The O'Byrne's Sept of Newrath. by Dr. Emmett O'Byrne of Newragh. Before 1169 the O'Byrne clan lived on the plains of Kildare. The O'Byrne chief held court at Naas. Early in the 12th century the clan began to migrate into the hills and valleys of Wicklow. Once in Wicklow their military strength grew. The clan's power swept into the eastern plain of Wicklow. The O'Byrne clan split into two separate branches. The senior branch were the Crioch Branach. The junior branch were the Gabhnal Raghnall. The nominal head of the clan was usually an O'Byrne of Crioch Branach. This O'Byrne would usually be drawn from the O'Byrnes of Newrath. From 1212 to 1536 these chiefs provided inspired leadership. Fitzgerald's Black Castle in Wilklow was constantly under threat. It was captured on several occcasions. The town of Wicklow was forced to pay the Black Rents to the O'Byrne's chiefs. Using stealth and treachery the OByrne's captured Arkiow Castle on April 21st 1331, but it was retaken by Sir Antony Lucey the following year. The great Art McMurrough Kavanagh, the King of Leinster, received considerable help from the O'Byrne chief when Richard II attempted to destroy him. The city of Dublin was under constant threat from the O'Byrne warlords. In 1405 the royal castle of Newcastle fell to the O'Byrnes. English power in Ireland was weakened by the struggle between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Henry Tudor defeated Richard 111 at Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry Tudor became Henry VIII. With the event of the Tudor Kings the beginning of the end for the O'Byrne chiefs had begun. The O'Byrnes of Newrath now began to feel the full force of the Saxons. Another powerful weapon of the English was the musket. They were introduced by Gearóid Mor Fitzgerald in 1488. OBymes continued their attacks on the Pale. Gearoid Og succeeded his father as viceroy. The enemies of Fitzgeralds had GearOid Og imprisoned in the Tower in 1543. The O'Byrnes were allied to the Fitzgeralds. Rumours reached Silken Thomas, the son of Geardid Og that his father had been executed. The O'Byrnes under their chief Tadhg (or Thomas) O'Bynie joined him. The Fitzgeralds and their allies attacked Dublin in 1534. They were defeated. Skeffington, the new viceroy had laid Maynooth waste. Siken Thomas surrendered- The OBymes beat a hasty retreat into Wicklow During this period and the years following it the O'Byrnes of Newrath began to rethink their policy. Tadgh submitted to Lord Grey. EdmondOgO'Byme of Kiltimon submitted also. Edmond Og had attacked Dublin in 1533. The English forced the O'Byrne clan as a whole to submit in 1542. The principal leaders were Tadgh O'Byrne and Shane MacReamon O'Byrne (Fiach MacHugh's grandfather). The military strength of the Cnoch Branach, the senior branch, was sixty cavalry men, eighty gallowglas each with a personal servant, and eighty eight kerne. The strength of the Gabhal Raghnail was eight cavalrymen and forty kerne. In 1547 the O'Byrne clan rose in rebellion. But, St Leger defeated them. The policy of Tadgh O'Byme, the chief, towards the English was friendly. In July 1556 the Newrath O'Byrnes sent twelve cavalrymen and twenty four kerne under Tadhg Og OByrne and Edmond O'Byrne with Deputy Sussex to attack the northern clans. In 1558 Tadhg O'Byme's son Brian was appointed sheriff of OByrne's country. Agard was accepted as Deneschal of the Royal Castle in Newcastle. Steadily the anglicanisation of the Crioch Branach continued. In 1567 Tadhg O'Byme received a pension from Dublin Castle. NewrathCastle and lands belonged to Brian MacTadhg O'Byrne who died 10th November 1567. Meanwhile the wily Hugh McShane and his son Fiach MacHugh OByrne in Gabhnal Raghnaill continued to resist. The wily Hugh MacShane submitted only when faced with superior force. In 1578 Tadhg OByrne of Newrath, the OByrne died alter his infamous career. In 1579 Dunlang MacEamainn O'Byrne became chief. He immediately led the O'Byrnes into rebellion. The brave Dunlang was killed in July 1580. Hugh MShane died in 1579. For the first time in twelve generations the chief was chosen from the Gabhnal Raghnaill. Fiach MacHugh was that chief. Fiach immediately went into rebellion. Fiach was in alliance with Lord Baltinglas. Newrath supported Fiach at this time. Gearalt Odhar O'Byme, son of the late Tadhg O'Byme was in alliance with Fiach. In 1580 Finch and Baltinhglas won a great victory over Lord Grey de Wilton in Glenmalure. The whole O'Byrne nation celebrated. But, the OByrnes of Kiltimon hated Fiach. Murrough MacEdmond O'Byrne of Kiltimon was anti Fiach and fought against Fiach in the pay of the Engish during 1581. During this period Crioch Bronach was peaceful. The seven sons of the late Tadhg O'Byrne continued to fight on Fiach's side. In Sept. 1590 the OByrnes of Newrath submitted. The names of the seven sons of Brian MacTadhg were Brian Og, Gearalt, Murrough, Edmond, Donough, Kallagh and Cahir. Newrath then changed its policy. They became more friendly towards the English. They sided with Deputy Russell and Hugh Duff MacDonald O'Byrne, Fiach's mortal enemy. Murrough MacTadhg OByrne helped in the capture of Walter Reagh Fitzgerald in 1595. Murrough and his brother Edmond with Murrough MacEdmond OByrne of Kihimon wrote to the castle in October 1595 urging an attack to be made on Fiach. After Fiach's murder some of these men sided with Fiach's son Phelim. Between 1597 and 1601 twelve major landowners of O'Byrne country were killed in east Wicklow. In 1601 Phelim submitted, the OByrnes of Newrath did likewise. James I began to make grants of OByme land to English officials. These hungry landgrabbers were Lord Esmonde, Sir William Pains, and Sir Henry Harrington. This policy of consfication weakened the Newrath Byrnes. After 1641 the confiscations stopped.. When Cromwell came the O'Byrnes of Kiltimon were evicted. Their castle and lands were given to Barlace. With the restoration of Charles 11 in 1660 the O'Byrne lands and castle at Newrath were granted to Yarner. Yarner destroyed their castle and constructed his own residence on the site of the present Clermont Convent beside Rathnew.The O'Byrnes of Newrath were turned out penniless. The family declined into the mists of antiquity. In 1714 Walter O'Byrne of that Newrath family was elected chieftain of the clan. He was the last elected chief of the OByrne clan. Although the O'Bymes of Newrath had a chequered history they played an important part in the history of Wicklow. They supplied many excellent chiefs for the clan although they changed sides several times after 1536. Perhaps they were just trying to survive in those dark and horror filled days. Today in Newrath there is no trace of the castle of the O'Byrnes or of its occupiers. However, there are two families of O'Byrne living in the townland of Newrath. But, their family tree has no links with the previous occupiers.
Emmett O'Byrne of Newragh. 1991 Originally published in Clann O'Byrne's "An Leabhar Branach, 1992" .