The English Invasion—Dermod's Interview with Henry II.—Henry grants
Letters-patent—Dermod obtains the assistance of Strongbow, Earl de
Clare—He returns to Ireland—Arrival of English Forces under
FitzStephen—Fatal Indifference of Roderic, the Irish Monarch—He is at
last roused to action, but acknowledges Dermod's Authority almost
without a Struggle—Strongbow's Genealogy—He obtains a Tacit Permission
to invade Ireland—His Arrival in Ireland—Marriage of Strongbow and
Eva—Death of Dermod Mac Murrough—Strongbow proclaims himself King of
Leinster—Difficulties of his Position—Siege of Dublin—Strongbow's
Retreat—He returns to England.

[A.D. 1168-1171.]

ntil this period (A.D. 1168) the most friendly relations appear to have
existed between England and Ireland. Saxon nobles and princes had fled
for shelter, or had come for instruction to the neighbouring shores. The
assistance of Irish troops had been sought and readily obtained by them.
Irish merchants[273] had taken their goods to barter in English markets;
but when the Norman had won the Saxon crown, and crushed the Saxon race
under his iron heel, the restless spirit of the old Viking race looked
out for a new quarry, and long before Dermod had betrayed his country,
that country's fate was sealed.

William Rufus is reported to have said, as he stood on the rocks near
St. David's, that he would make a bridge with his ships from that spot
to Ireland—a haughty boast, not quite so easily accomplished. His
speech was repeated to the King of Leinster, who inquired "if the king,
in his great threatening, had added, 'if it so please God'?" The
reporter answered in the negative. "Then," said he, "seeing this king
putteth his trust only in man, and not in God, I fear not his coming."

When Dermod Mac Murrough was driven in disgrace from Ireland, he fled at
once to Bristol. There he learned that Henry was still in Aquitaine, and
thither, with a perseverance worthy of a better cause, he followed the
English king. Henry was only too happy to listen to his complaints, and
forward his views; but he was too much occupied with his personal
affairs to attempt the conquest of a kingdom. Letters-patent were
incomparably more convenient than men-at-arms, and with letters-patent
the renegade was fain to be content. Dermod only asked help to recover
the kingdom from which he had been expelled for his crimes; Henry
pretended no more than to give the assistance asked, and for all reward
only wished that Dermod should pay a vassal's homage to the English
king. Henry may have known that his client was a villain, or he may not.
Henry may have intended to annex Ireland to the British dominions (if he
could), or he may merely have hoped for some temporary advantage from
the new connexion. Whatever he knew or whatever he hoped, he received
Dermod "into the bosom of his grace and benevolence," and he did but
distantly insinuate his desires by proclaiming him his "faithful and
liege subject." The royal letter ran thus:—"Henry, King of England,
Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou, to all his liegemen,
English, Norman, Welsh, and Scotch, and to all the nation under his
dominion, sends greeting. As soon as the present letter shall come to
your hands, know that Dermod, Prince of Leinster, has been received into
the bosom of our grace and benevolence: wherefore, whosoever, within the
ample extent of our territories, shall be willing to lend aid towards
this prince as our faithful and liege subject, let such person know that
we do hereby grant to him for said purpose our licence and favour."

In this document there is not even the most remote reference to the Bull
of Adrian, conferring the island of Ireland on Henry, although this Bull
had been obtained some time before. In whatever light we may view this
omission, it is certainly inexplicable.

For some time Dermod failed in his efforts to obtain assistance. After
some fruitless negotiations with the needy and lawless adventurers who
thronged the port of Bristol, he applied to the Earl of Pembroke,
Richard de Clare. This nobleman had obtained the name of Strongbow, by
which he is more generally known, from his skill in archery. Two other
young men of rank joined the party; they were sons of the beautiful and
infamous Nesta,[274] once the mistress of Henry I., but now the wife of
Gerald, Governor of Pembroke and Lord of Carew. The knights were Maurice
FitzGerald and Robert FitzStephen. Dermod had promised them the city of
Wexford and two cantreds of land as their reward. Strongbow was to
succeed him on the throne of Leinster, and to receive the hand of his
young and beautiful daughter, Eva, in marriage.

There is considerable uncertainty as to the real date and the precise
circumstances of Dermod's arrival in Ireland. According to one account,
he returned at the close of the year 1168, and concealed himself during
the winter in a monastery of Augustinian Canons at Ferns, which he had
founded. The two principal authorities are Giraldus Cambrensis and
Maurice Regan; the latter was Dermod Mac Murrough's secretary. According
to his account, Robert FitzStephen landed at Bannow, near Waterford, in
May, 1169, with an army of three hundred archers, thirty knights, and
sixty men-at-arms.[275] A second detachment arrived the next day, headed
by Maurice de Prendergast, a Welsh gentleman, with ten knights and sixty
archers. Dermod at once assembled his men, and joined his allies. He
could only muster five hundred followers; but with their united forces,
such as they were, the outlawed king and the needy adventurers laid
siege to the city of Wexford. The brave inhabitants of this mercantile
town at once set forth to meet them; but, fearing the result if attacked
in open field by well-disciplined troops, they fired the suburbs, and
entrenched themselves in the town. Next morning the assaulting party
prepared for a renewal of hostilities, but the clergy of Wexford advised
an effort for peace: terms of capitulation were negotiated, and Dermod
was obliged to pardon, when he would probably have preferred to
massacre. It is said that FitzStephen burned his little fleet, to show
his followers that they must conquer or die. Two cantreds of land,
comprising the present baronies of Forth and Bargy,[276] were bestowed on him: and thus was established the first English colony in Ireland.
The Irish princes and chieftains appear to have regarded the whole
affair with silent contempt. The Annals say they "set nothing by the
Flemings;"[277] practically, they set nothing by any of the invaders.
Could they have foreseen, even for one moment, the consequences of their
indifference, we cannot doubt but that they would have acted in a very
different manner. Roderic, the reigning monarch, was not the man either
to foresee danger, or to meet it when foreseen; though we might pardon
even a more sharp-sighted and vigilant warrior, for overlooking the
possible consequence of the invasion of a few mercenary troops, whose
only object appeared to be the reinstatement of a petty king. Probably,
the troops and their captains were equally free from suspecting what
would be the real result of their proceedings.



The fair of Telltown was celebrated about this time; and from the
accounts given by the Annals of the concourse of people, and the number
of horsemen who attended it, there can be little doubt that Ireland was
seldom in a better position to resist foreign invasion. But unity of
purpose and a competent leader were wanted then, as they have been
wanted but too often since. Finding so little opposition to his plans,
Mac Murrough determined to act on the offensive. He was now at the head
of 3,000 men. With this force he marched into the adjoining territory of
Ossory, and made war on its chief, Donough FitzPatrick; and after a
brave but unsuccessful resistance, it submitted to his rule.[278] The
Irish monarch was at length aroused to some degree of apprehension. He
summoned a hosting of the men of Ireland at Tara; and with the army thus
collected, assisted by the Lords of Meath, Oriel, Ulidia, Breffni, and
some northern chieftains, he at once proceeded to Dublin. Dermod was
alarmed, and retired to Ferns. Roderic pursued him thither. But
dissension had already broken out in the Irish camp: the Ulster chiefs
returned home; the contingent was weakened; and, either through fear, or
from the natural indolence of his pacific disposition, he agreed to
acknowledge Mac Murrough's authority. Mac Murrough gave his son Cormac
as hostage for the fulfilment of the treaty. A private agreement was
entered into between the two kings, in which Dermod pledged himself to
dismiss his foreign allies as soon as possible, and to bring no more
strangers into the country. It is more than probable that he had not the
remotest idea of fulfilling his promise; it is at least certain that he
broke it the first moment it was his interest to do so. Dermod's object
was simply to gain time, and in this he succeeded.

Maurice FitzGerald arrived at Wexford a few days after, and the recreant
king at once proceeded to meet him; and with this addition to his army,
marched to attack Dublin. The Dano-Celts, who inhabited this city, had
been so cruelly treated by him, that they dreaded a repetition of his
former tyrannies. They had elected a governor for themselves; but
resistance was useless. After a brief struggle, they were obliged to sue
for peace—a favour which probably would not have been granted without
further massacres and burnings, had not Dermod wished to bring his arms
to bear in another quarter.

Donnell O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, who had married a daughter of
Dermod, had just rebelled against Roderic, and the former was but too
willing to assist him in his attempt. Thus encouraged where he should
have been treated with contempt, and hunted down with ignominy, his
ambition became boundless. He played out the favourite game of traitors;
and no doubt hoped, when he had consolidated his own power, that he
could easily expel his foreign allies. Strongbow had not yet arrived,
though the winds had been long enough "at east and easterly."[279] His
appearance was still delayed. The fact was, that the Earl was in a
critical position. Henry and his barons were never on the most amiable
terms; and there were some very special reasons why Strongbow should
prove no exception to the rule.

The first member of the Earl's family who had settled in England, was
Richard, son of the Norman Earl Brien, a direct descendant of Robert
"the Devil," Duke of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror. In
return for services at the battle of Hastings, and general assistance in
conquering the Saxon, this family obtained a large grant of land in
England, and took the title of Earl of Clare from one of their
ninety-five lordships in Suffolk.[280] The Strongbow family appears to
have inherited a passion for making raids on neighbouring lands, from
their Viking ancestors. Strongbow's father had obtained his title of
Earl of Pembroke, and his property in the present county of that name,
from his successful marauding expedition in Wales, in 1138. But as he
revolted against Stephen, his lands were seized by that king; and after
his death, in 1148, his son succeeded to his very numerous titles,
without any property commensurate thereto. Richard was not in favour
with his royal master, who probably was jealous of the Earl, despite his
poverty; but as Strongbow did not wish to lose the little he had in
England, or the chance of obtaining more in Ireland, he proceeded at
once to the court, then held in Normandy, and asked permission for his
new enterprise. Henry's reply was so carefully worded, he could declare
afterwards that he either had or had not given the permission, whichever
version of the interview might eventually prove most convenient to the
royal interests. Strongbow took the interpretation which suited his own
views, and proceeded to the scene of action with as little delay as
possible. He arrived in Ireland, according to the most generally
received account, on the vigil of St. Bartholomew, A.D. 1170, and landed
at Dundonnell, near Waterford. His uncle, Hervey de Montmarisco, had
already arrived, and established himself in a temporary fort, where he
had been attacked by the brave citizens of Wexford. But the besieged
maintained their position, killed five hundred men, and made prisoners
of seventy of the principal citizens of Waterford. Large sums of money
were offered for their ransom, but in vain. They were brutally murdered
by the English soldiers, who first broke their limbs, and then hurled
them from a precipice into the sea. It was the first instalment of the
utterly futile theory, so often put in practice since that day, of
"striking terror into the Irish;" and the experiment was quite as
unsuccessful as all such experiments have ever been.[281]

While these cruelties were enacting, Strongbow had been collecting
forces in South Wales; but, as he was on the very eve of departure, he
received a peremptory order from Henry, forbidding him to leave the
kingdom. After a brief hesitation, he determined to bid defiance to the
royal mandate, and set sail for Ireland. The day after his arrival he
laid siege to Waterford. The citizens behaved like heroes, and twice
repulsed their assailants; but their bravery could not save them in the
face of overpowering numbers. A breach was made in the wall; the
besiegers poured in; and a merciless massacre followed. Dermod arrived
while the conflict was at its height, and for once he has the credit of
interfering on the side of mercy. Reginald, a Danish lord, and O'Phelan,
Prince of the Deisi, were about to be slain by their captors, but at his
request they were spared, and the general carnage was suspended. For the
sake of common humanity, one could wish to think that this was an act of
mercy. But Mac Murrough had his daughter Eva with him; he wished to have
her nuptials with Strongbow celebrated at once; and he could scarcely
accomplish his purpose while men were slaying their fellows in a
cold-blooded massacre. The following day the nuptials were performed.
The English Earl, a widower, and long past the prime of manhood, was
wedded to the fair young Celtic maiden; and the marriage procession
passed lightly over the bleeding bodies of the dying and the dead. Thus
commenced the union between Great Britain and Ireland: must those
nuptials be for ever celebrated in tears and blood?

Immediately after the ceremony, the army set out for Dublin. Roderic had
collected a large force near Clondalkin, and Hosculf, the Danish
governor of the city, encouraged by their presence, had again revolted
against Dermod. The English army having learned that the woods and
defiles between Wexford and Dublin were well guarded, had made forced
marches along the mountains, and succeeded in reaching the capital long
before they were expected. Their decision and military skill alarmed the
inhabitants—they might also have heard reports of the massacres at
Wexford; be this as it may, they determined to negotiate for peace, and
commissioned their illustrious Archbishop, St. Laurence O'Toole, to make
terms with Dermod. While the discussion was pending, two of the English
leaders, Raymond le Gros and Miles de Cogan, obtained an entrance into
the city, and commenced a merciless butchery of the inhabitants. When
the saint returned he heard cries of misery and groans of agony in all
quarters, and it was not without difficulty that he succeeded in
appeasing the fury of the soldiers, and the rage of the people, who had
been so basely treated.

Marriage of Eva and Strongbow.

Marriage of Eva and Strongbow.

The Four Masters accuse the people of Dublin of having attempted to
purchase their own safety at the expense of the national interests, and
say that "a miracle was wrought against them" as a judgment for their
selfishness. Hosculf, the Danish governor, fled to the Orkneys, with
some of the principal citizens, and Roderic withdrew his forces to
Meath, to support O'Rourke, on whom he had bestowed a portion of that
territory. Miles de Cogan was invested with the government of Dublin,
and Dermod marched to Meath, to attack Roderic and O'Rourke, against
whom he had an old grudge of the worst and bitterest kind. He had
injured him by carrying off his wife, Dervorgil, and men generally hate
most bitterly those whom they have injured most cruelly.

Meanwhile MacCarthy of Desmond had attacked and defeated the English
garrison at Waterford, but without any advantageous results. Roderic's
weakness now led him to perpetrate an act of cruelty, although it could
scarcely be called unjust according to the ideas of the times. It will
be remembered that he had received hostages from Dermod for the treaty
of Ferns. That treaty had been openly violated, and the King sent
ambassadors to him to demand its fulfilment, by the withdrawal of the
English troops, threatening, in case of refusal, to put the hostages to
death. Dermod laughed at the threat. Under any circumstances, he was not
a man who would hesitate to sacrifice his own flesh and blood to his
ambition. Roderic was as good as his word; and the three royal hostages
were put to death at Athlone.

An important synod was held at the close of this year (A.D. 1170), at
Armagh. We have already mentioned one of its principal enactments, which
deplored and condemned the practice of buying English slaves from the
Bristol merchants. Other subjects shall be more fully entertained when
we come to the Synod of Cashel, which was held two years later.

In 1171 Dermod MacMurrough, the author of so many miseries, and the
object of so much just reprobation, died at Ferns, on the 4th of May.
His miserable end was naturally considered a judgment for his evil life.
His obituary is thus recorded: "Diarmaid Mac Murchadha, King of
Leinster, by whom a trembling soil was made of all Ireland, after having
brought over the Saxons, after having done extensive injuries to the
Irish, after plundering and burning many churches, as Ceanannus,
Cluain-Iraired, &c., died before the end of a year [after this
plundering], of an insufferable and unknown disease; for he became
putrid while living, through the miracle of God, Colum-cille, and
Finnen, and the other saints of Ireland, whose churches he had profaned
and burned some time before; and he died at Fearnamor, without [making] a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as
his evil deeds deserved."[282]

But the death of the traitor could not undo the traitor's work. Men's
evil deeds live after them, however they may repent them on their
deathbeds. Strongbow had himself at once proclaimed King of
Leinster—his marriage with Eva was the ground of his claim; but though
such a mode of succession might hold good in Normandy, it was perfectly
illegal in Ireland. The question, however, was not one of right but of
might, and it was settled as all such questions invariably are. But
Strongbow had a master at the other side of the Channel, who had his own
views of these complications. His tenure, however, was somewhat
precarious. His barons, always turbulent, had now a new ground for
aggression, in the weakness to which he had exposed himself by his
virtual sanction of the murder of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and he was
fain to content himself with a strong injunction commanding all his
English subjects then in Ireland to return immediately, and forbidding
any further reinforcements to be sent to that country. Strongbow was
alarmed, and at once despatched Raymond le Gros with apologies and
explanations, offering the King all the lands he had acquired in
Ireland. Henry does not appear to have taken the slightest notice of
these communications, and the Earl determined to risk his displeasure,
and remain in Ireland.

His prospects, however, were by no means promising. His Irish adherents
forsook him on the death of Dermod; Dublin was besieged by a
Scandinavian force, which Hosculf had collected in the Orkneys, and
which was conveyed in sixty vessels, under the command of Johan le
(the Furious). Miles de Cogan repulsed this formidable attack
successfully, and captured the leaders. Hosculf was put to death; but he
appears to have brought his fate on himself by a proud and incautious

At this period the thoughtful and disinterested Archbishop of Dublin saw
a crisis in the history of his country on which much depended. He
endeavoured to unite the national chieftains, and rally the national
army. His words appear to have had some effect. Messengers were sent to
ask assistance from Godfred, King of the Isle of Man, and other island
warriors. Strongbow became aware of his danger, and threw himself into
Dublin; but he soon found himself landlocked by an army, and enclosed at
sea by a fleet. Roderic O'Connor commanded the national forces,
supported by Tiernan O'Rourke and Murrough O'Carroll. St. Laurence
O'Toole remained in the camp, and strove to animate the men by his
exhortations and example. The Irish army contented themselves with a
blockade, and the besieged were soon reduced to extremities from want of
food. Strongbow offered terms of capitulation through the Archbishop,
proposing to hold the kingdom of Leinster as Roderic's vassal; but the
Irish monarch demanded the surrender of the towns of Dublin, Wexford,
and Waterford, and required the English invaders to leave the country by
a certain day.

While these negotiations were pending, Donnell Cavanagh, son of the late
King of Leinster, got into the city in disguise, and informed Strongbow
that FitzStephen was closely besieged in Wexford. It was then at once
determined to force a passage through the Irish army. Raymond le Gros led the van, Miles de Cogan followed; Strongbow and Maurice FitzGerald,
who had proposed the sortie, with the remainder of their force, brought
up the rere. The Irish army was totally unprepared for this sudden move;
they fled in panic, and Roderic, who was bathing in the Liffey, escaped
with difficulty.[283]

Strongbow again committed the government of Dublin to Miles de Cogan,
and set out for Wexford. On his way thither he was opposed by O'Regan,
Prince of Idrone. An action ensued, which might have terminated fatally
for the army, had not the Irish prince received his death-wound from an
English archer. His troops took to flight, and Strongbow proceeded on
his journey. But he arrived too late. Messengers met him on the way, to
inform him that the fort of Carrig had fallen into the hands of the
Irish, who are said to have practised an unjustifiable stratagem to
obtain possession of the place. As usual, there are two versions of the
story. One of these versions, which appears not improbable, is that the
besieged had heard a false report of the affair in Dublin; and believing
Strongbow and the English army to have been overthrown, they surrendered
on the promise of being sent in safety to Dublin. On their surrender,
the conditions were violated, FitzStephen was imprisoned, and some of
his followers killed. The charge against the besiegers is that they
invented the report as a stratagem to obtain their ends, and that the
falsehood was confirmed in a solemn manner by the bishops of Wexford and

As soon as the Wexford men had heard of Strongbow's approach, they set
fire to the town, and fled to Beg-Erin, a stockaded island, at the same
time sending him a message, that, if he attempted to approach, they
would kill all their prisoners. The Earl withdrew to Waterford in
consequence of this threat, and here he learned that his presence was
indispensable in England; he therefore set off at once to plead his own
cause with his royal master. A third attack had been made on Dublin, in
the meantime, by the Lord of Breffni, but it was repulsed by Miles. With
this exception, the Irish made no attempt against the common enemy, and
domestic wars were as frequent as usual.

Henry had returned to England, and was now in Newenham, in
Gloucestershire, making active preparations for his visit to Ireland.
The odium into which he had fallen, after his complicity in the murder
of St. Thomas of Canterbury, had rendered his position perilous in the
extreme; and probably his Irish expedition would never have been
undertaken, had he not required some such object to turn his thoughts
and the thoughts of his subjects from the consequences of his
crime.[284] He received Strongbow coldly, and at first refused him an
interview. After a proper delay, he graciously accepted the Earl's offer
of "all the lands he had won in Ireland"—a very questionable gift,
considering that there was not an inch of ground there which he could
securely call his own. Henry, however, was pleased to restore his
English estates; but, with consummate hypocrisy and villany, he seized
the castles of the Welsh lords, whom he hated for their vigorous and
patriotic opposition, and punished them for allowing the expedition,
which he had just sanctioned, to sail from their coasts unmolested.