Bailiú Fiacha, 1307
Medieval life in Ireland was most often harsh, and frequently violent. The intrusion of the Normans and the follow-on attempts of the English monarchy to exert control within Ireland created extended periods of social, political and economic turmoil, and the constant friction between the Norman Lords and the Irish, as well as between the Norman Lords themselves led to a succession of minor wars that sputtered for centuries.
English Law extended only to those of English birth, English Heritage (including the descendants of the Normans), and those few Irish who had been granted coverage by the crown. During the first 150 years following the initial incursion, a large swath of southern Ireland, extending down the coast from Dublin, and westward across the Earldoms of Kildare, Ormond, and Desmond had recognized the authority of the English crown, and the legal apparatus of English government. Outside of this area, Irish (Brehon) Law prevailed.
Land ownership, and control of land by the Ferriters extended directly from application of English Law. At present, our understanding of Ferriter entitlements suggests that the initial grants and enfoeffments were provided by the DeMarisco lordship, and when local authority passed to the Desmond FitzGeralds, the feudal commitment of the Ferriters passed to that family also. During this time, Ferriter lands in Ossurys cantred (Western Corkaguinney) were quite extensive, including all of Dunurlan, Marhin, and parts of Kilamrkedar and Dunquin Parishes, including the Blasket Islands.
So, in the year 1307, the chief of the Ferriters seems to have been Phillip le Fureter. This Phillip’s name appears on a number of legal documents of the period, both Close Rolls, (which documented inheritances and property transactions), and on Plea Rolls, (which documented the legal activities of the Justiciar, who was a sort of traveling Chief Justice for those portions of Ireland under English Law). Philip was then the landlord for all of the tenants living on Ferriter lands, some of them Irish, some English, and some family members.
The following text is taken from the Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 35 Edward I, Membrane 45:
“Yet of Pleas of Plaints at Ardart, before John Wogan, Justiciar on Monday the morrow of St. Barnabas”, June 12, 1307:
Ph. Le Furetter junior was attached to answer Hugh de Barry, of a plea wherefore when Hugh was in his house at the Tyf, in autumn, a.r. xxxi., Philip sent his men to Hugh’s house, to slay him.
Who by command attacked the house for a whole night, wishing to slay Hugh. And on the next day, Philip bringing in his company Nich. O Molran, a felon who abjured the land out of the church of Ballysyd, and other malefactors, went there and broke Hugh’s house. So that Hugh barely escaped on a horse. And Philip with Ric. De Leye and Walter de Hereford, afterward assaulted Hugh, and wounded him badly with a sword, so that he barely escaped on his horse to the church, and he unjustly took from Hugh a horse, value 10s.
And Philip comes and says that he did no injury to Hugh, and he prays that this be enquired by the country. Hugh likewise. Therefore let it be enquired.
(Following unrecorded testimony:)
The Jurors say that Philip came upon the land of Hugh which he held from Philip, and distrained Hugh, his tenant for pleas in default. And Hugh, seeing Philip coming and understanding that he wished to take, in name of distraint, a horse of his, ran to the horse and mounted it and fled.
And Philip rode his horse after him, and his horse stumbled and fell, and threw Philip to the ground. And Hugh, perceiving this, leaving his horse, returned to Philip and with his knife drawn would have slain Philip, his lord, to whom he had not yet done homage or fealty. And Philip perceiving this, and not otherwise able to escape, drew his sword and put it between him and Hugh. And Hugh vehemently moved with anger, intending to strike Philip with his knife, ran upon Philip’s sword, and wounded himself. As to the other trespasses, which Hugh says were done to him by Philip, they say that Philip is not in anyway culpable..
Judgement that Hugh take nothing by his plaint, but be in mercy for false claim.
Quite an exciting story! Professor Paul MacCotter, who identified this document in his “The Ferriters of Kerry” (Journal of Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society, 2003) informs us that the malefactor, Hugh De Barry leaves Ferriter lands, and within a years time is hung for murder.
This episode should leave us with a greater appreciation for what life in West Kerry was like for the early Ferriters, and with a better understanding for what having feudal authority over the tenantry on one’s lands really entailed. Within a generation following this event, the authority of the crown had begun slipping away, and with the naming of the first Earl of Desmond in 1328, many royal prerogatives reserved for the crown were granted the Earl.
The Desmond FitzGeralds in turn, gradually adopted Irish ways, and within a century following Phillip le Fureter’s adventure as told above, West Kerry had become quite Irish, and notions of English law held little weight. Yet the Ferriters held their lands, by virtue of feudal bonds with the Desmond Earls. Loyalty to the FitzGeralds extended up until that time the House of Desmond was overthrown and destroyed by the Tudors, a full two and a half centuries following the story of Philip and Hugh.