A Popular History of Ireland


During the half century which comprised the reigns of Edward I. and II. in England (A.D. 1272 to 1327), Scotland saw the last of her first race of Kings, and the elevation of the family of Bruce, under whose brilliant star Ireland was, for a season, drawn into the mid-current of Scottish politics. Before relating the incidents of that revolution of short duration but long enduring consequences, we must note the rise to greatness of the one great Norman name, which in that era mainly represented the English interest and influence in Ireland.

Richard de Burgh, called from his ruddy complexion “the Red Earl” of Ulster, nobly bred in the court of Henry III. of England, had attained man’s age about the period when the de Lacys, the Geraldines, de Clares, and other great Anglo-Irish, families, either through the fortune of war or failure of issue, were deprived of most of their natural leaders. Uniting in his own person the blood of the O’Conors, de Lacys, and de Burghs, his authority was great from the beginning in Meath and Connaught. In his inroads on West-Meath he seems to have been abetted by the junior branches of the de Lacys, who were with his host in the year 1286, when he besieged Theobald de Verdon in Athlone, and advanced his banner as far eastward as the strong town of Trim, upon the Boyne. Laying claim to the possessions of the Lord of Meath, which touched the Kildare Geraldines at so many points, he inevitably came into contact with that powerful family. In 1288, in alliance with Manus O’Conor, they compelled him to retreat from Roscommon into Clanrickarde, in Mayo. De Verdon, his competitor for West-Meath, naturally entered into alliance with the Kildare Geraldine, and in the year 1294, after many lesser conflicts, they took the Red Earl and his brother William prisoners, and carried them in fetters to the Castle of Lea, in Offally. This happened on the 6th day of December; a Parliament assembled at Kilkenny on the 12th of March following, ordered their release; and a peace was made between these powerful houses. De Burgh gave his two sons as hostages to Fitzgerald, and the latter surrendered the Castle of Sligo to de Burgh. From the period of this peace the power of the last named nobleman outgrew anything that had been known since the Invasion. In the year 1291, he banished the O’Donnell out of his territory, and set up another of his own choosing; he deposed one O’Neil and raised up another; he so straitened O’Conor in his patrimony of Roscommon, that that Prince also entered his camp at Meelick, and gave him hostages. He was thus the first and only man of his race who had ever had in his hand the hostages both of Ulster and Connaught. When the King of England sent writs into Ireland, he usually addressed the Red Earl, before the Lord Justice or Lord Deputy—a compliment which, in that ceremonious age, could not be otherwise than flattering to the pride of de Burgh. Such was the order of summons, in which, in the year 1296, he was required by Edward I. to attend him into Scotland, which was then experiencing some of the worst consequences of a disputed succession. As Ireland’s interest in this struggle becomes in the sequel second only to that of Scotland, we must make brief mention of its origin and progress.

By the accidental death of Alexander III., in 1286, the McAlpine, or Scoto-Irish dynasty, was suddenly terminated. Alexander’s only surviving child, Margaret, called from her mother’s country, “the Maid of Norway,” soon followed her father; and no less than eight competitors, all claiming collateral descent from the former Kings, appeared at the head of as many factions to contest the succession. This number was, however, soon reduced to two men—John Baliol and Robert Bruce—the former the grandson of the eldest, the latter the son of the second daughter of King David I. After many bickerings these powerful rivals were induced to refer their claims to the decision of Edward I. of England, who, in a Great Court held at Berwick in the year 1292, decided in favour of Baliol, not in the character of an indifferent arbitrator, but as lord paramount of Scotland. As such, Baliol there and then rendered him feudal homage, and became, in the language of the age, “his man.” This sub-sovereignty could not but be galling to the proud and warlike nobles of Scotland, and accordingly, finding Edward embroiled about his French possessions, three years after the decision, they caused Baliol to enter into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Philip IV. of France, against his English suzerain. The nearer danger compelled Edward to march with 40,000 men, which he had raised for the war in France, towards the Scottish border, whither he summoned the Earl of Ulster, the Geraldines, Butlers, de Verdons, de Genvilles, Berminghams, Poers, Purcells, de Cogans, de Barrys, de Lacys, d’Exeters, and other minor nobles, to come to him in his camp early in March, 1296. The Norman-Irish obeyed the call, but the pride of de Burgh would not permit him to embark in the train of the Lord Justice Wogan, who had been also summoned; he sailed with his own forces in a separate fleet, having conferred the honour of knighthood on thirty of his younger followers before embarking at Dublin. Whether these forces arrived in time to take part in the bloody siege of Berwick, and the panic-route at Dunbar, does not appear; they were in time, however, to see the strongest places in Scotland yielded up, and John Baliol a prisoner on his way to the Tower of London. They were sumptuously entertained by the conqueror in the Castle of Roxburgh, and returned to their western homes deeply impressed with the power of England, and the puissance of her warrior-king.

But the independence of Scotland was not to be trodden out in a single campaign. During Edward’s absence in France, William Wallace and other guerilla chiefs arose, to whom were soon united certain patriot nobles and bishops. The English deputy de Warrane fought two unsuccessful campaigns against these leaders, until his royal master, having concluded peace with France, summoned his Parliament to meet him at York, and his Norman-Irish lieges to join him in his northern camp, with all their forces, on the 1st of March, 1299. In June the English King found himself at Roxburgh, at the head of 8,000 horse, and 80,000 foot, “chiefly Irish and Welsh.” With this immense force he routed Wallace at Falkirk on the 22nd of July, and reduced him to his original rank of a guerilla chief, wandering with his bands of partizans from one fastness to another. The Scottish cause gained in Pope Boniface VII. a powerful advocate soon after, and the unsubdued districts continued to obey a Regency composed of the Bishop of St. Andrews, Robert Bruce, and John Comyn. These regents exercised their authority in the name of Baliol, carried on negotiations with France and Rome, convoked a Parliament, and, among other military operations, captured Stirling Castle. In the documentary remains of this great controversy, it is curious to find Edward claiming the entire island of Britain in virtue of the legend of Brute the Trojan, and the Scots rejecting it with scorn, and displaying their true descent and origin from Scota, the fabled first mother of the Milesian Irish. There is ample evidence that the claims of kindred were at this period keenly felt by the Gael of Ireland, for the people of Scotland, and men of our race are mentioned among the companions of Wallace and the allies of Brace. But the Norman-Irish were naturally drawn to the English banner, and when, in 1303, it was again displayed north of the Tweed, the usual noble names are found among its followers. In 1307 Scotland lost her most formidable foe, by the death of Edward, and at the same time began to recognize her appointed deliverer in the person of Robert Bruce. But we must return to “the Red Earl,” the central figure in our own annals during this half century.

The new King, Edward II., compelled by his English barons to banish his minion, Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, had created him his lieutenant of Ireland, endowed him with a grant of the royalties of the whole island, to the prejudice of the Earl and other noblemen. The sojourn of this brilliant parasite in Ireland lasted but a year—from June, 1308, till the June following. He displayed both vigour and munificence, and acquired friends. But the Red Earl, sharing to the full the antipathy of the great barons of England, kept apart from his court, maintained a rival state at Trim, as Commander-in-Chief, conferring knighthood, levying men, and imposing taxes at his own discretion. A challenge of battle is said to have passed between him and the Lieutenant, when the latter was recalled into England by the King, where he was three years later put to death by the barons, into whose hands he had fallen. Sir John Wogan and Sir Edmund Butler succeeded him in the Irish administration; but the real power long remained with Richard de Burgh. He was appointed plenipotentiary to treat with Robert Brace, on behalf of the King of England, “upon which occasion the Scottish deputies waited on him in Ireland.” In the year 1302 Brace had married his daughter, the Lady Ellen, while of his other daughters one was Countess of Desmond, and another became Countess of Kildare in 1312. A thousand marks—the same sum at which the town and castle of Sligo were then valued-was allowed by the Earl for the marriage portion of his last-mentioned daughter. His power and reputation, about the period of her marriage, were at the full. He had long held the title of Commander of the Irish forces, “in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Gascony;” he had successfully resisted Gaveston in the meridian of his court favour; the father-in-law of a King, and of Earls of almost royal power, lord paramount of half the island-such a subject England had not seen on Irish ground since the Invasion. This prodigious power he retained, not less by his energy than his munificence. He erected castles at Carlingford, at Sligo, on the upper Shannon, and on Lough Foyle. He was a generous patron of the Carmelite Order, for whom he built the Convent of Loughrea. He was famed as a princely entertainer, and before retiring from public affairs, characteristically closed his career with a magnificent banquet at Kilkenny, where the whole Parliament were his guests. Having reached an age bordering upon fourscore he retired to the Monastery of Athassil, and there expired within sight of his family vault, after half a century of such sway as was rarely enjoyed in that age, even by Kings. But before that peaceful close he was destined to confront a storm the like of which had not blown over Ireland during the long period since he first began to perform his part in the affairs of that kingdom.


No facts of the ages over which we have already passed are better authenticated than the identity of origin and feeling which existed between the Celts of Erin and of Albyn. Nor was this sympathy of race diminished by their common dangers from a common enemy. On the eve of the Norman invasion we saw how heartily the Irish were with Somerled and the men of Moray in resisting the feudal polity of the successors of Malcolm Caen-More. As the Plantagenet Princes in person led their forces against Scotland, the interest of the Irish, especially those of the North, increased, year by year, in the struggles of the Scots. Irish adherents followed the fortunes of Wallace to the close; and when Robert Bruce, after being crowned and seated in the chair of the McAlpin line, on the summit of the hill of Scone, had to flee into exile, he naturally sought refuge where he knew he would find friends. Accompanied by three of his brothers, several adherents, and even by some of the females of his family, he steered, in the autumn of 1306, for the little island of Rathlin—seven miles long by a mile wide—one point of which is within three miles of the Antrim beach. In its most populous modern day Rathlin contained not above 1,000 souls, and little wonder if its still smaller population, five centuries ago, fled in terror at the approach of Bruce. They were, however, soon disarmed of their fears, and agreed to supply the fugitive King daily with provisions for 300 persons, the whole number who accompanied or followed him into exile. His faithful adherents soon erected for him a castle, commanding one of the few landing places on the island, the ruins of which are still shown to strangers as “Bruce’s Castle.” Here he passed in perfect safety the winter of 1306, while his emissaries were recruiting in Ulster, or passing to and fro, in the intervals of storm, among the western islands. Without waiting for the spring to come round again, they issued from their retreat in different directions; one body of 700 Irish sailed under Thomas and Alexander, the King’s brothers, for the Clyde, while Robert and Edward took the more direct passage towards the coast of Argyle, and, after many adventures, found themselves strong enough to attack the foreign forces in Perth and Ayrshire. The opportune death of Edward of England the same summer, and the civil strife bred by his successor’s inordinate favour towards Gaveston, enabled the Bruces gradually to root out the internal garrisons of their enemies; but the party that had sailed, under the younger brothers, from Rathlin, were attacked and captured in Loch Ryan by McDowell, and the survivors of the engagement, with Thomas and Alexander Bruce, were carried prisoners to Carlisle and there put to death.

The seven years’ war of Scottish independence was drawn to a close by the decisive campaign of 1314. The second Edward prepared an overwhelming force for this expedition, summoning, as usual, the Norman-Irish Earls, and inviting in different language his “beloved” cousins, the native Irish Chiefs, not only such as had entered into English alliances at any time, but also notorious allies of Bruce, like O’Neil, O’Donnell, and O’Kane. These writs were generally unheeded; we have no record of either Norman-Irish or native-Irish Chief having responded to Edward’s summons, nor could nobles so summoned have been present without some record remaining of the fact. On the contrary all the wishes of the old Irish went with the Scots, and the Normans were more than suspected of leaning the same way. Twenty-one clans, Highlanders and Islemen, and many Ulstermen, fought on the side of Bruce, on the field of Bannockburn; the grant of “Kincardine-O’Neil,” made by the victor-King to his Irish followers, remains a striking evidence of their fidelity to his person, and their sacrifices in his cause. The result of that glorious day was, by the testimony of all historians, English as well as Scottish, received with enthusiasm on the Irish side of the channel.

Whether any understanding had been come to between the northern Irish and Bruce, during his sojourn in Rathlin, or whether the victory of Bannockburn suggested the design, Edward Bruce, the gallant companion of all his brother’s fortunes and misfortunes, was now invited to place himself at the head of the men of Ulster, in a war for Irish independence. He was a soldier of not inferior fame to his brother for courage and fortitude, though he had never exhibited the higher qualities of general and statesman which crowned the glory of King Robert. Yet as he had never held a separate command of consequence, his rashness and obstinacy, though well known to his intimates, were lost sight of, at a distance, by those who gazed with admiration on the brilliant achievements, in which he had certainly borne the second part. The chief mover in the negotiation by which this gallant soldier was brought to embark his fortunes in an Irish war, was Donald, Prince of Ulster. This Prince, whose name is so familiar from his celebrated remonstrance addressed to Pope John XXII., was son of King Brian of the battle of Down, who, half a century before, at the Conference of Caeluisge, was formally chosen Ard-Righ, by the nobles of three Provinces. He had succeeded to the principality —not without a protracted struggle with the Red Earl —some twenty years before the date of the battle of Bannockburn. Endued with an intensely national spirit, he seems to have fully adopted the views of Nicholas McMaelisa, the Primate of Armagh, his early cotemporary. This Prelate—one of the most resolute opponents of the Norman conquest—had constantly refused to instal any foreigner in a northern diocese. When the Chapter of Ardagh delayed their election, he nominated a suitable person to the Holy See; when the See of Meath was distracted between two national parties he installed his nominee; when the Countess of Ulster caused Edward I. to issue his writ for the installation of John, Bishop of Conor, he refused his acquiescence. He left nearly every See in his Province, at the time of his decease (the year 1303), under the administration of a native ecclesiastic; a dozen years before he had established a formal “association” among the Prelates at large, by which they bound themselves to resist the interference of the Kings of England in the nomination of Bishops, and to be subject only to the sanction of the See of Rome. In the Provinces of Cashel and Tuam, in the fourteenth century, we do not often find a foreign born Bishop; even in Leinster double elections and double delegations to Rome, show how deeply the views of the patriotic Nicholas McMaelisa had seized upon the clergy of the next age. It was Donald O’Neil’s darling project to establish a unity of action against the common enemy among the chiefs, similar to that which the Primate had brought about among the Bishops. His own pretensions to the sovereignty were greater than that of any Prince of his age; his house had given more monarchs to the island than any other; his father had been acknowledged by the requisite majority; his courage, patriotism, and talents, were admittedly equal to the task. But he felt the utter impossibility of conciliating that fatal family pride, fed into extravagance by Bards and Senachies, which we have so often pointed out as the worst consequence of the Celtic system. He saw chiefs, proud of their lineage and their name, submit to serve a foreign Earl of Ulster, who refused homage to the native Prince of Ulster; he saw the seedlings of a vice of which we have seen the fruit—that his countrymen would submit to a stranger rather than to one of themselves, and he reasoned, not unnaturally, that, by the hand of some friendly stranger, they might be united and liberated. The attempt of Edward Bruce was a failure, and was followed by many disasters; but a more patriotic design, or one with fairer omens of success, could not have entered the mind or heart of a native Prince, after the event of the battle at Bannockburn. Edward of England, having intelligence of the negotiations on foot between the Irish and Scots, after his great defeat, summoned over to Windsor during the winter, de Burgh, Fitzgerald, de Verdon, and Edmund Butler, the Lord Deputy. After conferring with them, and confirming Butler in his office, they were despatched back in all haste to defend their country. Nor was there time to lose. Edward Bruce, with his usual impetuosity, without waiting for his full armament, had sailed from Ayr with 6,000 men in 300 galleys, accompanied by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Sir John Stuart, Sir Philip Moubray, Sir Fergus of Ardrossan, and other distinguished knights. He landed on the 25th day of May, 1315, in the Glendun river, near Glenarm, and was promptly joined by Donald O’Neil, and twelve other chiefs. Their first advance was from the coast towards that angle of Lough Neagh, near which stands the town of Antrim. Here, at Rathmore, in the plain of Moylinny, they were attacked by the Mandevilles and Savages of the Ards of Down, whom they defeated. From Antrim they continued their route evidently towards Dublin, taking Dundalk and Ardee, after a sharp resistance. At Ardee they were but 35 miles north of Dublin, easy of conquest, if they had been provided with siege trains—which it seemed they were not.

While Bruce and O’Neil were coming up from the north, Hugh O’Donnell, lord of Tyrconnell, as if to provide occupation for the Earl of Ulster, attacked and sacked the castle and town of Sligo, and wasted the adjacent country. The Earl, on hearing of the landing of the Scots, had mustered his forces at Athlone, and compelled the unwilling attendance of Felim O’Conor, with his clansmen. From Athlone he directed his march towards Drogheda, where he arrived with “20 cohorts,” about the same time that the Lord Deputy Butler came up with “30 cohorts.” Bruce, unprepared to meet so vast a force—taken together some 25,000 or 30,000 men—retreated slowly towards his point of debarkation. De Burgh, who, as Commander-in-Chief, took precedence in the field of the Lord Deputy, ordered the latter to protect Meath and Leinster, while he pursued the enemy. Bruce, having despatched the Earl of Moray to his brother, was now anxious to hold some northern position where they could most easily join him. He led de Burgh, therefore, into the North of Antrim, thence across the Bann at Coleraine, breaking down the bridge at that point. Here the armies encamped for some days, separated by the river, the outposts occasionally indulging in a “shooting of arrows.” By negotiation, Bruce and O’Neil succeeded in detaching O’Conor from de Burgh. Under the plea—which really had sufficient foundation—of suppressing an insurrection headed by one of his rivals, O’Conor returned to his own country. No sooner had he left than Bruce assumed the offensive, and it was now the Red Earl’s turn to fall back. They retreated towards the castle of Conyre (probably Conor, near Ballymena, in Antrim), where an engagement was fought, in which de Burgh was defeated, his brother William, Sir John Mandeville, and several other knights being taken prisoners. The Earl continued his retreat through Meath towards his own possession; Bruce followed, capturing in succession Granard, Fenagh, and Kells, celebrating his Christmas at Loughsweedy, in West-Meath, in the midst of the most considerable chiefs of Ulster, Meath, and Connaught. It was probably at this stage of his progress that he received the adhesion of the junior branches of the Lacys—the chief Norman family that openly joined his standard.

This termination of his first campaign on Irish soil might be considered highly favourable to Bruce. More than half the clans had risen, and others were certain to follow their example; the clergy were almost wholly with him; and his heroic brother had promised to lead an army to his aid in the ensuing spring.


From Loughsweedy, Bruce broke up his quarters, and marched into Kildare, encamping successively at Naas, Kildare, and Rathangan. Advancing in a southerly direction, he found an immense, but disorderly Anglo-Irish host drawn out, at the moat of Ardscull, near Athy, to dispute his march. They were commanded by the Lord Justice Butler, the Baron of Offally, the Lord Arnold Poer, and other magnates; but so divided were these proud Peers, in authority and in feeling, that, after a severe skirmish with Bruce’s vanguard, in which some knights were killed on both sides, they retreated before the Hiberno-Scottish army, which continued its march unmolested, and took possession of Castledermot.

Animated by these successes, won in their midst, the clans of Leinster began in succession to raise their heads. The tribes of Wicklow, once possessors of the fertile plains to the east and west, rallied in the mountain glens to which they had been driven, and commenced that long guerilla war, which centuries only were to extinguish. The McMurroghs along the ridge of Leinster, and all their kindred upon the Barrow and the Slaney, mustered under a chief, against whom the Lord Justice was compelled to march in person, later in the campaign of 1316. The Lord of Dunamase was equally sanguine, but 800 men of the name of O’Moore, slain in one disastrous encounter, crippled for the time the military strength of that great house. Having thus kindled the war, in the very heart of Leinster, Bruce retraced his march through Meath and Louth, and held at Dundalk that great assembly in which he was solemnly elected King of Ireland. Donald O’Neil, by letters patent, as son of Brian “of the battle of Down,” the last acknowledged native king, formally resigned his right, in favour of Bruce, a proceeding which he defends in his celebrated letter to Pope John XXII., where he speaks of the new sovereign as the illustrious Earl of Carrick, Edward de Bruce, a nobleman descended from the same ancestors with themselves, whom they had called to their aid, and freely chosen as their king and lord. The ceremony of inauguration seems to have been performed in the Gaelic fashion, on the hill of Knocknemelan, within a mile of Dundalk, while the solemn consecration took place in one of the churches of the town. Surrounded by all the external marks of royalty, Bruce established his court in the castle of Northburgh (one of de Courcy’s or de Verdon’s fortresses), adjoining Dundalk, where he took cognizance of all pleas that were brought before him. At that moment his prospects compared favourably with those of his illustrious brother a few years earlier. The Anglo-Irish were bitterly divided against each other; while, according to their joint declaration of loyalty, signed before de Hothun, King Edward’s special agent, “all the Irish of Ireland, several great lords, and many English people,” had given in their adhesion to Bruce. In Ulster, except Carrickfergus, no place of strength remained in the hands of any subject of Edward of England. The arrival of supplies from Scotland enabled Bruce to resume that siege in the autumn of 1316, and the castle, after a heroic defence by Sir Thomas de Mandeville, was surrendered in mid-winter. Here, in the month of February, 1317, the new King of Ireland had the gratification of welcoming his brother of Scotland, at the head of a powerful auxiliary force, and here, according to Barbour’s Chronicle, they feasted for three days, in mirth and jollity, before entering on the third campaign of this war.

We have before mentioned that one of the first successes obtained by Bruce was through the withdrawal of Felim O’Conor from the Red Earl’s alliance. The Prince thus won over to what may be fairly called the national cause, had just then attained his majority, and his martial accomplishments reflected honour on his fosterer, McDermott of Moylurg, while they filled with confidence the hearts of his own clansmen. After his secession from de Burgh at Coleraine, he had spent a whole year in suppressing the formidable rival who had risen to dispute his title. Several combats ensued between their respective adherents, but at length Roderick, the pretender, was defeated and slain, and Felim turned all his energies to co-operate with Bruce, by driving the foreigner out of his own province. Having secured the assistance of all the chief tribes of the west, and established the ancient supremacy of his house over Breffni, he first attacked the town of Ballylahen, in Mayo, the seat of the family of de Exeter, slew Slevin de Exeter, the lord de Cogan, and other knights and barons, and plundered the town. At the beginning of August in the same year, in pursuance of his plan, Felim mustered the most numerous force which Connaught had sent forth, since the days of Cathal More. Under his leadership marched the Prince of Meath, the lords of Breffni, Leyny, Annally, Teffia, Hy-Many, and Hy-Fiachra, with their men. The point of attack was the town of Athenry, the chief fortified stronghold of the de Burghs and Berminghams in that region. Its importance dated from the reign of King John; it had been enriched with convents and strengthened by towers; it was besides the burial place of the two great Norman families just mentioned, and their descendants felt that before the walls of Athenry their possessions were to be confirmed to them by their own valour, or lost for ever. A decisive battle was fought on St. Laurence’s day—the 10th of August—in which the steel-clad Norman battalion once more triumphed over the linen-shirted clansmen of the west. The field was contested with heroic obstinacy; no man gave way; none thought of asking or giving quarter. The standard bearer, the personal guard, and the Brehon of O’Conor fell around him. The lords of Hy-Many, Teffia, and Leyny, the heir of the house of Moylurg, with many other chiefs, and, according to the usual computation, 8,000 men were slain. Felim O’Conor himself, in the twenty-third year of his age, and the very morning of his fame, fell with the rest, and his kindred, the Sil-Murray, were left for a season an easy prey to William de Burgh and John de Bermingham, the joint commanders in the battle. The spirit of exaggeration common in most accounts of killed and wounded, has described this day as fatal to the name and race of O’Conor, who are represented as cut off to a man in the conflict; the direct line which Felim represented was indeed left without an immediate adult representative; but the offshoots of that great house had spread too far and flourished too vigorously to be shorn away, even by so terrible a blow as that dealt at Athenry. The very next year we find chiefs of the name making some figure in the wars of their own province, but it is observable that what may be called the national party in Connaught for some time after Athenry, looked to McDermott of Moylurg as their most powerful leader.

The moral effect of the victory of Athenry was hardly to be compensated for by the capture of Carrickfergus the next winter. It inspired the Anglo-Irish with new courage. De Bermingham was created commander-in-chief. The citizens of Dublin burned their suburbs to strengthen their means of defence. Suspecting the zeal of the Red Earl, so nearly connected with the Bruces by marriage, their Mayor proceeded to Saint Mary’s abbey, where he lodged, arrested and confined him to the castle. To that building the Bermingham tower was added about this time, and the strength of the whole must have been great when the skilful leaders, who had carried Stirling and Berwick, abandoned the siege of Dublin as hopeless. In Easter week, 1317, Roger Mortimer, afterwards Earl of March, nearly allied to the English King on the one hand, and maternally descended from the Marshals and McMurroghs on the other, arrived at Youghal, as Lord Justice, released the Earl of Ulster on reaching Dublin, and prepared to dispute the progress of the Bruces towards the South.

The royal brothers had determined, according to their national Bard, to take their way with all their host, from one cud of Ireland to the other. Their destination was Munster, which populous province had not yet ratified the recent election. Ulster and Meath were with them; Connaught, by the battle of Athenry, was rendered incapable of any immediate effort, and therefore Edward Bruce, in true Gaelic fashion, decided to proceed on his royal visitation, and so secure the hostages of the southern half-kingdom. At the head of 20,000 men, in two divisions, the brothers marched from Carrickfergus; meeting, with the exception of a severe skirmish in a wood near Slane, with no other molestation till they approached the very walls of Dublin. Finding the place stronger than they expected, or unwilling to waste time at that season of the year, the Hiberno-Scottish army, after occupying Castleknock, turned up the valley of the Liffey, and encamped for four days by the pleasant waterfall of Leixlip. From Leixlip to Naas they traversed the estates of one of their active foes, the new made Earl of Kildare, and from Naas they directed their march to Callan in Ossory, taking special pleasure, according to Anglo-Irish Annals, in harrying the lands of another enemy, the Lord Butler, afterwards Earl of Ormond. From Callan their route lay to Cashel and Limerick, at each of which they encamped two or three days without seeing the face of an enemy. But if they encountered no enemies in Minister, neither did they make many friends by their expedition. It seems that on further acquaintance rivalries and enmities sprung up between the two nations who composed the army; that Edward Bruce, while styling himself King of Ireland, acted more like a vigorous conqueror exhausting his enemies, than a prudent Prince careful for his friends and adherents. His army is accused, in terms of greater vehemence than are usually employed in our cautious chronicles, of plundering churches and monasteries, and even violating the tombs of the dead in search of buried treasure. The failure of the harvest, added to the effect of a threefold war, had so diminished the stock of food that numbers perished of famine, and this dark, indelible remembrance was, by an arbitrary notion of cause and effect, inseparably associated in the popular mind, both English and Irish, with the Scottish invasion. One fact is clear, that the election of Dundalk was not popular in Munster, and that the chiefs of Thomond and Desmond were uncommitted, if not hostile towards Bruce’s sovereignty. McCarthy and O’Brien seized the occasion, indeed, while he was campaigning in the North, to root out the last representative of the family of de Clare, as we have already related, when tracing the fortunes of the Normans in Munster. But of the twelve reguli, or Princes in Bruce’s train, none are mentioned as having come from the Southern provinces.

This visitation of Munster occupied the months of February and March. In April, the Lord Justice Mortimer summoned a Parliament at Kilkenny, and there, also, the whole Anglo-Irish forces, to the number of 30,000 men, were assembled. The Bruces on their return northward might easily have been intercepted, or the genius which triumphed at Bannockburn might have been as conspicuously signalized on Irish ground. But the military authorities were waiting orders from the Parliament, and the Parliament were at issue with the new Justice, and so the opportunity was lost. Early in May, the Hiberno-Scottish army re-entered Ulster, by nearly the same route as they had taken going southwards, and King Robert soon after returned into Scotland, promising faithfully to rejoin his brother, as soon as he disposed of his own pressing affairs. The King of England in the meantime, in consternation at the news from Ireland, applied to the Pope, then at Avignon, to exercise his influence with the Clergy and Chiefs of Ireland, for the preservation of the English interest in that country. It was in answer to the Papal rescripts so procured that Donald O’Neil despatched his celebrated Remonstrance, which the Pontiff enclosed to Edward II., with an urgent recommendation that the wrongs therein recited might be atoned for, and avoided in the future.


It is too commonly the fashion, as well with historians as with others, to glorify the successful and censure severely the unfortunate. No such feeling actuates us in speaking of the character of Edward Bruce, King of Ireland. That he was as gallant a knight as any in that age of gallantry, we know; that he could confront the gloomiest aspect of adversity with cheerfulness, we also know. But the united testimony, both of history and tradition, in his own country, so tenacious of its anecdotical treasures, describes him as rash, headstrong, and intractable, beyond all the captains of his time. And in strict conformity with this character is the closing scene of his Irish career.

The harvest had again failed in 1317, and enforced a melancholy sort of truce between all the belligerents. The scarcity was not confined to Ireland, but had severely afflicted England and Scotland, compelling their rulers to bestow a momentary attention on the then abject class, the tillers of the soil. But the summer of 1318 brightened above more prosperous fields, from which no sooner had each party snatched or purchased his share of the produce, than the war-note again resounded through all the four Provinces. On the part of the Anglo-Irish, John de Bermingham was confirmed as Commander-in-Chief, and departed from Dublin with, according to the chronicles of the Pale, but 2,000 chosen troops, while the Scottish biographer of the Bruces gives him “20,000 trapped horse.” The latter may certainly be considered an exaggerated account, and the former must be equally incorrect. Judged by the other armaments of that period, from the fact that the Normans of Meath, under Sir Miles de Verdon and Sir Richard Tuit, were in his ranks, and that he then held the rank of Commander-in-Chief of all the English forces in Ireland, it is incredible that de Bermingham should have crossed the Boyne with less than eight or ten thousand men. Whatever the number may have been, Bruce resolved to risk the issue of battle contrary to the advice of all his officers, and without awaiting the reinforcements hourly expected from Scotland, and which shortly after the engagement did arrive. The native chiefs of Ulster, whose counsel was also to avoid a pitched battle, seeing their opinions so lightly valued, are said to have withdrawn from Dundalk. There remained with the iron-headed King the Lords Moubray, de Soulis, and Stewart, with the three brothers of the latter; MacRory, lord of the Isles, and McDonald, chief of his clan. The neighbourhood of Dundalk, the scene of his triumphs and coronation, was to be the scene of this last act of Bruce’s chivalrous and stormy career.

On the 14th of October, 1318, at the hill of Faughard, within a couple of miles of Dundalk, the advance guard of the hostile armies came into the presence of each other, and made ready for battle. Roland de Jorse, the foreign Archbishop of Armagh—who had not been able to take possession of his see, though appointed to it seven years before—accompanied the Anglo-Irish, and moving through their ranks, gave his benediction to their banners. But the impetuosity of Bruce gave little time for preparation. At the head of the vanguard, without waiting for the whole of his company to come up, he charged the enemy with impetuosity. The action became general, and the skill of de Bermingham as a leader was again demonstrated. An incident common to the warfare of that age was, however, the immediate cause of the victory. Master John de Maupas, a burgher of Dundalk, believing that the death of the Scottish leader would be the signal for the retreat of his followers, disguised as a jester or fool, sought him throughout the field. One of the royal esquires, named Gilbert Harper, wearing the surcoat of his master, was mistaken for him, and slain; but the true leader was at length found by de Maupas, and struck down with the blow of a leaden plummet or slung-shot. After the battle, when the field was searched for his body, it was found under that of de Maupas, who had bravely yielded up life for life. The Hiberno-Scottish forces dispersed in dismay, and when King Robert of Scotland landed a day or two afterwards, he was met by the fugitive men of Carrick, under their leader Thompson, who informed him of his brother’s fate. He returned at once into his own country, carrying off the few Scottish survivors. The head of the impetuous Edward was sent to London; but the body was interred in the churchyard of Faughard, where, within living memory, a tall pillar stone was pointed out by every peasant of the neighbourhood as marking the grave of “King Bruce.”

The fortunes of the principal actors, native and Norman, in the invasion of Edward Bruce, may be briefly recounted before closing this book of our history, John de Bermingham, created for his former victory Baron of Athenry, had now the Earldom of Louth conferred on him with a royal pension. He promptly followed up his blow at Faughard by expelling Donald O’Neil, the mainspring of the invasion, from Tyrone; but Donald, after a short sojourn among the mountains of Fermanagh, returned during the winter and resumed his lordship, though he never wholly recovered from the losses he had sustained. The new Earl of Louth continued to hold the rank of Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, to which he added in 1322 that of Lord Justice. He was slain in 1329, with some 200 of his personal adherents, in an affair with the natives of his new earldom, at a place called Ballybeagan. He left by a daughter of the Earl of Ulster three daughters; the title was perpetuated in the family of his brothers.

In 1319, the Earls of Kildare and Louth, and the Lord Arnold le Poer, were appointed a commission to inquire into all treasons committed in Ireland during Bruce’s invasion. Among other outlawries they decreed those of the three de Lacys, the chiefs of their name, in Meath and Ulster. That illustrious family, however, survived even this last confiscation, and their descendants, several centuries later, were large proprietors in the midland counties.

Three years after the battle of Faughard, died Roland de Jorse, Archbishop of Armagh, it was said, of vexations arising out of Bruce’s war, and other difficulties which beset him in taking possession of his see. Adam, Bishop of Ferns, was deprived of his revenues for taking part with Bruce, and the Friars Minor of the Franciscan order, were severely censured in a Papal rescript for their zeal on the same side.

The great families of Fitzgerald and Butler obtained their earldoms of Kildare, Desmond, and Ormond, out of this dangerous crisis, but the premier earldom of Ulster disappeared from our history soon afterwards. Richard, the Red Earl, having died in the Monastery of Athassil, in 1326, was succeeded by his son, William, who, seven years later, in consequence of a family feud, instigated by one of his own female relatives, Gilla de Burgh, wife of Walter de Mandeville, was murdered at the Fords, near Carrickfergus, in the 21st year of his age. His wife, Maud, daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, fled into England with her infant, afterwards married to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, son of King Edward III., who thus became personally interested in the system which he initiated by the odious Statute of Kilkenny. But the misfortunes of the Red Earl’s posterity did not end with the murder of his immediate successor. Edmond, his surviving son, five years subsequently, was seized by his cousin, Edmond, the son of William, and drowned in Lough Mask, with a stone about his neck. The posterity of William de Burgh then assumed the name of McWilliam, and renounced the laws, language, and allegiance of England. Profiting by their dissensions, Turlogh O’Conor, towards the middle of the century, asserted supremacy over them, thus practising against the descendants the same policy which the first de Burghs had successfully employed among the sons of Roderick.

We must mention here a final consequence of Edward Bruce’s invasion seldom referred to,—namely, the character of the treaty between Scotland and England, concluded and signed at Edinburgh, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1328. By this treaty, after arranging an intermarriage between the royal families, it was stipulated in the event of a rebellion against Scotland, in Skye, Man, or the Islands, or against England, in Ireland, that the several Kings would not abet or assist each other’s rebel subjects. Remembering this article, we know not what to make of the entry in our own Annals, which states that Robert Bruce landed at Carrickfergus in the same year, 1328, “and sent word to the Justiciary and Council, that he came to make peace between Ireland and Scotland, and that he would meet them at Green Castle; but that the latter failing to meet him, he returned to Scotland.” This, however, we know: high hopes were entertained, and immense sacrifices were made, for Edward Bruce, but were made in vain. His proverbial rashness in battle, with his total disregard of the opinion of the country into which he came, alienated from him those who were at first disposed to receive him with enthusiasm. It may be an instructive lesson to such as look to foreign leaders and foreign forces for the means of national deliverance to read the terms in which the native Annalists record the defeat and death of Edward Bruce: “No achievement had been performed in Ireland, for a long time,” say the Four Masters, “from which greater benefit had accrued to the country than from this.” “There was not a better deed done in Ireland since the banishment of the Formorians,” says the Annalist of Clonmacnoise! So detested may a foreign liberating chief become, who outrages the feelings and usages of the people he pretends, or really means to emancipate!

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