seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Norman Invasion of Ireland

Cambro-Norman mercenaries land in Ireland on May 1, 1169 at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), the ousted King of Leinster, who has sought their help in regaining his kingdom. The Norman invasion of Ireland takes place in stages during the late 12th century, at a time when Gaelic Ireland is made up of several kingdoms, with a High King claiming lordship over all.

Diarmait and the Normans seize Leinster within weeks and launch raids into neighbouring kingdoms. This military intervention has the backing of King Henry II of England and is authorized by Pope Adrian IV.

And there and then the high king stood strong and lay down too led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as Strongbow. By May 1171, Strongbow has assumed control of Leinster and seized the Norse-Irish city kingdoms of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford. That summer, High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor) leads an Irish counteroffensive against the Normans, but they manage to hold most of their conquered territory. In October 1171, King Henry lands a large Anglo-Norman army in Ireland to establish control over both the Cambro-Normans and the Irish. The Norman lords hand their conquered territory to Henry. He lets Strongbow hold Leinster in fief and declares the cities to be crown land. Many Irish kings also submit to him, likely in the hope that he will curb Norman expansion. Henry, however, grants the unconquered Kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy. After Henry’s departure in 1172, Norman expansion and Irish counteroffensives continue.

The 1175 Treaty of Windsor acknowledges Henry as overlord of the conquered territory and Ruaidrí as overlord of the rest of Ireland, with Ruaidrí also swearing fealty to Henry. However, the Treaty soon falls apart. The Anglo-Norman lords continue to invade Irish kingdoms and they in turn launch counter-attacks. In 1177, Henry adopts a new policy. He declares his son John to be “Lord of Ireland” (i.e. of the whole country) and authorizes the Norman lords to conquer more land. The territory they hold becomes the Lordship of Ireland and forms part of the Angevin Empire. The largely successful nature of the invasion has been attributed to a number of factors. These include the Normans’ military superiority and programme of castle-building, the lack of a unified opposition from the Irish, and the Church’s support for Henry’s intervention.

The Norman invasion is a watershed in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 700 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland.


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Henry II Lands at Waterford

henry-ii-at-waterfordHenry II, fearful that Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, will grow too powerful in Ireland, lands with an army at Waterford on October 17, 1171. The Normans, Norse, and Irish all submit to him, except for the most remote Irish kings.

Henry is worried about the growing power of the Cambro-Norman knights, in particular Strongbow, who has in the previous two years carved out what is a substantial new territory, as well as a delicately located new territory with regard to Henry’s own holdings in what is termed the Angevin Empire.

Henry’s presence changes the game for the Norman lords. Either they agree to do as he asks, submit to his sovereignty and accept the land they have grasp through force of arms as his gift, or branded as rebels they face their King with an army of 1,000 knights.

The Lords see the way of things and agree to the demand. Many of the Gaelic Irish, seeing Henry as a potential ally against the power of the Norman Lords, swear allegiance as well.

Henry receives recognition and hostages from the Ostmen of Wexford, who have captured Robert FitzStephen, as well as from many other kings in Ireland including Diarmait MacCarthaigh, king of Cork, Domnall Mór Ua Briain, king of Limerick, Murchadh O Cearbhaill, king of Airgialla, Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc, king of Breifne, and Donn Sléibe mac Con Ulad Mac Duinn Sléibe, king of Ulaid.

Henry formally grants Leinster to Strongbow in return for homage, fealty, and the service of 100 knights, reserving to himself the city and kingdom of Dublin and all seaports and fortresses. He also grants the kingdom of Meath, from the River Shannon to the sea, to his own follower Hugh de Lacy.

Henry II’s arrival at Waterford puts to rest the idea of an independent Irish kingdom that any Norman lord might imagine and determines a course for Ireland for some 750 years.


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Death of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

strongbow-effigy-christ-church-dublinRichard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland, and Cambro-Norman lord notable for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Dublin on April 20, 1176. Like his father, he is also commonly known by his nickname “Strongbow.”

As the son of the 1st Earl of Pembroke, Richard succeeds to his father’s estates after his death in 1148, but is deprived of the title by King Henry II of England in 1154 for siding with King Stephen of England against Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda. He sees an opportunity to reverse his bad fortune in 1168 when he meets Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster.

In 1167, Diarmait Mac Murchada is deprived of the Kingdom of Leinster by the High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. To recover his kingdom, Mac Murchada solicits help from King Henry II of England. Henry provides a letter of comfort for willing supporters of Mac Murchada’s cause in his kingdom. However, after his return to Wales, he fails to rally any forces to his standard. He eventually meets Richard de Clare and other barons of the Welsh Marches. Mac Murchada comes to an agreement with de Clare where, for the Earl’s assistance with an army the following spring, he can have Mac Murchada’s eldest daughter, Aoife, in marriage and the succession to Leinster.

Mac Murchada and Richard de Clare raise a large army, which includes Welsh archers and arranges for Raymond FitzGerald to lead it. The force takes the Ostman towns of Wexford, Waterford, and Dublin in rapid succession between 1169 and 1170. Richard de Clare, however, is not with the first invading party and arrives later, in August 1170.

In May 1171, Diarmait Mac Murchada dies and his son, Donal MacMurrough-Kavanagh claims the kingdom of Leinster in accordance with his rights under the Brehon Laws. Richard de Clare also claims the kingship in the right of his wife. At this time, Strongbow sends his uncle, Hervey de Montmorency, on an embassy to Henry II, which is necessary to appease the King who is growing restive at the count’s increasing power. Upon his return, de Montmorency conveys the King’s terms – the return of Richard de Clare’s lands in France, England, and Wales as well as leaving him in possession of his Irish lands. In return, Richard de Clare surrenders Dublin, Waterford, and other fortresses to the English king. Henry’s intervention is successful and both the Gaelic and Norman lords in the south and east of Ireland accept his rule. Richard de Clare also agrees to assist Henry II in his upcoming war in France.

Richard de Clare dies on April 20, 1176 of an infection in his leg or foot. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Dublin with his uncle-in-law, Lorcán Ua Tuathail, Archbishop of Dublin, presiding. King Henry II takes all of Strongbow’s lands and castles for himself and places a royal official in charge of them.