was probably the son of Malachy More who died in 1579. Ellaen was probably his wife and Ellynny his daughter. This pardon did not prevent the MacAuliffes from losing their lands in the wholesale confiscations which followed the Desmond Rebellion. Clanawley was granted to Patrick Graunt of Waterford.  Fortunately for the MacAuliffes Graunt was prepared to sell and Clanawley was redeemed in 1593.

By accepting the deed of 1593 the MacAuliffes were in effect submitting to the English feudal system which held that the land was the property of the chieftain in subjection to the Crown. Previously  the MacAuliffe lands were ruled according to the Brehon law of the Gaels by which the land was owned by the whole family group and the chieftain was elected to rule it on their behalf.  Under English law the chieftain had absolute property ownership as tenant-in-chief to the Crown. Breach of the conditions relating to allegiance to the Crown could result in forfeiture of the land, a change which was to have major implications for the MacAuliffes.
Drawing of English v. Irish battle
Contemporary Drawing of battle scene, Irish forces on right, English on left
Hugh O'Neill
When Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, raised the standard of revolt at the end of the sixteenth century he found much support throughout Ireland. In 1600. A.D. he travelled  south to Munster and met with leaders there, including representatives of the MacAuliffes. Carew, the Lord President of the province used  threats, false rumours and bribes to dissuade many of the chieftains and lords from allegiance to O'Neill.  Eventually Dermot MacOwen MacCarthy, Lord of Duhallow, with MacAuliffe and O'Keeffe, promised to remain loyal to the Queen under the promise of royal protection.

This did not help the MacAuliffes, however, for that same year,  1600,  Clanawley was again invaded and laid waste, on the pretext that the MacAuliffes were claiming royal protection while actively assisting and giving refuge to 'rebels.'   This was the third time in thirty years that Clanawley had been attacked by English forces and laid waste. A report of that time records that;

"Sir Francis Barkley finding good cause and fit opportunity to plague McAwley and his tenants, who under protection, relieved the broken-hearted rebels. With the garrisonhe commanded at Askeaton, he harassed all the country of Clanawley,and took from thence 1,000 cows, 200 garrons, besides sheep and spoil, and had the killing of many traitors, who harboured themselves in the bogs and woods thereof."
(Pacata Hibernia)

The submission of 1600. A.D. did not, in fact, prevent many of the MacAuliffes from keeping faith with Hugh O'Neill.  According to Carew himself, Dermot MacAuliffe was in touch with O'Neill.  Dermot was the son of Malachy MacAuliffe of Carrigcashel, and was killed in rebellion on St. Patrick's Day 1602, four months after the Battle of Kinsale. At the time of his death he had possession of the castle of Carrigcashel, unlawfully according to the English, as his father was then a 'faithful subject' of the Queen. In a despatch to London in 1602 Carew tells of Dermot's death;

   "The death of these two rebels and also of a notorious rebel by name Dermot  MacAwley who was an intimate ... instrument with Tyrone (Hugh O'Neill)  will greatly quiet these parts and your Lordships can hardly think what a great change we find already by their so happy and timely cutting off."    
(Pacata Hibernia).
Battle of Kinsale
In September 1601 a Spanish force of 5,300 men, with some artillery, landed at Kinsale.  Spanish help had been eagerly awaited for some time, and they were quickly joined by Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell. On his way south O'Donnell passed through Clanawley. There is a tradition that the MacAuliffes took part in the battle. Although there is no documentary evidence for that, knowing the history of the clan and judging by subsequent events, it hardly seems likely that they would have missed this chance to strike another blow at English tyranny.


On Christmas Eve 1601 the Irish army deployed itself on open ground where they were no match for the English cavalry and in a short time the battle was lost. The Spanish quickly sought terms. On October 17th 1602, O'Callaghan of Clonmeen and Donough MacCarthy of Cloghroe went bail for John MacAuliffe, the Chieftain's son,  "as long as John MacAwliff shall continue to be of dutiful behaviour." There is evidence to suggest that his father, Malachy, had been imprisoned earlier to prevent him from joining Hugh O'Neill. Within a few years years Clanawley was again confiscated and granted to an Englishman.
On December 31st 1602 O'Sullivan Bere, with a thousand of his followers, set out on the memorable march to County Leitrim. The reported route of that great march for survival would have taken them through Clanawley. The Annals of the Four Masters says that the inhabitants were hostile to the fugitives. On the other hand, tradition says that the MacAuliffes received them with great hospitality, entertaining them for three days at Castle MacAuliffe. That seems unlikely as the MacAuliffes were already in enough trouble with the English so would seem hardly likely to risk another wasting in such a short time. It is more probable that they allowed free passage and gave food to the fugitives.

Shortly after 1602 John MacAuliffe, the chieftain's son mentioned earlier, went into the service of Spain, which was then at the height of its power and a land of promise for the dispossessed Irish. In 1606 John was listed among the gentlemen pensioners of the Spanish army in Flanders, having no command, and receiving twenty crowns monthly from the King of Spain. For that same year, Spanish army documents, now preserved in Brussels, list five MacAuliffes. Three were officers, one a sergeant and the other a private.

So began a movement which saw large numbers of MacAuliffes leave Ireland - first to go to Spain, France and other parts of Europe, then later to America and to the lands of the Southern Hemisphere.
Much of the information on this page is derived from
D.H Allen 'The McAuliffes of Clanawley'1991.
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