Our Ancient Capital (10) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

Nothing can be more absurd than to talk of a Saxon conquest of Ireland. The Saxons, an ignorant, rude, inferior race, could not even maintain their ascendency in England. They fell before the superior power, intelligence, and ability of the Norman, and the provinces of Ireland that fell to the first Norman nobles were in reality not gained by battles, but by the intermarriage of Norman lords with the daughters of Irish kings. Hence it was that in right of their wives the Norman nobles early set up claims independent of the English crown, and the hereditary rights, being transmitted through each generation, were perpetually tempting the Norman aristocracy into rebellion. English supremacy was as uneasily borne by the De Lacys, the Geraldines, the Butlers, and others of the Norman stock, as by the O'Connors, the Kavanaghs, the O'Neils, or the O'Briens. The great Richard de Burgho married Odierna, grand-daughter of Cathal Crovdearg, king of Connaught. Hence the De Burghos assumed the title of Lords of Connaught.

King Roderick, as we have said, left no male issue. His kingdom descended to his daughter, who married the Norman knight, Hugo de Lacy. Immediately De Lacy set up a claim as independent prince in right of his wife, assumed legal state, took the title of King of Meath, and appeared in public with a golden crown upon his head, and so early as twenty-five years after the invasion, John de Courcy and the son of this De Lacy marched against the English of Leinster and Munster. Many a romance could be woven of the destiny and vicissitudes of this great race, half Irish, half Norman; independent princes by the one side, and English subjects by the other.

The great Earl of Pembroke lived but a few years after his capture of Dublin. The Irish legends say that St. Bridget killed him. However, he and Eva had no male heir, and only one daughter, named Isabel, after the Earl's mother, who was also aunt to the reigning king of Scotland.

This young girl was sole heiress of Leinster and of her father's Welsh estates. Richard Coeur de Lion took her to his court at London, and she became his ward. In due time she married William Marshall, called the great Earl, hereditary Earl Marshal of England, and Earl of Pembroke and Leinster, in right of his wife. High in office and favour with the king, we read that he carried the sword of state before Richard at his coronation, and as a monument of his piety, he left Tintern Abbey, in the County Wexford, erected by him on his wife's property.

Isabel and Earl William had five sons and five daughters. The five sons, William, Walter, Gilbert, Anselm, and Richard (Isabel called no son of hers after the royal traitor Dermot, her grandfather) inherited the title in succession, and all died childless. We have said there was a doom upon Dermot's male posterity.

The inheritance was then divided between the five daughters, each of whom received a province for a dower. Carlow, Kilkenny, the Queen's County, Wexford, and Kildare were the five portions. Maud, the eldest, married the Earl of Norfolk, who became Earl Marshal of England in right of his wife.

Isabel, the second, married the Earl of Gloucester, and her granddaughter, Isabel also, was mother to the great Robert Bruce, who was therefore great-great-great-grandson of Eva and Strongbow. Eva, the third daughter, married the Lord de Breos, and from a daughter of hers, named Eva likewise, descended Edward the Fourth, King of England, through whose granddaughter Margaret Queen of Scotland, daughter of Henry the Seventh, the present reigning family of England claim their right to the throne. Through two lines, therefore, our Most Gracious Majesty can trace back her pedigree to Eva the Irish princess.

Joan, whose portions were Wexford, married Lord Valentia, half-brother to King Henry the Third, and the male line failing, the inheritance was divided between two daughters, from one of whom the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury, inherit their Wexford estates.

From Sybil, the youngest, who married the Earl of Ferrars and Derby; descended the Earls of Winchester, the Lords Mortimer, and other noble races. She had seven daughters, who all married Norman lords, so that scarcely a family could be named of the high and ancient English nobility, whose wealth has not been increased by the estates of Eva, the daughter of King Dermot; and thus it came to pass that Leinster fell by marriage and inheritance, not by conquest, into the possession of the great Norman families, who, of course, acknowledged the King of England as their sovereign; and the English monarchs assumed thenceforth the title of Lords of Ireland—a claim which they afterwards enforced over the whole country.

The destiny of the descendants of De Lacy and King Roderick's daughter was equally remarkable. They had two sons, Hugh and Walter, who, before they were twenty-one, threw off English allegiance, and set up as independent princes. To avoid the wrath of King John they fled to France, and took refuge in an abbey, where, disguised as menials, the two young noblemen found employment in garden-digging, preparing mud and bricks, and similar work. By some chance the abbot suspected the disguise, and finally detected the princes in the supposed peasants. He used his knowledge of their secret to obtain their pardon from King John, and Hugh De Lacy was created Earl of Ulster. He left an only daughter, his sole heir. She married a De Burgho, who, in right of his wife, became Earl of Ulster, and from them descended Ellen, wife of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. It is singular that the mother of Robert Bruce should have been descended from Eva, and his wife from King Roderick's daughter. The granddaughter of Robert Bruce, the Princess Margery, married the Lord High Steward of Scotland, and through her the Stuarts claimed the crown. From thence it is easy to trace how the royal blood of the three kingdoms meet in the reigning family of England. Another descendant of the Earls of Ulster (an only daughter likewise) married Lionel, Duke of Clarence, son of Edward the Third, who, in the right of his wife, became Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connaught, and these titles finally merged in the English crown in the person of Edward the Fourth. From all these genealogies one fact may be clearly deduced, that the present representative of the royal Irish races of Eva and Roderick, and the lineal heiress of their rights, is Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The proud and handsome race of Norman Irish, that claimed descent from these intermarriages, were the nobles, of whom it was said, "They were more Irish than the Irish themselves." The disposition to become independent of England was constantly manifested in them. They publicly asserted their rights, renounced the English dress and language, and adopted Irish names. Thus Sir Ulick Burke, ancestor of Lord Clanricarde, became MacWilliam Oughter (or upper), and Sir Edmond Albanagh, progenitor of the Earl of Mayo, became MacWilliam Eighter (or lower). Richard, son of the Earl of Norfolk, and grandson of Eva, set up a claim to be independent King of Leinster, and was slain by the English. We have seen that Walter and Hugh De Lacy, grandsons of Roderick, were in open rebellion against King John. A hundred years later, two of the same race, named Walter and Hugh likewise, were proclaimed traitors for aiding the army of Robert Bruce, who claimed the crown of Ireland for his brother Edward, and the two De Lacys were found dead by the side of Edward Bruce at the great battle of Dundalk, where the Scotch forces were overthrown.

Once, even the Geraldines and the Fitzmaurices took prisoner the Justiciary of Dublin, as the Lord-Lieutenant of that day was named. Meanwhile the Irish princes of the West retained their independence; sometimes at feud, sometimes in amity with the English of the Eastern coast. We read that "the English of Dublin invited Hugh, King of Connaught, to a conference, and began to deal treacherously with him; but William Mareschall, his friend, coming in with his forces, rescued him, in despite of the English, from the middle of the Court, and escorted him to Connaught." Both races were equally averse to the domination of the English crown. The Geraldines and Butlers, the De Burghos and De Lacys, were as intractable as the O'Connors of Connaught, or the O'Neils of Tyrone; even more so. The Great O'Neil submitted to Elizabeth; but two hundred years later the Geraldines had still to add the name of another martyr for liberty to the roll of their illustrious ancestors.

Frequently the Normans fought amongst themselves as fiercely as if opposed to the Irish. The Earl of Ulster, a De Burgho the same who is recorded to have given the first entertainment at Dublin Castle, took his kinsman, Walter Burke, prisoner, and had him starved to death in his own castle; a tragedy which might have been made as memorable as that of Ugolino in the Torre del Fame, had there been a Dante in Ireland to record it. For this act the kinsmen of Walter Burke murdered the Earl of Ulster on the Lord's Day, as he was kneeling at his prayers, and cleft his head in two with a sword.