The O'Byrnes are descended from a king of UI Faelin, Broen (Bran) Mac Maolmordha, who died in 1052. They probably retreated to Rossahane and spread southeast into Shillelagh and County Carlow, northeast to Rathdrum and the coast of Arkiow and on up to Glendalough. According to a letter from the Archbishop to the Pope, written in 1216, St Kevin's Church in the mountains had for 40 years been waste and desolate and a den of robbers and thieves (propaganda ?), who were doubtless displaced refugees from Kildare who had no title to the lands they lived upon. The reputation had not been helped by the events of "Black
Monday" in 1209 when the citizens of Dublin were massacred at Cullenswood (near Ranelagh) during a festival celebration.
The English, Norman and Gaelic settlements coexisted in the 13th century mainly through lack of power to
undertake anything other than cattle raids. The Irish tended to be serfs in the manors and church lands and the OByrnes seem to have at first accepted Norman lords as their new rulers in Leinster and some even introduced Norman names such as Simon, Philip and Gerailt to the family.
But by 1326, large parts of Wicklow and South County Dublin are described as waste or "among the Irish" and
were producing nothing. Indeed, by the year 1260 the O'Byrnes had become hostile and were treated as enemies. When the O'Byrnes found a place of settlement in the mountains they probably had the consent of Archbishop Lorcan O'Toole to whom they no doubt paid some dues and whose mother was an O'Byrne. In the course of
three generations, unnoticed by the English administration, they increased in numbers and spread outwards into Fitzwalter's lordship. By 1271, however, hostages were being taken by the English as security against lawlessness.
Increased dues were probably the cause of some resistance and the seizure of cattle for unpaid taxes led to an armed resurgence of the Gaelic race led by the O'Byrnes. By 1274 they had overrun Glenmalure and in 1301 the Wicklow Irish took advantage of the absence of the barons and burned Wicklow, Rathdrum and other places. This resulted in an army leaving Dublin to burn the OByme lands and seize their cattle.
In 1308, John O'Byrne, son of Gerailt O'Byrne, was
pardoned but soon the family was in the wars again. Now they were no longer confined to the mountains between Glendalough and Shillelagh. Almost thirty years of continuous warfare and raids and burnings had led to their expansion and the Butlers, the Burkes and the Comans found it increasingly difficult to hold back the Irish. It seems that the Lawless family were the last defenders of the East Wicklow settlements against the expansion of the
O'Byrnes but in 1350 Sir Hugh Lawless died and the settlement was soon abandoned.
By 1351 the English had changed tactics and we find John
O'Byrne being elected captain of the area and taking his oath to keep the king's peace by delivering any of his men who were guilty of felony into the king's prison. By now,
however, the main branch of the family was being
upstaged by the junior sept of the Gabbail Raghnall at their headquarters at Ballinacor.
In 1376 Dalbach, chief of the O'Byrnes, is mentioned in
the Irish Annals. Another indication of their new importance is the mention in 1378 of Bran Ui Broin, king of Ui. Feailin, lord of the plain of life which is part of North Kildare.
By the 1380's, ship was the only safe means of transporting goods to settlements. McMurrough and the O'Byrnes now grew in strength, the danger becoming so great that Richard II came to Ireland in 1394 with a powerful army which compelled the families to
surrender. Their failure to observe the subsequent treaty would lead to a fine of 20,000 marks from both OByrne and McMurrough (a sure sign that O'Byrnc was now regarded as being even more important than the old King of Leinster).
In 1424, the Viceroy toured Leinster and a number of Irish chiefs did homage including Donnchadh mac Bran O'Byrne. While swearing allegiance, O'Byrne undertook to allow the Archbishop to exercise jurisdiction and to
collect his dues, and also agreed to protect Lord Finnwall's tenants in North Wexford. This latter agreement seems to suggest that the O'Byrnes were the leading nation (clan) in South Leinster at that time.
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