Thomas de Clare, Lord of Thomond

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Thomas de Clare
1st Lord of Thomond
1st Lord of Bunratty Castle
De Clare.png
Coat of Arms Associated with House de Clare
Lord of Thomond1276 to 1287
PredecessorNew Creation
SuccessorGilbert de Clare (Son)
Spouse(s)Juliana FitzGerald
FamilyHouse de Clare
FatherRichard de Clare
MotherMaud de Lacy
Tonbridge Castle, Tonbridge, Kent, Kingdom of England
Died29 August 1287
Lordship of Thomond, Munster, Ireland
OccupationIrish Nobility

Thomas de Clare, 1st Lord of Thomond (1245-1287) was the second eldest son of Richard de Clare, 5th Earl of Hertford (1222–1262) by his wife Maud de Lacy (1223-1289). He married Juliana Fitz Maurice, daughter of Maurice Fitz Gerald, 3rd Lord of Offaly (1238–1277) by his wife Maud de Prendergast (1243-1273) and had four children by that marriage. While his older brother, Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford (1243-1295) was busy defending his Lordships in the face of Welsh aggression, Thomas de Clare was engaged in a similar struggle to maintain his Lands on the other side of the Irish Sea. During King Edward I of England's attempt to subdue Ireland, the King granted Thomas de Clare the Kingdom of Thomond styled as the Lordship of Thomond on 26 January 1276 and Thomas de Clare would spend the next eight years attempting to conquer it from the O'Brien dynasty, who were titled the Kings of Thomond.


Thomas was born about 1245 at Tonbridge Castle, Kent, Kindgom of England. We say presumed because there is no mention of his birth in the Tewskesbury the manuscript pages for 1244-1246 are mysteriously missing. .[1] Little is known of his early life besides he was intended for a career in the Church and as such he was educated at Oxford University from 1257-1259, but this was not his metier, and he would soon following in the footsteps of his older brother known as The Red Earl. He was knighted with his brother Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford before the Battle of Lewes in 1264 and a few years later he and his brother Bogo de Clare received gifts from King Henry III when they were studying at Oxford from 1257–59.[2]

Thomas was a close friend and intimate advisor of Prince Edward of England, who would in 1272 accede to the throne as King Edward I. Together they took part in the Ninth Crusade. He held many important posts such as Governor of Colchester Castle (1266) and Governor of The City of London (1273). He was made Commander of the English forces in Munster, Ireland and created Lord of Inchiquin and Youghal. On 26 January 1276, he was granted the entire lordship of Thomond by King Edward. That same year, he jointly commanded a Norman army along with Geoffrey de Geneville, 1st Baron Geneville against the Irish clans of County Wicklow. They were joined by a contingent of men from Connacht led by his father-in-law Maurice FitzGerald, 3rd Lord of Offaly. Thomas and Justiciar de Geneville's forces attacked the Irish at Glenmalure, but they were soundly defeated and suffered severe losses.[3]

Civil War in Thomond

Civil war raged in Thomond between the rival factions of the O'Brien dynasty. In 1276, Brian Ruad, the deposed King of Thomond appealed to Thomas for support to help him regain his kingdom from his great-nephew Toirrdelbach MacTaidg O' Brien, who had usurped the throne. In return for his aid, Brian Ruad promised that Thomas would be allowed to colonise all the land between Athsollus in Quin and Limerick.[4] Together, Thomas and Brian Ruad expelled Toirrdelbach MacTaidg O'Brien and recaptured Clonroad which the latter had taken from Brian Ruad. O'Brien escaped to Galway where he elicited the help of his cousin William de Burgh, and in 1277 together with the assistance from clans, MacNamara and O'Dea they defeated the combined forces of Thomas and Brian Ruad. The latter fled to Bunratty Castle, but Thomas had his former ally hanged and drawn for treason.[5] The civil war continued for the next seven years, with Thomas supporting Brian Ruad's son Donnchad against Toirrdelbach; however, following the drowning death of Donnchad in 1284, Toirrdelbach emerged the victor. Thereafter until his death in 1306, Toirrdelbach MacTaidg O'Brien ruled as undisputed King of Thomond and Thomas had no choice but to accommodate him. O'Brien rented part of Bunratty Manor at £121 per annum.[5] In 1280, Thomas embarked on a castle-building project at Quin, but was disrupted in his efforts by the O'Brien Princes and MacNamaras. Thomas also reconstructed Bunratty Castle in stone, replacing the earlier wooden building.

Bunratty Castle

Thomas de Clare, a descendant of Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke, built the first stone structure on the site of Bunratty Castle. This castle was occupied from 1278 to 1318 and consisted of a large single stone tower with lime white walls. It stood close to the river, on or near the site of the present Bunratty Castle. In the late 13th century, Bunrattty had about 1,000 inhabitants. The castle was attacked several times by the O'Briens Princes of Thomond (or O'Brians) and their allies. In 1284, while Thomas de Clare was away in England, the site was captured and destroyed. On his return, in 1287, Thomas de Clare had the site rebuilt and a 140-yard (130 m) long fosse built around it. The castle was again attacked but it did not fall until 1318. In that year a major battle was fought at Dysert O'Dea as part of the Irish Bruce Wars, in which his son Richard de Clare was killed. Maud de Clare was now the 5th Lady of Bunratty Castle but on learning about the death of her older brother, she fled from Bunratty to Limerick after burning the castle and town. The de Clare family never returned to the area and the remains of the castle eventually collapsed. As the stones were likely used for other local construction works, no traces remain of this second castle.

In the 14th century, Limerick was an important port for the English Crown. To guard access via the Shannon estuary against attacks from the Irish, the site was once again occupied. In 1353, Sir Thomas de Rokeby, Knight led an English army to conquer the MacNamaras and MacCarthys. A new castle (the third) was built at Bunratty, but once again, its exact location is unknown. Local tradition holds that it stood at the site where the Bunratty Castle Hotel was later constructed. However, the new structure was hardly finished before being captured by the Irish. Documents show that in 1355, King Edward III of England released Thomas Fitzjohn Fitzmaurice from prison in Limerick. He had been charged with letting the castle fall into the hands of Murtough O’Brien, Prince of Thomond whilst serving as a Governor of Bunratty.

Marriage and children

In February 1275, he married Juliana FitzGerald, the 12-year-old daughter of Maurice FitzGerald, 3rd Lord of Offaly and Maud de Prendergast.[6] During their marriage, Thomas and Juliana lived in Ireland and in England. For instance, on 5 May 1284 the King notified his bailiffs and lieges in Ireland of the attorneys who were to act in Ireland on behalf of the couple as they were then in England. This arrangement was to continue for three years, except when Thomas and Juliana went to Ireland.[7]

Thomas and Juliana had four children:


A mid-18th century compilation known as the Dublin Annals claims that Thomas de Clare was killed in battle against Turlough son of Teige and others, but this notion was long ago dismissed by Goddard Orpen in his detailed history of the Normans in Ireland. It was only mentioned in one unreliable record, and all other sources merely refer to his passing, not being killed in battle. It was probably supporters of Turlough that spread the rumors that Thomas de Clare was vanquished by his enemy in such as way. However, none of the earlier records of his death indicate that Thomas de Clare met a violent end. He, in fact, died of natural causes at the age of 42 which, even by medieval standards, was a young death.[8] Thomas wde Clare as succeeded as Lord of Thomond by his eldest son, Gilbert who was six years old. His widow Juliana, aged 22 years, would go on to marry two more times.


  1. G. E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage
  2. Michael Altschul (1965). A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares, 1217–1314. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. p. 177.
  3. Annette J. Otway-Ruthven, A History of Medieval Ireland, pp.201–202, Google Books, retrieved on 12-11-09
  4. Joe Power, Normans in Thomond, retrieved 12-11-09
  5. 5.0 5.1 Power, Normans in Thomond
  6. Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1285–1292, No. 1142 summarises a Final concord made on 18 February 1274/5 in which Maurice Fitz Maurice (which was the patronymic version of the name of Juliana's father) agreed that specified property would come to Thomas and his heirs begotten of Juliana his wife if Maurice died without male heirs of his own. This arrangement appears to have been Thomas and Juliana's marriage settlement.
  7. Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1252–1284, No. 2210.
  8. Goddard Henry Orpin, Ireland Under The Normans, Vol. 4, pp. 99–104.