The map shows the location of the various septs of the O'Byrne in Wicklow and Carlow around 1500ad.
CRIOCH BRANACH The O'Byrnes and their Country by KENNETH NICHOLLS Crioch Branach or 'the Byrnes Country', the territory ruled in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the chiefs of the O'Byrnes, extended from the furthest south-western confines of the modern county of Wicklow to the little river which from the Glen of the Downs - the Downs itself, Dun Callighe Beara. ,was the seat of one of the principal O'Byrne septs - to the sea near Greystones. On the west in this region, it was bounded by the upland O'Toole lordship of Ferter around the present Roundwood, but south of Glendalough it extended to include the mountain country up to the watershed. Comparison with the modern all of boundaries is difficult: the barony of Arklow, created by Tudor administrators, included not only the Butler lordship of Arklow, inhabited by freeholders and detained until 1525 by the MacMurrough kings of Leinster themselves, but also a large section of Crioch Branach; while on the the present barony of Ballinacor South includes the district of Toorboy, the inheritance in the sixteenth century of the O'Hea family, but apparently under overlordship of the O'Tooles. On the other hand it is probable that before the of the Butler power under Piers Ruadh in the early 1500s Clonmore and, possibly at Tullow itself, had passed into the hands of the O'Byrne chiefs as had into those of the MacMurroughs: we know nothing of the history of Tullow during the fifteenth century, but on balance an O'Byrne occupation, rather than MacMurrough, seems the most likely. Presumably in the 1520s the O'Byrne chiefs, like the MacMurroughs, found withdrawal on good terms a preferable alternative to confrontation with the reviving Butler might. Within this area the branch of the O'Byrnes known as the Gabhal Raghnaill ( Gowlranell) exercised a sub-lordship important enough to be separately listed in 'A Description of the Power of Irishmen' which was probably drawn up in the 1490s. Their territory, known as Ranelagh (Raghnallach), was discontinuous, including not only the mountainous territory centred on Glenmalure but also the district known as Poble-Kilcoman in Cosha, centred around the parish church of Kilcommon near Tinahely but surrounded on the north and east by lands under the direct control of the chiefs of Crioch Branach and largely belonging to members of its chiefly septs. It would seem that the consolidation of the territory under the rule of the Gabhal Raghnaill was of late date: even at the end of the sixteenth century their main centre at Ballinacor in Glenmalure was claimed as their inheritance by members of the branch known as Gabhal tSiomainn, the 'Coultemans' who by the early fifteenth century had largely moved westwards to become subjects of the MacMurroughs. In the second half of the sixteenth century the destruction of the O'Byrne chieftaincy - an act of policy on the part of the Dublin administration which may have only completed a process of disintegration brought about by the lack of a single dominant chiefly line - coupled with the immense military strength of their mountainous and forested homeland, enabled the Gabhal Raghnaill chiefs, Hugh McShane and his son Feaghe McHugh, to vastly extend their power. By the 1560s they were levying protection money' over a wide area of Leinster, and their successful defiance of the Dublin administration provoked paroxysms of fury, as when the retiring Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, recommended to his successor Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton, 'Thextirping of those caniballs of Goulranell' and referred to them as 'these vermin'.' More prosaically, twenty years later Sir George Carew wrote that 'of all the septs of the O'Birnes this sept of the Ranelaghe is the worst and basest, but of late years they have been of greatest power'.' Probably because of their position as a semi-autonomous sub-lordship the Gabhal Raghnaill, at least in this later period, were outside the circle of competitors for the chieftaincy of Crioch Brannach. Crioch Branach : the O’Byrnes and their country. Ken Nichols, Feaghe McHugh O’Byrne: the Wicklow Firebrand. . The Journal of the Rathdrum Historical Society, Volume 1, 1998