MacCarthy Mór, Donal (d. 1596), 26th MacCarthy Mór and 1st earl of Clancare , Gaelic lord, was second but eldest surviving son of Domhnall MacCarthy Mór (qv), 25th MacCarthy Mór. Nothing is known of his mother. In November 1555 he, along with his father and sister, received a grant of English liberty in a move designed to improve their relationship with the government. By 24 March 1558 he had succeeded his father as MacCarthy Mór. As such, he held longstanding jurisdictional claims to most of modern south Co. Kerry and west Co. Cork. In practice, the powers of the once formidable MacCarthy Mórs had been undermined during the late medieval period, when many vassal lords and cadet branches of the MacCarthys achieved varying degrees of independence. This process had been facilitated by the meddling of the MacCarthy Mór's traditional enemies, the Fitzgerald earls of Desmond, who largely dominated the province of Munster. Donal's marriage in 1558 to his niece Honora, daughter of James Fitzgerald (qv), 14th earl of Desmond, symbolised his status as a Fitzgerald vassal.
English earl and Irish rebel On 26 June 1558 he was knighted at Limerick by the lord lieutenant, Sir Thomas Radcliffe (qv), 3rd earl of Sussex, as part of Sussex's efforts to use him as a counterbalance to the earls of Desmond. By the following year officials in England were considering the possibility of his being ennobled, and subsequently attempted to press Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 15th earl of Desmond, into respecting Donal's independence. Donal reciprocated in 1562 by encouraging proposals by London merchants to establish a fishing colony at Baltimore. As yet, Desmond was too strong and continued successfully to compel Donal to render military service. However, in early 1565 Desmond suffered a serious military reverse and was brought to London to answer for his violent conduct. Donal was also summoned to England, arriving in late April. There he formally surrendered and was regranted his lands by the queen, before being created earl of Clancare (Clancarthy) and baron of Valentia on 24 June. While in England, he laid claim to territories where the MacCarthy Mór's authority had long been nominal if not openly repudiated; he hoped to use the alliance with the crown to reestablish his clan's ancient power. He appears to have gone into debt financing this trip to the royal court, and the queen had to grant him £100 to save him from arrest by his creditors. The economy of his lordship functioned mainly through barter, making it perennially difficult to raise cash and leading to a lifetime of debt. On his return from London later that year, he was probably sworn a member of the Irish privy council.
In spring 1567 he defied Desmond's command and met with the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), then on a tour of Munster. Desmond's subsequent arrest and long-term imprisonment seemed to bode well for Clancare's burgeoning relationship with the crown. Ominously, however, Sidney concluded (correctly) that Clancare was not powerful enough to be a significant ally. In 1568 the government began toying with over-ambitious colonisation schemes in Munster, the most radical of which involved the outright confiscation of all lands in Cork and Kerry held by Gaelic lords, including Clancare. Alarmed by these rumours, he began acting in a bellicose manner in late 1568, raiding the lands of the loyalist Lord Roche, apparently buying arms from Spanish merchants, and making common cause with the equally disaffected James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv), captain of the earldom of Desmond. In January–February 1569 fitz Maurice and Clancare convened an assembly of the catholic spiritual and temporal lords of Munster, from which they dispatched envoys to Spain with an offer to transfer their allegiance to Philip II of Spain. In June 1569 fitz Maurice and Clancare attacked the English settlement at Kerrycurrihy, Co. Cork, and quickly overran much of Munster before unsuccessfully besieging Kilkenny city in conjunction with their confederates in Leinster. Clancare publicly renounced his English title and resumed his Gaelic title of MacCarthy Mór.
However, the Leinster rebellion quickly petered out and the ferocious campaigning of Col. Humphrey Gilbert (qv) regained the initiative from the rebels in Munster; in September Gilbert defeated a large force led by fitz Maurice and Clancare near Kilmallock. By November Clancare had sent a letter of submission to Gilbert, and he submitted at Limerick on 4 December. Following Gilbert's departure from Munster in December, fitz Maurice regrouped and continued the rebellion in Munster for another three years. During 1570 the government's lethargic prosecution of the Munster rebels left Clancare vulnerable to their depredations and he may have been obliged to temporise with them. His behaviour was sufficiently suspicious for the royalist general Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, to order him to Dublin in late 1570. There, he rendered a particularly abject submission to Sidney and his privy council at Dublin Castle on 14 February 1571, which he reprised the next day at Christ Church cathedral before a large crowd. It is likely that Ormond had assured him before he went to Dublin that the queen, dismayed by the Munster uprising, had lost faith in colonising schemes and was willing to accept his submission. Indeed, in December 1570 the queen had appointed him to a council to advise the newly appointed president of Munster, Sir John Perrot (qv).
Rivalry with Desmond During 1571–2 Perrot found many Munster lords reluctant to help him defeat fitz Maurice, but praised Clancare for his good service. In September 1571 Perrot met a number of Munster lords gathered in Cork city, including Clancare, and made them swear they would prosecute fitz Maurice to their utmost. These lords chose Clancare to lead the pursuit of the rebels, and he agreed to maintain 200 soldiers. He often served alongside Perrot during his campaigns, taking part in the relief of Dingle in August 1571 and in the successful siege of Castlemaine in summer 1572. Following fitz Maurice's surrender in early 1573, Clancare received a letter of gratitude from the queen and was given custody of Killorglin castle, previously a Fitzgerald stronghold.
However, Desmond's escape from royal custody and return to Munster in late 1573 after an absence of over six years threw the province into turmoil once more, as he reasserted his authority against both the crown and his wayward vassals. Clancare supported the royal garrison at Castlemaine against the Fitzgeralds and, after being threatened by Desmond, marched in force against his rival in March 1574. Despite enjoying a handsome numerical superiority, he suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Desmond's forces in a battle along the River Maine. He was forced to surrender Killorglin castle and accept Desmond's overlordship once more.
Although Desmond submitted to the crown in September, Clancare's position had been gravely weakened. He continued to seek the government's support, being praised by the queen in 1577 for his efforts on a royal commission for surveying lands in Munster. In 1577–8 he agreed to pay a rent of £80 a year to the crown, and in late 1578 placed his only legitimate son, Tadhg, in the custody of royal officials. However, this loyalism availed him little, as the government began favouring Desmond in order to win his acceptance for the extension of royal authority into Munster. In 1576 Clancare was removed from the council of Munster while Desmond was added to it. Meanwhile, Desmond forced Clancare once more to yield a tribute and accompany him on military hostings.
The second Desmond rebellion In many respects, Clancare must have welcomed the start of the second Desmond rebellion in July 1579 as it seemed to herald the final destruction of the Fitzgeralds. However, he had to be careful due to his proximity to the epicentre of the rising in west Munster; moreover, most of his own followers strongly sympathised with the rebel cause. He appears to have secretly maintained rebel forces on his lands and allowed many of his supporters to join the rebels in battle. However, contrary to some rumours he did not participate in a non-existent sacking of Kinsale. For a year, he assured both sides of his support while avoiding commitment to either. About February 1580, perhaps swayed by Desmond's claims that Spanish reinforcements would arrive to help them, he swore an oath to join the rebellion. During the first half of 1580 he avoided royal officials and seemed on the brink of rebelling, but held back out of prudence and due to well-founded fears for his son's life – the royal commander Ormond declared that if Clancare rebelled he would hang Tadhg from the highest tree he could find.
Finally, on 17 June, Clancare met with the lord justice, Sir William Pelham (qv), at Castlemaine, later accompanying him to Limerick. At Limerick he and a number of other Munster lords were sternly rebuked for their vacillating and were prevented from leaving the city. Only after he handed his wife Honora over to the government as a pledge was he allowed to depart in August. The government was particularly suspicious of Honora, who was Desmond's sister and a strong catholic.
Meanwhile, the royal forces’ scorched-earth tactics led to mass famine in Munster; Clancare could do little as hungry soldiers on both sides routinely made off with his corn and livestock. His relations with John Zouche, commander of the nearby royal garrison were poisonous, but despite much blustering he never took up arms against the crown. On 3 September 1581 he was in Dublin to declare his grievances to the lord deputy, Arthur Grey (qv). An English observer of this meeting, newly arrived in Ireland, was taken aback by Clancare's ragged and somewhat exotic attire. His unkempt appearance can be ascribed only in part to strains caused by the ongoing conflict in Munster; Clancare came from a remote and backward region and this was borne out in his dress and general conduct. In 1580 English officials who visited his main castle, the Pallace, thought it unfit for a poor English yeoman, much less a peer of the realm. One royal soldier summed up the attitude of the English towards him by describing him as a proud beggar.
It is likely that he continued to assist the rebels covertly during 1581–3, partly out of fear, partly out of dislike of the English. The appointment of the Irish noble Ormond as general of the royal army in Munster led to a change in attitude. Unlike the English-born commanders who seemed bent on driving all the Munster lords into rebellion, Ormond sympathised with their plight. In April 1583 Clancare requested Ormond's assistance in expelling Desmond from his lands; Desmond was soon forced to flee into north Kerry, where he was eventually tracked down and killed in November, bringing the rebellion to an end. In 1585 Clancare and his supporters were formally pardoned for any treasons they may have committed. Much to his discontent, he received no compensation for his losses at the hands of royal soldiers, and his son remained a prisoner in Dublin castle. In November 1584 Tadhg escaped and fled to France; his father denied any involvement in this act.
The Munster plantation and the MacCarthy succession From 1584 the government began preparations for establishing English colonies on lands formerly held by Munster rebels. The plantation process threatened to undermine Clancare as his own personal demesne was relatively small; his power had been based on his ability to impose exactions on other landowners, but the crown denied that the right to these services constituted landownership. By threatening to cause trouble, he sought to turn this situation on its head and have his claims recognised to lands over which he previously had little or no authority. In 1584 the territories Onaght and Coshmaine, formerly held by two of Clancare's more independent vassals who had died in rebellion, were earmarked for plantation and later granted to Sir Valentine Browne (qv). Clancare opposed this grant and was recognised as the rightful owner by the crown, despite the patent weakness of his claim.
However, this success was outweighed by the new and threatening socio-political climate in Munster. The establishment of English law in Munster threatened his quasi-sovereign powers, and he was not prepared so late in life to settle down as a private farmer. Even if he was, the loss of life caused by the second Desmond rebellion caused a shortage of tenants to work his lands. The government tried to assist him by authorising him to force tenants to return who had been lured away by better offers from English undertakers, but it remained a persistent problem. With much of his income being spent on alcohol, his always shaky financial position worsened considerably, and he mortgaged some of his lands to a local noble, Florence MacCarthy Reagh (qv). The worst blow of all came c.1587 when his son Tadhg died. By the terms of the royal grant of his lands to Clancare, these lands would revert to the crown in the event of his death without leaving a legitimate male heir. The breakup and distribution of his estate amongst various English planters seemed inevitable.
He did have one card left to play, the hand in marriage of his surviving legitimate child, Ellen; her husband would have a strong claim to Clancare's inheritance. In March 1588 he contracted to marry Ellen to Florence MacCarthy Reagh, adding the rider that the marriage must have the queen's approval, before departing for London. There, he came to an arrangement with Browne, whereby he mortgaged – in effect, sold – the disputed territories of Onaght and Coshmaine to him for about £600, and in return, for an undisclosed sum, agreed to marry Ellen to Browne's son Nicholas. By then it was apparent that the queen would not countenance the match with Florence. Clancare's supporters, including his wife, were horrified at the prospect of Ellen marrying an English protestant commoner, and in June arranged her marriage to Florence. Clancare claimed this was done without his approval, but the Brownes suspected with good cause that they had been double-crossed; Clancare had met Florence in London in 1588 and, well aware of his wife's preferences, had given her the option either to send Ellen to London or marry her to Florence. In the ensuing furore, the newly-weds and Honora were arrested as Clancare successfully cast the blame on them. Not for the first time, he let others bear the brunt of royal anger.
Back in Ireland, he pursued a continuous vendetta against English planters on lands formerly held by the Clandonnell Roe at Bantry and Berehaven, which he regarded as rightfully his. In 1589 he chased away the English grantee there and occupied the lands for a time, but the crown refused to surrender its rights. Likewise he attacked, both in the law courts and in the field, his would-be son-in-law Nicholas Browne, in order to undermine his colony in Kerry. However, with the help of the government and by forming alliances with Gaelic lords hostile to Clancare, Browne was able to hold his own. During his final years Clancare relied heavily on his illegitimate son Donal, a former rebel and noted firebrand, to persecute Browne and to intimidate his own tenants into providing him with financial support. Indeed, Donal, and not his son-in-law, seems to have been his preferred successor.
Although Clancare was relatively successful in his attempts to maintain his autonomy in the face of increasing crown control in Ireland, this can be put down to luck and the fact that he was not dangerous enough to constitute a serious threat to the government, while being sufficiently troublesome to warrant a degree of royal indulgence. Moreover, at the time of his death a highly uncertain future awaited his lordship as contending factions both Irish and English jockeyed to succeed him. In October 1595 he was described as being sickly, and he died in late 1596, being buried at Muckross abbey, Co. Kerry. Two religious poems written by him in Irish have survived.