O'Rourke, Brian-na-Murtha (DNB00)

O'ROURKE, Sir BRIAN-NA-MURTHA (d. 1591), Irish chieftain, was a younger son of Brian Ballagh O'Rourke, by his wife Grainne (d. 28 April 1551), daughter of Manus O'Cahan or Manus O'Donnell [q. v.] (cf. Annals of Four Masters, s. a. 1551 and s. a. 1566). His grandfather, Owen O'Rourke, who was ‘chief of his name,’ was slain at Dromore in 1532, his son Brian Ballagh, ‘the speckled or freckled,’ being declared the O'Rourke in 1536. Brian Ballagh spent a life of constant fighting against his kinsmen and the English, and died in consequence of a fall in 1562; he ‘had the best collection of poems, and of all his tribe had bestowed the greatest number of presents for poetical eulogies;’ he was ‘senior of Sil-Feargna and of the race of Aedh-Finn’ (i.e. the O'Rourkes, O'Reillys, and their correlatives in the counties of Leitrim and Cavan), and his ‘supporters, fosterers, adherents and tributaries extended from Caladh [i.e. Callow, in the parish of Kilconnell, co. Galway], in the territory of the Hy-Many, to the fertile salmon-full Drowes, the boundary of the province of the far-famed province of Ulster; and from Granard in Teffia to the strand of Eothuile’ (now Trawoholly, near Ballysadare, co. Sligo).

In 1562, on Brian Ballagh's death, Hugh Gallda O'Rourke, a half-brother of Brian-na-Murtha, was installed the O'Rourke, but in 1564 he was slain by his own people at Leitrim—a murder in which Brian-na-Murtha was accused of being an accomplice. The O'Rourkes now declared Brian-na-Murtha to be the O'Rourke; but Hugh Boy O'Rourke, another half-brother, was supported as his rival by O'Neill. Hugh Boy was slain in 1566 by the Cinel Connell at Ballintogher, near Killerry, co. Sligo, in order that Brian, who was a grandson of Manus O'Donnell, might rule over them. From the first O'Rourke was constantly embroiled in quarrels with his kinsmen and disputes with the English, and he habitually maintained a force of some five hundred Scots in his pay. In 1576 he was ravaging Annaly, and in 1578 his chief stronghold, Leitrim, was captured by one of Sir Nicholas Malby's captains, and placed in the hands of Brian's nephews. Soon after he came to terms with the deputy, was knighted at Athlone on 7 Oct. 1578, and allowed to regain possession of Leitrim. But in the autumn of 1580 he was again in rebellion. On Sir Nicholas Malby's advance, O'Rourke sent away his women, and dismantled Leitrim; it was refortified by Malby, after a brisk encounter with O'Rourke, who attacked Malby with twelve hundred men, of whom five hundred were Scots. On Malby's departure, O'Rourke laid siege to the garrison, but was compelled to raise it on the president's reappearance. In November O'Rourke invaded Connaught, and slew half a company of Malby's soldiers. For the next few years he was chiefly occupied in fighting against his nephews Teige, Oge, and Brian, the former of whom died a captive in O'Rourke's hands in 1583, while the latter was put to death by some of O'Rourke's men two years later. He also had frequent bickerings with the government on the subject of his rent, but these never reached the height of open hostility.

Late in 1588, however, O'Rourke was brought into more serious collision with the government. The composition in Connaught had been favourable to him; nominally his jurisdiction over the people of his country was restrained; but so large a share of land was given to him absolutely that he found himself stronger than ever, and refused to acknowledge the governor of Connaught, maintaining that he was under no man except the lord deputy himself. He now gave shelter, and even arms, to many of the Spaniards wrecked on the west coast of Ireland during the flight of the armada; and when commanded by royal proclamation to give them up, he refused; for these services Philip II sent him a friar with a letter of thanks. The Spaniards whom he supported are said to have numbered a thousand, and O'Rourke urged their commander, Antonio de Leva, to make common cause with him against the English government; but the Spaniard refused without a commission from Philip, in search of which he set sail. The government now made a determined effort to suppress O'Rourke. The task was originally entrusted to Clanricarde; but in June 1589 O'Rourke was suddenly attacked by Sir Richard Bingham himself at Dromore, and, after six months' struggle and some desperate encounters, he was forced to flee from his country in November 1589. For more than a year he was sheltered by MacSweeny, but in February 1590–1 he went to Scotland to seek aid from James VI; by him he was delivered into English hands, for a sum of money, it is said, and brought to London, where he was imprisoned in the Tower until his trial, which took place in Westminster Hall in the ensuing November. He was accused of having stirred various people to rebellion, of having ‘scornfully dragged the queen's picture att a horse-taile, and disgracefully cut the same in pieces;’ and given the Spaniards entertainment, &c. O'Rourke, who understood no English, declined to submit to trial by twelve men, or by any one except the queen in person. He was condemned and executed as a traitor at Tyburn. On the scaffold he refused the offices of Meiler Magrath [q. v.], archbishop of Cashel, whom he taunted with having turned from a Franciscan into a protestant. He also declined to bow before Elizabeth, and, when taunted with bowing to images, remarked that there was ‘a great difference between your queen and images of the saints.’

O'Rourke was a hard fighter, courageous, generous, and of great pride; Sir George Carew, writing to Perrot, described him as ‘in his beggarly fashion a proud prince;’ and Sir Nicholas Malby said he was ‘the proudest man living on earth.’ He has been generally identified with the Irish rebel mentioned by Bacon in his essay ‘Of Custom and Education,’ who petitioned to be hanged with a gad or with instead of a halter, a petition which, says Sir Richard Cox, was doubtless granted (Hibernia Anglicana, i. 399); Cox's remark is attributed by O'Donovan in his edition of the ‘Four Masters’ to Bacon, and Hardiman (Irish Minstrelsy, ii. 428) uses it as a test for a tirade against Bacon. O'Rourke is also said, on insufficient authority, to have gained the queen's favourable notice, and to have been lodged in her palace in order that she might confer with him on the state of Ireland. A long ode in Irish to O'Rourke by John O'Maelchonaire [see O'Maelchonaire , Fearfeasa] has been translated by John D'Alton, and is printed in Hardiman's ‘Irish Minstrelsy’ (ii. 287–397).

He married Mary, daughter of Richard Burke, second earl of Clanricarde (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1574–81, p. 298). Froude states that she lived in incest with her brother John. She died in childbed, June 1589; O'Rourke himself attributed her death to fright, caused by Bingham's sudden attack at Dromore. She had two sons: one was slain when five years old; the other, Teig, received a grant of the family estates in the next reign.

Brian Oge or Brian-na-Samhthach O'Rourke (d. 1604), natural son of Sir Brian by the wife of John O'Crean, a merchant of Sligo, succeeded O'Rourke as the O'Rourke. He was imprisoned for some time at Oxford, where he accumulated debts which his father was unable to pay. He took an active part in the wars against the government with Hugh Maguire [q. v.] and the O'Donnells. After a campaign with Hugh O'Donnell (1571?–1602) [q. v.] in 1596, O'Rourke came to terms with the government, whereupon O'Donnell ravaged his lands. In 1598 he formed an alliance with Sir Conyers Clifford; but the successes of the rebels rendered them more dangerous than the English, and O'Rourke again joined O'Donnell, because ‘his people felt it safer to have the governor in opposition than to be pursued by O'Donnell's vengeance for remaining under the protection of the governor.’ He contributed to Clifford's defeat in 1599, and served under O'Donnell in 1600–1, taking part in the siege of Kinsale. After Hugh O'Donnell's death, O'Rourke again inclined towards the English; his lands were plundered by Rory O'Donnell, first earl of Tyrconnel [q. v.], in 1603, and he was compelled to live in mountain fastnesses and on islands in the lakes of his country. He died at Galway on 28 Jan. 1603–4, and was buried in the Franciscan monastery of Rosserilly, co. Galway. According to the ‘Four Masters,’ his death was ‘a great loss; for he was the supporting pillar and the battle-prop of the race of Aedh-Finn, the tower of battle for prowess, the star of the valour and chivalry of the Hy-Briuin.’

[Cal. State Papers (Ireland) and Carew MSS. passim; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan, 1532–1603; Hatfield MSS. pt. v.; Stafford's Pacata Hibernia, passim; O'Sullevan-Beare's Hist. Cathol. Hiberniæ, ed. Kelly, pp. 150–2 et seq.; Lombard, De Regno Hib. Comment. p. 344; Cox's Hibernia Anglicana, i. 396, 398–9, &c.; Collins's Letters and Papers, p. 115; Bacon's Works, ed. Spedding, vi. 471; O'Conor's Memoirs of Charles O'Conor, p. 112; MacGeoghegan's Hist. d'Irlande, iii. 478–80; Walker's Irish Bards; Hardiman's Irish Minstrelsy, ii. 287–307, 428; Wright's Hist. of Ireland, i. 508; O'Rorke's Ballysadare, pp. 59–61, 345–9, and Hist. of Sligo, passim; Meehan's Rise and Fall of the Franciscan Monasteries in Ireland, pp. 75–7; O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees, ed. 1887, i. 748; Metcalfe's Book of Knights; Froude's Hist. of Engl. x. 595, 617; O'Reilly's Irish Writers, p. cxxxviii; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, vol. iii.; Scottish Hist. Soc. Miscellany, i. 39, 55.]

A. F. P.