Considering what a stout fighting race they proved in later ages—fighting often when submission would have been the wiser policy—it is curious that in early days these O'Neills or Hy-Nials seem to have been but a supine race. For centuries they were titular kings of Ireland, yet during all that time they seem never to have tried to transform their faint, shadowy sceptre into a real and active one. Malachy or Melachlin, the rival of Brian Boru, seems to have been the most energetic of the race, yet he allowed the sceptre to be plucked from his hands with an ease which, judging by the imperfect light shed by the chroniclers over the transaction, seems to be almost unaccountable.
It is difficult to say how far that light, for which the Irish monasteries were then celebrated, extended to the people of the island at large. With one exception, little that can be called cultivation is, it must be owned, discoverable, indeed long centuries after this Irish chieftains we know were innocent of the power of signing their own names. That exception was in the case of music, which seems to have been loved and studied from the first. As far back as we can see him the Irish Celt was celebrated for his love of music. In one of the earliest extant annals a Cruit, or stringed harp, is described as belonging to the Dashda, or Druid chieftain. It was square in form, and possessed powers wholly or partly miraculous. One of its strings, we are told, moved people to tears, another to laughter. A harp in Trinity College, known as the harp of Brian Boru, is said to be the oldest in Europe, and has thirty strings. This instrument has been the subject of many controversies. O'Curry doubts it having belonged to Brian Boru, and gives his reasons for believing that it was among the treasures of Westminster when Henry VIII. came to the throne in 1509, and that it suggested the placing of the harp in the arms of Ireland, and on the "harp grotes," a coinage of the period. However this may be we cannot doubt that music had early wrought itself into the very texture and fabric of Irish life; airs and words, wedded closely together, travelling down from mouth to mouth for countless generations. Every little valley and district may be said to have had its own traditional melodies, and the tunes with which Moore sixty years ago was delighting critical audiences had been floating unheeded and disregarded about the country for centuries.
The last ten years of the eighth century were very bad ones for Ireland. Then for the first time the black Viking ships were to be seen sweeping shore-wards over the low grey waves of the Irish Channel, laden with Picts, Danes, and Norsemen, "people," says an old historian, "from their very cradles dissentious, Land Leapers, merciless, soure, and hardie." They descended upon Ireland like locusts, and where-ever they came ruin, misery, and disaster followed.
Their first descent appears to have been upon an island, probably that of Lambay, near the mouth of what is now Dublin harbour. Returning a few years later, sixty of their ships, according to the Irish annalists, entered the Boyne, and sixty more the Liffy. These last were under the command of a leader who figures in the annals as Turgesius, whose identity has never been made very clear, but who appears to be the same person known to Norwegian historians as Thorkels or Thorgist.
Whatever his name he was undoubtedly a bad scourge to Ireland. Landing in Ulster, he burned the cathedral of Armagh, drove out St. Patrick's successors, slaughtered the monks, took possession of the whole east coast, and marching into the centre of the island, established himself in a strong position near Athlone.
Beyond all other Land Leapers, this Thorgist, or Turgesius, seems to have hated the churches. Not content with burning them, and killing all priests and monks he could find, his wife, we are told, took possession of the High Altar at Clonmacnois, and used it as a throne from which to give audience, or to utter prophecies and incantations. He also exacted a tribute of "nose money," which if not paid entailed the forfeit of the feature it was called after. At last three or four of the tribes united by despair rose against him, and he was seized and slain; an event about which several versions are given, but the most authentic seems to be that he was taken by stratagem and drowned in Lough Owel, near Mullingar, in or about the year 845.
He was not, unfortunately, the last of the Land Leapers! More and more they came, sweeping in from the north, and all seem to have made direct for the plunder of the monasteries, into which the piety of centuries had gathered most of the valuables of the country. The famous round towers, or "Clocthech" of Ireland, have been credited with a hundred fantastic origins, but are now known not to date from earlier than about the eighth or ninth century, are always found in connection with churches or monasteries, and were unquestionably used as defences against these northern invaders. At the first sight of their unholy prows, rising like water snakes above the waves, all the defenceless inmates and refugees, all the church plate and valuables, and all sickly or aged brothers were hurried into these monastic keeps; the doors—set at a height of from ten to twenty feet above the ground—securely closed, the ladders drawn up, food supplies having been no doubt already laid in, and a state of siege began.
It is a pity that the annalists, who tell us so many things we neither care to hear nor much believe in, should have left us no record of any assault of the Northmen against one of these redoubtable towers. Even at the present day they would, without ammunition, be remarkably difficult nuts to crack; indeed, it is hard to see how their assault could have been successfully attempted, save by the slow process of starvation, or possibly by fires kindled immediately below the entrance, and so by degrees smoking out their inmates.
If any one ever succeeded in getting into them, we may be sure the Land Leapers did! Before long they appear to have gathered nearly the whole spoil of the country into the towns, which they built and fortified for themselves at intervals along the coast. Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Dublin, all owe their origin in the first instance to the Northmen; indeed it is a curious fact that Dublin can never be said, save for very short periods to have belonged to the Irish at all. It was first the capital of their northern invaders, and afterwards that, of course, of the English Government.
Three whole centuries the Danish power lasted, and internecine war raged, a war during which almost every trace of earlier civilizing influences, all those milder habits and ways of thought, which Christianity had brought in and fostered, perished well-nigh utterly. The ferocity of the invaders communicated itself to the invaded, and the whole history is one confused and continual chronicle of horrors and barbarities.
An important distinction must be made at this point between the effects of the Northern invasion in England and in Ireland. In the former the invaders and natives became after a while more or less assimilated, and, under Canute, an orderly government, composed of both nationalities, was, we know, established. In Ireland this was never the case. The reason, doubtless, is to be found in the far closer similarity of race in the former case than the latter. In Ireland the "Danes," as they are popularly called, were always strangers, heathen tyrants, hated and despised oppressors, who retorted this scorn and hatred in the fullest possible measure upon their antagonists. From the moment of their appearance down to the last we hear of them—as long, in fact, as the Danes of the seaport towns retained any traces of their northern origin—so long they continued to be the deadly foes of the rest of the island.
Even where the Northmen accepted Christianity, it does not appear to have had any strikingly ameliorating effect Thus we read that Godfrid, son of Sitric, embraced Christianity in 948, and in the very next year we discover that he plundered and burnt all the churches in East Meath, killing over a hundred people who had taken refuge in them, and carrying off a quantity of captives. Land-leaping, too, continued in full force. "The godless hosts of pagans swarming o'er the Northern Sea," continued to arrive in fresh and fresh numbers from their inexhaustible Scandinavian breeding grounds—from Norway, from Sweden, from Denmark, even, it is said, from Iceland. The eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries are, in fact, the great period all over Europe for the incursions of the Northmen—high noon, so to speak, for those fierce and roving sons of plunder,—"People," says an old historian quaintly, "desperate in attempting the conquest of other Realmes, being very sure to finde warmer dwellings anywhere than in their own homes."
BRIAN OF THE TRIBUTE.
At last a time came for their oppression to be cut short in Ireland. Two valiant defenders sprang almost simultaneously into note. One of these was Malachy, or Melachlin, the Ard-Reagh and head of the O'Neills, the same Malachy celebrated by Moore as having "worn the collar of gold which he won from the proud invader." The other, Brian Boroimhe, commonly known to English writers as Brian Boru, a chieftain of the royal Dalcassian race of O'Brien, and the most important figure by far in Irish native history, but one which, like all others, has got so fogged and dimmed by prejudice and misstatement, that to many people his name seems hardly to convey any sense of reality at all.
Poor Brian Boru! If he could have guessed that he would have come to be regarded, even by some who ought to know better, as a sort of giant Cormoran or Eat-'em-alive-oh! a being out of a fairy tale, whom nobody is expected to take seriously; nay, as a symbol, as often as not, for ridiculous and inflated pretension. No one in his own day doubted his existence; no one thought of laughing at his name. Had they done so, their laughter would have come to a remarkably summary conclusion!
Brian Boroimhe, Boruma, or Boru—his name is written in all three ways—was not only a real man, but he was, what was more important, a real king, and not a mere simulacrum or walking shadow of one, like most of those who bore the name in Ireland. For once, for the only time as far as its native history is concerned, there was some one at the helm who knew how to rule, and who, moreover, did rule. His proceedings were not, it must be owned, invariably regulated upon any very strict rule of equity. He meant to be supreme, and to do so it was necessary to wrest the power from the O'Neills upon the one hand, and from the Danes on the other, and this he proceeded with the shortest possible delay to do.
He had a hard struggle at first. Munster had been overrun by the Danes of Limerick, who had defeated his brother, Mahon, king of Munster, and forced him to pay tribute. Brian himself, scorning to submit to the tyrants, had taken to the mountains with a small band of followers. Issuing from this retreat, he with some difficulty induced his brother once more to confront the aggressors. An important battle was fought at Sulcost, near Limerick, in the year 968, in which the Danes were defeated, and fled back in confusion to their walls, the Munster men, under Brian, following fast at their heels, and entering at the same time. The Danish town was seized, the fighting men were put to the sword, the remainder fled or were enslaved.
Mahon being some years afterwards slain, not by the Danes, but by certain treacherous Molloys and O'Donovans, who had joined themselves with him, Brian succeeded to the sovereignty of Munster, and shortly afterwards seized upon the throne of Cashel, which, upon the alternate system then prevailing, was at that time reigned over by one of the Euganian house of Desmond. Having avenged his brother's murder upon the O'Donovans, he next proceeded to overrun Leinster, rapidly subdued Ossory, and began to stretch out his hands towards the sovereignty of the island.
In the meantime the over-king, Malachy, had defeated the Danes at the battle of Tara, and was consequently in high honour, stronger apparently then any of his predecessors had been. In spite of this Brian by degrees prevailed. With doubtful patriotism he left the Danes for a while unpursued, attacked Meath, overran and wasted Connaught, and returning suddenly burnt the royal stronghold of Tara. After a long and wearisome struggle, Malachy yielded, and allowed Brian to become Ard-Reagh in his place, retaining only his own ancestral dominions of Meath. He seems to have been a placable, easy-going many "loving," say the annalists, "to ride a horse that had never been handled or ridden," and caring more for this than for the cares of the State.
After this, Brian made what may be called a royal progress through the country, receiving the submission of the chiefs and inferior kings, and forcing them to acknowledge his authority. In speaking of him as king of Ireland, which in a sense he undoubtedly was, we must be careful of letting our imaginations carry us into any exaggerated idea of what is meant by that word. His name, "Brian of the Tribute," is our safest guide, and enables us to understand what was the position of even the greatest and most successful king under the Celtic system. It was the exact opposite of the feudal one, and this difference proved the source in years to come of an enormous amount of misconception, and of fierce accusations of falsehood and treachery flung profusely from both sides. The position of the over-king or Ard-Reagh was more nearly allied to that of the early French suzerain or the German emperor. He could call upon his vassal or tributary kings to aid him in war times or in any sudden emergency, but, as regards their internal arrangements—the government, misgovernment, or non-government of their several sub-kingdoms—they were free to act as they pleased, and he was not understood to have any formal jurisdiction.
For all that Brian was an unmistakable king, and proved himself to be one. He defeated the Danes again and again, reducing even those inveterate disturbers of the peace to a forced quiescence; entered Dublin, and remained there some time, taking, say the annalists, "hostages and treasure." By the year 1002 Ireland had a master, one whose influence made itself felt over its whole surface. For twelve years at least out of its distracted history the country knew the blessings of peace. Broken by defeat the Danish dwellers of the seaport towns began to turn their energies to the milder and more pacific activities of trade. The ruined monasteries were getting rebuilt; prosperity was beginning to glimmer faintly upon the island; the chiefs, cowed into submission, abstained from raiding, or confined their raids to discreeter limits. Fortresses were being built, roads made, and bridges repaired in three at least of the provinces. Another twenty years of Brian's rule and the whole future history of Ireland might have been a different one.
It was not to be however. The king was now old, and the work that he had begun, and which, had he been followed by a successor like himself, might have been accomplished, was destined to crumble like a half-built house. The Danes began to stir again. A rebellion had sprung up in Leinster, the coast-line of which was strong-holded at several points with Danish towns. This rebellion they not only aided with their own strength, but further appealed for assistance to their kinsmen in Northumbria, Man, the Orkneys, and elsewhere, who responded by sending a large force under Brodar, a Viking, and Sigurd Earl of Orkney to their aid.
This force Brian gathered all his energies to oppose. With his own Munster clansmen, aided by all the fighting men of Meath and Connaught, with his five sons and with his old rival, King Malachy of Meath, fighting under his banner, he marched down to the strand of Clontarf, which stretches from the north of Dublin to the out-jutting promontory of Howth, and there, upon Good Friday, 1014, he encountered his Leinster rebels and the Viking host of invaders, ten thousand strong it is said, and a great battle was fought, a battle which, beginning before the dawn, lasted till the sun was beginning to sink.
To understand the real importance of this battle, we must first fully realize to ourselves what a very old quarrel this was. For three long weary centuries Ireland had been lying bound and broken under the heel of her pagan oppressors, and only with great difficulty and partially had escaped within the last fifteen or sixteen years. Every wrong, outrage, and ignominy that could be inflicted by one people upon another had been inflicted and would most assuredly be inflicted again were this battle, now about to be fought, lost.
Nor upon the other side were the motives much less strong. The Danes of Dublin under Sitric stood fiercely at bay. Although their town was still their own, all the rest of the island had escaped from the grasp of their race. Whatever Christianity they may occasionally have assumed was all thrown to the winds upon this great occasion. The far-famed pagan battle flag, the Raven Standard, was unfurled, and floated freely over the host. The War-arrow had been industriously sent round to all the neighbouring shores, peopled largely at that time with men of Norse blood. As the fleet swept south it had gathered in contingents from every island along the Scotch coast, upon which Viking settlements had been established. Manx men, too, and men from the Scandinavian settlements of Angelsea, Danes under Carle Canuteson, representatives, in fact, of all the old fighting pagan blood were there, and all gathered together to a battle at once of races and of creeds.
On the Irish side the command had been given by Brian to Morrogh, his eldest son, who fifteen years before had aided his father in gaining a great victory over these same Dublin Danes at a place called Glenmama, not far from Dunlaven. The old king himself abstained from taking any part in the battle. Perhaps because he wished his son—who already had been appointed his successor—to have all the glory and so to fix himself yet more deeply in the hearts of his future subjects; perhaps because he felt that his strength might not have carried him through the day; perhaps—the annalists say this is the reason—because the day being Good Friday he preferred praying for his cause rather than fighting for it. Whatever the reason it is certain that he remained in his tent, which was pitched on this occasion not far from the edge of the great woods which then covered all the rising ground to the north-west of Dublin, beginning at the bank of the river Liffy.
The onset was not long delayed. The Vikings under Sigurd and Brodar fought as only Vikings could fight. Like all battles of that period it resolved itself chiefly into a succession of single combats, which raged all over the field, extending, it is said, for over two miles along the strand. The Danish women, and the men left to guard the town, crowded the roofs, remaining all day to watch the fight. Sigurd of Orkney was killed in single combat by Thorlogh, the son of Morrogh, and grandson of Brian; Armud and several of the other Vikings fell by the hand of Morrogh, but in the end the father and son were both slain, although the latter survived long enough to witness the triumph of his own side.
Late in the afternoon the Northmen broke and fled; some to their ships, some into the town, some into the open country beyond. Amongst the latter Brodar, the Viking, made for the great woods, and in so doing passed close to where the tent of the king had been fixed. The attendants left to guard Brian had by this time one by one slipped away to join the fight, and the old man was almost alone, and kneeling, it is said, at the moment on a rug in the front of his tent. The sun was low, but the slanting beams fell upon his bent head and long white beard. One of Brodar's followers perceived him and pointed him out to his leader, saying that it was the king. "King, that is no king, that is a monk, a shaveling!" retorted the Viking. "It is not, it is Brian himself," was the answer.
Then Brodar caught his axe and rushed upon Brian. Taken unawares the king nevertheless rallied his strength which in his day had been greater than that of any man of his time, and still only half risen from his knees he smote the Viking a blow across the legs with his sword. The other thereupon lifted his battle-axe, and smote the king upon his head, cleaving it down to the chin, then fled to the woods, but was caught the next day and hacked into pieces by some of the infuriated Irish.
So fell Brian in the very moment of victory, and when the combined league of all his foes had fallen before him. When the news reached Armagh, the bishop and his clergy came south as far as Swords, in Meath, where they met the corpse of the king and carried it back to Armagh, where he was buried, say the annalists, "in a new tomb" with much weeping and lamentation.
FROM BRIAN TO STRONGBOW.
Whatever lamentations were uttered on this occasion were certainly not uncalled for, for a greater disaster has rarely befallen any country or people. Were proof wanted—which it hardly is—of that notorious ill-luck which has dogged the history of Ireland from the very beginning, it would be difficult to find a better one than the result of this same famous battle of Clontarf. Here was a really great victory, a victory the reverberation of which rang through the whole Scandinavian world, rejoicing Malcolm of Scotland, who without himself striking a blow, saw his enemies lying scotched at his feet, so scotched in fact, that after the defeat of Clontarf they never again became a serious peril. Yet as regards Ireland itself what was the result? The result was that all those ligaments of order which were beginning slowly to wind themselves round it, were violently snapped and scattered to the four winds. As long as Brian's grasp was over it Ireland was a real kingdom, with limitations it is true, but still with a recognized centre, and steadily growing power of combined and concerted action. At his death the whole body politic was once more broken up, and resolved itself into its old anarchic elements again.
It would have been better far for the country had Brian been defeated, so that he, his son Morrogh, or any capable heir had survived, better for it indeed had he never ruled at all if this was to be end. By his successful usurpation the hereditary principle—always a weak one in Ireland—was broken down. The one chance of a settled central government was thus at an end. Every petty chief and princeling all over the island felt himself capable of emulating the achievements of Brian. It was one of those cases which success and only success justifies. Ireland was pining, as it had always pined, as it continued ever afterwards to pine, for a settled government; for a strong central rule of some sort. The race of Hy-Nial had been titular kings for centuries, but they had never held the sovereignty in anything but name. Pushing their claims aside, and gathering all power into his own hands Brian had acted upon a small stage the part of Charlemagne centuries earlier upon a large one. He had succeeded, and in his success lay his justification. With his death, however, the whole edifice which he had raised crumbled away, and anarchy poured in after it like a torrent. A struggle set in at once for the sovereignty, which ended by not one of Brian's sons but the deposed King Malachy being set upon the throne. Like his greater rival he was however by this time a very old man. His spirit had been broken, and though the Danes had been too thoroughly beaten to stir, other elements of disorder abounded. Risings broke out in two of the provinces at once, and at his death the confusion became confounded. As a native rhyme runs:
"After Malachy, son of Donald, Each man ruled his own tribe, But no man ruled Erin."
Henceforward throughout the rather more than a century and a half which intervened between the battle of Clontarf and the Norman invasion, Ireland remained a helpless waterlogged vessel, with an unruly crew, without rudder or compass, above all, without a captain. The house of O'Brien again pushed its way to the front, but none of Brian's descendants who survived the day of Clontarf seem to have shown a trace even of his capacity. A fierce feud broke out shortly after between Donchad, his son, and Turlough, one of his grandsons, and each successively caught at the helm, but neither succeeding in obtaining the sovereignty of the entire island. After the last-named followed Murhertach also of the Dalcassian house, at whose death the rule once more swung round to the house of Hy-Nial and Donald O'Lochlin reigned nominally until his death in 1121. Next the O'Connors, of Connaught, took a turn at the sovereignty, and seized possession of Cashel which since its capture by Brian Boroimhe had been the exclusive appanage of the Dalcassians. Another O'Lochlin, of the house of O'Neill, then appears prominently in the fray, and by 1156, seems to have succeeded in seizing the over-lordship of the island, and so the tale goes on—a wearisome one, unrelieved by even a transitory gleam of order or prosperity. At last it becomes almost a relief when we reach the name of Roderick O'Connor, and know that before his death fresh actors will have entered upon the scene, and that the confused and baffling history of Ireland will, at all events, have entered upon a perfectly new stage.
THE ANGLO-NORMAN INVASION.
The invasion of Ireland by the Anglo-Normans differs in several respects from other invasions and conquests, not the least singular feature about it being that nearly the whole of that famous band of knightly adventurers who took part in it, and to whose audacity it was in the first instance due, were more or less closely related to one another, either as brothers, nephews, uncles, or cousins. The connecting link between these variously-named relations was one Nesta, princess of South Wales, daughter of a Welsh king, Rice ap Tudor, a heroine whose adventures are of a sufficiently striking, not to say startling, character. By dint of a succession of alliances, some regular, others highly irregular, she became the ancestress of nearly all the great Anglo-Norman families in Ireland. Of these the Fitzgeralds, Carews, Barrys, and Cogans, are descended from her first husband, Gerald of Windsor. Robert FitzStephen, who plays, as will presently be seen, a prominent part in the conquest, was the son of her second husband, Stephen, the Castlelan of Abertivy, while Robert and Meiler FitzHenry, of whom we shall also hear, are said to have been the sons of no less a person than King Henry I. of England.
Conspicuous amongst this band of knights and adventurers was one who was himself no knight, but a priest and the self-appointed chronicler of the rest, Gerald de Barri—better known as Gerald of Wales, or Giraldus Cambrensis, who was the grandson of Nesta, through her daughter Angareta.
Giraldus is one of those writers whom, to tell the truth, we like a great deal better than they deserve. He is prejudiced to the point of perversity, and gullible almost to sublimity, uncritical even for an eminently uncritical age, accepting and retailing any and every monstrous invention, the more readily apparently in proportion to its monstrosity. For all that—despite his prejudices, despite even his often deliberate perversion of the truth, it is difficult to avoid a certain kindliness for him. To the literary student he is indeed a captivating figure. With his half-Welsh, half-Norman blood; with the nimble, excitable, distinctly Celtic vein constantly discernible in him; with a love of fighting which could hardly have been exceeded by the doughtiest of the knights, his cousins and brothers; with a pen that seems to fly like an arrow across the page; with a conceit which knows neither stint nor limit, he is the most entertaining, the most vividly alive of chroniclers; no historian certainly in any rigid sense of the word, but the first, as he was also unquestionably the chief and prince of war correspondents.
Whether we like him or not, we at any rate cannot dispense with him, seeing that nearly everything we know of the Ireland of the Conquest, we know from those marvellous pages of his, which, if often exasperating, are at any rate never dull. In them, as in a mirror, we see how, when, and where the whole plan of the campaign was laid; who took part in it; what they said, did, projected; their very motives and thoughts—the whole thing stands out fresh and alive as if it had happened yesterday.
There were no lack of motives, any of which would have been temptation enough for invasion. To the pious it took on the alluring guise of a Crusade. The Irish Church, which had obtained such glowing fame in its early days, had long since, as we have seen, grown into very bad repute with Rome. Despite that halo of early sanctity, she was held to be seriously tainted with heresy. She allowed bishops to be irregularly multiplied, and consecrated contrary to the Roman rule by one bishop only; tithes and firstfruits were not collected with any regularity; above all, the collection of Peter's pence, being the sum of one penny due from every household, was always scandalously in arrears, nay, often no attempt was made to collect it at all. She did many wrong things, but it may shrewdly be suspected that this was one of the very worst of them.
It is not a little edifying at this juncture to find the Danes of Dublin amongst those who were enlisted upon the orthodox side. Cut off by mutual hatred rather than theological differences from the Church of Ireland, they had for some time back been regularly applying to Canterbury for their supply of priests. These priests upon being sent over painted the condition of Irish heterodoxy in tints of the deepest black for their own countrymen. Even before this there had been grave complaints. Lanfranc, Anselm, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, all had had their theological ire aroused against the Irish recusants. Many of the Irish ecclesiastics themselves seem to have desired that closer union with Rome, which could only be brought about by bringing Ireland under the power of a sworn son of the Church. Henry I—little as that most secular-minded of monarchs cared probably for the more purely theological question—was fully alive to its value as supporting his own claims. He obtained from Pope Hadrian IV. (the Englishman Brakespeare), a Bull sanctioning and approving of the conquest of Ireland as prompted by "the ardour of faith and love of religion," in which Bull he is desired to enter the island and therein execute "whatever shall pertain to the honour of God, and the welfare of the land."
Fourteen years elapsed before the enterprise thus warmly commended was carried into effect. The story of Dermot McMurrough, king of Leinster, and his part in the invasion, has often been told, and does not, I think, need dwelling upon at any great length. He was a brutal, violent-tempered savage, detested in his own country, and especially by his unfortunate subjects in Leinster. How he foully wronged the honour of O'Rorke, a chieftain of Connaught; how, for this and other offences, he was upon the accession of Roderick O'Connor driven away from Ireland; how he fled to England to do homage to Henry, and seek his protection; how, finding him gone to Aquitaine, he followed him there, and in return for his vows of allegiance received letters authorizing the king's subjects to enlist if they choose for the Irish service; how armed with these he went to Wales, and there succeeded in recruiting a band of mixed Norman and Norman-Welsh adventurers—all this is recorded at large in the histories.
Of the recruits thus enlisted, the most important was Robert de Clair, Earl of Pembroke and Chepstow, nicknamed by his contemporaries, Strongbow, whom Dermot met at Bristol, and won over by a double bribe—the hand, namely, of his daughter Eva, and the succession to the sovereignty of Leinster—a succession which, upon the Irish mode of election, he had, it may be observed, no shadow of right to dispose of.
Giraldus, who seems to have been himself in Wales at the time, speaks sentimentally of the unfortunate exile, and describes him inhaling the scent of his beloved country from the Welsh coast, and feasting his eyes tenderly upon his own land: "Although the distance," he more prosaically adds, "being very great, it was difficult to distinguish mountains from clouds." As a matter of fact, Dermot McMurrough, we may be sure, was not the person to do anything of the sort. He was simply hungry—as a wild beast or a savage is hungry—for revenge, and would have plunged into any number of perjuries, or have bound himself to give away any amount of property he had no right to dispose of in order to get it. He could safely trust, too, he knew, to the ignorance of his new allies as to what was or was not a legal transfer in Ireland.
His purpose achieved, "inflamed," says Giraldus, "with the desire to see his native land," but really the better to concoct his plans, he returned home, landing a little south of Arklow Head, and arriving at Ferns, where he was hospitably entertained during the winter by its bishop. The following spring, in the month of May, the first instalment of the invaders arrived under Robert FitzStephen, a small fleet of Welsh boats landing them in a creek of the bay of Bannow, where a chasm between the rocks was long known as "FitzStephen's stride."
Here they were met by Donald McMurrough, son of Dermot, and ten days later drew up under the walls of Wexford, having so far encountered no opposition.
In this old Danish town a stout fight was made. The townsfolk, no longer Vikings but simple traders, did what they could in their own defence. They burnt their suburbs, consisting doubtless of rude wooden huts; shut the gates, and upon the first two assaults drove back the assailants. So violently were they repelled, "that they withdrew," Giraldus tells us, "in all great haste from the walls." His own younger brother, Robert de Barri, was amongst the wounded, a great stone falling upon his helmet and tumbling him headlong into one of the ditches, from the effects of which blow, that careful historian informs us incidentally, "Sixteen years later all his jaw teeth fell out!"
Next morning, after mass, they renewed the assault; this time with more circumspection. Now there were at that time, as it happened, two bishops in the town, who devoted their energies to endeavouring to induce the citizens to make peace. In this attempt they were successful, more successful than might have been expected with men descended from the old Land Leapers. Wexford opened its gates, its townsmen submitting to Dermot, who thereupon presented the town to his allies, FitzStephen, true to his Norman instincts, proceeding forthwith to build a castle upon the rock of Carneg, at the narrowest point of the river Slaney, the first of that large crop of castles which subsequently sprang up upon Irish soil.
The next sharers of the struggle were the wild Ossory clans, who gathered to the defence of their territory under Donough McPatrick, an old and especially hated enemy of Dermot's. The latter had now three thousand men at his back, in addition to his Welsh and Norman allies. The Ossory men fought, as Giraldus admits, with furious valour, but upon rashly venturing out of their own forests into the open, were charged by FitzStephen, whose horsemen defeated them, killing a great number, over two hundred heads being collected and laid at the feet of Dermot, who, "turning them over, one by one, to recognize them, lifted his hands to heaven in excess of joy, and with a loud voice returned thanks to God most High." So pious was Dermot!
After this, finding that the country at large was beginning to take some note of their proceedings, the invaders fell back upon Ferns, which they fortified according to the science of the age under the superintendence of Robert FitzStephen. Roderick O'Connor, the Ard-Reagh, was by this time not unnaturally beginning to get alarmed, and had gathered his men together against the invaders. The winter, however, was now at hand, and a temporary peace was accordingly patched up; Leinster being restored to Dermot on condition of his acknowledging the over-lordship of Roderick. Giraldus recounts at much length the speeches made upon both sides on this occasion; the martial addresses to the troops, the many classical and flowery quotations, which last he is good enough to bestow upon the unlucky Roderick no less than upon his own allies. Seeing, probably, that all were alike imaginary, it is hardly necessary to delay to record them.
The next to arrive upon the scene was Maurice Fitzgerald, half brother of Robert FitzStephen and uncle of Giraldus. Strongbow meanwhile was still upon the eastern side of the channel awaiting the return of his uncle, Hervey de Montmorency, whom he had sent over to report upon the condition of affairs. Even after Hervey's return bringing with him a favourable report, he had still the king's permission to gain. Early in 1170 he again sought Henry and this time received an ambiguous reply, which, however, he chose to interpret in his own favour. He sent back Hervey to Ireland, accompanied by Raymond Fitzgerald, surnamed Le Gros, and a score of knights with some seventy archers. These, landing in Kilkenny, entrenched themselves, and being shortly afterwards attacked by the Danes of Waterford, defeated them with great slaughter, seizing a number of prisoners. Over these prisoners a dispute arose; Raymond was for sparing their lives, Hervey de Montmorency for slaying. The eloquence of the latter prevailed. "The citizens," says Giraldus, "as men condemned, had their limbs broken and were cast headlong into the sea and so drowned."
Shortly after this satisfactory beginning, Strongbow himself appeared with reinforcements. He attacked Waterford, which was taken after a short but furious resistance, and the united forces of Dermot and the Earl marched into the town, where the marriage of the latter with Eva, Dermot's daughter, was celebrated, as Maclise has represented it in his picture, amid lowering smoke and heaps of the dead and dying.
Dermot was now on the top of the wave. With his English allies and his own followers he had a considerable force around him. Guiding the latter through the Wicklow mountains, which they would probably have hardly got through unaided, he descended with them upon Dublin, and despite the efforts of St. Lawrence O'Toole, its archbishop, to effect a pacific arrangement, the town was taken by assault. The principal Danes, with Hasculph, their Danish governor, escaped to their ships and sailed hastily away for the Orkneys.
Meath was the next point to be attacked. O'Rorke, the old foe of Dermot, who held it for King Roderick, was defeated; whereupon, in defiance of his previous promises, Dermot threw off all disguise and proclaimed himself king of Ireland, upon which Roderick, as the only retaliation left in his power, slew Dermot's son who had been deposited in his hands as hostage.
It was now Strongbow's aim to hasten back and place his new lordship at the feet of his sovereign, already angry and jealous at such unlocked for and uncountenanced successes. He was not able however to do so at once. Hasculph the Dane returned suddenly with sixty ships, and a large force under a noted Berserker of the day, known as John the Mad, "warriors," says Giraldus, "armed in Danish fashion, having long breast-plates and shirts of mail, their shields round and bound about with iron. They were iron-hearted," he says, "as well as iron-armed men."
In spite of their arms and their hearts, he is able triumphantly to proclaim their defeat. Milo de Cogan, the Norman governor of Dublin, fell upon his assailants suddenly. John the Mad was slain, as were also nearly all the Berserkers. Hasculph was brought back in triumph, and promptly beheaded by the conquerors.
He was hardly dead before a new assailant, Godred, king of Man, appeared with thirty ships at the mouth of the Liffy. Roderick, in the meanwhile, had collected men from every part of Ireland, with the exception of the north which stood aloof from him, and now laid siege to Dublin by land, helped by St. Lawrence its patriotic archbishop. Strongbow was thus shut in with foes behind and before, and the like disaster had befallen Robert FitzStephen, who was at this time closely besieged in his own new castle at Wexford. Dermot their chief native ally had recently died. There seemed for a while a reasonable chance that the invaders would be driven back and pushed bodily into the sea.
Discipline and science however again prevailed. The besieged, excited both by their own danger and that of their friends in the south, made a desperate sally. The Irish army kept no watch, and was absolutely undrilled. A panic set in. The besiegers fled, leaving behind them their stores of provisions, and the conquerors thereupon marched away in triumph to the relief of FitzStephen. Here they were less successful. By force, or according to Giraldus, by a pretended tale of the destruction of all the other invaders, the Wexford men seized possession of him and the other English, and had them flung into a dungeon. Finding that Strongbow and the rest were not destroyed, but that on the contrary they were marching down on them, the Wexford men set fire to their own town and departed to an island in the harbour, carrying their prisoner with them and threatening if pursued to cut off his head.
Foiled in this attempt, Strongbow hastened to Waterford, took boat there, and flew to meet the king, whom he encountered near Gloucester with a large army. Henry's greeting was a wrathful one. His anger and jealousy had been thoroughly aroused. Not unwarrantably. But for his promptness his head-strong subjects—several of them it must be remembered of his own dominant blood—would have been perfectly capable of attempting to carve out a kingdom for themselves at his very gates. Happily Strongbow had found the task too large for his unaided energies, and, as we have seen, had barely escaped annihilation. He was ready, therefore, to accept any terms which his sovereign chose to impose. His submission appears to have disarmed the king. He allowed himself to be pacified, and after a while they returned to Ireland together. Henry II. landed at Waterford in the month of October, 1171.
HENRY II. IN IRELAND.
This was practically the end of the struggle. The king had four thousand men-at-arms at his back, of whom no less than four hundred were knights. In addition his ships contained vast stores of provisions, a variety of war devices never before seen in Ireland, artizans for building bridges and making roads—a whole war train, in short. Such a display of force was felt to be irresistible. The chieftains one after the other came in and made their submission. Dermot McCarthy, lord of Desmond and Cork, was the first to do homage, followed by Donald O'Brien, Prince of Thomond; while another Donald, chieftain of Ossory, rapidly followed suit. The men of Wexford appeared, leading their prisoner with them by a chain, and presenting him as an offering to his master, who, first rating him soundly for his unauthorized proceedings, ordered him to be chained to another prisoner and shut up in Reginald's tower. Later, soothed by his own triumph, or touched, as Giraldus tells us, with compassion for a brave man, he, at the intercession of some of his courtiers, forgave and restored him to his possessions, reserving, however, the town of Wexford for himself.
From Wexford Henry marched to Dublin, having first visited Tipperary and Waterford. The Danes at once submitted and swore allegiance; so also did O'Carrol of Argial, O'Rorke of Brefny, and all the minor chieftains of Leinster; Roderick O'Connor still stood at bay behind the Shannon, and the north also remained aloof and hostile, but air the other chieftains, great and small, professed themselves willing to become tributaries of the king of England.
The idea of an Ard-Reagh, or Over-lord, was no new one, as we have seen, to any of them. Theoretically they had always acknowledged one, although, practically, he had rarely exercised any authority save over his own immediate subjects. Their feeling about Henry was doubtless the same. They were as willing to swear fealty to him as to Roderick O'Connor, more so in fact, seeing that he was stronger than Roderick, but that was all. To Henry and to his successors this recognition carried with it all the complicated dependence of feudalism, which in England meant that his land and everything else which a man possessed was his only so long as he did service for it to the king. To these new Irish subjects, who had never heard of feudalism, it entailed nothing of the sort. They regarded it as a mere vague promise of adhesion, binding them at most to a general muster or "hosting" under his arms in case of war or some common peril. This was an initial misconception, which continued, as will be seen, to be a deeper and deeper source of confusion as the years went on.
In the meanwhile Henry was established in Dublin, where he kept Christmas in high state, occupying a palace built in the native fashion of painted wicker-work, set up just outside the walls. Here he entertained the chiefs, who were naturally astonished at the splendour of his entertainments. "They learnt," Giraldus observes with satisfaction, "to eat cranes"—does this mean herons?—"a species of food which they had previously loathed;" and, in general, were suitably impressed with the greatness and glory of the conqueror. The bishops were most of them already warmly in his favour, and at a synod shortly afterwards held at Cashel, at which all the Irish clergy were represented, the Church of Ireland was solemnly declared to be finally united to that of England, and it was laid down that, "as by Divine Providence Ireland has received her lord and king from England, so she should also submit to a reformation from the same source."
The weather that winter was so rough that hardly a ship could cross the channel, and Henry in his new kingdom found himself practically cut off from his old one. About the middle of Lent, the wind veering at last to the east, ships arrived from England and Aquitaine, bearers of very ill news to the king. Two legates were on their way, sent by the Pope, to inquire into the murder of Becket, and armed in case of an unsatisfactory reply with all the terrors of an interdict. Henry hastily made over the government of Ireland to Hugo de Lacy, whom he placed in Dublin as his representative, and sailed from Wexford upon Easter Monday. He never again revisited his new dominions, where many of the lessons inculcated by him—including possibly the delights of eating cranes—were destined before long to be forgotten.
EFFECTS OF THE ANGLO-NORMAN INVASION.
Henry had been only six months in Ireland, but he had accomplished much—more certainly than any other English ruler ever accomplished afterwards within the same time. He had divided the ceded districts into counties; had appointed sheriffs for them; had set up three Law Courts—Bench, Pleas, and Exchequer; had arranged for the going on circuit by judges; and had established his own character for orthodoxy, and acquitted himself of his obligations to the papacy by freeing all church property from the exactions of the chiefs, and rigidly enforcing the payment of tithes.
In a still more important point—that about which he was evidently himself most tenacious—his success was even more complete. He once for all put a stop to all danger of an independent lordship by forcing those who had already received grants of land from the native chiefs to surrender them into his hands, and to receive them back direct from himself, according to the ordinary terms of feudal tenure.
That he had larger and more statesmanlike views for the new dependency than he was ever able to carry out there can be no question. As early as 1177 he appointed his youngest son John king of Ireland, and seems to have fully formed the intention of sending him over as a permanent governor or viceroy, a purpose which the misconduct of that youthful Rehoboam, as Giraldus calls him, was chiefly instrumental in foiling.
It is curious to hear this question of a royal viceroy and a permanent royal residence in Ireland coming to the front so very early in the history of English rule there. That the experiment, if fairly tried, and tried with a man of the calibre of Henry himself, might have made the whole difference in the future of Ireland, we cannot, I think, reasonably doubt. Any government, indeed, so that it was central, so that it gathered itself into a single hand and took its impress from a single mind, would have been better a thousand times than the miserable condition of half-conquest, half-rule, whole anarchy and confusion which set in and continued with hardly a break.
This is one reason more why it is so much to be regretted that Ireland, save for a few years, had never any real king or central government of her own. Had this been the case, even if she had been eventually conquered by England—as would likely enough have been the case—the result of that conquest would have been different. There would have been some one recognized point of government and organization, and the struggle would have been more violent and probably more successful at first, but less chronic and less eternally renewed in the long run. As it was, all the conditions were at their very worst. No native ruler of the calibre of a Brian Boru could ever again hope to unite all Ireland under him, since long before he arrived at that point his enemies would have called in the aid of the new colonists, who would have fallen upon and annihilated him, though after doing so they would have been as little able to govern the country for themselves as before.
This also explains what is often set down as the inexplicable want of patriotism shown by the native Irish in not combining more resolutely together against their assailants. It is true that they did not do so, but the fact is not referred to the right cause. An Englishman of the time of the Heptarchy had, if at all, little more patriotism, and hardly more sense of common country. He was a Wessex man, or a Northumbrian, or a man of the North or the East Angles, rather than an Englishman. So too in Ireland. As a people the Irish of that day can hardly be said to have had any corporate existence. They were O'Briens, or O'Neils, or O'Connors, or O'Flaherties, and that no doubt in their own eyes appeared to be quite nationality enough.
Unfortunately both for the country and for his own successors, Henry had no time to carry out his plans, and all that he had begun to organize fell away into disorder again after his departure. "That inconstant sea-nymph," says Sir John Davis, "whom the Pope had wedded to him with a ring," remained obedient only as long as her new lord was present, and once his back was turned she reverted to her own ways again. The crowd of Norman and Welsh adventurers who now filled the country were each and all intent upon ascertaining how much of that country they could seize upon and appropriate for themselves. There were many gallant men amongst them, but there was not one apparently who had the faintest trace of what is meant by public spirit. Occupied only by their own interests, and struggling solely for their own share of the spoil, they could never really hold the country, and even those parts which they did get into their hands lapsed back after a while into the old condition again.
The result was that the fighting never ended. The new colonists built castles and lived shut up in them, ruling their own immediate retainers with an odd mixture of Brehon and Norman law. When they issued forth they appeared clad from head to foot in steel, ravaging the country more like foreign mercenaries than peaceful settlers. The natives, driven to bay and dispossessed of their lands, fought too, not in armour, but, like the Berserkers of old, in their shirts, with the addition at most of a rude leather helmet, more often only with their hair matted into a sort of cap on their foreheads in the fashion known as the "gibbe," that "rascally gibbe" to which Spenser and other Elizabethan writers object so strongly. By way of defence they now and then threw up a rude stockade of earth or stone, modifications of the primitive rath, more often they made no defence, or merely twisted a jungle of boughs along the pathways to break the advance of their more heavily armed foes. The ideas of the two races were as dissimilar as their weapons. The instinct of the one was to conquer a country and subdue it to their own uses; the instinct of the other was to trust to the country itself, and depend upon its natural features, its forests, morasses, and so forth for security. The one was irresistible in attack, the other, as his conqueror soon learnt to his cost, practically invincible in defence, returning doggedly again and again, and a hundred times over to the ground from which he seemed at first to have been so easily and so effectually driven off.
All these peculiarities, which for ages continued to mark the struggle between the two races now brought face to face in a death struggle, are just as marked and just as strikingly conspicuous in the first twenty years which followed the invasion as they are during the succeeding half-dozen centuries.
JOHN IN IRELAND.
Henry had gone, and the best hopes of the new dependency departed with him never to return again. Fourteen years later he despatched his son John, then a youth of nineteen, with a train of courtiers, and amongst them our friend Giraldus, who appeared to have been sent over in some sort of tutorial or secretarial capacity.
The expedition was a disastrous failure. The chiefs flocked to Waterford to do honour to their king's son. The courtiers, encouraged by their insolent young master, scoffed at the dress, and mockingly plucked the long beards of the tributaries. Furious and smarting under the insult they withdrew, hostile every man of them now to the death. The news spread; the more distant and important of the chieftains declined to appear. John and his courtiers gave themselves up to rioting and misconduct of various kinds. All hopes of conciliation were at an end. A successful confederation was formed amongst the Irish, and the English were for a while driven bodily out of Munster. John returned to England at the end of eight months, recalled in hot haste and high displeasure by his father.
Twenty-five years later he came back again, this time as king, with a motley army of mercenaries gathered to crush the two brothers De Lacy, who for the moment dominated all Ireland—the one, Hugo, being Earl of Ulster, and Viceroy; the other, Walter, Lord of the Palatinate of Meath.
Among his many vices John had not at least that of indolence to be laid to his charge! He marched direct from Waterford to Trim, the head-quarters of the De Lacys, seized the castle, moved on next day to Kells, thence proceeded by rapid stages to Dundalk, Carlingford, Downpatrick, and Carrickfergus. Hugo de Lacy fled in dismay to Scotland. The chieftains of Connaught and Thomond joined their forces with those of the king; even the hitherto indomitable O'Neil made a proffer of submission. Leaving a garrison at Carrickfergus, John marched back by Downpatrick and Drogheda, re entered Meath, visited Duleck, slept a night at Kells, and so back to Dublin, where he was met by nearly every Anglo-Norman baron, each and all eager to exhibit their own loyalty. His next care was to divide their territory into counties; to bind them over to supply soldiers when called upon to do so by the viceroy, and to arrange for the muster of troops in Dublin. Then away he went again to England. He had been in the country exactly sixty-six days.
Unpleasant man and detestable king as he was, John had no slight share of the governing powers of his race, and even his short stay in Ireland did some good, enough to show what might have been done had a better man, and one in a little less desperate hurry, remained to hold the reins. He had proved that, however they might ape the part, the barons were not as a matter of fact the absolute lords of Ireland; that they had a master beyond the sea; one who, if aroused, could make the boldest of them shake in his coat of mail. The lesson was not as well learnt as it ought to have been, but it was better at least than if it had not been learnt at all.
At that age and in its then condition a strong ruler—native if possible, if not, foreign—was by far the best hope for Ireland. Such a ruler, if only for his own sake, would have had the genuine interests of the country at heart. He might have tyrannized himself, but the little tyrants would have been kept at bay. Few countries—and certainly Ireland was not one of the exceptions—were at that time ripe for what we now mean by free institutions. Freedom meant the freedom of a strong government, one that was not at the beck of accident, and was not perpetually changing from one hand to another. The English people found this out for themselves centuries later during the terrible anarchy which resulted from the Wars of the Roses, and of their own accord put themselves under the brutal, but on the whole patriotic, yoke of the Tudors. In Ireland the petty masters unfortunately were always near; the great one was beyond the sea and not so easily to be got at! There was no unity; no pretence of even-handed justice, no one to step between the oppressed and the oppressor. And the result of all this is still to be seen written as in letters of brass upon the face of the country and woven into the very texture of the character of its people.
THE LORDS PALATINE.
The jealousy shown by Henry and his sons towards the earliest invaders of Ireland is doubtless the reason why Giraldus—for a courtier and an ecclesiastic upon his promotion—is so remarkably explicit upon their royal failings. The Geraldines especially seem to have been the objects of this not very unnatural jealousy, and the Geraldines are, on the other hand, to Giraldus himself, objects of an almost superstitious worship. His pen never wearies of expatiating upon their valour, fame, beauty, and innumerable graces, laying stress especially—and in this he is certainly borne out by the facts—upon the great advantage which men trained in the Welsh wars, and used all their lives to skirmishing in the lightest order, had over those who had had no previous experience of the very peculiar warfare necessary in Ireland. "Who," he cries with a burst of enthusiasm, "first penetrated into the heart of the enemy's country? The Geraldines! Who have kept it in submission? The Geraldines! Who struck most terror into the enemy? The Geraldines! Against whom are the shafts of malice chiefly directed? The Geraldines! Oh that they had found a prince who could have appreciated their distinguished worth! How tranquil, how peaceful would then have been the state of Ireland under their administration!"
Even their indignant chronicler admits however that the Geraldines did not do so very badly for themselves! Maurice Fitzgerald, the eldest of the brothers, became the ancestor both of the Earls of Kildare and Desmond; William, the younger, obtained an immense grant of land in Kerry from the McCarthys, indeed as time went on the lordship of the Desmond Fitzgeralds grew larger and larger, until it covered nearly as much ground as many a small European kingdom. Nor was this all. The White Knight, the Knight of Glyn, and the Knight of Kerry were all three Fitzgeralds, all descended from the same root, and all owned large tracts of country. The position of the Geraldines of Kildare was even more important, on account of their close proximity to Dublin. In later times their great keep at Maynooth dominated the whole Pale, while their followers swarmed everywhere, each man with a G. embroidered upon his breast in token of his allegiance. By the beginning of the sixteenth century their power had reached to, perhaps, the highest point ever attained in these islands by any subject. Whoever might be called the Viceroy in Ireland it was the Earl of Kildare who practically governed the country.
Originally there were three Palatinates—Leinster granted to Strongbow, Meath to De Lacy, and Ulster to De Courcy. To these two more were afterwards added, namely, Ormond and Desmond. The power of the Lord Palatine was all but absolute. He had his own Palatinate court, with its judges, sheriffs, and coroners. He could build fortified towns, and endow them with charters. He could create as many knights as he thought fit, a privilege of which they seem fully to have availed themselves, since we learn that Richard, Earl of Ulster, created no less than thirty-three upon a single occasion. For all practical purposes the Palatinates were thus simply petty kingdoms or principalities, independent in everything but the name.
Strongbow, the greatest of all the territorial barons, left no son to inherit his estates, only a daughter, who married William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. Through her his estates passed to five heiresses, who married five great nobles, namely, Warrenne, Mountchesny, De Vesci, De Braosa, and Gloucester. Strongbow's Palatinate of Leinster was thus split up into five smaller Palatinates. As none of the new owners moreover chose to live in Ireland, and their revenues were merely drawn away to England, the estates were after awhile very properly declared forfeited, and went to the Crown. Thus the one who of all the adventurers had cherished the largest and most ambitious hopes in the end left no enduring mark at all in Ireland.
Connaught—despite a treaty drawn up between Henry I. and Cathal O'Connor, its native king—was granted by John to William FitzAldelm de Burgh and his son Richard, on much the same terms as Ulster had been already granted to De Courcy, on the understanding, that is to say, that if he could he might win it by the sword. De Courcy failed, but the De Burghs were wilier and more successful. Carefully fostering a strife which shortly after broke out between the two rival princes of the house of O'Connor, and watching from the fortress they had built for themselves at Athlone, upon the Shannon, they seized an opportunity when both combatants were exhausted to pounce upon the country, and wrest the greater part of it away from their grasp. They also drove away the clan of O'Flaherty—owners from time immemorial of the region known as Moy Seola, to the east of the bay of Galway—and forced them back across Lough Corrib, where they took refuge amongst the mountains of far Connaught, descending continually in later times in fierce hordes, and wreaking their vengeance upon the town of Galway, which had been founded by the De Burghs at the mouth of the river which carries the waters of Lough Corrib to the sea. To this day the whole of this region of Moy Seola and the eastern shores of Lough Corrib may be seen to be thickly peppered over with ruined De Burgh castles, monuments of some four or five centuries of uninterrupted fighting.
At one time the De Burghs were by far the largest landowners in Ireland. Not only did they possess an immense tract of Connaught, but by the marriage of Richard de Burgh's son to Maud, daughter of Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, they became the nominal owners of nearly all Ulster to boot. It never was more, however, than a nominal ownership, the clutch of the O'Neills and O'Donnells being found practically impossible to unloose, so that all the De Burghs could be said to hold were the southern borders of what are now the counties of Down, Monaghan, and Antrim. When, too, William, the third Earl of Ulster, was murdered in 1333, his possessions passed to his daughter and heiress, a child of two years old. A baby girl's inheritance was not likely, as may be imagined, to be regarded at that date as particularly sacred. Ulster was at once retaken by the O'Neills and O'Connels. Two of the Burkes, or De Burghs, Ulick and Edmund, seized Connaught and divided it between them, becoming in due time the ancestors, the one of the Mayos, the other of the Clanricardes.
Another of the great houses was that of the Ormonds, descended from Theobald Walter, a nephew of Thomas a Becket, who was created hereditary cup-bearer or butler to Henry II. Theobald Walter received grants of land in Tipperary and Kilkenny, as well as at Arklow, and in 1391 Kilkenny Castle was sold to his descendant the Earl of Ormond by the heirs of Strongbow. The Ormonds' most marked characteristic is that from the beginning to the end of their career they remained, with hardly an exception, loyal adherents of the English Crown. Their most important representative was the "great duke" as he was called, James, Duke of Ormond, who bore an important part in the civil wars of Charles I., and is perhaps the most distinguished representative of all these great Norman Irish houses, unless indeed one of the greatest names in the whole range of English political history—that of Edmund Burke—is to be added to the list, as perhaps in fairness it ought.
Troublesome as it is to keep these different houses in the memory, it is hopeless to attempt without doing so to understand anything of the history of Ireland. In England where the ruling power was vested first in the sovereign and later in the Parliament, the landowners, however large their possessions, rarely attained to more than a local importance, save of course when one of them chanced to rise to eminence as a soldier or a statesman. In Ireland the parliament, throughout nearly the whole of its separate existence, was little more than a name, irregularly summoned, and until the middle of the sixteenth century, representing only one small corner of the country. The kings never came; the viceroys came and went in a continually changing succession; practically, therefore, the great territorial barons constituted the backbone of the country—so far as it could be said to have had any backbone at all. They made war with the native chiefs, or else made alliances with them and married their daughters. They raided one another's properties, slew one another's kerns, and carried one another away prisoner. Sometimes their independent action went even further than this. The battle of Knocktow, of which we shall hear in due time, arose because the Earl of Kildare's daughter had quarrelled with her husband, the Earl of Clanricarde, and her father chose to espouse her quarrel. Two large armies were collected, nearly all the lords of the Pale and their followers being upon one side, under the banner of Kildare, a vast and undisciplined horde of natives under Clanricarde upon the other, and the slaughter is said to have exceeded 8,000. Parental affection is a very attractive quality, but when it swells to such dimensions as these it becomes formidable for the peace of a country!
EDWARD BRUCE IN IRELAND.
One of the greatest difficulties to be faced in the study of Irish history, no matter upon what scale, is to discover any reasonable method of dividing our space. The habit of distributing all historical affairs into reigns is often misleading enough even in England; in Ireland it becomes simply ridiculous. What difference can any one suppose it made to the great bulk of the people of that country whether a Henry, whom they had never seen, had been succeeded by an Edward they had never seen, or an Edward by a Henry? No two sovereigns could have been less alike in character or aims than Henry III. and Edward I., yet when we fix our eyes upon Ireland the difference is to all intents and purposes imperceptible.
That, though he never visited the country, Edward I., like his great-grandfather, had large schemes for the benefit of Ireland is certain. Practically, however? his schemes never came to anything, and the chief effect of his reign was that the country was so largely drawn upon for men and money for the support of his wars elsewhere as greatly to weaken the already feeble power of the Government, the result being that at the first touch of serious trouble it all but fell to pieces.
Very serious trouble indeed came in the reign of the second Edward. The battle of Bannockburn—the greatest disaster which ever befel the English during their Scotch wars—had almost as marked an effect on Ireland as on Scotland. All the elements of disaffection at once began to boil and bubble. The O'Neills—ever ready for a fray, and the nearest in point of distance to Scotland—promptly made overtures to the Bruces, and Edward Bruce, the victorious king's brother, was despatched at the head of a large army, and landing in 1315 near Carrickfergus was at once joined by the O'Neills, and war proclaimed.
The first to confront these new allies was Richard de Burgh, the "Red Earl" of Ulster, who was twice defeated by them and driven back on Dublin. The viceroy, Sir Edmund Butler, was the next encountered, and he also was defeated at a battle near Ardscul, whereupon the whole country rose like one man. Fedlim O'Connor, the young king of Connaught, the hereditary chieftain of Thomond, and a host of smaller chieftains of Connaught, Munster, and Meath, flew to arms. Even the De Lacys and several of the other Norman colonists threw in their lot with the invaders. Edward Bruce gained another victory at Kells, and having wasted the country round about, destroying the property of the colonists and slaughtering all whom he could find, he returned to Carrickfergus, where he was met by his brother, King Robert, and together they crossed Ireland, descending as far south as Cashel, and burning, pillaging, and destroying wherever they went. In 1316 the younger Bruce was crowned king at Dundalk.
Such was the panic they created, and so utterly disunited were the colonists, that for a time they carried all before them. It is plain that Edward Bruce—who on one side was descended both from Strongbow and Dermot McMurrough—fully hoped to have cut out a kingdom for himself with his sword, as others of his blood had hoped and intended before him. His own excesses, however, went far to prevent that. So frightfully did he devastate the country, and so horrible was the famine which he created, that many even of his own army perished from it or from the pestilence which followed. His Irish allies fell away in dismay. English and Irish annalists, unanimous for once, alike exclaim in horror over his deeds. Clyn, the Franciscan historian, tells us how he burned and plundered the churches. The annals of Lough Ce say that "no such period for famine or destruction of men" ever occurred, and that people "used then to eat one another throughout Erin." "They, the Scots," says the poet Spenser, writing centuries later, "utterly consumed and wasted whatsoever was before left unspoyled so that of all towns, castles, forts, bridges, and habitations they left not a stick standing, nor yet any people remayning, for those few which yet survived fledde from their fury further into the English Pale that now is. Thus was all that goodly country utterly laid waste."
Such insane destruction brought its own punishment. The colonists began to recover from their dismay. Ormonds, Kildares, and Desmonds bestirred themselves to collect troops. The O'Connors, who with all their tribe had risen in arms, had been utterly defeated at Athenry, where the young king Fedlim and no less than 10,000 of his followers are said to have been left dead. Roger Mortimer, the new viceroy, was re-organizing the government in Dublin. The clergy, stimulated by a Papal mandate, had all now turned against the invader. Robert Bruce had some time previously been recalled to Scotland, and Sir John de Bermingham, the victor of Athenry, pushing northward at the head of 15,000 chosen troops, met the younger Bruce at Dundalk. The combat was hot, short, and decisive. The Scots were defeated, Edward Bruce himself killed, and his head struck off and sent to London. The rest hastened back to Scotland with as little delay as possible. The Scotch invasion was over.
It was over, but its effects remained. From one end of Ireland to the other there was disaffection, anger, revolt. England had proved too weak or too negligent to interfere at the right time and in the right way, and although successful in the end she could not turn back the tide. There was a general feeling of disbelief in the reality of her government. A semi-national feeling had sprung up which temporarily united colonists and natives in a bond of self-defence. Norman nobles and native Irish chieftains threw in their lot together. The English yeoman class, which had begun to get established in Leinster and Munster, had been all but utterly destroyed by Edward Bruce, and the remnant now left the country in despair. The great English lords, with the exception of Ormond and Kildare, from this out took Irish names and adopted Irish dress and fashions. The two De Burghs, as already stated, seized upon the Connaught possessions of their cousin, and divided them, taking the one Galway and the other Mayo, and calling themselves McWilliam Eighter and McWilliam Oughter, or the Nether and the Further Burkes. So too with nearly all the rest. Bermingham of Athenry, in spite of his late famous victory over the Irish, did the same, calling himself McYorris; Fitzmaurice of Lixnaw became McMaurice; FitzUrse of Louth, McMahon; and so on through a whole list.
Nor is it difficult to understand the motives which led to these changes. The position of an Irish chieftain—with his practically limitless powers of life and death, his wild retinue of retainers whose only law was the will of their chief—offered an irresistible temptation to men of their type, and had many more charms than the narrow and uninteresting role of liegeman to a king whom they never saw, and the obeying of whose behests brought them harm rather than good. England had shown only too plainly that she had no power to protect her Irish colonists, of what use therefore, it was asked, for them to call themselves any longer English? The great majority from that moment ceased to do so. Save within the "five obedient shires" which came to be known as the English Pale, "the king's writ no longer ran." The native Irish swarmed back from the mountains and forests, and repossessed themselves of the lands from which they had been driven. No serious attempts were made to re-establish the authority of the law over three-fourths of the island. Within a century and a half of the so-called conquest, save within one small and continually narrowing area, Ireland had ceased even nominally to belong to England.
THE STATUTE OF KILKENNY,
It was not to be expected, however, that the larger country would for very shame let her possessions thus slip from her grasp without an effort to retain them, certainly not when a ruler of the calibre of an Edward III. came to the helm. Had his energies been able to concentrate themselves upon Ireland the stream which was setting dead against loyalty might even then have been turned back. The royal interest would have risen to the top of faction, as it did in England, and would have curbed the growing and dangerous power of the barons. That magic which surrounds the word king might—who can say that it would not?—have awakened a sentiment at once of patriotism and loyalty.
Chimerical as it may sound even to suppose such a thing, there seems no valid reason why it might not have been. No people admittedly are more intensely loyal by nature than the native Irish. By their failings no less than their virtues they are extraordinarily susceptible to a personal influence, and that devotion which they so often showed towards their own chiefs might with very little trouble have been awakened in favour of a king. It is one of the most deplorable of the many deplorable facts which stud the history of Ireland that no opening for the growth of such sentiment was ever once presented—certainly not in such a form that it would have been humanly possible for it to be embraced.
Edward III. had now his chance. Unfortunately he was too busy to avail himself of it. He had too many irons in the fire to trouble himself much about Ireland. If it furnished him with a supply of fighting men—clean-limbed, sinewy fellows who could run all day without a sign of fatigue, live on a handful of meal, and for a lodging feel luxurious with an armful of hay and the sheltered side of a stone—it was pretty much all he wanted. The light-armed Irish troop did great things at Crecy, but they were never used at home. That Half-hold, which was the ruin of Ireland, and which was to go on being its ruin for many and many a century, was never more conspicuous than during the nominal rule of the strongest and ablest of all the Angevin kings.
Something, however, for very shame he did do. In 1361 all absentee landowners, already amounting to no less than sixty-three, including the heads of several of the great abbeys, were summoned to Westminster and ordered to provide an army to accompany Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whom he had decided upon sending over to Ireland as viceroy.
Clarence was the king's third son, and had married the only daughter and heiress of William de Burgh (mentioned a little way back as a baby heiress), and through his wife had become Earl of Ulster and the nominal lord of an enormous tract of the country stretching from the Bay of Galway nearly up to the coast of Donegal. Most of this had, however, already, as we have seen, been lost. The two rebel Burkes had got possession of the Galway portion, the O'Neills, O'Connors, and other chiefs had repossessed themselves of the North. So completely indeed was the latter lost that Ulster—nominally the patrimony of the Duchess of Clarence—is not even alluded to by her husband as part of the country over which his government could attempt to lay claim.
The chief event of this visit was the summoning of a Parliament at Kilkenny, a Parliament made memorable ever after by the passing of what is still known as the Statute of Kilkenny. This Statute, although it produced little effect at the time, is an extremely important one to understand, as it enables us to realize the state to which the country had then got, and explains, moreover, a good deal that would otherwise be obscure or confusing in the after history of Ireland.
 40 Edward III., Irish Statutes.
Two distinct and separate set of rules are here drawn up for two distinct and separate Irelands. One is for the English Ireland, which then included about the area of ten counties, though it afterwards shrank to four and a few towns; the other is for the Ireland of the Irish and rebellious English, which included the rest of the island; the object being, not as might be supposed at first sight, to unite these two closer together, but to keep them as far apart as possible; to prevent them, in fact, if possible, from ever uniting.
A great many provisions are laid down by this Act, all bearing the same aim. Marriage and fosterage between the English and Irish are forbidden, and declared to be high treason. So, too, is the supply of all horses, weapons, or goods of any sort to the Irish; monks of Irish birth are not to be admitted into any English monastery, nor yet Irish priests into any English preferment. The Irish dress and the Irish mode of riding are both punishable. War with the natives is inculcated as a duty binding upon all good colonists. None of the Irish, except a certain number of families known as the "Five Bloods" (Quinque sanquines), are to be allowed to plead at any English court, and the killing of an Irishman is not to be reckoned as a crime. In addition to this, speaking the language of the country is made penal. Any one mixing with the English, and known to be guilty of this offence, is to lose his lands (if he has any), and his body to be lodged in one of the strong places of the king until he learns to repent and amend.
The original words of this part of the Act are worth quoting. They run as follows: "Si nul Engleys ou Irroies entre eux memes encontre c'est ordinance et de cei soit atteint soint sez terrez e tenez s'il eit seizez en les maines son Seignours immediate, tanque q'il veigne a un des places nostre Seignour le Roy, et trove sufficient seurtee de prendre et user le lang Englais."
One would like—merely as a matter of curiosity—to know what appliances for the study of that not easiest of languages were provided, and before what tribunal the student had to prove his proficiency in it. When, too, we remember that English was still, to a great degree, tabooed in England itself; that the official and familiar language of the Normans was French, that French of which the Statutes of Kilkenny are themselves a specimen, the difficulty of keeping within the law at this point must, it will be owned, have been considerable.
"In all this it is manifest," says Sir John Davis, "that such as had the government of Ireland did indeed intend to make a perpetual enmity between the English and the Irish, pretending that the English should in the end root out the Irish; which, the English not being able to do, caused a perpetual war between the two nations, which continued four hundred and odd years, and would have lasted unto the world's end, if in Queen Elizabeth's reign the Irish had not been broken and conquered by the sword."
It is easy to see that the very ferocity—as it seems to us the utter and inconceivable ferocity—of these enactments is in the main a proof of the pitiable and deplorable weakness of those who passed them, and to this weakness we must look for their excuse, so far as they admitted of excuse at all. Weakness, especially weakness in high places, is apt to fall back upon cruelty to supply false strength, and a government that found itself face to face with an entire country in arms, absolutely antagonistic to and defiant of its authority, may easily have felt itself driven by sheer despair into some such false and futile exhibitions of power. The chief sufferers by these statutes were not the inhabitants of the wilder districts, who, for the most part, escaped out of reach of its provisions, beyond that narrow area where the Dublin judges travelled their little rounds, and who were governed still—when governed at all—by the Brehon laws and Brehon judges, much as in the days of Brian Boru. The real victims were the unhappy settlers of the Pale and such natives as had thrown in their lot with them, and who were robbed and harassed alike by those without and those within. The feudal system was one that always bore hardly upon the poor, and in Ireland the feudal system was at its very worst. There was no central authority; no one to interpose between the baronage and the tillers of the soil; and that state of things which in England only existed during comparatively short periods, and under exceptionally weak rulers, in Ireland was continuous and chronic. The consequence was that men escaped more and more out of this intolerable tyranny into the comparative freedom which lay beyond; forgot that they had ever been English; allowed their beards, in defiance of regulations, to grow; pulled their hair down into a "gibbes" upon their foreheads; adopted fosterage, gossipage, and all the other pleasant contraband Irish customs; married Irish wives, and became, to all intents and purposes, Irishmen. The English power had no more dangerous enemies in the days that were to come than these men of English descent, whose fathers had come over to found a new kingdom for her upon the western side of St. George's Channel.
RICHARD II. IN IRELAND.
Richard the Second's reign is a more definite epoch for the Irish historian than many more striking ones, for the simple reason of two visits having been paid by him to Ireland. The first of these was in 1394, when he landed at Waterford with 30,000 archers and 40,000 men at arms, an immense army for that age, and for Ireland it was held an irresistible one.
It was certainly high time for some steps to be taken. In all directions the interests of the colonists were going to the wall. Not only in Ulster, Minister, and Connaught, but even in the East of Ireland, the natives were fast repossessing themselves of all the lands from which they had been driven. A great chieftain, Art McMurrough, had made himself master of the greater part of Leinster, and only by a humiliating use of "Black Rent," could he be kept at bay. The towns were in a miserable state; Limerick, Cork, Waterford had all again and again been attacked, and could with difficulty defend themselves. The Wicklow tribes swarmed down to the very walls of Dublin, and carried the cattle off from under the noses of the citizens. The judges' rounds were getting yearly shorter and shorter. The very deputy could hardly ride half-a-dozen miles from the castle gates without danger of being set upon, captured, and carried off for ransom.
Richard flattered himself that he had only to appear to conquer. He was keen to achieve some military glory, and Ireland seemed an easy field to win it upon. Like many another before and after him, he found the task harder than it seemed. The great chiefs came in readily enough; O'Connors, O'Briens, O'Neills, even the turbulent McMurrough himself, some seventy-five of them in all. The king entertained them sumptuously, as Henry II. had entertained their ancestors two centuries before. They engaged to be loyal, and to answer for the loyalty of their dependants—with some mental reservations we must conclude. In return for this submission the king knighted the four chiefs just named, a somewhat incongruous piece of courtesy it must be owned. Shortly after his knighthood, Art McMurrough, "Sir Art," was thrown into prison on suspicion. He was released before long, but the release failed to wipe out the affront, and the angry chief retired, nursing fierce vengeance, to his forests.
Richard remained in Ireland nine months, during which he achieved nothing, and departed leaving the government in the hands of his heir-presumptive, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and, therefore, in right of his mother, Earl of Ulster, and the nominal owner of an immense territory, covering nearly a third of the island, barely one acre of which, however, remained in his hands.
The king had not been gone long before Art McMurrough rose again. The young deputy was in Wicklow, endeavouring to carry out a projected colony. Hearing of this outbreak, he hastened into Meath. An encounter took place near Kells. Art McMurrough, at the head of his own men, aided by some wild levies of O'Tooles and O'Nolans, completely defeated the royal army, and after the battle the heir of the English Crown was found amongst the slain.
This Art McMurrough, or Art Kavangh, as he is sometimes called, was a man of very much more formidable stamp than most of the nameless freebooters, native or Norman, who filled the country. His fashion of making his onset seems to have been tremendous. Under him the wild horsemen and "naked knaves," armed only with skeans and darts, sent terror into the breast of their armour-clad antagonists. One of the few early illustrations of Irish history extant represents him as charging at breakneck pace down a hill. We are told that "he rode a horse without a saddle or housing, which was so fine and good that it cost him four hundred cows. In coming down the hill it galloped so hard that in my opinion," says a contemporary writer, "I never in all my life saw hare, deer, sheep, or other animal, I declare to you for a certainty, run with such speed. In his right hand he bore a great dart, which he cast with much skill." No wonder that such a rider, upon such a horse, should have struck terror into the very souls of the colonists, and induced them to comply with any demands, however rapacious and humiliating, rather than have to meet him face to face in the field.
 "Metrical History of the Deposition of Richard II."
The news of McMurrough's victory and of the death of his heir brought Richard back again to Ireland. He returned in hot wrath resolved this time to crush the delinquents. At home everything seemed safe. John of Gaunt was recently dead; Henry of Lancaster still in exile; the Percys had been driven over the border into Scotland. All his enemies seemed to be crushed or extinguished. With an army nearly as large as before, and with vast supplies of stores and arms, he landed at Waterford in 1399.
This time Art McMurrough quietly awaited his coming in a wood not far from the landing-place. He had only 3,000 men about him, so prudently declined to be drawn from that safe retreat of the assailed. The king and his army sat down on the outskirts of the wood. It was July, but the weather was desperately wet. The ground was in a swamp, the rain incessant; there was nothing but green oats for the horses. The whole army suffered from damp and exposure. Some labourers were hastily collected, and an attempt made to cut down the wood. This, too, as might be expected, proved a failure, and Richard, in disgust and vexation, broke up his camp, and with great difficulty, dragging his unwieldy army after him, fell back upon Dublin.
The Leinster chief was not slow to avail himself of the situation. He now took a high hand, and demanded to be put in possession of certain lands he claimed through his wife, as well as to retain his chieftaincy. A treaty was set on foot, varied by the despatch of a flying column to scour his country. In the middle of the negotiation startling news arrived. Henry of Lancaster had landed at Ravenspur, and all England was in arms. The king set off to return, but bad weather and misleading counsel kept him another sixteen days on Irish soil. It was a fatal sixteen days. When he reached Milford Haven it was to find the roads blocked, and to be met by the news that all was lost. The army of Welshmen, gathered by Salisbury, had dispersed, finding that the king did not arrive. His own army of 30,000 men caught the panic, and melted equally rapidly. He tried to negotiate with his cousin, but too late. At Chester he fell into the hands of the victor, and, within a few weeks after leaving Ireland, had passed to a prison, and from there to a grave. He was the last English king to set foot upon its soil until nearly exactly three centuries later, when two rivals met to try conclusions upon the same blood-stained arena.
From this out matters grew from bad to worse. Little or no attempt was made to enforce the law save within the ever-narrowing boundary of what about this time came to be known as the Pale. Outside, Ireland grew to be more and more the Ireland of the natives. Art McMurrough ruled over his own country triumphantly till his death, and levied tribute right and left with even-handed impartiality upon his neighbours. "Black Rent," indeed, began to take the form of a regularly recognized tribute; O'Neill receiving L40 a year from the county of Louth, O'Connor of Offaly, L60 from the county of Meath, and others in like proportion. In despair of any assistance from England some of the colonists formed themselves into a fraternity which they called the "Brotherhood of St. George," consisting of some thirteen gentlemen of the Pale with a hundred archers and a handful of horsemen under them.
The Irish Government continued to pass Act after Act, each more and more ferocious as it became more and more ineffective. Colonists were now empowered to take and behead any natives whom they found marauding, or whom they even suspected of any such intention. All friendly dealing with natives was to be punished as felony. All who failed to shave their upper lip at least once a fortnight were to be imprisoned and their goods seized. Englishmen who married Irish women were to be accounted guilty of high treason, and hung, drawn, and quartered at the convenience of the viceroy. Such feeble ferocity tells its own tale. Like some angry shrew the unhappy executive was getting louder and shriller the less its denunciations were attended to.
THE DEEPEST DEPTHS.
The most salient fact in Irish history is perhaps its monotony. If that statement is a bull it is one that must be forgiven for the sake of the truth it conveys. Year after year, decade after decade, century after century, we seem to go swimming slowly and wearily on through a vague sea of confusion and disorder; of brutal deeds and yet more brutal retaliations; of misgovernment and anarchy; of a confusion so penetrating and all-persuasive that the mind fairly refuses to grapple with it. Even killing—exciting as an incident—becomes monotonous when it is continued ad infinitum, and no other occurrence ever comes to vary its tediousness. Campion the Elizabethan historian, whose few pages are a perfect magazine of verbal quaintness, apologizes in the preface to his "lovyng reader, for that from the time of Cambrensis to that of Henry VIII." he is obliged to make short work of his intermediate periods; "because that nothing is therein orderly written, and that the same is time beyond any man's memory, wherefore I scramble forward with such records as could be sought up, and am enforced to be the briefer."