The Herefordshire Contingent – #1 de Lacy

The name de Lacy provides one of the strongest links between Herefordshire and Ireland. In Herefordshire it continues in place names like Holme Lacy and Mansell Lacy. A large area immediately to the west of the parish in which I grew up was once called Ewyas Lacy.

The family were granted large areas of Herefordshire and Shropshire by William the Conqueror and remained close and favoured allies of the Norman kings. Hugh de Lacy accompanied Henry II to Ireland in the autumn of 1171 and was granted the “Lordship of Meath”. Meath at that time encompassed the modern Irish counties of Meath and Westmeath, as well as parts of Dublin, Kildare, Cavan, Offaly, Louth and Longford.

Most commentators believe this was done, at least in part, to provide a counter to Strongbow’s ambitions in Leinster. Both Strongbow and Dermot MacMurrough had ambitions to expand beyond its traditional boundaries.

Support for the king

In 1173/4 both de Lacy and Strongbow were summoned to support Henry II in subduing a rebellion by his sons in Aquitaine. By all accounts both acquitted themselves well in the ensuing battles. However, whilst they were absent from Ireland the Irish chieftains took advantage and the two knights found on their return that they had to fight to reclaim the lands previously taken.

De Lacy, who already had a number of castles in Herefordshire, set about securing his lordship of Meath by building castles across the region. The largest of these was at Trim but there were many smaller castles established by de Lacy. According to the website these included Castle Dermot, Leighlin, Leix, Delvin, Carlow, Tullaghphelim, and Kilkay. It was castle building that was to become his undoing. One of the castles for which he was responsible was at Durrow in County Offaly. It was built on the site of a former Abbey and the construction of a castle on the sacred site was not popular with the native Irish. Whilst Hugh was supervising building work there in July 1186 he was decapitated by an Irish man posing as a labourer but who had a battle axe concealed in his clothing.

Two wives

Hugh had two wives (not simultaneously), both called Rose. His first wife, Rose of Monmouth, was a cousin of Strongbow. With her he had nine children, 5 sons and 4 daughters. Following her death he married Rose Ni Connor, the daughter of Rory O’Connor the High King of Ireland. She gave him a son and a daughter. Henry II did not approve of this marriage, declared the first child “illegitimate” and stripped Hugh of the role of governor of Ireland which the king had granted to him following Strongbow’s death. His disgrace lasted only for a year however and in the winter of 1182 he was back in place; this time jointly with Robert of Shrewsbury.

Like most men of his background de Lacy endowed religious communities and buildings. He was a benefactor of Llanthony Priory and several churches in Ireland, including the Abbey at Trim. Following Hugh senior’s death his sons Walter and Hugh continued his work in Ireland. Hugh Jr. had no children and Walter only one son. Walter’s grandson, also Walter, was the last in the male line. His female descendents included one who married Robert the Bruce and another who married a Mortimer, a family that not only inherited a portion of the de Lacy lands in Herefordshire but provides another strong link between that county and Ireland.

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