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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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Viking Settlement That Becomes Dublin is Founded

founding-of-dublinA Viking settlement that would later become the city of Dublin is founded on the banks of the River Liffey on July 10, 988.

The first documented history of Dublin begins with the Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century. These lead to the establishment of a settlement on the south side of the mouth of the Liffey, named Dubh Linn (Black Pool) after the dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the Liffey which is where the Danes first moor their boats.

The Vikings, or Ostmen as they call themselves, rule Dublin for almost three centuries, although they are expelled in 902 only to return in 917 and notwithstanding their defeat by the Irish High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. From that date, the Norse are a minor political force in Ireland, firmly opting for a commercial life. Viking rule of Dublin ends completely in 1171 when the city is captured by King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster, with the aid of Anglo-Norman mercenaries. An attempt is made by the last Norse King of Dublin, Ascall mac Ragnaill, to recapture the city with an army he raises among his relations in the Scottish Highlands, where he is forced to flee after the city is taken, but the attempted reconquest fails and Ascall is killed.

Dublin becomes the centre of English power in Ireland after the Norman invasion of the southern half of Ireland (Munster and Leinster) in 1169-1171, replacing Tara in Meath, seat of the Gaelic High Kings of Ireland, as the focal point of Ireland’s polity. On May 15, 1192 Dublin’s first written Charter of Liberties is granted by John, Lord of Ireland, and is addressed to all his “French, English, Irish and Welsh subjects and friends.” On June 15, 1229, his son Henry grants the citizens the right to elect a Mayor who is to be assisted by two provosts. By 1400, however, many of the Anglo-Norman conquerors are absorbed into the Gaelic culture, adopting the Irish language and customs, leaving only a small area of Leinster around Dublin, known as the Pale, under direct English control.


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Death of Diarmait Mac Murchada, Irish King of Leinster

diarmait-mac-murchadaDiarmait Mac Murchada, Irish King of Leinster whose appeal to the English for help in settling an internal dispute leads to the Anglo-Norman invasion and conquest of Ireland by England, dies on May 1, 1171 of “an insufferable and unknown disease.”

Mac Murchada is born around 1110, the son of Donnchad mac Murchada, King of Leinster and Dublin. His father is killed in battle in 1115 by his cousin Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of the Dublin Vikings, and is buried by them in Dublin along with the body of a dog which is considered to be a huge insult.

After the death of Énna Mac Murchada, his older brother, Mac Murchada unexpectedly becomes King of Leinster. This is opposed by the High King of Ireland, Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, who fears that Mac Murchada will become a rival. Toirdelbach sends one of his allied Kings, the belligerent Tigernán Ua Ruairc, to conquer Leinster and oust the young Mac Murchada. Ua Ruairc goes on a brutal campaign slaughtering the livestock of Leinster and thereby trying to starve the province’s residents. Mac Murchada is ousted from his throne, but is able to regain it with the help of Leinster clans in 1132. Two decades of an uneasy peace followed between Ua Conchobair and Mac Murchada. In 1152 he even assists the High King in a raid of the land of Ua Ruairc who has become a renegade.

As King of Leinster, between 1140–70, Mac Murchada commissions Irish Romanesque churches and abbeys at Baltinglass, Glendalough, Ferns, and Killeshin. He sponsors convents at Dublin, two at Aghade, County Carlow, and at Kilculliheen near Waterford city. He also sponsors the successful career of churchman St. Lorcán Ua Tuathail and presides at the synod of Clane in 1161 when Ua Tuathail is installed as archbishop of Dublin.

In 1166, Ireland’s new High King and Mac Murchada’s only ally, Muirchertach Ua Lochlainn, has fallen and a large coalition led by Mac Murchada’s arch enemy, Tigernán Ua Ruairc, marches on Leinster. The High King deposes Mac Murchada from the throne of Leinster and he flees to Wales and from there to England and France seeking the support of Henry II of England in the recruitment of soldiers to reclaim his kingship. Henry authorises Mac Murchada to seek help from the soldiers and mercenaries in his kingdom. Those who agreed to help include Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and half-brothers Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald.

In Mac Murchada’s absence, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, son of Mac Murchada’s former enemy, the High King Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, has become the new High King of Ireland.

Mac Murchada brings an advance party of adventurers back to Ireland in 1167, recaptures Wexford, and waits for Strongbow to arrive. From his base in Wales, Strongbow launches an offensive in 1170, capturing Waterford and Dublin, taking control of the East coast, much to the dismay of the Gaelic Chieftains and Ua Conchobair. To cement the alliance, Mac Murchada marries his daughter, Aoife, to Strongbow, in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin 1170.

The Irish Chieftains do not allow the invaders to settle, however, and they are continually attacked and harassed. It begins to appear likely that they will be driven from Ireland. However, they receive support from Henry II, who has become concerned about the amount of power and influence that Strongbow is amassing in Ireland. The subsequent domination of South Wales by the Normans is a result of the need to keep supply lines into Eastern Ireland open.

Mac Murchada dies on May 1, 1171, leaving Strongbow to declare himself King of Leinster. Mac Murchada is buried in the Cathedral graveyard of Ferns village.


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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.