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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.




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 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

Another of the great houses was that of the Ormonds, descended from
Theobald Walter, a nephew of Thomas à 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!



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

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 Cè 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 _rôle_ 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.




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

Online LibraryEmily LawlessThe Story of Ireland → online text (page 7 of 25)