Composition of Connacht

The Composition of Connacht, or Composition of Connaught and Thomond, was a 1585 agreement between, on the one hand, the Gaelic and Gaelicised chiefs of Connacht and Thomond and, on the other hand, the English Dublin Castle administration of the Kingdom of Ireland, which replaced the multiple existing levies with a single tax on land holdings. The Composition was a form of surrender and regrant, a part of the Tudor reconquest of Ireland. The English leaders were Sir John Perrot, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, and Sir Richard Bingham, as Governor of the Presidency of Connacht.

Connacht was made a Presidency in 1569 and divided into counties afterwards, but the county administration did not function efficiently until the Composition. In 1577, Lord Deputy Henry Sidney instigated a first Composition, which collapsed when President Nicholas Malby died. Under the 1585 Composition, the "countries" (cantreds or trícha céts) of the chiefs became baronies of the counties. The counties affected by the composition included Clare, which, under the name Thomond, was part of the Presidency of Connaught from 1569 until about 1600.[n 1]


Prior to the composition, a landholder was liable to pay various charges: to the English a cess to cover the cost of the garrisons; and to the Gaelic chief coyne and livery for his private army, and "cuttings" and "coshery" for his household. These were to be replaced with a fixed annual rent of 10 shillings per quarter[n 2] of inhabited land payable to the Presidency, plus a variable Composition rent payable to the local chief. Some lands, termed "freedoms", were exempt from Composition rent.


The Composition book recorded the names of the holders of many quarters, together with the amount of rent to which they would be liable. Later generations assumed that this amounted to a proof of title to the land for the heirs of those named. This assumption was denied in the 1630s by Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford. Following the Civil wars of the 1640s, land in Connacht was again reassigned as part of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.


The following people were either members of the Commission, signatories of the composition, or both:

Name Role Commissioner? Signatory?
Richard Bingham Chief Commissioner; Governor of Connacht Y
Edward Waterhouse Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland Y
Nicholas White Master of the Rolls in Ireland Y
Charles Calthorpe Attorney-General for Ireland Y
Thomas Lestrange MP for County Galway Y
Thomas Dillon Chief Justice of Connacht Y
Gerald Comerford Attorney-general of Connacht Y
William Ó Mullally Archbishop of Tuam Y Y
Stephen Kirwan Bishop of Clonfert Y
John Lynch Bishop of Elphin Y
Owen O'Connor Bishop-elect of Killala[n 3] Y
Eugene O'Hart Bishop of Achonry Y
Francis Barkley Provost-Marshal of Connaught Y
Nicholas Fitz Symons Alderman on Dublin Corporation Y
Thomas Butler Earl of Ormond Y
Ulick Burke Earl of Clanricarde Y Y
Edmond de Bermingham Baron Athenry Y
Sir Tirrelagh O'Brien Seneschal of Corcomroe and Burren[3] Y
Donell O'Connor Sligo O'Connor Sligo Y Y
Brian O'Rourke Lord of West Breifne Y
Risdeárd Bourke Mac William Íochtar Y Y
Murrough na dTuadh Ó Flaithbheartaigh Chief of Iar Connacht Y Y
John Marbury MP for County Sligo Y
Robert Fowle Barkley's successor as Provost-Marshal of Connaught[4] Y
John Browne Sheriff of County Mayo[5] Y
Donogh O'Brien Earl of Thomond Y
Margaret Cusack Wife of Murrough O'Brien, 4th Baron Inchiquin[n 4] Y


  1. ^ About 1600 Clare was removed from the presidency of Connaught and made a presidency in its own right under the Earl of Thomond. When Henry O'Brien, 5th Earl of Thomond died in 1639, Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford decreed Clare should return to the presidency of Munster, but the Wars of the Three Kingdoms delayed this until the Restoration.[1]
  2. ^ A quarter, notionally 120 Irish acres, varied in size depending on land quality, and usually approximated the townlands standardised in the 19th century.[2]
  3. ^ O'Connor was Dean of Achonry and described as "bishop-elect of Killala". Until he was formally appointed in 1591, the see of Killala was technically vacant.
  4. ^ Margaret Cusack is described as having signed "in the name of the young Baron of Inchequin, her son"; in fact, her husband was still living, while their son Dermod was not born until 1594.



  • "581: Composition for Cesse in Connaught.". Calendar of the Carew manuscripts, preserved in the archi-episcopal library at Lambeth. Vol. 2. Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer. 1867. pp. 405–6.
  • O'Flaherty, Roderic; Hardiman, James. "Appendix I". A Chorographical Description of West Or H-Iar Connaught. Dublin. pp. 299–362.
  • Freeman, Alexander Martin, ed. (1936). The Compossicion booke of Conought. Dublin: Stationery Office for the Irish Manuscripts Commission. OCLC 4742845.
  • Hayes-McCoy, Gerard Anthony, ed. (1942). The Compossicion booke of Conought; Index. Dublin: Stationery Office for the Irish Manuscripts Commission. OCLC 65986673.


  1. ^ Falkiner, Caesar Litton (29 November 1902). "The Counties of Ireland: An Historical Sketch of Their Origin, Constitution, and Gradual Delimitation". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C. 24: 184–5. JSTOR 25502712.
  2. ^ Mac Mahon, Michael. "Land Measures; Surveys and Sources". Naming the Land: Reflections on Co.Clare Place-Names. Clare County Library. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  3. ^ White, Patrick (1893). History of Clare and the Dalcassian clans of Tipperary, Limerick, and Galway. Dublin: M. H. Gill. pp. 390–391.
  4. ^ O'Sullivan, M. D. (1938). "Barnabe Googe: Provost-Marshal of Connaught 1582–1585". Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. 18 (1/2): 38, note ‖. ISSN 0332-415X. JSTOR 25535183.
  5. ^ Hawkins, Richard. "Browne, John". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 7 December 2021.