The Celts - Part III

The Rise of the Uí Cheinnsealaigh Line, Diarmuid Mac Murrough and the Coming of the Normans


 

1. Preface

The outstanding figure of 11th century Ireland, who brought the hitherto relatively unimportant Uí Cheinnsealaigh to dominate Leinster and was effectively the most powerful figure in Ireland of his time, was Diarmuid Mac Maol na mBó, grandfather of Diarmuid Mac Murchadha.

This leads into one of the most important and controversial periods in Irish history, involving the role played by Diarmuid Mac Murchadha in the arrival of the Normans in Ireland. This episode has, more than most others in Irish history, generally been subjected to oversimplification and inaccuracies. The very complex background, as well as the personalities involved and their motivations need to be carefully analysed in order to have a full appreciation of this momentous event in Irish history.

One needs to appreciate:

-Firstly, the existence of prior Norman ambitions to conquer Ireland: the Normans had planned their invasion of Ireland well before 1169, but had postponed it until then.

Secondly, the role of the Papacy in a European Dimension: as a counterweight to the threat posed by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to the Italian States, the Papacy followed a political strategy of maintaining alliances with the Normans. In turn, the Normans made the use of diplomatic overtures to the then English-born Pope to give their invasion plans a cloak of religious respectability. Likewise, the See of Canterbury, having already ordained some Norse bishops of Dublin but having had this procedure interrupted, had designs on obtaining control over the Irish Church.

- Thirdly, the absence of a strong internal power : the domestic Irish political scene had been unstable since the death of Brian Boru, with internecine strife as various clans competed for local and provincial power and for the High Kingship. Local interests prevailed over everything else. This situation both provided the initial impetus for the Norman invasion and obviously made the country vulnerable to a Norman takeover.

Incidentally, it is as well to point out that as a result of the course of history, few Irish families are without some small modicum of Norman ancestry.

2. Tumultuous Period Following 1014

Brian Boru’s career had demonstrated that the stranglehold of the Uí Néill on the High Kingship could be broken, but his clan were not strong enough to maintain its hold on it after his death. The country subsequently entered into a period of political instability, with a number of chieftains vying for the High Kingship but rarely able to command overall support. This was a tumultuous period of wars and rapidly changing alliances, in the absence of a strong central power.

After Brian’s death, the Southern Uí Néill of Meath again resumed the High Kingship, but on the death of their king (Mael Seachnal) in 1022, the title was again in contention.

Death in battle while leading their armies from the front was a regular hazard for Irish chieftains. Moreover, the death of a chieftain in battle often triggered a disengagement and a retreat by the dead chieftain’s followers.

It must also be borne in mind that this was a very violent and cruel era all over Europe, with horrendous deeds perpetrated by those in pursuit of land and power. Territories were forcibly seized and massacres carried out without religious or other qualms, rivals were ruthlessly eliminated and hostages were murdered in retaliation for broken pledges.

It is against this background that we observe the emergence of the ancestral Uí Cheinnsealaigh dynasty.

Diarmuid Mac Maol na mBó

For most of the middle years of the 11th century the leading contender for the High Kingship (“High King with opposition”) was Diarmaid Mac Maol na mBó, of the Uí Cheinnsealaigh line. He not alone involved himself in Irish affairs but also of those of the Isle of Man and Wales. In 1052 he was the first Irish king to assume the kingship of Dublin, which from then on outshone Tara as the seat of royal power.

As Donnchadh Ó Corráin (Journal of Old Wexford Society, Vol. 4) has pointed out, he spearheaded the rise of the Uí Cheinnsealaigh from a relatively unimportant South Leinster tribe to the Kingship of Leinster. Prior to that, the dynastic families (Uí Dhúnlainge) of North Leinster (Uí Mhuireadaigh or O’Tooles, Uí Fhaeláin or O’Byrnes, Uí Dhúnchada or Mac Giollamacolmógs) had ruled the kingdom. These were all descendants of Murchadh Mac Brain (d. 727). However, during the later Norse war period the power of the North Leinster families began to decline, aggravated by internecine quarrels. Their hold over Leinster was broken by Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phádraig of Osraí, who became King of Leinster in 1037. A subsequent recovery by the O’Tooles ( Murchadh Mac Dúnlaing King of Leinster 1040-42) was only temporary.

Having removed a rival by blinding him, Diarmaid Mac Maol na mBó established himself as King of Uí Cheinnsealaigh by 1036. He then created an alliance with the powerful Mac Giolla Phádraig of Osraí and plundered and burned Viking Waterford. His expansion into the Kildare lands of the O’Tooles was temporarily checked when Murchadh Mac Dúnlaing defeated the Uí Cheinnsealaigh in 1041, killing Diarmuid’s brother Dónal Remar and, in alliance with the O’Brien claimant to the High Kingship, Mac Dúnlaing then invaded Uí Cheinnsealaigh and burned Ferns.

In the following year (1042) Diarmuid, with the assistance of Mac Giolla Phádraig, retaliated and defeated and killed Mac Dúnlaing in battle. This destroyed for ever the O’Toole hegemony in Leinster and until his death in battle in 1072 against Meath, Mac Maol na mBó remained king of Leinster. Moreover, his descendants retained this Kingship until Diarmuid Mac Murrough’s death in 1171.

In defiance of the O’ Brien claimant to the High Kingship (Mac Briain), Diarmuid began to interfere in the the Mael Seachlann (or O’Maolachlann) Kingdom of Meath and in 1052 made himself master of Norse Dublin and its environs, while continuing his attempted expansion into the Kingdom of Meath.

The death of Mac Giolla Phádraig , his Osraí ally, in 1055 left Diarmuid in a position of supreme power in Leinster and allowed him to concentrate his attention on imterprovincial politics.

Munster

In Munster, Donnchadh Mac Briain, the claimant to the High Kingship, was faced with both internal and external enemies. Mac Maol na mBó with his protégé Turlough o’Brien, invaded Munster, seized Limerick and defeated Donnchadh Mac Briain at Sliabh gCrot in 1058. This placed Diarmuid in a position of unrivalled power and influence. His chief enemy Mac Briain was so weakened that he submitted to O’Connor of Connacht in an unsuccessful attempt to split his alliance with Mac Maol na mBó. Subsequently, Turlough O’Brien, with Mac Maol na mBó’s support, definitively defeated Mac Briain at the battle of Es Móingeláin in 1063 and assumed the kingship of Munster. North Leinstermen had fought for the defeated Mac Briain, indicating that they recognised that Mac Maol na mBó had become too powerful to be overthrown by their own resources.

Murchadh his son

Diarmuid’s son Murchadh was his able lieutenant, who controlled Leinster for him while his father’s attention was occupied by inter-provincial matters, especially those in Munster. Murchadh was especially involved in raiding the Kingdom of Meath, although not always successfully, since in 1059 Murchadh suffered a defeat by the Meathmen.

While Diarmuid concentrated his energies on subduing Munster, Murchadh reigned as King of Dublin and in 1061 led an expedition to the Isle of Man where he defeated its King, Ragnal.

Connacht

Turlough O’Brien, new King of Munster, was both vigorous and astute and allied himself with Mac Maol na mBó. They both went into battle against their former ally, Aodh O’Connor King of Connacht, who was weakened by having to fend off a number of enemies, including the Mac Lochlainns in 1063.

In 1067, O’Connor had to face an invasion from Mac Maol na mBó, Mac Giolla Phádraig of Ossory and O’Brien from the south, while the O’Ruaircs of Breffni attacked from the east. O’Connor was defeated and slain and O’Ruairc assumed the kingship of Connacht. Turlough O’Brien did not challenge for the High Kingship at this time and decided to remain in the wings.

Overseas

It is of interest that subsequent to the Battle of Hastings, two or three of Harold’s sons who survived fled to their father's old ally and were received for a period of time in Dublin. They subsequently took ship to Denmark. A "standard" of the Saxon King referred to as in Diarmuid’s possession almost certainly came from Diarmuid’s earlier connection with Harold, an indication of the close links between South Leinster and Britain at the time.

Death of Diarmuid

However, Diarmuid lost both of his sons (Murchadh and Gluniarn) in battle against the Meathmen in 1069 and he himself subsequently also fell in battle in 1072 at Odba against the Meathmen, with both his Leinster and Ostmen allies suffering heavy losses. His protégé Turlough O’Brien subsequently became High King.

By a combination of political astuteness and military prowess Mac Maol na mBó rose from being king of the relatively small south Leinster Uí Cheinnsealaigh to becoming King of Leinster, the most powerful king in the southern part of Ireland and effectively, a contestant for the High Kingship. He had asserted his authority over the Norse of Dublin, placed a protégé of his own on the throne of Munster and had overcome the king of Connacht. He is historically regarded as being the “king maker” of the period and “High King with Opposition” . Overseas, he was also allied with King Harold of England and there are indications that he had planned to undertake military operations with him. Harold’s sons sought refuge with Mac Maol na mBó after their defeat at the Battle of Hastings.

Subsequent to Mac Maol na mBó’s death, his allies the O’Briens (Turlough 1072-86 and Muircheartach 1086-1119) claimed the High Kingship. Power then shifted to the O’Connors of Connacht, with a very able Turlough O’Connor being replaced on his death in 1156 by the king of the Northern Uí Néill, Muircheartach Mac Lochlainn.

This was very significant as Muircheartach became a close ally of Diarmuid McMurrough and it was on Mac Lochlainn’s death in 1166 that Rory O’Connor, son of Turlough but a person of vacillating character and much less able ruler, came to power. He was an enemy of Diarmuid and his accession eventually led to Diarmuid’s expulsion, with well known momentous consequences.

3. The Background to the Coming of the Normans

The Origin of the Normans

The Normans were the descendants of Vikings who had settled in France around the mouth of the Seine and carved out the dukedom of Normandy for themselves. They were quite a remarkable bunch who left a major impact on European, and even world, history. They had much in common with the later Spanish Conquistadores in Latin America, rapacious and undaunted by obstacles in their drive to acquire territory for themselves. In many cases also, these Norman adventurers were landless men with little to lose, often younger sons who needed to carve out wealth for themselves because of primogeniture laws. They were tough, utterly ruthless, merciless soldiers, using the latest military techniques. Their obstinacy often enabled them to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, when their opponents were relaxing in the assurance of having beaten them. To achieve their ends they were willing to use every stratagem available to them. They also intermarried with the natives, whenever this was advantageous. One commentator (J.C.Walsh in “The Lament for John Mac Walter Walsh”, Kelmscott Press) said of them “ These men had no scruple whatsoever about taking what belonged to others, with whatever incidental slaughter was involved in the process”.

The martial prowess of the Normans may be gauged from the fact that by 1100, they controlled not only England but also Sicily, and Southern Italy, and they subsequently formed the backbone of the Crusades and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

An example of their incredible fierceness and disregard for odds against them is illustrated in “A Short History of Venice “ by John Julius Norwich,( Penguin). In 1084 Norman ruler of Sicily Robert de Hautville (known as “Guiscard “ - the crafty) the former penniless brigand had both the Eastern and Western Emperors on the run before him and the greatest of all medieval Popes in his power”. His boundless ambition is evident from the fact that even before he had consolidated fully his hold on Sicily, he was planning to conquer Constantinople. He had to interrupt his first march on Constantinople to return to the assistance of Pope who was besieged by Emperor Henry IV in 1084. At age 68 Guiscard returned to his campaign in the East. Following two major naval defeats by the Venetian allies of Constantinople off Corfu, the Venetians sent back their fastest boats to Venice to announce victory. Sensing a moment of opportunity, Robert suddenly launched everything he had, caught the Venetians totally unawares, sank their fleet, leaving some 13 000 Venetians dead and taking many prisoners. Ironically, his progress towards Constantinople was only finally halted when he and many of his men succumbed to typhoid fever.

In 1066, William of Normandy (historically known as “William the Bastard”, due to his birth circumstances- see, “Europe, a History”, by Norman Davies, Pimlico ) invented a claim on the English throne and gathered an invasion force from France. Significantly, the then Pope gave his support for what was an invasion of very doubtful legal basis. From Rome’s point of view this was a move to build up supporters independent of the Empire, from William’s point of view it was a means of persuading his men to fight. The English King Harold hurried south from defeating a force under Harold of Norway in the north of England and, though confident of success, he was unluckily struck and killed by an arrow at the battle of Hastings. With his death, his Anglo-Saxon troops disintegrated and the Normans took over his kingdom.

The Norman knights and their Flemish, French and Breton mercenaries quickly divided the lands of the defeated Anglo-Saxons among themselves and they subsequently expanded westwards into Celtic Wales to carve out estates there, where they met some stiffer resistance than in England.

Long Term Norman Preparations for an Invasion of Ireland

William the Conqueror is reputed to have considered an invasion of Ireland subsequent to conquering England, but his attention was distracted by events back in France. It is clear, in any event, that the Norman conquest of Ireland had been well “programmed” in 1155 by King Henry II, but was postponed at the time due to the opposition of his mother, Queen Matilda.

To lend a veneer of “legality” to an invasion of Ireland the Normans had lobbied the then English Pope, Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakespeare) to obtain his “permission” to intervene in Ireland, supposedly to assist ecclesiastical reform of Irish church affairs.

The Mysterious Papal Bull “Laudabiliter”

In pursuit of their projected invasion of Ireland the Normans had already sent John of Salisbury, later Bishop of Chartres to lobby Pope Adrian IV in 1155. John of Salisbury then mendaciously claimed that Pope Adrian had granted Henry II sovereignty of the Island of Ireland via a bull known as Laudabiliter.

In his “The Norman Invasion of Ireland ” (Anvil Press), Richard Roche quotes John of Salisbury as follows:

“It was at my request that he (Adrian IV) granted to the illustrious king of the English, Henry II, the hereditary possession of Ireland as his still extant letters attest; for all these islands are reputed to belong by a long-established right to the Church of Rome, to which they were granted by Constantine, who established and endowed it”…

Now one wonders under what pretext the Pope in Rome could take it on himself to grant the sovereignty of an island which he had absolutely nothing to do with in a temporal sense to a foreign monarch.

There are in fact a number of relevant elements which supply the answer.

Firstly, the Latin Text of the aforementioned bull does not grant Henry sovereignty over Ireland. All it does is permit him “ to enter that island and do therein what tends to the honour of God and the salvation of the people” i.e. with the objective of putting the Irish church in order. Pope Adrian IV accepted biased and inaccurate information about the state of the Irish church supplied to him by the Norman delegation. We will return below to the state of the Irish church at the time.

Secondly, the Pope assumes that he has sovereignty over “the Island” on the basis of a document which refers to the Roman Emperor Constantine having given the “Islands” as a gift to the Papacy. Since the Romans never set foot in Ireland this seems rather hollow. Moreover, the Catholic Encylopedia points out that the document on which the “Donation of Constantine” is based is a proven forgery, dating from between 750 and 850. The objective of the forgery was to pretend that the Emperor Constantine had shared temporal sovereignty with the Papacy prior to his departure from Rome to Constantinople. This was an attempt to shore up the temporal claims of the Papacy. The forgery in fact only made a broad reference to Italy and the western regions. The reference to “the islands” in the extant copy of the bull is even more vague and has even less justification, given that there was never Roman sovereignty over Ireland.

Thirdly, the fact that no original copy of the bull has been found in the Vatican archives, and that the Normans only referred to it twenty years later, has caused historians to be rather cautious about the bull’s authenticity in the first place (see results of Duggan research below).

Finally, the fact that Pope Adrian IV was an Englishman, a personal friend of Henry II and, as we shall see, beholden to the Normans for their support against the Emperor Frederick, would hardly make for objectivity on his part.

The following extract from an article by Conor Kostick in History Ireland, vol. 13, No. 3, May/June 2005, Pp. 7-8, records a new and sceptical interpretatation of both Laudabiliter and a supposed Innocent III letter by Professor Anne Duggan:

“Professor Duggan argues that there seems to be something wrong with the order of the paragraphs of Laudabiliter as it appears in Gerald's (Cambrensis) chronicle. In the second paragraph is a legalistic assertion of papal rights over all islands, and in the third a reference to a request of Henry II for sanction to invade Ireland. These appear to be the wrong way around: a papal letter would normally make reference to the petition before its exposition of the grounds on which the judgement is made.

It is known that Gerald of Wales was not averse to forgery. In his same account of the conquest of Ireland there is a letter, allegedly from Alexander III, which nobody seriously believes to be authentic as it breaks several rules of protocol and does not match the diction of the papal curia. Yet Professor Duggan does not go so far as to argue that Laudabiliter is a similar out and out concoction since there is independent evidence that Pope Adrian IV did send some missive to the king of England on the subject of Ireland. John of Salisbury wrote that in 1155 he secured the grant of Ireland to the English king and got an emerald ring From the pope for the investiture of Ireland. The reference to the ring is so specific, and it has been established that John was in the company of the pope at the time, even eating from the same table, that it is clear that he returned with something. But, argues Professor Duggan, this document was not the letter as it appears in Gerald's account, and nor was it so suitable to the purposes of the king of England that it should be preserved in the royal records.

By rearranging the order of the paragraphs of the letter in a more conventional manner, Professor Duggan showed that the effect of the letter is no longer a positive endorsement of the invasion of Ireland. The illusion that the pope is strongly favour of the invasion disappears, and now reads as a more cautious statement that fits very closely with a known letter of Adrian IV, advising the kings of France and England not to go forward with a planned crusade to Spain unless they consulted the 'princes, churches and people of the region'- Professor Duggan summarized thus the position of Pope Adrian IV in the proposed establishment of a lordship in Ireland:

‘I think he had extremely cold feet. He could not simply say "no" to Henry' II, the most powerful prince in Europe, and alienate him unnecessarily. But he undermined the idea by insisting on the consent of the Irish.' “

The Papacy, Normans and European Politics

The link between the Papacy and the Normans undoubtedly emerged from the mutual benefit which each side considered was to be derived from it. In fact, the story started out badly when the then penniless Norman brigands arrived in Calabria in 1017 in the Southern part of Italy. They were opposed by the Papacy but defeated a numerically superior Papal army in 1051 and held the Pope (Leo IX) prisoner for 9 months. However, Rome later reversed its hostile stance towards the Normans and formed an alliances with them. In 1061, Robert de Hautville (known as Guiscard, the “crafty”, the 4th of Tancred d’Hautville’s 12 sons) was invested by Pope Nicholas II with the Duchies of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily, the latter still in Saracen and Byzantine hands. Some 13 years later the Normans had taken Palermo and after 20 years of fighting controlled the entire island and had driven the Byzantines from their last stronghold in Bari in Southern Italy. The fact that the Normans undertook to pay the Papacy a substantial annual tribute, based on the number of ploughlands conquered was not unlikely to have had an influence on the Pope’s decision to grant the investiture.

Guiscard had not totally conquered Sicily when he took off to conquer the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. Within a few weeks all Illyria and Kastoria in Macedonia had submitted to him. He would probably have reached Constantinople were it not for an urgent appeal in 1084 for help from Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) who had been besieged in Castel Sant’ Angelo by the Emperor Henry IV. Guiscard rescued him and then returned to Greece, where he achieved the last gasp victory over the combined Greek and Venetian fleets referred to above, before falling victim to typhoid.

Before the Norman conquest of Sicily was complete, the Papacy decided to back another Norman adventurer and sent William of Normandy (known as the Bastard) the banner of St.Peter to bless his expedition against England. From William’s point of view this was a means of persuading his troops to fight, but he subsequently repudiated a deal (as in the case of Sicily) to provide an annual payment to the Papacy in return.

The Papal link with the Normans continued when the very powerful 32 year old Emperor Frederick Barbarossa decided that he would dominate the Italian States in the old Roman Imperial style. In Spring 1155 Frederick journeyed to Rome to meet the newly elected Adrian IV and succeeded in insulting both Adrian and the Roman Senate. Frederick had himself crowned Roman emperor and was immediately engulfed in a Roman uprising which resulted in many casualties.

In 1156 Pope Adrian and William of Sicily signed a mutual defence treaty at Benevento, which provided the nucleus for the Lombard League among the northern city states. The cities undertook to have no dealings with Frederick, while the Pope undertook to excommunicate Frederick. On Adrian’s death shortly afterwards, Frederick tried unsuccessfully to nominate his own candidate in opposition to the newly elected Pope Alexander III (Cardinal Roland of Siena). In July 1167 Alexander III was besieged by Barbarossa but his army was decimated by pestilence and he had to withdraw. It was not until 1177 that a reconciliation was established by the Treaty of Venice.

It is against this tumultuous background that Adrian IV’s Laudabiliter bull (which now appears to have been mendaciously misrepresented), and subsequent letter of support for Henry’s actions in Ireland from Alexander III (which many now hold may have been forged), have to be interpreted. The fact that this bull was only publicly resurrected at a suitable moment, 20 years later in 1175, indicates its opportunistic nature and certainly casts doubt on its intrinsic value (See below the Duggan interpretation).

It should also be pointed out that Henry II undertook in 1172 to pay Peter’s Pence for Ireland to the pope, which might be deemed a cynical attempt at bribery, especially as the blame for murder of Thomas A Beckett hung over Henry at that time.

The Situation of the Irish Church

The pretext used by the Normans in dealing with the Papacy was that the Irish Church had needed reform. But was such reform necessary ?

Brian Ó Cuív (”the Course of Irish History –Ireland in the eleventh and twelfth centuries“, Mercier Press for RTE) states “…between the introduction of Christianity in the fifth century and the time of Brian Boru , the Church in Ireland had for the most part met the needs of the Irish people. Though in communion with Rome, it was to a large extent self-governing, self-renewing and when the circumstances required it self-reforming. When we come to the eleventh century we find that many of the old monasteries founded by the early saints and their followers were still in existence and flourishing and that they were spread throughout the country……Moreover, the Schottenkloster or Irish monasteries of Ratisbon, Wurzburg, Mainz and other places in Germany remind us that even in the eleventh century Ireland was still sending missionaries sons abroad….”

The Viking raids had undoubtedly caused upheaval and certain laxity had crept into religious practices, but reform came when needed. As Ó Cuív puts it, “Through renewed contacts with Western Europe, established by the latest wave of Irish missionaries, and also through Irish pilgrims who made their way to Rome, Irishmen at home became aware of the vast church reform which was taking place on the Continent. The fact that the Norse towns had become Christianised and from the early eleventh century looked to Canterbury for consecration was an important factor”.

The Synod of Cashel in 1111 was the culmination of a series of reforms and St.Malachy following his travels to Rome and contacts with St. Bernard of Clairvaux introduced the Cistercians, starting at Mellifont in 1142.

Following the Synod of Kells, “ in 1152 the Papal Legate (Cardinal Paparo) could report to the Pope that the Church in Ireland had now the basic organisation to look after the basic care of its flock. The reports which led to Pope Adrian’s strange grant to Henry II three years later were either deliberately false or based on a mistaken view of the true state of affairs in Ireland”.

4. Diarmuid Mac Murchadha (McMurrough), King of Leinster.

Diarmuid’s Character

One version states that Diarmuid McMurrough’s father, Donnchadh, king of Uí Cheinnsealaigh, was killed in battle in Dublin against an alliance of the O’Briens of Thomond and the Norse of Dublin in 1115. Another version related by Cambrensis states that he was treacherously assassinated by the Norse of Dublin and a dog buried with his body, to show contempt for, and to dishonour, him.

Diarmuid was therefore born into an era of turmoil, treachery and violence, which undoubtedly left its mark on him.

Diarmuid’s elder brother Eanna succeeded him and upon Eanna’s death in 1126, Diarmuid succeeded to the kingship supposedly at the age of 16 years. There is, however, some disagreement over Dermot’s age. At his death in 1171, he is generally thought to have been in his mid-60s, but one source puts him as older.

There are only two contemporary, or near contemporary. accounts of Diarmuid and of the invasion, both of them Norman sources. Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), was a grandson of the famous Welsh Princess Nesta and therefore related to many of the leading invaders. Despite his pride in his Welsh ancestry, he was hostile to the Irish and many of his comments (in “Expugnatio Hibernica”) were coloured by this prejudice and rancour. The second source is an intriguing one, written in verse in Old French (“The Song of Dermot and the Earl”). It is dated by scholars as from around 1220, and seems to be the work of a Norman monk, but there is a feeling it may have been based on an account by Diarmuid’s secretary, Morice O’Regan.

So what can we learn of Diarmuid from historical accounts in general ?

Unfortunately, because of the hostile bias in most of these commentaries, they have to be treated with reserve.

Cambrensis describes Diarmuid as:

“tall of stature and stout of build. A man of warlike spirit and a brave one in his own nation with a hoarse voice from frequent shouting in the din of battle. One who preferred to be feared rather than loved, who was obnoxious to his own people and an object of hatred to strangers. His hand was against every man and every man’s hand against his.”

Worse was to come much later in the “Annals of the Four Masters” (1632-36), which tended to put a patriotic gloss on its commentaries:

“His character is drawn by various writers in the darkest colours; he was rapacious, fierce, cruel, vindictive and of violent passions: though to gain popularity he endeavoured to conciliate the lower classes of people. It appears that he was a man of great stature and strength of body and possessed of much of personal bravery.”

At least Diarmuid is seen by both accounts as brave and courageous, if perhaps impulsive and not one to easily forget a wrong or forgive an enemy. For the rest, from the extant records of their deeds, he was at least no worse than the other Irish chieftains or Normans of his time and, moreover, it seems that he was genuinely highly regarded by many of his contemporaries.

The main reason for his vilification in the annals is that he invited the Normans into Ireland. For this he went down in history as Diarmuid na nGall ( “of the Foreigners”), while his brother Murchadh became Murchadh na nGael (“of the Irish” ).

Roche comments “For a man reputedly so savage and irreligious Diarmuid was a munificent patron of the Church and the arts. He founded the Cistercian monastery at Baltinglass, the convent of St. Mary de Hogges near Dublin and endowed the priory of All Hallows, where Trinity College now stands, endowing with lands at Baldoyle. In 1161 he founded the Augustinian monastery at Ferns, where he took refuge when Rory O’Connor invaded in 1166, having burnt his own house prior to that”. Throughout his career he remained on good terms with the clergy.

His most important contribution to the arts was to have the “Book of Leinster “compiled.

Diarmuid’s chief wife was Mór, daughter of Murtough O’Toole King of Uí Mhuireadhaigh (South Co.Kildare) and the sister of St. Lorcan O’Toole, who became archbishop of Dublin in 1162, with Diarmuid’s assistance.

There are references to 6 children, of whom three were boys. One of them, Dónal, was fostered by a successor to St. Caomhán at Kilcavan, in north Wexford. He subsequently was known by the adjectival nickname derived from St.Caomhãn. Eanna, became the ancestor of the Kinsellas and the third brother Conor was initially blinded and subsequently murdered, while being kept as hostage by High King Ruairí Ó Connor in 1170.

Of the girls, Aoife was given in marriage to Strongbow, Urlacam became the wife of Dónal O’Brien of Thomond and Dervorgilla, who may well have been his daughter by the famous Dervorgilla, was married to chieftain south west of Dublin named Dónal MacGiollacolmóg.

5. Diarmuid’s Early Years

Background

From the middle of the fifth to the middle of the eleventh century, the Kings of Leinster (comprising Wexford and parts of Kildare, Carlow and Wicklow)¸nearly always belonged to the northern clans located around the Curragh of Kildare. As a result, whenever any of the Uí Cheannsealaigh claimed the Kingship of Leinster, they were often opposed by the Ossory and North Leinster clans. The possession of Tara, a kingdom which had been carved out in the first century by Tuathal Teachtmhar (who had imposed a contentious cattle tribute - Bórumha - on the Leinstermen, which was not abolished until 680 ) was a bone of contention between Leinster, Meath and also Connacht. This was a period of violence, turmoil and confusion, quarrels between rulers and changing alliances, battles, violent deaths and mutilation (often by blinding) of rivals. In this it was not very different from much of Europe at that period.

Historical Developments

Upon the death of Dermuid’s brother Eanna in 1126, Turlough Mór O’Connor, King of Connacht, deposed Diarmuid as King of Leinster and Dublin and set up his own son , Conor O’Connor instead. The Leinstermen revolted and Conor O’Connor was deposed, but the North Leinstermen were eventually obliged to yield and accept another Turlough O’Connor nominee.

Control over the midlands and West Leinster was a particularly important issue for all concerned since this was the key to movement throughout Ireland. Dermot regarded West Leinster as traditionally under Uí Cheinnsealaigh control.

Because Diarmuid continued in opposition, Turlough O’Connor, aided by the bellicose, one-eyed Tiarnan O’Rourke, chief of Breffni (modern Co. Longford and part of Leitrim) invaded Uí Cheinnsealaigh in 1128. Considerable damage was caused in Uí Cheinnsealaigh lands notably to cattle. O’Rourke, was largely held responsible for much of this destruction. The stage was therefore set for continuing enmity between McMurrough and O’Rourke.

Despite this setback, Diarmuid’s power increased and in 1137 he was able to lay siege to the Norse of Waterford, with the assistance of a fleet of 200 ships of the Dublin and Wexford Norse, and to exact hostages. He subsequently made a treaty of mutual support with O’ Maolachlann of Meath, on condition that he be allowed control over the Uí Faoláin and Offaly territories. Diarmuid’s growing power was demonstrated by the fact that in 1138 a triple alliance of O’Connor, O’Rourke and O’Carroll (Offaly) had a standoff with O’Maolachlann and Dermuid, but hesitated to attack them and went away.

The tribes of North Leinster, showed their resentment for the McMurrough overlordship, but his brother Murchadh, acting on Dermuid’s behalf, removed the opposition by blinding or killing them.

The growing power of McMurrough provoked other provincial kings. In 1141, the O’Briens of Thomond raided Connacht and proceeded on to Leinster and Wexford.

Turlough O’Connor of Connacht was meanwhile making overtures on the High Kingship. He made O’Maolachlann prisoner and divided his kingdom of Meath (following the death of his own son Conor) between O’Rourke and Mac Murrough, which was by definition an unstable situation.

Then a new contender for the High Kingship, Muircheartach Mac Lochlainn appeared from the North, representing the Northern Uí Néill claims to the overlordship of Ireland, which he achieved in 1150 and making a royal visit to Meath.

In 1152, Turlough O’Connor and Muircheartach Mac Lochlainn called a truce and another division of Meath occurred with Mac Murrough again receiving a share. Upon refusing to accept this division, O’Rourke was defeated by a powerful alliance of O’Connor, Mac Lochlainn and Mac Murrough. It was on this occasion that the famous Dervorgilla episode occurred.

The Dervorgilla episode (1152)

Dervorgilla was a powerful princess whose family was of higher standing than that of Tiernan O'Rourke. O'Rourke was never more than the ruler of Breifne, a sub-kingdom within Connacht, while Dervorgilla was the daughter of the king of Meath. Thus, she was a royal wife of high standing, and obviously a woman with her own mind. O'Rourke was a constant danger to Meath, and it was a considered a defensively advantageous move to marry her to O'Rourke. In practice, given O’Rourke’s bellicose and unscrupulous nature, it didn't work and O'Rourke carried on ravaging Meath whenever it suited him.

The Abbé MacGeoghegan, writing in Paris in his 1758 history states that Dervorgilla had been married to O’Rourke against her will and “had indulged a secret passion for Dermot…who paid addresses to her before her marriage”. If this is accurate, Dervorgilla was just returning to her first love.

The love affair between Dervorgilla and Dermot MacMurrough had therefore been on-going for at least 25 years, which under Brehon laws was apparently not illegal, as long as it did not impact negatively upon the honour value of O'Rourke. When Dervorgilla decided she was going to leave O'Rourke for cruelty, she was acting within her legal right, and according to her divorce or separation property rights, she was entitled to take what she brought to the marriage, plus the product of her efforts during the marriage. Accordingly she arranged her departure and gathered her cattle while her brother was convincing Dermot to come and escort her to Ferns. The annals fail to emphasize that this action was initiated by Dervorgilla, with the encouragement and assistance of her brother.

Projecting modern day values into past events clearly distort the story. The annals also fail to mention that Tiernan O'Rourke had five wives. O'Rourke was annoyed at the damage to his honour, not grieving over the loss of his wife. There is even a theory that Dervorgilla was removed for her safety, with the consent of her own family (Arthur Ua Cleirigh in his “the History of Ireland”, quoted by Roche). In any event, the fact that Dermot came to Breifne and escorted Dervorgilla to Ferns made him a party to the damaging action. If Dervorgilla had simply left O'Rourke as an injured wife, and put herself under the protection of her father or another kinsman, there would have been no damage inflicted on her husband.

The issue then was that Dermot owed O’Rourke honour price damages, which Dermot refused to pay. Dermot's argument was that he did not initiate the action and therefore was not liable for damage payments. However, Dervorgilla moved into Dermot's household with his three other wives, and stayed there for over a year. In fact it appears very likely that she was the mother of Dermot's second youngest daughter, also named Dervorgilla, who was born about the same time as Aoife, and shortly before Dervorgilla was retrieved in 1153 by Turlough O'Connor, with whom O'Rourke had in the meantime made peace.

It should be understood that in 12th century Ireland, marriage was not a church function, but only a traditional social contract or agreement between parties with individual rights regulated under Brehon Law. Divorce had no moral or religious implications. And Dervorgilla had no moral, or legal, obligation to return to live with O'Rourke if she chose not to. A later attempt was made to have a Christian cleansing of the story with Dervorgilla doing penance in a convent for the last 30 years of year life. This particular gloss is inaccurate. Firstly, it is not certain that Dervorgilla actually returned to the one-eyed O’Rourke. Secondly, she re-emerges in the annals 1154, as well as local records, at functions. In 1157 Dervorgilla endowed the Cistercian Abbey of Mellifont near Drogheda, giving 60 ozs. of gold, a golden chalice and altar cloths. In 1167she built the church of the nuns at Clonmacnoise and only finally retired to Mellifont in 1186 to die at 85 years in 1193. .

Whatever uncertainty there is about whether or not she returned to Breifne from Ferns, it is clear is that Dermot refused initially pay the damages which O'Rourke demanded. O’Rourke was therefore shamed in the eyes of the men of Erin. O'Rourke, who by then was around 60 years, was not one to forget such a slight.

Despite the gloss placed on the incident by later commentaries, Dervorgilla did not act immorally under the Brehon Laws and there was nothing for her to atone for. The real disagreement with Dermot was over legal damages and the reason the Dervorgilla escapade became such an issue was that Dermot continued his refusal to pay the damages. When Dermot returned in 1169, the overriding condition imposed was that he pay the damages to O'Rourke, which he did, so as to buy time.

When Turlough O’Connor died in 1156 and was succeeded by his son Rory, there was a reshuffling of alliances among the principal Irish chieftains, with Diarmuid Mac Murrough lining up with Muircheartach Mac Lochlann and Rory O’Connor renewing an alliance with Tiarnan O’Rourke. Mac Murrough gave hostages to Mac Lochlann and received the entire province of Leinster in return.

At a major battle at Ardee in 1159, Mac Lochlann routed O’Connor and asserted his authority of virtually all Ireland. In 1161 a renewed attempt by O’Connor and O’Rourke to invade Meath was checked by Mac Lochlann and they were forced to submit and give hostages.

Diarmuid was now in undisputed control of all Leinster and in 1162 a Synod was held at Clane under his protection and patronage, which abolished the hereditary succession to the see of Armagh (some of the occupants having been laymen). Dermot was now held in high regard by both clergy and laity.

Also in 1162 Diarrmuid’s brother-in-law, St. Lawrence O’Toole was consecrated Bishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Leinster. It is likely that Diarmuid’s influence with MacLochlann, the Archbishop of Armagh, and the Norse of Dublin was an important factor in this.

However, with the death in battle in 1166 of Diarmuid’s close ally, the Northern Uí Néill High King Muircheartch MacLochlainn, Diarmuid was faced with a coalition of enemies, Rory O’Connor, Tiarnan O’Ruairc and O’ Maolachlann, who marched on Dublin and O’Connor had himself crowned High King there. In particular, O’Connor wanted to control West Leinster because of its strategic geographical importance, which immediately put him on a collision course with Diarmuid, who had traditionally claimed it as part of his territory.

Initially, after a first incursion into South Leinster, O’Connor allowed Diarmuid to keep Uí Cheinnsealaigh while depriving him of his kingship of Leinster, but subsequently O Ruairc , aided by the Norse of Dublin and O’Maolachlann of Meath, led a second expedition against him and Uí Cheinnsealaigh was divided between Mac Giolla Phádraig of Ossory and Dermot’s own brother Murchadh, who by this stage had become estranged from Diarmuid. Diarmuid apparently burned his own castle at Ferns to deprive the invaders of the possibility of plundering it.

6. Diarmuid’ s Flight to Meet Henry II

Deserted by his allies, Diarmuid set sail for Bristol in August 1166 with some 65 followers, including his beautiful daughter, Aoife. Historians have remarked that “had Diarmuid not been expelled or had he never invoked Norman aid, we must rest assured that the ultimate result would not have been very different”. Ireland had already for a century been threatened by the powerful monarchy of Norman England, and still more immediately by the neighbouring aggressive Norman baronial race. The fall of Celtic Wales had heralded the fall of Celtic Ireland. By 1100 most of Wales had been brought under Norman domination, this being achieved partly by intermarriage with the Welsh.

It must also be borne in mind that close trading, and even clan, links existed between the Uí Cheinnsealaigh and the inhabitants of Wales. Also Norse fleets from Dublin had intervened in Welsh affairs, which could not have been without Diarmuid’s permission. Finally Diarmuid had contacts with the Normans via the Augustinian monks. Contacts with Ireland were therefore regular and events there were therefore probably well known on the other side of the water.

Diarmuid set off to find the peripatetic Henry II, which was not easy as he had gone to France. However, he finally caught up with him in Acquitaine, where Henry was sorting out some trouble with his own subjects there. In return for a letter giving him permission to recruit Norman colonists in Wales to assist him in regaining his kingdom of Leinster, Dermot swore fealty to Henry. Armed with this letter Dermot returned to Wales. He had, however, difficulty in obtaining recruits until he came to Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (known as Strongbow, a widower in his 50s). Strongbow, a direct descendant of Richard I of Normandy, was in fact not in good standing with Henry II as he had earlier supported a rival to Henry. As a consequence he had forfeited his estates in Wales and was down on his luck, which provided the incentive for the Irish adventure. However, Diarmuid obtained his support only after promising Strongbow his daughter Aoife in marriage, with the prospect of succeeding to the Kingship of Leinster after Diarmuid’s death. Diarmuid also obtained the release of Robert FitzStephen (son of a Welsh princess) who was held hostage by the Welsh prince of South Wales called Rhys ap Gruffudd. With these two well known men on his side Diarmuid was able to drum up support by promising a grant of Wexford and surrounding land to the other land-hungry Normans and Flemish settlers.

Diarmuid slipped back to Ferns in August 1167, where his son Dónal Caomhánach, ancestor of the C/Kavanaghs had been looking after his interests, and he was well received by the local people. Apparently a small reconnaissance group of Normans had accompanied Diarmuid back and he re-established himself Uí Cheinnsealaigh. However, when Diarmuid tried to re-assert his control over Leinster, O’Connor and O’Rourke marched against him and defeated him in battle south of Carlow town. 25 of Dermot’s men were killed in this encounter and Dermot was forced to give hostages to O’Connor and to pay O’Rourke the honour price of 100 ozs. of gold in reparation for the Dervorgilla episode.

Dermuid was, however, merely buying time until his Norman allies arrived.

7. The Early Norman Invaders

Descendants of the Welsh Princess Nesta

Of the early invaders into Ireland, some of the more important were at least half Welsh as a result of the Normans’ intermarriage strategy. Of outstanding importance were the half brothers Maurice FitzGerald , Robert FitzStephen and Meiler and Robert FitzHenry. These were all sons of a Welsh princess called Nesta and the three Barry brothers (one of whom was Giraldus Cambrensis) were her grandsons as was Raymond Le Gros FitzGerald. Nesta was a daughter of Rhys ap Tewder Mawr, the last independent prince of South Wales, who had fought against the Normans She had been taken hostage by the Normans and the FitzHenrys were the outcome of Henry II making her his mistress, while she mothered a numerous family with other Norman knights. Her descendants, including a William FitzGerald and granddaughter Nesta were also intermarried with Strongbow’s family. Nesta’s later Norman-Irish descendants included the FitzGeralds of Kildare and Desmond, the Fitzmaurices, the Carews and Graces (from Le Gros).

The names of other early Norman and Flemish invaders still prominent today in the areas in which they made their first incursions e.g. Normans such as Talbot, Devereux, Rochfort , Power, Furlong, Roche, Keating, Walsh and Flemish names such as Fleming, Prendergast, Cheevers, Sinnott, Whitty, etc.

In May 1169 some 390 Norman allies arrived from Wales at Bannow Bay. Dónal Caomhánach came to meet them and Dermot hastily got together some 500 men. A further 200 men under Maurice de Prendergast arrived shortly afterwards at Bannow Bay. In an initial encounter, an assault on the town of Wexford was decisively repulsed and but the Norsemen subsequently entered into peace negotiations through the intermediation of clergy and agreed to acknowledge Dermot’s overlordship and to back his bid to regain control of Leinster. Dermot granted Wexford and the baronies of Bargy and Forth to various Norman knights. Dermot then marched on Ossory ( Kilkenny and part of Laois) which had been part of his former territory and where his eldest son Eanna had been taken captive and blinded by Mac Giolla Phádraig.

The forces of Dónal Mac Giolla Phádraig initially put up stout resistance in rough terrain, but the Normans finally drove them into open ground and cut down many of them. A drawn out three day period of skirmishes ensued before the Normans finally stormed hastily constructed Ossory defences at Freshford. Dermot and his allies then went on to ravage the lands of North Leinster.

At this point Maurice de Prendergast fell out with Diarmuid and took off with 200 of his men to return home. Despite being blocked at Wexford port, he returned, entered into a temporary alliance with Mac Giolla Phádraig (though this was one of mutual suspicion) and eventually shipped back to Wales with his men. At this stage Mac Giolla Phádraig decided that further resistance was useless and he made a submission to FitzStephen, who insisted that Dermot be recognised as King of Leinster by him.

By now the vacillating Rory O’Connor became sufficiently alarmed to gather a large army and move to Leinster. Mac Morrough retreated in to a forested area where O’Connor did not dare to pursue him. Peace negotiations were carried out via the clergy and a Treaty was signed whereby O’Connor was recognised as High King and Diarmuid as King of Leinster. Dermot gave his son Conor as hostage and there appears to have been an arrangement whereby this son would marry O’Connor’s daughter. There was a secret clause by which Dermot undertook to send back the Normans and not to bring over more, which it is doubtful if had any intention of honouring. Moreover, the Normans had by now gone on an independent course and FitzStephen who had already begun fortifying his new territories and had no intention of abandoning his prize.

The Military Superiority of Norman Armies

The Normans had battle-hardened, armoured and disciplined armies, as opposed to the loosely organised Irish, when they invaded. Their initial impact on the war scene must have been, in modern terms, somewhat like armoured tanks against infantry.

Irish armies at the time often lacked a clear military strategy and, however brave, they were very vulnerable in open ground to charges by hardened Norman soldiers with their Flemish mercenaries, protected by armour and, in addition, using Welsh archers with crossbows who could pick off the Irish at a distance .

As one poem lamenting a Gaelic defeat in Ulster in 1260 of Brian O’Neill, the last claimant to the High Kingship, put it:

“Unequal they went to the battle

The foreigners and the Gaels of Tara

Fine linen shirts on the race of Conn

The foreigners one mass of iron”.

In difficult or wooded territory, however, the Irish were often able to hold their own, using traditional tactics, and indeed were more frequently victorious than is often realised. It was when the Normans lured them to battle to open territory that the Irish were at a clear disadvantage.

The objectives of the two sides also differed. The Irish were accustomed to raiding and when they won a battle, they subsequently retired to their own territory. When the Normans won a battle their objective was to colonise and hold onto the territory the conquered. They immediately set about building castles which would enable them to hold on to their gains and to set about colonising it.

The die was cast shortly afterwards when Maurice FitzGerald landed towards the end of 1169 with major reinforcements. Diarmuid then appears to have marched on Dublin, where the Norse King Mac Torcaill submitted to him and sent a Norman force to Limerick to assist his son-in-law Dónal O’Brien, who was in dispute with O’Connor. As Diarmuid’s ambitions increased and he began to eye the High Kingship, he requested additional Norman assistance from Strongbow.

This time Strongbow reacted and a small advance party under Raymond Le Gros FizGerald de Carew, another grandson of Nesta, arrived in May 1170 at Baginbun, not far from Waterford. Le Gros immediately began to fortify his position but it had attracted the attention of the Norse of Waterford who arrived with a large force of combined Norse and Irish. Though the position of the small Norman force was desperate, they managed to disperse the attackers by disrupting them with a herd of cattle they had collected and took some 70 prisoners. Then occurred a most shameful episode. Against the protests of Le Gros, Hervey de Marisco had all these prisoners massacred.

In August 1170 Strongbow arrived with some 1 200 soldiers, having taken the precaution of getting Henry II’s permission. He then moved on to attack the Norse town of Waterford which had also numerous Irish defenders under O’Faolain of the Decies. Two attacks were repulsed but a weak point in the walls was spotted and forced and the citizens slaughtered. Two Norse leaders called Sitric were executed after being made prisoner, but Mac Murrough arriving later saved O’Faolain and another Norse leader (Reginald).

There amidst the slaughter the wedding of Strongbow and the beautiful Aoife was celebrated.

Then a race for Dublin occurred, with O’Connor mustering a huge army (the figure mentioned of 30 000 is probably a gross exaggeration) and the Norman-Leinster army slipping through mountain passes to reach it first with about 5 500 men. Mac Torcaill with his chief men sailed away to the Orkneys vowing to return to avenge their expulsion. O’Connor retreated and Diarmuid ravaged Breifne and Meath.

At this stage O’Connor retaliated by murdering the Mac Murrough hostages, Diarmuid’s son Conor, his grandson (Dónal’s son) and the son of a foster brother.

8. The Death of Diarmuid and its Aftermath

Diarmuid having revenged himself on his O Ruairc, O Connor and Norse enemies (but not having achieved his dream of achieving the High Kingship) and by then in his mid 60s (or perhaps older if one account is to be credited), retired to Ferns in failing health, where he died in May 1171, no doubt grieving for his son Conor, described as “one of the fairest youths in Erin”.

What can be said of Diarmuid’s Actions ?

His drastic solution to the desperate situation he was in, beset by enemies and deserted by friends, and even his brother, in this tumultuous period, undoubtedly gave the Normans an unexpected opportunity to initiate their planned conquest of Ireland. In Diarmuid’s eyes it was no doubt meant to be a localised solution, a means by which he could introduce a superior military force to help regain his territories, the Kingship of Leinster and possibly even the High Kingship, as his grandfather had done. He no doubt felt that he could buy off most of the landless Normans by granting them the Norse territories of Wexford, Forth, Bargy and Shelmalier, which he really did not control anyway. Strongbow was to be promised the Kingship of Leinster after his death, something Dermot certainly knew he could not deliver under Irish law and which in any event would be a question to be settled after he was gone.

He reckoned without the tenacity, rapacity and colonising drive of the Normans. It has often been pointed out that although Dermot’s actions gave the Normans a bridgehead in Ireland, a Norman invasion had long been planned and would have happened in any event. Diarmuid’s actions merely accelerated it.

As a postscript, historians have made two important comments which are in the realms of “might have beens”

Firstly, if Diarmuid had lived long enough to fulfil his ambition of following in (his grandafther’s) Mac Maol na mBó’s footsteps and becoming High King, while imposing central control over the squabbling chieftains, he as Francis Byrne in his “Irish Kings and High Kings” (Four courts Press) has remarked “might yet have been revered as the founder of a national monarchy”;

Secondly, it has also been said that it was a pity that the first Normans were not strong enough to conquer the country and carve out a Norman-Irish kingdom which would have been independent of England. Certainly this was in the minds of Strongbow, FitzGerald and FitzStephen and feared by Henry II. Whether such an independent kingdom would have survived in the face of the neighbouring English kingdom is another question.

The Siege of Dublin

Upon Diarmuid’s death, the accession of Strongbow to the throne of Leinster created consternation among the Irish. Although Dónal Caomhánach still remained on Strongbow’s side many of his Uí Cheannseallaigh kinsmen joined in the revolt.

Strongbow now found himself in a serious situation, faced with a new united Irish army under O’Connor, while at the same time, FitzStephen was besieged by the Norse of Wexford at Ferrycarrig Castle and Waterford had been recaptured by Dermuid Mac Carthy of Desmond. Moreover, Henry II, who greatly mistrusted Strongbow and his allies “sat on the fence” and even refused to let assistance through from England.

Then Mac Torcaill, Norse King of Dublin returned with a fleet from the Orkneys and attacked the city gates without waiting for O’Connor’s army. However, Norman cavalry under de Cogan slipped out an attacked them from behind. The Norse broke, fled and many were cut down before they reached their ships. Mac Torcaill was captured and beheaded.

Meanwhile, O’Connor’s main army arrived and camped at Castleknock , while his other allies spread out in various directions. Archbishop Laurence O’Toole (whose sympathies now lay with O’Connor) had sent for help to the Isle of Man and a fleet under the King of Man, Gottfred appeared in response.

Within Dublin, food supplies were running short and Strongbow sent for Archbishop O’Toole to negotiate. O’Connor, sure of his vast numerical superiority, would leave Strongbow in possession only of Norse Dublin, Waterford and Wexford. The Normans then decided on a desperate sally against the main (Castleknock) encampment. The High King, in his overconfidence, had unwisely allowed his forces to become separated, some had departed on foraging expeditions while others were detailed to guard mountain passes or had already left. Three detachments of 200 men (including Dónal Caomhánach) sallied out and burst into the unsuspecting O’Connor forces at Castleknock. Rory, who, according to one account, had been bathing in the river, with many of his men, barely escaped, with 150 of his men being killed. The main Irish army folded up and left and the other separated contingents did likewise.

O’Connor simply withdrew, recognised Henry II as overlord by the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 and was in turn recognised as High King over the unconquered part of Ireland. He died at Cong in 1198, having retired some time previously.

Strongbow then swung southwards and re-occupied Wexford and Waterford. Following this he invaded Ossory and during a peace negotiation tried to have Mac Giolla Phádraig murdered, but was prevented by the chivalrous Maurice de Prendergast, who had previously been briefly Mac Giolla Phádraig’s ally. Around this time Murchadh Mac Murchadha came to terms with Strongbow. He was granted Uí Cheinnsealaigh while Dónal was granted jurisdiction over the Irish of the Province of Leinster.

With Strongbow now “on a victory roll”, Henry II became anxious, fearing that he and his knights might carve out an independent kingdom, which was indeed what they would have wished. He decided to come to Ireland to get matters under control. There was also a subsidiary reason for a visit. Henry had been blamed for instigating the murder of Thomas A Beckett at end-1170 and wanted to curry favour with Rome by supposedly setting the Irish Church in order.

9. The Visit of Henry II in 1172 and Foundations for English Rule

Henry II landed in Waterford from Milford Haven in October 1172 with an army of 500 knights and 4 000 men at arms and archers.

By astute statesmanship and conciliatory gestures, the cunning Henry managed to receive the submission of both the Irish chiefs and his untrustworthy Norman barons, without any fighting.

Henry cleverly adopted the role of protector of the Irish chieftains from marauding Norman barons and also persuaded the clergy of papal approval for his visit. This enabled him to achieve his objectives without having to do battle. He did a circuit receiving the submission of Irish chieftains, except for the northern Uí Néill. The local bishops thought that recognising Henry as overlord would help reformation of the Irish church and they urged the chieftains to submit. The chieftains promised fealty, gave hostages, agreed to pay an annual tribute no heavier than previously and received their traditional territories back. They did not consider their submissions to be of great importance at the time. However, unperceived by them, an administrative apparatus was put in place which could later be used to deprive them of their territories.

Henry presided over a Synod at Cashel which gave the already far advanced process of Church reform and move towards control from Rome some impetus. However, the mysterious Laudabiliter bull was suspiciously not referred to, though it may have been hinted at in private.

The annual tribute paid to the Pope (Peter’s Pence) from England was also extended to Ireland.

Henry departed again in April 1172, to the disquieting news that Papal legates were seeking reparation for Beckett’s murder and also that his own son Henry had been stirring up revolt. Although he confirmed Strongbow as King of Leinster, granted the Kingdom of Meath the Hugh de Lacy and made him his Justiciar (King’s representative) as well as constable of Dublin. The “race of Nesta”, regarded with suspicion, were placed in garrisons under the control of de Lacy.

De Lacy’s grant of Meath brought him into conflict wit the bellicose O’Rourke. A peace meeting was arranged between the two and O’Rourke was treacherously murdered by de Lacy with the help of one of O’Rourke’s own kinsmen. Am adjoining chieftain, Donal O’Farrell was next eliminated. Also in 1172 Murchadh na nGael Mac Murragh, Dermot’s brother was assassinated by “the hands of the English”, thus removing an Irish claimant to the Kingship of Leinster.

De Lacy then proceeded to colonise Meath. As in most other cases, it was the native chiefs and their retainers who suffered territorial loss and its attendant income. By and large, most of the common people remained on to till the soil and herd the cattle: they could do little else. De Lacy, who had married Rose O’Connor, Rory’s daughter, was killed by an Irish worker in 1186 during the construction of a castle.

Strongbow marched into Munster to crush another rebellion. His plundering of the ecclesiastical centre at Lismore alienated a hithero ally, Dónal O’Brien of Thomond. Then Strongbow was unexpectedly defeated by an Irish alliance at Thurles. He subsequently disappeared from the scene and died in Dublin in 1176 “of an ulcer in the foot”. A son by Aoife had died in infancy, but he had a daughter Isabella, who later married William Le Mareschal , earl Marshall of Ireland , who thus came into Strongbow’s possessions in Leinster as well as the Earldom of Pembroke in Wales.

Dónal Caomhánach

Dónal was a natural son of Diarmuid, who was fostered as a youth, as was the custom of the time, by followers of St.Caomhán (either by an associated lay family or by monks) at the monastery in Kilcavan close to Ferns, in North Co. Wexford. It was due to this background that he was given the nickname “Caomhánach” and he became the ancestor of the present day C/Kavanagh lineage. It was, incidentally, from his brother Eanna Cinseallach that the present day Kinsellas are descended. Dónal was Dermuid’s loyal right hand, handling his affairs while he was in exile and campaigning for him when he returned from exile. Dónal was proclaimed King of Leinster by the Mac Murchadha clan in 1172, after Dermot’s death. When Dónal finally realised that the Normans were not going to return home but were intent on colonising Leinster, he went over to Rory O’Connor’s side. He subsequently bested Strongbow in a number of skirmishes. As indicated above, his uncle Murchadh na nGael had been eliminated by the Normans in 1172 to eliminate him as a claimant to the Kingship of Leinster.

In league with Rory O’Connor, Dónal set out to form alliances with a view to launching a major attack on the Norman invaders. He was by now clearly identified by the Normans as an enemy, as seen from the “Song of Dermot and the Earl”. Though the annals have differing versions of where, and at whose hands, he met his end, it is clear that he was treacherously slain in 1175 by persons in the pay of the Normans, so as to remove him as a threat. The Four Masters claim that he died at the hands of the O’Nolans of Forth, while another annalist claims that his death was at the hands of the UÍ Nialláin in the Midlands.

The Norman claim was that since Dónal was deemed “illegitimate” under Norman law (a concept, which as we have seen earlier, was alien to the Brehon laws) the line of transmission of the Kingship of Leinster was to be via Aoife Mac Murrough and Strongbow. However, this had no standing in Irish eyes. Firstly, under Irish custom the chieftains and kings had to be elected by their clan. Secondly, transmission via the female line was not an option under Brehon Law. Thirdly, as Richard Roche points out, there is no way of knowing whether Aoife was any more “legitimate” in Norman terms than Dónal was.

By 1190 most of the original Norman invaders had died, many without male heirs. This resulted in a new wave of Norman settlers appearing. St.Laurence O’Toole had taken the Irish side and given an account of the Norman invasion which greatly displeased Henry. St. Lawrence later went to seek a reconciliation with Henry but was struck down by a fever and died Eu in Normandy in 1186. He was canonised in 1226.

Main Points:

  • During the turbulent years of the eleventh century, Diarmuid Mac Maol na mBó, grandfather of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, was the driving force behind the emergence of the Uí Cheinnsealaigh from relatively obscurity

  • Mac Maol na mBó rose to be King of Leinster and was one of the most powerful figures in Irish history at that time, becoming High King with opposition. He controlled Dublin and his influence extended even to the Isle of Man and Wales. It appears that he had even formed a military alliance with Harold, Saxon King of England

  • Although Diarmuid Mac Murrough’s brother- in- law was St. Lawrence O’Toole, and Diarmuid maintained very good relations with the church, Diarmuid himself was not exactly a candidate for sainthood

  • However, it has to be borne in mind that Diarmuid grew up in a particularly violent and disturbed era, in which there was no effective central power and rivals for kingship were often disposed of by mutilation or murder. It is generally agreed that Diarmuid was no crueler than the other chieftains of that time and he was well regarded by many of his contemporaries

  • The Dervorgilla episode has been very distorted by subsequent writers who either did not understand the Brehon system or deliberately distorted the story for religious or nationalistic reasons

  • Diarmuid’s long running feud with Tiarnan O’Rourke and the High King Rory O’Connor was to prove his undoing and to set the course for his own defeat and expulsion

  • Deserted by his allies and assailed on all sides by enemies the pugnacious Diarmuid , as a last resort,sought foreign help to regain his Kingdom of Leinster

  • The rapacious Normans, of Scandinavian origin and settled in France, having conquered England and made major inroads into Wales, had already detailed plans prepared for an invasion of Ireland by 1155. Historians generally agree that sooner or later they would have invaded Ireland, which was very vulnerable to an organized invasion

  • Diarmuid unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box; even though Diarmuid’s objective was to get Norman assistance in regaining his territories and in revenging himself on his enemies, the Normans’ rapacious instincts were not to be satisfied by Diarmuid’s local land grants in Leinster, nor even the prospect of the kingship of Leinster

  • Norman guile extended to trying to seek Papal approval for an invasion as far back as 1155, since the Papacy at the time wanted Norman support against the Holy Roman Emperor, who was threatening Northern Italy and Rome. The mysterious Laudabiliter bull purported to have been issued by Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope) is shrouded in mystery and its claim to Papal sovereignty over “the Islands” was in any event based on a document (Donatian Constantin) which was proven to be forged. At least some later indications of Papal approval for Henry II’s actions also some to have been forgeries.

  • Undoubtedly Diarmuid and his Irish allies envisaged that the bulk of the Normans would return to Wales once the core task of regaining Leinster (and possibly the High Kingship) had been achieved; in this they greatly underestimated the Norman guile and rapacity

  • The leading figures among the first group of invaders were mainly blood relatives, descendants of a famous Welsh princess called Nesta and they were intermarried with their leader, Strongbow’s, family

  • The descendants of these early Normans were to play major roles in later Irish history

  • Although they could give a good account of themselves in broken territory, the Irish armies had initially no answer to the superior Norman technology in open battle, with their body armour, and their deadly Welsh crossbowmen, who could pick off the Irish at a distance

  • Moreover, the Normans were efficient colonists, who after they had won a battle, proceeded – unlike the Irish – to seize the adjoining lands and to build fortifications so as to enable them to hold on to the territory

  • Henry II arrived over in 1172 with a powerful army primarily to curb what he perceived to be the possibility of Strongbow creating a kingdom in Ireland independent of him. He obtained the submission of many of the important Irish chieftains, helped by his persuasion of the local clergy that he had Papal backing and of the chieftains that he would protect them from the rapacious Norman barons

  • However, after Henry’s departure, the Norman barons continued to expand their territories at the expense of the native chieftains

  • After Diarmuid’s death the Normans eliminated the two main contenders for the Kingship of Leinster, Diarmuid’s brother Murchadh and his son Dónal Caomhánach.

Concluding Comment

The comment has been made that if Dermot McMurrough had lived long enough to achieve his dream of emulating his grandfather, Mac Maol na mBó, and had succeeded in imposing a central power capable of controlling the mayhem which existed among the Irish chieftains, he would have been among the most revered of Irish kings. This, however, was not to be.

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Cathal Cavanagh - Clann Member

 

 
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