This is Northburgh castle, aka Green Castle in the little town of Greencastle in County Donegal, scene of some medieval barbarity in 1333 that had far-reaching consequences.
Northburgh was built in 1306 by Richard Og de Burgh, the famous “Red” Earl of Ulster who appears in Lions of the Grail. Standing guard at the mouth of Lough Foyle, it marked the western limit of de Burgh’s Earldom. It was in the territory of the Kingdom of Tyrconnell and was probably supposed to be a bridgehead from which he would march on to the the western Atlantic shore, however that was not to be.
In 1315 Edward Bruce took it, but de Burgh won it back. In 1333 it was the scene of some infamous deeds that would lead to the end of the Earldom itself.
For some reason, at that time the Anglo-Norman clan of de Burgh seem to have been differentiated by colours. Richard “Og”, Gaelic for “little Richard” (honestly), was known as the “Red” Earl. His cousin, William, was known by the nickname “laith”, which is Gaelic for grey. William Laith deBurgh of Connaught served under Piers Gaveston when he was Justiciar of Ireland and was a hero of the war of 1315-18 against the invading Scots under Edward Bruce. William married Finola Ni Briain and one of their many offspring was Walter de burgh, also known as the “laith”. William fought at the battle of Connor, where he was taken prisoner. It was to pay ransom for William that Earl Richard diverted the ships packed with supplies bound for the desperate besieged garrison of Carrickfergus castle to Scotland.This in turn led to the daring sea raid on Carrickfergus portrayed in the sequel of Lions of the Grail, “The Waste Land”.
Richard de Burgh was Earl of Ulster and also Lord of Connacht. In practice, William laith had been Lord of Connacht in all but name, particularly after his victory at the head of a rather rag-tag coalition of Anglo Normans and Gaelic clans at the very bloody Second Battle of Athenry during the Bruce War. His son Walter took this one step further after the death of William and had himself named Lord of Connacht in 1330.
This put him in direct conflict with his cousin, the Earl of Ulster who by then was Richard Og’s grandson, also called William. In true de Burgh tradition, this William was known as William “Donn” - the Gaelic word for “brown”.
This meant war. William quickly captured Walter and imprisoned him in Northburgh. In an act of cruelty that would have serious repercussions, he had his cousin starved to death in the castle.
It has been said that in medieval times, what now look like titanic struggles between nations, at the top-end of society were more like family feuds. Richard de Burgh, or example, was Robert Bruce’s father in law. Walter laith’s sister, Gylle de Burgh, was married to Sir Richard de Mandeville, one of the Earl of Ulster’s chief vassals. Gylle persuaded her husband to take revenge. They conspired with John de Logan, another of the Earl’s knights, and in June of 1333, at (what then was) a little village named “le Ford” by the Normans and “Béal Feirste” (Belfast) by the Irish, they assassinated William the Brown Earl of Ulster. This led to chaos and the de burghs descended into an internecine bloodbath now referred to as the “Burke Civil War”. It also spelt the end of the Anglo-Irish Earldom of Ulster that dissolved quickly afterwards as the Gaelic Kings took advantage of the disarray and re-asserted their power.

William’s only child was Elizabeth de Burgh. She fled Ulster with her mother and settling in London she married Lionel of Antwerp, the Duke of Clarence. It was as page to Elizabeth,  Countess of Ulster, that a young man called Geoffrey Chaucer took up his first job. The rest, as they say, is history.


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