Right beside the old church and graveyard of the De Bermingham family in Carrick lay the ruins of Mac Feorais Castle, also known as Carrick or Carrick-Oris Castle. The present ruins which are said to date from the 16th century are believed to have been built on the site of an earlier 13th century fortification. At first it appeared that I would be unable to get into the field as the gate situated right beside the church grounds had electric fencing running through it. Determined not to be defeated I walked up along the hedgerow for a short distance when I came across another gate which had been left invitingly open.Whilst there is speculation that the present ruin dates from the 16th century as the construction & design does not match the type of Fortifications built by Piers De Bermingham in the 13th century, however it would be quite plausible that the original structure may have just been altered or added to at a later stage, just like the home improvements that you or I would make to our own homes. There are many examples of these structures scattered around the surrounding area, Grange and Kinnefad to name but a few. I hope to explore these quite soon, so watch this space for details.
The Castle which is actually a thirteenth century Tower House, appears to have consisted of a rectangular three-story fortification with vaulting over the first floor that supported a main hall on the second floor. Although now a crumbling ruin with only the east and south walls remaining, and some parts of the interior. Surrounded by scattered rubble, the Castle still commands a majestic view upon approach. There remains evidence of a large fireplace at ground level with the remains of a chimney hole above. In the south wall there is an interesting ogee headed window, the term ogee refers to a curve (often used in moulding), shaped somewhat like an S, consisting of two arcs that curve in opposite senses, so that the ends are tangential.Also to be seen on the south wall is what was either a
or perhaps a latrine chute. It is possible to climb the castle walls to a good height, but I would advise against this due to the crumbling nature of the walls. Even an experienced explorer could suffer a nasty injury attempting to scale these walls. I am not surprised that there are no signs of a stairwell as these may well have been located on the North or West side of the Castle.
It was in this very castle in 1305AD where the notorious Sir Pierce Mc Feorais (Bermingham)whom was also known as the ‘Treacherous Baron’, viciously plotted and murdered many members of the O’Connor clan, including Muirchertach O Conor in collusion with a Jordan Cumin. But first here is a little background on the two parties’ involved. The O’Conor clan were descendants of the Uí Failge who were Kings of eastern Offaly (now part of Co. Kildare) and at times had held the seat of Kings of Leinster. When the Normans arrived in Kildare in the 1170s the O’Conor clans had been forced out of their lands into the area of Offaly west of Tullamore. It was here were they had regrouped and at the end of the thirteenth century had risen against the English. Their most spectacular raid was in 1294 when they had captured Kildare castle and destroyed the records of the Lordship of Kildare.
Robert de Bermingham had taken part in the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland at the bequest of the deposed former kink of Leinster, Diarmuid MacMurrough. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, was the leader of the Anglo-Norman invasion forces and had granted De Bermingham the native lands of the Uí Failge. His descendant Piers Bermingham was baron of Tothemoy, the part of north-east Offaly next to Co. Kildare. In 1289 he had been appointed by the King to guard the Marches or frontier of Leinster from Rathangan north to his barony of Tothemoy. This had placed the Berminghams and O’Conor clansin direct hostility and they had been at war intermittently since that time.
Under the false pretence, of acting as sponsor for the son of Muirchertach Ó Conchobuir and as God Father to Muirchertach’s brothers son. De Bermingham lured the O’Conors to Carrick on the feast of the Holy Trinity with an apparent baptism of the young O’Conor boy in the adjacent church. This would have presumably been seen as an attempt to foster a truce and better relations between the two feuding family’s, it was not uncommon in Medieval times for a marriage alliance to have followed such a truce. But this never happened asDe Bermingham had planned to enact his coup de grâce. At some stage during the celebration it was here that Birmingham’s men attacked and killed Muirchertach and his entire family. Twenty-nine people are said to have been killed and then decapitated. It is also claimed that the young O’Conor boy was thrown to his death from the tower.
There was great public outcry after the slaughter at the castle O’Neill and other Irish chieftains remonstrated to Pope John the XX11, but when Bermingham was brought before the King of England the Annals of Innisfallen indicate Bermingham was not punished by the King for the murders.It was recorded in the Calendar of Justiciary Rolls of Ireland that on the 9th of June 1306 Bermingham and his accomplices appeared in the Royal Justiciar’s Court at Naas. The arrogant bastard that he was requested payment for the beheading of Felons. Now whilst no names are mentioned in the records it is widely believed that the felons were in fact the murdered members of the O’Conor family. Bermingham was paid the pricley sum of £23 as a reward by the Justiciar which was in turn paid by the Royal Treasury. This lead to suspicion that the murders had been sanctioned by the king himself in order to remove the threat posed by the O’Conor clans. Unfortunately the murders only increased hostilities in the area and the O’Conor clans continued to be a thorn in the side of foreign rulers well into the 16th century when the plantation of Offaly began.