15 August 1249: The 1st Battle of Athenry/Ath an Ri was fought on this day. Ath an Ri had existed as a minor settlement prior to the foundation of a castle there by the de Bermingham family in 1241. It was at the time little more than a forward military base for English colonisation of southern Connacht. The King of Connacht, one Felim O’Connor, was basically a vassal of the English King Henry III. His position was constantly being undermined and he ruled of a shrunken rump of the Province that his ancestors had held sway over in times past.
His son Aodh realised that to do nothing in the face of English expansion was merely a way for the great dynasty of the O’Connors to slide out of history. Aodh attacked a column of the English on their way to Sligo and cut off and destroyed the advance guard. But his actions while demonstrating his ardour were not enough to make the intruders back off. Indeed they sought revenge. His father then bolted to the O’Neills of the North and sought refuge there from English wrath. The English then marched into Connacht and started to burn and plunder. They set up one Turlough O’Connor as king in Felim’s place. Turlough’s kin though were no more inclined to await events either and on Lady Day 1249 they arrived before the small town of Athenry and offered battle to the garrison.
An army was led by the Roydamnas heirs presumptive of Connaught, namely, Turlough and Hugh, two sons of Hugh, the son of Cathal Crovderg, to Athenry, on Lady Day in mid-autumn, to burn and plunder it. The sheriff of Connaught was in the town before them, with a great number of the English. The English demanded a truce for that day from the sons of the King of Connaught, in honour of the Blessed virgin Mary, it being her festival day; but this they did not obtain from them; and although Turlough forbade his troops to assault the town, the chiefs of the army would not consent, but determined to make the attack in spite of him.
When Jordan and the English saw this, they marched out of the town, armed and clad in mail, against the Irish army. The youths of the latter army, on seeing them drawn up in battle array, were seized with fear and dismay, so that they were routed; and this was through the miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on whose festival they had refused to grant the truce demanded from them. Of their chiefs were here killed Hugh, son of Hugh O'Conor; Dermot Roe, son of Cormac O'Melaghlin, the two sons of O'Kelly; Brian an Doire, the son of Manus; Carragh Inshiubhail, son of Niall O'Conor; Boethius Mac Egan; the two sons of Loughlin O'Conor; Donnell, son of Cormac Mac Dermot; Finnanach Mac Branan; Cumumhan Mac Cassarly, and others besides.
Annals of the Four Masters
But the battle settled nothing other than to weaken Turlough further. The following year King Felim returned from the North with a large host, drove the now weakened and discredited Turlough out and resumed his place as King of Connacht. The English again recognised him and he remained upon his somewhat unstable perch until he died in 1266 to be succeeded by his more warlike son Aodh.