Our Ancient Capital (7) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

Up to this period, therefore, we see that the Irish race had no relationship whatever with their capital city; they never saw the inside of their metropolis unless they were carried there as prisoners, or that they entered with fire and sword; and, stranger still, during the many centuries of the existence of Dublin as a city, up to the present time, the Irish race have never ruled there, or held possession of the fortress of their capital.

But the time of judgment upon the Danes was approaching, though it did not come by Irish hands. As the Saxons in England fell before the Danes, so the Danes had fallen before the Normans. The Normans, a Scythian race likewise, but more beautiful, more brave, more chivalrous, courtly, and polished, than any race that had preceded them, came triumphant from Italy and France to achieve the conquest of England, which yielded almost without a struggle. One great, battle, and then no more. William the Norman, or rather the Scythian Frenchman, ascends the throne of Alfred. Dane and Saxon fall helplessly beneath his feet, and his tyrannies, his robberies, his confiscations, are submitted to by the subjugated nation without an effort at resistance.

His handful of Norman nobles seized upon the lands, the wealth, the honours, the estates of the kingdom, and retain them to this hour. And justly; so noble a race as the Norman knights were made for masters. The Saxons sank at once to the level of serfs, of traders and menials, from which they have never risen, leaving England divided into a Norman aristocracy who have all the land, and a Saxon people who have all the toil; crushed by the final conquerors, they sank to be the sediment of the kingdom.

The Irish had a different destiny; for five hundred years they fought the battle for independence with the Normans, nor did their chiefs sink to be the pariahs of the kingdom, as the Saxons of England, but retain their princely pretensions to this day. The O'Connors, the O'Briens, O'Neils, Kavanaghs, O'Donnels, yield to no family in Europe in pride of blood and ancestral honours; while, by intermarriage with the Norman lords, a race was founded of Norman-Irish—perhaps the finest specimens of aristocracy that Europe produced—the Geraldines at their head, loving Ireland, and of whom Ireland may be proud.

A hundred years passed by after the Norman conquest of England. Three kings of the Norman race had reigned and died, and still the conquest of Ireland was unattempted; no Norman knight had set foot on Irish soil.

The story of their coming begins with just such a domestic drama as Homer had turned into an epic two thousand years before. A fair and faithless woman, a king's daughter, fled from her husband to the arms of a lover. All Ireland is outraged at the act. The kings assemble in conclave and denounce vengeance upon the crowned seducer, Dermot, King of Leinster.

He leagues with the Danes of Dublin, the abhorred of his countrymen, but the only allies he can find in his great need. A battle is fought in which Dermot is defeated, his castle of Ferns is burned, his kingdom is taken from him, and he himself is solemnly deposed by the confederate kings, and banished beyond the seas. Roderick, King of all Ireland, is the inexorable and supreme judge. He restores the guilty wife to her husband; but the husband disdains to receive her, and she retires to a convent, where she expiates her crime and the ruin of her country by forty years of penance. The only records of her afterwards are of her good deeds. She built a nunnery at Clonmacnoise; she gave a chalice of gold to the altar of Mary, and cloth for nine altars of the Church; and then Dervorgil, the Helen of our Iliad, is heard of no more.

Dermot, her lover, went to England, seeking aid to recover his kingdom of Leinster. In a year he returns with a band of Welsh mercenaries, and marches to Dublin; but is again defeated by the confederate kings, and obliged to pay a hundred ounces of gold to O'Rourke of Breffny, "for the wrong he had done him respecting his wife," and to give up as hostage to King Roderick his only son. But while parleying with the Irish kings, Dermot was secretly soliciting English aid, and not unsuccessfully.

Memorable was the year 1170, when the renowned Strongbow, Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, and his Norman knights, landed at Wexford to aid the banished king; and when Dermot welcomed his illustrious allies, little he thought that by his hand

"The emerald gem of the Western world,
Was set in the crown of a stranger."

The compact with the foreigners was sealed with his son's blood. No sooner did King Roderick hear of the Norman landing, than he ordered the royal Kavanagh, the hostage of King Dermot, to be put to death; and henceforth a doom seemed to be on the male heirs of the line of Dermot, as fatal as that which rested upon the house of Atrides.

Dermot had an only daughter remaining. He offered her in marriage to the Earl of Pembroke, with the whole kingdom of Leinster for her dowry, so as he would help him to his revenge. After a great battle against the Danes, in which the Normans were victorious, the marriage was celebrated at Waterford.

"Sad Eva gazed
All round that bridal field of blood, amazed;
Spoused to new fortunes."*

No record remains to us of the beauty of the bride, or in what language the Norman knight wooed her to his arms; this only we know, that Eva, Queen of Leinster in her own right, and Countess of Pembroke by marriage, can number amongst her descendants the present Queen of England. Of the bridegroom, Cambrensis tells us that he was "ruddy, freckle-faced, grey-eyed, his face feminine, his voice small, his neck little, yet of a high stature, ready with good words and gentle speeches."

The same authority describes Dermot from personal observation—"A tall man of stature, of a large and great body, a valiant and bold warrior, and by reason of his continued hallooing his voice was hoarse. He rather chose to be feared than loved. Rough and generous, hateful unto strangers, he would be against all men and all men against him."

NOTES

* The Irish Celt to the Irish Norman, from "Poems," by Aubrey de Vere.