A Popular History of Ireland


The result of Dermid McMurrogh’s interview with Henry II., in Aquitaine, was a royal letter, addressed to all his subjects, authorizing such of them as would, to enlist in the service of the Irish Prince. Armed alone with this, the expelled adulterer, chafing for restoration and revenge, retraced his course to England. He was at this time some years beyond three score, but the snows of age had no effect in cooling his impetuous blood; his stature is described as almost gigantic; his voice loud and harsh; his features stern and terrible. His cruel and criminal character we already know. Yet it is but just here to recall that much of the horror and odium which has accumulated on his memory is posthumous and retrospective. Some of his cotemporaries were no better in their private lives than he was; but then they had no part in bringing in the Normans. Talents both for peace and war he certainly had, and there was still a feeling of attachment, or at least of regret, cherished towards him among the people of his patrimony.

Dermid proceeded at once to seek the help he so sorely needed, upon the marches of Chester, in the city of Bristol, and at the court of the Prince of North Wales. At Bristol he caused King Henry’s letter to be publicly read, and each reading was accompanied by ample promises of land and recompense to those disposed to join in the expedition—but all in vain. From Bristol he proceeded to make the usual pilgrimage to the shrine of St. David, the Apostle of Wales, and then he visited the Court of Griffith ap Rhys, Prince of North Wales, whose family ties formed a true Welsh triad among the Normans, the Irish, and the Welsh. He was the nephew of the celebrated Nest or Nesta, the Helen of the Welsh, whose blood flowed in the veins of almost all the first Norman adventurers in Ireland, and whose story is too intimately interwoven with the origin of many of the highest names of the Norman-Irish to be left untold.

She was, in her day, the loveliest woman of Cambria, and perhaps of Britain, but the fabled mantle of Tregau, which, according to her own mythology, will fit none but the chaste, had not rested on the white shoulders of Nesta, the daughter of Rhys ap Tudor. Her girlish beauty had attracted the notice of Henry I., to whom she bore Robert Fitz-Roy and Henry Fitz-Henry, the former the famous Earl of Gloucester, and the latter the father of two of Strongbow’s most noted companions. Afterwards, by consent of her royal paramour, she married Gerald, constable of Pembroke, by whom she had Maurice Fitzgerald, the common ancestor of the Kildare and Desmond Geraldines. While living with Gerald at Pembroke, Owen, son of Cadogan, Prince of Powis, hearing of her marvellous beauty at a banquet given by his father at the Castle of Aberteivi, came by night to Pembroke, surprised the Castle, and carried off Nesta and her children into Powis. Gerald, however, had escaped, and by the aid of his father-in-law, Rhys, recovered his wife and rebuilt his castle (A.D. 1105). The lady survived this husband, and married a second time, Stephen, constable of Cardigan, by whom she had Robert Fitzstephen, and probably other children. One of her daughters, Angharad, married David de Barri, the father of Giraldus and Robert de Barri; another, named after herself, married Bernard of Newmarch, and became the father of the Fitz-Bernard, who accompanied Henry II. In the second and third generations this fruitful Cambrian vine, grafted on the Norman stock, had branched out into the great families of the Carews, Gerards, Fitzwilliams, and Fitzroys, of England and Wales, and the Geraldines, Graces, Fitz-Henries, and Fitz-Maurices, of Ireland. These names will show how entirely the expeditions of 1169 and 1170 were joint-stock undertakings with most of the adventurers; Cambria, not England, sent them forth; it was a family compact; they were brothers in blood as well as in arms, those comely and unscrupulous sons, nephews, and grand-sons of Nesta!

When the Leinster King reached the residence of Griffith ap Rhys, near St. David’s, he found that for some personal or political cause he held in prison his near kinsman, Robert, son of Stephen, who had the reputation of being a brave and capable knight. Dermid obtained the release of Robert, on condition of his embarking in the Irish enterprise, and he found in him an active recruiting agent, alike among Welsh, Flemings, and Normans. Through him Maurice Fitzgerald, the de Barris, and Fitz-Henrys, and their dependents, were soon enlisted in the adventure. The son of Griffith ap Rhys, who may be mentioned along with these knights, his kinsmen, and whom the Irish annalists consider the most important person of the first expedition—their pillar of battle—also resolved to accompany them, with such forces as he could enlist.

But a still more important ally waited to treat with Dermid, on his return to Bristol. This was Richard de Clare, called variously from his castles or his county, Earl of Strigul and Chepstow, or Earl of Pembroke. From the strength of his arms he was nicknamed Strongbow, and in our Annals he is usually called Earl Richard, by which title we prefer hereafter to distinguish him. His father, Gilbert de Clare, was descended from Richard of Normandy, and stood no farther removed in degree from that Duke than the reigning Prince. For nearly forty years under Henry I. and during the stormy reign of King Stephen, he had been Governor of Pembroke, and like all the great Barons played his game chiefly to his own advantage. His castle at Chepstow was one of the strongest in the west, and the power he bequeathed to his able and ambitious son excited the apprehensions of the astute and suspicious Henry II. Fourteen years of this King’s reign had passed away, and Earl Richard had received no great employments, no new grants of land, no personal favours from his Sovereign. He was now a widower, past middle age, condemned to a life of inaction such as no true Norman could long endure. Arrived at Bristol, he read the letter of Henry, and heard from Dermid the story of his expulsion and the grounds on which he vested his hopes of restoration. A consultation ensued, at which it is probable the sons of Nesta assisted, as it was there agreed that the town of Wexford, with two cantreds of land adjoining it, should be given to them. The pay of the archers and men-at-arms, and the duration of their service, were also determined. Large grants of land were guaranteed to all adventurers of knightly rank, and Earl Richard was to marry the King’s daughter and succeed him in the sovereignty of Leinster.

Having by such lavish promises enlisted this powerful Earl and those adventurous knights, Dermid resolved to pass over in person with such followers as were already equipped, in order to rally the remnant of his adherents. The Irish Annals enter this return under the year 1167, within twelvemonths or thereabouts from the time of his banishment; by their account he came back, accompanied by a fleet of strangers whom they called Flemings, and who were probably hired soldiers of that race, then easily to be met with in Wales. The Welsh Prince already mentioned seems to have accompanied him personally, as he fell by his side in a skirmish the following year. Whatever this force may have amounted to, they landed at Glascarrig point, and wintered—probably spent the Christmas—at Ferns. The more generally received account of Dermid’s landing alone, and disguised, and secretly preparing his plans, under shelter of the Austin Friary at Ferns, must be rejected, if we are still to follow those trite but trustworthy guides, whom we have so many reasons to confide in. The details differ in many very important particulars from those usually received, as we shall endeavour to make clear in a few words.

Not only do they bring Dermid over with a fleet of Flemings, of whom the natives made “small account,” but dating that event before the expiration of the year 1167, at least sixteen months must have elapsed between the return of the outlaw and the arrival of the Normans. By allowing two years instead of one for the duration of his banishment, the apparent difficulty as to time would be obviated, for his return and Fitzstephen’s arrival would follow upon each other in the spring and winter of the same year. The difficulty, however, is more apparent than real. A year sufficed for the journey to Aquitaine and the Welsh negotiations. Another year seems to have been devoted with equal art and success to resuscitating a native Leinster party favourable to his restoration. For it is evident from our Annals that when Dermid showed himself to the people after his return, it was simply to claim his patrimony—Hy-Kinsellagh—and not to dispute the Kingdom of Leinster with the actual ruler, Murrogh na Gael. By this pretended moderation and humility, he disarmed hostility and lulled suspicion asleep. Roderick and O’Ruarc did indeed muster a host against him, and some of their cavalry and Kernes skirmished with the troops in his service at Kellistown, in Carlow, when six were killed on one side and twenty-five on the other, including the Welsh Prince already mentioned; afterwards Dermid emerged from his fastnesses, and entering the camp of O’Conor, gave him seven hostages for the ten cantreds of his patrimony; and to O’Ruarc he gave “one hundred ounces of gold for his eineach”—that is, as damages for his criminal conversation with Devorgoil. During the remainder of the year 1168, Dermid was left to enjoy unmolested the moderate territory which he claimed, while King Roderick was engaged in enforcing his claims on the North and South, founding lectorships at Armagh, and partitioning Meath between his inseparable colleague, O’Ruarc, and himself. He celebrated, in the midst of an immense multitude, the ancient national games at Tailtin, he held an assembly at Tara, and distributed magnificent gifts to his suffragans. Roderick might have spent the festival of Christmas, 1168, or of Easter, 1169, in the full assurance that his power was firmly established, and that a long succession of peaceful days were about to dawn upon Erin. But he was destined to be soon and sadly undeceived.

In the month of May, a little fleet of Welsh vessels, filled with armed men, approached the Irish shore, and Robert Fitzstephen ran into a creek of the bay of Bannow, called by the adventurers, from the names of two of their ships, Bag-and-Bun. Fitzstephen had with him thirty knights, sixty esquires, and three hundred footmen. The next day he was joined by Maurice de Prendergast, a Welsh gentleman, with ten knights and sixty archers. After landing they reconnoitred cautiously, but saw neither ally nor enemy—the immediate coast seemed entirely deserted. Their messenger despatched to Dermid, then probably at Ferns, in the northern extremity of the county, must have been absent several anxious days, when, much to their relief, he returned with Donald, the son of Dermid, at the head of 500 horsemen. Uniting their troops, Donald and Fitzstephen set out for Wexford, about a day’s march distant, and the principal town in that angle of the island which points towards Wales. The tradition of the neighbourhood says they were assailed upon the way by a party of the native population, who were defeated and dispersed. Within ten days or a fortnight of their landing, they were drawn up within sight of the walls of Wexford, where they were joined by Dermid, who obviously did not come unattended to such a meeting. What additional force he may have brought up is nowhere indicated; that he was not without followers or mercenaries, we know from the mention of the Flemings in his service, and the action of Kellistown in the previous year. The force that had marched from Bannow consisted, as we have seen, of 500 Irish horse under his son Donald, surnamed Kavanagh; 30 knights, 60 esquires, and 300 men-at-arms under Fitzstephen; 10 knights and 60 archers under Prendergast; in all, nobles or servitors, not exceeding 1,000 men. The town, a place of considerable strength, could muster 2,000 men capable of bearing arms, nor is it discreditable to its Dano-Irish artizans and seamen that they could boast no captain equal to Fitzstephen or Donald Kavanagh. What a town multitude could do they did. They burned down an exposed suburb, closed their gates, and manned their walls. The first assault was repulsed with some loss on the part of the assailants, and the night past in expectation of a similar conflict on the morrow. In the early morning the townsmen could discern that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was being offered in the camp of their besiegers as a preparative for the dangers of the day. Within the walls, however, the clergy exercised all their influence to spare the effusion of blood, and to bring about an accommodation. Two Bishops who were in the town especially advised a surrender on honourable terms, and their advice was taken. Four of the principal citizens were deputed to Dermid, and Wexford was yielded on condition of its rights and privileges, hitherto existing, being respected. The cantreds immediately adjoining the town on the north and east were conferred on Fitzstephen according to the treaty made at Bristol, and he at once commenced the erection of a fortress on the rock of Carrig, at the narrowest pass on the river Slaney. Strongbow’s uncle, Herve, was endowed with two other cantreds, to the south of the town, now known as the baronies of Forth and Bargey, where the descendants of the Welsh and Flemish settlers then planted are still to be found in the industrious and sturdy population, known as Flemings, Furlongs, Waddings, Prendergasts, Barrys, and Walshes. Side by side with them now dwell in peace the Kavanaghs, Murphys, Conors, and Breens, whose ancestors so long and so fiercely disputed the intrusion of these strangers amongst them.

With some increase of force derived from the defenders of Wexford, Dermid, at the head of 3000 men, including all the Normans, marched into the adjoining territory of Ossory, to chastise its chief, Donogh Fitzpatrick, one of his old enemies. This campaign appears to have consumed the greater part of the summer of the year, and ended with the submission of Ossory, after a brave but unskilful resistance. The tidings of what was done at Wexford and in Ossory had, however, roused the apprehension of the monarch Roderick, who appointed a day for a national muster “of the Irish” at the Hill of Tara. Thither repaired accordingly the monarch himself, the lords of Meath, Oriel, Ulidia, Breffni, and the chiefs of the farther north. With this host they proceeded to Dublin, which they found as yet in no immediate danger of attack; and whether on this pretext or some other, the Ulster chiefs returned to their homes, leaving Roderick to pursue, with the aid of Meath and Breffni only, the footsteps of McMurrogh. The latter had fallen back upon Ferns, and had, under the skilful directions of Fitzstephen, strengthened the naturally difficult approaches to that ancient capital, by digging artificial pits, by felling trees, and other devices of Norman strategy. The season, too, must have been drawing nearly to a close, and the same amiable desire to prevent the shedding of Christian blood, which characterized all the clergy of this age, again subserved the unworthy purposes of the traitor and invader. Roderick, after a vain endeavour to detach Fitzstephen from Dermid and to induce him to quit the country, agreed to a treaty with the Leinster King, by which the latter acknowledged his supremacy as monarch, under the ancient conditions, for the fulfilment of which he surrendered to him his son Conor as hostage. By a secret and separate agreement Dermid bound himself to admit no more of the Normans into his service—an engagement which he kept as he did all others, whether of a public or a private nature. After the usual exchange of stipends and tributes, Roderick returned to his home in the west; and thus, with the treaty of Ferns, ended the comparatively unimportant but significant campaign of the year 1169.


This would seem to be the proper place to point out the peculiarities in arms, equipment, and tactics, which gave the first Normans those military advantages over the Irish and Dano-Irish, which they had hitherto maintained over the Saxons, Welsh and Scots. In instituting such a comparison, we do not intend to confine it strictly to the age of Strongbow and Dermid; the description will extend to the entire period from the arrival of Fitzstephen to the death of Richard, Earl of Ulster—from 1169 to 1333—a period of five or six generations, which we propose to treat of in the present book. After this Earl’s decease, the Normans and Irish approximated more closely in all their customs, and no longer presented those marked contrasts which existed in their earlier intercourse and conflicts with each other. The armour of the first adventurers, both for man and horse, excited the wonder, the sarcasms, and the fears of the Irish. No such equipments had yet been seen in that country, nor indeed in any other, where the Normans were still strangers. As the Knights advanced on horseback, in their metal coating, they looked more like iron cylinders filled with flesh and blood, than like lithe and limber human combatants. The man-at-arms, whether Knight or Squire, was almost invariably mounted; his war-horse was usually led, while he rode a hackney, to spare the destrier. The body armour was a hauberk of netted iron or steel, to which were joined a hood, sleeves, breeches, hose and sabatons, or shoes, of the same material. Under the hauberk was worn a quilted gambeson of silk or cotton, reaching to the knees; over armour, except when actually engaged, all men of family wore costly coats of satin, velvet, cloth of gold or cloth of silver, emblazoned with their arms. The shields of the thirteenth century were of triangular form, pointed at the bottom; the helmet conical, with or without bars; the beaver, vizor and plate armour, were inventions of a later day. Earls, Dukes, and Princes, wore small crowns upon their helmets; lovers wore the favours of their mistresses; and victors the crests of champions they had overthrown. The ordinary weapons of these cavaliers were sword, lance, and knife; the demi-launce, or light horsemen, were similarly armed; and a force of this class, common in the Irish wars, was composed of mounted cross-bow men, and called from the swift, light hobbies they rode, Hobiler-Archers. Besides many improvements in arms and manual exercise, the Normans perfected the old Roman machines and engines used in sieges. The scorpion was a huge cross-bow, the catapults showered stones to a great distance; the ballista discharged flights of darts and arrows. There were many other varieties of stone-throwing machinery; “the war-wolf” was long the chief of projectile machines, as the ram was of manual forces. The power of a battering-ram of the largest size, worked by a thousand men, has been proven to be equal to a point-blank shot from a thirty-six pounder. There were moveable towers of all sizes and of many names: “the sow” was a variety which continued in use in England and Ireland till the middle of the seventeenth century. The divisions of the cavalry were: first, the Constable’s command, some twenty-five men; next, the Banneret was entitled to unfurl his own colours with consent of the Marshal, and might unite under his pennon one or more constabularies; the Knight led into the field all his retainers who held of him by feudal tenure, and sometimes the retainers of his squires, wards, or valets, and kinsmen. The laws of chivalry were fast shaping themselves into a code complete and coherent in all its parts, when these iron-clad, inventive and invincible masters of the art of war first entered on the invasion of Ireland.

The body of their followers in this enterprise, consisting of Flemish, Welsh, and Cornish archers, may be best described by the arms they carried. The irresistible cross-bow was their main reliance. Its shot was so deadly that the Lateran Council, in 1139, strictly forbade its employment among Christian enemies. It combined with its stock, or bed, wheel, and trigger, almost all the force of the modern musket, and discharged square pieces of iron, leaden balls, or, in scarcity of ammunition, flint stones. The common cross-bow would kill, point blank, at forty or fifty yards distance, and the best improved at fully one hundred yards. The manufacture of these weapons must have been profitable, since their cost was equal, in the relative value of money, to that of the rifle, in our times. In the reign of Edward II. each cross-bow, purchased for the garrison of Sherborne Castle, cost 3 shillings and 8 pence; and every hundred of quarrels—the ammunition just mentioned—1 shilling and 6 pence. Iron, steel, and wood, were the materials used in the manufacture of this weapon.

The long-bow had been introduced into England by the Normans, who are said to have been more indebted to that arm than any other, for their victory at Hastings. To encourage the use of the long-bow many statutes were passed, and so late as the time of the Stuarts, royal commissions were issued for the promotion of this national exercise. Under the early statutes no archer was permitted to practise at any standing mark at less than “eleven score yards distant;” no archer under twenty-four years of age was allowed to shoot twice from the same stand-point; parents and masters were subject to a fine of 6 shillings and 8 pence if they allowed their youth, under the age of seventeen, “to be without a bow and two arrows for one month together;” the walled towns were required to set up their butts, to keep them in repair, and to turn out for target-practice on holidays, and at other convenient times. Aliens residing in England were forbidden the use of this weapon—a jealous precaution showing the great importance attached to its possession. The usual length of the bow—which was made of yew, witch-hazel, ash, or elm—was about six feet; and the arrow, about half that length. Arrows were made of ash, feathered with part of a goose’s wing, and barbed with iron or steel. In the reign of Edward III., a painted bow cost 1 shilling and 6 pence, a white bow, 1 shilling; a sheaf of steel-tipped arrows (24 to the sheaf), 1 shilling and 2 pence, and a sheaf of non accerata (the blunt sort), 1 shilling The range of the long-bow, at its highest perfection, was, as we have seen, “eleven score yards,” more than double that of the ordinary cross-bow. The common sort of both these weapons carried about the same distance—nearly 100 yards.

The natural genius of the Normans for war had been sharpened and perfected by then: campaigns in France and England, but more especially in the first and second Crusades. All that was to be learned of military science in other countries—all that Italian skill, Greek subtlety, or Saracen invention could teach, they knew and combined into one system. Their feudal discipline, moreover, in which the youth who entered the service of a veteran as page, rose in time to the rank of esquire and bachelor-at-arms, and finally won his spurs on some well-contested field, was eminently favourable to the training and proficiency of military talents. Not less remarkable was the skill they displayed in seizing on the strong and commanding points of communication within the country, as we see at this day, from the sites of their old Castles, many of which must have been, before the invention of gunpowder, all but impregnable.

The art of war, if art it could in their case be called, was in a much less forward stage among the Irish in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries than amongst the Normans. Of the science of fortification they perhaps knew no more than they had learned in their long struggle with the Danes and Norwegians. To render roads impassable, to strengthen their islands by stockades, to hold the naturally difficult passes which connect one province or one district with another—these seem to have been their chief ideas of the aid that valour may derive from artificial appliances. The fortresses of which we hear so frequently, during and after the Danish period, and which are erroneously called Danes’-forts, were more numerous than formidable to such enemies as the Normans. Some of these earth-and-stone-works are older than the Milesian invasion, and of Cyclopean style and strength. Those of the Milesians are generally of larger size, contain much more earth, and the internal chambers are of less massive masonry. They are almost invariably of circular form, and the largest remaining specimens are the Giant’s Ring, near Belfast; the fort at Netterville, which measures 300 paces in circumference round the top of the embankment; the Black Rath, on the Boyne, which measures 321 paces round the outer wall of circumvallation; and the King’s Rath, at Tara, upwards of 280 in length. The height of the outer embankment in forts of this size varied from fifteen to twenty feet; this embankment was usually surrounded by a fosse; within the embankment there was a platform, depressed so as to leave a circular parapet above its level. Many of these military raths have been found to contain subterranean chambers and circular winding passages, supposed to be used as granaries and armories. They are accounted capable of containing garrisons of from 200 to 500 men; but many of the fortresses mentioned from age to age in our annals were mere private residences, enclosing within their outer and inner walls space enough for the immediate retainers and domestics of the chief. Although coats of mail are mentioned in manuscripts long anterior to the Norman invasion, the Irish soldiers seem seldom or never to have been completely clothed in armour. Like the northern Berserkers, they prided themselves in fighting, if not naked, in their orange coloured shirts, dyed with saffron. The helmet and the shield were the only defensive articles of dress; nor do they seem to have had trappings for their horses. Their favourite missile weapon was the dart or javelin, and in earlier ages the sling. The spear or lance, the sword, and the sharp, short-handled battle-axe, were their favourite manual weapons. Their power with the battle-axe was prodigious; Giraldus says they sometimes lopped off a horseman’s leg at a single blow, his body falling over on the other side. Their bridle-bits and spurs were of bronze, as were generally their spear heads and short swords. Of siege implements, beyond the torch and the scaling-ladder, they seem to have had no knowledge, and to have desired none. The Dano-Irish alone were accustomed to fortify and defend their towns, on the general principles, which then composed the sum of what was known in Christendom of military engineering. Quick to acquire in almost every department of the art, the native Irish continued till the last obstinately insensible to the absolute necessity of learning how modern fortifications are constructed, defended, and captured; a national infatuation, of which we find melancholy evidence in every recurring native insurrection.

The two divisions of the Irish infantry were the galloglass, or heavily armed foot soldier, called gall, either as a mercenary, or from having been equipped after the Norman method, and the kerne, or light infantry. The horsemen were men of the free tribes, who followed their chief on terms almost of equality, and who, except his immediate retainers, equipped and foraged for themselves. The highest unit of this force was a Cath, or battalion of 3,000 men; but the subdivision of command and the laws which established and maintained discipline have yet to be recovered and explained. The old Spanish “right of insurrection” seems to have been recognized in every chief of a free tribe, and no Hidalgo of old Spain, for real or fancied slight, was ever more ready to turn his horse’s head homeward than were those refractory lords, with whom Roderick O’Conor and his successors, in the front of the national battle, had to contend or to co-operate.


The campaigns of 1168 and 1169 had ended prosperously for Dermid in the treaty of Ferns. By that treaty he had bound himself to bring no more Normans into the country, and to send those already in his service back to their homes. But in the course of the same autumn or winter, in which this agreement was solemnly entered into, he welcomed the arrival at Wexford—of Maurice Fitzgerald —son of the fair Nesta by her first husband—and immediately employed this fresh force, consisting of 10 knights, 30 esquires, and 100 footmen, upon a hosting which harried the open country about Dublin, and induced the alarmed inhabitants to send hostages into his camp, bearing proffers of allegiance and amity. As yet he did not feel in force sufficient to attack the city, for, if he had been, his long cherished vengeance against its inhabitants would not have been postponed till another season.

In the meantime he had written most urgent letters to Earl Richard to hasten his arrival, according to the terms agreed upon at Bristol. That astute and ambitious nobleman had been as impatiently biding his time as Dermid had been his coming. Knowing the jealous sovereign under whom he served, he had gone over to France to obtain Henry’s sanction to the Irish enterprise, but had been answered by the monarch, in oracular phrases, which might mean anything or nothing. Determined, however, to interpret these doubtful words in his own sense, he despatched his vanguard early in the spring of the year 1170, under the command of his uncle Herve and a company of 10 knights and 70 archers, under Raymond, son of William, lord of Carew, elder brother of Maurice Fitzgerald, and grandson of Nesta. In the beginning of May, Raymond, nicknamed le gros, or the Fat, entered Waterford harbour, and landed eight miles below the city, under the rock of Dundonolf, on the east, or Wexford side. Here they rapidly threw up a camp to protect themselves against attack, and to hold the landing place for the convenience of the future expedition. A tumultuous body of natives, amounting, according to the Norman account, to 3,000 men, were soon seen swarming across the Suir to attack the foreigners. They were men of Idrone and Desies, under their chiefs, O’Ryan and O’Phelan, and citizens of Waterford, who now rushed towards the little fortress, entirely unprepared for the long and deadly range of the Welsh and Flemish crossbows. Thrown into confusion by the unexpected discharge, in which every shot from behind the ramparts of turf brought down its man, they wavered and broke; Raymond and Herve then sallied out upon the fugitives, who were fain to escape, as many as could, to the other side of the river, leaving 500 prisoners, including 70 chief citizens of Waterford behind them. These were all inhumanly massacred, according to Giraldus, the eulogist of all the Geraldines, by the order of Herve, contrary to the entreaties of Raymond. Their legs were first violently broken, and they were then hurled down the rocks into the tide. Five hundred men could not well be so captured and put to death by less than an equal number of hands, and we may, therefore, safely set down that number as holding the camp of Dundonolf during the summer months of the year.

Earl Richard had not completed his arrangements until the month of August—so that his uncle and lieutenant had to hold the post they had seized for fully three months, awaiting his arrival in the deepest anxiety. At last, leaving his castle in Pembroke, he marched with his force through North Wales, by way of St. David’s to Milford Haven—”and still as he went he took up all the best chosen and picked men he could get.” At Milford, just as he was about to embark, he received an order from King Henry forbidding the expedition. Wholly disregarding this missive he hastened on board with 200 knights and 1,200 infantry in his company, and on the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 23rd), landed safely under the earthwork of Dundonolf, where he was joyfully received by Raymond at the head of 40 knights, and a corresponding number of men-at-arms. The next day the whole force, under the Earl, “who had all things in readiness” for such an enterprise, proceeded to lay siege to Waterford. Malachy O’Phelan, the brave lord of Desies, forgetting all ancient enmity against his Danish neighbours, had joined the townsmen to assist in the defence. Twice the besieged beat back the assailants, until Raymond perceiving at an angle of the wall the wooden props upon which a house rested, ordered them to be cut away, on which the house fell to the ground, and a breach was effected. The men-at-arms then burst in, slaughtering the inhabitants without mercy. In the tower, long known as Reginald’s, or the ring tower, O’Phelan and Reginald, the Dano-Irish chief, held out until the arrival of King Dermid, whose intercession procured them such terms as led to their surrender. Then, amid the ruins of the burning city, and the muttered malediction of its surviving inhabitants, the ill-omened marriage of Eva McMurrogh with Richard de Clare was gaily celebrated, and the compact entered into at Bristol three years before was perfected.

The marriage revelry was hardly over when tidings came from Dublin that Asculph MacTorcall, its Danish lord, had, either by the refusal of the annual tribute, or in some other manner, declared his independence of Dermid, and invoked the aid of the monarch Roderick, in defence of that city. Other messengers brought news that Roderick had assumed the protection of Dublin, and was already encamped at the head of a large army at Clondalkin, with a view of intercepting the march of the invaders from the south. The whole Leinster and Norman force, with the exception of a troop of archers left to garrison Waterford, were now put in motion for the siege of the chief city of the Hibernicized descendants of the Northmen. Informed of Roderick’s position, which covered Dublin on the south and west, Dermid and Richard followed boldly the mountain paths and difficult roads which led by the secluded city of Glendalough, and thence along the coast road from Bray towards the mouth of the Liffey, until they arrived unexpectedly within the lines of Roderick, to the amazement and terror of the townsmen.

The force which now, under the command-in-chief of Dermid, sat down to the siege of Dublin, was far from being contemptible. For a year past he had been recognized in Leinster as fully as any of his predecessors, and had so strengthened his military position as to propose nothing short of the conquest of the whole country. His choice of a line of march sufficiently shows how thoroughly he had overcome the former hostility of the stubborn mountaineers of Wicklow. The exact numbers which he encamped before the gates of Dublin are nowhere given, but on the march from Waterford, the vanguard, led by Milo de Cogan, consisted of 700 Normans and “an Irish battalion,” which, taken literally, would mean 3,000 men, under Donald Kavanagh; Raymond the Fat followed “with 800 British;” Dermid led on “the chief part of the Irish” (number not given), in person; Richard commanded the rear-guard, “300 British and 1,000 Irish soldiers.” Altogether, it is not exorbitant to conjecture that the Leinster Prince led to the siege of Dublin an army of about 10,000 native troops, 1,500 Welsh and Flemish archers, and 250 knights. Except the handful who remained with Fitzstephen to defend his fort at Carrick, on the Slaney, and the archers left in Waterford, the entire Norman force in Ireland, at this time, were united in the siege. Of the foreign knights many were eminent for courage and capacity, both in peace and war. The most distinguished among them were Maurice Fitzgerald, the common ancestor of the Geraldines of Desmond and Kildare; Raymond the Fat, ancestor of the Graces of Ossory; the two Fitz-Henries, grandsons of Henry I., and the fair Nesta; Walter de Riddlesford, first Baron of Bray; Robert de Quincy, son-in-law and standard-bearer to Earl Richard; Herve, uncle to the Earl, and Gilbert de Clare, his son; Milo de Cogan, the first who entered Dublin by assault, and its first Norman governor; the de Barries, and de Prendergast. Other founders of Norman-Irish houses, as the de Lacies, de Courcies, le Poers, de Burgos, Butlers, Berminghams, came not over until the landing of Henry II., or still later, with his son John.

The townsmen of Dublin had every reason, from their knowledge of Dermid’s cruel character, to expect the worst at his hands and those of his allies. The warning of Waterford was before them, but besides this they had a special cause of apprehension, Dermid’s father having been murdered in their midst, and his body ignominiously interred with the carcase of a dog. Roderick having failed to intercept him, the citizens, either to gain time or really desiring to arrive at an accommodation, entered into negotiations. Their ambassador for this purpose was Lorcan, or Lawrence O’Toole, the first Archbishop of the city, and its first prelate of Milesian origin. This illustrious man, canonized both by sanctity and patriotism, was then in the thirty-ninth year of his age, and the ninth of his episcopate. His father was lord of Imayle and chief of his clan; his sister had been wife of Dermid and mother of Eva, the prize-bride of Earl Richard. He himself had been a hostage with Dermid in his youth, and afterwards Abbot of Glendalough, the most celebrated monastic city of Leinster. He stood, therefore, to the besieged, being their chief pastor, in the relation of a father; to Dermid, and strangely enough to Strongbow also, as brother-in-law and uncle by marriage. A fitter ambassador could not be found.

Maurice Regan, the “Latiner,” or Secretary of Dermid, had advanced to the walls, and summoned the city to surrender, and deliver up “30 pledges” to his master, their lawful Prince. Asculph, son of Torcall, was in favour of the surrender, but the citizens could not agree among themselves as to hostages. No one was willing to trust himself to the notoriously untrustworthy Dermid. The Archbishop was then sent out on the part of the citizens to arrange the terms in detail. He was received with all reverence in the camp, but while he was deliberating with the commanders without, and the townsmen were anxiously awaiting his return, Milo de Cogan and Raymond the Fat, seizing the opportunity, broke into the city at the head of their companies, and began to put the inhabitants ruthlessly to the sword. They were soon followed by the whole force eager for massacre and pillage. The Archbishop hastened back to endeavour to stay the havoc which was being made of his people. He threw himself before the infuriated Irish and Normans, he threatened, he denounced, he bared his own breast to the swords of the assassins. All to little purpose; the blood fury exhausted itself before peace settled over the city. Its Danish chief, Asculph, with many of his followers, escaped to their ships, and fled to the Isle of Man and the Hebrides in search of succour and revenge. Roderick, unprepared to besiege the enemy who had thus outmarched and outwitted him at that season of the year—it could not be earlier than October—broke up his encampment at Clondalkin, and retired to Connaught. Earl Richard having appointed de Cogan his governor of Dublin, followed on the rear of the retreating Ard-Righ, at the instigation of McMurrogh, burning and plundering the churches of Kells, Clonard and Slane, and carrying off the hostages of East-Meath.

Though Dermid seemed to have forgotten altogether the conditions of the treaty of Ferns, yet not so Roderick. When he reached Athlone he caused Conor, son of Dermid, and the son of Donald Kavanagh, and the son of Dermid’s fosterer, who had been given him as hostages for the fulfilment of that treaty, so grossly violated in every particular, to be beheaded. Dermid indulged in impotent vows of vengeance against Roderick, when he heard of these executions which his own perjuries had provoked; he swore that nothing short of the conquest of Connaught in the following spring would satisfy his revenge, and he sent the Ard-Righ his defiance to that purport. Two other events of military consequence marked the close of the year 1170. The foreign garrison of Waterford was surprised and captured by Cormac McCarthy, Prince of Desmond, and Henry II. having prohibited all intercourse between his lieges and his disobedient subject, Earl Richard, the latter had despatched Raymond the Fat, with the most humble submission of himself and his new possessions to his Majesty’s decision. And so with Asculph, son of Torcall, recruiting in the isles of Insi-Gall, Lawrence, the Archbishop, endeavouring to unite the proud and envious Irish lords into one united phalanx, and Roderick, preparing for the new year’s campaign, the winter of 1170-’71, came, and waned, and went.

One occurrence of the succeeding spring may most appropriately be dismissed here—the death of the wretched and odious McMurrogh. This event happened, according to Giraldus, in the kalends of May. The Irish Annals surround his death-bed with all the horrors appropriate to such a scene. He became, they say, “putrid while living,” through the miracles of St. Columbcille and St. Finian, whose churches he had plundered; “and he died at Fernamore, without making a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as his evil deeds deserved.” We have no desire to meditate over the memory of such a man. He, far more than his predecessor, whatever that predecessor’s crimes might have been, deserved to have been buried with a dog.


The campaign of the year 1171 languished from a variety of causes. At the very outset, the invaders lost their chief patron, who had been so useful to them. During the siege of Dublin, in the previous autumn, the townsmen of Wexford, who were in revolt, had, by stratagem, induced Robert Fitzstephen to surrender his fort at Carrick, and had imprisoned him in one of the islands of their harbour. Waterford had been surprised and taken by Cormac McCarthy, Prince of Desmond, and Strongbow, alarmed by the proclamation of Henry, knew hardly whether to consider himself outlaw, subject, or independent sovereign.

Raymond the Fat had returned from his embassy to King Henry, with no comfortable tidings. He had been kept day after day waiting the pleasure of the King, and returned with sentences as dubious in his mouth, as those on which Earl Richard had originally acted. It was evidently not the policy of Henry to abandon the enterprise already so well begun, but neither was it his interest or desire that any subject should reap the benefit, or erect an independent power, upon his mere permission to embark in the service of McMurrogh. Herve, the Earl’s uncle, had been despatched as ambassador in Raymond’s place, but with no better success. At length, Richard himself, by the advice of all his counsellors, repaired to England, and waited on Henry at Newenham, in Gloucestershire. At first he was ignominiously refused an audience, but after repeated solicitations he was permitted to renew his homage. He then yielded in due form the city of Dublin, and whatever other conquests he claimed, and consented to hold his lands in Leinster, as chief tenant from the crown: in return for which he was graciously forgiven the success that had attended his adventure, and permitted to accompany the King’s expedition, in the ensuing autumn.

Before Strongbow’s departure for England three unsuccessful attempts had been made for the expulsion of the Norman garrison from Dublin. They were unfortunately not undertaken in concert, but rather in succession. The first was an attempt at surprising the city by Asculph MacTorcall, probably relying on the active aid of the inhabitants of his own race. He had but “a small force,” chiefly from the isles of Insi-Gall and the Orkneys. The Orcadians were under the command of a warrior called John the Furious or Mad, the last of those wild Berserkers of the North, whose valour was regarded in Pagan days as a species of divine frenzy. This redoubted champion, after a momentary success, was repulsed by Milo and Richard de Cogan, and finally fell by the hand of Walter de Riddlesford. Asculph was taken prisoner, and, avowing boldly his intention never to desist from attempting to recover the place, was put to death. The second attack has been often described as a regular investment by Roderick O’Conor, at the head of all the forces of the Island, which was only broken up in the ninth week of its duration, by a desperate sally on the part of the famished garrison. Many details and episodes, proper to so long a beleaguerment, are given by Giraldus, and reproduced by his copyists. We find, however, little warrant for these passages in our native annals, any more than for the antithetical speeches which the same partial historian places in the mouths of his heroes. The Four Masters limit the time to “the course of a fortnight.” Roderick, according to their account, was accompanied by the lords of Breffni and Oriel only; frequent skirmishes and conflicts took place; an excursion was made against the Leinster Allies of the Normans, “to cut down and burn the corn of the Saxons.” The surprise by night of the monarch’s camp is also duly recorded; and that the enemy carried off “the provisions, armour, and horses of Roderick.” By which sally, according to Giraldus, Dublin having obtained provisions enough for a year, Earl Richard marched to Wexford, “taking the higher way by Idrone,” with the hope to deliver Fitzstephen. But the Wexford men having burned their suburbs, and sent their goods and families into the stockaded island, sent him word that at the first attack they would put Fitzstephen and his companions to death. The Earl, therefore, held sorrowfully on his way to Waterford, where, leaving a stronger force than the first garrison, to which he had entrusted it, he sailed for England to make his peace with King Henry. The third attempt on Dublin was made by the lord of Breffni during the Earl’s absence, and when the garrison were much reduced; it was equally unsuccessful with those already recorded. De Cogan displayed his usual courage, and the lord of Breffni lost a son and some of his best men in the assault.

It was upon the marches of Wales that the Earl found King Henry busily engaged in making preparations for his own voyage into Ireland. He had levied on the landholders throughout his dominions an escutage or commutation for personal service, and the Pipe roll, which contains his disbursements for the year, has led an habitually cautious writer to infer “that the force raised for the expedition was much more numerous than has been represented by historians.” During the muster of his forces he visited Pembroke, and made a progress through North Wales, severely censuring those who had enlisted under Strongbow, and placing garrisons of his own men in their castles. At Saint David’s he made the usual offering on the shrine of the Saint and received the hospitalities of the Bishop. All things being in readiness, he sailed from Milford Haven, with a fleet of 400 transports, having on board many of the Norman nobility, 500 knights, and an army usually estimated at 4,000 men at arms. On the 18th of October, 1171, he landed safely at Crook, in the county of Waterford, being unable, according to an old local tradition, to sail up the river from adverse winds. As one headland of that harbour is called Hook, and the other Crook, the old adage, “by hook or by crook,” is thought to have arisen on this occasion.

In Henry’s train, beside Earl Richard, there came over Hugh de Lacy, some time Constable of Chester; William, son of Aldelm, ancestor of the Clanrickardes; Theobald Walter, ancestor of the Butlers; Robert le Poer, ancestor of the Powers; Humphrey de Bohun, Robert Fitz-Barnard, Hugh de Gundeville, Philip de Hastings, Philip de Braos, and many other cavaliers whose names were renowned throughout France and England. As the imposing host formed on the sea side, a white hare, according to an English chronicler, leapt from a neighbouring hedge, and was immediately caught and presented to the King as an omen of victory. Prophecies, pagan and Christian—quatrains fathered on Saint Moling and triads attributed to Merlin—were freely showered in his path. But the true omen of his success he might read for himself, in a constitution which had lost its force, in laws which had ceased to be sacred, and in a chieftain race, brave indeed as mortal men could be, but envious, arrogant, revengeful, and insubordinate. For their criminal indulgence of these demoniacal passions a terrible chastisement was about to fall on them, and not only on them, but also, alas! on their poor people.

The whole time passed by Henry II. in Ireland was from the 18th October, 1171, till the 17th of April following, just seven months. For the first politician of his age, with the command of such troops, and so much treasure, these seven months could not possibly be barren of consequences. Winter, the season of diplomacy, was seldom more industriously or expertly employed. The townsmen of Wexford, aware of his arrival as soon as it had taken place, hastened to make their submission and to deliver up to him their prisoner, Robert Fitzstephen, the first of the invaders. Henry, affecting the same displeasure towards Fitzstephen he did for all those who had anticipated his own expedition, ordered him to be fettered and imprisoned in Reginald’s tower. At Waterford he also received the friendly overtures of the lords of Desies and Ossory, and probably some form of feudal submission was undergone by those chiefs. Cormac, Prince of Desmond, followed their example, and soon afterwards Donald O’Brien of Thomond met him on the banks of the Suir, not far from Cashel, made his peace, and agreed to receive a Norman garrison in his Hiberno-Danish city of Limerick. Having appointed commanders over these and other southern garrisons, Henry proceeded to Dublin, where a spacious cage-work palace, on a lawn without the city, was prepared for winter quarters. Here he continued those negotiations with the Irish chiefs, which we are told were so generally successful. Amongst others whose adhesion he received, mention is made of the lord of Breffni, the most faithful follower the Monarch Roderick could count. The chiefs of the Northern Hy-Nial remained deaf to all his overtures, and though Fitz-Aldelm and de Lacy, the commissioners despatched to treat with Roderick, are said to have procured from the deserted Ard-Righ an act of submission, it is incredible that a document of such consequence should have been allowed to perish. Indeed, most of the confident assertions about submissions to Henry are to be taken with great caution; it is quite certain he himself, though he lived nearly twenty years after his Irish expedition, never assumed any Irish title whatever. It is equally true that his successor, Richard I., never assumed any such title, as an incident of the English crown. And although Henry in the year 1185 created his youngest son, John Lackland, “lord of Ireland,” it was precisely in the same spirit and with as much ground of title as he had for creating Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, or John de Courcy, Earl of Ulster. Of this question of title we shall speak more fully hereafter, for we do not recognize any English sovereign as King of Ireland, previous to the year 1541; but it ought surely to be conclusive evidence, that neither had Henry claimed the crown, nor had the Irish chiefs acknowledged him as their Ard-Righ, that in the two authentic documents from his hand which we possess, he neither signs himself Rex nor Dominus Hibernioe. These documents are the Charter of Dublin, and the Concession of Glendalough, and their authenticity has never been disputed.

After spending a right merry Christmas with Norman and Milesian guests in abundance at Dublin, Henry proceeded to that work of religious reformation, under plea of which he had obtained the Bill of Pope Adrian, seventeen years before, declaring such an expedition undertaken with such motives, lawful and praiseworthy. Early in the new year, by his desire, a synod was held at Cashel, where many salutary decrees were enacted. These related to the proper solemnization of marriage; the catechising of children before the doors of churches; the administration of baptism in baptismal or parish churches; the abolition of Erenachs or lay Trustees of church property, and the imposition of tithes, both of corn and cattle. By most English writers this synod is treated as a National Council, and inferences are thence drawn of Henry’s admitted power over the clergy of the nation. There is, however, no evidence that the Bishops of Ulster or Connaught were present at Cashel, but strong negative testimony to the contrary. We read under the date of the same year in the Four Masters, that a synod of the clergy and laity of Ireland was convened at Tuam by Roderick O’Conor and the Archbishop Catholicus O’Duffy. It is hardly possible that this meeting could be in continuation or in concord with the assembly convoked at the instance of Henry.

Following quickly upon the Cashel Synod, Henry held a “Curia Regis” or Great Court at Lismore, in which he created the offices of Marshal, Constable, and Seneschal for Ireland. Earl Richard was created the first Lord Marshal; de Lacy, the first Lord Constable. Theobald, ancestor of the Ormond family, was already chief Butler, and de Vernon was created the first high Steward or Seneschal. Such other order as could be taken for the preservation of the places already captured, was not neglected. The surplus population of Bristol obtained a charter of Dublin to be held of Henry and his heirs, “with all the same liberties and free customs which they enjoyed at Bristol.” Wexford was committed to the charge of Fitz-Aldelm, Waterford to de Bohun, and Dublin to de Lacy. Castles were ordered to be erected in the towns and at other points, and the politic king, having caused all those who remained behind to renew their homage in the most solemn form, sailed on Easter Monday from Wexford Haven, and on the same day, landed at Port-Finan in Wales. Here he assumed the Pilgrim’s staff, and proceeded humbly on foot to St. David’s, preparatory to meeting the Papal Commissioners appointed to inquire into Beckett’s murder.

It is quite apparent that had Henry landed in Ireland at any other period of his life except in the year of the martyrdom of the renowned Archbishop of Canterbury, while the wrath of Rome was yet hanging poised in the air, ready to be hurled against him, he would not have left the work he undertook but half begun. The nett result of his expedition, of his great fleet, mighty army, and sagacious counsels, was the infusion of a vast number of new adventurers (most of them of higher rank and better fortunes than their precursors), into the same old field. Except the garrisons admitted into Limerick and Cork, and the displacing of Strongbow’s commandants by his own at Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin, there seems to have been little gained in a military sense. The decrees of the Synod of Cashel would, no doubt, stand him in good stead with the Papal legates as evidences of his desire to enforce strict discipline, even on lands beyond those over which he actually ruled. But, after all, harassed as he was with apprehensions of the future, perhaps no other Prince could have done more in a single winter in a strange country than Henry II. did for his seven months’ sojourn in Ireland.


The Ard-Righ Roderick, during the period of Henry the Second’s stay in Ireland, had continued west of the Shannon. Unsupported by his suffragans, many of whom made peace with the invader, he attempted no military operation, nor had Henry time sufficient to follow him into his strongholds. It was reserved for this ill-fated, and, we cannot but think, harshly judged monarch, to outlive the first generation of the invaders of his country, and to close a reign which promised so brightly at the beginning, in the midst of a distracted, war-spent people, having preserved through all vicissitudes the title of sovereign, but little else that was of value to himself or others.

Among the guests who partook of the Christmas cheer of King Henry at Dublin, we find mention of Tiernan O’Ruarc, the lord of Breffni and East-Meath. For the Methian addition to his possessions, Tiernan was indebted to his early alliance with Roderick, and the success of their joint arms. Anciently the east of Meath had been divided between the four families called “the four tribes of Tara,” whose names are now anglicized O’Hart, O’Kelly, O’Connelly, and O’Regan. Whether to balance the power of the great West-Meath family of O’Melaghlin, or because these minor tribes were unable to defend themselves successfully, Roderick, like his father, had partitioned Meath, and given the seaward side a new master in the person of O’Ruarc. The investiture of Hugh de Lacy by King Henry with the seignory of the same district, led to a tragedy, the first of its kind in our annals, but destined to be the prototype of an almost indefinite series, in which the gainers were sometimes natives, but much oftener Normans.

O’Ruarc gave de Lacy an appointment at the hill of Ward, near Athboy, in the year 1173, in order to adjust their conflicting claims upon East-Meath. Both parties naturally guarded against surprise, by having in readiness a troop of armed retainers. The principals met apart on the summit of the hill, amid the circumvallations of its ancient fort; a single unarmed interpreter only was present. An altercation having arisen, between them, O’Ruarc lost his temper, and raised the battle-axe, which all our warriors carried in those days, as the gentlemen of the last century did their swords; this was the signal for both troops of guards to march towards the spot. De Lacy, in attempting to fly, had been twice felled to the earth, when his followers, under Maurice Fitzgerald and Griffith, his nephew, came to his rescue, and assailed the chief of Breffni. It was now Tiernan’s turn to attempt escaping, but as he mounted his horse the spear of Griffith brought him to the earth mortally wounded, and his followers fled. His head was carried in triumph to Dublin, where it was spiked over the northern gate, and his body was gibbeted on the northern wall, with the feet uppermost. Thus, a spectacle of intense pity to the Irish, did these severed members of one of their most famous nobles remain exposed on that side of the stronghold of the stranger which looks towards the pleasant plains of Meath and the verdant uplands of Cavan.

The administration of de Lacy was now interrupted by a summons to join his royal master, sore beset by his own sons in Normandy. The Kings of France and Scotland were in alliance with those unnatural Princes, and their mother, Queen Eleanor, might he called the author of their rebellion. As all the force that could be spared from Ireland was needed for the preservation of Normandy, de Lacy hastened to obey the royal summons, and Earl Richard, by virtue of his rank of Marshal, took for the moment the command in chief. Henry, however, who never cordially forgave that adventurer, first required his presence in France, and when alarmed by ill news from Ireland, he sent him back to defend the conquests already made, he associated with him in the supreme command—though not apparently in the civil administration—the gallant Raymond le gros. And it was full time for the best head and the bravest sword among the first invaders to return to their work—a task not to be so easily achieved as many confident persons then believed, and as many ill-informed writers have since described it.

During the early rule of de Lacy, Earl Richard had established himself at Ferns, assuming, to such of the Irish as adhered to him, the demeanour of a king. After Dermid’s death, he styled himself, in utter disregard of Irish law, “Prince of Leinster,” in virtue of his wife. He proceeded to create feudal dignitaries, placing at their head, as Constable of Leinster, Robert de Quincy, to whom he gave his daughter, by his first wife, in marriage. At this point the male representatives of King Dermid came to open rupture with the Earl. Donald Kavanagh, surnamed “the Handsome,” and by the Normans usually spoken of as “Prince” Donald, could scarcely be expected to submit to an arrangement, so opposed to all ancient custom, and to his own interests. He had borne a leading part in the restoration of his father, but surely not to this end—the exclusion of the male succession. He had been one of King Henry’s guests during the Christmas holidays of the year 1172, and had rendered him some sort of homage, as Prince of Leinster. Henry, ever ready to raise up rivals to Strongbow, seems to have received him into favour, until Eva, the Earl’s wife, proved, both in Ireland and England, that Donald and his brother Enna, were born out of wedlock, and that there was no direct male heir of Dermid left, after the execution of Conor, the hostage put to death by King Roderick. To English notions this might have been conclusive against Donald’s title, but to the Irish, among whom the electoral principle was the source of all chieftainry, it was not so. A large proportion of the patriotic Leinstermen—what might be called the native party—adhered to Donald Kavanagh, utterly rejecting the title derived through the lady Eva.

Such conflicting interests could only be settled by a resort to force, and the bloody feud began by the Earl executing at Ferns one of Donald’s sons, held by him as a hostage. In an expedition against O’Dempsey, who also refused to acknowledge his title, the Earl lost, in the campaign of 1173, his son-in-law, de Quincy, several other knights, and the “banner of Leinster.” The following year we read in the Anglo-Irish Annals of Leinster, that King Donald’s men, being moved against the Earl’s men, made a great slaughter of English. Nor was this the worst defeat he suffered in the same year—1174. Marching into Munster he was encountered in a pitched battle at Thurles by the troops of the monarch Roderick, under command of his son, Conor, surnamed Moinmoy, and by the troops of Thomond, under Donald More O’Brien. With Strongbow were all who could be spared of the garrison of Dublin, including a strong detachment of Danish origin. Four knights and seven hundred (or, according to other accounts, seventeen hundred) men of the Normans were left dead on the field. Strongbow retreated with the remnant of his force to Waterford, but the news of the defeat having reached that city before him, the townspeople ran to arms and put his garrison of two hundred men to the sword. After encamping for a month on an island without the city, and hearing that Kilkenny Castle was taken and razed by O’Brien, he was feign to return to Dublin as best he could.

His fortunes at the close of this campaign, were at their lowest ebb. The loss of de Quincy and the defeat of Thurles had sorely shaken his military reputation. His jealousy of that powerful family connexion, the Geraldines, had driven Maurice Fitzgerald and Raymond the Fat to retire in disgust into Wales. Donald Kavanagh, O’Dempsey, and the native party in Leinster, set him at defiance, and his own troops refused to obey the orders of his uncle Herve, demanding to be led by the more popular and youthful Raymond. To add to his embarrassments, Henry summoned him to France in the very crisis of his troubles, and he dared not disobey that jealous and exacting master. He was, however, not long detained by the English King. Clothed with supreme authority, and with Raymond for his lieutenant, he returned to resume the work of conquest. To conciliate the Geraldines, he at last consented to give his sister Basilia in marriage to the brilliant captain, on whose sword so much depended. At the same time Alina, the widow of de Quincy, was married to the second son of Fitzgerald, and Nesta Fitzgerald was united to Raymond’s former rival, Herve. Thus, bound together, fortune returned in full tide to the adventurers. Limerick, which had been taken and burned to the water’s edge by Donald O’Brien after the battle of Thurles, was recaptured and fortified anew; Waterford was more strongly garrisoned than ever; Donald Kavanagh was taken off, apparently by treachery (A.D. 1175), and all seemed to promise the enjoyment of uninterrupted power to the Earl. But his end was already come. An ulcer in his foot brought on a long and loathsome illness, which terminated in his death, in the month of May, 1176, or 1177. He was buried in Christ Church, Dublin, which he had contributed to enlarge, and was temporarily succeeded in the government of the Normans by his lieutenant and brother-in-law, Raymond. By the Lady Eva he left one daughter, Isabel, married at the age of fourteen to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who afterwards claimed the proprietary of Leinster, by virtue of this marriage. Lady Isabel left again five daughters, who were the ancestresses of the Mortimers, Braces, and other historic families of England and Scotland. And so the blood of Earl Richard and his Irish Princess descended for many generations to enrich other houses and ennoble other names than his own.

Strongbow is described by Giraldus, whose personal sketches, of the leading invaders form the most valuable part of his book, as less a statesman than a soldier, and more a soldier than a general. His complexion was freckled, his neck slender, his voice feminine and shrill, and his temper equable and uniform. His career in Ireland was limited to seven years in point of time, and his resources were never equal to the task he undertook. Had they been so, or had he not been so jealously counteracted by his suzerain, he might have founded a new Norman dynasty on as solid a basis as William, or as Rollo himself had done.

Raymond and the Geraldines had now, for a brief moment, the supreme power, civil and military, in their own hands. In his haste to take advantage of the Earl’s death, of which he had privately been informed by a message from his wife, Raymond left Limerick in the hands of Donald More O’Brien, exacting, we are told, a solemn oath from the Prince of Thomond to protect the city, which the latter broke before the Norman garrisons were out of sight of its walls. This story, like many others of the same age, rests on the uncertain authority of the vain, impetuous and passionate Giraldus. Whether the loss of Limerick discredited him with the king, or the ancient jealousy of the first adventurers prevailed in the royal councils, Henry, on hearing of Strongbow’s death, at once despatched as Lord Justice, William Fitz-Aldelm de Burgo, first cousin to Hubert de Burgo, Chief Justiciary of England, and, like Fitz-Aldelm, descended from Arlotta, mother of William the Conqueror, by Harlowen de Burgo, her first husband. From him have descended the noble family of de Burgo, or Burke, so conspicuous in the after annals of our island. In the train of the new Justiciary came John de Courcy, another name destined to become historical, but before relating his achievements, we must conclude the narrative so far as regards the first set of adventurers.

Maurice Fitzgerald, the common ancestor of the Earls of Desmond and Kildare, the Knights of Glyn, of Kerry, and of all the Irish Geraldines, died at Wexford in the year 1177. Raymond the Fat, superseded by Fitz-Aldelm, and looked on coldly by the King, retired to his lands in the same county, and appears only once more in arms—in the year 1182—in aid of his uncle, Robert Fitzstephen. This premier invader had been entrusted by the new ruler with the command of the garrison of Cork, as Milo de Cogan had been with that of Waterford, and both had been invested with equal halves of the principality of Desmond. De Cogan, Ralph, son of Fitzstephen, and other knights had been cut off by surprise, at the house of one McTire, near Lismore, in 1182, and all Desmond was up in arms for the expulsion of the foreign garrisons. Raymond sailed from Wexford to the aid of his uncle, and succeeded in relieving the city from the sea. But Fitzstephen, afflicted with grief for the death of his son, and worn down with many anxieties, suffered the still greater loss of his reason. From thenceforth, we hear no more of either uncle or nephew, and we may therefore account this the last year of Robert Fitzstephen, Milo de Cogan, and Raymond le gros. Herve de Montmorency, the ancient rival of Raymond, had three years earlier retired from the world, to become a brother in the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, at Canterbury. His Irish estates passed to his brother Geoffrey, who subsequently became Justiciary of the Normans in Ireland, the successful rival of the Marshals, and founder of the Irish title of Mountmorres. The posterity of Raymond survived in the noble family of Grace, Barons of Courtstown, in Ossory. It is not, therefore, strictly true, what Geoffrey Keating and the authors he followed have asserted—that the first Normans were punished by the loss of posterity for the crimes and outrages they had committed, in their various expeditions.

Let us be just even to these spoilers of our race. They were fair specimens of the prevailing type of Norman character. Indomitable bravery was not their only virtue. In patience, in policy, and in rising superior to all obstacles and reverses, no group of conquerors ever surpassed Strongbow and his companions. Ties of blood and brotherhood in arms were strong between them, and whatever unfair advantages they allowed themselves to take of their enemy, they were in general constant and devoted in then—friendships towards each other. Rivalries and intrigues were not unknown among them, but generous self-denial, and chivalrous self-reliance were equally as common. If it had been the lot of our ancestors to be effectually conquered, they could hardly have yielded to nobler foes. But as they proved themselves able to resist successfully the prowess of this hitherto invincible race, their honour is augmented in proportion to the energy and genius, both for government and war, brought to bear against them.

Neither should we overstate the charge of impiety. If the invaders broke down and burned churches in the heat of battle, they built better and costlier temples out of the fruits of victory. Christ Church, Dublin, Dunbrody Abbey, on the estuary of Waterford, the Grey Friars’ Abbey at Wexford, and other religious houses long stood, or still stand, to show that although the first Norman, like the first Dane, thirsted after spoil, and lusted after land, unlike the Dane, he created, he enriched, he improved, wherever he conquered.


The victory of Thurles, in the year 1174, was the next important military event, as we have seen, after the raising of the second siege of Dublin, in the first campaign of Earl Richard. It seems irreconcilable, with the consequences of that victory, that Ambassadors from Roderick should be found at the Court of Henry II. before the close of the following year: but events personal to both sovereigns will sufficiently explain the apparent anomaly.

The campaign of 1174, so unfavourable to Henry’s subjects in Ireland, had been most fortunate for his arms in Normandy. His rebellious sons, after severe defeats, submitted, and did him homage; the King of France had gladly accepted his terms of peace; the King of Scotland, while in duress, had rendered him fealty as his liege man; and Queen Eleanor, having fallen into his power, was a prisoner for life. Tried by a similar unnatural conspiracy in his own family, Roderick O’Conor had been less fortunate in coercing them into obedience. His eldest son, Murray, claimed, according to ancient custom, that his father should resign in his favour the patrimonial Province, contenting himself with the higher rank of King of Ireland. But Roderick well understood that in his days, with a new and most formidable enemy established in the old Danish strongholds, with the Constitution torn to shreds by the war of succession, his only real power was over his patrimony; he refused, therefore, the unreasonable request, and thus converted some of his own children into enemies. Nor were there wanting Princes, themselves fathers, who abetted this household treason, as the Kings of France and Scotland had done among the sons of Henry II. Soon after the battle of Thurles, the recovery of Limerick, and the taking of Kilkenny, Donald More O’Brien, lending himself to this odious intrigue, was overpowered and deposed by Roderick, but the year next succeeding having made submission he was restored by the same hand which had cast him down. It was, therefore, while harassed by the open rebellion of his eldest son, and while Henry was rejoicing in his late success, that Roderick despatched to the Court of Windsor Catholicus, Archbishop of Tuam, Concors, Abbot of St. Brendan’s, and Laurence, Archbishop of Dublin, whose is styled in these proceedings, “Chancellor of the Irish King,” to negotiate an alliance with Henry, which would leave him free to combat against his domestic enemies. An extraordinary treaty, agreed upon at Windsor, about the feast of Michaelmas, 1175, recognized Roderick’s sovereignty over Ireland, the cantreds and cities actually possessed by the subjects of Henry excepted; it subinfeudated his authority to that of Henry, after the manner lately adopted towards William, King of Scotland; the payment of a merchantable hide of every tenth hide of cattle was agreed upon as an annual tribute, while the minor chiefs were to acknowledge their dependence by annual presents of hawks and hounds. This treaty, which proceeded on the wild assumption that the feudal system was of force among the free clans of Erin, was probably the basis of Henry’s grant of the Lordship of Ireland to his son, John Lackland, a few years later; it was solemnly approved by a special Council, or Parliament, and signed by the representatives of both parties.

Among the signers we find the name of the Archbishop of Dublin, who, while in England, narrowly escaped martyrdom from the hands of a maniac, while celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Thomas. Four years afterwards, this celebrated ecclesiastic attended at Rome, with Catholicus of Tuam, and the Prelates of Lismore, Limerick, Waterford, and Killaloe, the third general council of Lateran, where they were received with all honour by Pope Alexander III. From Rome he returned with legantine powers which he used with great energy during the year 1180. In the autumn of that year, he was entrusted with the delivery to Henry II. of the son of Roderick O’Conor, as a pledge for the fulfilment of the treaty of Windsor, and with other diplomatic functions. On reaching England, he found the king had gone to France, and following him thither, he was seized with illness as he approached the Monastery of Eu, and with a prophetic foretaste of death, he exclaimed as he came in sight of the towers of the Convent, “Here shall I make my resting-place.” The Abbot Osbert and the monks of the Order of St. Victor received him tenderly, and watched his couch for the few days he yet lingered. Anxious to fulfil his mission, he despatched David, tutor of the son of Roderick, with messages to Henry, and awaited his return with anxiety. David brought him a satisfactory response from the English King, and the last anxiety only remained. In death, as in life, his thoughts were with his country. “Ah, foolish and insensible people!” he exclaimed in his latest hours, “what will become of you? Who will relieve your miseries? Who will heal you?” When recommended to make his last will, he answered, with apostolic simplicity—”God knows, out of all my revenues, I have not a single coin to bequeath.” And thus on the 11th day of November, 1180, in the 48th year of his age, under the shelter of a Norman roof, surrounded by Norman mourners, the Gaelic statesman-saint departed out of this life, bequeathing —one more canonized memory to Ireland and to Rome.

The prospects of his native land were, at that moment, of a cast which might well disturb the death-bed of the sainted Laurence. Fitz-Aldelm, advanced to the command at Dublin in 1177, had shown no great capacity for following up the conquest. But there was one among his followers who, unaffected by his sluggish example, and undeterred by his jealous interference, resolved to push the outposts of his race into the heart of Ulster. This was John de Courcy, Baron of Stoke Courcy, in Somersetshire, a cavalier of fabulous physical strength, romantic courage, and royal descent. When he declared his settled purpose to be the invasion of Ulster, he found many spirits as discontented with Fitz-Aldelm’s inaction as himself ready to follow his banner. His inseparable brother-in-arms, Sir Almaric of St. Laurence, his relative, Jourdain de Courcy, Sir Robert de la Poer, Sir Geoffrey and Walter de Marisco, and other Knights to the number of twenty, and five hundred men at arms, marched with him out of Dublin. Hardly had they got beyond sight of the city, when they were attacked by a native force, near Howth, where Saint Laurence laid in victory the foundation of that title still possessed by his posterity. On the fifth day, they came by surprise upon the famous ecclesiastical city of Downpatrick, one of the first objects of their adventure. An ancient prophecy had foretold that the place would be taken by a chief with birds upon his shield, the bearings of de Courcy, mounted on a white horse, which de Courcy happened to ride. Thus the terrors of superstition were added to the terrors of surprise, and the town being entirely open, the Normans had only to dash into the midst of its inhabitants. But the free clansmen of Ulidia, though surprised, were not intimidated. Under their lord Rory, son of Dunlevy, they rallied to expel the invader. Cardinal Vivian, the Papal Legate, who had just arrived from Man and Scotland, on the neighbouring coast, proffered his mediation, and besought de Courcy to withdraw from Down. His advice was peremptorily rejected, and then he exhorted the Ulidians to fight bravely for their rights. Five several battles are enumerated as being fought, in this and the following year, between de Courcy and the men of Down, Louth, and Antrim, sometimes with success, at others without it, always with heavy loss and obstinate resistance.

The barony of Lecale, in which Downpatrick stands, is almost a peninsula, and the barony of the Ardes on the opposite shore of Strangford Lough is nearly insulated by Belfast Lough, the Channel, and the tides of Strangford. With the active co-operation from the sea of Godred, King of Man, (whose daughter Africa he had married), de Courcy’s hold on that coast became an exceedingly strong one. A ditch and a few towers would as effectually enclose Lecale and the Ardes from any landward attack, as if they were a couple of well-walled cities. Hence, long after “the Pale” ceased to extend beyond the Boyne, and while the mountain passes from Meath into Ulster were all in native hands, these two baronies continued to be succoured and strengthened by sea, and retained as English possessions. Reinforced from Dublin and from Man after their first success, de Courcy’s companions stuck to their castle-building about the shores of Strangford Lough, while he himself made incursions into the interior, by land or by sea, fighting a brisk succession of engagements at Newry, in Antrim, at Coleraine, and on the eastern shore of Lough Foyle.

At the time these operations were going forward in Ulster, Milo de Cogan quitted Dublin on a somewhat similar expedition. We have already said that Murray, eldest son of Roderick, had claimed, according to ancient usage, the O’Conor patrimony, his father being Ard-Righ; and had his claim refused. He now entered into a secret engagement with de Cogan, whose force is stated by Giraldus at 500 men-at-arms, and by the Irish annalists as “a great army.” With the smaller force he left Dublin, but marching through Meath, was joined at Trim by men from the garrisons de Lacy had planted in East-Meath. So accompanied, de Cogan advanced on Roscommon, where he was received by the son of Roderick during the absence of the Ard-Righ on a visitation among the glens of Connemara. After three days spent in Roscommon, these allies marched across the plain of Connaught, directed their course on Tuam, burning as they went Elphin, Roskeen, and many other churches. The western clansmen everywhere fell back before them, driving off their herds and destroying whatever they could not remove. At Tuam they found themselves in the midst of a solitude without food or forage, with an eager enemy swarming from the west and the south to surround them. They at once decided to retreat, and no time was to be lost, as the Kern were already at their heels. From Tuam to Athleague, and from Athleague to their castles in East-Meath, fled the remnant of de Cogan’s inglorious expedition. Murray O’Conor being taken prisoner by his own kinsmen, his eyes were plucked out as the punishment of his treason, and Conor Moinmoy, the joint-victor with Donald O’Brien over Strongbow at Thurles, became the Roydamna or successor of his father.

But fresh dissensions soon broke out between the sons and grandsons of Roderick, and the sons of his brother Thurlogh, in one of whose deadly conflicts sixteen Princes of the Sil-Murray fell. Both sides looked beyond Connaught for help; one drew friends from the northern O’Neills, another relied on the aid of O’Brien. Conor Moinmoy, in the year 1186, according to most Irish accounts, banished his father into Munster, but at the intercession of the Sil-Murray, his own clan allowed him again to return, and assigned him a single cantred of land for his subsistence. From this date we may count the unhappy Roderick’s retirement from the world.

Near the junction of Lough Corrib with Lough Mask, on the boundary line between Mayo and Galway, stands the ruins of the once populous monastery and village of Cong. The first Christian kings of Connaught had founded the monastery, or enabled St. Fechin to do so by their generous donations. The father of Roderick had enriched its shrine by the gift of a particle of the true Cross, reverently enshrined in a reliquary, the workmanship of which still excites the admiration of the antiquaries. Here Roderick retired in the 70th year of his age, and for twelve years thereafter—until the 29th day of November, 1198, here he wept and prayed, and withered away. Dead to the world, as the world to him, the opening of a new grave in the royal corner at Clonmacnoise was the last incident connected with his name, which reminded Connaught that it had lost its once prosperous Prince, and Ireland, that she had seen her last Ard-Righ, according to the ancient Milesian Constitution. Powerful Princes of his own and other houses the land was destined to know for many generations, before its sovereignty was merged in that of England, but none fully entitled to claim the high-sounding, but often fallacious title, of Monarch of all Ireland.

The public character of Roderick O’Conor has been hardly dealt with by most modern writers. He was not, like his father, like Murkertach O’Brien, Malachy II., Brian, Murkertach of the leathern cloaks, or Malachy I., eminent as a lawgiver, a soldier, or a popular leader. He does not appear to have inspired love, or awe, or reverence, into those of his own household and patrimony, not to speak of his distant cotemporaries. He was probably a man of secondary qualities, engulfed in a crisis of the first importance. But that he is fairly chargeable with the success of the invaders—or that there was any very overwhelming success to be charged up to the time of his enforced retirement from the world—we have failed to discover. From Dermid’s return until his retreat to Cong, seventeen years had passed away. Seventeen campaigns, more or less energetic and systematic, the Normans had fought. Munster was still in 1185—when John Lackland made his memorable exit and entrance on the scene—almost wholly in the hands of the ancient clans. Connaught was as yet without a single Norman garrison. Hugh de Lacy returning to the government of Dublin, in 1179, on Fitz-Aldelm’s recall, was more than half Hibernicized by marriage with one of Roderick’s daughters, and the Norman tide stood still in Meath. Several strong fortresses were indeed erected in Desmond and Leinster, by John Lackland and by de Courcy, in his newly won northern territory. Ardfinan, Lismore, Leighlin, Carlow, Castledermot, Leix, Delvin, Kilkay, Maynooth and Trim, were fortified; but considering who the Anglo-Normans were, and what they had done elsewhere, even these very considerable successes may be correctly accounted for without overcharging the memory of Roderick with folly and incapacity. That he was personally brave has not been questioned. That he was politic—or at least capable of conceiving the politic views of such a statesman as St. Laurence O’Toole, we may infer from the rank of Chancellor which he conferred, and the other negotiations which he entrusted to that great man. That he maintained his self-respect as a sovereign, both in abstaining from visiting Henry II. under pretence of hospitality at Dublin, and throughout all his difficult diplomacy with the Normans, we are free to conclude. With the Normans for foes—with a decayed and obsolete national constitution to patch up—with nominal subordinates more powerful than himself—with rebellion staring him in the face out of the eyes of his own children—Roderick O’Conor had no ordinary part to play in history. The fierce family pride of our fathers and the vices of their political system are to be deplored and avoided; let us not make the last of their national kings the scape-goat for all his cotemporaries and all his predecessors.


Hugh de Lacy, restored to the supreme authority on the recall of Fitz-Aldelm in 1179, began to conceive hopes, as Strongbow had done, of carving out for himself a new kingdom. After the assassination of O’Ruarc already related, he assumed without further parley the titles of Lord of Meath and Breffni. To these titles, he added that of Oriel or Louth, but his real strength lay in Meath, where his power was enhanced by a politic second marriage with Rose, daughter of O’Conor. Among the Irish he now began to be known as King of the foreigners, and some such assumption of royal authority caused his recall for a few months in the year 1180, and his substitution by de Courcy and Philip de Broasa, in 1184. But his great qualities caused his restoration a third time to the rank of Justiciary for Henry, or Deputy for John, whose title of “Lord of Ireland” was bestowed by his father, at a Parliament held at Oxford, in 1177.

This founder of the Irish de Lacys is described by Giraldus, who knew him personally, as a man of Gallic sobriety, ambitious, avaricious, and lustful, of small stature, and deformed shape, with repulsive features, and dark, deep-set eyes. By the Irish of the midland districts he was bitterly detested as a sacrilegious spoiler of their churches and monasteries, and the most powerful among their invaders. The murder of O’Ruarc, whose title of Breffni he had usurped, was attributed to a deep-laid design; he certainly shared the odium with the advantage that ensued from it. Nor was his own end unlike that of his rival. Among other sites for castles, he had chosen the foundations of the ancient and much venerated monastery of Durrow, planted by Columbcille, seven centuries before, in the midst of the fertile region watered by the Brosna. This act of profanity was fated to be his last, for, while personally superintending the work, O’Meyey, a young man of good birth, and foster-brother to a neighbouring chief of Teffia, known as Sionnach, or “the Fox,” struck off his head with a single blow of his axe and escaped into the neighbouring forest of Kilclare during the confusion which ensued. De Lacy left issue—two sons, Hugh and Walter, by his first wife, and a third, William Gorm, by his second—of whom, and of their posterity, we shall have many occasions to make mention.

In one of the intervals of de Lacy’s disfavour, Prince John, surnamed Sans-terre, or “lack-land,” was sent over by his father to strengthen the English interest in Ireland. He arrived in Waterford, accompanied by a fleet of sixty ships, on the last of March, 1185, and remained in the country till the following November. If anything could excuse the levity, folly and misconduct of the Prince on this expedition, it would be his youth;—he was then only eighteen. But Henry had taken every precaution to ensure success to his favourite son. He was preceded into Ireland by Archbishop Cuming, the English successor of St. Laurence; the learned Glanville was his legal adviser; John de Courcy was his lieutenant, and the eloquent, but passionate and partial Giraldus Cambrensis, his chaplain and tutor. He had, however, other companions more congenial to his age and temper, young noblemen as froward and as extravagant as himself; yet, as he surpassed them all in birth and rank, so he did in wickedness and cruelty of disposition. For age he had no reverence, for virtue no esteem, neither truth towards man, nor decency towards woman. On his arrival at Waterford, the new Archbishop of Dublin, John de Courcy, and the principal Norman nobles, hastened to receive him. With them came also certain Leinster chiefs, desiring to live at peace with the new Galls. When, according to the custom of the country, the chiefs advanced to give John the kiss of peace, their venerable age was made a mockery by the young Prince, who met their proffered salutations by plucking at their beards. This appears to have been as deadly an insult to the Irish as it is to the Asiatics, and the deeply offended guests instantly quitted Waterford. Other follies and excesses rapidly transpired, and the native nobles began to discover that a royal army encumbered, rather than led by such a Prince, was not likely to prove itself invincible. In an idle parade from the Suir to the Liffey, from the Liffey to the Boyne, and in issuing orders for the erection of castles, (some of which are still correctly and others erroneously called King John’s Castles,) the campaign months of the year were wasted by the King of England’s son. One of these castles, to which most importance was attached, Ardfinan on the Suir, was no sooner built than taken by Donald More O’Brien, on midsummer day, when four knights and its other defenders were slain. Another was rising at Lismore, on the Blackwater, under the guardianship of Robert Barry, one of the brood of Nesta, when it was attacked and Barry slain. Other knights and castellans were equally unfortunate; Raymond Fitz-Hugh fell at Leighlin, another Raymond in Idrone, and Roger le Poer in Ossory. In Desmond, Cormac McCarthy besieged Theobald, ancestor of the Butlers in Cork, but this brave Prince —the worthy compeer of O’Brien—was cut off “in a parlee by them of Cork.” The Clan-Colman, or O’Melaghlins, had risen in West-Meath to reclaim their own, when Henry, not an hour too soon, recalled his reckless son, and entrusted, for the last time, the command to Hugh de Lacy, whose fate has been already related.

In the fluctuations of the power of the invaders after the death of de Lacy, and during the next reign in England, one steadfast name appears foremost among the adventurers —that of the gallant giant, de Courcy, the conqueror of the Ards of Down. Not only in prowess, but also in piety, he was the model of all the knighthood of his time. We are told that he always carried about his person a copy of the prophecies attributed to Columbcille, and when, in the year 1186, the relics of the three great saints, whose dust sanctifies Downpatrick, were supposed to be discovered by the Bishop of Down in a dream, he caused them to be translated to the altar-side with all suitable reverence. Yet all his devotions and pilgrimages did not prevent him from pushing on the work of conquest whenever occasion offered. His plantation in Down had time to take root from the unexpected death of Donald, Prince of Aileach, in an encounter with the garrison of one of the new castles, near Newry. (A.D. 1188.) The same year he took up the enterprise against Connaught, in which Milo de Cogan had so signally failed, and from which even de Lacy had, for reasons of his own, refrained. The feuds of the O’Conor family were again the pretext and the ground of hope with the invaders, but Donald More O’Brien, victorious on the Suir and the Shannon, carried his strong succours to Conor Moinmoy on the banks of the Suca, near the present Ballinasloe, and both powers combined marched against de Courcy. Unprepared for this junction, the Norman retreated towards Sligo, and had reached Ballysadare, when Flaherty, Lord of Tyrconnell (Donegal), came against them from the opposite point, and thus placed between two fires, they were forced to fly through the rugged passes of the Curlieu mountains, skirmishing as they went. The only incidents which signalized this campaign on their side was the burning of Ballysadare and the plunder of Armagh; to the Irish it was creditable for the combinations it occasioned. It is cheering in the annals of those desultory wars to find a national advantage gained by the joint action of a Munster, a Connaught, and an Ulster force.

The promise of national unity held out by the alliance of O’Brien and O’Conor, in the years 1188-’89, had been followed up by the adhesion of the lords of Breffni, Ulidia, or Down, the chiefs of the Clan-Colman, and McCarthy, Prince of Desmond. But the assassination of Conor Moinmoy, by the partizans of his cousins, extinguished the hopes of the country, and the peace of his own province. The old family feuds broke out with new fury. In vain the aged Roderick emerged from his convent, and sought with feeble hand to curb the fiery passions of his tribe; in vain the Archbishops of Armagh and of Tuam interposed their spiritual authority, A series of fratricidal contests, for which history has no memory and no heart, were fought out between the warring branches of the family during the last ten years of the century, until by virtue of the strong-arm, Cathal Crovdearg, son of Turlogh More, and younger brother of Roderick, assumed the sovereignty of Connaught about the year 1200.

In the twelve years which intervened between the death of Moinmoy and the establishment of the power of Cathal Crovdearg O’Conor, the Normans had repeated opportunities for intervention in the affairs of Connaught. William de Burgh, a powerful Baron of the family of Fitz-Aldelm, the former Lord Justice, sided with the opponents of Cathal, while de Courcy, and subsequently the younger de Lacy, fought on his side. Once at least these restless Barons changed allies, and fought as desperately against their former candidate for the succession as they had before fought for him. In one of these engagements, the date assigned to which is the year 1190, Sir Armoric St. Laurence, founder of the Howth family, at the head of a numerous division, is said to have been cut off with all his troop. But the fortune of war frequently shifted during the contest. In the year 1199, Cathal Crovdearg, with his allies de Lacy and de Courcy, was utterly defeated at Kilmacduagh, in the present county of Galway, and were it not that the rival O’Conor was sorely defeated, and trodden to death in the route which ensued, three years later, Connaught might never have known the vigorous administration of her “red-handed” hero.

The early career of this able and now triumphant Prince, as preserved to us by history and tradition, is full of romantic incidents. He is said to have been born out of wedlock, and that his mother, while pregnant of him, was subject to all the cruel persecutions and magical torments the jealous wife of his father could invent. No sooner was he born than he became an object of hatred to the Queen, so that mother and child, after being concealed for three years in the sanctuaries of Connaught, had to fly for their lives into Leinster. In this exile, though early informed of his origin, he was brought up among the labourers in the field, and was actually engaged, sickle in hand, cutting the harvest, when a travelling Bollscaire, or newsman from the west, related the events which enabled him to return to his native province. “Farewell sickle,” he exclaimed, casting it from him —”now for the sword.” Hence “Cathal’s farewell to the rye” was long a proverbial expression for any sudden change of purpose or of condition. Fortune seems to have favoured him in most of his undertakings. In a storm upon Lough Ree, when a whole fleet foundered and its warrior crew perished, he was one of seven who were saved. Though in some of his early battles unsuccessful, he always recovered his ground, kept up his alliances, and returned to the contest. After the death of the celebrated Donald More O’Brien (A.D. 1194), he may certainly be considered the first soldier and first diplomatist among the Irish. Nor was his lot cast on more favoured days, nor was he pitted against less able men than those with whom the brave King of Munster—the stoutest defender of his fatherland—had so honourably striven. Fortunate it was for the renown of the Gael, that as one star of the race set over Thomond, another of equal brilliancy rose to guide them in the west.

With the end of the century, the career of Cathal’s allies, de Courcy and de Burgh, may be almost said to have ended. The obituary of the latter bears the date of 1204. He had obtained large grants from King John of lands in Connaught—if he could conquer them—which his vigorous descendants, the Burkes of Clanrickarde, did their best to accomplish. De Courcy, warring with the sons of de Lacy, and seeking refuge among the clansmen of Tyrone, disappears from the stage of Irish affairs. He is said to have passed on to England, and ended his days in prison, a victim to the caprice or jealousy of King John. Many tales are—told of his matchless intrepidity. His indirect descendants, the Barons of Kinsale, claim the right to wear their hats before the King in consequence of one of these legends, which represents him as the champion Knight of England, taken from, a dungeon to uphold her honour against a French challenger. Other tales as ill authenticated are founded on his career, which, however, in its literal truth, is unexcelled for hardihood and adventure, except, perhaps, by the cotemporaneous story of the lion-hearted Richard, whom he closely resembled. The title of Earl of Ulster, created for de Courcy in 1181, was transferred in 1205, by royal patent, to Walter de Lacy, whose only daughter Maud brought it in the year 1264 to Walter de Burgh, lord of Connaught, from whose fourth female descendant it passed in 1354, by her marriage with Lionel, Duke of Clarence, into the royal family of England.


Ireland, during the first three quarters of the thirteenth century, produced fewer important events, and fewer great men, than in the thirty last years of the century preceding. From the side of England, she was subjected to no imminent danger in all that interval. The reign of John ending in 1216, and that of Henry III. extending till 1271, were fully occupied with the insurrections of the Barons, with French, Scotch, and Welsh wars, family feuds, the rise and fall of royal favourites, and all those other incidents which naturally, befall in a state of society where the King is weak, the aristocracy strong and insolent, and the commons disunited and despised. During this period the fusion of Norman, Saxon, and Briton went slowly on, and the next age saw for the first time a population which could be properly called English. “Do you take me for an Englishman?” was the last expression of Norman arrogance in the reign of King John; but the close of the reign of Henry III., through the action of commercial and political causes, saw a very different state of feeling growing up between the descendants of the races which contended for mastery under Harold and William. The strongly marked Norman characteristics lingered in Ireland half a century later, for it is usually the case that traits of caste survive longest in colonies and remote provinces. In Richard de Burgo, commonly called the Red Earl of Ulster, all the genius and the vices of the race of Rollo blazed out over Ireland for the last time, and with terrible effect.

During the first three quarters of the century, our history, like that of England, is the history of a few great houses; nation there is, strictly speaking, none. It will be necessary, therefore, to group together the acts of two or three generations of men of the same name, as the only method of finding our way through the shifting scenes of this stormy period.

The power of the great Connaught family of O’Conor, so terribly shaken by the fratricidal wars and unnatural alliances of the sons and grandsons of Roderick, was in great part restored by the ability and energy of Cathal Crovdearg. In his early struggles for power he was greatly assisted by the anarchy which reigned among the English nobles. Mayler Fitz-Henry, the last of Strongbow’s companions, who rose to such eminence, being Justiciary in the first six years of the century, was aided by O’Conor to besiege William de Burgo in Limerick, and to cripple the power of the de Lacys in Meath. In the year 1207, John Gray, Bishop of Norwich, was sent over, as more likely to be impartial than any ruler personally interested in the old quarrels, but during his first term of office, the interdict with which Innocent III. had smitten England, hung like an Egyptian darkness over the Anglo-Norman power in Ireland. The native Irish, however, were exempt from its enervating effects, and Cathal O’Conor, by the time King John came over in person—in the year 1210—to endeavour to retrieve the English interest, had warred down all his enemies, and was of power sufficient to treat with the English sovereign as independently as Roderick had done with Henry II. thirty-five years before. He personally conferred with John at Dublin, as the O’Neil and other native Princes did; he procured from the English King the condemnation of John de Burgo, who had maintained his father’s claims on a portion of Connaught, and he was formally recognised, according to the approved forms of Norman diplomacy, as seized of the whole of Connaught, in his own right.

The visit of King John, which lasted from the 20th of June till the 25th of August, was mainly directed to the reduction of those intractable Anglo-Irish Barons whom Fitz-Henry and Gray had proved themselves unable to cope with. Of these the de Lacys of Meath were the most obnoxious. They not only assumed an independent state, but had sheltered de Braos, Lord of Brecknock, one of the recusant Barons of Wales, and refused to surrender him on the royal summons. To assert his authority, and to strike terror into the nobles of other possessions, John crossed the channel with a prodigious fleet—in the Irish annals said to consist of 700 sail. He landed at Crook, reached Dublin, and prepared at once to subdue the Lacys. With his own army, and the co-operation of Cathal O’Conor, he drove out Walter de Lacy, Lord of Meath, who fled to his brother, Hugh de Lacy, since de Courcy’s disgrace, Earl of Ulster. From Meath into Louth John pursued the brothers, crossing the lough at Carlingford with his ships, which must have coasted in his company. From Carlingford they retreated, and he pursued to Carrickfergus, and from that fortress, unable to resist a royal fleet and navy, they fled into Man or Scotland, and thence escaped in disguise into France. With their guest de Braos, they wrought as gardeners in the grounds of the Abbey of Saint Taurin Evreux, until the Abbot, having discovered by their manners the key to their real rank, negotiated successfully with John for their restoration to their estates. Walter agreed to pay a fine of 2,500 marks for his lordship in Meath, and Hugh 4,000 marks for his possessions in Ulster. Of de Braos we have no particulars; his high-spirited wife and children were thought to have been starved to death by order of the unforgiving tyrant in one of his castles. The de Lacys, on their restoration, were accompanied to Ireland by a nephew of the Abbot of St. Taurin, on whom they conferred an estate and the honour of knighthood.

The only other acts of John’s sojourn in Ireland was his treaty with O’Conor, already mentioned, and the mapping out, on paper, of the intended counties of Oriel (or Louth), Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Katherlough (or Carlow), Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, as the only districts in which those he claimed as his subjects had any possessions. He again installed the Bishop of Norwich as his justiciary or lieutenant, who, three years, later, was succeeded by Henry de Londres, the next Archbishop of Dublin, and he again (A.D. 1215), by Geoffrey de Marisco, the last of John’s deputies. In the year 1216, Henry III., an infant ten years of age, succeeded to the English throne, and the next dozen years the history of the two islands is slightly connected, except by the fortunes of the family of de Burgh, whose head, Hubert de Burgh, the Chief Justiciary, from the accession of the new King, until the first third of the century had closed, was in reality the Sovereign of England. Among his other titles he held that of Lord of Connaught, which he conveyed to his relative, Richard de Burgo, the son or grandson of William Fitz-Aldelm de Burgo, about the year 1225. And this brings us to relate how the house of Clanrickarde rose upon the flank of the house of O’Conor, and after holding an almost equal front for two generations, finally overshadowed its more ancient rival.

While Cathal Crovdearg lived, the O’Conor’s held their own, and rather more than their own, by policy or arms. Not only did his own power suffer no diminution, but he more than once assisted the Dalgais and the Eugenians to expel their invaders from North and South Munster, and to uphold their ancient rights and laws. During the last years of John’s reign that King and his Barons were mutually too busy to set aside the arrangement entered into in 1210. In the first years of Henry it was also left undisturbed by the English court. In 1221 we read that the de Lacys, remembering, no doubt, the part he had played in their expulsion, endeavoured to fortify Athleague against him, but the veteran King, crossing the Shannon farther northward, took them in the rear, compelled them to make peace, and broke down their Castle. This was almost the last of his victories. In the year 1213 we read in the Annals of “an awful and heavy shower which fell over Connaught,” and was held to presage the death of its heroic King. Feeling his hour had come, this Prince, to whom are justly attributed the rare union of virtues, ardour of mind, chastity of body, meekness in prosperity, fortitude under defeat, prudence in civil business, undaunted bravery in battle, and a piety of life beyond all his cotemporaries—feeling the near approach of death, retired to the Abbey of Knockmoy, which he had founded and endowed, and there expired in the Franciscan habit, at an age which must have bordered on fourscore. He was succeeded by his son, Hugh O’Conor, “the hostages of Connaught being in his house” at the time of his illustrious father’s death.

No sooner was Cathal Crovdearg deceased than Hubert de Burgo procured the grants of the whole Province, reserving only five cantreds about Athlone for a royal garrison to be made to Richard de Burgo, his nephew. Richard had married Hodierna, granddaughter to Cathal, and thus, like all the Normans, though totally against the Irish custom, claimed a part of Connaught in right of his wife. But in the sons of Cathal he found his equal both in policy and arms, and with the fall of his uncle at the English court (about the year 1233), Feidlim O’Conor, the successor of Hugh, taking advantage of the event, made interest at the Court of Henry III. sufficient to have his overgrown neighbour stripped of some of his strongholds by royal order. The King was so impressed with O’Conor’s representations that he wrote peremptorily to Maurice Fitzgerald, second Lord Offally, then his deputy, “to root out that barren tree planted in Offally by Hubert de Burgh, in the madness of his power, and not to suffer it to shoot forth.” Five years later, Feidlim, in return, carried some of his force, in conjunction with the deputy, to Henry’s aid in Wales, though, as their arrival was somewhat tardy, Fitzgerald was soon after dismissed on that account.

Richard de Burgo died in attendance on King Henry in France (A.D. 1243), and was succeeded by his son, Walter de Burgo, who continued, with varying fortunes, the contest for Connaught with Feidlim, until the death of the latter, in the Black Abbey of Roscommon, in the year 1265. Hugh O’Conor, the son and successor of Feidlim, continued the intrepid guardian of his house and province during the nine years he survived his father. In the year 1254, by marriage with the daughter of de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, that title had passed into the family of de Burgh, bringing with it, for the time, much substantial, though distant, strength. It was considered only a secondary title, and as the eldest son of the first de Lacy remained Lord of Meath, while the younger took de Courcy’s forfeited title of Ulster, so, in the next generation, did the sons of this Walter de Burgh, until death and time reunited both titles in the same person. Walter de Burgh died in the year 1271, in the Castle of Galway; his great rival, Feidlim O’Conor, in 1274, was buried in the Abbey of Boyle. The former is styled King of the English of Connaught by the Irish Annalists, who also speak of Feidlim as “the most triumphant and the most feared (by the invaders) of any King that had been in Connaught before his time.” The relative position of the Irish and English in that Province, towards the end of this century, may be judged by the fact, that of the Anglo-Normans summoned by Edward I. to join him in Scotland in 1299, but two, Richard de Burgo and Piers de Bermingham, Baron of Athenry, had then possessions in Connaught. There were Norman Castles at Athlone, at Athenry, at Galway, and perhaps at other points; but the natives still swayed supreme over the plains of Rathcrogan, the plains of Boyle, the forests and lakes of Roscommon, and the whole of Iar, or West Connaught, from Lough Corrib to the ocean, with the very important exception of the castle and port of Galway. A mightier de Burgo than any that had yet appeared was to see in his house, in the year 1286, “the hostages of all Connaught;” but his life and death form a distinct epoch in our story and must be treated separately.


We have already told the tragic fate of the two adventurers—Fitzstephen and de Cogan—between whom the whole of Desmond was first partitioned by Henry II. But there were not wanting other claimants, either by original grant from the crown, by intermarriage with Irish, or Norman-Irish heiresses, or new-comers, favourites of John or of Henry III., or of their Ministers, enriched at the expense of the native population. Thomas, third son of Maurice Fitzgerald, claimed partly through his uncle Fitzstephen, and partly through his marriage with the daughter of another early adventurer, Sir William Morrie, whose vast estates on which his descendants were afterwards known as Earls of Desmond, the White Knight, the Knight of Glyn, and the Knight of Kerry. Robert de Carew and Patrick de Courcy claimed as heirs general to de Cogan. The de Mariscoes, de Barris, and le Poers, were not extinct; and finally Edward I., soon after his accession, granted the whole land of Thomond to Thomas de Clare, son of the Earl of Gloucester, and son-in-law of Maurice, third Baron of Offally. A contest very similar to that which was waged in Connaught between the O’Conors and de Burghs was consequently going on in Munster at the same time, between the old inhabitants and the new claimants, of all the three classes just indicated.

The principality of Desmond, containing angles of Waterford and Tipperary, with all Cork and Kerry, seemed at the beginning of the thirteenth century in greatest danger of conquest. The O’Callaghans, Lords of Cinel-Aedha, in the south of Cork, were driven into the mountains of Duhallow, where they rallied and held their ground for four centuries; the O’Sullivans, originally settled along the Suir, about Clonmel, were forced towards the mountain seacoast of Cork and Kerry, where they acquired new vigour in the less fertile soil of Beare and Bantry. The native families of the Desies, from their proximity to the port of Waterford, were harassed and overrun, and the ports of Dungarvan, Youghal, and Cork, being also taken and garrisoned by the founder of the earldom of Desmond, easy entrance and egress by sea could always be obtained for his allies, auxiliaries, and supplies. It was when these dangers were darkening and menacing on every side that the family of McCarthy, under a succession of able and vigorous chiefs, proved themselves worthy of the headship of the Eugenian race. Cormac McCarthy, who had expelled the first garrison from Waterford, ere he fell in a parley before Cork, had defeated the first enterprises of Fitzstephen and de Cogan; he left a worthy son in Donald na Curra, who, uniting his own co-relations, and acting in conjunction with O’Brien and O’Conor, retarded by his many exploits the progress of the invasion in Munster. He recovered Cork and razed King John’s castle at Knockgraffon on the Suir. He left two surviving sons, of whom the eldest, Donald Gott, or the Stammerer, took the title of More, or Great, and his posterity remained princes of Desmond, until that title merged in the earldom of Glencare (A.D. 1565); the other, Cormac, after taking his brother prisoner compelled him to acknowledge him as lord of the four baronies of Carbury. From this Cormac the family of McCarthy Reagh descended, and to them the O’Driscolls, O’Donovans, O’Mahonys, and other Eugenian houses became tributary. The chief residence of McCarthy Reagh was long fixed at Dunmanway; his castles were also at Baltimore, Castlehaven, Lough-Fyne, and in Inis-Sherkin and Clear Island. The power of McCarthy More extended at its greatest reach from Tralee in Kerry to Lismore in Waterford. In the year 1229, Dermid McCarthy had peaceable possession of Cork, and founded the Franciscan Monastery there. Such was his power, that, according to Hamner and his authorities, the Geraldines “dare not for twelve years put plough into the ground in Desmond.” At last, another generation rose, and fierce family feuds broke out between the branches of the family. The Lord of Carbury now was Fineen, or Florence, the most celebrated man of his name, and one whose power naturally encroached upon the possession of the elder house. John, son of Thomas Fitzgerald of Desmond, seized the occasion to make good the enormous pretension of his family. In the expedition which he undertook for this purpose, in the year 1260, he was joined by the Justiciary, William Dene, by Walter de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, by Walter de Riddlesford, Baron of Bray, by Donnel Roe, a chief of the hostile house of McCarthy. The Lord of Carbury united under his standard the chief Eugenian families, not only of the Coast, but even of McCarthy More’s principality, and the battle was fought with great ferocity at Callan-Glen, near Kenmare, in Kerry. There the Anglo-Normans received the most complete defeat they had yet experienced on Irish ground. John Fitz-Thomas, his son Maurice, eight barons, fifteen knights, and “countless numbers of common soldiers were slain.” The Monastery of Tralee received the dead body of its founder and his son, while Florence McCarthy, following up his blow, captured and broke down in swift succession all the English castles in his neighbourhood, including those of Macroom, Dunnamark, Dunloe, and Killorglin. In besieging one of these castles, called Ringrone, the victorious chief, in the full tide of conquest, was cut off, and his brother, called the Atheleireach (or suspended priest), succeeded to his possessions. The death of the victor arrested the panic of the defeat, but Munster saw another generation before her invaders had shaken off the depression of the battle of Callan-glen.

Before the English interest had received this severe blow in the south, a series of events had transpired in Leinster, going to show that its aspiring barons had been seized with the madness which precedes destruction. William, Earl Marshal and Protector of England during the minority of Henry III., had married Isabella, the daughter of Strongbow and granddaughter of Dermid, through whom he assumed the title of Lord of Leinster. He procured the office of Earl Marshal of Ireland—originally conferred on the first de Lacy—for his own nephew, and thus converted the de Lacys into mortal enemies. His son and successor Richard, having made himself obnoxious, soon after his accession to that title, to the young King, or to Hubert de Burgh, was outlawed, and letters were despatched to the Justiciary, Fitzgerald, to de Burgo, de Lacy, and other Anglo-Irish lords, if he landed in Ireland, to seize his person, alive or dead, and send it to England. Strong in his estates and alliances, the young Earl came; while his enemies employed the wily Geoffrey de Mountmorres to entrap him into a conference, in order to his destruction. The meeting was appointed for the first day of April, 1234, and while the outlawed Earl was conversing with those who had invited him, an affray began among their servants by design, he himself was mortally wounded and carried to one of Fitzgerald’s castles, where he died. He was succeeded in his Irish honours by three of his brothers, who all died without heirs male. Anselme, the last Earl Marshal of his family, dying in 1245, left five co-heiresses, Maud, Joan, Isabel, Sybil, and Eva, between whom the Irish estates—or such portions of them in actual possession—were divided. They married respectively the Earls of Norfolk, Suffolk, Gloucester, Ferrers, and Braos, or Brace, Lord of Brecknock, in whose families, for another century or more, the secondary titles were Catherlogh, Kildare, Wexford, Kilkenny, and Leix,—those five districts being supposed, most absurdly, to have come into the Marshal family, from the daughter of Strongbow. The false knights and dishonoured nobles concerned in the murder of Richard Marshal were disappointed of the prey which had been promised them—the partition of his estates. And such was the horror which the deed excited in England, that it hastened the fall of Hubert de Burgh, though Maurice Fitzgerald, of Offally—ancestor of the Kildare family—having cleared himself of all complicity in it by oath—was continued as Justiciary for ten years longer. In the year 1245, for his tardiness in joining the King’s army in Wales, he was succeeded by the false-hearted Geoffrey de Mountmorres, who held the office till 1247. During the next twenty-five years, about half as many Justices were placed and displaced, according to the whim of the successive favourites at the English Court. In 1252, Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I., was appointed with the title of Lord Lieutenant, but never came over. Nor is there in the series of rulers we have numbered, with, perhaps, two exceptions, any who have rendered their names memorable by great exploits, or lasting legislation. So little inherent power had the incumbents of the highest office—unless when, they employed their own proper forces in their sovereign’s name—that we read without surprise, how the bold mountaineers of Wicklow, at the opening of the century (A.D. 1209) slaughtered the Bristolians of Dublin, engaged at their archery in Cullenswood, and at the close of it, how “one of the Kavanaghs, of the blood of McMurrogh, living at Leinster,” “displayed his standards within sight of the city.” Yet this is commonly spoken of as a country overrun by a few score Norman Knights, in a couple of campaigns!

The maintenance of the conquest was in these years less the work of the King’s Justices than of the great houses. Of these, two principally profited, by the untimely felling of that great tree which overshadowed all others in Leinster, the Marshals. The descendants of the eldest son of Maurice Fitzgerald clung to their Leinster possessions, while their equally vigorous cousins pushed their fortunes in Desmond. Maurice, grandson of Maurice, and second Baron of Offally, from the year 1229 to the year 1246, was three times Lord Justice. “He was a valiant Knight, a very pleasant man, and inferior to none in the kingdom,” by Matthew Paris’s account. He introduced the Franciscan and Dominican orders into Ireland, built many castles, churches, and abbeys at Youghal, at Sligo, at Armagh, at Maynooth, and in other places. In the year 1257, he was wounded in single combat by O’Donnell, Lord of Tyrconnell, near Sligo, and died soon after in the Franciscan habit in Youghal. He left his successor so powerful, that in the year 1264, there being a feud between the Geraldines and de Burghs, he seized the Lord Justice and the whole de Burgh party at a conference at Castledermot, and carried them to his own castles of Lea and Dunamase as prisoners. In 1272, on the accidental death of the Lord Justice Audley, by a fall from his horse, “the council” elected this the third Baron of Offally in his stead.

The family of Butler were of slower growth, but of equal tenacity with the Geraldines. They first seem to have attached themselves to the Marshals, for whom they were indebted for their first holding in Kilkenny. At the Conference of Castledermot, Theobald Butler, the fourth in descent from the founder of the house, was numbered among the adherents of de Burgh, but a few years later we find him the ally of the Geraldines in the invasion of Thomond. In the year 1247, the title of Lord of Carrick had been conferred on him, which in 1315 was converted into Earl of Carrick, and this again into that of Ormond. The Butlers of this house, when they had attained their growth of power, became the hereditary rivals of the Kildare Geraldines, whose earldom dates from 1316, as that of Ormond does from 1328, and Desmond from 1329.

The name of Maurice, the third Baron of Offally, and uncle of John, the first Earl of Kildare, draws our attention naturally to the last enterprise of his life —the attempt to establish his son-in-law, Thomas de Clare, in possession of Thomond. The de Clares, Earls of Gloucester, pretended a grant from Henry II. of the whole of Thomond, as their title to invade that principality; but their real grant was bestowed by Edward I., in the year 1275. The state of the renowned patrimony of Brian had long seemed to invite such an aggression. Murtogh, son of Donnell More, who succeeded his father in 1194, had early signalized himself by capturing the castles of Birr, Kinnetty, Ballyroane and Lothra, in Leix, and razing them to the ground. But these castles were reconstructed in 1213, when the feuds between the rival O’Briens—Murtogh and Donogh Cairbre—had paralyzed the defence force of Thomond. It was, doubtless, in the true divide-and-conquer spirit, that Henry the Third’s advisers confirmed to Donogh the lordship of Thomond in 1220, leaving to his elder brother the comparatively barren title of King of Munster. Both brothers, by alternately working on their hopes and fears, were thus for many years kept in a state of dependence on the foreigner. One gleam of patriotic virtue illumines the annals of the house of O’Brien, during the first forty years of the century—when, in the year 1225, Donogh Cairbre assisted Felim O’Conor to resist the Anglo-Norman army, then pouring over Connaught, in the quarrel of de Burgh. Conor, the son of Donogh, who succeeded his father in the year 1242, animated by the example of his cotemporaries, made successful war against the invaders of his Province, more especially in the year 1257, and the next year; attended with O’Conor the meeting at Beleek, on the Erne, where Brian O’Neil was acknowledged, by both the Munster and the Connaught Prince, as Ard-Righ. The untimely end of this attempt at national union will be hereafter related; meantime, we proceed to mention that, in 1260, the Lord of Thomond defeated the Geraldines and their Welsh auxiliaries, at Kilbarran, in Clare. He was succeeded the following season by his son, Brian Roe, in whose time Thomas de Clare again put to the test of battle his pretensions to the lordship of Thomond.

It was in the year 1277, that, supported by his father-in-law, the Kildare Fitzgerald, de Clare marched into Munster, and sought an interview with the O’Brien. The relation of gossip, accounted sacred among the Irish, existed between them, but Brien Roe, having placed himself credulously in the hands of his invaders, was cruelly drawn to pieces between two horses. All Thomond rose in arms, under Donogh, son of Brian, to revenge this infamous murder. Near Ennis the Normans met a terrible defeat, from which de Clare and Fitzgerald fled for safety into the neighbouring Church of Quin. But Donogh O’Brien burned the Church over their heads, and forced them to surrender at discretion. Strange to say they were held to ransom, on conditions, we may suppose, sufficiently hard. Other days of blood were yet to decide the claims of the family of de Clare. In 1287, Turlogh, then the O’Brien, defeated an invasion similar to the last, in which Thomas de Clare was slain, together with Patrick Fitzmaurice of Kerry, Richard Taafe, Richard Deriter, Nicholas Teeling, and other knights, and Gerald, the fourth Baron of Offally, brother-in-law to de Clare, was mortally wounded. After another interval, Gilbert de Clare, son of Thomas, renewed the contest, which he bequeathed to his brother Richard. This Richard, whose name figures more than his brother’s in the events of his time, made a last effort, in the year 1318, to make good the claims of his family. On the 5th of May, in that year, he fell in battle against McCarthy and O’Brien, and there fell with him Sir Thomas de Naas, Sir Henry Capell, Sir James and Sir John Caunton, with four other knights, and a proportion of men-at-arms. From thenceforth that proud offshoot of the house of Gloucester, which, at its first settling in Munster, flourished as bravely as the Geraldines themselves, became extinct in the land.

Such were the varying fortunes of the two races in Leinster and Munster, and such the men who rose and fell. We must now turn to the contest as maintained at the same period in Meath and Ulster.


We may estimate the power of the de Lacy family in the second generation, from the fact that their expulsion required a royal army and navy, commanded by the King in person, to come from England. Although pardoned by John, the brothers took care never to place themselves in that cowardly tyrant’s power, and they observed the same precaution on the accession of his son, until well assured that he did not share the antipathy of his father. After their restoration the Lacys had no rivals among the Norman-Irish except the Marshal family, and though both houses in half a century became extinct, not so those they had planted or patronized, or who claimed from them collaterally. In Meath the Tuites, Cusacks, Flemings, Daltons, Petits, Husseys, Nangles, Tyrrells, Nugents, Verdons, and Gennevilles, struck deep into the soil. The co-heiresses, Margaret and Matilda de Lacy, married Lord Theobald de Verdon and Sir Geoffrey de Genneville, between whom the estate of their father was divided; both these ladies dying without male issue, the lordship was, in 1286, claimed by Richard de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, whose mother was their cousin-germain. But we are anticipating time.

No portion of the island, if we except, perhaps, Wexford and the shores of Strangford Lough, was so thoroughly castellated as the ancient Meath from the sea to the Shannon. Trim, Kells and Durrow were the strongest holds; there were keeps or castles at Ardbraccan, Slane, Rathwyre, Navan, Skreen, Santry, Clontarf, and Castleknock—for even these places, almost within sight of Dublin, were included in de Lacy’s original grant. None of these fortresses could have been more than a few miles distant from the next, and once within their thick-ribbed walls, the Norman, Saxon, Cambrian, or Danish serf or tenant might laugh at the Milesian arrows and battle-axes without. With these fortresses, and their own half-Irish origin and policy, the de Lacys, father and son, held Meath for two generations in general subjection. But the banishment of the brothers in 1210, and the death of Walter of Meath, presented the family of O’Melaghlin and the whole of the Methian tribes with opportunities of insurrection not to be neglected. We read, therefore, under the years 1211, ’12 and ’13, that Art O’Melaghlin and Cormac, his son, took the castles of Killclane, Ardinurcher, Athboy, and Smerhie, killing knights and wardens, and enriching themselves with booty; that the whole English of Ireland turned out en masse to the rescue of their brethren in Meath; that the castles of Birr, Durrow, and Kinnetty were strengthened against Art, and a new one erected at Clonmacnoise. After ten years of exile, the banished de Lacys returned, and by alliance with O’Neil, no less than their own prowess, recovered all their former influence. Cormac, son of Art, left a son and successor also named Art, who, we read at the year 1264, gave the English of Meath a great defeat upon the Brosna, where he that was not slain was drowned. Following the blow, he burned their villages and broke the castles of the stranger throughout Devlin, Calry, and Brawny, and replaced in power over them the McCoghlans, Magawleys, and O’Breens, from whom he took hostages according to ancient custom. Two years afterwards he repulsed Walter de Burgh at Shannon harbour, driving his men into the river, where many of them perished. At his death (A.D. 1283) he is eulogized for having destroyed seven-and-twenty English castles in his lifetime. From these exploits he was called Art na Caislean, a remarkable distinction, when we remember that the Irish were, up to this time, wholly unskilled in besieging such strongholds as the Norman engineers knew so well how to construct. His only rival in Meath in such meritorious works of destruction was Conor, son of Donnell, and O’Melaghlin of East-Meath, or Bregia, whose death is recorded at the year 1277, “as one of the three men in Ireland” whom the midland English most feared.

From the ancient mensal the transition is easy to the north. The border-land of Breffni, whose chief was the first of the native nobles that perished by Norman perfidy, was at the beginning of the century swayed by Ulgarg O’Rourke. Of Ulgarg we know little, save that in the year 1231 he “died on his way to the river Jordan”—a not uncommon pilgrimage with the Irish of those days. Nial, son of Congal, succeeded, and about the middle of the century we find Breffni divided into two lordships, from the mountain of Slieve-an-eiran eastward, or Cavan, being given to Art, son of Cathal, and from the mountain westward, or Leitrim, to Donnell, son of Conor, son of Tiernan, de Lacy’s victim. This subdivision conduced neither to the strengthening of its defenders nor to the satisfaction of O’Conor, under whose auspices it was made. Family feuds and household treasons were its natural results for two or three generations; in the midst of these broils two neighbouring families rose into greater importance, the O’Reillys in Cavan and the Maguires in Fermanagh. Still, strong in their lake and mountain region, the tribes of Breffni were comparatively unmolested by foreign enemies, while the stress of the northern battle fell upon the men of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, of Oriel and of the coast country, from Carlingford to the Causeway.

The borders of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, like every other tribe-land, were frequently enlarged or contracted, according to the vigour or weakness of their chiefs or neighbours. In the age of which we now speak, Tyrconnell extended from the Erne to the Foyle, and Tyrone from the Foyle to Lough Neagh, with the exception of the extreme north of Berry and Antrim, which belonged to the O’Kanes. It was not till the fourteenth century that the O’Neils spread their power east of Lough Neagh, over those baronies of Antrim long known as north and south Clan-Hugh-Buidhe, (Clandeboy.) North Antrim was still known as Dalriada, and South Antrim and Down, as Ulidia. Oriel, which has been usually spoken of in this history as Louth, included angles of Monaghan and Armagh, and was anciently the most extensive lordship in Ulster. The chieftain families of Tyrconnell were the O’Donnells; of Tyrone, the O’Neils and McLaughlins; of Dalriada, O’Kanes, O’Haras, and O’Shields; of Ulidia, the Magennis of Iveagh and the Donlevys of Down; of Oriel, the McMahons and O’Hanlons. Among these populous tribes the invaders dealt some of their fiercest blows, both by land and sea, in the thirteenth century. But the north was fortunate in its chiefs; they may fairly contest the laurel with the O’Conors, O’Briens and McCarthys of the west and south.

In the first third of the century, Hugh O’Neil, who succeeded to the lordship of Tyrone in 1198, and died in 1230, was cotemporary with Donnell More O’Donnell, who, succeeding to the lordship of Tyrconnell in 1208, died in 1241, after an equally long and almost equally distinguished career. Melaghlin O’Donnell succeeded Donnell More from ’41 to ’47, Godfrey from ’48 to ’57, and Donnell Oge from 1257 to 1281, when he was slain in battle. Hugh O’Neil was succeeded in Tyrone by Donnell McLaughlin, of the rival branch of the same stock, who in 1241 was subdued by O’Donnell, and the ascendancy of the family of O’Neil established in the person of Brian, afterwards chosen King of Ireland, and slain at Down. Hugh Boy, or the Swarthy, was elected O’Neil on Brian’s death, and ruled till the year 1283, when he was slain in battle, as was his next successor, Brian, in the year 1295. These names and dates are worthy to be borne in mind, because on these two-great houses mainly devolved the brunt of battle in their own province.

These northern chiefs had two frontiers to guard or to assail: the north-eastern, extending from the glens of Antrim to the hills of Mourne, and the southern stretching from sea to sea, from Newry to Sligo. This country was very assailable by sea; to those whose castles commanded its harbours and rivers, the fleets of Bristol, Chester, Man, and Dublin could always carry supplies and reinforcements. By the interior line one road threaded the Mourne mountains, and deflected towards Armagh, while another, winding through west Breffni, led from Sligo into Donegal by the cataract of Assaroe,—the present Ballyshannon. Along these ancient lines of communication, by fords, in mountain passes, and near the landing places for ships, the struggle for the possession of that end of the Island went on, at intervals, whenever large bodies of men could be spared from garrisons and from districts already occupied.

In the year 1210, we find that there was an English Castle at Cael-uisge, now Castle-Caldwell, on Lough Erne, and that it was broke down and its defenders slain by Hugh O’Neil and Donald More O’Donnell acting together. After this event we have no trace of a foreign force in the interior of Ulster for several years. Hugh O’Neil, who died in 1230, is praised by the Bards for “never having given hostages, pledges, or tributes to English or Irish,” which seems a compliment well founded. During several years following that date the war was chiefly centred in Connaught, and the fighting men of the north who took part in it were acting as allies to the O’Conors. Donald More O’Donnell had married a daughter of Cathal Crovdearg, so that ties of blood, as well as neighbouring interests, united these two great families. In the year 1247, an army under Maurice Fitzgerald, then Lord Justice, crossed the Erne in two divisions, one above and the other at Ballyshannon. Melaghlin O’Donnell was defending the passage of the river when he was taken unexpectedly in the rear by those who had crossed higher up, and thus was defeated and slain. Fitzgerald then ravaged Tyrconnell, set up a rival chief O’Canavan, and rebuilt the Castle at Cael-uisge, near Beleek. Ten years afterwards Godfrey O’Donnell, the successor of Melaghlin, avenged the defeat at Ballyshannon, in the sanguinary battle of Credran, near Sligo, where engaging Fitzgerald in single combat, he gave him his death-stroke. From wounds received at Credran, Godfrey himself, after lingering twelve months in great suffering, died. But his bodily afflictions did not prevent him discharging all the duties of a great Captain; he razed a second time the English Castle on Lough Erne, and stoutly protected his own borders against the pretensions of O’Neil, being carried on his bier in the front of the battle of Lough Swilly in 1258.

It was while Tyrconnell was under the rule of this heroic soldier that the unfortunate feud arose between the O’Neils and O’Donnells. Both families, sprung from a common ancestor, of equal antiquity and equal pride, neither would yield a first place to the other. “Pay me my tribute,” was O’Neil’s demand; “I owe you no tribute, and if I did—-” was O’Donnell’s reply. The O’Neil at this time—Brian—aspiring to restore the Irish sovereignty in his own person, was compelled to begin the work of exercising authority over his next neighbour. More than one border battle was the consequence, not only with Godfrey, but with Donnell Oge, his successor. In the year 1258, Brian was formally recognized by O’Conor and O’Brien as chief of the kingdom, in the conference of Cael-uisge, and two years later, at the battle of Down, gallantly laid down his life, in defence of the kingdom he claimed to govern. In this most important battle no O’Donnell is found fighting with King Brian, though immediately afterwards we find Donnell Oge of Tyrconnell endeavouring to subjugate Tyrone, and active afterwards in the aid of his cousins, the grandsons of Cathal Crovdearg, in Connaught.

The Norman commander in this battle was Stephen de Longespay, then Lord Justice, Earl of Salisbury in England, and Count de Rosman in France. His marriage with the widow of Hugh de Lacy and daughter of de Riddlesford connected him closely with Irish affairs, and in the battle of Down he seems to have had all the Anglo-Irish chivalry, “in gold and iron,” at his back. With King Brian O’Neil fell, on that crimson day, the chiefs of the O’Hanlons, O’Kanes, McLaughlins, O’Gormlys, McCanns, and other families who followed his banner. The men of Connaught suffered hardly less than those of Ulster. McDermott, Lord of Moylurgh, Cathal O’Conor, O’Gara, McDonogh, O’Mulrony, O’Quinn, and other chiefs were among the slain. In Hugh Bwee O’Neil the only hope of the house of Tyrone seemed now to rest; and his energy and courage were all taxed to the uttermost to retain the place of his family in the Province, beating back rapacious neighbours on the one hand, and guarding against foreign enemies on the other. For twelve years, Hugh Bwee defended his lordship against all aggressors. In 1283, he fell at the hands of the insurgent chiefs of Oriel and Breffni, and a fierce contest for the succession arose between his son Brian and Donald, son of King Brian who fell at Down. A contest of twelve years saw Donald successful over his rival (A.D. 1295), and his rule extended from that period until 1325, when he died at Leary’s lake, in the present diocese of Clogher.

It was this latter Donnell or Donald O’Neil, who, towards the end of his reign, addressed to Pope John XXII. (elected to the pontificate in 1316) that powerful indictment against the Anglo-Normans, which has ever since remained one of the cardinal texts of our history. It was evidently written after the unsuccessful attempt, in which Donald was himself a main actor, to establish Edward Bruce on the throne of Ireland. That period we have not yet reached, but the merciless character of the warfare waged against the natives of the country could hardly have been aggravated by Bruce’s defeat. “They oblige us by open force,” says the Ulster Prince, “to give up to them our houses and our lands, and to seek shelter like wild beasts upon the mountains, in woods, marshes, and caves. Even there we are not secure against their fury; they even envy us those dreary and terrible abodes; they are incessant and unremitting in their pursuit after us, endeavouring to chase us from among them; they lay claim to every place in which they can discover us with unwarranted audacity and injustice; they allege that the whole kingdom belongs to them of right, and that an Irishman has no longer a right to remain in his own country.”

After specifying in detail the proofs of these and other general charges, the eloquent Prince concludes by uttering the memorable vow that the Irish “will not cease to fight against and among their invaders until the day when they themselves, for want of power, shall have ceased to do us harm, and that a Supreme Judge shall have taken just vengeance on their crimes, which we firmly hope will sooner or later come to pass.”


Though the victorious and protracted career of Richard de Burgh, the “Red Earl” of Ulster, might, without overstraining, be included in the Norman period, yet, as introductory to the memorable advent and election of King Edward Bruce, we must leave it for the succeeding book. Having brought down the narrative, as regards all the provinces, to the end of the first century, from the invasion, we must now cast a backward glance on the events of that hundred years before passing into the presence of other times and new combinations.

“There were,” says Giraldus Cambriensis, “three sundry sorts of servitors which served in the realm of Ireland, Normans, Englishmen, and the Cambrians, which were the first conquerors of the land: the first were in most credit and estimation, the second next, but the last were not accounted or regarded of.” “The Normans,” adds the author, “were very fine in their apparel, and delicate in their diets; they could not feed but upon dainties, neither could their meat digest without wine at each meal; yet would they not serve in the marches or any remote place against the enemy, neither would they lie in garrison to keep any remote castle or fort, but, would be still about their lord’s side to serve and guard his person; they would be where they might be full and have plenty; they could talk and brag, swear, and stare, and, standing in their own reputation, disdain all others.” This is rather the language of a partizan than of an historian; of one who felt and spoke for those, his own kinsmen many of them, who, he complains, although the first to enter on the conquest, were yet held in contempt and disdain, “and only new-comers called to council.”

The Normans were certainly the captains in every campaign from Robert Fitzstephen to Stephen de Longespay. They made the war, and they maintained it. In the rank and file, and even among the knighthood, men of pure Welsh, English, and Flemish and Danish blood, may be singled out, but each host was marshalled by Norman skill, and every defeat was borne with Norman fortitude. It may seem strange, then, that these greatest masters of the art of war, as waged in the middle ages, invincible in England, France, Italy, and the East, should, after a hundred years, be no nearer to the conquest of Ireland than they were at the end of the tenth year.

The main causes of the fluctuations of the war were, no doubt, the divided military command, and the frequent change of their civil authorities. They had never marched or colonized before without their Duke or King at their head, and in their midst. One supreme chief was necessary to keep to any common purpose the minds of so many proud, intractable nobles. The feuds of the de Lacys with the Marshals, of the Geraldines with the de Burghs, broke out periodically during the thirteenth century, and were naturally seized upon, by the Irish as opportunities for attacking either or both. The secondary nobles and all the adventurers understood their danger and its cause, when they petitioned Henry II. and Henry III. so often and so urgently as they did, that a member of the royal family might reside permanently in Ireland, to exercise the supreme authority, military and civil.

The civil administration of the colonists passing into different hands every three or four years, suffered from the absence of permanent authority. The law of the marches was, of necessity, the law of the strong hand, and no other. But Cambrensis, whose personal prejudices are not involved in this fact, describes the walled towns as filled with litigation in his time. “There was,” he says, “such lawing and vexation, that the veteran was more troubled in lawing within the town than he was in peril at large with the enemy.” This being the case, we must take with great caution the bold assertions so often made of the zeal with which the natives petitioned the Henrys and Edwards that the law of England might be extended to them. Certain Celts whose lands lay within or upon the marches, others who compounded with their Norman invaders, a chief or prince, hard pressed by domestic enemies, may have wished to be in a position to quote Norman law against Norman spoilers, but the popular petitions which went to England, beseeching the extension of its laws to Ireland, went only from the townsmen of Dublin, and the new settlers in Leinster or Meath, harassed and impoverished by the arbitrary jurisdiction of manorial courts, from which they had no appeal. The great mass of the Irish remained as warmly attached to their Brehon code down to the seventeenth century as they were before the invasion of Norman or Dane. It may sound barbarous to our ears that, according to that code, murder should be compounded by an eric, or fine; that putting out the eyes should be the usual punishment of treason; that maiming should be judiciously inflicted for sundry offences; and that the land of a whole clan should be equally shared between the free members of that clan. We are not yet in a position to form an intelligent opinion upon the primitive jurisprudence of our ancestors, but the system itself could not have been very vicious which nourished in the governed such a thirst for justice, that, according to one of their earliest English law reformers, they were anxious for its execution, even against themselves.

The distinction made in the courts of the adventurers against natives of the soil, even when long domiciled within their borders, was of itself a sufficient cause of war between the races. In the eloquent letter of the O’Neil to Pope John XXII.—written about the year 1318—we read, that no man of Irish origin could sue in an English court; that no Irishman, within the marches, could make a legal will; that his property was appropriated by his English neighbours; and that the murder of an Irishman was not even a felony punishable by fine. This latter charge would appear incredible, if we had not the record of more than one case where the homicide justified his act by the plea that his victim was a mere native, and where the plea was held good and sufficient.

A very vivid picture of Hiberno-Norman town-life in those days is presented to us in an old poem, on the “Entrenchment of the Town of Ross,” in the year 1265. We have there the various trades and crafts-mariners, coat-makers, fullers, cloth-dyers and sellers, butchers, cordwainers, tanners, hucksters, smiths, masons, carpenters, arranged by guilds, and marching to the sound of flute and tabor, under banners bearing a fish and platter, a painted ship, and other “rare devices.” On the walls, when finished, cross-bows hung, with store of arrows ready to shoot; when the city horn sounded twice, burgess and bachelor vied with each other in warlike haste. In time of peace the stranger was always welcome in the streets; he was free to buy and sell without toll or tax, and to admire the fair dames who walked the quiet ramparts, clad in mantles of green, or russet, or scarlet. Such is the poetic picture of the town of Ross in the thirteenth century; the poem itself is written in Norman-French, though evidently intended for popular use, and the author is called “Friar Michael of Kildare.” It is pretty evident from this instance, which is not singular, that a century after the first invasion, the French language was still the speech of part, if not the majority, of these Hiberno-Norman townsmen.

So walls, and laws, and language arose, a triple barrier between the races. That common religion which might be expected to form a strong bond between them had itself to adopt a twofold organization. Distinctions of nationality were carried into the Sanctuary and into the Cloister. The historian Giraldus, in preaching at Dublin against the alleged vices of the native Clergy, sounded the first note of a long and bitter controversy. He was promptly answered from the same pulpit on the next occasion by Albin O’Mulloy, the patriot Abbot of Baltinglass. In one of the early Courts or Parliaments of the Adventurers, they decreed that no Monastery in those districts of which they had possession, should admit any but natives of England, as novices,—a rule which, according to O’Neil’s letter, was faithfully acted upon by English Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, and regular canons. Some of the great Cistercian houses on the marches, in which the native religious predominated, adopted a retaliatory rule, for which they were severely censured by the general Chapter of their Order. But the length to which this feud was carried may be imagined by the sweeping charge O’Neil brings against “Brother Symon, a relative of the Bishop of Coventry,” and other religious of his nation, who openly maintained, he says, that the killing of a mere Irishman was no murder.

When this was the feeling on one side, or was believed to be the feeling, we cannot wonder that the war should have been renewed as regularly as the seasons. No sooner was the husbandman in the field than the knight was upon the road. Some peculiarities of the wars of those days gleam out at intervals through the methodic indifference to detail of the old annals, and reveal to us curious conditions of society. In the Irish country, where castle-building was but slowly introduced, we see, for example, that the usual storage for provisions, in time of war, was in churches and churchyards. Thus de Burgh, in his expedition to Mayo, in 1236, “left neither rick nor basket of corn in the large churchyard of Mayo, or in the yard of the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, and carried away eighty baskets out of the churches themselves.” When we read, therefore, as we frequently do, of both Irish and Normans plundering churches in the land of their enemies, we are not to suppose the plunder of the sanctuary. Popularly this seizing the supplies of an enemy on consecrated ground was considered next to sacrilege; and well it was for the fugitives in the sanctuary in those iron times that it should be so considered. Yet not the less is it necessary for us to distinguish a high-handed military measure from actual sacrilege, for which there can be no apology, and hardly any earthly atonement.

In their first campaigns the Irish had one great advantage over the Normans in their familiarity with the country. This helped them to their first victories. But when the invaders were able to set up rival houses against each other, and to secure the co-operation of natives, the advantage was soon equalized. Great importance was attached to the intelligence and good faith of the guides, who accompanied every army, and were personally consulted by the leaders in determining their march. A country so thickly studded with the ancient forest, and so netted with rivers (then of much greater volume than since they have been stripped of their guardian woods), afforded constant occasion for the display of minute local knowledge. To miss a pass or to find a ford might determine a campaign, almost as much as the skill of the chief, or the courage of the battalion.

The Irish depended for their knowledge of the English towns and castles on their daring spies, who continually risked their necks in acquiring for their clansmen such needful information. This perilous duty, when undertaken by a native for the benefit of his country, was justly accounted highly honourable. Proud poets, educated in all the mysteries of their art, and even men of chieftain rank, did not hesitate to assume disguises and act the patriot spy. One of the most celebrated spies of this century was Donogh Fitzpatrick, son of the Lord of Ossory, who was slain by the English in 1250. He was said to be “one of the three men” most feared by the English in his day. “He was in the habit of going about to reconnoitre their market towns,” say the Annalists, “in various disguises.” An old quatrain gives us a list of some of the parts he played when in the towns of his enemies—

“He is a carpenter, he is a turner.
My nursling is a bookman.
He is selling wine and hides
Where he sees a gathering.”

An able captain, as well as an intrepid spy, he met his fate in acting out his favourite part, “which,” adds our justice-loving Four Masters, “was a retaliation due to the English, for, up to that time, he had killed, burned, and destroyed many of them.”

Of the equipments and tactics of the belligerents we get from our Annals but scanty details. The Norman battalion, according to the usage of that people, led by the marshal of the field, charged, after the archers had delivered their fire. But these wars had bred a new mounted force, called hobiler-archers, who were found so effective that they were adopted into all the armies of Europe. Although the bow was never a favourite weapon with the Irish, particular tribes seem to have been noted for its use. We hear in the campaigns of this century of the archers of Breffni, and we may probably interpret as referring to the same weapon, Felim O’Conor’s order to his men, in his combat with the sons of Roderick at Drumraitte (1237), “not to shoot but to come to a close fight.” It is possible, however, that this order may have reference to the old Irish weapon, the javelin or dart. The pike, the battle-axe, the sword, and skein, or dagger, both parties had in common, though their construction was different. The favourite tactique, on both sides, seems to have been the old military expedient of outflanking an enemy, and attacking him simultaneously in front and rear. Thus, in the year 1225, in one of the combats of the O’Conors, when the son of Cathal Crovdearg endeavoured to surround Turlogh O’Conor, the latter ordered his recruits to the van, and Donn Oge Magheraty, with some Tyronian and other soldiers to cover the rear, “by which means they escaped without the loss of a man.” The flank movement by which the Lord Justice Fitzgerald carried the passage of the Erne (A.D. 1247) against O’Donnell, according to the Annalists, was suggested to Fitzgerald by Cormac, the grandson of Roderick O’Conor. By that period in their intercourse the Normans and Irish had fought so often together that their stock of tactical knowledge must have been, from experience, very much common property. In the eyes of the Irish chiefs and chroniclers, the foreign soldiers who served with them were but hired mercenaries. They were sometimes repaid by the plunder of the country attacked, but usually they received fixed wages for the length of time they entered. “Hostages for the payment of wages” are frequently referred to, as given by native nobles to these foreign auxiliaries. The chief expedient for subsisting an army was driving before them herds and flocks; free quarters for men and horses were supplied by the tenants of allied chiefs within their territory, and for the rest, the simple outfit was probably not very unlike that of the Scottish borderers described by Froissart, who cooked the cattle they captured in their skins, carrying a broad plate of metal and a little bag of oatmeal trussed up behind the saddle.

One inveterate habit clung to the ancient race, even until long after the times of which we now speak—their unconquerable prejudice against defensive armour. Gilbride McNamee, the laureate to King Brian O’Neil, gives due prominence to this fact in his poem on the death of his patron in the battle of Down (A.D. 1260). Thus sings the northern bard—

“The foreigners from London,
The hosts from Port-Largy *
Came in a bright green body,
In gold and iron armour.

“Unequal they engage in the battle,
The foreigners and the Gael of Tara,
Fine linen shirts on the race of Conn,
And the strangers one mass of iron.”

[Footnote: Port-Largy, Waterford.]

With what courage they fought, these scorners of armour, their victories of Ennis, of Callanglen, and of Credran, as well as their defeats at the Erne and at Down, amply testify. The first hundred years of war for native land, with their new foes, had passed over, and three-fourths of the Saer Clanna were still as free as they had ever been. It was not reserved even for the Norman race—the conquest of Innisfail!


We have already spoken of the character of the war waged by and against the Normans on Irish soil, and as war was then almost every man’s business, we may be supposed to have described all that is known of the time in describing its wars. What we have to add of the other pursuits of the various orders of men into which society was divided, is neither very full nor very satisfactory.

The rise, fall, and migrations of some of the clans have been already alluded to. In no age did more depend on the personal character of the chief than then. When the death of the heroic Godfrey left the free clansmen of Tyrconnell without a lord to lead them to battle, or rule them in peace, the Annalists represent them to us as meeting in great perplexity, and engaged “in making speeches” as to what was to be done, when suddenly, to their great relief, Donnell Oge, son of Donnell More, who had been fostered in Alba (Scotland), was seen approaching them. Not more welcome was Tuathal, the well-beloved, the restorer of the Milesian monarchy, after the revolt of the Tuatha. He was immediately elected chief, and the emissaries of O’Neil, who had been waiting for an answer to his demand of tribute, were brought before him. He answered their proposition by a proverb expressed in the Gaelic of Alba, which says that “every man should possess his own country,” and Tyrconnell armed to make good this maxim.

The Bardic order still retained much of their ancient power, and all their ancient pride. Of their most famous names in this period we may mention Murray O’Daly of Lissadil, in Sligo, Donogh O’Daly of Finvarra, sometimes called Abbot of Boyle, and Gilbride McNamee, laureate to King Brian O’Neil. McNamee, in lamenting the death of Brian, describes himself as defenceless, and a prey to every spoiler, now that his royal protector is no more. He gave him, he tells us, for a poem on one occasion, besides gold and raiment, a gift of twenty cows. On another, when he presented him a poem, he gave in return twenty horned cows, and a gift still more lasting, “the blessing of the King of Erin.” Other chiefs, who fell in the same battle, and to one of whom, named Auliffe O’Gormley, he had often gone “on a visit of pleasure,” are lamented with equal warmth by the bard. The poetic Abbot of Boyle is himself lamented in the Annals as the Ovid of Ireland, as “a poet who never had and never will have an equal.” But the episode which best illustrates at once the address and the audacity of the bardic order is the story of Murray O’Daly of Lissadil, and Donnell More O’Donnell, Lord of Tyrconnell.

In the year 1213, O’Donnell despatched Finn O’Brollaghan, his Aes graidh or Steward, to collect his tribute in Connaught, and Finn, putting up at the house of O’Daly, near Drumcliff, and being a plebeian who knew no better, began to wrangle with the poet. The irritable master of song, seizing a sharp axe, slew the steward on the spot, and then to avoid O’Donnell’s vengeance fled into Clanrickarde. Here he announced himself by a poem addressed to de Burgh, imploring his protection, setting forth the claims of the Bardic order on all high-descended heroes, and contending that his fault was but venial, in killing a clown, who insulted him. O’Donnell pursued the fugitive to Athenry, and de Burgh sent him away secretly into Thomond. Into Thomond, the Lord of Tyrconnell marched, but O’Brien sent off the Bard to Limerick. The enraged Ulsterman appeared at the gates of Limerick, when O’Daly was smuggled out of the town, and “passed from hand to hand,” until he reached Dublin. The following spring O’Donnell appeared in force before Dublin, and demanded the fugitive, who, as a last resort, had been sent for safety into Scotland. From the place of his exile he addressed three deprecatory poems to the offended Lord of Tyrconnell, who finally allowed him to return to Lissadil in peace, and even restored him to his friendship.

The introduction of the new religious orders—Dominicans, Franciscans, and the order for the redemption of Captives into Ireland, in the first quarter of this century gradually extinguished the old Columban and Brigintine houses. In Leinster they made way most rapidly; but Ulster clung with its ancient tenacity to the Columban rule. The Hierarchy of the northern half-kingdom still exercised a protectorate, over Iona itself, for we read, in the year 1203, how Kellagh, having erected a monastery in the middle of Iona, in despite of the religious, that the Bishops of Derry and Raphoe, with the Abbots of Armagh and Derry and numbers of the Clergy of the North of Ireland, passed over to Iona, pulled down the unauthorized monastery, and assisted at the election of a new Abbot. This is almost the last important act of the Columban order in Ireland. By the close of the century, the Dominicans had some thirty houses, and the Franciscans as many more, whether in the walled towns or the open country. These monasteries became the refuge of scholars, during the stormy period we have passed, and in other days full as troubled, which were to come. Moreover, as the Irish student, like all others in that age, desired to travel from school to school, these orders admitted him to the ranks of widespread European brotherhoods, from whom he might always claim hospitality. Nor need we reject as anything incredible the high renown for scholarship and ability obtained in those times by such men as Thomas Palmeran of Naas, in the University of Paris; by Peter and Thomas Hibernicus in the University of Naples, in the age of Aquinas; by Malachy of Ireland, a Franciscan, Chaplain to King Edward II. of England, and Professor at Oxford; by the Danish Dominican, Gotofrid of Waterford; and above all, by John Scotus of Down, the subtle doctor, the luminary of the Franciscan schools, of Paris and Cologne. The native schools of Ireland had lost their early ascendancy, and are no longer traceable in our annals; but Irish scholarship, when arrested in its full development at home, transferred its efforts to foreign Universities, and there maintained the ancient honour of the country among the studious “nations” of Christendom. Among the “nations” involved in the college riots at Oxford, in the year 1274, we find mention of the Irish, from which fact it is evident there must have been a considerable number of natives of that country, then frequenting the University.

The most distinguished native ecclesiastics of this century were Matthew O’Heney, Archbishop of Cashel, originally a Cistercian monk, who died in retirement at Holy Cross in 1207; Albin O’Mulloy, the opponent of Giraldus, who died Bishop of Ferns in 1222; and Clarus McMailin, Erenach of Trinity Island, Lough Key-if an Erenach may be called an ecclesiastic. It was O’Heney made the Norman who said the Irish Church had no martyrs, the celebrated answer, that now men had come into the country who knew so well how to make martyrs, that reproach would soon be taken away. He is said to have written a life of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and we know that he had legantine powers at the opening of the century. The Erenach of Lough Key, who flourished in its second half, plays an important part in all the western feuds and campaigns; his guarantee often preserved peace and protected the vanquished. Among the church-builders of his age, he stands conspicuous. The ordinary churches were indeed easily built, seldom exceeding 60 or 70 feet in length, and one half that width, and the material still most in use was, for the church proper, timber. The towers, cashels, or surrounding walls, and the cells of the religious, as well as the great monasteries and collegiate and cathedral churches, were of stone, and many of them remain monuments of the skill and munificence of their founders.

Of the consequences of the abolition of slavery by the Council of Armagh, at the close of the twelfth century, we have no tangible evidence. It is probable that the slave trade, rather than domestic servitude, was abolished by that decree. The cultivators of the soil were still divided into two orders—Biataghs and Brooees. “The former,” says O’Donovan, “who were comparatively few in number, would appear to have held their lands free of rent, but were obliged to entertain travellers, and the chief’s soldiers when on their march in his direction; and the latter (the Brooees) would appear to have been subject to a stipulated rent and service.” From “the Book of Lecan,” a compilation of the fourteenth century, we learn that the Brooee was required to keep an hundred labourers, and an hundred of each kind of domestic animals. Of the rights or wages of the labourers, we believe, there is no mention made.

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