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[The True Origins of Irish Society Copyright © 2003 by Desmond Keenan
Hard copy of book available from and]

Chapter Seventeen

             The Twelfth Century III - Normans and Angevins

Summary . Describes the political history of Ireland in the Twelfth Century, first of Ireland before the coming of the Normans, and the what the Normans did. As usual the petty wars of the provincial Irish chiefs can be skipped


The Reigns of Henry and his Sons

'Over-chiefs of Tara'

Events in the rest of Ireland

Lords of Ireland

Background to the Coming of the Normans

The Coming of the Normans

The King’s Reaction

The First Years of Henry’s Lordship (1172 – 1176)

Political Changes after the Death of Strongbow 1176

John, Lord of Ireland

Events during the Reign of Richard 1189-99

John King of England and Lord of Ireland



The Reigns of Henry and his Sons

            Henry was one of the luckiest and most successful kings of England. Under him the dominions ruled by the king of England reached an extent not to be reached again for several hundred years. He was king of England and Wales, overlord of Scotland, overlord of Ireland, overlord of Brittany, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou, and Duke of Aquitaine. His lands on the Continent consisted of five distinct fiefs (that of Aquitaine was as a vassal of the king of France), and they stretched from Flanders to the Pyrenees. The tenure of these lands was always uncertain, and always challenged, and the dominions were gradually whittled away until the loss of the last one, Calais in 1558. As Henry’s father was Count of Anjou, Henry and his successors are called Angevins, not Normans. (In England the royal house between 1154 and 1485 was called Plantagenet, but they were Angevins. In this book, Angevin refers to the royal family; all the others, whether from Wales, England, Normandy, Flanders, Anjou or elsewhere are referred to as Normans. All those of Scandinavian origin are referred to as Norsemen or Vikings.

 When he came to Ireland in 1171 at the height of his power, the Church reformers no doubt saw him as a powerful ruler who enforced peace, enforced a scutage or money payment instead of personal service thus dispensing with feudal levies, made just laws, established peace in the kingdom, and protected the Church, his quarrel with Thomas a Becket notwithstanding. In 1170 he had his eldest son and heir, Henry, crowned as joint king of England along with himself. Thomas a Becket whom he had promoted to be archbishop of Canterbury was resisting the king’s attempts to reduce the excessive jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. Taking an incautious remark of the king literally, four of his knights murdered the archbishop inside his own cathedral. At this point 1171 he crossed over to Ireland to deal with Strongbow and then hastily returned to France to meet the legates of a wrathful Pope. He succeeded in explaining that he had not plotted the murder or ordered it and was absolved. The reason Henry had to leave Ireland so hastily, and surrender so abjectly to the Papal representatives was that his son Henry was demanding to be made actual king of England and was prepared to side with Henry’s enemies to get his hands on actual power. The young Henry got the support of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, of his brothers Richard Lionheart and Geoffrey duke of Brittany, the king of France and various other nobles. Henry acted swiftly to crush the rebellion that broke out in 1173 but had to draw troops from Ireland. The struggle was not over until the autumn of 1174. Henry was reconciled with his sons and he restored them to their fiefdoms. About this time he decided that John could be provided with the territory of Ireland as his fief. Though given the title of lord he was intended to be king, and to rule as a king, subject only to his feudal lord, the king of England who would be able to call on him for feudal services, and prohibit him for taking actions against his feudal lord’s allies or subjects. Presumably the reason he was called lord and not king was to avoid angering Richard. The patriarch of Jerusalem in person besought him to lead a crusade, but though willing to go, he could not get the support of the English barons. Then in 1183 his sons Henry and Geoffrey joined the nobles of Aquitaine against him and Richard Lionheart.  The sudden death of young Henry left Richard as heir to the throne and the rebellion ended. Next Richard sided with the king of France perhaps suspecting that Henry wished to disinherit him. Henry had to flee for his life. For once Henry’s favourite son John turned against him. Henry had to agree to all of Richard’s demands and he died of a fever soon after in 1189.

            Richard came to England to be crowned, and as he had already pledged to go on crusade following the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, he set about raising money by every possible means. He renounced the feudal homage due from William the Lion king of Scotland for 10,000 marks. He was crowned in September 1189 and on 11 December he set out for the Holy Land along with Philip Augustus, king of France (1180-1223).  The crusade lasted three years, at the end of which Richard was forced to make a truce with Saladin and returned home. On the way he was captured and held to ransom by the German emperor. When part of the ransom was part paid and part pledged he was allowed to return home in 1194 where his brother John was plotting against him. He intended returning to the Crusade but was prevented from so doing by the plots of John and Philip of France. He spent the rest of his reign until his death in 1199 trying to foil their plots. (As Saladin had died in 1193 his chances of success would have been much enhanced.)

            John has long had a reputation of being a ‘bad king’ just as his brother Richard had a reputation of being a ‘good king’. John was forced by the great lords of England to grant them a charter of rights. But these rights only applied to the great lords who had no intention of passing on those rights to their subordinates. Eventually, in England a middle way was found between the absolutism of monarchs in France and the shattering into a patchwork of local rulers as in Germany, and the Magna Charta proved an excellent starting point. But John cannot be either praised or blamed for this. It has been suggested that the great barons disliked John because he spent most of his time in England keeping an eye on them. Richard and Henry had spent most of their lives abroad.

            The great warlords in England had doubts about accepting John because of his past behaviour (John DNB) but he succeeded in gaining their assent and was crowned king of England. John’s claim was supported by Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury and William Marshal who considered him the best warrior to defend England against Philip Augustus, king of France. The chief lords in Richard’s other lands, Brittany, Anjou, Maine, and Touraine preferred Arthur the son of John’s brother Geoffrey. The strict rules of primogeniture still did not apply. But John, supported by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was able to seize the lands while his rival Arthur, still a minor, was a ward of the king of France, the nominal overlord of the lands on the Continent. Philip, for the moment, was unable to overcome John so he came to terms with him.

            In 1201 John got involved in another war, and this time Philip was more prepared and initially had considerable success. John managed to capture Arthur and put him to death, and drove off Philip. Philip however began to conquer the castles in Normandy with the connivance of some of the Norman lords, and repulsed an attack by John. In 1204 John returned to England to collect more money from the nobles and the Church. Meanwhile Philip completed the conquest of Normandy. This had the result that those lords who formerly had lands in both Normandy and England were compelled to remain on their English estates and became wholly English in feeling. In 1206 John reconquered Poitou but avoided meeting Philip in a decisive battle. A truce was made for two years, John surrendering his claim to all lands north of the Loire. John returned to England to raise more money especially by a levy on Church lands, which was refused. On the death of the archbishop of Canterbury in 1205 John tried to get the clergy to elect a favourite of his John de Grey. Two elections were held and the case referred to Rome where the Pope, Innocent III, set both aside and told the monks of Canterbury in the delegation to elect Cardinal Stephen Langton. John refused to recognise him, so the Pope laid an interdict on England so that the sacraments could not be celebrated publicly. John seized the revenues of the Church in England, forced William the Lion of Scotland and the Welsh chiefs, and the major lords to give hostages, and defied the Pope. He evicted the Cistercians from all their monasteries and only allowed them to return on the payment of large fines. The wife of William de Braose however refused to give her children as hostages, so in 1210 John set out for Ireland to deal with him, and with the de Lacys who were supporting him. Walter de Lacy, 2nd Lord of Meath, was a marcher lord with extensive lands along the Welsh border and in Normandy, and was married to a daughter of William de Braose. Walter immediately submitted to John but the king seized Irish lands. Such seizures were not intended to be permanent, but the king got the benefit of their revenues until such time as he might restore them. They were in fact largely restored in 1213. The quarrel with de Braose apparently sprung from the fact that the latter had not paid monies he owed the king. His wife had also refused to hand over hostages, and his son was one of the bishops who sided with the Pope. Strangely enough, it seems that John’s quarrel was principally with de Braose’s wife Maud de St.Valerie, who is said to have accused him of murdering his nephew Arthur. She with her grown-up son fled to Meath, and when John followed fled to Scotland but was captured by Duncan of Carrick and handed back to John at Carrickfergus. She and her son were imprisoned in Windsor castle and it is said starved to death. William fled to France.

            John returned to England and extorted money from the Jews, invaded north Wales and planted castles there. As he refused to return the property of the Church he was excommunicated in 1212 by the Pope, who also deposed him and authorised Philip Augustus to effect the deposal. John made an alliance with the Count of Flanders and submitted his land to the suzerainty of the Pope and swore to return the lands to the Church and allow the bishops who had fled overseas to return. Philip invaded Flanders but an English fleet destroyed the French fleet. John built up an alliance on the Continent against Philip and landed in France. He had considerable initial success but Philip decisively defeated his army at Bouvines in 1214 and his allies deserted him. John returned to England where he found the barons determined to force him to grant them a written charter of their rights such as they claimed to have enjoyed under Henry I. This he was forced to concede in 1215. John however went back on his word and civil war broke out. John had considerable success at first in crushing the rebellion. Some of the lords elected Louis the son of Philip as king. He landed in England with some French lords and the war began to go against John. The latter died suddenly while campaigning the following year. His nine-year-old son, Henry III, succeeded him. Bouvines also re-established the power of the king of France and weakened that of the Holy Roman emperor who was John’s ally. 

            In Wales, after the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170 the most powerful chief in Wales was the Lord Rhys. Owain was a chief in the largely unconquered north of Wales, but Rhys ap Gruffydd was a chief in south Wales which had been successfully conquered by Norman adventurers at an early date. These Normans had married Welsh women, and from them the adventurers who crossed to Ireland were chiefly drawn. Fighting equally against Owain Gwynedd, the local Normans, and Henry II he established himself in a powerful position in south central Wales, and had his position recognised by Henry on his way to and from Ireland. The understanding with the king was important in another way, for the Normans of south Wales did not feel threatened and could leave their lands to seek more lands in Ireland. Rhys supported Henry during the rebellion of his sons in 1173. In 1176 a local Norman marcher lord, William de Braose invited seventy of the heads of the leading local Welsh families to a banquet and murdered them preparatory to seizing their lands. (Cattle raiding was also endemic. That a marcher lord should try to kill the thieves and seize their lands was considered normal.) One of those killed, however, was a brother-in-law of Lord Rhys. Rhys took no action against him, but the murders were to become one of the national grievances of Wales.         [Top]

Ireland to 1166

'Over-chiefs of Tara'

Murtagh (or Muirchertach) O’Brien 1086-1119, son of Turlough

(Donal MacLoughlin 1083-1121, MacLoughlin branch of Cenel Eogain)

Turlough O’Connor 1121-1156, son of Rory, (Ui Briuin Ai)

Murtagh MacLoughlin 1156-66, grandson of Donal of Cenel Eogain

Rory O’Connor, 1166-72, (Ui Briuin Ai) son of Turlough. 

                The twelfth century in Ireland is one in which the political pattern is most difficult to follow or remember. It was the only one in which there were real attempts made by various chiefs to be the over-lord of the whole of Ireland. In each province, except Munster, there was only one family regularly challenging to be the over-chief of the province. The exception was Munster where the O’Briens and MacCarthys were fairly equally matched. Only four of the five provincial families were in a position to seek that power, the exception being Meath where the O’Mellaghlins of Clann Cholmain were reduced to secondary rank like the MacCarthys of the Eoganacht Caisil. Within each province there was considerable consolidation, and there was always a handful of warring chiefs of the second rank seeking to expand.

            The O’Briens were dominant up to roughly 1125, the O’Connors from 1125 to 1150 though relatively weak after 1135, and the MacLoughlins from 1150 to 1166. Rory O’Connor managed to rule for five years until Henry of Anjou took control. Dermot MacMurrough, though he established himself securely in Leinster, and was frequently at war outside it never really got to a position to challenge for the over-chiefdom. His best chance was frustrated by the sudden revival of the power of the MacLoughlins, so his hour passed. The year 1171 was therefore a pivotal one in Irish history for it established in Dublin the state which was finally to subdue all the others, never itself being subdued by any of the others. 

            Murtagh O’Brien was continuing his attempt to dislodge Donal MacLoughlin. In 1101 he invaded the North, and destroyed the fortress of Aileach, which may have been abandoned at that date. His fleet along the coast accompanied his march to the north. He failed to defeat Donal, but took hostages from the Ulaid whose support or neutrality he needed. In 1098 Magnus Barelegs son of the king of Norway, led a great expedition to restore the influence of the Norse crown. His fleet was raiding at the mouth of the Shannon in 1101. (Magnus was killed two years later attacking the Ulaid on his way home to Norway.) Murtagh made an alliance with him and gave him one of his daughters as his son’s wife. He also married another daughter to Arnulf de Montgomery, earl of Pembroke, the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury who was in rebellion against Henry I. Murtagh dispatched a fleet to the earl’s assistance. It would seem that O’Brien did not quite trust him when he came to Ireland and that he had designs on O’Brien's lands. So too probably had Magnus. In any case the promised help was too late to save the Earl of Shrewsbury. Magnus seems to have assisted O’Brien in his attack on MacLoughlin, and was killed while campaigning in Ulster in 1103. In 1103 MacLoughlin inflicted a heavy defeat on O’Brien. Which of them was the strongest was never really decided because two successive abbots of Armagh succeeded on several occasions in getting them to agree to truces. In 1114 Murtagh fell seriously ill and was deposed by his brother Dermot, but he recovered his throne the following year. He handed over the ancestral lands of the Eoganacht of Cashel to the Church to endow the see of Cashel. In Meath and Connaught he expelled the ruling dynasties and installed puppets of his own. He broke up conquered chiefdoms if this suited him. These practices were to be developed in Ireland in the course of the century (O’Corrain 150). The traditional rights of the various grades of lord and chief were ignored, and their land confiscated, and given to the chief’s own family or to others. Murtagh died in 1119 and Donal MacLoughlin died in 1121. 

            Turlough O’Connor became over-chief of Connaught in 1106 but for many years he was powerless against the O’Briens and MacLoughlins, so he played them off against each other. Though he was the most successful warrior of his time, and his family the most powerful he suffered strong opposition all his days. (I have dated for convenience sake, and to avoid overlapping, his pretension to the overchieftainship to 1121 following the death of Donal MacLoughlin.) He first had to secure his position in Connaught against the O’Rourkes of Breifne who had succeeded in wresting the overlordship from the Sil Muiredaig (O’Connors) Turlough O’Connor became overlord in 1106 and died in 1156.). The chief representative of the O’Rourkes, Tiernan O’Rourke, became chief of his family in 1128 and died in 1172, but in his long life was never able to wrest the overlordship from the O’Connors. He was however the most powerful ruler ever produced by the Ui Briuin Breifne.

            Turlough’s first objective was to reduce the power of the O’Briens but first he had to make Connaught secure against attacks from Munster or anywhere else. He surrounded his territories with castles, and built an even greater fleet than that of the O’Briens. What was called ‘the first castle in Ireland’ was built in 1129. The castles were probably of wood and earth, but would have had the same purpose as the Norman castles in England. The fact that his castle building is mentioned reminds us that traditionally there were no fortified defended sites. The defenders retreated into the forests or other naturally inaccessible spots. He built bridges over various rivers to allow him to advance and to withdraw. Bridges were made of wood, and always had to be guarded on both banks. Cavalry had been noted in Ireland about the time of Brian Boru, and now being used more often in Ireland as elsewhere in Europe.

            Turlough O’Connor marched into Munster following the death of Dermot O’Brien the overchief of the Dal Cais in 1118, and partitioned it between Dermot’s sons and the MacCarthys. Murtagh O’Brien was still overlord of Cashel, but he was very old and he and his sons were ignored. In 1121 Turlough ravaged Munster burning 70 churches in the process. He continued his ravages in the two following years. This was how warfare was conducted when defeated chiefs refused to surrender. The tactic was the same as that applied by William the Conqueror in the North of England. Turlough O’Connor wished to build up the Eoganacht of Cashel, the MacCarthys, as rivals to the O’Briens, and partitioned Munster between them in 1127. The sphere of the O’Briens was restricted to North Munster, called Thomond in Norman times, and that of the MacCarthys South Munster, or Desmond. (Munster is roughly diamond-shaped, sitting on one point. Later, North Muster was divided and part of it to the east was called East Munster, or Ormond.) In practice, the O’Briens were around Limerick with most of their lands to the north of it, and the MacCarthys around Cork with most of their lands to the west of it. As the O’Briens and MacCarthys at times preferred to unite against the Connaughtmen the tactic was not very successful. The boundary between them was neither defined nor fixed, and depended on which could control the chiefs of the small intervening tuatha. These tuatha were to form the path of entrance of the Normans.

            Cormac McCarthy was chief of Desmond from 1123 until he was murdered by the O’Briens in 1138. He is chiefly famous for the little Romanesque chapel on the Hill of Cashel known as Cormac’s Chapel. The O’Briens in Thomond had two brothers as joint chiefs, Turlough and Conor O’Brien, from 1118 to 1142, and Turlough alone until 1167. A third O’Brien brother, Tadg (Taigue) was chosen in 1122 but deposed the following year. With the accession to sole rulership of Turlough O’Brien in 1142, and disputes with the MacCarthys over the succession resolved, O’Brien rose to be the strongest chief in Munster.

            Turlough O’Connor was attacked in 1124 by a coalition led by O’Mellaghlin of Meath including Tiernan O’Rourke and Enna MacMurrough. For centuries the Ui Briuin Breifne had been trying to break out of the poor lands of Leitrim into the more fertile lands of Meath at the expense of the Conmaicne and Gailenga. Now was their chance. The alliance soon broke up. Turlough defeated them and partitioned Meath into three petty states, and extended the lands of Tiernan O’Rourke of Breifne (Ui Briuin Breifne) who suddenly changed sides and supported him. He then imposed a king on Leinster from among the Ui Dunlainge in order to foment disputes with the MacMurroughs. Tiernan O’Rourke was first mentioned in 1124, and Dermot MacMurrough in 1126. MacMurrough died in 1171 and O’Rourke in 1172. Though only chiefs of the second rank, it was largely their quarrels that brought the Normans into Ireland.

                After Donal MacLoughlin died in 1121 Turlough had no serious rival left in Ireland until 1131 when his enemies from the MacLoughlins, O’Briens, MacCarthys, and O’Rourkes combined against him. In 1128 O’Connor wasted Leinster, assisted by Tiernan O’Rourke. Leinster was then left alone for three years. Dermot MacMurrough however succeeded in getting control in Leinster and re-establishing the power of the Ui Chennselaig, and then invaded Ossory. After the attack in 1131 the O’Briens ravaged Connaught and the MacCarthys assisted by Tiernan O’Rourke. By 1135 Connaught was seriously weakened, which allowed Leinster under Dermot MacMurrough to assert itself. MacMurrough invaded Munster and succeeded in getting the submission of the O’Briens and MacCarthys. Finally after 1140 the power of the O’Connors was limited by the growing strength of Turlough O’Brien on one side and Murtagh MacLoughlin on the other. Nevertheless for twenty six years between 1125 and his death in 1156 he was often the most powerful single chief in Ireland.

            During the period of O’Connor’s weakness (c. 1135) he was forced to give hostages to Murchad O’Mellaghlin, thus losing his claim to be king of Ireland. O’Connor made various attempts to throw off the control of O’Mellaghlin, but was unsuccessful until 1141 when he forced him to give hostages and recognise his overlordship. During a revolt at home his son was blinded to exclude him from the succession. Also, the unconsidered Conmaicne raided his territory. Turlough O’Connor's prime objective therefore became to reduce neighbouring Meath to subjection and to break it up so that the O’Mellaghlins would never be a threat. MacMurrough preferred to defend Meath or capture it himself, so O’Connor backed off temporarily. But Dermot, wishing to attack Munster, gave hostages to O’Connor who was then able to invade and partition Meath between Donnchad O’Mellaghlin, O’Rourke, and MacMurrough in 1144. In the same year O’Connor and O’Brien made a peace at the monastery of Terryglass, and agreed to partition Meath between two O’Mellaghlins. This immediately drove MacMurrough and O’Rourke to revolt against O'Connor.

            Murtagh MacLoughlin in Ulster had again gathered the forces of the Cenel Eogain together and in 1149 was able to take hostages from all the provincial chiefs, including O’Connor who again lost the overchieftainship, except in Munster. MacMurrough extended his rule unchallenged to all Leinster. However O’Connor defeated Turlough O’Brien finally at Moin Mor in 1151, and Munster was again partitioned between the O'Briens and MacCarthys. MacMurrough, O’Mellaghlin, and O’Rourke supported O’Connor. Moin Mor was one of those rare events in Ireland, a hard-fought pitched battle, beloved of the annalists, which would seem to indicate that O'Brien considered he had a good chance of defeating O’Connor. Apparently this was MacMurrough’s first experience of a major battle. O'Connor's losses were heavy, but O'Brien's much heavier. O’Connor still had to give hostages to MacLoughlin, who was now for all practical purposes the over-chief of Ireland. Moin Mor was the last attempt of an O’Brien to seize the overlordship of Ireland. Donnchad O’Mellaghlin, a very successful warrior, was in theory chief of Meath from 1106 to 1153, but he was deposed and replaced on several occasions. This was the last chance Clann Cholmain was ever to have. That it survived so long in its divided state was due only to the fact that O’Brien and MacLoughlin both chose to prop it up against O’Connor.

            In 1150 MacLoughlin partitioned Meath between O’Rourke, O’Connor, and O’Carroll of Oriel. In 1152 O’Rourke, who had reputation for obnoxious behaviour equalled only by MacMurrough's, quarrelled with both O’Connor and MacMurrough. MacLoughlin, O’Connor, and MacMurrough invaded and devastated Breifne, and MacMurrough carried off Devorgilla, O’Rourke's wife, either willingly on her part or not. Devorgilla was a daughter of Murchad O’Mellaghlin, but O’Rourke was constantly at war with his father-in-law. Meath was once again re-partitioned. MacLoughlin added two sub-chiefdoms in north Leinster Ui Faelain (Offelan) and Ui Failge (Offaly) to O’Mellaghlin’s territory to strengthen him. Dermot MacMurrough never gave up the claim to them, Offaly was not the present county but a small barony in Kildare.

            The incident of O’Rourke's wife was significant because it led to a bitter and life-long hostility between O’Rourke and MacMurrough. But there was another factor involved, and that was divorce under Brehon Law. If Devorgilla wanted to divorce her husband, an honour price had to be paid to the husband. MacMurrough refused to pay this. But the reforming clergy wanted the law changed so as to be in accord with Christian doctrine. The several partitions of Meath had the important result that the Normans were able to establish themselves in the shattered and fragmented province after the power of Clann Cholmain had been broken. The partitioning of Munster had the same effect for the Normans were able easily to establish themselves in the lands between the O’Briens and MacCarthys. In the following century, a family feud between the O’Connors allowed the Normans to establish themselves in Connaught, while another family dispute among the Ulaid allowed them to establish themselves in Ulster. Turlough O’Connor died in 1156 and was succeeded by his son Rory, but MacLoughlin maintained his superiority. The situation changed in 1166 when MacLoughlin blinded the captured chief of the Ulaid Eochaid MacDonlevy in violation of guarantees given by the archbishop of Armagh and Donough O’Carroll of Oriel. This led to a revolt in the north in which MacLoughlin was killed.

            MacLoughlin was the last chief of the Cenel Eogain to exercise power outside of Ulster. Like Mael Sechlainn II of Clann Cholmain he was one of the greatest warriors of his race, but he had no successor of equal stature. The events in the reign of Rory O’Connor will be dealt with below. [Top]

 Events in the rest of Ireland

            At the beginning of the twelfth century in Ulster the ever-expanding Cenel Eogain remained the most powerful kinship group. But the Cenel Conaill and the Ulaid had established powerful chiefdoms (what elsewhere would have been called earldoms or counties). The Oirgialla were partly swallowed up be the Cenel Eogain, but also succeeded in establishing a powerful chiefdom in the south of the province.

            The MacLoughlin family had eclipsed the O’Neill branch with regard to the chieftainship of Aileach. But the MacLoughlins were not able to resist Murtagh O’Brien. They nevertheless kept up pressure on the Ulaid. When Murtagh O'Brien retired to a monastery in 1119 Donal MacLoughlin made an unsuccessful attempt to be recognised as overchief. The Cenel Eogain was at the same time conquering new lands from the Oirgialla to the west of Lough Neagh. In 1121 Conor MacLoughlin succeeded Donal and the pattern persisted with constant strife between the Ui Neill and with the Ulaid. In  1127 the Ui Neill attacked the newly re-founded monastery of Bangor in the territory of the Ulaid where St Malachy was commencing his reform movement. The Cianachta were still holding out around Dungiven in county Londonderry even though the centre of O’Neill power had moved to Tyrone in Mid-Ulster.

            Conor MacLoughlin attacked the Ulaid and by 1131 had subdued them sufficiently to raid outside the province into Turlough O’Connor’s lands, with some of the Ulaid in the host. The strength of any chief depended on how many subchiefs he could order, or entice, or force to come to his hosting. The following year he raided in county Louth. The MacLoughlins were fatally weakened by their perpetual struggle with the O’Neills of Tullaghogue. Successive O’Neill pretenders were slain by the MacLoughlins until 1176. There were also other feuds. Conor MacLoughlin (1121-36) was deposed in 1128 in favour of his uncle Magnus, and restored the following year. Murtagh MacLoughlin (1136-66) was deposed in 1143 in favour of Donal O’Gormley, but was restored with the help of the Cenel Conaill.

            Murtagh MacLoughlin, nephew of Conor succeeded in 1136. His father, Niall MacLoughlin had been chief of the Cenel Conaill. His youth had been spent in minor wars in Ulster, and then became engaged in a three-cornered fight, apparently between equals, with the Ulaid and the O’Carrolls of Oriel. But Murtagh finally emerged about 1149 as the dominant chief, and the Cenel Conaill, the Ulaid and the Oirgialla gave him hostages. We can assume that thereafter they were forced to join his hostings. The role of a hostage was not a happy or secure one. Even though they were the sons of chiefs they were regarded as pawns to be sacrificed if necessary. The later career of Murtagh has been described earlier. The end came in 1166. In 1165 the Ulaid revolted, and Murtagh suppressed the revolt. The Ulaid chief, Eochaid MacDonlevy was deposed and restored after an intervention by Donough O’Carroll and the archbishop of Armagh. The following year, Murtagh blinded him, despite his compact with O’Carroll and the archbishop. His supporters melted away and he was slain by O’Carroll in a minor skirmish. At the same time, Dermot MacMurrough, similarly hard pressed fled to England to seek support.

            All the branches of the Cenel Eogain were expanding at their neighbour’s expense. At this time the O’Cahan (O’Kane) branch of Clann Connor of Magh Ithe, itself a branch of the Cenel Mhic Earca branch of the Cenel Eogain began to come to the fore. By 1138 the O’Cahans were overlords of the Cianachta and their neighbours the Fir na Croebe and the Fir Li in eastern Londonderry, so presumably they had not at that time absorbed their territories. The O’Cahans were also fighting another branch of the Ui Neill, the Cenel Binnig. (This latter group soon after lost out to the O’Cahans but survived in the area as separate families of O’Hamills, Toners and Kellys to this day.) The dynamics of these internal wars are not clear. The Cenel Feradaig branch of the Ui Neill (the MacCawells) was establishing itself in Clogher in the heartland of the Oirgialla just at the time when the O’Carrolls of the Oirgialla were conquering Co. Louth. The Cenel Moen branch (O’Gormleys) gradually occupied the lands of the Ui Fiachrach Ardsratha (Ardstraw) around Strabane. Along with the O’Cahans, the O’Gormleys attacked and took the lands of the Cenel Enda, originally the third branch of the Northern Ui Neill along with the Cenel Eogain and the Cenel Conaill. The O’Cahans supported the MacLoughlins. The Ui Tuirtre, a branch of the Oirgialla, under pressure from the O’Cahans, established themselves on the other bank of the Bann, became the leading clan in the area, and was subdued later by de Courci. It is clear that a static picture of Irish politics before the Norman invasion is false, and that the Normans were profiting from a very fluid situation. From this, as from other evidence, it is obvious that the great Irish chiefs had little interest in fighting the Normans, and every interest in keeping the Normans on their side. They were far more interested in taking the land of their immediate neighbours. About this time the Cenel Binnig and the Fir Li disappear from the annals. During the Middle Ages the Ui Tuirtre (O’Flynns) acknowledged the Normans as overlords.

            For various obscure reasons, the Cenel Eogain lost control of their original homeland in Inishowen to a branch of the Cenel Conaill (later the O’Dohertys). The Cenel Conaill launched a major attack on the peninsula in 1117 and seized part of it. The O'Mulfoyle chiefs of the Cenel Eogain were not finally dislodged for another century. (A later distribution of surnames seems to indicate that they fled to north Connaught.) The Cenel Conaill were consolidating themselves. Though never very successful at extending their borders, being hemmed in by the O’Neills on one side and the O’Connors of Connaught on the other, they were not without their successes in inching their frontiers forward.         The Ulaid continued to be a powerful compact chiefdom. It was able to prosper while the infighting among the O’Neills continued. Its greatest power was under Cu Ulad MacDonlevy (1131-57). The events surrounding the death of Murtagh MacLoughlin have been mentioned above.       

            The O’Donnell chiefdom, though isolated in Donegal, and the O’Flaherty chiefdom in west Connaught belonged to the less successful branches of the dominant families in their provinces. Later too, the other great chiefly families sprouted off sub-families, the O'Sullivans from the MacCarthys, the MacNamaras and O’Kennedys from the O’Briens, and the O’Cahans from the O’Neills. With the decline of Clann Cholmain the O’Rourkes of Breifne and the O’Carrolls of Oriel were gradually encroaching on the northern parts of Meath and of Louth. The latter was included in the diocese and chiefdom of Clogher, while the region around Clogher itself was gradually occupied by the Cenel Feradaig, the MacCawells.

            . The origins of the chiefdom of Oriel out of the small tuatha of the Oirgialla in south Ulster, the Mugdorna, the Ui Meith, the Dartrige, the Fir Rois, and the Fernmag is obscure. A chief called Donough O’Carroll (Donnchad Ua Cerbaill) succeeded in building up quite a powerful chiefdom among the tuatha of the Oirgialla, for the future to be called Oriel or Uriel. This chiefdom, like the comparable chiefdoms of the O’Rourkes of Breifne, and the MacGillaPatricks of Ossory, the O’Farrells of Annaly (Longford), the O’Connors of Offaly (O’Connor Faly), and the O’Mores of Leix (Loigse) lay in difficult boggy and forested lands between the great chiefdoms. It was the prime aim of both the great Gaelic chiefs and later of King John to root them out, but that was easier said than done. The internal feuding among the O’Neills on one side and the O’Mellaghlins on the other allowed Donough O’Carroll and Tiernan O’Rourke to expand their domains far beyond what would have been normally possible. In 1138 Donough joined Turlough O’Connor and Tiernan O’Rourke in attacking Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster. After Murtagh MacLoughlin had established himself as overlord of Ulster, Donough O’Carroll submitted to him, and joined in his expedition against Meath. For this he was duly rewarded by the grant of territories, or recognition of his conquests. O’Carroll had succeeded in extending his rule over the whole of county Louth as far as the Boyne before 1140, for in that year O’Carroll was able to give a grant of land to the Cistercians for the foundation of Mellifont in the very south of the county not far from the Boyne. At its greatest extent Oriel extended over the three counties of Monaghan, Armagh, and Louth or the combined dioceses of Clogher and Armagh.

            By 1166, the chiefdoms in the North had been effectively reduced to four, the O’Neill chiefdom of Tullaghogue or Tir Eogain (Tyrone), Ulaid (or Ulster to give it its Norse name), Oriel, and Tir Conaill of the Cenel Conaill, with a single overchief of the province, a MacLoughlin. By Ulster in those days was meant counties Antrim and Down, and by Tyrone was meant counties Tyrone and Derry.

            Meanwhile the great struggle between the O'Neills and MacLoughlins continued. The tide began to turn in 1160 when Aed im Macaem Toinlesc (which has been translated as Hugh the Lazy-arsed youth, Burke.) slew the MacLoughlin who had slain his father. He became undisputed chief of the Ui Neill in 1176. A medieval French poem claimed that he brought 3,000 men to aid Rory O’Connor. The MacLoughlins killed him in 1177. He was succeeded by Mael Sechlainn MacLoughlin, but in 1196 his own son, Aed Meth (the Fat) (1196-1230) recovered the chieftainship.

            In Meath the various branches of the Southern Ui Neill had split into mutually hostile fragments which were to be easily conquered by the Normans. The O’Mellaghlins were declining slowly. They were still a major power in Meath, but never a match for the over-chiefs of the other provinces. Like other chiefs before him, Henry II claimed the overlordship of Meath, and distributed sufficient lands to his followers to enable them to enforce the king’s will. Hugh de Lacy was designated the Lord of Meath. This Meath had suffered from the encroachments of Donough O’Carroll and Tiernan O’Rourke amongst others. The O’Farrells of Annaly (Longford) remained in place and were more or less independent. To the north of Meath, Tiernan O’Rourke was steadily expanding his chiefdom. It is recorded that a body of horsemen commanded by him defeated a similar body of horsemen under Conor MacLoughlin in 1128. In 1130 he defeated and killed Dermot O’Mellaghlin. He was engaged in most of the major campaigns until his death in 1172, and slowly but steadily increased his territory annexing much of Cavan His territory equalled the present diocese of Kilmore, approximately Leitrim and Cavan. He has been described as a restless meddler who never let a year of his life go by without interfering in some strife (Furlong)

            Interestingly, when the various dioceses were being delineated in 1152, the territories of MacLoughlin, O’Carroll, and O’Rourke were roughly equal in size. This though reflects the temporary weakness of the MacLoughlins, less the lands of the O’Neills, and the expansion of O’Carroll and O’Rourke. It also shows how easy it was for the strongest power in a province, once he got an advantage, to compel the other chiefs to joint his hosting. They in turn had to force the subchiefs to join the hosting, so that he could raise a large army to attack the other provinces.

            Leinster was a province about the size of Normandy, dominated by MacMurrough, but quite large tracts of the province were left under the local rulers (ruiri), the O’Mores (Loigse in Leix), the O’Connors (Ui Failge Offaly), the MacGillaPatricks (Osraige Ossory/Kilkenny), the O’Byrnes and the O’Tooles (Wicklow). Eleven more or less independent chiefs were recognised in Leinster, where the concentration of power had not proceeded as far as in Ulster. There was surprisingly little good land in Leinster, and most of this was in one band perhaps twenty miles wide, curving inland from Dublin to the west of the Wicklow Mountains, and curving back to meet the sea at Wexford. Three of the five suffragan dioceses assigned to Dublin, Kildare, Leighlin and Ferns were in this belt, the other two being Glendalough, an ancient monastery, and Ossory.

             These rulers of the badlands were no more unruly or warlike than the great feudal families in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe. Among their woods and bogs and broken hilly country they were surprisingly difficult for anyone, whether Gaelic chief or Norman earl to dislodge. They may have been little different from bandits, surviving on cattle-raiding and blackmail, but there was little anyone could do about them. In this century the dominant force in Leinster was Dermot MacMurrough. The MacMurroughs of the Ui Chennselaig controlled the southern part of the fertile band, corresponding to the county of Wexford or the diocese of Ferns. As one of the leading families of Leinster they often had the title of chief of Leinster. On the death of Enna MacMurrough in 1126, Turlough O’Connor determined to reduce Leinster, like Munster and Meath to impotence. He tried successively to impose his own son, and then a chief of the Ui Dunlainge, over Leinster. Enna’s son Dermot refused to give up his claim, so Turlough O’Connor, assisted by the opportunist Tiernan O’Rourke wasted Dermot’s lands. It was something, that Dermot, still apparently in his teens, never forgot. In 1128 on the death of the Ui Chennselaig abbess of Kildare, MacMurrough's appointment was ignored and MacFaelain of Ui Faelain (Offelan) made an appointment. The Ui Failge (Offaly) contested this and war ensued and the abbess was not installed until 1132. Dermot attacked the town and abbey and had the abbess raped, and appointed a Ui Chennselaig abbess, a MacMurrough; Dermot then imposed his authority on the other Leinster chiefs, the Ui Failge ruled by O’Connor Failge (O’Connor Faly); Ui Faelain ruled by MacFaelan in N. Kildare (Furlong). By 1134, with the help of the Norse of Dublin, Dermot was firmly established in Leinster.

                 The Ui Chennselaig, from the days of Dermot mac Mael na mbo had claimed to be the rightful chiefs of Dublin and Enna MacMurrough had that title.  Dermot regarded the title as his own, calling himself King of Leinster and the Foreigners. It would seem that the wrath of Turlough O’Connor was aroused by a claim of Dermot to the pretensions of Dermot mac Mael na mbo. Dermot’s first years were devoted to securing himself against Ossory and the Ui Dunlainge, but his defeat of Conor O’Brien and his capture of Waterford in 1137 secured him recognition as a power in Munster. He was inclined to favour the O’Briens over the MacCarthys. For most of his life he was only a secondary player, but he pursued his own policies in Munster and Meath. In 1137 turned north, and made a treaty of mutual assistance with Murrough O’Mellaghlin, whose daughter Devorgilla, was to marry Tiernan O'Rourke. He took hostages from the O’Tooles, one of whom was Laurence the future Archbishop, and married Mor, Laurence’s sister. In 1138 O’Mellaghlin called of Dermot’s assistance when O’Connor, O’Rourke, and O’Carroll attacked Meath. Dermot and O’Mellaghlin gathered their forces; O’Connor withdrew (Furlong). MacMurrough’s action on this occasion merely postponed the partition of Meath. In 1140 Dermot savagely crushed an attempted uprising in north Leinster blinding, in accordance with current practice, 17 of his chief opponents. He had no further trouble in Leinster for a quarter of a century. In 1142 he was forced to give hostages to O’Connor. In 1151 he was with O’Connor at the great battle at Moin Mor where the O’Briens were disastrously defeated. Furlong notes that this was Dermot’s first participation in a major battle. Much of his life was spent trying to out-manoeuvre O’Rourke for the spoils of Meath. Dermot joined the Church reformers, introduced new religious orders and got a letter of thanks from St Bernard of Clairvaux. He was no worse than the other chiefs and kings of his time. In general MacMurrough allied himself with Murtagh MacLoughlin while his archenemy O’Rourke had to ally himself with O’Connor. He was virtually untouchable while MacLoughlin was alive but on the death of the latter in 1166 he became vulnerable.

            Dublin had lost its independence, but not its importance. Each of those who claimed the overlordship of Ireland also claimed to be the ruler of Dublin or claimed the right to appoint him. The Norse fleet of Dublin was probably still the most powerful in Ireland. Dublin was not the only trading port, for Waterford and Wexford to mention the most important traded directly with Britain. Norse chiefs were again established in Dublin from about 1127 when the O’Briens and MacMurroughs failed to impose chiefs. It was said that Dermot MacMurrough’s father, Enna mac Donough MacMurrough, chief of Leinster, was murdered by the citizens of Dublin in 1126 and buried along with a dog. It was to take Dermot over fifty years before he could avenge his father.

            Munster was now divided between the two rival families contending for the overlordship of Munster, the MacCarthys (Eoganacht Caisil) and the O’Briens (Dal Cais). The MacCarthys had been expelled from their centre of power in north Munster, but the O’Briens failed at this time to occupy and hold the land. Only later in the Middle Ages did offshoots of the O’Briens, the O’Mulryans and the O’Kennedys wrest the land from the Butlers. These lands in north Munster were allotted by the crown to various Norman lords at the end of the century, as were the lands of the collapsed Ui Fidgente that the O’Briens had failed to secure. The O’Brien chiefs who followed Brian Boru seem to have had a very narrow powerbase. Though they extended the lands they controlled directly or indirectly in the Middle Ages they never were more than a secondary chiefdom.

            The Eoganacht Caisil, like the O’Briens and the Ui Neill, were gradually swallowing up those minor clans adjacent to them. In Thomond the O’Briens were continuing to grab the lands of the tuatha around them, and gradually they and their sub-families came to own and occupy county Clare. They also took over the little chiefdom that formed the diocese of Kilfenora. They contended with the O’Flahertys for control of the Aran Islands. Later in the Middle Ages they had a common frontier with the Norman Burkes of Connaught. The great dispute in Munster was between the O’Briens and MacCarthys, and in Munster at least the policy, inaugurated by King John, of keeping the main contenders apart worked permanently.           

            In Connaught there was no change. The O’Connors were dominant, and they pursued their ambition to rule the whole of Ireland. There was an unexpected revival of the fortunes of the Ui Briuin Breifne. The last of the O’Rourke overchiefs of Connaught was Donal mac Tiernan O’Rourke (1098-1102). Rory (Ruaidri, Roderick) O’Connor, son of Turlough, was accepted as over-chief, and immediately imprisoned three of his brothers and blinded one of them. He then took hostages from the O’Briens. Rory tried to emulate his father in the rest of Ireland, but was checked by Murtagh MacLoughlin. The O’Connors kept the overlordship for the next century despite all the efforts of the O’Rourkes. [Top]

Ireland After 1166

Lords of Ireland

Henry of Anjou 1172-76

Richard I Lionheart, 1189-99, son of Henry (feudal overlord)

John Lackland 1176-1216, son of Henry 

Kings of England

Henry II 1154-1189, Henry Fitzempress of Anjou (Plantagenet)

Richard I Lionheart, 1189-99, son of Henry

John Lackland 1199-1216, son of Henry. [Top]


Background to the Coming of the Normans

Changes there were, but Gaelic society was always changing by introducing changes from abroad. Gaelic society was evolving towards a feudal structure, and the greater Gaelic chiefs saw great benefits for themselves in promoting this change. To be able to hold land in perpetuity, to have the succession to the chiefdom from father to son, to have all the minor chiefs as subinfeudatory tenants, appealed to the Gaelic provincial chiefs. Henry, and the Normans respected the rights of all the Gaelic chiefs, whether they had submitted to Henry or not, and there is no doubt that Henry and John wished to regard all of the chiefs, Norman and Gael, as equal subjects.

Nor did the Gaelic chiefs have any wish to get rid of the Normans. The were prepared to recognise Strongbow as the chief of Leinster, and de Lacy as the chief of Meath, to have them as allies, to marry their daughters or sisters to them, to grant them lands in return for services, provided only the Normans recognised the Gaelic chief as his over-chief. Their attitude towards the Normans seems no different to their attitude to the later Scottish gallowglasses from Scotland. If Henry wanted to remain over-chief of Tara it was up to him to establish his rule in the traditional manner, by conquering all the chiefs in turn.

It is not clear how many actual foreigners monks, clerics, or laymen, came to Ireland in the twelfth century before the military invasion of the Normans. The example of Mellifont shows that monks could be sent abroad to be trained. But no doubt there was quite a number. There would also be a number of merchants and craftsmen. Much legal, clerical, and administrative work in the courts of the chiefs would have been done by clerics, and all correspondence with foreigners which required a fluent knowledge of written and spoken Latin. These were not necessarily high-ranking clerics; they might for example have received only the tonsure or short clerical haircut.  Some of these too may have either have been foreigners or received some training abroad.

What is surprising is that the Irish chiefs were so slow in seeking the assistance of the knights and men-at-arms. These would have to be paid in land, but as the land would have been seized from somebody else that did not count. Soon after this the Irish chiefs began the policy, which was to last for centuries, of employing mercenaries from Scotland, the gallowglasses. As it was, the Normans were established in Wales and Scotland for a hundred years before they ventured into Ireland. The chief who eventually asked for their assistance was one of those on the east coast.

When he made the first move the pattern that had been established in Scotland and Wales for a hundred years quickly established itself, and most of the chiefs, or sub-chiefs, sought their help. The advantages of bringing in the Normans were so great, that it is again surprising that it had not been tried before. There were little towns in Ireland, founded by the Vikings, though the local chiefs controlled all of them that survived. But William the Lion in Scotland recognised the need to establish proper towns with proper charters, organised and controlled by guilds of merchant to systematically develop crafts, markets, and trade, and to introduce feudal law and custom to the countryside to promote and develop agriculture to produce and export surplus production. In Wales the marcher lords did likewise. When John de Courci moved into Ulster the transformation was put into place immediately. Fifteen boroughs with markets, not all successful, were established in an area amounting to about half of the present counties of Antrim and Down. Skilled craftsmen moved in from England. So the mystery remains why was this not done earlier?

In the general rush to get Norman alliances and assistance the O’Neills of Tyrone seem to have been unusual, resisting intermarriage, the assistance of Norman troops, the introduction of towns, and the development of agriculture to produce a marketable surplus. But the ruling families were succeeding well with the existing system at least by their own traditional standards. They succeeded in conquering most of the unimproved lands in mid-Ulster, being themselves largely invulnerable to invasions. Their standard of living might be very low, and the lives of the cultivators of the soil utterly miserable. But they were satisfied with their success and saw no reason to share it with outsiders who might become greedy. This mentality was probably the common one in Ireland before the arrival of the Normans. But when one chief made the break, most of the others rushed to join him. 

[1166] There was no particular reason why the year 1166, the year Murtagh MacLoughlin died, should have marked a turning point in Irish history. Had there been a powerful successor to Murtagh MacLoughlin in the North matters would have been very different. Or if Rory O’Connor had been as significant a warrior as Murtagh MacLoughlin or Turlough O’Connor and able to crush the small Norman forces, history also would have been different. But in the five years between 1166 and 1171 the course of Irish history and the development of Irish society changed dramatically.

. In Connaught, the O’Connors were supreme, but for adventures outside their province depended on the support of Breifne. The O’Connors had one great advantage. Dynastic disputes following the death of Turlough O’Connor in 1156 were quickly, if brutally, settled and his son Rory was soon the undisputed master of Connaught. Rory proceeded to do what anyone with pretensions to establishing a permanent kingship in Ireland had to do, and that was to split the opposition in the other provinces (Curtis 46). In Munster the O’Briens and MacCarthys neutralised each other, and Rory confirmed both in their respective areas. Cormac MacCarthy remained chief of Desmond. In Thomond Turlough O’Brien died in 1167 and was succeeded by his son Murtagh O’Brien in 1167 and by Donal O’Brien in 1168.

In the North the dispute between the MacLoughlins and O’Neills allowed chiefs of second rank in Ulster, Oriel, and Breifne a rather unusual freedom to expand. (Donough O’Carroll was murdered in 1186 and Oriel ceased to be important.) Murtagh MacLoughlin was succeeded in 1166 by his son Conor, who was deposed in 1167, and was succeeded by his brother Niall MacLoughlin who was forced by Rory O’Connor to share the chiefdom with Aed O’Neill from the rival branch at Tullaghogue. This was Aed im Macaem Toinlesc which has been translated as Hugh the Lazy-arsed youth (Burke). Whatever about the nickname he was a vigorous warrior, and restored the fortunes of the O’Neill branch

 In Meath, the O’Mellaghlins (Clann Cholmain), riven by disputes, had sunk to second rank. Rory partitioned Meath between O’Mellaghlin and O’Rourke. In Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, also profiting by disputes and divisions had raised the provincial status of Leinster, but Rory had plans to partition that province as well. Dermot had depended on support from the MacLoughlins. Tiernan O’Rourke’s great ambition in life was to get as much of the O’Mellaghlin lands as he could. He also wished to avenge himself on MacMurrough, something he had never been able to do when Murtagh MacLoughlin was alive.

As it was, Rory O’Connor, over-chief of Connaught since 1156 became the over-chief of Tara in 1166, and the MacLoughlins no longer protected MacMurrough in Leinster. Rory was inaugurated as high king of Ireland in Dublin, the first time that city was used for the ceremony, and which indicated the growing importance of that city. On MacLoughlin’s death, the chiefs of north Leinster revolted against MacMurrough, who could only rely on the Ui Chennselaig. Dermot submitted to O’Connor, but Tiernan O’Rourke was intent on getting his revenge. He intended at least blinding MacMurrough (Furlong). He and Dermot O’Mellaghlin marched into Leinster, aided by a revolt of the Norse of Dublin and the chiefs of north Leinster, Offelan and O’Connor Faly. The MacLoughlins were involved in a succession dispute.  Up to this MacMurrough had relied on support either from Munster or Ulster, but it was not forthcoming at this point. So he sought assistance in England

            Dermot's decision to invoke the assistance of the Norman knights was the act that provoked a flood of Normans into Ireland, the intervention of the king of England to control them, and the establishment of central Irish government on the latest continental model in Dublin. But it is now recognised that it was only a matter of time when the Normans came. For them one pretext was as good as another. [Top]

The Coming of the Normans           

The sequence of events between the departure of Dermot MacMurrough to Bristol in August 1166 to the departure of Henry II from Ireland in April 1172 was as follows. The isolated Dermot goes to England, follows Henry to France, returns to England, recruits in Wales, and returns quietly to Wexford with a handful of Normans and Flemings in August 1167. He spent the winter quietly in the Augustinian monastery in Ferns, and in 1168 was forced again to submit to Rory O’Connor, who left in possession of the ten cantreds of Ui Chennselaig. In May 1169, the first major group of the Normans arrived led by the ‘brood of Nesta’. With these, Dermot is able to capture Wexford, and to conquer Ossory and most of north Leinster. Rory O’Connor again led an army against him, but Dermot again submitted, and promised to dismiss the Normans. In May 1170 Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Striguil known as Strongbow, arrived with a powerful following and Dermot was able to take Dublin. As promised, Dermot married his daughter to Strongbow. O’Connor again advanced but seeing the Normans in possession of Dublin, which he did not wish to besiege, withdrew for the year. Dermot took the opportunity to settle scores with Offelan and Offaly, and then ravaged all of Tiernan O’Rourke’s land before returning to Ferns for the winter, leaving the Normans to hold Dublin. In the spring of 1171, Henry II recalled all the Norman knights, but Strongbow dissuaded him. MacMurrough died unexpectedly in May, leaving Strongbow as his heir. As usual, the families of north Leinster revolted while Rory O’Connor gathered an army to besiege Dublin. The Normans won an unexpected victory over O’Connor, and the revolt against Strongbow collapsed. King Henry arrived in October 1171 confirmed Strongbow in his wife’s lands, namely Leinster, but not in the Viking towns, made arrangements to prevent Strongbow becoming too powerful, received the submission of many of the Gaelic chiefs and departed in April 1172.

Once again we have to issue a warning about sources, or lack of them. The outlines of the story are well known. Besides the snippets of information given in the Annals there are two almost contemporary accounts. Both are from the Norman side, one given by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald de Barri, a fitz William fitz Gerald, who belonged to the ‘brood of Nesta’ on his mother’s side) and the other a Poem in Norman French translated as Dermot and the Earl (Roche). It follows that there is room for considerable speculation, especially about motives.

[August 1166] In August 1166 Dermot sailed to Bristol to consult the Robert Fitzharding the portreeve of Bristol with whom he had connections. Whether Dermot had intended seeking the permission of Henry II before he started may be doubtful, but the portreeve would have told him it was very advisable. Henry was not interested in Ireland at this stage and made no attempt to accommodate Dermot. Meanwhile O’Rourke slighted Dermot's palace fortress at Ferns (Fearna), Dermot's brother Murrough was made chief of the Ui Chennselaig, and Donal MacGillapatrick, the chief of Ossory was given lands in south Leinster and the custody of Dermot's son.

            [Spring and summer 1167] MacMurrough had to follow the king as far as Gascony and it was well into 1167 before he caught up with him and paid feudal homage to him. Henry would not go to Ireland himself but allowed Dermot to recruit among the knights in Wales. Dermot returned to Bristol where Fitzharding advised him to approach Richard de Clare, Earl of Striguil, known as Strongbow. Dermot promised him his daughter's hand and the right of succession to the chiefdom of Leinster, which Dermot would have called a kingdom. Strongbow would doubtless have been useful if he could actually be persuaded to come and bring his followers, but it seems he only promised to come if nothing better turned up, or if the king gave his permission. As an earl he would have had to get personal permission from a suspicious Henry. Strongbow knew too that Dermot's licence was to recruit knights and such like, not earls. Meanwhile he took care to be represented by his nephew Hervey de Monte Marisco (Mountmaurice). Dermot also went to see Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys, the Welsh chief in South Wales, who had Robert fitz Stephen in his hold. Rhys agreed to release him if he went with Dermot to Ireland. Others of the ‘brood of Nesta’ joined Robert. Robert fitz Stephen and Maurice fitz Gerald were to receive the (Norse) town of Wexford and two adjacent cantreds or parts of tuatha.

            In the course of 1167 Rory had assembled as many of the chiefs and bishops as he could from the northern half of Ireland, including O’Mellaghlin, O’Rourke, O’Carroll, and Ragnal, chiefs of the Danes of Dublin and got them to recognise his claim.

In August 1167 Dermot MacMurrough returned to Ireland accompanied by a small group of Normans, Welsh, and Fleming settlers in Wales under Richard fitz Godebert de la Roche, and displaced his brother. (Roche, who remarks that his ancestor was among the very first of the Normans to arrive, 53).

[1168]  Rory O’Connor, probably returning from Munster which he again partitioned  between the O’Briens and MacCarthys, fought two battles and taking hostages, was content to let Dermot hold the traditional Ui Chennselaig lands to the extent of 10 cantreds in south Leinster. He also allowed him to retain the chieftainship of the Ui Chennselaig .These lands were made directly subject to O’Connor. In fact, O’Connor was making the Ui Chennselaig lands into a quasi-feudal fiefdom, as was the growing practice of the Gaelic chiefs of the period. Dermot had to give up his claim to Leinster and to Dublin and Waterford, which Dermot was unwilling to do. Dermot recognised Rory’s claims to the high kingship of Ireland, and gave hostages. He was however only biding his time until the Normans could come from Wales.

Rory held the Aonach or general meeting at Taillten (Telltown) with the usual games, and it was for the last time. Adjudicating between MacMurrough and O’Rourke he said that Dermot must pay 100 ounces of gold as an eric because of the abduction of his wife.  Besides the award to O’Rourke from MacMurrough, Rory decreed Dermot O’Mellaghlin should pay a compensation of eight hundred cows to O’Carroll. O’Mellaghlin's people paid the compensation and promptly deposed O’Mellaghlin. Donal Bregach O’Mellaghlin replaced him in 1169. Clann Cholmain had descended into internecine strife just as the greatest threat ever was about to engulf them. Rory was doing, what anyone who wished to be king of Ireland had to do, namely splitting the opposition in the other provinces

.           Rory was now unopposed in Connaught, and the opposition was divided in the other four provinces, so there was nobody in a position to oppose him. There was no reason to believe that this state of affairs would not last, and Rory devoted his attention to ecclesiastical affairs. He granted in 1169 ten cows a year to the lector of Armagh, said to have been the first endowment for education in Ireland

            Donal O’Brien succeeded his brother  Murtagh who was chief of the O’Briens for only one year when the MacCarthys murdered him in 1168. He was determined to restore the fortunes of the O’Briens, and was known as Donal Mor (the Great) O’Brien. He married a daughter of Dermot MacMurrough. To overcome the MacCarthys he had first to shake off the control of the O’Connors. The ruler of Ossory, Donal MacGillapatrick then blinded Dermot's son whom he was holding as a hostage, thus ensuring that he would be the first to be attacked when Dermot was established. The promised help from Wales still had not arrived. 

            [May 1169] Finally, in May 1169 Robert fitz Stephen arrived at Bannow in County Wexford. Fitz Stephen had only 390 men with him, among whom were his nephews Robert de Barry, Meiler fitz Henry, and Miles fitz David. Maurice de Prendergast joined him the following day with a force consisting chiefly of Flemings, most of whom were archers. These latter were a very useful addition to the force. Dermot gathered several hundred men and they attacked  and took Wexford. Then he attacked and neutralised Ossory before proceeding to deal with north Leinster. Dermot had a personal grudge against MacGillapatrick for the blinding of his son. At this time Dermot still ruled only the ten cantreds or tuatha around Ferns allowed to him by O’Connor. (Presumably, here cantred was used as a direct translation of tuath, though in grants of land to the Normans we would expect the Welsh usage to prevail.) He went north and recaptured most of north Leinster. Rory led a strong army against him, exacted a promise to send back the Normans and not to bring in more foreigners as soon as Leinster was subdued, and took his son and grandson hostages. The leniency with which Rory O’Connor dealt with Dermot seems to indicate that he had a personal regard for him, and also that he wished to see him restored to the overchieftainship of Leinster as a counterbalance or alternative ally to Tiernan O’Rourke. Dermot however still wanted to get Dublin back.

            Dermot also lent some of the Norman troops  under Robert fitz Stephen to assist his son-in-law Donal O’Brien in Munster. who wished to attack the MacCarthys, but had to fight off an incursion by Rory O’Connor first. Rory’s attack was not particularly effective, and the Normans enabled O’Brien to defy O’Connor. There is no reason to believe that Dermot wanted particularly to defy O’Connor, or to take the field personally against him.

Questions raise themselves, why did Rory O’Connor attempt to banish the Normans from Ireland, and who counselled him so to do? The genie was out of the bottle and there was no way it could be put back. Why did he not offer bigger rewards to them? Had he done so as the Scottish kings had done, he could have established a really powerful and modern kingship, centred possibly on the largest and richest town, Dublin. 

            [May 1170] Emboldened by his easy success in getting back Leinster, Dermot next wished to recapture Dublin, and may even have considered that with more Norman help he could attain the highkingship himself. How seriously he entertained this ambition we do not know. He may have just being holding a tempting bait before Strongbow. Neither he nor Strongbow made practical moves to get more than Leinster. Both he and Strongbow were quite elderly. He urged Strongbow to come quickly. Strongbow preferred to regain the favour of Henry II, and was only stung into action when Henry taunted him that if he wanted lands he could get them in Ireland (Furlong).

 Strongbow sent on Raymond le Gros fitz Gerald, who came in May 1170 followed by Hervey de Monte Marisco. The Norse of Waterford and the O’Phelans of the Decies (Deisi) attacked Raymond’s camp at Baginbun. 'At the creek of Baginbun, Ireland was lost and won' Their territories had for a long time been claimed by Dermot, so presumably they considered a pre-emptive strike advisable. Strongbow came himself then came on 23 August 1170. The attack on the Norman camp was beaten off, Waterford was captured on 25 August. Only then did Dermot come to the assistance of the Normans who had been besieged at Baginbun since May. It would seem that Dermot was carefully considering his options, and if Strongbow had not decided to come he would have backed Rory O’Connor. Strongbow married Dermot's daughter Aoife as promised. Dermot was now able to consider a frontal attack on the walls of Dublin. Raymond le Gros and Miles de Cogan captured the town, and the Norse chief Asculf and his followers escaped in their ships. This provoked a response from Rory O’Connor saying that the terms of the agreement had been breached, and Rory, at the instigation of O’Rourke, killed the hostages Dermot had given, including Dermot’s youngest son. Rory marched against Dublin, but as the Norse had begun to seek terms he did not follow up the attack.  Donal O’Brien was considered a greater priority.

Dermot had other scores to settle. He dealt with the Ui Faelain (Offelan) branch of the Ui Dunlainge in north Leinster. Immediately he  proceeded to attack O’Rourke's newly acquired lands in Meath, the ostensible reason being to  assist Donal Bregagh O’Mellaghlin who submitted to him in 1170. In 1137 Dermot had made a treaty with Murrough O’Mellaghlin pledging to assist him against an army of equal power, provided he was left undisturbed in possession of Ui Faelain (Offelan) and Ui Failge (Offaly=the baronies of East and West Offaly in Kildare.) The assassination of Conor MacLoughlin in the cathedral precincts of Armagh, showed Dermot that no help could yet be expected from that direction. O’Connor withdrew without fighting  but Dermot followed up the campaign, ravaging Breifne aided by the new O’Carroll, Murrough, of Oriel. Most people had scores to settle with Tiernan O’Rourke. O’Carroll and Donal, the chief of Brega, gave hostages to Dermot and recognised him as overlord. From the list of places more or less in a line ravaged by Dermot, beginning with the monasteries of Clonard and Kells, we may conclude that O’Rourke had established himself as overlord of Meath as far south as the Boyne. It was a simple cattle raid as far as Breifne and back.

 He then retired to Leinster for the winter. Dublin was provided with a garrison under Miles de Cogan, while Strongbow went to Waterford, now threatened by Dermot McCarthy, who apparently also had designs on Waterford. Wexford had been consigned to the care of Robert fitz Stephen. Nothing is recounted of the last six months of Dermot’s life. We might suspect that he had suffered a stroke, but this is not mentioned. [Top] 

The King’s Reaction 

            [Spring 1171] Before they could act the following year Henry II commanded all the Norman knights to return to England by Easter 1171. Strongbow sent Raymond le Gros to Henry to surrender all his conquests to the king. Then on 1 May 1171 Dermot died.

            Before Dermot died he had recovered his chiefdom of Leinster, captured Wexford, Waterford, and Dublin, neutralised Ossory, subdued the rival clans in north Leinster, talked his way out of confrontation with O’Connor, launched a successful foray into O’Rourke's lands, and established control over Ui Faelain and Ui Failge the two unruly border chiefdoms in north Leinster.

            By Dermot’s death comparatively little Gaelic land had changed hands. Two cantreds of largely wasteland had been granted in Wexford, and the Normans instead of the Norse controlled the towns of Dublin, Wexford, and Waterford. Strongbow had married Dermot's daughter and had been promised the right of succession. Much has been made by the purists in the supposed Brehon Law that Dermot had no right to confer  his chiefdom in this fashion. But there is no reason to suppose that Dermot was doing more than indicating his preference and placing him in the best position to secure the chiefdom for himself. If the other claimants thought they would make a better chief they could assert their belief in the traditional manner. Gaelic chiefs by the twelfth century had found the means of keeping the succession normally within the ruling family, just as the Angevins did.

            Thomas a Becket was murdered at the very end of December 1170. At about the same time news was brought to Henry of the success of the Earl of Pembroke in Ireland, and indeed of the probability that Dermot  and Strongbow his adopted heir would overthrow Rory O’Connor and establish themselves as masters of Ireland. His  first order requiring all the Norman knights to return to England by Easter on pain of forfeiture of their lands would seem to indicate that Henry had no intention of pursuing his claim to Ireland under the terms of Hadrian’s Bull. Strongbow sent Raymond le Gros fitz Gerald to France to see  Henry. The king accepted Strongbow's offer of the surrender of his lands, and decided to leave him in possession of Dermot's chiefdom. Henry's decision was not made until July 1171, long after Easter, at Argentan in Normandy. He decided to go to Ireland himself, a decision which may have been prompted chiefly by a wish to avoid the papal legates approaching from Pope Alexander III with instructions to lay his lands under interdict, a prohibition of celebrating the sacraments. He may also have been influenced by an appeal from some persons in Ireland to intervene personally. At any event he sent back Hervey de Monte Marisco to Strongbow to inform him of his decision. Before setting out for Ireland he ordered  that all clerics coming from the Continent should be prevented from landing. By August he was in Portsmouth and by September he was in Pembroke.

            [Summer 1171] Meanwhile in Ireland, Strongbow had to deal with the troubles in Leinster and in the rest of Ireland that followed the death of Dermot. He asked Fitz Stephen to transfer some of his  forces from Wexford to Dublin to face O’Connor  Though Strongbow declared himself chief, the north Leinster chiefs naturally refused to accept him. So too did most of the Ui Chennselaig  led by Murrough MacMurrough, Dermot's nephew, who expected and got the chieftainship himself. Only Donal Cavanagh an illegitimate son of Dermot, supported Strongbow. Strongbow alienated more people in Leinster by appointing his own officials. It is far from clear how much opposition there was to Strongbow within Leinster, and within the Ui Chennselaig, but we can assume that it fluctuated as various rumours were carried about. There was no doubt that Strongbow intended introducing some Norman law and practices.

            Four separate attacks on Strongbow and his supporters developed. Dublin was attacked by the Norse with assistance from Man and the Scottish Isles and was beaten off. Then Rory O’Connor gathered an immense army and advanced against Dublin. Murrough MacMurrough, Dermot's brother, at least part of the Ui Chennselaig and the chiefs of north Leinster advanced with the high king. The Norse of Waterford assisted by Dermot McCarthy re-took Waterford that was probably largely denuded of defenders. The Norse of Wexford attacked Robert fitz Stephen in Wexford. Fitz Stephen had built a small defensible fort at Carrig about two miles outside Wexford, and this he held with five knights and some archers (with presumably some local troops and hangers-on) while the main body of his force was  sent under his half-brother Maurice fitz Gerald and his nephew Raymond fitz Gerald to assist Strongbow.

            Rory O’Connor proceeded to attack the main Norman force in Dublin where Strongbow, expecting the attack had concentrated it.. With O’Connor were O’Brien of Thomond,  Murrough O’Carroll of Oriel, Murrough MacMurrough of Leinster, and of course Tiernan O’Rourke. We can assume that all the chiefs of Connaught were with Rory, but that Donal O’Brien only attended because he was forced. Absent were the O’Neills, MacLoughlins, and MacCarthys. Ansculf's premature attack had been driven off, but the Norse chief of Man was still blockading the port, and in any case Henry had forbidden any more Normans to proceed to Ireland. Strongbow's decision to defend Dublin rather than to advance against O’Connor as the Normans preferred was probably due to the fact that he dared do nothing to anger Henry II. He also knew that the Gaels knew nothing about attacking walled towns, and that a large army could only be kept in one place for a short time before food and fuel ran out. Dublin was loosely surrounded for two months, enough to prevent supplies getting in. According to one account the Gaelic cavalry burned the crops in north Leinster, a report which is likely to be true. The siege lasted two months and food was getting short. Donal Cavanagh slipped in bringing news that Fitz Stephen was being besieged outside Wexford. Strongbow sent a message to Rory offering to hold Leinster under him, but this offer was rejected. Maurice fitz Gerald was  anxious to get back to Wexford to assist his half-brother Robert fitz Stephen, and proposed that the Normans sally out and fight in the open. About ninety mounted knights and others, probably mostly archers, to a total of about six hundred sallied out and attacked the dispersed forces of the Gaelic chiefs. Rory's host melted away. It is  said that Rory and his entourage were bathing in the river and every man grabbed his garment  and fled (Hayes-McCoy).

            This battle transformed the whole situation. The fitz Geralds  claimed that if  they had been left alone they would have conquered all Ireland. Their first objective was to relieve Robert fitz Stephen, but he, deceived by a report sworn by two Gaelic bishops that Dublin had been taken by O’Connor, had surrendered. When Maurice fitz Gerald approached they took their prisoners to a small island and threatened to murder them if attacked. Strongbow and Maurice did not attack, but garrisoned Wexford and Waterford, both apparently abandoned by their occupiers.  Both Donal O’Brien and Strongbow were married to daughters of Dermot MacMurrough, and together they now attacked MacGillapatrick of Ossory. Maurice fitz Gerald had already sent assistance  to Donal O’Brien against O’Connor, though O’Brien had felt it prudent to muster with O’Connor earlier in the summer. He was now back assisting Strongbow, who also had a shared grievance against the MacCarthys. MacGillapatrick asked for terms. Then Murrough MacMurrough did likewise. Murrough was confirmed as chief of the Ui Chennselaig with presumably the lands about Ferns, in return for recognising Strongbow as over-chief of Leinster. Donal Cavanagh was granted the pleas of Leinster, which seems to mean he was made Strongbow’s seneschal for the rest of Leinster. Strongbow's own main strongholds and sources of revenue were the three towns, a sign of how things were changing in Ireland. Also it would seem that Strongbow had seized lands in Kildare probably  from a branch of  the  Ui Dunlainge like the O’Tooles. He certainly had a territorial base in north Leinster separate from the Ui Chennselaig lands around Ferns in south Leinster. Miles de Cogan was again made constable of Dublin. Doubtless this was a post with considerable emoluments.

            At this point Hervey de Monte Marisco returned saying that Henry was coming to Ireland, and was summoning Strongbow to meet him in England. Strongbow appointed Gilbert de Borard constable of Waterford and went to meet Henry, finding him in Gloucestershire. Again Strongbow surrendered all his lands and cities into the king's hands. Henry restored his lands in Normandy, England, and Wales, but not the Irish towns. He allowed him Leinster, which was considered to be his wife's dowry, and not the result of conquest. The charter by which Strongbow received Leinster as a feudal fief with the obligation to provide the service of a hundred knights has not survived, but it must have existed. Also there, were Murrough MacMurrough and the Norse of Wexford, claiming to hold the felon fitz Stephen whom they wished to hand over to the king. Henry promised to deal sternly with fitz Stephen for them. There is little doubt too that all or most of the Gaelic chiefs and bishops sent representatives to meet Henry in England with a view to protecting themselves, and this role of protector Henry was willing to assume. Nevertheless, Henry led a full feudal host complete with siege equipment to Ireland, prepared to deal with Gael and Norman alike. He probably had little doubt about the cautious Strongbow, who besides his circumspect nature had much land to loose, but more about the able and impetuous brood of Nesta who had little to lose and much to gain by defying the king. Getting possession of fitz Stephen would provide a useful way of controlling them. He assembled five hundred knights, over three thousand archers and men-at-arms. Those feudal tenants not accompanying the king paid scutage so that Henry could proceed as if cost were no obstacle.

            [October 1171] Henry's chief objective was to prevent any of his subjects acquiring too much land in Ireland so that he became unmanageable. To this end he had to provide a counterbalance in the form of Hugh de Lacy, with lands in Meath, and established a government in Ireland, subject to his own control to maintain the balance. He was prepared to accept the Gaelic chiefs nominally as feudal tenants, though he had no intention of imposing feudal law on them, provided they did not attack any of his possessions, or any of the lands held from the crown. It was in Henry's interest that the Gaelic chiefs should confine their fighting to among themselves. In July he dispatched his steward William fitz Aldhelm to Ireland to act as his representative until he could come himself,

            Henry arrived in Waterford on 17th October 1171. Strongbow did homage for his wife's lands and received them as a feudal fief. It was the first instance of 'surrender and re-grant' whereby a chief surrendered a traditional Gaelic title and received the corresponding title and all its legal implications from the king. Strongbow was not given a new title, but only the lands of his wife to add to his existing lands. He was not allowed to keep Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford, for Henry wanted those for the support of his own government. The king appointed Robert Fitzbernard as constable of Waterford, and on his departure from Ireland, Hugh de Lacy as constable of Dublin and king's representative supported by a council. Robert fitz Stephen was handed over to the king and cast into prison. Fitz Stephen and Maurice fitz Gerald were deprived of their cantreds. William fitz Aldhelm was made constable of Wexford. Strongbow however later gave fitz Gerald the middle cantred of Offelan, around Naas in Kildare.       

After Strongbow from Leinster, came Dermot McCarthy of South Munster (Desmond) who did homage and swore fealty, and gave hostages for the regular payment of a yearly tribute. Donal O’Brien of North Munster (Thomond) likewise submitted at Cashel. The king then placed garrisons of his own in Cork and Limerick. Henry advanced towards Dublin and received the submission of various chiefs of Leinster, and of O’Rourke and O’Carroll. Chiefs who submitted to him then or later were reinvested with their lands. Neither O’Connor, MacLoughlin, nor O’Neill submitted.

 In Dublin, he granted the city to the men of Bristol with a charter similar to that of Bristol, but there is no evidence that the men of Bristol were particularly numerous among the new inhabitants of the city. Henry called a synod of the Irish Church that met at Cashel, and there the bishops swore fealty to him. It was presided over by Giolla Chriost O’Conarchy, the disciple of Malachy who had trained as a monk in Clairvaux, became first abbot of Mellifont, and then bishop of Lismore, and former papal legate. It would seem that tithes were adopted as the chief means of providing for the Church. The Use of Sarum was to be adopted in the whole of Ireland, though it probably had been widely adopted before then (Dolley 69). He sent two members of his household, Hugh de Lacy and William fitz Aldhelm to Rory O’Connor, but the latter did not offer his submission. He also established a royal government in Dublin based on the model of the government of England. The re-building of the cathedral in Dublin, now called Christ Church, commenced in 1173. Because of the news of a rebellion being fomented by his eldest son Henry, he returned to England in April 1172. Before departing he made a feudal grant of lands in Meath to Hugh de Lacy of Herefordshire who had come over with Henry at the service of 50 knight’s fees. It would seem that he did not partition Meath, but simply removed Donal Bregach O’Mellaghlin from his nominal position of provincial overchief and replaced him with Hugh de Lacy. Donal would have remained chief of the O’Mellaghlins and retained their lands. But the dues and gifts as provincial overchief would go to de Lacy if he could collect them. In other words he had to provide fifty knights to the king’s service when this was demanded. A knight’s fee varied from 10 to 20 ploughlands or townlands, each of about 120 acres of tillable land, which most of Meath was.  Henry’s aims in Ireland were to restrict the growth of the lands of Strongbow and his followers, and to show himself a loyal and zealous member of the Church by holding a reforming synod. Raymond le Gros, the ablest leader among the Normans, returned to England.

 It is remarkable what he did not do. He placed his own men in charge of the Norse lands to prevent the Normans exploiting them. He also, following the example of the Irish high kings, put his own ruler into Meath, to keep out either Strongbow, O’Connor, or O’Rourke. De Lacy, like Strongbow, would hold the provincial chieftainship, but as a feudal tenant-in-chief. Whether he left the lesser Irish chiefs in their places, or whether he made grants of land to his own followers was immaterial, so long as he maintained 50 loyal knights. Donal Bregach simply ignored Henry’s dispositions. Henry does not seem to have officially appointed anyone to overall charge, but rather left de Lacy and Strongbow in the position of marcher lords, each responsible for his own district. Even when he later got round to appointing a chief representative, he was called merely a procurator. A procurator was a fiscal officer, responsible chiefly for seeing that the dues to the king were promptly paid, and reporting to the king if they were not. He would have had overall responsibility for overseeing the constables of the towns. Though it is possible that de Lacy was appointed justiciar briefly. Responsibility for law and order, justice etc, and defence of the boundaries would have lain with the local feudal lords, like de Lacy, Strongbow, MacCarthy or O’Brien. There is little doubt that Henry intended returning frequently to Ireland, perhaps ever two or three years. (Some regard Hugh de Lacy as a justiciar in 1172-3 even though he was only a procurator from 1177 to 1181. It is more likely that justiciars properly so called commenced in 1185 when Prince John was made Lord of Ireland.) [Top]

The First Years of Henry’s Lordship (1172 – 1176)

            [April 1172] De Lacy had to proceed gradually with the subinfeudation, starting with Norse county Dublin, and then dealing with Brega and finally dealing with the lands of Clann Cholmain. Subinfeudation in itself would not amount to an enormous amount of land, as most of the townlands would remain with their original cultivators, and the traditional contributions and exactions to the local chiefs would be made to the knight. The exact social standing of the knight is not clear, though in most cases he would have belonged to a land-owning family in Britain or Normandy, even if he were only a younger son. The holder of a knight’s fee was called a baron, showing that words had not always arrived at their later meanings. The knight would correspond to the oglaech.

 . De Lacy was not in favour of dispossessing any Irish chiefs. Nor was Strongbow. Among the Irish the Normans were not regarded as different from the Norse, even if the spoke a different language in everyday speech. They had a common religion and a common written and spoken language in Latin. Nobody had any objection to giving their daughters to men of the other groups if there was any advantage to them in so doing. Very soon, the whole aristocracy of Ireland was of a mixed race even though in particular castles a different language was spoken.

Though the Norse chiefs or rulers of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, and Wexford were dispossessed and their cities taken directly under the royal constables the only Gaelic chief dispossessed was O’Mellaghlin, and seemingly only from the overlordship of Meath, and here Henry was not innovating. The O’Connors and MacLoughlins had been imposing their own rulers for much of the century, while O’Rourke and O’Carroll were determined to seize as much of it as they could for themselves. No doubt Dermot MacMurrough (and Strongbow) would also have seized all or part of it, as the O’Mellaghlins were clearly unable to defend it. It matters little if he was primarily concerned at keeping it out of Strongbow's or O’Connor's hands when he forestalled them and granted it to Hugh de Lacy. de Lacy would have to conquer it for himself, and hold it by subinfeudation.

 de Lacy's first grants were in the present county Dublin, and were probably Norse lands belonging to the Norse warriors who had fled. He advanced into Meath to forestall any attempt by Strongbow to take over lands claimed by Dermot MacMurrough. Tiernan O’Rourke came to him to claim lands in Meath that he had held in 1169, but was killed accidentally as the result of a quarrel (1172). He did not long survive his great rival from Leinster, and with his death the power of the O'Rourkes declined. Two small motte-and-bailey castles were built in Meath, one at Trim and the other at Duleek, obviously aimed at protecting that part of Meath from O’Rourke.  The castle of Trim was given to Hugh Tyrel. Then he was summoned to Henry in France and did not return until the death of Strongbow in 1176. The small wooden motte-and-bailey castles at Trim and  Duleek were too small to hold out against a major hosting from Connaught, and presumably were never intended to. He sub-infeudated the lands around Dublin, and later made similar grants in Meath, but not apparently before the invasion of O’Connor in 1174. Nothing was done for the moment to sub-infeudate Meath.(Some historians consider the attack on the O’Farrells of Conmaicne unwarranted and a clear case of Norman landgrabbing. The Conmaicne had been subject to Clann Cholmain for centuries, and latterly had been forcibly subjected to O’Rourke.  In seizing Conmaicne the aim was to keep out the O’Rourkes. In fact the O’Farrells came to an agreement by which they kept most of their land until the end of the Middle ages.)

            [Spring 1173]  In the spring of 1173 de Lacy and Strongbow were both summoned to assist Henry in his war in Normandy. William fitz Aldhelm was sent to act as Henry’s representative as bailiff of Dublin. Fitz Aldhelm held a synod at Waterford, and for the first time, Hadrian’s Bull Laudabiliter which gave Henry papal sanction to establish law in Ireland was published. Hervey de Monte Marisco (Herv de Mount Maurice), Strongbow’s uncle, was left in charge of Leinster in Strongbow’s absence.

            In the autumn the king appointed Strongbow as a custos or guardian, possibly also of Dublin. Most of the Norman knights were summoned to assist Henry and he then sent fitz Stephen and others to assist the king against the rebels in England. Strongbow led an expedition against Offelan in North Leinster and finally reduced it. Raymond le Gros had to be recalled and he led a plundering expedition against the Ui Failge. It was essential to prepare for a permanent strong government in Leinster, such as Dermot MacMurrough had achieved for ten years. Henry restored to him the small but useful ports of Wicklow and Wexford. He built castles of the motte-and-bailey type at New Ross, Kilkenny of Ossory, Dunamase in Ui Failge and other points. The building of these castles was something Dermot could have done years before, but the Irish tradition was simply to take hostages and murder them if there was any rebellion. Maurice fitz Gerald was made Lord of Naas. The ever-rebellious Offelan was divided between Maurice fitz Gerald, who got the middle cantred, Robert fitz Stephen, and Meiler fitz Henry. Tethmoy or Carbury was given to Robert de Birmingham. Robert de Carew received the baronies of Idrone and Forth (Ui Drona Idrone had long since been occupied by the Sil Cormaic branch of the Ui Chennselaig, only the name remaining. This does not mean that the Sil Cormaic appreciated being in turn displaced.) In Wexford, grants were made to the Prendergasts and others. By this time Strongbow was completely established in Leinster, having taken hostages of all the noble families. By the time of his death had had sub-infeudated most of Leinster, though the MacMurroughs were left with considerable parts of the Ui Chennselaig lands. MacGillapatrick was left with most of Ossory, apart from the lands assigned to the castle at Kilkenny, and the Loigse lands were largely untouched. A line was drawn between those who supported Dermot MacMurrough and Strongbow and those who opposed them. The displaced chiefs like O’Byrnes and O’Tooles had then to seize the lands of lesser chiefs in less fertile areas. The O’Tooles seized the lands of the Ui Mail, and so on.

He then led an attack on the O’Phelans of the Decies who were again advancing on Waterford. The incident which provoked his attack on the Decies was probably very slight, perhaps no more than a minor local cattle raid into the king’s lands outside Waterford, such as had taken place hundreds of times before. But it was to snowball into a general Irish attack directed at Strongbow and Leinster. Raymond quickly routed the army of Desmond that had come to assist the O’Phelans, doubtless claiming to be their overlords, and drove 4000 cattle into Waterford. A Norse fleet from Cork, doubtless assisting McCarthy, was also defeated. (This, of course, paved the way for the later grant of most of the MacCarthy land to Robert fitz Stephen and Miles de Cogan in 1177.) Minor cattle raids were no longer a summer diversion, but could have catastrophic consequences for whole dynasties.

            The defeat of McCarthy then roused his old rival Donal O’Brien to action. Late in 1173, with assistance from Rory O’Connor's son, he attacked Ossory, and the Norman garrison in the fort at Kilkenny withdrew to Waterford. At this juncture, over an unrelated issue, Raymond le Gros quarrelled with Strongbow and returned to England. Hervey de Monte Marisco was placed in charge of Strongbow's Leinster army. Though Strongbow, as custos could claim that he was acting in the royal interest it is clear that all these attacks were made on Leinster by the people who usually attacked Leinster. Strongbow was not a great warrior, and neither was Marisco. Of the brood of Nesta, Robert fitz Stephen had been called to England by Henry, while Maurice. fitz Gerald was not active. On the other side, Rory O’Connor had been inactive since the scattering of his hosting before Dublin.

            [1174]  Strongbow's counter-raid against O’Brien the following year proved a disaster and his army, commanded by Hervey de Monte Marisco, was forced back to Waterford to take shelter. Most of this army were Norse, not Normans, whose losses were therefore slight. Most of them were drawn from Dublin. Art O’Mellaghlin in 1173 murdered his brother Donal Bregach who had submitted to Dermot MacMurrough in 1169, so O’Connor moved in to re-establish his own claims and exclude de Lacy. O’Brien does not appear to have followed up his victory over the Normans that may in any case have been accomplished largely with O’Connor's assistance, so Strongbow was able to come from Waterford to repel O’Connor in Meath. Raymond le Gros had been persuaded to return, and though O’Connor  had raided almost as far as Dublin he  withdrew when the main Norman force came towards him. It would seem that O’Connor had no further objectives than to pinch out the little castles at Kilkenny, Trim, and Duleek. The Norman forces pursued, and as was usual at the time devastated the country they passed through. Art O’Mellaghlin was left undisturbed.

            It is clear from the pattern of attacks that before 1175 no attempts were made by the original Norman knights to establish themselves anywhere except in Leinster and in those adjacent territories claimed by Dermot MacMurrough. King Henry himself granted Meath to de Lacy, but on more or less the same grounds as earlier Gaelic chiefs had done. The O’Mellaghlin chief of Meath had in fact submitted to MacMurrough. Henry obviously wished, in making this grant, to prevent Strongbow making it as over-chief of Leinster to followers of his own. In any case, by sub-infeudation, a minor local chief was deprived of whatever local rights to rule that still remained with him. His lands and authority, which would not have exceeded those of a later magistrate, were simply transferred to another. His rights to the lands he occupied were probably very dubious as was usually the case of Gaelic titles to land.

            Rory O’Connor saw advantages in 1174 of submitting to Henry, but the settlement he made was nullified by his own sons both of  whom attacked their father with the assistance of Norman knights they summoned, one in 1177 and the other in 1186. He was influenced not only by the power of the Normans in Leinster and Meath, but also by the fact that Donal O’Brien had links with the Normans of Leinster even if he were temporarily fighting against them. He was liable therefore to be attacked at any time from Thomond, Leinster, and Meath. If McCarthy attacked Waterford then O’Brien would change sides again and ally himself with Leinster.

            [1175] Civil war broke out among the MacCarthys and Dermot McCarthy was deposed and was replaced by his son Cormac. Donal O’Brien seized his opportunity. He blinded some relatives who might challenge him at home and raided as far as Killarney. O’Connor promptly sought Norman help and attacked O’Brien. Raymond le Gros and Meiler fitz Henry led 700 Norman troops and Limerick was captured and garrisoned.

 O’Connor concluded a treaty with Henry at Windsor. It was agreed that O’Connor should hold his own chiefdom of Connaught under Henry as his liege and to pay a tribute for it. The other Gaelic chiefs were also to pay tribute, not  directly but through O’Connor. (This meant that they had to pay a tribute to O’Connor as well.) Leinster, Meath as held by Murrough O’Mellaghlin (i.e. before the various partitions, the whole of Clann Cholmain lands as held earlier in the century) and the Norse territories of Dublin and Waterford were to pay their tribute directly to the crown. This was the same as when Henry left Ireland but with the exception that O’Connor was allowed and encouraged to enforce the tribute in the non-reserved parts of Ireland. The principal losers in this diplomatic move were O’Brien and MacCarthy who lost the opportunity given by their early submission to Henry of paying a single tribute directly to Henry instead of a double tribute through O’Connor. The latter doubtless saw no difficulty in enforcing the tribute even in the North with the assistance of the Normans.

            [1176] Donal O’Brien again rebelled and blockaded Limerick, and Raymond relieved it. O’Brien gave hostages. Then at the request of Dermot MacCarthy he went into Desmond and restored him. Art O’Mellaghlin was left as chief of the Clann Cholmain hereditary lands in Westmeath until  1184 after which the O’Mellaghlins were nonentities. Though the family survived until the end of the Middle Ages it was not counted among the great Irish lords.. By 1176, beginnings were made on castles at Slane, Kells, Galtrim and Derrypatrick in east Meath, in the lands of the Cianachta conquered and occupied so long ago by the Sil nAedo Slaine. These were essential to block any further incursions by the O’Rourkes, now under a different branch of the family. They would also serve to screen Dublin against an attack either from the west or the north. Hugh de Lacy had apparently made these grants of land at the time he was making grants in Dublin, and to the same people. Those who got grants preferred to establish their manors in county Dublin first (Otway-Ruthven).

About this time ( the date is disputed but it was either April or more probably June 1176)  Strongbow died leaving an infant daughter and all his lands reverted to the king. Strongbow, besides being the overlord of Leinster, was also charged with the duty of protecting the king's interests in other parts of Ireland, receiving the tribute from the Gaelic chiefs through O’Connor and defending the cities Henry had retained for himself. Maurice fitz Gerald died in September 1176 having received the part of Offelan around Naas by subinfeudation from Strongbow. Raymond le Gros was in charge of the military forces and in effect was Strongbow's deputy. He was busy defending the king's interest in Limerick against O’Brien, and assisting MacCarthy in Desmond. He continued to act after the death of Strongbow. So, until the death of Strongbow, the only strong objection to the settlement with Henry came from the O’Briens, always anxious to score over the MacCarthys. Donal Mor (the Great) O’Brien was one of the greatest chiefs of the O’Briens, and had the Normans not upset matters might have achieved much more for his clan. As Strongbow left only an infant daughter as heiress, under feudal law, his lands reverted to the care of the crown. It was left to Raymond le Gros to deal  with the outbreak of revolts that followed Strongbow's death. [Top]

Political Changes after the Death of Strongbow 1176           

            The allegiance of the Gaelic chiefs was sworn to Henry, but not to Strongbow, except of course within Leinster, but there was every chance that they would try to gain something in the interval before a new royal representative could be appointed and take up his post. Raymond decided that  with the forces at his disposal he could not hold Limerick if O’Connor were to rebel. He agreed with Donal O’Brien that he should hold it for the king and withdrew his forces but the latter burned it immediately it was evacuated. O’Connor did nothing. Hervey de Monte Marisco had been spreading rumours about Raymond at court and Henry sent four commissioners to Ireland to investigate and to bring Raymond back to England. The commissioners decided to leave Raymond in Ireland until a new royal representative could arrive.

            This proved to be William fitz Aldhelm again still as procurator. It seems certain that his instructions from Henry were to protect the royal interests and to ensure  that the brood of Nesta, who were never trusted by Henry, did not unreasonably enrich themselves. The account of fitz Aldhelm we have is from the hand of  one of the brood, Giraldus, so naturally it is very unfavourable. John de Courci who had not been to Ireland before, Robert fitz Stephen, and Miles de Cogan accompanied him. His first problem was caused by the death of Maurice fitz Gerald (1176) On the death of Maurice his sons were allowed to keep the lands in Offelan around Naas but not their stronghold at Wicklow nor the middle cantred of Offaly. Why exactly fitz Aldhelm did  this is not obvious, but presumably there was some defect in the title to Offaly. (Or Maurice may not have occupied it, concentrating  first on the safer region of Offelan nearer Dublin.) Their claim to  Wicklow was later vindicated. Either Maurice fitz Gerald or his sons commenced the building of a castle at Maynooth, later to be a great Geraldine fortress and the first in Ireland to be reduced by cannon fire. fitz Aldhelm also refused to recognise Raymond le Gros’ claims to lands in Dublin and Wexford. This may have been precautionary until Raymond cleared himself before the king.

            At this point Malachy MacLoughlin and Murrough O’Carroll raided Meath but the reason is not obvious. MacLoughlin was still engaged in a struggle with Aed O’Neill . (A different tradition says that it was Aed O’Neill who led 3,000 Irishmen to assist O’Connor. In 1177 MacLoughlin slew Aed.) This raid was an irrelevance.  

            Of much more importance was that yet another Gaelic chief sought the assistance of the Normans, and one Norman knight disregarded the authority of fitz Aldhelm and the king and gave it. Though written sources of history are much more abundant  for this period we are still left with quite a lot of guesswork. This raid was to have consequences for Ireland which were to last to this day. Yet it seems to have commenced in a minor dispute in a chiefly family. In Ulster (Ulaid, roughly the present counties of Antrim and Down), the MacDonlevy branch of the Dal Fiatach provided most of the over-chiefs. They were based in the east of county Down and south Antrim, i.e. the diocese of Down. In the west of County Down, the diocese of Dromore, were the lands of the Ui Eachach Choba (Iveagh) under the MacCartans and Magennises. In Antrim, diocese of Connor,  the Dal nAraide survived but were under pressure from the Ui Tuirtre branch of the Oirgialla who were being displaced from their lands west of the Bann by the Ui Neill. Under similar pressure the Fir Li also seem to have crossed into Antrim.

 [1177] There is little doubt that the party of knights and perhaps mostly of Gaelic soldiers which de Courci led from Dublin to Downpatrick in January 1177 was led by a member of the Dal Fiatach family. The Norman knight was John de Courci who was apparently a member of the de Courci family that had lands in Oxfordshire and Somersetshire. He seemingly came to Ireland about the time fitz Aldhelm came for the second time after the death of Strongbow. This was an unauthorised private adventure. Events in Ulster continued unconnected with events in the rest of Ireland for many years to come. The mid-winter march in four days implies a heavy frost. What exactly happened then is not clear. Rory MacDonlevy fled and de Courci was given considerable lands, the small baronies of Upper and Lower Lecale, i.e. around Downpatrick the principal stronghold of the MacDonlevys.  Rory MacDonlevy remained chief of much of his territory until 1201 allied to the Anglo-Normans. But initially he tried to repulse de Courci, was defeated, and tried again with the assistance of Malachy MacLoughlin. de Courci over the next five years held on to his lands around Downpatrick against attacks by either Rory MacDonlevy or Cumee O’Flynn of the Ui Tuirtre. de Courci never sought recognition from the crown, and ruled like an Irish chief. Gradually he succeeded in establishing himself strongly.

. In 1181 the O’Neills and the O’Cahans returned to their ancient pursuit of attacking the Ulaid which seems to have led to a rapprochement between de Courci and MacDonlevy. For most of the rest of his life de Courci was supported by the Gaels in his struggles with de Lacy and the  king, or the O’Neills. In 1180 he was sufficiently powerful to marry Affrica the daughter of the Norse chief of Man who was also connected by blood with the MacLoughlins and the Scottish Lords of the Isles. He built two great castles, one at Carrickfergus and one at Dundrum which remained in English hands even during the greatest extension of Gaelic power at the end of the Middle Ages. Carrickfergus was the only trading town north of Dundalk until the founding of Newry in the reign of Elizabeth I. He organised his lands on Norman lines, built many motte-and bailey castles in the more fertile areas, improved agriculture, founded or re-founded monasteries, and transferred the cathedral of the diocese to Down. The two Cistercian monasteries in county Down, Inch Abbey (1187) and Grey Abbey (1193), founded by de Courci, are probably the earliest Gothic buildings in Ireland .The remains of St Patrick, St Brigit, and St Columcille were allegedly discovered in one grave beside the monastery of Down, so de Courci profited by this discovery to transfer the cathedral nearer to his own residence. Instead of the Augustinian canons installed by St Malachy he imported English Benedictines from Chester. The name Downpatrick dates from the time of John de Courci who also changed the dedication of the church to St Patrick.) The career of de Courci shows that no new policy of land-grabbing was started. Like the first Normans to arrive, de Courci backed one side in a Gaelic dispute in the hope of gaining lands for himself. This was the strategy of all soldiers of no great importance belonging to chiefly or noble families who had no lands of their own, or too little lands. de Courci had a small estate in England.

            Less important was the Norman intervention in the dispute in Connaught led by Miles de Cogan later the same year. The O’Connor dynasty was about to dissolve in internecine strife allowing the de Burghs to establish an overlordship. But this did not happen immediately. As often we are left guessing with regard to the reasons for the raid or why the Normans, or  some of them, supported it. Rory O’Connor's son, Murrough, quarrelled  with his father, so with his own supporters and some of the garrison of Dublin under de Cogan raided his father's lands. Whatever the reason the expedition was a failure; Murrough was captured by his father and blinded. The Normans in Dublin had no dispute  with Rory O’Connor, or he with them. Another of Rory's sons was to be more successful  nine years later. It would seem that de Cogan was just imitating de Courci and hoping to get more land in Connaught if the expedition succeeded. The raids of de Courci and de Cogan showed that individual Normans with a handful of personal followers backed up by local Gaelic troops could not defeat a major provincial chief. 

            Henry called a Council at Oxford in May 1177 and the arrangements of the Treaty of Windsor 1175 were reviewed and renewed. Aldhelm, fitz Stephen, and de Cogan were summoned to attend. Fitz Stephen had supported Henry in his wars in 1173 and 1174 and was now back in favour. O’Connor continued to pay the tribute. Henry felt that it was necessary to make further arrangements regarding Leinster and Meath on the principle that no Norman lord should become excessively dominant. Ireland was to become a 'lordship' for his ten-year old son Prince John, who was, with the approval of the papal legate, Cardinal Vivian, made Lord of Ireland. The recently acquired Ireland could conveniently provide a feudal territory for Prince John without having to take away from the feudal fiefs of his older brothers. Henry had called him John Lackland because he had no land, and he was his father's favourite. Ossory was joined to Waterford to be a royal domain, and to provide revenue for John and the Government of Ireland, and was to be administered by Robert le Poer as royal marshal. (From him came the Powers of Waterford.) The town and lands of Wexford, and Strongbow's lands in Carlow and the adjacent regions were to be administered by fitz Aldhelm until the king decided what to do with Strongbow's heiress. The lands of Offelan and Offaly were attached to Meath that was confirmed to Hugh de Lacy, who was now required to provide 100 knights. Nothing was done about de Courci in the North presumably because Henry considered that in the sphere of O’Connor.

There were, apparently, grants of Desmond and Thomond doubtless to punish the contumacy of both O’Brien and McCarthy, who had sworn allegiance to Henry. As often happens we know almost nothing of the circumstances of the grant, and what we do know comes often from the very biased Giraldus Cambrensis who was opposed to everybody but the fitz Geralds.  The grant in Desmond was made to Robert fitz Stephen and Miles de Cogan and the grant in Thomond to various courtiers and then to Philip de Braose who did nothing about it. Nobody, it seems, was willing to do anything while Donal O’Brien was still alive. Such grants were sometimes  called speculative grants; i.e. that the named persons could have them if they could conquer them with their own resources. They were real grants, and served as a warning to the chief against whom they were made. All parties knew that the probable effects would be slight. In fact de Cogan and fitz Stephen just occupied the Norse town of Cork, which the MacCarthys had conquered, which was itself reserved to the king, and seven cantreds of its adjacent lands presumably originally the Norse lands. Dermot McCarthy apparently compounded with the Normans who were assisted by Donal O’Brien's son Murtagh. As Otway-Ruthven notes we have no information about Cork telling why the king made this grant, though the story of the actual occupation of the lands was told by fitz Stephen to his nephew Gerald Barry (Giraldus).

            Henry's main concern was Meath. Henry had granted Hugh de Lacy Meath, but he had little chance to occupy it, being summoned to assist Henry in France in his wars there. However by 1186 six motte-and-bailey castles had been built in County Meath, all of them in the eastern part in the lands formerly controlled by the Sil nAedo Slaine.  He was sent back to Dublin as procurator general, the actual seat of the Government in 1177, his grant of Meath was renewed, and to it were added the Offelan, Offaly, Kildare, and Wicklow parts of Leinster. Formerly he had held Meath by the service of fifty knights that meant that he was obliged to provide lands for their support. He held his new domains by the service of 100 knights. These knights were to be sent to the king whenever  Henry requested them. In the meantime they were at the chief governor's disposal. He would need also several hundred archers and foot-soldiers, but many of these could be procured locally, either Gaelic, English, or Norse.

de Lacy had no orders to seize more lands than were necessary for the purposes of providing for the knights and the castles, nor did he do so. He took care not to offend the greater Gaelic lords, there being plenty of other land he could seize. O’Mellaghlin lands presumably came under the latter category. He married a daughter of Rory O’Connor. He built other castles, and at the time of his death was building one at Durrow in Offaly on O’Mellaghlin lands. In 1184 he built a castle at Ballymore in Westmeath in O’Mellaghlin territory on the site of one of  their forts. It was to become the principal de Lacy, and later de Verdon stronghold in Westmeath. About 1180 he occupied Castlepollard also in Westmeath. In 1181 he granted the barony of Delvin to Gilbert de Angulo or Gilbert Nugent his brother-in-law. This was clearly aimed at protecting  Meath from O’Rourke attacks.

            In 1180 on the death of Archbishop Lawrence O’Toole (of the O’Tooles of Wicklow) the king decided to have elected one of his  own trusted clerics, John Comyn,  as archbishop. Comyn had served as an itinerant justice and in 1179 was  one of the justices who established the new circuits in England. In 1181 Henry persuaded the canons of the diocese to elect him and he went to Rome were he was ordained priest and consecrated bishop by the Pope in March 1182. He did not come to Ireland until 1184. Archbishop Comyn was sent to Dublin at the same time as Philip of Worcester to prepare for the reception of Prince John as Lord of Ireland. John was probably eighteen at the time, and his father knighted him. His chief preoccupation was to introduce the modern practices with regard to the liturgy, with regard to canon law, and with regard to the feudal tenure of Church lands. He was an able and energetic bishop. Outside the city walls to the south, he demolished a small parochial church, and commenced building a collegiate church with endowments for thirteen canons who would be devoted to study. A cathedral school was clearly intended. In 1184 he obtained from Prince John the rights to hold courts anywhere in Ireland, presumably intending to establish royal circuit courts. In 1185 he secured the union of the impoverished diocese of Glendalough, now in the lands of the O’Tooles, with the archdiocese of Dublin. In 1186 he held a provincial synod in his province and dealt with the usual clerical abuses of the time. He was frequently involved in disputes with royal officials usually over Church property.

The wars continued in the North with de Courci gradually getting the upper hand. In 1181 and 1182 Donal MacLoughlin attacked Ulaid territories and in the latter year was signally defeated by de Courci. The castle of Carrickfergus was built in 1178. Because of accusations against him, de Lacy was briefly suspended from his duties, and replaced by John de Lacy and Richard of the Peak. In 1182 trouble broke out in Cork. One of the MacCarthys murdered Miles de Cogan and Ralph fitz Stephen son of Robert. This was followed by an attack by the MacCarthys on Cork but Raymond le Gros beat off the attack. Robert fitz Stephen probably died the following year, and Raymond le Gros in shortly afterwards. In 1183 Rory O’Connor retired to the monastery of Cong leaving the chieftainship to his son Conor. This set the scene for the long struggle between Cathal Crovderg O’Connor and the other O’Connors that lasted until 1250. In 1184 Philip of Worcester was appointed procurator of Ireland. de Lacy was left undisturbed in his other appointments. His removal from the office of procurator seems to have been to facilitate the assumption by Prince John of his duties as Lord of Ireland. Leinster and Meath were effectively under the king’s control. In the three other provinces, nominally under the O’Connors, the ruling families were engaged in interminable internecine struggles. Mesne chiefs, in areas close to Leinster or Meath like the O’Carrolls of Oriel, or the O’Farrells of Conmaicne usually submitted to the crown and kept most of their land and freedom.

            It is clear that so far Henry had no intention of dispossessing the Gaelic chiefs; he was prepared to accept their submission and some tribute. Doubtless at some  future time he would have  entered into a more  formal feudal relationship with them, or expected his son to do so. Nobody expected that the boy John would become king of England. He was intended to be king of Ireland and to have the same feudal relationship to the king of England that the king of Scotland had. He had accepted Strongbow's position in Leinster (and  later de Courci's in Ulster), took over the overlordship of Meath to prevent anyone else taking it, reserved the Norse cities to the crown for the same reason, and finally made some grants in Munster more as a warning to the chiefs who showed disloyalty than anything else. He had come to an agreement with Rory O’Connor that the other chiefs should pay their tribute  through him. From the twelfth century onwards some attempts were being made to provide a common law over entire counties and kingdoms. The introduction of itinerant justices and circuits of justices helped this development. For Henry the purpose of any conquest was to get more soldiers or a contribution of cash in lieu. This was best done by assigning lands to particular knights, allowing them to acquire the territory, i.e. to take the lands of the ruling families in exactly the same way as Gaelic chiefs traditionally did, and to develop the trade and agriculture. [Top]

 John, Lord of Ireland

            The resignation of Rory O’Connor in 1183 brought the Treaty of Windsor to an end. The new chief of Connaught would have to re-negotiate the treaty. There were no perpetual treaties between states, only feudal relationships between families that had to be confirmed at each generation. What Henry had to do at this stage was to make the royal government independent of the great Norman lords, and to subject Norman lord and Gaelic chief equally to its authority. It was no longer possible just to regard Strongbow and de Lacy as marcher lords. This was clearly the necessary second stage of the acquisition of Ireland.

            Lewis Warren has pointed out that the transfer of the lordship to Henry’s son was meant to establish Ireland as a feudal kingdom separate from England. (In the event Ireland was not formally made a kingdom until the reign of Henry VIII. But when John unexpectedly became king of England in 1199, the kingdom of England and the lordship of Ireland were merged in the person of the king and his successors)  A full conquest of Ireland was not envisaged, but the king of Ireland would be like the king of Scotland, presiding equally over Gaelic chiefs and Norman lords. What Prince John had therefore to do was to provide the Government of Ireland with an independent power base (Warren in Lydon p. 27). 

[1185] Looked at in the wider perspective of John's career his  first visit was not the disaster it was portrayed at the time. It is true that he failed to deal properly with the Anglo-Norman nobles, especially de Lacy. He arrived in Waterford in April 1185

Prince John,  aged about seventeen arrived with 300 knights and perhaps 3000 men-at-arms. With him went one of Henry II’s chaplains, and archdeacon of the diocese of St David’s in Wales, Gerald de Barri who signed himself as Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales). Unfortunately he had surrounded himself with young  courtiers, and the Irish chiefs who came to make their submission were not impressed, at least according to the resentful Giraldus who felt that his family, the brood of Nesta, were not sufficiently rewarded. Along  with him came Theobald Walter the king's butler, Bertram de Verdun (or Verdon) his steward or seneschal, and William de Burgh who were to found great houses in Ireland who were given great grants of land. Philip of Worcester,  was given five cantreds in the marchlands of north Munster (south Tipperary), Theobald Walter, the Butler of Ireland, five and a half cantreds in North Tipperary (around Nenagh, while William de Burgh was given fiefs along the Shannon. These were lands that the O’Briens had seized from the Eoganacht of Cashel (Map Otway-Ruthven  68). Gerald de Barri was twice offered an Irish bishopric but declined them. He stayed until December.

            There occurred several outbreaks of war and lawlessness that played into the hands of John and his advisers. These outbreaks had no connection with the presence of Prince John. Just before the arrival of John, the procurator Philip of Worcester led an expedition northwards as far as Armagh. Ulster was involved in a major three-way conflicts, between the O’Neills, the MacLoughlins, and de Courci. The various Norman knights involved themselves in the affairs in Connaught, where Rory retirement to a monastery had resulted in the usual disputes, and Rory became involved in a war against his son Conor, into which dispute Cathal Crovderg O’Connor had to intervene as well.. Inevitably , Donal O’Brien got involved., and there was always the simmering problem of war with the MacCarthys. The prince and his advisors had to something about them, in order to maintain the king’s peace. It was proposed to occupy the marchlands between each of the provinces and to settle  them with Norman knights. Most of  these lands were wastes and  forests (Warren op.cit)

            The  first border to be parcelled out and occupied was that between Munster and Leinster. The second stage was to take over some of the lands of the Oirgialla in south Ulster between Meath and the territory of de Courci. The  third stage was to occupy the marchlands along the Shannon between Meath and Connaught. The fourth stage was to occupy the marchlands between Meath and Connaught and the chiefs of the North (Warren) The crown would therefore settle its own men in a great horseshoe around Meath and Leinster. It would start at the coast north of Drogheda, sweep inland as far as the middle course of the Shannon, and then bend back to reach the sea at Waterford. An extension to  this was the occupation of the old Ui Fidgente lands in Limerick between the O’Briens and MacCarthys. Only minor chiefs would have been dispossessed of their mensal lands, and the greater chiefs were doing that already wherever they could. This plan would have left the major chiefs in possession of the central core of their lands, and would have cleared the freebooters from  their borders, and would have prevented the major chiefs from attacking each other.. The Gaelic chiefs seem not to have opposed this scheme, but rather to have favoured it. The O’Briens for example considered that they were being protected from the MacCarthys. On the death of Donal O’Brien his sons co-operated  with the Normans and William de Burgh married one of Donal's daughters.

            This policy of collaborating  with the greater Gaelic chiefs at the expense of the lesser had the effect of reducing the untrammelled power of the Gaelic chiefs but it could have compensations for them too. O’Brien got both protection and support. Cathal Crovderg O’Connor got the recognition of his authority in Connaught and the right to hold some lands under feudal law that meant that they would pass to his son on his death.

            The carry the plan into execution, grants of land in the appropriate areas were made to several powerful men newly arrived from England, but not to the ‘brood of Nesta’ to the great disgust of Giraldus. Their turn was to come later, for from the descendants of Maurice fitz Gerald, the Geraldine earls of Kildare and of Desmond who were among the most powerful nobles in Ireland in the Middle Ages. The Gerald from who the Geraldines got their name was Gerald fitz Maurice fitz Gerald the husband of Nesta.

            It would seem that the grant was given, possibly verbally, of certain lands in north Leinster fairly recently conquered by the O’Carrolls of Oriel, but little seems to have been done about them until after the death of Murrough O’Carroll in 1189. Even then de Verdon went with King Richard to the Holy Land and died in Joppa in 1192. Bertram de Verdon was given the lands in the territory of the Oirgialla that the O’Carrolls had conquered earlier in the century. The lands in present day County Louth,  and parts of  Monaghan and perhaps south Armagh. They the small tuatha of the Cuailgne ( now Cooley) the Conaille (around  Ardee), the Fir Rois around Carrickmacross, the Fernmag (Farney), the Mugdorna (Cremorne), and the Ui Meith (Omeath),and were nominally under the overlordship of O’Carroll and seemingly in part under O’Hanlon of Oirthir (Orior). It is impossible at this date to say how many of the original chiefs of the tuatha were still in place, or in how many cases the O’Carrolls had seized the mensal lands of the tuath. The fragment of the Cianachta of Meath, anciently displaced by the Ui Neill, occupied the  southern tip of Louth, and were known as the Fir Arda Cianachta (Ferrard) whose lands were liberally disbursed by O’Carroll to the Cistercians to found Mellifont (Map Otway-Ruthven 71). The land around Ardee, the tuath of Conaille in Louth and Farney (Fernmag) in Monaghan, as well as parts of Cremorne and Dartry, was granted to Gilbert Pipard. The Pipard and de Verdon families were the great local landowners in the Middle Ages, and the de Verdons were still holding land in Louth at the middle of the twentieth century. The principal de Verdon castle was at Dundalk, and the Pipard castle at Ardee. Around 1193 Peter Pipard built a motte-and bailey castle near Carrickmacross (county Monaghan) in the former tuath of the Fir Rois. This was the limit of their settlement in Oriel. A later attempt to maintain a castle at Clones failed. These lands in Louth adjoined those of de Courci in Down and Antrim, which meant that the whole eastern seacoast was in the hands of the Anglo-Normans. Trade therefore flowed almost exclusively through their towns.

  Both the O’Carrolls and the O’Briens acquiesced in the grants which were never their original lands and which they could not securely hold. It may well be that the seizure of Louth was to prevent the O’Rourkes conquering it and getting access to the sea, giving them an alternative and easier access to the coast. This was an objective the O’Carrolls could agree with. de Verdon was an English judge in the sense of the time when judges were barons and barons judges. He was seneschal of Ireland from 1184 to 1186, charged with the administration of John’s lands. The power of the O’Rourkes was however at an end. After the death of Tiernan O’Rourke in 1176 there were separate chiefly families in Breifne, the O’Rourkes in West Breifne (county Leitrim) and the O’Reillys in East Breifne (county Cavan). The ruling family in Oriel after 1196 was the MacMahons, whose connection with the O’Carrolls is not clear. Their area was county Monaghan.

 From this time onwards, the great Irish chiefs were mostly chiefs over counties, and corresponded to English earls. The Irish counties, as Ireland was shired by the crown, reflects the extent of their domains. Their grade was that of the ruiri. By 1210, John began the shiring of what were to become 12 Irish counties. The process was complete by the time of Edward I (1272). +These were Dublin including Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, Louth, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary. These were the only counties in Ireland during the Middle Ages. In the rest Brehon law and custom remained in force, He ordered that English law, should apply in these areas. An administrative officer for each county, the sheriff, would also have to be appointed in each, and would hold his shire court, which could however no longer, after the reign of Henry II, impose the death penalty. This court would replace that of the ruiri and was not very different from it except for the fact that English Common Law applied (compare Ellis p. 45 on the brehon courts). The justices on eyre would hold their assizes in the chief town in each county. The sheriff was an appointed royal official. He was assisted by clerks and serjeants. As Otway-Ruthven points out, the system was not uniform, for what were to become the ‘liberties’ of Leinster, Meath, and Ulster were more or less palatine counties, but the system there was analogous (p. 174ff, 186ff). Tipperary and Limerick were not given full county status until the middle of the thirteenth century

            The grants of land did not mean that all or most of it was occupied by the grantee. Money rather than opposition either from those dispossessed or their overlords would have been a restricting factor. Money could always be borrowed, so the period necessary to get an exportable agricultural surplus was probably crucial in many places. (On evidence of the movement of working farmers from England in the course of the thirteenth century, see Otway-Ruthven 114ff. The number of working-class persons to immigrate would not have been significant in most places before 1215. By the year 1300, in certain areas in eastern Ireland, at least half of the population was immigrants. She also notes that with the growing population and expanding economy this did not necessarily mean a displacement of the native workers.)

            Various events concurred to make this an easy period for the infant Government of Ireland. The unlikely John de Courci patched up any misunderstandings with the crown and was made justiciar, and held the position for six or seven years that gave stability to the Government. With his appointment, the use of the term justiciar definitely begins. The civil war continued in Connaught. In Ulster, in 1186, Donal MacLoughlin was deposed by Rory O’Laverty, of an up-coming sept who were making the fight among the Ui Neill into a three corner one. In 1187 Hugh de Lacy was killed while his children were minors, so his lands passed into the custody of the crown. Rory O’Laverty was killed. In the Holy Land, after the battle of the Horns of Hattin, Saladin re-captured Jerusalem. In 1188, Cork was given a charter as a town in royal hands. Donal MacLoughlin was killed and was succeeded by Murtagh MacLoughlin, who was effective overchief of the Cenel Eogain until 1196 when Aed Meth O’Neill succeeded him. Miles de Cogan had been killed in 1182, and Raymond le Gros, the greatest warrior among the Normans, some years later. Henry II during a civil war with his son Richard in France promised the hand and lands of Strongbow’s daughter to William Marshal who had just returned from the Holy Land. In 1189 Murrough O’Carroll died, and Conor O’Connor were killed and was succeeded by Cathal Crovderg. The succession was disputed by Cathal Carragh O’Connor, with the inevitable civil war that lasted until 1202.  Henry II died, and Richard I confirmed the grant of Strongbow’s land to William Marshal. Further, between the death of Donal O’Brien in 1194 and the emergence of Cathal Crovderg as provincial chief of Connaught with Norman help, there was no Irish chief with any military stature around whom the Gaelic chiefs could unite if any such idea crossed their minds.

            Meanwhile John de Courci had succeeded in establishing himself strongly in Ulster and controlled the coast as far north as the tip of Antrim, but as usual, there are few records of his activities. As we find time and again, when we try to trace sequences of events, we find great gaps in the evidence. This is so with regard to the grant of North Tipperary to Theobald Walter as virtually no evidence is found between 1185 and 1206 when he died. (On the problem of identifying the actual lands involved in these grants, see C.A. Empey, ‘The Settlement of the Kingdom of Limerick’ in Lydon.) The same is true with regard to the early settlement of the lands granted to William de Burgh prior to later settlements by King John in 1199 and 1201. De Burgh apparently worked closely with Donal O’Brien.

It is obvious that the traditional view of a Norman conquest of Ireland is false. From the very beginning, the Norman lords and the Irish chiefs co-operated and inter-married. The Irish chiefs valued the services of the knights.

John’s plan failed to control the great 'Liberties' of Leinster and Meath because of later grants of his brother Richard I to William Marshall and Hugh de Lacy the Younger. These were left with ‘liberty’ or ‘palatine’ jurisdictions that meant jurisdiction over almost everything except making war. These palatine jurisdictions were to prove a greater obstacle to making the government of the justiciars from Dublin effective than any rebellions by the Gaelic chiefs. [Top] 

Events during the Reign of Richard 1189-99

Richard was not interested in Ireland that in any case was the lordship of his younger brother John. In the theology of the time, he probably had no rights over Ireland, if the theory that the Pope had direct jurisdiction over all islands is accepted. This theory obviously underlay the papal grant of Ireland to Henry II. Like all such theories, it was accepted if it favoured you. Richard made John Count of Mortain and this was his official title for the next nine years. In 1190 he went off on the Third Crusade. John did not confirm De Courci in the justiciarship, seemingly because he supported the king against John, but Peter Pipard and William le Petit were made joint justiciars. (John was acting illegally in England, but he was still Lord of Ireland.) Their authority ceased on John’s forfeiture in 1194 on the return of Richard from the Third Crusade (Moody, Martin, and Byrne 481.) Around 1193 Peter Pipard built a motte-and-bailey castle at Carrickmacross. Another motte-and-bailey castle was built at Clones, showing that some attempts were being made to settle the lands granted in Monaghan.  Walter de Lacy and John de Courci were then jointly appointed by the now restored John in 1194 but were replaced by Hamo de Valonges 1195-8, the following year. William Marshal, one of the late king’s staunchest supporters was given Strongbow’s daughter in marriage and obtained her lands and became the first Earl of Pembroke and Striguil of the Marshal line. He supported Richard when John rebelled against him. Marshal held his Irish lands from John, not from Richard. Walter de Lacy had however to do homage to Richard for his father’s Irish lands, presumably because the original grant was antecedent to John’s lordship. Walter de Lacy the elder son received his father's Norman and English lands in 1189 and his lands in Meath in 1194. Donal Mor (the Great) O’Brien died in 1194, with the consequence that the MacCarthys became the more powerful and they briefly recaptured Cork. Limerick was re-occupied by the crown and Ui Fidgente lands in Limerick were apportioned to various knights apparently with the consent of the O’Briens. This would provide a barrier against the MacCarthys. By a marriage agreement Hugh de Lacy received half of the de Verdon lands in Oriel in 1195. In 1196, Aed Meth (the Fat) became the most powerful chief in Ulster, and was to prove an immovable obstacle to de Courci and later de Lacy. In 1197, the civil war in Thomond that followed the death of Donal O’Brien, one of the two contesting brothers enlisted the help of William de Burgh. This spelt the end of O’Brien influence in the Ui Fidgente lands. It would appear that Meiler fitz Henry was appointed justiciar in 1198. By this time he was settled on the elder Hugh de Lacy’s lands in Meath, and had married de Lacy’s niece. In 1199, Hugh de Lacy, the younger son, and John de Courci were assisting Cathal Crovderg against Cathal Carrach and they were heavily defeated. de Lacy then captured Cathal Carrach and held him prisoner. Shortly afterwards the de Lacys quarrelled with de Courci. In 1199 Richard le Tuite built a castle at Granard at the extreme western part of the O’Mellaghlin lands on a grant of land he had received either from the elder Hugh de Lacy or his son Walter.

These details may seem tedious, and they are difficult to work out and to remember. But they are necessary to recount if one is to decide if there was massive and illegal plunderings on the side of the Normans, or whether each side was observing the legal conventions of their time. The latter would seem to be the case, though evidence is not always available. For example, were lands forfeit because of a rebellion against a previously acknowledged overlord? Or were lands settled by mutual agreement over the need to control bandits? There seems little doubt that the Irish chiefs constantly played into the hands of the crown by constantly reneging on oaths of allegiance as was the traditional custom. The difference now was, that the Normans could mostly make the inevitable forfeits effective. The Normans were not doing anything that had not become customary among the Irish. [Top]

John King of England and Lord of Ireland

            John had been recognised by Richard as his heir, and he immediately, on Richard’s death in April 1199, seized the crown. John was the king who did most to establish the power of the crown in Ireland until his efforts were surpassed by Henry VIII over three hundred years later. In fact in that intervening period only one king, Richard II and one claimant, Richard, duke of York, ever came to Ireland. By and large there was no reason why they should. Henry II and John came only to prevent some of their powerful subjects establishing themselves too strongly in Ireland. Ireland had very little wealth or possibilities for creating wealth from agricultural surpluses, mining, or trade. Fishing was a possibility, but the English offshore fisheries were themselves undeveloped. As always, France provided better opportunities for gain, whether royal gain, or gain for the participants who joined the royal army. Much of Wales was equally unattractive and had the Welsh chiefs been content to live in peace they would probably have been left in peace. Similarly, though to a lesser extent there was little point in conquering Scotland, as the Romans had already realised. By the early sixteenth century the English crown had lost all its territory on the Continent except Calais. Also ships and seamanship had so improved that it had become feasible for a French or Spanish fleet to sail directly out into the Atlantic to Ireland. The English crown could not then afford to neglect it possessions in Ireland.

            It had never been envisaged that John would become king of England. He had been appointed Lord of Ireland by his father Henry II and though he did not reside in Ireland after 1185 his policy of settling reliable barons at strategic spots, and appointing justiciars to govern in his name, could very well have had the result that he could successfully control his lordship.

Lewis Warren notes however that his brother Richard may have prevented the accomplishment of this policy by granting the lordship of Leinster to William Marshal and the lordship of Meath to Walter de Lacy. (Warren in Lydon p.31) This caused a problem for John when he became king because the two lordships with virtually palatine powers were too large to be controlled by a justiciar with much fewer resources (Warren p. 33). A third lord who supported John in England and Normandy, William de Braose had to be rewarded and in 1201 John conferred on him the ‘honour of Limerick’ which involved feudal overlordship of the English and Norman settlers in Munster. In this way a third great feudal lordship under the crown was created in North Munster. A fourth one was soon to be established in Ulster by the grant of the de Courci lands to the younger Hugh de Lacy in Ulster. Walter de Lacy, Lord of Meath had for many years been friendly with de Courci, but for some reason they quarrelled. For some years the quarrel dragged on until John, for some obscure reason, granted de Courci’s lands in Ulster with the title Earl of Ulster, to Hugh de Lacy, who as a younger son, had no lands of his own (McNeill 6). The two de Lacys, after considerable efforts, for de Courci was popular with the Gaelic chiefs, drove him from Ireland. Though he never got his lands in Ireland back, he was reconciled with the king, was given a pension, and accompanied John to Ireland in 1210.(He died in England about 1219). The lands, after Hugh de Lacy’s death, came into the hands of the de Burghs who were the Earls of Ulster in the Middle Ages.

John summoned Meiler fitz Henry to France where he was dealing with his claims to the royal possessions in France. But some months later Meiler was re-appointed justiciar. John made some additional grants of land. The most important were in the O’Brien lands south of the Shannon in the old Ui Fidgente territory in the present county Limerick. Like in Meath, this formerly unified territory, in extent approximately the present county Limerick, had become fragmented, and neither the O’Briens nor the MacCarthys who both coveted it, could permanently control it. It would seem that much of this land had been originally granted to Philip de Braose who did nothing to occupy it. Much was granted to William de Burgh. Other beneficiaries were Hamo de Valognes and Theobald Walter. Henceforth the O’Briens were confined to county Clare. John made further grants in Cork and Kerry in 1200 to Meiler fitz Henry. The Fitzgeralds, who were to dominate the region in the Middle Ages got only small grants.  (On these complex series of grants and re-grants see C.A.Empey in Lydon p.1.) Warren considers that these grants were made with the connivance of the O’Briens who had difficulty in controlling them and who were likely to assist the MacCarthys. The boundary in any case between Thomond and Desmond was not precise, and was liable to change. An attack by the MacCarthys in 1199 aided by chiefs who had earlier been expelled from Thomond was repulsed by the Normans (Warren 28). In 1201 John granted the ‘honour’ of Limerick to William de Braose. This meant that he was made the chief tenant of the crown, and all the other grantees then held from him. Exceptions were made of the town of Limerick and the lands held by William de Burgh.

It would seem that at one time, possibly around 1194, John had made a ‘speculative grant’ of Connaught to William de Burgh, and it was in that province his interest chiefly lay. The civil war in Connaught between Cathal Crovderg and Cathal Carrach in which both sides sought allies among the Normans, and the Normans sought to profit from the conflict, continued. de Courci and Hugh de Lacy backed Cathal Crovderg while William de Burgh supported Cathal Carrach. However, at one point de Lacy captured Cathal Carrach and forced him to ransom himself. King John was inclined to assist Crovderg and the latter emerged victorious. The death of Cathal Carrach in 1202 in a skirmish left Crovderg the undisputed chief in Connaught. Crovderg submitted to John and asked to hold part of Connaught as a feudal barony in 1205. As Warren notes, to hold land as a feudal barony with primogeniture was more secure for the ruling family than depending on election in the traditional manner. John agreed that he should hold a third of Connaught per baroniam, and two thirds as a client Gaelic chief. This latter provision would of course enable John at a later date to infeud those parts to somebody else, in the meantime drawing tribute, and having an excuse to interfere if the tribute was stopped. William de Burgh withdrew to Limerick where he died in 1206 while his heir was still a minor. His lands were then taken into royal custody. Hugh de Lacy at that time based on the de Lacy lands in Meath quarrelled with John de Courci in 1203 and was given his lands and an earldom in 1205. John ordered the building of a strong royal castle in Dublin in 1204 within which the Government of Ireland has been centred from that date to this.

            The problem of the relationship between the king’s representative, the justiciar, and the lords of the libertys was not resolved, and matter was soon brought to a head by a dispute between William Marshal and the king. William Marshal was one of the greatest soldiers in England and France during the reigns of Henry II, Richard, and John. In 1189, aged over forty, he married the heiress of Richard Strongbow de Clare and was confirmed in his wife’s lands and in the title of Earl of Pembroke and Striguil though this latter was not confirmed until the accession of John. John however always refused him permission to visit his lands in Leinster. In 1204, the king of France, Philip II Augustus, conquered Normandy. Marshall did homage to the king of France for his lands in Normandy and John took this as a personal slight. Marshal was always loyal to the crown, but supporting Richard when he was imprisoned in Germany did not endear him to John. John however gave him permission to go to his Irish estates in 1206, and he spent the time developing them economically. He built a new port at New Ross on the Barrow. Though obviously needed commercially John could see it as by-passing the port of Waterford and not paying the customs to the crown. Walter de Lacy was also at the same time introducing the organisation of holdings of land into cantreds and manorial system of cultivation into his lands in Meath (Warren). The great export of Ireland was now grain. It is not obvious why the cultivation of grain for export had not commenced sooner. It may be that the whole structure of Gaelic society had become inextricably involved in cattle-rearing.

It would seem that John had instructed the justiciar to whittle away as many privileges as he could (Otway-Ruthven p.78). John then made various changes to give more power to the justiciar, and cut down the privileges of the local lords. His first step was to appoint Philip of Worcester to a commission to review the state of Ireland along with Meiler fitz Henry. The charters of William Marshal and Walter de Lacy were revised. They had to allow the royal justices into their territory to hear pleas of the crown, appeals of felony, appeals of default of justice in their courts, or complaints of injury by themselves or their courts (Warren 35). In a palatine or liberty jurisdiction the local lord could exercise powers normally reserved to the crown. The reserved pleas seem to have been four in number, arson, rape, treasure trove and forestall (assault on the king’s highway.) Treasure trove, the finding of buried gold or silver was reserved to the new office of coroner in 1194. The king wanted his own justices on circuit or eyre also to hear cases, and to allow appeals from the palatine court to the King’s Bench. Only the richest and most powerful people would be affected. Some of these changes seem to have been just following recent changes in the law in England. John in 1208 appointed one of his ablest administrators John de Grey bishop of Norfolk as justiciar.

Though John’s quarrel with William Marshal was settled after a fashion his quarrel with William de Braose caused a mighty rift. Apparently the quarrel was over some financial matter, but was also probably related to the support of de Braose’s wife for Richard. de Braose had received the honour of Limerick at ferm, and also the revenues of Limerick at ferm. A grant of land in fee farm (in foedam firmum) meant that a fixed sum of money, a rent as it were, had to be paid annually. It was then discovered that de Braose was much in arrears. John tried to distrain from de Braose’s English and Welsh estates, and when de Braose was unable to resist him he fled to Ireland. The king might have let this pass, being satisfied with the distraints so long as he stayed in Ireland if he were not already engaged in remodelling the government of Ireland and cutting back the privileges of the great barons. When William de Braose went to Ireland he joined forces with William Marshal and the de Lacy brothers. He had married his daughter Margaret to Walter de Lacy. When John de Grey ordered that de Braose be surrendered to him William Marshal refused and conducted him to Meath to be sheltered by the de Lacys.

In 1210 John decided to come to Ireland himself to deal with de Braose and he arrived on 20 June. Marshal answered a summons from John to join his expedition to Ireland. So too did John de Courci. Walter de Lacy also rapidly submitted, not wishing either to be drawn into the quarrel between de Braose and the king. John however occupied his castles in Meath. Neither were Walter’s or Hugh’s feudal tenants anxious to be drawn into the conflict. Nicholas de Verdon greeted John. Crovderg came to meet him, as did Donough O’Brien. Aed O’Neill was almost alone in his refusal to give hostages. Hugh de Lacy burned his own castles and retreated to his stronghold at Carrickfergus and John followed him. When John besieged the castle de Lacy escaped by sea. So too did the wife and son of de Braose, but they were captured in Scotland by Duncan of Carrick and returned to John. They died in captivity, it is said from starvation. De Braose himself went in Wales, but he went from there to his great castle at Bramber in Sussex, which with Lewes and Arundel was one of the three great castles controlling the approaches from the sea. He fled to France and died there the following year. Walter de Lacy also went to France but was summoned by John and got his lands restored. Hugh de Lacy was not pardoned for several years. He spent the time fighting on the Continent especially in Simon of Montford l’Amaury in Normandy’s crusade against the Albigensian heretics around Toulouse. When he died he left no heir, his sons having died before him.

John ordered the building of stone castles at Limerick, Carrickfergus, Dundrum, and Carlingford. This completed John’s work. In 1212, de Grey decided to place motte-and-bailey castles at Clones in south Monaghan and at Castle Caldwell on Lough Erne that would have completed John scheme of controlling the boundaries between the provinces. Both attempts were unsuccessful. Three durable chiefdoms of second rank, those of the O’Rourkes, the O’Reillys and the Maguires developed along the boggy boundaries of Ulster, and served as an outer shield for the O’Neills. These latter, though dominant in Ulster, were never again able to intervene effectively outside their province. Nor were the O’Briens, MacCarthys, and O’Connors. Henceforth, the dominant power in Ireland was always that of the king’s government in Dublin castle, though the power of the crown over Norman lords and Gaelic chiefs waxed and waned. [Top]


John died in 1216, and the crown passed to his infant son, Henry III and William Marshall acted as regent. Meiler fitz Henry remained a powerful lord in Ireland until his death in 1220. The de Lacys were the great survivors, Hugh dying about 1242 and Walter about 1241. The Marshals lasted until 1245 when the last of William’s sons died without heirs. The last was Anselm Marshal, sixth Earl of Pembroke and Striguil. The descendants of the Brood of Nesta, the Fitzgeralds or Geraldines, were to become the most powerful family in the Middle Ages. They were to be eclipsed in the post-Reformation period by the descendants of Theobald Walter the Butler. Walter de Lacy’s lands and titles in Meath eventually came by marriage into the hands of the English royal family. William Marshal’s lands eventually came into the hands of the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury. de Courci’s lands too eventually came into the hands of the English royal family. The de Burghs emerged as the most powerful family in Connaught, though the O’Connors also survived as more or less independent chiefs until the composition of Connaught in the reign of Elizabeth I.

The O’Neills (Cenel Eogain) finally destroyed the MacLoughlins, and became the most powerful rulers in the north of Ireland, large parts of which they conquered. A ruling family, the O’Donnells emerged from the Cenel Conaill and kept their independence from the O’Neills and everyone else until 1603. Parts of the lands of the Ulaid remained under the Magennises and their sub-sept the MacCartans, in Iveagh (diocese of Dromore). The O’Mellaghlin power in Meath had collapsed, and most of the chiefdom was transferred successfully to the king and the de Lacys. The O’Mellaghlins were reduced to the status of minor chiefs. The crown claimed all the main Norse ports. In north Leinster the Ui Failge, now represented by the O’Connors and the O’Dempseys retained their lands. The Loigse, now headed by the O’Mores also retained their position. In the Gaelic revival in the late Middle Ages these two clans were very successful, extending their domains to the extent of a county each. These enthusiastically carried on the age-old practices of cattle-raiding and black rent until a determined effort was made in the reign of Mary Tudor to extirpate them. Theirs were to be the first lands in Ireland to be ‘planted’ and the experience gained there was extended to the rest of Ireland and the American colonies. Like the Maguires and O’Rourkes they became durable minor chiefs. In south Leinster, the MacMurrough Cavanaghs were displaced from the more fertile parts but still held, or conquered, considerable lands. In Ossory, the McGillaPatricks changed their name to Fitzpatrick, and sided with the crown at the Reformation. In Annaly (county Longford, Conmaicne), the O’Farrells like the MacMahons were unconquered.

The Government in Dublin grew in strength, wealth, and power, but like the Scottish kingdom could not often control the remoter regions of the country. It developed like its counterpart in England, though not until 1603 could the king’s writ be enforced everywhere. Much has often been made of a Gaelic revival in the later Middle Ages, which was caused chiefly be a decline of the power of the Government in Dublin. This was only a temporary set-back, and the Government established by Henry II and John eventually triumphed. To do this massive resources had to be transferred from England that only the threat of a Spanish invasion could justify.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.