O'Connor (Ó Conchobair), Fedlimid (d. 1265), king of Connacht, was son of Cathal Mór Crobderg Ua Conchobair (qv), king of Connacht, and Mór, daughter of Domnall O'Brien (qv) (Ó Briain), king of Thomond. After the death of Cathal Crobderg (27 May 1224) Fedlimid pledged his loyalty to his elder brother Áed, the new king. Their position was precarious as a confederation of their enemies moved against them. Although Áed and Fedlimid temporised with the colonists and the English crown, they were angry with de Lacy probing of Connacht's Shannon frontier. But now Richard de Burgh (qv), with the support of his uncle Hubert de Burgh, justiciar of England, pressed his claims to Connacht. Trouble flared in late 1224, but the intervention of William Marshal II (qv), justiciar of Ireland, soothed O'Connor anger. About this time Áed confiscated the lands of Donn Óg MacGeraghty (Mág Oireachtaig). Encouraged by MacGeraghty, the Connacht nobility invited the sons of Ruaidrí O'Connor (qv) to challenge the brothers. With their invasion of Connacht, the brothers’ support crumbled, culminating in Toirrdelbach mac Ruaidrí's inauguration by Áed O'Neill (qv) at Carnfree. In Athlone Áed and Fedlimid regrouped and, with colonist help, drove their rivals back into Ulster. Ironically, this success undermined their position, coinciding with Marshal's replacement as justiciar on 22/25 June 1226 by Geoffrey de Marisco (qv).
The tension between the O'Connors and de Marisco exploded when they destroyed Athlone (early 1227) after a failed parley. Moreover, de Burgh was confirmed (May 1227) in possession of Connacht, expelling the brothers to Donegal. On their return, they were defeated but escaped into Leinster, where Áed was murdered (1228). De Burgh's position was strengthened by his succession to the justiciarship (13 February 1228), and with his support Áed O'Connor (qv) defeated his elder brother, Toirrdelbach, to claim the Connacht kingship. But in 1230 Áed, encouraged by his vassals, challenged de Burgh's provincial overlordship. De Burgh then allied with Fedlimid and exiled Áed to Tír Eógain, paving the way for the former's installation as provincial king. Fedlimid, however, was determined to rule Connacht independently. As a result Fedlimid was incarcerated (1231) in de Burgh's castle of Meelick. De Burgh now turned to the repentant Áed mac Ruaidrí to take Fedlimid's crown. But before de Burgh could secure the province, his luck changed when Hubert de Burgh was dismissed as justiciar of England on 29 July 1232. A month later de Burgh was ordered to release Fedlimid and was succeeded as justiciar of Ireland on 2 September by Maurice FitzGerald (qv). Furthermore, de Burgh was ordered to surrender Connacht to Henry III but refused, angering Henry, who ordered FitzGerald and then Fedlimid to take the fortress of Meelick. They declined. This reverse proved disastrous for de Burgh's settlement of Connacht. Unsurprisingly, Fedlimid went on the rampage, levelling the castles of de Burgh before inflicting a decisive defeat on Áed mac Ruaidrí. By May 1234 de Burgh was back in favour for his service against the Marshalls. Another sign of de Burgh's rising stock in royal eyes was his receipt of a new royal grant of Connacht four months later, boding ill for Fedlimid.
In summer 1235 de Burgh with FitzGerald crossed the Shannon to attack Fedlimid. When they could not locate Fedlimid's army, de Burgh flushed him out by attacking Donnchad Cairprech O'Brien (qv) of Thomond. Fedlimid reached his ally in time to give battle to de Burgh, but a mistake by Donnchad Cairprech gave de Burgh victory, forcing Fedlimid to gallop for the safety of Tír Conaill. Shortly afterwards Fedlimid submitted before the justiciar, obtaining the king's five cantreds in Roscommon. In effect, Fedlimid had recognised the partition of Connacht. But before the end of the year, Fedlimid was again in the field. As a result FitzGerald depossessed him of the cantreds and drove him yet again into exile in Tír Conaill. With Fedlimid out of the way, FitzGerald gave the Connacht kingship back to the family of Ruaidrí. When Fedlimid returned from exile, he had his revenge, burning Rindown in Roscommon before defeating his cousins. On his return from England, de Burgh found Connacht in chaos. Leaving FitzGerald to extinguish the struggle between Fedlimid and his rivals, de Burgh marched west to subdue Mayo and Galway. Fedlimid then made peace, accepting the lease of the king's cantreds for the annual rent of £400. Essentially, though, Connacht belonged to de Burgh, who with his characteristic energy set about building castles and inducing settlers over the Shannon. Now Fedlimid (described as ‘a man full of honour and valour, of respect and importance’ (Ann. Conn., s.a. 1265)) turned to diplomacy to achieve his aims. In 1240 he went to England to petition Henry III to confirm his tenure of his much reduced inheritance. By 1241, however, he was finding it hard to control his more confrontational nephews, the sons of Áed. And his arduous task was magnified by the rapid development of anti-settler feelings among the Irish. Not only was Connacht threatened, but the colonists were advancing into the Irish kingdoms of Tír Conaill, Tír Eógain, Desmond, Thomond, and the midlands.
Crucial to our understanding of the phenomenon that has become known as the ‘Gaelic resurgence’ was the emergence of new Irish leaders throughout the island at this time. Many of them were drawn from the cadet branches of the great Irish dynasties, or were princes who had grown frustrated with the temporising policies of their fathers and overlords. In the summer of 1243 Richard de Burgh died, and because his sons were minors de Burgh's lands in Connacht and Munster were taken into the royal hand till their majority, causing some slippage in the tightness of de Burgh control over the Irish.
In 1245 Fedlimid shifted closer to the crown by helping FitzGerald to consolidate his grip in north-west Connacht, contributing to the construction of Sligo castle. To press his loyalty home, he and FitzGerald brought a great Irish army to campaign in Wales for Henry III (Oct.–Nov. 1245). This loss of belief in the policy of appeasement is evidenced when Maelsechlainn O'Donnell (qv) (d. 1247) of Tír Conaill devastated north-west Connacht at the end of the year. In all probability his success resulted from close coordination with the sons of Áed. FitzGerald counter-attacked and plundered much of Tír Conaill, taking hostages from O'Donnell, who, although smarting from his reverse, laid siege to FitzGerald's castle of Sligo with the probable help of the sons of Áed. Then the colonists, perhaps with the support of Fedlimid, attacked the sons of Áed, imprisoning their leaders. By autumn Toirrdelbach O'Connor, the principal leader of the sons of Áed, had escaped. Soon afterwards he was retaken and confined in Athlone, reflecting the mounting tension. By early 1247 a major conflict was unavoidable.
The train of events began when Toirrdelbach escaped again and began a war against the settlers. The crisis was magnified when the de Angulos expelled Cathal MacReynolds (Mac Ragnaill), an O'Connor vassal, from his territory in Leitrim. This proved to be the spark that ignited the whole province. Fedlimid hesitated; Toirrdelbach did not. The level of support within the wider O'Connor dynasty for Toirrdelbach indicates that Fedlimid had completely lost control of his vassals. By early 1247 Toirrdelbach had welded together an Irish confederation stretching from Tír Conaill to Osraige in the midlands. With the war spreading with the intensity of a bush fire, FitzGerald took decisive and drastic action, attacking Tír Conaill. By now Connacht was aflame, and with Donnchad MacGillapatrick (qv) (d. 1249/50) of Osraige, Toirrdelbach scorched an arc of settlement stretching from Galway town to the Mayo barony of Carra.
The war that broke out in 1247 was to last for three years. What is curious about this passage of events in Connacht is the absence of Fedlimid. Traditionally Fedlimid has been viewed as an appeaser during these years; but there is no contemporary evidence to support this view. Clearly the profile of an appeaser does not sit easily with Fedlimid's apparent inaction, as many of those who fought for Toirrdelbach had close links to Fedlimid. The only mention of Fedlimid's activities is an indirect reference, recording that his son Áed O'Connor (c.1227–1274) killed Muirchertach O'Dowda (Ó Dubda) in 1248. And there certainly seems to be a degree of timing, premeditation, and coordination between wars in Connacht, the midlands, and Desmond during 1249. Indeed, as the evidence is further sifted and cross-referenced, Fedlimid looks less like an innocent bystander and more like the moving spirit behind these disturbances. Moreover, the possibility of Fedlimid's orchestrating events behind a screen of dissidents becomes even more plausible in 1249. If he was instigating the disturbances, he could not have picked a better time to exploit regional Norman weakness. In Leinster the division of the Marshal inheritance was only beginning to take effect, while there was no Norman lord of Connacht in 1249.
It is clear that the blaze began in west Leinster early in 1249. In a rare reference to Leinster, the Annals of Connacht refer to a war between the justiciar, John FitzGeoffrey (qv), and unnamed Leinster princes who were raiding Norman settlements. The next phase of the war opened when the MacCarthys (Meic Carthaig) attacked the settlers in Desmond. After the outbreak of war in Desmond, Áed ambushed Peter Bermingham (qv), who had custody of Richard de Burgh's lands. FitzGerald's subsequent attack on Fedlimid's lands indicates that he had no doubt of Fedlimid's complicity in Áed's attacks. The Irish sources are in unison as to Fedlimid's reaction to FitzGerald's actions. Instead of fleeing to colonists, Fedlimid sent his movable wealth into Breifne and Ulster for safe keeping. Significantly, his choice of refuge was with Brian O'Neill (qv) of Tír Eógain, who had been deeply connected with anti-colonist wars in recent years. Fitz Geoffrey also concurred with FitzGerald and together they devastated the O'Connor territory of Síl Muiredaig, attacked Breifne, and deposed Fedlimid. In a classic case of ‘divide and rule’, they chose Toirdelbach as provincial king, ordering him to defend Connacht against Fedlimid. If Fedlimid had been covertly encouraging his turbulent nephew, this fractured their alliance. Thus satisfied, FitzGerald returned to Sligo, while fitz Geoffrey crossed back into Meath. Then a remarkable reversal happened. Instead of consolidating his position, Toirrdelbach reluctantly acceded to his brothers’ desire for war against the colonists; but despite initial success, Toirrdelbach's troops were routed outside Athenry (September 1249).
Sometime late in 1249, Toirrdelbach made his peace with the government. Yet the fighting was far from finished. In 1250 Fedlimid finally returned from exile in Tír Eógain, bringing a large army through Breifne, Roscommon, and Galway. Fear of Fedlimid drove Toirrdelbach to seek colonial protection, confirming the split between uncle and nephew. Having achieving his objective, Fedlimid made his way to the Curlew Mountains to access Donegal. Before he could reach them, colonist riders brought him messages confirming his title. Thus satisfied, Fedlimid returned to the king's cantreds and began to consolidate his position. However, Fedlimid's restoration came at a cost. By Henry III's wish, fitz Geoffrey depossessed Fedlimid of Omany cantred and commenced making grants in the O'Connor heartland. Furthermore, the hostages of Connacht were blinded in Athlone – treatment usually reserved for those actively engaged in rebellion. This was another example of the government's conclusion that Fedlimid and his son were deeply implicated at least in the events of 1249, if not those of the preceding two years.
These years had seen Fedlimid's attitude towards the settlers harden, and this, with his favourable disposition to the views of Áed, sparked the resurgence of Connacht. Of course, much of their returning power was linked to their alliance with O'Neill. As a result these years witnessed a shift in the O'Connor political compass towards southern Ulster. There they spied opportunities for the conquest in the lands of their bitter enemies, the O'Reillys (Uí Ragallaig). The revival of O'Connor expansion across the Shannon led to further wars with the O'Rourkes (Uí Ruairc) of Breifne. During this period Fedlimid, through his son Áed, confirmed his alliance in 1255 with O'Neill. This paved the way for the recognition by the O'Connors (along with their cousin Tadg O'Brien of Thomond) of O'Neill's high-kingship at Cáelúisce (1258). A further sign of O'Connor hostility to the government was Áed's marriage in 1258 to the daughter of Dubgall MacSorley (Mac Sumarlaide) at Derry, gaining him a dowry of galloglass. And in 1260 Áed and O'Neill campaigned together in Ulster, meeting defeat at the battle of Down at the hands of the colonists on 15 May.
Although O'Neill was killed, Áed survived to return to Connacht. There, he and his father again reviewed their strategies and began to interfere in the midlands. Indeed, the really striking point about this latest O'Connor volte-face was the rapidity with which the midlands descended into warfare. In response to Áed's successes against the settlers around Athlone, the Meath colonists deposed Gilla na Naem O'Farrell (Ó Fergail) of Anghaile, choosing the son of Murchad Carrach O'Farrell to replace him in 1262. Furthermore, the O'Connors were involved with Earl Walter de Burgh (qv) in a battle for hegemony over Connacht. And for the most part Áed (with the approval of his father) steadily gained the upper hand. These successes made them virtually unassailable within their own dynasty, leaving the path clear for Áed to succeed Fedlimid as king of Connacht on his death (early 1265). On gaining the kingship, Áed made his first royal raid into Offaly before resuming his struggle with the de Burghs. In a spate of brilliant opportunism Áed and the O'Donnells pulled down FitzGerald castles throughout Sligo early in 1265. Clearly Áed's offensive had softened up the Norman grip on the region. And in 1266 his troops burnt many colonist settlements in west Connacht and Sligo, inciting disturbance in the midlands. But it was Áed's victory in 1270 over the de Burghs at Athankip that left him dominant in Connacht. However, his failure to produce an heir by his death in 1274 was to undermine fatally his and Fedlimid's mighty achievements.