The Proud History of Ireland
The History of the Irish Peoples from THEIR Point of View
Why Look At the World From an Irish Point of View?
''...So in peace our task we ply, Pangur Ban, my cat, and I; In our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made Pangur perfect in his trade; I get wisdom day and night Turning darkness into light. ''
9th Century Irish Poem about a man and his cat
I couldn't have known it in 1985 when I was traveling through Ireland, but my detailed note-taking began a twenty-five year odyssey of field research that when put together, begin to tell a very different story than the ones we have been told. In order to write the larger version of this thesis, I had to learn to read Gaelic and Medieval English. I can't say for sure if I succeeded, but I wanted to read the words these people wrote, and not some second-party translation.
I have journeyed through much of Ireland and yet there is much left to see. Its people are a tribute to the test of time, strength, and fortitude. Aside from perhaps six weeks in late summer, the climate in Ireland is as rough as its eroded landscapes. And yet, people not only lived here, they thrived here. The Irish are a very special people and their art, music, and architecture offer us a new perspective and fresh understanding of their history.
Using the latest news on the archaeological front, I weave a story that is alive and changing based on new finds and research. All of history is supposed to be elastic and changing with each exciting new discovery. A good example would be the 2013 discovery of King Richard III's grave underneath a parking space in Leicester England. New techniques allow us to open the door and come face-to-face with our past. Consider the role DNA research has in today's learning. It takes the guess-work out of history and in this case, experts from the University of Leicester concluded DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch's family.
Our view of the ancient past offers us a unique look at the preservation of the upper classes and nobility. When there is chaos and a lack of defined leadership, discoveries are hard to come by. I am convinced this is due to a glaring omission in our pursuit. Archaeology digs are almost always sponsored. The sponsors are often a combination of Universities, Museums, Governments, and in rare cases, the private individual. Not one of these sponsors is looking for items of everyday life. They seek first a place of wealth and power, simply because that is where the pay-off is. I suspect this is the reason why so much of what we think the Middle Ages includes kings and queens and churches.
Because there was often a perception of anarchy in the late 800-900s, Historians usually consider the Middle-Ages as a dark and barbaric time. A supporting reason is due to fact they look at it from the point of view of political history and the written word. If we read it from an artistic point of view, we are given a new and unique way to appreciate the world of the Irish. It is they who put color on a bleak black-and-white story of the era. Artwork and poetry were better preserved and considered important even in the day. And, it is for these reasons the myriad of cultural tradition passed through the Irish is as vast as many of the other powers of Medieval Europe.
The Irish produced work as splendid and technically skillful, even delicate, as any other age. In Ireland's story, we learn how to equate cultural and linguistic mastery with society. The monasteries of England and Ireland were the curators of the written word, and writing on vellum instead of stone, the lettering didn't need to be chiseled with straight lines. Now they could curve the lettering and some of the most beautiful examples of penmanship are found in the Irish countryside and in those places that withstood the Norse invasions.
But there are sharp divisions in the way the Norse, English, French, and the Scots collectively interpret and write their history books. To the Vikings, the Irish were ''inferior, weak, and without a spirit to fight.'' To the Irish, the Vikings were ''Valiant, wrathful, purely pagan people.'' There is no shortage of adjectives that the English heaped upon the Irish and let us not forget the French, who rather liked the Irish but spoke of the English as ''...Deceitful, dirty, full on unclean thoughts and impure motivations.''
Now at this point, I challenge you to remember how many points of view of history you received in your schooling. Chances are, we consider ourselves lucky if we even got one point of view. My hope is that when you read this, that you enjoy its flow and that it causes you to reflect on what you have been taught over time.
The Irish of this era had developed a sense of permanence, having begun to settle and live amongst one another without constant warfare. Civilization means something more than energy and will and cultural traditions and power: something the Vikings clearly hadn't understood at this time. The wanderers and invaders were in a contInued state of flux and didn't develop an oral tradition that looked backwards with any sense of ''self.'' The Irish, in many ways, were the forefathers of European civilization and receive almost no credit in our History books. The Irish felt that they BELONGED somewhere in space and time, consciously looking forward and looking back. And for this purpose, it is with a lasting cultural impact that we are able to enjoy today.
EVERYDAY LIFE IN MEDIEVAL IRELAND
In the middle ages, Ireland was subject to marauding bands of peoples who possessed a Celtic Culture without possessing a Celtic Identity. The languages were similar, the culture was similar, but there was absolutely no political alignment of power that we would expect to find given the Roman Empire set as an example.
In these hectic times, invasions came to Ireland one right after another. While the Vikings looted for gold, jewels, and portable goods, the Normans wanted land. The Emerald Isle was soon to be overrun by invaders.
Viking Ships at Bantry Bay
And yet the Irish would eventually absorb them, making everyone within a new and proud entity. And yet - in the Middle Ages there was a certain differential between peoples that was clearly evident at the time. The Normans had unusual haircuts. The Welsh had a certain look and a very unusual language. And the English were in charge, so there was no mistaking them.
I chose this era because it is where I most often find myself wandering. I cannot explain it really, for the Medieval World was a brutal one. It was neither kind nor gentle. And it is often an era where the very worst of mankind battled what few shreds of humanity that were left within it.
We tend to think of this era as one of nobility and kings and queens and clergy. This is because the literacy rate amongst the peasants was not usually high enough for them to leave their own personal accounts of life. But they are there, and you have to know where to look for them. For this task, I consulted several very helpful sources of Primary writings. The first one was the ‘’Records to the Parliament of Scotland’’ which has carefully scanned tens of thousands of documents pertaining to things that go all the way back to the days of the Celts and all the way up to the year Scotland and England unified in 1707.
This website can be found at ‘’ http://www.rps.ac.uk/ ‘’ Another website is the English National Archives. If you were to only use these two sources, you could write millions of papers about everything. But these two sources are a great place to start. You can find this information at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/parliament.htm’’
EMERALD FIELDS OF GREEN
History is alive, breathing, changing and morphing with each new archaeological find. It is forever bending, forever yielding, but it never can break – unless there is a shortage of primary documentation. When that happens, it is usually a sobering thought to us all. Things are not always what we have been taught after all. We don’t like thinking that all this time we bought someone else’s lies or interpretation where there is clearly an axe to grind. Now, you have the unique chance to write your own history, using primary source information, actual letters, drawings and carvings. These are the people of the past yearning to speak to us. It is all right there, but it takes a lesson in learning how to read with one’s ears.
The story of Ireland really begins to take off with the rise of two influential men, Patrick and Columbanus. As the kings of Ireland were converted, a cultural revolution was underway. It happened when the Church of Ireland remained undisturbed while the rest of Europe was in peril. With an energizing shift to Christianity, a relative time of learning sparked incredible cultural wonders.
Throughout Ireland, churches and monasteries were being built with a restless determination befitting of people who have discovered a new way to express their faith. The protectors and the patrons mixed very well and the Gallic and Irish languages were now alongside the Latin, helping to give ‘Eire’’ its incredibly unique dispositions. At the center of this flowering were the monasteries.
Taking a ride up the Shannon River, one begins to see the hillside dotted with ancient buildings. But one of these abandoned settlements stands out due to its sheer size. At its height, Clonmacnoise probably had between 3000-5000 inhabitants.
Beautiful Clonmacnoise Abbey
The monastery would have been a scene of bustling commerce, trading, and religious piety. Throughout the Middle Ages, these monks were among the very few curators of civilization that existed in the world. The River Shannon was a superhighway for all of the people of Eire and monasteries dot the way, bringing a sense of unity and purpose to the waterway. But perhaps most profoundly, Christian scholars from elsewhere in Europe came to Eire to get their education. The interpretations and open discussions were historically similar to the discussions happening in the Greek Agora nearly a thousand years prior.
The monks transcribed the bible into their own Gallic tongues. Ireland had the most abundant vernacular in all of Europe. One of the most amazing examples of this is found in ‘’The Book of Invasions.’’
This extraordinary book is the first written history of Eire. Much of it came from the seventh century and has been mythologized. It tells the story of how the Irish came into being and would have a great impact of how they would see themselves in a world-view. Ireland was the ‘center’ of the universe, not some island on the fringes of the known world.
The ancestors of the Irish are shown at key biblical events. It’s an Irishman who is witness to the parting of the Red Sea. And it was an Irishman who appeared at the Transfiguration. And in reaching everyone with their own Gallic translation, Christianity spread very quickly over the Emerald Island.
By setting Ireland in a worldly context, the book shows the acceptance that the Irish are multi-ethnic. But the one group they do NOT identify themselves with are Celtic!
The words of Abraham rang everywhere that an Irish monk would travel. ‘’Get thee out of my country, and from thy kindred and onto a land that I will show thee.’’ (Genesis 6:10) Brendan the Voyager, Colin Keel, or Aden of Lindisfarne would travel throughout Europe, stirring up a national pride in Ireland that began to cause others to take notice.
One of the most outspoken of these monks was Colombianos, (543-616 AD) and he was a vociferous opponent of wealthy clergy. A full five hundred years before Francis of Assisi, Colombianos was paving the way. He even had the confidence to stand up to the Pope over the official date of Easter.
In 795, Irish monks in Dublin noticed long-ships on the horizon with horrifying dragons carved on the bow on the front of the vessels. By now, the monasteries were growing wealthy and this wasn’t lost on the surrounding peoples. This new power of the Northern Seas would change everything.
The force of warriors would plunder the monasteries, taking with them two centuries of relics and artwork along the way. A contemporary monk writes of the ‘’never ending wave of hundred hard steel heads on every neck and hundreds of unceasing screaming voices in every tone and with which such savagery hadn’t been seen.’’
The Vikings offer us the earliest examples of the sudden turn in Irish history. They came from Norway and destroyed some of the most beautiful churches and monasteries in Ireland. Lindisfarne is probably the best known, but there was also Cork, Watsford and Eblani. They created a maritime empire that stretched all the way to the Americas in the west and Central Europe in the east.
An unexpected boom in population in Scandinavia in the sixth and seventh centuries created a crisis for the Vikings. But there were other drivers for the Vikings. The Chieftains had a practice of giving huge tracts of land, either in negotiation or within their own culture. Pretty soon, they were depleting their own resources.
They needed more land. And so they set sail and conquered, and plundered, and murdered all along the way. But they also brought with them an advanced culture, rich in farming techniques, tools and methods that the Irish had not heretofore known.
For over forty years the Vikings plundered and took slaves. The Irish were completely unaware and this only emboldened the Vikings, who began to set sail up rivers, and eventually became settlers. In 842, a Viking force hauled their long-boats ashore in the village of Dublin and began to construct forts and marketplaces.
Dublin had a huge trading network that brought goods all the way from Byzantium and even North Africa. Dublin became a wonder and a cosmopolitan city with a lot of cultural inter-change. Scandinavian and irish cultures melded into one.
The Vikings would settle in Wexford and Limerick and inter-marry with the Irish. Their language, Christian faith, and royal intermarriages caused a boom in Ireland by the end of the tenth century.
It's easy to see how the Irish and the Scots and the Welsh intermingled. The distance at its shortest points is just twelve miles
Throughout the Isles the Vikings were making their mark. Even in England, the House of Wessex was a Viking stronghold. The devil barbarians were all over Eire. They wore heavy metal helmets and swung heavy axes that the Irish were unprepared for. The monks told sordid takes of vicious raids and unspeakable atrocities committed on their Scots-brethren and it was a matter of time that the nightmare began.
They were masterful seamen. They certainly had a lot of practice in making ships in their native countries. There are fjords and rivers throughout Scandinavia. Their ships were well made and had such a shallow hull that they were capable of not only sailing on the high-seas but the narrow rivers where so many settlements in Ireland were built.
The Vikings were also traders. In Wales, we see evidence of how far the Viking network was to become. Cloth and Silk from faraway Asia have been found in early Viking settlements in Wales. A series of peculiar metal collars were located at a number of Viking settlements, all the way down to Portugal. Unlike other jewelry at the time, the collars weren't lavish. It could indicate only one thing: In Ireland and Wales, one of the most valuable items of trade - were slaves.
By 841, Vikings had established a year-round settlement around a timber-and-earthen fort known as a longphort where two rivers, the Liffey and Poddle Rivers come together, in the heart of modern Dublin. The living conditions in the Scandinavia seems to have gotten so bad - that the Vikings were in mood to return. They intermarried into powerful clans and slowly merged with the Irish.
The rise of Christianity and the benevolence of St. Patrick stood in stark contrast to the homicidal gods of the Norse. Ritual human sacrifice was a part of Viking life. For centuries the words written about the Vikings by others shows them in a very poor light. Within the last twenty years several critical clues have confirmed the evidence left behind in Viking wells.
Carved into a stone and found in Sweden seem to confirm the thirst for blood amongst the Viking gods. and their women were capable warriors on their own. Their fascination with death spooked the Irish and legends of their brutality only increased the paranoia. One of their gods, Odin, hung himself in order to gain knowledge. These gods carries huge hammers and swung them with bloody force.
And so it happened that the Viking invasion began on Rechaninn Island off the northeast coast. For the next 40 years, raids on coast land and island based monasteries became commonplace.
The Norseman weren’t the only ones who were plundering the religious centers. In fact, the Irish themselves were known to plunder their own churches. For a 25 year period, from 800-825, the Irish themselves burned down more than THREE times the number of monasteries than the Vikings!
But after 825, the Vikings began to really do their damage. These were becoming less of a hit-and-run affair than a case of a hit-and-occupy. Terrible armadas of 50-60 ships prompted great fear in the populace. Some of the great Irish cities of Lorrha, Terryglass, and Clonfert fell one-by-one.
If the Irish were going to halt the Vikings, they needed to unite. The Ui Neill’s and the McDonough’s; the Conrad’s and the McMahons; they all needed to come together. But how?
The Rise of an Irish Legend - Brian Boru
Brian Boru, (Brian Borunga, Brian of Beal Boraimhe) was born in the year 951 to King Cennedi, leader of the powerful tribe of the Dal Cais of North Munster. The Dal Cais were quite wealthy at the time although Cennedi himself lived modestly. He was born into an Ireland that was bound by tradition, where political power was dominated by a single great dynasty, the Uí Néill. His sons were like so many others, farmers and ranchers who could offer military support if needed.
Cennedi’s land straddled a key part of River Shannon. It gave the family control over the regions lakes and subsequently to its finest crop land. Cennedi had two strong sons, Mathgamain and Brian Boru.
As the first-born son, Mathgamain ascended to the throne of Munster in 963. Well educated, Mathgamain was an excellent arbitrator and an agile warrior. In 968, both brothers led a raid on a Viking village of Limerick and carried away loads of treasures that had been plundered by the Vikings years earlier. They also burned the city, giving the Vikings a taste of their own medicine and freeing the captive slaves that were Irish.
The Kinship of Tara was a title of authority in ancient Ireland - the title is closely associated with the archaeological complex at the Hill of Tara. The position was considered to be of eminent authority in medieval Irish literature and Irish mythology, although national kingship was never a historical reality in early Ireland.
The increase in power was a threat to the Ui Neill clan in the north who appointed their own, Mael Sechnaill II as the ‘’Ard ri’’ or ‘’High King’’ of the Ireland. But the title proved to be little in actual power. Ireland – quite honestly – had no history whatsoever of having one lone ruler, or one ‘’High King’’ due to the nature of Irish land owning.
Another primary source in the study of Ireland is the Annals of Ulster. There is no other history book like it. It is a series of stories and accounts that have been collected in an almost journal-like fashion from years A.D.431 to A.D. 1540. Some of the entries are surely mythological in nature, others are a mixture, and still there are some that have been validated. It’s certainly one of the most valuable documents in all of Ireland.
A Loyal Friend, Brother, and Ally Murdered
According the the Annals of Munster, Mathgamain is suddenly and shockingly betrayed and murdered in 976. Brian Boru did not take the murder of his elder brother well. He was devastated with the assassination and was more than determined to avenge his brother’s death. There are differing accounts of the death of Mathgamain, but the one most often recited is captured in 976 by Donnuban mac Cathail, (Donovan) One of the traitors was a Viking mercenary named Ivar of Limerick, who was also part Irish. He and his sons turned on Mathgamain after the Battle of Sulcoit, and Boru sought revenge.
The father and his two sons were chased out of the city and into the dense forest. Boru relentlessly never let up. He pursued them to the point of exhaustion until they ended up in a church on Scattery Island.
Despite the fact that they were claiming to be Christians and under the protection of the Church, Brian followed them in and killed them in cold blood. Usually, murdering anyone in cold-blood in a church was grounds for immediate excommunication. But Boru was having none of it.
Boru went on to conquer all of Munster in the far southwest of Ireland. He quickly made his way up the west coast and set himself as a rival to the Ui Neill’s. Boru wasn’t stopping now and he made the claim that he was the High King. For close to twenty years, battles persisted between Boru and the Ui the Io Neill's eldest son, Mael Sechnaill. Finally, in 997, they met at Clonfert and negotiated a treaty. This resulted in splitting Ireland into two. In a truce that was sure to satisfy neither party, they agreed to split the island. Boru would have much of northern and western Ireland, and Sechnaill, would rule the other half.
In Dublin and in Leinstermen, revolts occurred within two years. Boru put them down with a never ending brutality. It was, after-all, a type of language everyone seemed to know. At Glen Mumu, Boru took their king as a prisoner and exacted heavy tribute from everyone in the city.
The Making of a King
In the year 1000 that Brian Boru became king of all Ireland. He wore down Mael Sechnaill until he ceded his power. Brian Boru had done the one thing no one could do before him – he undermined the Uí Néill monopoly so that the high kingship of Ireland was now up for grabs – and this remained the case for a century and a half, until the high kingship went into abeyance soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion.
The death of Brian Boru, the new high king, in triumph at Clontarf in 1014 ended what the great Irish medievalist Edmund Curtis called “the Norse tyranny.''
His rule was mainly peaceful and he united the clans in order to stimulate trade and commerce. Moreover, he figured out a way to get along with the Vikings, negotiating laws that allowed them to assimilate more easily into Irish culture not as brutal victors but as repentant Christians. The Golden Age of the Emerald Island had begun.
Pity! the only son of Domhnall of the assembly; Pity! the heir of Brian Borumha; Pity! his going as was not expected; Pity the Clann-Ceoch should triumph over him.
Manuscript, The Annals of Loch Ce
Brian was also a Christian king portrayed as facing pagan unbelievers Certainly an inaccurate portrayal, it adds to the myth of Boru, whose Irish brethren seemed to battle the unbelievers at every turn. And because the Battle of Clontarf happened to take place on Good Friday there is more than a suggestion that he died a martyr’s death, becoming the saviour of his people just as Christ saved humankind by His Easter sacrifice.
Manuscript, The Annals of Loch Ce
Henry II Applies Military Pressure
In 1166, Ireland stands on the verge of disaster. Henry II of Britain was the Great-Grandson of William the Conqueror and although he led his court form the city of Anjou in France, he was very much a part of Ireland’s history. A land-grab for power hungry knights gave Henry an opportunity to take advantage of the scattered rulers of Ireland.
At the time, farmers ruled by clan chieftains were a counter to feudal Europe. There was no centralized figure to unite the clans and the days of Brian Boru were long past. Out of the shadows steps Dermot McDonough, a high king who owned a good portion of the east coast of Ireland. He had ruled the county of Leinster in Ireland which is where the now heavily populated city of Eblani (Dublin) bordered.
It was said of Dermot that he would rather be ‘feared’ than loved. Those close to him where ritually blinded and castrated so that they wouldn’t produce heirs. At Kildare Abbey, Dermot took his actions out on his peoples. His characteristic ruthlessness was on display when a rival dynasty appointed the Abbotess of Kildare, he acted.
It was shocking even by his own standards. He captured the Abbottess of Kildare and had her tied down while his soldiers took turns raping her. This of course disqualified her from the important position within the Church at that time. He then abducted and raped the wife of one of the land owners who had sworn loyalty to him. By now, the people had turned against Dermot and he fled Ireland. He sailed to the one place he knew he would be received. The English Court an Anjou and the British king, Henry II. Even the Irish didn’t anticipate such a traitorous turn.
His fleetness of foot altered the course of Irish history. Dermot had land that Henry needed. In the traditional story of the Irish, this man, Dermot, is seen as the father figure of all traitors. Selling out his native Ireland he sought the assistance of the most hated people on the Irish planet – The English.
Yet in all reality, Dermot was simply doing what any other chieftain would have done in order to survive. The challenge wasn’t his military ambition, but his complete lack of character, something which the Irish valued with a high degree of importance.
Dermot swore loyalty and submission to the English King Henry II. These were still Normans in every sense of the word. Their manner of governing, through Feudalism required land in order to perpetuate growth. Moreover, the Norman military ideas that would be so instrumental in their success meant that an organized cavalry and mounted armored fighters were now at Dermot’s disposal. The Irish had no idea what was about to befall them.
An Interesting Twist
Henry had contemplated attacking Ireland already. He was more than a match in political cunning and in the first ever Irish-Anglo summit, a contract was struck. Henry II would now be able to pay French knights to switch sides to the English by giving them land in Ireland. Henry II had created the ultimate ‘’Win-Win’ scenario.
Believing that he was also going to ‘’civilize’’ Ireland, the Pope gave his blessing- in part due to the fact that the Irish church has become worryingly independent. Irish scholars were writing their own scriptures in Gallic instead of the traditional Latin. With so few people to speak Gallic, these translations could say just about anything and the Pope nor his Cardinals would have any idea. Repeated requests to keep these things in the traditional Latin went unheeded. And so, Pope Adrian IV had no qualms in blessing Henry II. For his part, he promised a tithe of a ‘’pennye per hearth’ would go directly back to Rome.
It was a time of incredible educational growth in Ireland. All over Europe, the expansion and population boom is happening. The crusades were well under way. Henry II had a greatly depleted military and now had a means with which to pay new men. Revolts sprung up elsewhere at the same time and Henry had no choice but to work out an agreement with them. Moreover, the world was opening up trade routes to the rest of the known world and Ireland was seeing an incredible economic explosion as well. But all of this was about to change.
Henry II appointed a brutal land baron from Wales, Richard De Claire, known to his friends and enemies as ‘’Strongbow.’ In exchange for Dermot’s daughter’s hand in marriage and huge tracts of land, Strongbow would carry out the war against the Irish.
Richard De Claire
Strongbow was a man of ambition. On August 23, 1170, and Anglo-Norman vessel arrived on the shores of Wexford. With so many ships in the channel, they can be forgiven for not thinking much about it. But indeed, this would change the course of Irish history. It was a small force of raiders, but they were well armed against the unprepared Irish.
They lacked armor and weapons. They were throwing stones at the Anglo-Norman knights. In one refinement to the act of murder, they took pleasure in breaking the legs of the Irish before casting them into the seas. It was a savage affair and there is one story of a woman, Alice the Vicious, who used the equivalent of a meat cleaver with a hook to disembowel two dozen Irishmen. (Other accounts claim up to seventy)
These were Welsh fighters too. The Welsh had their own reasons for despising the Irish. They had always felt as if the Irish treated them as second-class and for every poor account of the Irish written by the English, there are just as many accounts of the Welsh, as written by the Irish!
The account of this battle and of Alice the Vicious is found in Chanson de Dermot et du comte and gives an interesting look at the Welsh.
The Norman conquest of Ireland was seemingly achieved by the English or, at best, the Anglo-Normans. A better term for these half-Welsh conquerors, few of whom would have even been able to speak English, is Cambro-Normans. Frustrated by their failure to make progress in Wales these descendants of Princess Nest turned to a more profitable field of conquest.
This was the same Norman ferocity that came with a message: Submit or be Killed. When they made it to Waterford, the Irish were overwhelmed. Surrounded by the Irish dead, in smoldering ruins, a forced marriage of England and Ireland occurred. Strongbow and the rest of his Welsh-Irish-Norman Knights, he began his land-grab.
But it was the ever present fear of a counter-attack from the Irish countryside that put fear into the hearts of the British. It would remain that way well into the 19th century. A war on one front is bad enough – but having to defend England from an attack on its backside was just too much.
Henry II never trusted Strongbow despite his prowess on the battlefield. To Henry, he seemed a bit too much of an opportunist and it was evident the Welsh leader of the Anglo-Norman armies was a man on a unique mission and the English king wanted no part of a Welsh uprising any more than he wanted an Irish uprising.
In 1171, Henry confronted the Gallic chiefs with his archers and horsemen, the Irish kings considered him to be a stabilizing force. They accepted the English king as Lord, and feasted on a dish that the Irish would come to identify with their own submission – Roasted Crane.
Here is an entry in the ‘’Illustrated History of Eire’’ on the dinner with Henry II and this unusual dish.
‘’ Henry's "winter palace" was extemporized with some artistic taste. It was formed' of polished osiers. Preparations had been made on an extensive scale for the luxuries of the table—a matter in which the Normans had greatly the advantage of either Celt or Saxon. The use of crane's flesh was introduced into Ireland for the first time, as well as that of herons, peacocks, swans, and wild geese. Almonds had been supplied already by royal order in great abundance; wine was purchased in Waterford, even now famous for its trade with Spain in that commodity. Nor had the King's physician forgotten the King's health; for we find a special entry amongst the royal disbursements of the sum of £10 7s., paid to Josephus Medicus for spices and electuaries. Yet Henri-curt-mantel was careful of his physical well-being, and partook but sparingly of these luxuries. Fearing his tendency to corpulency, he threw the short cloak of his native Anjou round him at an earlier hour in the morning than suited the tastes of his courtiers, and took exercise either on horseback or on foot, keeping in constant motion all day.’’
The legacy of the conquest of Waterford is told to us in the ‘’Great Charter of Waterford.’’ This book tells us of the earliest accounts of English kings and tells a complete story of how the Welsh, Normans, Anglos, French and Irish melded together to produce the environment we have today. Within twenty years there were thirty-two counties with great estates in a transformational sense.
The Normans embraced a Roman tradition as treating conquered peoples as barbarians. The Irish were portrayed poorly by the Normans. But the roots of this stereotype came from Gerald of Wales. In his ‘’Topagraphia Hibernia’’ he draws maps and other locations. Gerald goes to great lengths at the beginning of the book to state its authenticity. ‘’This book is a combination of accounts told or seen directly by me and so their truths are certain.’’
Still, Gerald painted a pretty horrible picture of the Irish. It was clear that the Welsh held their Irish counterparts with certain disdain. In one of the pictures, an Irish woman is seen having sex with a goat. Young boys are castrated for no reason. And a horse is sacrificed in a torrential blood-letting that was said to include human sacrifice and even cannibalism. Beyond the towns, the Anglo-Normans hold no power.
But the Irish lived in the woods. They had thrown their pastoral world into retreat. With the huge structures, a stone-curtain separated the older land-owners from their new English rulers. The country was seething with anger.
But the Irish still held sway over the Church. Scholars came from abroad to study in Ireland. So they did the only things that came natural to them, and they went to plea to the Pope. The loyalties of clan were being tested.
As it was a Pope who gave his blessing, they sent a note of the ‘’Remonstrance of The Princes’’ (1317) And it was now in front of the Pope. The brutality shown to the Catholics in Ireland. In one account, a banquet ends in savage bloodshed. Thomas De Claire is taken from the table and amputated and rolled on the floor.
The book is a fascinating look into the world as viewed by the subjugated Irish. Pope John XXIII in Avignon.
Whence, by reason of all this and much more of the same kind, relentless hatred and incessant wars have arisen between us and them, from which have resulted mutual slaughter, continual plundering, endless rapine, detestable and too frequent deceits and perfidies.
But alas! all correction and due reform fail us, for want of a head. And so for many years the native Irish clergy and people have stood in too serious and terrible danger not alone as regards what is perishable and bodily, but further still, through this want, the greatest danger, that of souls, is hanging over them, and that beyond an ordinary degree.
For we hold it as an established truth that more than 50,000 human beings of each nation, in addition to those cut off by famine, distress and prison, have fallen by the sword in consequence of that false representation and the grant resulting from it, since the time when it was made. Let these few general particulars of the origin of our ancestors and the wretched position in which a Roman Pontiff placed us suffice on this occasion
The Pope passed the document to Edward II and he did nothing. The truth didn’t matter in Rome and the English kings were mired into their own struggles and considered Ireland minuscule in comparison.
This Irish sketch of the perception of the Great Famine of 1315-1317
From the Apocalypse in a Biblia Pauperum illuminated at Erfurt around the time of the Great Famine. Death sits astride a manticore whose long tail ends in a ball of flame (Hell). Famine points to her hungry mouth.
As it was, Ireland was divided between Irish dynasties and Anglo-Irish lords who ruled parts of Ireland. In 1258 some of the dynasties and clans elected Brian Ui Neill to this position; however he was defeated by the Normans at the battle of Downpatrick in 1260.
Edward didn’t seem to have a real plan as to what he was going to do as King of Ireland, but that changed quite quickly. Robert the Bruce needed Edward to open up a second front in the war with Ireland. A war in Ireland would also result in the draining her of much needed men, materials and finance by creating havoc in Ireland.
This became critical when the Isle of Man was recaptured by English-backed Scots from King Robert's control in January 1315, thereby threatening the south and south-west of Scotland and also reopening up a potential source of aid to the English from the Anglo-Irish and native Irish.
Added to this was an odd request for aid from the King of Tír Eóghain, Domhnall mac Briain Ó Néill. Ó Néill had been troubled by Anglo-Irish incursions to the south-east (the de Verdons), the east (tenants of the Earl of Ulster) and west (also by the Earl of Ulster) of Tír Eógain and in order to retain his lands, he and some twelve of his vassals and allies jointly asked for aid from Scotland.
The de Verdon’s were perhaps one of the wealthiest families on the British Isles. But their ties to British royalty went back almost a hundred years. And, their ties to Scotland ALSO went back almost a hundred years. If ever a family was in position to gain power and land, it was the de Verdon’s.
The Bruce brothers agreed, on condition that they would support Edward as King of Ireland, as the brothers envisaged themselves as separate rulers of Scotland and Ireland, while Robert would regain Man and Edward possibly making an attack on Wales, with Welsh support. They thus foresaw "a grand Gaelic alliance against England", between Scotland and Ireland since both countries had a common heritage.
Ayr Scotland was established as a Royal Burgh in just 1205. It’s importance was established by the fact that it is one of the closest landing points from Ireland. It was also a marketplace and harbor for Medieval ships coming from Europe.
The day before the invasion, Ireland was in the midst of a terrible drought. Today we know Ireland to be a wet island with vast amounts of rain. On May 26th, 1315, an invasion force landed on the island in a largely uninhabited part of the country.
For most people in Ireland there was often not enough to eat, and life was a relatively short and brutal struggle to survive to old age. According to official records about the British Royal family, an example of the best off in society, for whom records were kept, the average life expectancy in the years from 1276-1330 was just 35.28 years.
The Irish were not impressed with these new arrivals. Because they landed in the countryside, they trampled over good farmland. The soldiers were unsympathetic to the farmers, at one point threatening some of the farmers. Edward’s invasion of Ireland was faltering before it had a chance to get off the ground.
Unable to feed his troops over a prolonged invasion, Edward was forced into a series of stalled negotiations. For almost a year the Anglo-Norman barons did little to retake any land since the famine made it difficult for either side to provide food to soldiers in the field. Once again, the Irish were in position to assimilate the invaders.
A Scottish army fighting the English opened a new front in Ireland when, in July of 1348, a new enemy arrived. The Black Plague riddled the Irish countryside and the English and Welsh took advantage of the weakness. One in every three people would die in Ireland, just as they had in mainland Europe. The plague changed the Irish world view. It came with such ferocity and chaos. By summer in 1348, Dublin, Drogheda and Dundalk were ravaged. By fall the plague had spread inland in County Meath. Mainland Europe seemed to have more doctors, more resources and more means by which to handle the tragic consequences. Ireland was seemingly all alone, left to suffer as an outpost on the European continent.
The Next Phase of Ireland is set to begin. ###
©Robert Bluestein, 2018 Robert Bluestein
A history of Ireland, 1936:t.p. (Edmund Curtis, M.A., Litt. D., prof. of modern hist.; U. of Dublin
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For sources and bibliography, please see my complete series on this website.