CONNACHT CONNAUGHT (Anglicised).
The province of western Ireland, lying between Donegal Bay and Galway Bay, with the middle Shannon forming much of its eastern boundary.
Connacht was one of the early Kingdoms of Ireland – its name is said to derive from the legendary King Conn, said to have died c.200 A.D. In the last years before the coming of the Normans to the island, Turloch More O’Connor, King of Connacht from 1106, was the last of the great High Kings of Ireland, 1119-56. His son Rory was the last High King of Ireland, and died in obscurity in 1198.
The O’Connors held on to Connacht for some time, but came under pressure from the Normans led by the de Burgh family, and the Kingdom was finally brought down in 1230. Though the O’Connors kept Roscommon and the royal title, Richard de Burgh was Lord of Connaught.
Connacht came to be regarded as a county, comprising the present counties of Galway, Mayo and part of Sligo. The O’Connor territory consisted of Roscommon and part of Sligo, while on the northeastern fringes of Connacht was the old sub-Kingdom of Bréifne.
Richard de Burgh’s direct line ended with the last Earl of Ulster (created in 1265), who died in 1333, and his daughter, whose eventual heir became King Edward IV in 1461. The lordship had for long been entirely nominal, as English power receded, partly because the English Kings and many of the nobility were immersed in pursuing their ambitions in France, partly because of a Gaelic resurgence.
A number of the Anglo-Norman families who survived became gaelicised, among them cadet descendants of the de Burgh family, the Burkes and Bourkes. They remained strong in Connacht, and the head of the more southern branch became Earl of Clanricarde in 1543, as part of the policy of reconciling the loss of princely independence with aristocratic titles.
In the mid-16th century English control of Connacht was reasserted. At first it was treated as a very large county, but in the late 1560s and 1570s it was shired to form the counties of Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim (the western half of Bréifne; the east went to Ulster as Co. Cavan).
A provincial council was established in Connaught in 1569, with a President at its head, rather like the Councils for Wales and the North in the English Kingdom.
The county of Clare, formerly the north Munster Kingdom of Thomond, came under the Council and the President of Connaught, thus bringing the province to the estuary of the Shannon. With the restoration in 1660 the Presidency of Connaught was revived, but it became a sinecure, and was abolished in 1672. Since then the province has had traditional rather than administrative significance, and Clare has reverted to Munster.
Connacht formed the ecclesiastical province of Tuam. In the Church of Ireland that province was merged with Armagh in 1839, but in the Roman Catholic Church it remains separate.