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


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The Battle of Skerries

battle-of-skerriesThe Battle of Skerries, also named the Battle of Ardscull, a battle in the Bruce campaign in Ireland and part of the First War of Scottish Independence, is fought on January 26, 1316, resulting in a Scottish victory. It is part of the Irish campaign of Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. The site of the battle is Skerries near Ardscull in County Kildare.

Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick, lands in Ireland in May 1315 and is proclaimed king of the island in June. Bruce continues on his march south, when on January 26, 1316 the Scottish army is advancing from Castledermot when it encounters the English. The Hiberno-Norman forces, summoned by the justiciar of Ireland, consists of men such as John FitzThomas FitzGerald, Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, Thomas FitzJohn FitzGerald, John and Arnold Poer, Maurice de Rocheford and Miles and David de la Roche. Though these forces heavily outnumber those of Bruce, internal strife breaks out in the Anglo-Irish ranks, a fact that Bruce can take advantage of. Though suffering heavy losses, the Scots hold the battlefield, effectively winning the battle.

The official English account of the battle blames unfortunate terrain and bad luck for the government forces’ loss, not an entirely convincing explanation. The same account also claims that the Scots lost many of their greatest men, while their opponents only lost one man.

After the battle the Scots plunder the nearby town of Athy before withdrawing to Leix, while the Anglo-Irish forces keep them under surveillance from nearby Castledermot, while their leader withdraws to Dublin. Here John Hotham, the king’s envoy to Ireland, makes a great effort to ensure the loyalty of the Irish nobles. By May, however, Bruce has returned to his safe base in Ulster, while Hotham has returned to his new position in England as Bishop of Ely.

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Passage of the Statutes of Kilkenny

lionel-of-antwerpThe Statutes of Kilkenny, a series of thirty-five acts aiming to curb the decline of the Hiberno-Norman Lordship of Ireland, are passed at Kilkenny on February 18, 1366.

By the middle decades of the 13th century, the Hiberno-Norman presence in Ireland is perceived to be under threat, mostly due to the dissolution of English laws and customs among English settlers. These English settlers are described as “more Irish than the Irish themselves,” referring to their taking up Irish law, custom, costume, and language.

The statutes attempt to prevent this “middle nation,” which is neither true English nor Irish, by reasserting English culture among the English settlers.

There are also military threats to the Norman presence, such as the failed invasion by Robert the Bruce‘s brother Edward Bruce in 1315, which is defended by the Irish chief Domhnall Ó Néill in his Remonstrance to Pope John XXII, complaining that “For the English inhabiting our land…are so different in character from the English of England…that with the greatest propriety they may be called a nation not of middle medium, but of utmost, perfidy.” Further, there was the de Burgh or Burke Civil War of 1333–1338, which leads to the disintegration of the estate of the Earldom of Ulster into three separate lordships, two of which are in outright rebellion against the crown.

The prime author of the statutes is Lionel of Antwerp, better known as the Duke of Clarence, and who is also the Earl of Ulster. In 1361, he has been sent as viceroy to Ireland by Edward III to recover his own lands in Ulster if possible and to turn back the advancing tide of the Irish. The statutes are enacted by a parliament that he summons in 1366. The following year, he leaves Ireland.

The statutes begin by recognizing that the English settlers have been influenced by Irish culture and customs. They forbid the intermarriage between the native Irish and the native English, the English fostering of Irish children, the English adoption of Irish children, and use of Irish names and dress. Those English colonists who do not know how to speak English are required to learn the language on pain of losing their land and belongings, along with many other English customs. The Irish pastimes of “hockie” and “coiting” are to be dropped and pursuits such as archery and lancing are to be taken up, so that the English colonists will be more able to defend against Irish aggression, using English military tactics.

Other statutes require that the English in Ireland be governed by English common law, instead of the Irish March law or Brehon law and ensures the separation of the Irish and English churches by requiring that “no Irishman of the nations of the Irish be admitted into any cathedral or collegiate church…amongst the English of the land.”

The mistrust the English have of the Irish is demonstrated by Statute XV, which forbids Irish minstrels or storytellers to come to English areas, guarding against “the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted.”

While the Statutes are sweeping in scope and aim, the English never have the resources to fully implement them. Clarence is forced to leave Ireland the following year, and Hiberno-Norman Ireland continues to gain a primarily Irish cultural identity. Only at the beginning of the 17th century would another attempt to colonise Ireland begin to make appreciable gains. The Statutes of Kilkenny ultimately help to create the complete estrangement of the two “races” in Ireland for almost three centuries.

(Pictured: Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence)


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Canonisation of Sir Oliver Plunkett

oliver-plunkettSir Oliver Plunkett is canonised in Rome by Pope Paul VI on October 12, 1975, the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625, in Loughcrew, County Meath, to parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunkett, the first Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath. As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) has defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years so he petitions to remain in Rome. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669, he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent. He returns to Ireland on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration.

Plunkett sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy. The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670, which becomes the first Catholic-Protestant integrated school in Ireland.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. Plunkett goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refuses to leave his flock.

Plunkett is arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. The trial soon collapses as the prosecution witnesses are themselves wanted men and afraid to appear in court. Plunkett is moved to Newgate Prison in London in order to face trial at Westminster Hall. The first grand jury finds no true bill, but he is not released. The second trial is generally regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice as Plunkett is denied defending counsel.

Archbishop Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Plunkett is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. His head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where it has rested in St. Peter’s Church since June 29, 1921. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe.


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Oliver Plunkett Beatified by Pope Benedict XV

oliver-plunkettOliver Plunkett, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is beatified by Pope Benedict XV on May 23, 1920.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625, in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) has defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism is banned and Roman Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years.

He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration. After arriving back in Ireland, he sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he finds “ignorant in moral theology and controversies.” The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and Plunkett is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. Plunkett goes into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refusing a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin is arrested and Plunkett again goes into hiding.

Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refuses to leave his flock. At some point before his final incarceration, he takes refuge in a church that once stood in the townland of Killartry, in the parish of Clogherhead in County Louth, seven miles outside Drogheda. He is arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. Plunkett is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith” and is condemned to death. He is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.

Oliver Plunkett is beatified on May 23, 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived. Plunkett has since been followed by 17 other Irish martyrs who were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Among them are Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, Margaret Ball, and the Wexford Martyrs.