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


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Death of Saint Laurence O’Toole

st-laurence-o-tooleLorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Eu, Normandy, France on November 14, 1180.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 25 years old, he is elected Abbot of the monastery. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of the Danish city of Dublin. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between the King of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. The English King, Henry II, does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence O’Toole is canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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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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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.