The slight notices of Ptolemy respecting the interior of Ireland lead to the inference that this county was inhabited by the Brigantes; but Whitaker asserts that the Scoti were the first settlers in it. Afterwards it was divided into Leix, which comprehended all that part of the county contained within the river Barrow to the north and east, the Nore to the south, and the Slieve-Bloom mountains to the west; and Ossory, which included the remainder. So early as the middle of the third century the latter of these divisions, with parts of the adjoining counties, was ranked as a kingdom, and annexed by Conary, King of Ireland, to his native dominion of Munster, instead of being, as formerly, attached to Leinster. Subsequent passages of history prove it to have been a district of considerable importance. When Malachy was forming a confederacy of all the native princes against the Danes, the king of Ossory was specially required to conclude a peace with the people of the northern half of the island, in order that all should be at liberty to act against the common enemy; and in the time of Cormac Mac Culinan he had the command of the first division of that monarch's army in his unjust and unfortunate invasion of Leinster, and fell in the battle of Maghailbe, in which Cormac himself was slain. His dominions were afterwards disposed of by Flan, King of Ireland. Both Leix and Ossory were visited by St. Patrick in his peregrinations through the island to establish the Christian religion. In the war waged by Roderic O'Conor, King of Ireland, against Dermod Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, which led to the invasion under Strongbow, the king of Ossory was one of the princes who were specially summoned by the former of those potentates. The district was then subject to the Mac Gillypatricks or Fitzpatricks, who acted with so much vigour against Mac Murrough that, when the English had partially established themselves in the country, Mac Murrough prevailed on them to join him in an invasion of Ossory, which they ravaged, notwithstanding the gallant resistance made by Donald Fitzpatrick, then king. Though defeated, this toparch persevered in his determination not to treat with Mac Murrough, and was again defeated and forced to seek refuge in Tipperary. He afterwards formed an alliance with Maurice Prendergast, who, upon some offence received from the king of Leinster, had quitted the service of that monarch, and both invaded the neighbouring territory of Leix, which they ravaged with little opposition, until O'More, then dynast of it, was compelled to apply to Mac Murrough, by whom, aided by the English, he was quickly reinstated. Prendergast and Donald subsequently quarrelled, and the former, after skilfully extricating himself from an ambuscade laid for him by the other, retired with his followers in safety into Wales. Donald, though twice defeated, was not subdued. The position of his territory on the confines of Munster and Leinster afforded him opportunities of intercepting the communications between Waterford and Dublin, of which he availed himself so effectually, that a league was formed against him by Strongbow (who on Dermod's death succeeded to the kingdom of Leinster) and O'Brien, King of Limerick. But the appeal to arms was prevented by a treaty, in effecting which Maurice Prendergast, who had returned to Ireland, rendered his old ally good service. From this time Donald continued faithfully attached to his new friends. His territory was the place of rendezvous for their army when it was preparing to march against Donald O'Brien, King of Limerick, who had now declared against the English; and he proved his adherence still further by guiding the army through the woods till it encamped before Limerick. At this time the whole of the district now forming the Queen's county was known by the name of Glenmaliere and Leix: the latter division was made a county palatine; and on the division of the immense possessions of William, Earl Marshal, between his five daughters, it was allotted to the youngest, who had married William de Braosa, lord of Brecknock. Their daughter Maud married Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, and from this connection the imperial house of Austria, and the royal families of Great Britain, France, Prussia, Denmark, Holland, Sardinia, and Saxony, derive their descent. Mortimer preferring to reside on his English estates, employed one of the O'Mores to defend and manage his Irish property, who, within twenty years after, became so powerful that he held it as his own, and became one of the most turbulent opponents of the English settlers in that part of the pale. So fully was his authority recognised as lord of the district, that he was summoned by the English government to oppose Bruce and the Scotch. For two centuries after, the district was the seat of an almost incessant war between the O'Mores and the English; which was carried on without any occurrence of much historical importance on either side. During the same period the Mac Gillypatricks, or Fitzpatricks, maintained their independence in Ossory, but generally adhered to the English. In the 5th year of Mary, both districts were reduced to shire ground, and incorporated under the name of the Queen's county, the assize town being named Maryborough, in honour of the Queen. But this new arrangement did not immediately tranquillize the country. At the close of the reign of Elizabeth, Owen Mac Rory O'More was so powerful that Sir George Carew, president of Munster, accompanied by the Earls of Thomond and Ormonde, was induced to hold a parley with him, to bring him back to his allegiance, in which they were entrapped in an ambuscade, and the Earl of Ormonde made prisoner, and detained till he paid a ransom of £8000. The daring insurgent himself was shortly after killed in a skirmish with Lord Mountjoy; and the followers of the O'Mores were driven into the counties of Cork and Kerry, then nearly depopulated. At this juncture many English families, to whom grants of the lands thus forfeited had been made, settled here. Seven of them, whose founders were most influential in securing the new settlements, acquired the names of the Seven Tribes. The families so called were those of Cosby, Barrington, Hartpole, Bowen, Ruish, Hetherington, and Hovenden or Ovington, of whom the first only has retained its possessions; that of Barrington, still extant, has alienated its property; all the rest are extinct in the male line. In the reign of Chas. I., large grants of land were made to Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, now forming the extensive manor of Villiers, which has descended through the female line to the present Duke. In the same reign, and during the unsettled period of the Commonwealth, the families of Pigott, Coote, Prior, Parnell, and Pole settled here: those of Vesey, Dawson, Staples, Burrowes, and Johnson, obtained lands in it after the Revolution. The county had its full share of the calamities of the civil war in 1641, at the beginning of which the insurgents secured Maryborough, Dunamase and other places of strength. The Earl of Ormonde arriving at Athy from Dublin, detached parties for their relief; on his retreat the whole of the county submitted to General Preston, but was forced again to submit to the royal arms. In 1646, Owen Roe O'Nial seized upon several forts in it. In 1650, Cromwell's forces entered the county and met with much resistance: in the course of the struggle most of its fortresses were dismantled by his generals, Hewson and Reynolds. During the Revolution of 1688, a signal victory was gained by the troops of William at a noted togher or bog-pass near Cappard, where they defeated a much superior number of the Irish. After the termination of the war, the country was so harassed by the ravages of the rapparees that the resident gentlemen applied to King William to have a force of infantry and dragoons quartered in it, and specified the castle of Lea as one of the principal stations for their reception.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis