Roderic O'Conor

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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O'Conor, Roderic, last Monarch of Ireland, King of Connaught, was born about 1116. He succeeded to the government of Connaught on the death of his father, Turlough, in 1156, and to the nominal rule of Ireland on the death of Murtough O'Lochlainn in 1166. He began his reign by imprisoning three of his brothers, one of whom he blinded, and he was soon engaged in the accustomed hostilities with other Irish princes. On the death of O'Lochlainn he marched to Dublin, paid the Danes a stipend in cattle, levied for them a tax of 4,000 cows on Ireland at large, and was with much pomp inaugurated King of Ireland.

One of his first acts was to deprive O'Lochlainn's old ally, Dermot MacMurrough, of his kingdom of Leinster, whereupon the latter appealed to Henry II., and brought over the Anglo-Normans to assist him in obtaining possession of his territories. In 1169 O'Conor celebrated, with extraordinary ceremony, the ancient fair of Tailtin, in Meath; while within a few miles Dermot MacMurrough and his allies were permitted to overrun the province of Leinster, and lay the foundations of Anglo-Norman rule in Ireland. Later in the same year he collected a large army, and arrived before Ferns, where Dermot and FitzStephen were intrenched.

Instead of insisting on the unconditional submission of Dermot, and the expulsion of FitzStephen and his knights, he entered into an arrangement, by which, on his nominal supremacy being acknowledged, he permitted Dermot (who bound himself by a secret treaty to bring over no more foreign auxiliaries, and to take the first opportunity to dismiss those then in his service) to resume the full sovereignty of Leinster. Roderic thereupon withdrew his levies, and MacMurrough proved the worthlessness of his promises by hastening to welcome a newly-arrived band of Anglo-Normans under Maurice FitzGerald.

On Earl Strongbow's arrival in August 1170, Roderic hastily collected a large body of men and occupied the passes between Waterford and Dublin; but the Anglo-Normans and their allies passed through Wicklow, and captured Dublin before O'Conor was able to co-operate with the Danish inhabitants for its defence. According to the Four Masters, the fall of Dublin was due to its inhabitants not acting in concert with him. After occupying Clondalkin, and engaging in a few skirmishes, he withdrew his ill-organized hosts. Roderic now put to death the hostages delivered to him by MacMurrough for the performance of the treaty of Ferns — Dermot's son, Conor (heir apparent of Leinster), his grandson, and the son of his foster-brother O'Ceallaigh, and collecting a fleet, passed down the Shannon, and plundered Munster.

In 1171 he joined in an effort to drive the Anglo-Normans out of Dublin. He had his camp at Castleknock, while the forces of O'Rourk and O'Carroll completed the investment of the town, and a fleet of thirty vessels from the Isle of Man blockaded the harbour. The Irish chiefs, relying on their numbers, contented themselves with an inactive blockade. After some weeks the besieged were reduced to extremities. Strongbow demanded a parley, and Archbishop O'Toole acted as negotiator.

Earl Strongbow offered, upon being left in peaceable possession of Leinster, to hold it as Roderic's vassal. The latter demanded that the Anglo-Normans should leave Ireland. Refusing to agree to these terms, the Normans made a desperate sally. The Irish were taken by surprise; Roderic, bathing in the Liffey, had some difficulty in effecting his escape; great numbers were slain, and the rest put to flight.

Earl Strongbow and his companions returned to the city laden with provisions and spoils. Next year Roderic came to terms with Henry II., and, according to the English chroniclers, did homage through his envoy, Archbishop O'Toole, for his kingdom of Connaught.

In 1174 O'Conor and Donald O'Brien combined their forces to resist an invasion of Munster by Earl Strongbow, at the head of an army of Dublin Northmen, and defeated him near Thurles. This disaster necessitated Raymond FitzGerald's recall from Wales, and his being placed at the head of the Anglo- Norman forces. On his approach the league which had been formed amongst the native princes fell to pieces.

In 1175 the "Treaty of Windsor" is said to have been entered into between Henry II. and Roderic. It commences with the words: "Hic est finis et concordia quae facta fuit apud Windsore in octavis Sancti Michaelis, anno gratiae 1175, inter dominum regem Angliae Henricum II. et Rodericum regem Conaciae."

O'Halloran condenses its terms: "By the first article, on Roderic's agreeing to do homage to Henry, and to pay him a certain tribute, he was to possess his kingdom of Connaught in as full and ample a manner as before Henry's entering that kingdom. By the second article, Henry engages to support and defend the King of Connaught in his territories, with all his force and power, in Ireland, provided he pays to Henry every tenth merchantable hide through the kingdom. The third excepts from this condition all such domains as are possessed by Henry himself and by his Barons — as Dublin with its liberties; Meath with all its domains — in as full a manner as it was possessed by O'Mealsachlin, or those deriving under him; Wexford, with all Leinster; Waterford, with all its domain as far as Dungarvan, which, with its territory, is also excluded from this taxation. Fourth: Such Irish as fled from the lands held by the English barons may return in peace, on paying the above tribute, or such other services as they were anciently accustomed to perform for their tenures, at the option of their lords: should they prove refractory, on complaint of such lords, Roderic was to compel them; and they were to supply Henry with hawks and hounds annually."

Roderic was thus left in full possession in Connaught, and his sovereignty over the rest of Ireland, except the Pale, was acknowledged, on his collecting for the King certain annual tribute. Mr. Richey, in his Lectures on Irish History, shows that Henry before long altered his policy of governing Ireland by the aid of both Irish and Anglo-Norman feudatories, and in the face of his solemn treaty, granted, in 1179, the province of Connaught to William FitzAdelm de Burgh and his heirs.

On the Irish side plundering expeditions went on as before; and Roderic's sons joined the Anglo-Normans in their invasions of Connaught. "Worn out and broken-hearted, Roderic abdicated in 1183, and retired to the Abbey of Cong, where he died in 1198, aged 82. He was buried at Clonmacnoise. Mr. Moore, in his History of Ireland, says: "The only feeling his name awakens is that of pity for the doomed country which at such a crisis of its fortunes, when honour, safety, independence, national existence, were all at stake, was cursed, for the crowning of its evil destiny, with a ruler and leader so utterly unworthy of his high calling."

Sources

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

170a. Ireland, History of: Martin Haverty. Dublin, 1860.

173c. Ireland, History of, to the close of the Twelfth Century: Sylvester O'Halloran. 2 vols. London, 1778.

174. Ireland, History of, Lectures on the: Alexander G. Richey. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869-'70.

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