I paid a visit to Mullaghmast last Sunday to see again the famous Rath which has figured in Irish history from as far back as 82AD. The site consists of a raised circular rampart breached at two sides allowing grazing cattle to wander through at will. It is now difficult to image that here was once the Palace of an Irish King frequently mentioned in the ancient Annals.
In 82AD O'Toole, a member of the South Kildare Clan whose territory was called Omurethy, waged war on his son-in-law Eochy King of Leinster for leaving O'Toole's daughter to marry her sister. We are told that O'Toole destroyed the Palaces and Fortresses of Naas Mullaghcreelan and Mullaghmast.
Again we find in Keatings history of Ireland the oft repeated reference to Felimy the Law Giver who was King of Ireland from 111 to 119 A.D. During his reign the Munster men invaded Leinster as far as Mullaghmast. The dispossessed clans appealed to the King of Ulster and with his help proceeded to drive out the Munster men from the area. Defeated at a small Ford on the River Greise the Munster men retreated to a Ford on the River Barrow where Ae the son of a Munster Chieftan was killed. It was from him that the future town of Athy got it's name being the anglicised form of the Gaelic place name Ath Ae, meaning the Ford of Ae, being the place where Ae was slain. Thus was Mullaghmast and Athy first linked in history.
Another connection between the two ancient places was forged in the second century when Con of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland, sought to enforce his right to a Cow Tribute against the son of the King of Leinster resulting in a Battle at Mullaghmast. Victory went to Con's opponent who then proceeded to take over the Royal Palace of Tara. The Cow Tribute or Borumha was an important element in the relationship between King and subjects and in our own locality we have Aughraboura the area where the Cow Tribute was once paid. In 241A.D. another King of Ireland, this time Cormac MacArt burnt the Palace of Mullaghmast to revenge a massacre perpetrated by the son of the King of Leinster.
In 727 Mullaghmast was the site of a pitched battle between the Clans of Dowlings and Kinsellas resulting in a victory for the latter. Following the Battle of Clontarf which saw the Irish victorious over the Danes, the Armies of Desmond and Thomand camped at Mullaghmast on their way home to Munster. The usual rivalry between the two great Munster tribes overlooked in the face of the coming enemy now resurfaced and the men of Desmond thought they would take advantage of the Thomand men who were weakened by exertion and carrying many wounded. Those nursing wounds used moss to stem the flow of blood and declared their intention of playing their part in the fight against the Desmonds. The latter on hearing this left the area whereupon the men of Thomand travelled onwards to Ath Ae where they drank the water from the River Barrow and cleaned their wounds. However it was in 1577 that occurred an event which was to fix the name of Mullaghmast in Irish memories for ever more. Tradition relates that leaders of the Seven Septs of Laois and their followers who had waged a constant war against English settlers were summoned to the Rath at Mullaghmast under terms which guaranteed their safety. On their arrival they were set upon and murdered depriving the ancient territory of Laois of so many of the O'Moores, O'Kellys, O'Lalors, Devoys, McEvoys, O'Dorans and O'Dowlings. Tradition has us believe that one of the O'Lalors escaped on horseback, hurrying back through the countryside to his own place. The horse wounded in the escape collapsed and died near Brackna Woods giving to the area a name which it still bears - The Bleeding Horse.
A carved stone commemorating the massacre of 1577 was placed in the centre of the Rath in 1991 by the Greise Valley Development Association. This is the only visible reminder of the horrible happenings of 400 years ago.
On Sunday the 1st of October 1843 the Liberator Daniel O'Connell spoke at a Repeal Meeting in Mullaghmast. The SequiCentenary of that event so well documented in Irish histories was celebrated in 1993 with the unveiling of a suitably inscribed stone on the roadside nearest to the Rath of Mullaghmast. The fields nearest to the road on the Mullaghmast crossroads side of the Rath are believed to be those in which O'Connell's Repeal Meeting was held. On the same side of the Rath and next to the roadway is the famous long stone of Mullaghmast reputed to mark the grave of a Munster Chieftan. The seven foot high granite stone is the only one of its kind in the area and was evidently brought from afar to its present site.
Mullaghmast once had another six small Raths in the earlier mentioned Repeal meeting field but they have been razed leaving the larger Rath of Mullaghmast as the only visible reminder of the once great Palace of Mullaghmast.
Last Sunday afternoon the area was quiet with not another person in sight. It was difficult to believe that almost 2,000 years ago this was an important settlement, a lordly place fit for Kings.
The grazing cattle were unconcerned as I moved amongst them hoping to catch an echo from the past. The air was still as I gazed across the rich plains of South Kildare and on the horizon I imagined I could see the marching Army of a Munster Chieftain as it made haste to Mullaghmast. But for a moment only I held the vision and then it disappeared leaving me to regret the passing of time and the glories that were once Mullaghmast's.