Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Philipstown, County Offaly, Ireland Beggars Bush 1597

This is a “frontier” site in an English plantation or colonial setting. It is not the earliest site in Ireland, which is Dublin, Donnybrook. The setting and background is very similar to the later frontier Beggars Bush sites at Charles River, Virginia and Albany, Cape Province. It must be a name given by the English where settlers faced danger from the original inhabitants and may have felt that the situation they found themselves in what far from what they had been lead to expect. As such the use of the name is entirely consistent with the contemporary literary usage, of being brought to ruin, perhaps by one’s own folly.

The Dialogue of Silvynne and Peregrynne

The author is “H.C.” which may possibly be Henry Chettle, but is more likely to be Hugh Collier, a messenger and spy in government service.
In ‘Dialogue of Silvynne and Peregrynne’he describes part of the Nine Years War, and the “diuers outradges comited in the Kinges County, from the latter end of the harvest 1597 vntill march next ensuinge”. This survives in a manuscript copy amongst the Irish State Papers at the Public Records Office, London. It is addressed to the Earl of Essex.

The “whot skirmishe”

In the first book H.C. deals with the ravages of a band of 3-400 lead by Brian Reoch. At Philipstown they had a “whot skirmishe” with a small band led by a Mr Dempsey and Sergeant Phillips, at Beggars Bush, after which: “Then they passed aloofe for feare of the greate ordynaunce of the forte, which dismayed them mightely, but yet they burned the moste parte of the subberbs withowt the north gate called beggars bush to the hinderance, and undoinge of many an honest subiect.” The 1838 Map of Philipstown shows the fort at the southern end of a single street which runs north until it reaches a canal, on the far side of which there is a Goal and Barracks on Gallows Hill.

County Offaly

County Offaly was an amalgam of family territories initiated with the Act of Mary of 1557 under which the King’s and Queen’s counties were established, either side of the River Barrow, dividing the territory of the Dempsey’s. Phillipstown, (Daingean), developed from the plantation policies pursued from the late 1540’s. At Daingean, an O’Connor castle “builded in a grete maresse” taken by Lord Grey in 1537, and refortified as Fort Governor in 1546 with walls 100m long. Fort Protector at what is now Portloise was built at the same time. With Athlone they were intended to extend the Pale around Dublin. However, this was not achieved, and their maintainance was costly. Under a new policy, perhaps encouraged by Philip of Spain, Queen Mary approved more settling more English colonists around the forts. By an Act of 1556 the ares became shires, and the forts renamed Phillipstown and Maryborough. Lands were assigned to both centres and communications improved. £1800 was spent in 1558 on the construction of a togher from Philipstown to Edenderry. In 1567 Philipstown was given market town status and in 1569 was made into a borough. The colonists were soldier-settlers. Leases were granted from the 1560’s and but war with the O’Connors continued until the 1600’s.  Dunlop wrote :

“The plantation struck root; but more than half-a-century passed away before the settlers could be said to be in tranquil possession of their lands. Eighteen several times during that period did the O’Mores and O’Conors try by force of arms to recover their independence, each attempt in turn being repressed with great loss of life and fresh confiscation of property. Of those estated by Sussex [in the reign of Queen Mary] hardly any remained at the close of the sixteenth century.”

Philipstown seems to have been little more that a fortified garrison until 1600, after which its role as a market centre was slow to develop.. The fort was in ruins in 1600 when Mountjoy visited Leinster he reported the boggy land west of Philipstown was a prosperous territory – “it is incredible in so barbarous a country how well the ground was manured, how orderly their fields were fenced, their towns inhabited, and every highway and path so well beaten”. The 1659 ‘census’ or poll tax return would suggest it had an actual population of only 258 one quarter of whom were English settlers. The name is otherwise unknown.


Phillipstown was put forward by Edmund Spenser, who had been secretary to Lord Grey,  in his View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) as a model for further new towns.  His protaganist Irenius sets out a plan for the creation of new towns which as centres of culture and civility, around existing forts:

“layed forthe and encompassed, in the which I would wishe that theare should inhabitantes of all sortes as merchantes Artificers and husbandmen placed to whom theare shoulde Charters and franchises be graunted . . . so woulde it in shorte space turne those partes to greate Comoditye and bringe er longe to her maiestie much proffitte for those places are so fit for trade and traffick, havinge moste Conveniente outgates by ryvers to the sea and ingates to the richeste partes of the lande that they woule sone be enriched and mightelye enlarged, for the very seatinge of the garrisons by them besides the safetie and assurance which they shall worke vnto them will allsoe drawe thither store of people and trade as I haue sene ensampled at mariburgh and Philipstowne . . .”

Those living at Beggars Bush might not have agreed.


Dialogue of Silvynne and Peregrynne

S.P. 63/203, no. 119

Butlin, R.A., Irish Towns in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, in Butlin, R.A. (ed) The Development of the Irish Town, Croom Helm, London, 1977

Woolway Grenfell, Joanne. “Significant Spaces in Edmund Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland.” Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2/Special Issue 3 (September,1998)

R. Dunlop, Ireland, to the Settlement Of Ulster, in The Cambridge Modern History, ed. Adolphus W. Ward, Volume III. The Wars Of Religion, Chapter XVIII, (Cambridge: Univ. Press.)


Hiram Morgan, CELT

J Kearney, Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society.

Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

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