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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 Irish Free State Takes Drogheda

millmount-droghedaA large Irish Free State force takes Drogheda, County Louth, on July 4, 1922, during the Irish Civil War. They defeat Anti-Treaty fighters who are based at Millmount Fort, a large fortified complex situated on a great mound on the south bank of the River Boyne.

Millmount has been fortified in historical times since the early 12th century when invading Normans built a mote and bailey on what was probably originally a neolithic passage grave similar to Newgrange. In Irish cosmology, it is often assumed to be the burial place of Amergin Glúingel, whose name indicates that in ancient Irish mythology he was regarded as the originator of the arts of song, poetry and music.

Hugh de Lacy, one of the Normans who comes to Ireland after Strongbow, builds the original fort circa 1172, having been granted the Kingdom of Meath by Henry II of England. Later a stone castle is built on the site. This castle forms part of the defences of the town during the Siege of Drogheda during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649. The fort’s English defenders attempt to surrender to Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell but are massacred when they give themselves up on September 11, 1649. The complex is later called Richmond Barracks. Some of the present buildings, in the courtyard, are built circa 1714. After the unrest and rebellions of the 1790s and the Acts of Union 1800 the complex is re-fortified and the Martello tower is built.

The fort suffers considerable damage during the Irish Civil War. It is occupied by Anti-Treaty forces and on July 4, 1922, it becomes the target of shelling by the army of the Irish Free State. The Free State Forces under Michael Collins have been given extensive support by the British Army at the express wish of Winston Churchill who insists that the Republican Forces be crushed. Using the same British Army 18-pounder artillery piece which had shelled the Republican H.Q. in the Four Courts in Dublin some days earlier the Free State Forces bombard Millmount fort for several hours before the Republican garrison retreats. The famous Martello tower is all but destroyed during the shelling.

Today, after being restored in 2000, the complex houses the Millmount Museum which houses a wide variety of artifacts of local and national importance. The complex is Drogheda’s most dominant feature, clearly visible from all parts of the town. The Martello tower is affectionately known as “The Cup and Saucer” by locals. The whole fort is a national monument and has been designated as Drogheda’s Cultural Quarter.


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Death of Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, the King of Connacht

Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, the King of Connacht and youngest son of the Irish High King Tairrdelbach mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, dies on May 27, 1224. This finally opens the way for the Norman occupation of Connacht.

Ua Conchobair is born in 1153 and serves as King of Connacht from 1189 to 1199, and is re-inaugurated on the stone at Clonalis about 1201, reigning until 1224. He first succeeds his elder half brother Ruaidri‘s son Conchobar Máenmaige Ua Conchobair as ruler of Connacht. Conchobar Máenmaige’s son Cathal Carrach Ua Conchobair then rules from 1199 to 1202, with Cathal Crobhdearg back in power from then.

From his base west of the River Shannon he is forced to deal with the Norman invaders. He is a competent leader despite problems, avoiding major conflicts and winning minor skirmishes. Ua Conchobair attempts to make the best of the new situation with Ireland divided between Norman and Gaelic rulers. His long reign is perhaps a sign of relative success. He is the subject, as Cáhal Mór of the Wine Red Hand, of the poem A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century by the 19th-century Irish nationalist James Clarence Mangan.

Ua Conchobair founds Ballintubber Abbey in 1216, and is succeeded by his son, Aedh Ua Conchobair. His wife, Mor Ní Briain, is a daughter of King Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Thomond, dies in 1218.

In 1224 Ua Conchobair writes to Henry III as Lord of Ireland, asking that his son and heir Od (Aedh) be granted all of Connacht, in particular those parts, Kingdom of Breifne, owned by William Gorm de Lacy.

An account of Ua Conchobair’s inauguration has been preserved, written down by Donogh Bacach Ó Maolconaire, the son of O’Connor’s very inaugurator Tanaide Ó Maolconaire, who is also his historian.

(Pictured: Ruins of the 12th century Cistercian Knockmoy Abbey which contains the burial site of King Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair)


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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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First Known Meeting of the Parliament of Ireland

parliament-of-ireland-coat-of-armsThe Parliament of Ireland meets at Castledermot in County Kildare on June 18, 1264, the first definitively known meeting of this Irish legislature. There is some evidence to suggest that the word “parliament” may have been in use as early as 1234.

There is nothing new about parliamentary assemblies in Ireland. The Normans, who begin to settle in Ireland in 1169, are the first to give Ireland a centralised administration. The Irish legal system and courts of law are, in large measure, inherited from them. So too is the Irish legislature which is directly descended from the parliament which develops in medieval Ireland.

The Parliament of Ireland is formally founded in 1297 by the Justiciar, Sir John Wogan, to represent the Irish and Anglo-Norman population of the Lordship of Ireland. It exists in Dublin from 1297 until 1800 and is comprised of two chambers – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords consists of members of the Irish peerage and the bishops (after the Reformation, Church of Ireland bishops), while the Commons is directly elected, albeit on a very restricted franchise.

The main purpose of parliament is to approve taxes that are then levied by and for the Lordship of Ireland. Those who pay the bulk of taxation, the clergy, merchants, and landowners, naturally comprise the members. In 1541 the parliament votes to create the Kingdom of Ireland.

Over the centuries, the Irish parliament meets in a number of locations both inside and outside Dublin. The first meeting at Castledermot in June 1264 takes place some months earlier than the first English Parliament containing representatives of towns and cities. However, this Irish Parliament is a meeting of Irish nobles and bishops, not representatives of Irish people. Later, in the 15th century, Irish parliaments began to invite representatives of the people.

Among its most famous meeting places are Dublin Castle, the Bluecoat School, Chichester House and, its final permanent home, the Irish Parliament House in College Green.


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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.