Michael V. Duignan, ‘Historical Introduction’, in The Shell Guide to Ireland (1967) - cont. [3/3]

Source: Lord Killanin & Michael V. Duignan, The Shell Guide to Ireland [2nd edn.] (London: Ebury Press 1967)

Medieval Ireland, 1165-1690


Medieval Ireland, 1165-1690



The Coming of the “Franks”
By his misdeeds and his ambitions Dermot II (Dermot Mac Murrough) of Leinster had made many enemies. Of these the most dangerous were the O’Conors of Connacht, whose Mac Lochlainn rival he had supported. The accession of Rory O’Conor led inevitably to Dermot’s dethronement, and in 1166 he fled to Henry II of England, his mind full of a childish project for recovering Leinster and seizing the high-kingship.

For Henry, Dermot’s naive appeal for help was indeed timely. A decade or so previously, within a couple of years of the Synod of Kells (p.315), the Norman bishops and “religious men” of England had combined with the magnates to get ready an army for the purpose of invading Ireland and making Henry’s brother king. Henry had had the project deferred, but in 1155-6 had himself sought papal permission to conquer Ireland, professing a Hildebrandine purpose, viz. the proclamation of the truths of religion among a rude and barbarous people. Overzealous Irish reformers had already reported to Rome the “enormities of the vices” of their people. Not surprisingly, therefore, Pope Adrian IV, animated by Hildebrandine [32] ideals and political notions worthy of a St Bernard, had readily acceded to Henry’s request and had invested him with the government of Ireland. (Had not Alexander II, for comparable reasons, authorised William the Conqueror’s invasion of England ninety years earlier?)

The time not being ripe, Henry II had therefore neither published his papal commission nor taken any steps to implement it. Now, however, he gave Dermot leave to recruit volunteers. These Dermot found in south Wales, at that time full of Normans of broken fortune or of none. For his principal lieutenant he chose Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow. To him he promised the hand of his beautiful daughter, Aoife, and the succession to the kings#hip of Leinster, this latter in utter disregard both of Gaelic law and of the loyalty of some of his kinsfolk; lesser recruits he enlisted with the promise of lesser prizes. In the history books Dermot’s allies are conventionally labelled “Anglo-Normans”. To the Irish chroniclers, they were “Men from overseas”, “Foreigners” or, more precisely, “Franks”. And Franks, i.e. French, their leaders were in language, customs, and institutions, if not wholly in blood. (Henry II himself was French, and French the kings of England and their officials in Ireland were to remain until well into the fourteenth century.) The rank and file of Dermot’s allies were mostly Welsh and Flemings.

In 1167 Dermot returned home with the foreign vanguard. The obtuse high-king was content to accept his hostages and leave him in possession of Hy Kinsella, his ancestral kingdom in south Leinster (capital, Ferns). Dermot, of course, was merely biding his time, while Rory’s attention was absorbed by the Synod of Tlachtga (over which he presided that same year) and by the revival of Aonach Tailteann (over which he presided in 1168). Even the arrival of substantial reinforcements for Dermot in 1169 failed to rouse Rory from his stupor, and it was the coming of Strongbow in 1170 with two hundred armoured knights and a thousand men-atarms which first spurred him to action. But even then the enemy struck faster.

Dermot and his allies had promptly stormed Waterford, where Aoife was married to Strongbow. Dublin was their next objective. King Rory had meantime blocked the normal route to Dublin from the South. Dermot simply came another way, and on 21 September 1170 the vital seaport was in Leinster-Norman hands. Dermot now announced his intention of making himself high-king, but he died suddenly on 1 May 1171. Backed by Dermot’s adherents in Hy Kinsella, Strongbow act about making good his own illegal claim to Leinster. He soon found himself sore pressed. King Rory mustered an Irish army; Earl Asgall of Dublin recruited Norse mercenaries; Waterford revolted. Fortunately for the Normans, the Norse struck at Dublin prematurely and were cut to pieces. Rory nevertheless blockaded the city for two months. When all seemed lost a despairing sortie found the Irish hosting off guard and dispersed it.

In the meantime, Henry II of England, alarmed at the facile success of his barons in Leinster, had rushed across to thwart any notions they might have of setting up an independent kingdom and to hoodwink the Irish kings and prelates into peaceful acknowledgement of his papal grant. His first act on reaching Ireland was to confirm Strongbow’s title to Leinster, but as a fief to be held of the Crown of England. At the same time he reserved to that Crown the vital Norse seaports. Dublin was to remain until 1921 the seat of England’s power in Ireland. Almost at once the Gaelic kings began to come in and make their submission, influenced, no doubt, by Adrian’s Bull and by the naive belief that they were simply exchanging one high-king for another. Only the high-king himself and the Northern Uí Néill kings of Tír Eóghain and Tír Chonaill held aloof. Acceptance of their submissions bound Henry to respect the rights of the Gaelic kings himself and to protect them against attack by others. Henry, however, had his own concept of [33] honour.

The Irish Church, too, at a synod held in Cashel, obeyed the papal instructions and acknowledged Henry’s authority. The synod decreed a number of reforms. Most of these had been initiated before ever Henry set foot in the country. The following year Pope Alexander III commended the Irish rulers for submitting peacefully to Henry, instructed the bishops to support his authority,, and formally conferred on him the Lordship of Ireland. Before leaving Ireland Henry appointed one of his followers, Hugh de Lacy, to be Justiciar of Ireland, i.e., representative and principal law officer of the English Crown. At the same time, in defiance of law and honour, he granted to him the whole of the former kingdom of Meath. The Irish kings were having their first lesson in English statecraft, a lesson they were singularly slow to learn.

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The Conquest, 1171-1280
Henry’s bad faith in regard to Meath, soon to be repeated in the case of other kingdoms, was promptly emulated by the invading barons. And so began a longsustained policy of deceit, aggression, and murder which in eighty years was to make the invaders masters of three-fourths of Ireland. At the outset the credulous Irish - lightly armed, occasional fighters who wore no armour, and whose foolish custom it was to disperse their short-term levies once a battle had been won or a fortress overthrown - were no match for the seasoned forces of the enemy, an enemy who employed murderous bowmen as well as mail-clad cavalry and men-at-arms, an enemy who promptly secured every foothold by erecting a motte castle. The persistence of Irish credulity is well exemplified by the Treaty of Windsor, 1175, whereby King Rory at last submitted to Henry who, for his part, undertook to maintain Rory in the high-kingship as well as in the kingship of Connacht.

In the long run the speed and extent of the conquest were to prove its undoing. At first, however, all seemed more than well, and great tracts of the richer lands quickly fell to the invaders. These they organised into feudal manors, planted with castles, monasteries, villages, and towns, and colonised with tenants lured from England with the offer of special privileges and easy tenures. In 1177 Henry II created his younger son, John, Lord of Ireland. At the same time, shamelessly disregarding his obligations, he granted Desmond (i.e. South Munster) to Robert Fitz Stephen and Milo de Cogan and Thomond (i.e. North Munster) to Philip de Braose, reserving to the Crown the cities of Cork and Limerick. King Dermot Mac Carthy of Desmond was forced to surrender Cork and seven of his best cantreds, and to promise tribute for the twenty-five cantreds left to him. Donal Mór O’Brien of Thomond, on the other hand, proved too strong to be disturbed.

That same year, 1177, John de Courcy, a venturous young freebooter, overran the little kingdom of Ulster (Cos. Down and Antrim) with dazzling rapidity, planting motte castles all over the place. The venture had been undertaken without licence from Henry II who, however, made no attempt to honour his obligations by either checking or recalling de Courcy. The latter, therefore, set himself up as more or less independent Prince of Ulster and, with future conquests in mind, “granted” the Tír Eóghain seaboard (in Co. Derry) to the Norman Lord of Galloway. Eight years later the young Lord of Ireland paid his first visit to his new dominion and trusting Gaelic rulers came to him to reaffirm their submissions. John’s entourage included three men who were to found great Anglo-Irish families and lordships: Bertram de Verdun, John’s Seneschal; Theobald Waiter, his Butler; and Waiter de Burgo. To them and to others John proceeded to grant vast territories including south-east Uriel as well as Ormond (East Munster) and other parts of the kingdom of Thomond. The attack on Thomond was resumed when Donal Mór died in 1194. Among those who shared in the spoil were Theobald Waiter, ancestor [34] of the Butlers of Ormond, Thomas fitz Gerald, ancestor of the Earls of Desmond, and Walter de Burgo (ancester of the Burkes), who was already planning the conquest of Connacht.

When he succeeded of the Butlers of Ormond, Thomas fitz Gerald, ancestor of the Earls of Desmond, and Walter de Burgo (ancester of the Burkes), who was already planning the conquest of Connacht. When he succeeded his father, John endeavoured to secure effective authority for the English Crown in Ireland. With this object in view he set up a royal administration and courts of law; tried to create a new, subservient baronage; conceded Connacht to King Cathal Crovderg O’Conor, Rory’s successor, and what was left of Thomond to Donnchadh O’Brien; sought to make the Church an instrument of state by the appointment of non-Irish, feudal prelates; clipped the liberties of Norman lordships of Leinster and Meath; and expelled de Courcy from Ulster, which he made into an earldom for Hugh II de Lacy. This policy inevitably aroused discontent among magnates heretofore unbridled, and drove some of them into rebellion. In 1210 John had himself to conduct a campaign against de Braose and the de Lacys. At its conclusion he held a council of his barons, at which English law was extended to Ireland and many Gaelic rulers made formaI submission. But the kings of Tír Eóghain and Tír Chonaill were not among them. About this time the O’Neills and O’Donnells were getting a hold on the succession to the Northern Uí Néill kingships, and they were to maintain their ancestral kingdoms for another four hundred years.

The Norman attempts on these kingdoms had heretofore ended in failure, but just now new and graver threats were mounting against them. Castles were being erected on their southern and eastern marches, and de Courcy’s grant of the Tír Eóghain seaboard to the Lord of Galloway was confirmed by John’s Justiciar. Away to the south the FitzGeralds and others were overrunning faction-ridden Desmond and girdling it with castles. By 1215 only Thomond, Connacht, Tír Chonaill, Tír E6ghain, and western Uriel remained outside the “English land”. The turn of Connacht came in 1227, when Richard de Burgo obtained a shameful grant of the western kingdom. De Burgo’s first efforts proved abortive, but in 1235 he mounted a supreme attack supported by the Justiciar and the whole feudal levy. King Felim O’Conor salvaged what he could of the wreckage by submitting to de Burgo, who left him the O’Conor domain in Roscommon. The rest of the Connacht lowlands was at once parcelled out among the victors, de Burgo retaining for himself the limestone plains of Galway and Mayo. On the conquered lands the usual manors, villages, and towns were founded, and colonies of Welshmen, Flemings, and other foreigners established. In less than a century the countryside was to revert to the Gaelic order, but towns like Galway were to remain enduring citadels of English royal authority and of foreign speech.

Tír Eóghain was attacked in 1238, but with little result, and three years later Brian O’Neill overthrew the last Mac Lochlainn to rule that kingdom. From 1241 until 1605 the proud names of Tír Eóghain and O’Neill were to remain synonymous. In 1247 Tír Chonaill was invaded from Connacht for the second time. This attempt likewise failed, as did five further attacks between 1248 and 1257 on one or other of the two neighbouring kingdoms. The attack of 1257 was made memorable by the presence in the Tír Chonaill army of galloglas (gall-óglách, foreign soldier), mail-clad Norse-Gaelic mercenaries from the Kingdom of Argyll and the Isles (the Lordship of the Isles). The Irish kings were now beginning to employ standing armies of galloglas, whose hereditary captains received estates by way of payment. The importation of Hebridean fightingmen was to continue for three centuries, so that they came to form an appreciable element of the Gaelic-speaking population. In time the Norman magnates too, and the Dublin government itself, saw fit to employ them.

In 1258 Tír Eóghain moved into the forefront of the Gaelic resistance, for in that year Aodh O’Conor of Connacht and Tadhg O’Brien of Thomond formally acknowledged the ancestral claims of Brian O’Neill to the high-kingship of Ireland. [35] Unfortunately, Donal Óg O’Donnell of Tír Chonaill elected to signalise his accession by holding aloof from the combination, in breach of an O’Neill-O’Donnell alliance which had operated since 1201. Despite O’Donnell’s defection and O’Brien’s death, O’Conor and O’Neill invaded Ulster in 1260, only to be disasterously routed at the First Battle of Down (14 May 1260). Despite this set-back, O’Néill power continued to grow and in 1264 Brian’s successor. Aodh Buidhe, ancestor of the Clann Aodha Buidhe (“Clannaboy”) O’Neills, extended extended Tír Eóghain sovereignty over Uriel (the Monaghan-Fermanagh region). After his time O’Neill of Tír Eóghain calls himself Rex Ultoniae - Ri Uladh, “King of (Great) Ulster”, i.e. king of the whole of the prehistoric Fifth, not just of the tiny historic Ulster.

The year after the Battle of Down, Finghin (of Rinn Róin; see under Kinsale) MacCarthy won a resounding victory in Desmond. He and his brothers having begun to raze the Anglo-Norman castles there, John fitz Thomas FitzGerald rallied the whole feudal levy against them. At Callan near Kenmare, on 24 July 1261, the MacCarthys routed the Norman host with heavy loss. Nine years later Aodh O’Conor and Turloch O’Brien won a comparable victory over de Burgo and the Justiciar at Athankip near Carrick-on-Shannon. Eight years after that King Donnchad again routed the invaders of Thomond at Quin. The tide was on the turn at last.

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Decline of the Colony and Gaelic Resurgence, 1280-1400
The first attempt to conquer the whole of Ireland had resulted in a threefold division of the island which was to endure until the Tudor conquest: (a) an ever-shrinking “English land”, or “land of peace”, i.e. the few shires effectively controlled by Dublin; (b) the Liberties of the feudal magnates who acknowledged the English Crown, but were opposed alike to encroachment on their privileges and to government from England, and who inclined more and more to Gaelic speech and ways; (c) the unconquered Gaelic kingdoms which, during the next two centuries, were to recover much ground at the expense of both the feudal Liberties and the “English land”.

To this stalemate a variety of causes had contributed, among them the speed and thinness of the conquest, the absorption of the English Crown in domestic strife and Continental wars, the thwarting of English Crown policy by the self-seeking AngloIrish baronage, the repeated passing by marriage of great feudal fiefs to absentee lords unable to defend them, the revolt of cadets against such transferences, the impossibility of extinguishing any Gaelic ruling stock because the derb-fine always provided heirs capable of continuing the kingship, and the creation of Gaelic standing armies.

A major crisis for the Norman colony arose from Scotland’s victory over England at Bannockburn (1314). In pursuance of a projected Scottish-Irish-Welsh alliance against the common foe, Edward Bruce brought a veteran army to Ireland in May 1315. He was promptly joined by King Donal of Tír Eóghain and other adherents, Gaelic and Norman, and a year later was solemnly invested as King of Ireland on Knocknamelan near Dundalk (1 May 1316). The king of Tír Eóghain and other Gaelic princes addressed a celebrated Remonstrance to Pope John XXII, indicting the behaviour of the English kings and the Norman baronage in Ireland, and informing him that they had made Bruce their king. The Pope replied by excommunicating Bruce and his adherents. In the meantime Bruce was campaigning more or less at will through Ulster, the Midlands, and Leinster, his successes setting off a chain of local uprisings against the Normans. Of these the most serious was in the West, where Thomond and Gaelic Meath joined forces with the King of Connacht, only to be disastrously routed outside Athenry, by the baronage of Meath and Connacht, 10 August 1316. [36]

This reverse was offset the following month by the arrival of King Robert of Scotland at the head of a large army. In February 1317 the Bruces marched on Dublin, only to be baulked by lack of a siege train. They then marched back and forth at will as far as Limerick, wasting the countryside and destroying many small towns as well as villages and castles, but achieving nothing of military vaule. In the hope of holding the loyalty of the Norman magnates, Edward II of England had created Edmund Butler Earl of Carrick in September 1315 and Thomas FitzGerald (baron O’Faly) Earl of Kildare in April 1316. Now, in April 1317, Edward’s Lieutenant, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and absentee claimant of the lordships of Trim and Laois, brought a strong army to Ireland. The Earl of Kildare joined forces with him and helped him to overawe the new King of Connacht and to force Edward Bruce back into Ulster to await further reinforcements from Scotland. 1318 bid fair to redress the balance in Bruce’s favour, for, on 10 May, Muircheartach O’Brien of Thomond, by a decisive victory at Dysert O’Dea, turned back the Norman tide which for forty years had been threatening to engulf his kingdom. On 14 October, however, Bruce was slain at Faughart near Dundalk. With him fell Gaelic Ireland’s last hope of an independent monarchy.

The Bruce episode shook the whole Anglo-Norman colonial fabric. Many inland towns and settlements were destroyed for ever. Great areas were recovered for Gaelic civilisation, a fact well exemplified by the restoration in 1327 of the Mac Murrough kingdom of Leinster that had been in abeyance since the death of Dermot II in 1171. The Norman magnates too were enlarging their privileges by maintaining standing armies of native Irishmen, and by exacting from their “English” tenants services which aggravated the exodus set off by the 1315-18 campaigns. And the English Crown was powerless to check them, or even to punish those who had joined Bruce. The growing power of the magnates is reflected in the creation of the Earldom of Ormond (1328), with great privileges, for James Butler, Earl of Carrick, and of the Earldom of Desmond (1329), with palatine jurisdiction over Kerry, for Maurice, son of Tomis an Apa, FitzGerald. The Earls of Desmond were to lead the Home Rule Party of the “Middle Nation” and to incline more and more to Gaelic culture. The Earls of Ormond, on the other hand, were eventually to lead the English Party among the colonists. (Butler policy can be explained in part by Butler-Geraldine rivalry, in part by three notable Butler marriages: the first earl of Ormond himself married a grandaughter of Edward I, thereby acquiring rich estates in England and making his descendants “cousins” of the King; the fifth earl was to marry a sister of Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Somerset; the seventh earl’s heiress married Sir Thomas Boleyn, grandfather of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I of England.)

The year 1333 was marked by a grave blow to the English interest. William de Burgo, “Brown” Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connacht, was murdered in the course of a family feud. The title to his vast possessions passed to his infant daughter, who was to convey it by marriage to the absentee Duke of Clarence, from whom it would descend to the absentee Mortimers and so, ultimately, to the English Crown. In the meantime the Earldom of Ulster was leaderless against the northern Irish, who made the most of their opportunities. Their great hour came in 1375, when Niall O’Neill of Tír Eóghain, great-grandson of Brian of the Battle of Down, routed the feudal levy of Ireland at the Second Battle of Down. Of the Norman supremacy established in Ulster by John de Courcy only Carrickfergus now remained. In less than fifty years after the “Brown” Earl’s death the ancient Uí Néill stocks dominated the whole of the North as never before, and Tír Eóghain had pushed its eastern frontier across the Bann into Ulster itself, where the Clannaboy O’Neills were to remain the foremost stock until the seventeenth century.

In Connacht too the Gaelic order made a spectacular recovery. There, semi-Gaelicised [37] de Burgo cadets seized the “Brown” Earl’s lordship and estabished the Norman-Gaelic families known to history as Mac Uilliam Íochtair (Lower Mac William Burke, in Mayo) and Mac Uilliam Úachtair (Upper Mac William Burke, alias Clann Riocáird - Clanrickard, in Galway). The lesser barons also became Gaelicised, while the ancient Gaelic stocks recovered substantial portionsof their patrimony. In efflect, the whole of the West, apart from the town of Galway, was won back to Gaelic speech and culture. Even in the Midlands the Gaelic tide was turning. Here the most notable successes were won by the O’Mores of Laois, the O’Connors of Éile, and the O’Kennedys of north Ormond.

In 1361 Lionel, Duke of Clarence and husband of the “Brown” Earl’s heiress, came to Ireland as Lieutenant of the English king. The sole enduring relic of his five years of effort to hold back the tide were the notorious, unenforceable, Statutes of Kilkenny designed to prevent the colony, its laws, language (now largely English), and culture from succumbing to Gaelic arms and Gaelic civilisation. The statutes were themselves an admission of a factual threefold division of the island between the “Irish enemies”, the “degenerate English”, and the “land of peace”. By implication, four-fifths of the island are abandoned to the “Irish enemies” and “English rebels”, though the feudal titles to them are not surrendered and, centuries later, will be unjustly resurrected as opportunity offers (see Leighlinbridge).

The reign (1375-1418) of Art Óg Mac Murrough of Leinster, with its widespread assaults on the dwindling “land of peace”, presented English authority with a crisis of such magnitude that Richard II felt impelled to resolve it himself. Richard’s threefold aim was to induce “the wild Irish” - other than the unspeakable Mac Murrough - to submit with honour on a guarantee of just treatment, to win back the “Irish [i.e. Norman] rebels”, and to consolidate the shrinking “English land” and plant it with fresh colonists. For the success of this last, Mac Murrough and his vassals should quit Leinster and settle on lands to be won from the “king’s rebels and enemies”.

To give effect to this ambitious programme Richard came in person in 1394 with the largest English army (perhaps 10,000 men) to land in medieval Ireland. Blockaded by land and sea, his forces pinned down by a network of garrisons, his land laid waste, Mac Murrough was compelled to accept Richard’s terms. Eighty other Gaelic rulers hastened to make formal submission to the English king. But it was all a sham, for Richard had hardly reached home when Mac Murrough, Desmond, O’Neill, O’Brien, and the rest took up arms once more. Three years after Richard’s departure his Lieutenant, cousin, and heir, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and pretender to the vanished earldom of Ulster and the lost lordships of Connacht, Meath, Laois, and Ossory, was routed and slain by Leinster Irish at Kellistown near Tullow. Richard came back to Ireland (1399), resolved to be avenged and to finish Mac Murrough. This time, however, the Leinster king beat him all along the line and, before he had accomplished anything, Richard was called home by Bolingbroke’s usurpation. Art Óg had, indeed, “wrecked English unity for a hundred years”. The English king’s Lordship of Ireland collapsed, not to be restored until Tudor times, for from 1399 to 1534 the effective authority of the English Crown in Ireland was hedged into the little Pale, outside of which Gaelic kings and Norman magnates ruled the land. A succession of these magnates nominally represented the Lord of Ireland, but they behaved as independent princes.

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Anglo-Norman Home Rule; Gaelic Resurgence continues, 1400-1534
Fifteenth century England’s preoccupation with foreign and dynastic wars played into the hands of the Irish potentates, Gaelic and Norman. Some of the more [38] spectacular manifestations of Gaelic resurgence were in the North. Thus in 1423 Tír Eóghan, Tír Chonaill, and Ulster combined to rout Henry VI’s Lieutenant at Dundalk, and in 1430, with Tír Eóghain at the zenith of its power, Eóghan O’Neill, as “King of Ulster”, was receiving the submissions of Midland Normans as well as of Midland Gaels. Hand in hand with political recovery went a religious revival exemplified by the Observant movement among the Augustinian, Franciscan, and Dominican friars, for it was the Gaelic lands which first, and most widely, adopted the Observant reforms.

Among the Normans, by now speakers of English (and Irish) rather than French, the counterpart of the Gaelic resurgence was the Home Rule movement which had manifested itself as far back as 1326, when - so his enemies later alleged - Maurice of Desmond had engaged in the first of many conspiracies to make himself King of Ireland, and which now, under the leadership of the fourth earl of Ormond (1405-52), took a constitutional course. Ormond supported the House of Lancaster, and was several times head of the King’s government in Ireland. Not unnaturally, “Lancastrian Constitutionalism” was welcomed by him and his supporters, the more readily since it could be used to their own advantage. From Ormond’s viceroyalty of 1441-4 onwards it was the Home Rule Party that ruled Ireland, controlled its parliament, shared the offices of state, and exercised the prerogatives of the Lord of Ireland.

In the Wars of the Roses the earls of Desmond and Kildare, backed by their Gaelic relatives and allies, actively espoused the Yorkist cause. Like Ormond, they too made the most of their opportunities to advance the Home Rule cause, and when Richard of York fled for refuge to Ireland the colonial parliament constrained him (1460) to acknowledge the independence of the “land of Ireland”, save only for the personal link with the English Crown. When Richard returned in triumph to England, he left Kildare as his Deputy in Ireland. By 1465 the English Pale had shrunk to Dublin and the nearer parts of Louth, Meath, and Kildare. The ever-present fear of successive English kings, even Yorkist kings, was that some feudal magnate or other would set himself up as King of Ireland with the support of Gael and Norman. In 1467 Edward IV sought to forestall such a disaster by sending over Sir John Tibetot to assert the royal authority. Tibetot shocked the Anglo-Norman colony by having Desmond and Kildare attainted for treason, felony, and alliances with the Irish. Desmond was at once beheaded, but Kildare made his escape to England. This shrewd blow at the Home Rule party proved premature, for the Yorkist cause was still in need of support from Ireland. Three years later Kildare was appointed Justiciar, not by the English government, but by the colonial parliament of Ireland. The only real consequence of Tibetot’s brutal action was the permanent estrangement of the House of Desmond from the English Crown.

In the days of their supremacy (1470-1534) the Earls of Kildare were Kings of Ireland in all but name, clothing their doings with legality by acting with the authority of a subservient parliament. The zenith of their power, and the zenith of colonial Home Rule, was attained under the eighth earl, Gearóid Mór - Gerald the Great - whose sister and daughters allied him by marriage with three great Norman and four great Gaelic stocks, among the latter the O’Neills of Tír Eóghain. With such backing he was safe even from Lancastrian Henry VII Nevertheless, the advent of the Tudors and the introduction of fire-arms spelled the doom of feudal earl and Gaelic king alike. It was Yorkist conspirators and impostors who opened Henry VII’s eyes to the dangers threatening the new absolute monarchy of England from a Home Rule and Yorkist Ireland and from the continuing erosion of the English Pale. Clearly the immediate necessity was to secure the English bridgehead and to nullify the colonial parliament. Both objectives were secured in the brief Deputyship (1494-6) of Sir [39] Edward Poynings, whose “packed” parliament adopted the necessary measures, including a sweeping Act of Resumption (which gave the Crown the appointment of all officers of state) and the notorious “Poynings’ Law”. The latter could was to hamstring every Anglo-Irish parliament until 1782 by providing that no parliament could thereafter assemble without prior English approval of its proposed enactments and unless it was summoned under the Great Seal of England. Poynings’ parliament also re-enacted the Statutes of Kilkenny, with the significant exception of those against the use of the Irish language.

Poynings’ task completed, Kildare was restored, and retained in office until his death (1513). He was succeeded as Lord Deputy by his heir, Gearóid Óg (Young Gerald), third successive earl of Kildare to hold the chief governorship. But Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief minister, and the zealous Butlers were bent on the downfall of the House of Kildare, and filled Henry’s ears with endless complaints against Gerald’s rule. Henry therefore replaced him for two years (1520-22) by the Earl of Surrey, who advised a new conquest and a new English plantation as the only solution of the Irish problem. Henry preferred to restore Kildare and to adopt a policy of Surrender and Regrant whereby the Gaelic magnates (and those Old English whose titles to their land were poor in feudal law) were to be induced to surrender their land to the Crown and receive it back as estates-in-tail. In 1534 Kildare was summoned to London, for the third time, to answer the charges of his enemies, leaving as his deputy his eldest son, Silken Thomas. Thomas was deliberately goaded into rebellion by false rumours of his father’s death in the Tower. Though O’Conor Faly and O’Carroll of Éile rallied to their kinsman’s support, the rebellion was speedily crushed by a great English army equipped with heavy guns. The earl died, Silken Thomas and his five uncles were executed, and the sole survivor of the ancient and powerful house of Kildare was a fugitive boy of ten.

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The Tudor Conquest, 1534-1603
With much of Leinster subjugated and, by a legal fiction, forfeit to the Crown, more active policies directed to the subjugation of the whole island seemed feasible. Their implementation was to prove slow, arduous, and costly. The first steps were to give Henry VIII control of the Church and to provide him with capital by dissolving the monasteries; the next to make him King of Ireland, free from the shackles of papal grants of simple lordship. And so the state “Church of Ireland” was called into being in 1537, the “Kingdom of Ireland” in 1541. (In 1555 Pope Paul legitimised the Kingdom of Ireland for Henry’s daughter, “Bloody Mary”.) From first to last (1541-1800) the Kingdom of Ireland was governed from England through English viceroys and officials responsible to London. From first to last (1537-1869) the state Church of Ireland was the church of a minority, for Protestantism was something alien introduced by New English officials and planters.

His legal titles acknowledged, Henry VIII was, on the whole, content to let events drift to their logical outcome. While the ultimate Anglicisation of the whole island was an explicit objective of both his secular and his ecclesiastical policy, he was normally content to allow the Gaelic magnates (once they had acknowledged the Crown by treaties of surrender and regrant) to rule their countries by Gaelic law. Not until the reign of Mary was the next major step taken, the adoption of the long debated plantation policy.

In 1556 the inland Leinster territories of Laois and Uí Failghe were shired as Queen’s County and King’s County, and the eastern two-thirds granted to English and Welsh settlers. For Laois a Crown title through the Mortimers was fabricated. For Uí Failghe, O’Conor Faly’s share in the rebellion of Silken Thomas afforded the lawyer’s pretext. The victims fought desperately to retain their ancestral lands and only finally laid down their arms in 1603. English attention was next directed to Tír Eóghain. Conn Bacach O’Neill had, in a disingenuous game of bluff, acknowledged Henry VIII and had accepted the title Earl of Tyrone (1541-2). On Conn’s death (1559), however, his second son, Seaán an Diomais (John the Proud), had, in accordance with Gaelic law, been installed as O’Neill, as King of Tír Eóghain. Elizabeth I ordered him to be crushed forthwith. Seaán gave arms to the common folk “the first that ever did so of an Irishman” - and could not be brought to bay. Attempts to have him murdered miscarried. Neither could he be cajoled or deceived. In the end it was the O’Donnells who broke Great O’Neill, the Mac Donnells of Antrim who murdered him (1567). The English at once had him attainted, the title O’Neill pronounced extinguished, and - somewhat prematurely - the land of Tír Eóghain declared forfeit to the Crown.

In the meantime the attack was switched to the old earldom of Ulster, for which also a Crown title through the Mortimers was devised. The Clannaboy O’Neills and the Mac Donnells were declared to have no rights there, and schemes were set afoot for planting the Ards peninsula (1572) and Glens of Antrim (1574) with English settlers. The projects had to be abandoned, but not before the Earl of Essex had perpetrated loathsome massacres. About the same time Desmond was attacked, the 15th Earl made prisoner for engaging in battle (Affane, 1565) with his traditional enemy, the Earl of Ormond, and the palatinate jurisdiction of Kerry abolished. About this time too the possessions of the Old English in Munster (and elsewhere) began to be threatened by Devon-Somerset adventurers like Sir Peter Carew (see Leighlinbridge) and Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1569 the Pope at long last excommunicated Elizabeth I for her share in making England Protestant, whereupon Desmond’s cousin, Sir James Fitzmaurice, headed an Old English revolt in defence of the Catholic religion and of ancestral property. The rebels were soon joined by Gaelic lords like MacCarthy Mór. In Wicklow too, and in Laois-Uí Failghe, men sprang to arms. No major actions took place, but when several Munster castles had been taken with merciless slaughter the revolt died away, Fitzmaurice surrendering in 1573 and departing for the Continent.

In 1579 Fitzmaurice returned and tried to rally the south in defence of Catholicism, but very few joined him. In Leinster, however, the indomitable O’Mores and O’Conors of Laois-Uí Failghe rose once more; likewise O’Byrne of Wicklow, soon to be joined by James FitzEustace, Viscount Baltinglass. In Munster the rising was countered with horrifying savagery, the whole land laid desolate, and the hapless, hunchback 15th Earl of Desmond driven to rebellion and destruction. Abandoned by Philip II of Spain, on whom they had pinned their hopes, the insurgents were overwhelmed. All was over by 1583. The way now seemed clear for the plantation of Munster. Accordingly 210,000 acres of the best land were confiscated for settling with Protestant English owners and tenants. (The opportunities for swindling on a grand scale were eagerly seized. Sir Walter Raleigh, for example, ended up with 40,000 ill-gotten acres.) Nevertheless, as an effort at colonisation the Plantation proved a failure, for very few English tenant farmers were attracted to Munster at this stage.

By this time the English Governor of Connacht was steadily encroaching on the southern marches of Tír Chonaill and Tír Eóghain. For twenty-five years, against a background of widespread plotting to organise a national, Catholic confederacy supported by Spain, Great Hugh O’Neill (Earl of Tyrone, 1587) had cunningly, patiently, and tortuously maintained a minimal loyalty to the English Crown. The English seizure (1594) of Enniskillen and the Gap of the Erne forced him at last to choose between open war and surrender. So began the Nine Years’ War. Having [41] no artillery with which to reduce the English towsn, O’Neill adopted Fabian tactics, engaging the enemy only when compelled to do so, and playing for time by repeated truces and parleys; for time until Spanish help should come, or James VI of Scotland ascend Elizabeth of England’s throne; for time to conver a struggle for self-preservation into a confederacy for the salvation of Catholic Ireland.

The first five years of war gave O’Neill and Red Hugh II O’Donnell a series of spectacular victories; victories which brought most of the country over to them, including Munster, where the Plantation was swept away and the Súgán (Strawrope) Earl of Desmond restored for a space to a portion of his patrimony. In 1600, however, Lord Mountjoy arrived with the greatest army ever sent from England. His savagely effective policy of repression and devastation soon crushed the revolt in the south. Within eighteen months O’Neill and O’Donnell had been hemmed into their own territories by a chain of forts and entrenchments, but they still held out, their hopes on Spain. At long last the Spanish aid arrived - at the opposite end of Ireland. The English and Irish armies hurried south to Kinsale, and there the issue was decided by a resounding English victory on Christmas Eve, 1601. Thereafter Mountjoy harried the North almost at will until Tír Eóghain and Tír Chonaill surrendered at last on 30 March 1603. Gaelic Ireland had made its greatest effort and had failed.

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The Final Conquest, 1603-90
Though the vanquished were pardoned by James I, the earldom of Tyrone restored to O’Neill, and the earldom of Tyrconnell conferred on Red Hugh’s successor, Rory, the Northern princes were no longer independent Gaelic rulers. Their territories were shired (as Cos. Donegal, Tyrone, Derry, and Armagh) and subjected to English law; Gaelic law and Gaelic tenures were abolished. In addition, the Dublin junta never ceased to plot Tyrone’s destruction. Only by flight could he and O’Donnell hope to save themselves and their families, and so, on 14 September 1607, they sailed away, never to return. The “Flight of the Earls” was promptly declared to be treason and made a pretext for finding the six western counties of the modern Province of Ulster forfeit to the Crown. By chicanery of every kind nearly 500,000 acres of the best land were taken from their owners and thrown open for planting with Protestants from England and Scotland, the City of London Companies obtaining large estates. Only some 300 old freeholders were conceded grants under the articles of plantation, though of course thousands of Gaelic tenants remained. Similar, if smaller, plantations were carried out in parts of Leinster and Connacht. Like the Ulster Plantation, these were a violation of the Act of Oblivion and Pardon (1604) which had terminated the Nine Years’ War.

The violence, suffering, degradation, and inter-denominational hatred inseparable from the several sixteenth and seventeenth century plantations only prepared the ground for violent efforts at recovery and revenge as soon as opportunity offered, which efforts in their turn would engender further violence, suffering, and hatred. In the long view, however, perhaps their worst feature was the enlargement of the agrarian proletariat by the depression of a substantial body of ancient freeholders. It was in these confiscations and plantations that the oppressive features of the landlordism of eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland had their roots.

Despite the plantations, the great majority of Irish landowners, as of the population at large, was still Catholic. But it had grave causes for fear: Protestants, aliens by birth and speech as well as by religion, had control of parliament and the state; a plantation of Connacht threatened; further confiscations were in the air, imperilling even Old English magnates who had become Protestants; Munster was falling into the clutches of English “carpet-baggers” like Robert Boyle, “Great” [42] Earl of Cork; Catholics were barred from public office, the legal profession, and the university, and were forbidden to keep schools; a Court of Wards had been set up to ensure the Protestant upbringing of minors. In general, however, James I, and after him Charles I, adopted a policy of “connived indulgence” towards the majority, and all might have ended well enough but for the rise of Nonconformist parliamentarianism in Britain and the repeated cheating of the Irish Catholics in the matter of royal Graces (i.e. the amelioration of injustices) promised by Charles I in return for subsidies. In 1638 the Scottish Presbyterians rose against Charles and the following year the Dublin government fell into the clutches of Puritan Lords Justice, who finally blocked the Graces and seemed bent on driving the country to rebellion so as to justify further spoliation of the natives. And rebellion came. It started in October 1641 with the rising of the Old Irish of Ulster, led by Sir Felim O’Neill, and of Leinster, led by Rory O’More of Laois, but soon spread to the Old English lords of the Pale, to Munster, and to Connacht. Tragically, if understandably, the first upsurge of those so recently and so cruelly wronged was the occasion of atrocities on the planters, particularly in the North. These atrocities were grossly exaggerated by calculated propaganda and were later made the pretext for barbarous treatment of the vanquished. The insurgent demands appear to us today as scarcely excessive: civil and religious rights for all, redress of injustices arising from the confiscations, the freeing of parliament from the shackles of Poynings’ Law.

The course of the ensuing Eleven Years’ War was bedevilled by a complexity of sometimes shifting interests: Royalist v. Parliamentarian, Catholic v. Protestant, Episcopalian Protestant v. Dissenting Protestant, Old Irish and Old English v. New English, Old Irish v. Old English. It was the Old Irish who provided the best of the Catholic armies, the army of Ulster, and the best Catholic general, Eóghan Rúa O’Neill, nephew of Great Hugh. Nevertheless, it was the Old English faction which dominated the government and parliament of the Catholic Confederacy (Confederation of Kilkenny). The choice of Kilkenny, capital of the Butler country, as the seat of the Confederation, gave an undue influence to the Butler interest, and thus to Charles I’s Lord Lieutenant, the Protestant Earl (later Marquis and Duke) of Ormonde, whose sole purpose was to make Ireland a stronghold of the Crown in its struggle with the English Parliament, and to keep the country dependent on England - on a Parliamentarian England if necessary.

In 1649-50, O’Neill being dead, Cromwell butchered his way through Leinster and Munster and the Confederation dissolved. Thereafter the Catholic-Royalist armies were beaten one by one, the war coming to a close in 1652. By the time it had ended famine, plague, and the sword had reduced the population to a mere 500,000. The victors allowed the Irish leaders and troops to take service abroad, and then set about crushing the defenceless nation for ever. The Catholic Church was suppressed; thousands of common folk were shipped to the West Indies practically as slaves; the “Irish Papist” landowners - save those who took to the hills and woods as “rapparees” - were herded into parts of Connacht and Clare; 11,000,000 acres of land were apportioned out among new Protestant settlers; the towns, too, were colonised with new Protestants. In this way a substantial Protestant and English minority was added to the population and Protestants came to dominate, not only the landowning classes, but also the urban, commercial, industrial, and professional life of the country.

The restoration of Charles II (1660) merely confirmed the Cromwellian settlers in power and possessions. The king had been well served by the Catholic Irish exiles, but only a minority of these recovered anything of their estates. (A few were given compensation in New England, the pioneers of the great Irish migrations to the Americas in search of freedom and opportunity.) However, the king’s policy of “connived toleration” meant that the worst anti-Catholic laws were seldom enforced. [43] Under James II the “Old English” Catholic party came to power, and in 1687 a member of that party, Richard Talbot (Earl of Tyrconnell, 1685), became Lord Lieutenant. Civic rights were restored to the majority, the army and the legal profession opened to them. Such elementary justice awakened the resentment of the newly come Protestants, and when Talbot proceeded to raise a Catholic army Catholic army to maintain the Stuart Crown they began to fear for their rights as well as for their privileges. Accordingly, when the Williamite rebellion broke out in England most of the Protestants in Ireland sided with the rebels. Catholic Ireland, on the other hand, naturally rallied round King James against the Protestant ally of the Pope. In 1689 James came to Ireland and summoned the Patriot Parliament, whose Catholic majority proceeded to disendow the Church of Ireland and to undo the Cromwellian Confiscation in such a way as to cause injustice to some Protestants. James then took the field against the northern rebels, who had seized Derry and Enniskillen. His attempt on Derry failed and a Williamite army landed at Carrickfergus to outmanouvre him on the Boyne (July 1690). Though James then left the country, his adherents continued the struggle with French help. The decisive action took place at Aughrim, near Ballinasloe (12 July 1691), where the Jacobite field army was broken, with heavy losses among the Old Irish and Old English aristocracy. The war ended with the Treaty of Limerick, on 3 October 1691. The Jacobite army then sailed away to France, leaving the nation leaderless and defenceless. The English conquest of Ireland was complete.

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