Our Ancient Capital (8)

From Waterford to Dublin was a progress of victory to Dermot and his allies, for they marched only through the Danish settlements of which Dermot was feudal lord. At Dublin King Roderick opposed them with an army. Three days the battle raged; then the Danes of Dublin, fearing Dermot's wrath, opened their gates, and offered him gold and silver in abundance if he would spare their lives; but, heedless of treaties, the Norman knights rushed in, slew the Danes in their own fortress, drove the rest to the sea; and thus ended the Danish dynasty of four centuries. Never more did they own a foot of ground throughout the length or breadth of the land. An Irish army, aided by Norman skill, had effected their complete extinction. The Kingdom of Leinster was regained for Dermot, and he and his allies placed a garrison in Dublin. This was the last triumph of the ancient race. The kingdom was lost even at the moment it seemed regained. That handful of Scythian warriors, scarcely visible amid Dermot's great Irish army, are destined to place the yoke upon the neck of ancient Ireland.

The brave Roderick gathered together another army, and, with sixty thousand men, laid siege to Dublin, O'Rourke of Breffny aiding him. They were repulsed. O'Rourke was taken prisoner, and hanged with his head downwards, then beheaded and the head stuck on one of the centre gates of the castle, "a spectacle of intense pity to the Irish;" and Roderick retired into Connaught to recruit more forces.

There is something heroic and self-devoted in the efforts which, for eighteen years, were made by Roderick against the Norman power. Brave, learned, just, and enlightened beyond his age, he alone of all the Irish princes saw the direful tendency of the Norman inroad. All the records of his reign prove that he was a wise and powerful monarch. He had a fleet on the Shannon, the like of which had never been seen before. He built a royal residence in Connaught, the ruins of which are still existing to attest its former magnificence, so far beyond all structures of the period, that it was known in Ireland as the beautiful house. He founded a chair of literature at Armagh, and left an endowment in perpetuity, to maintain it for the instruction of the youth of Ireland and Scotland. A great warrior, and a fervent patriot, his first effort, when he obtained the crown, was to humble the Danish power. Dublin was forced to pay him tribute, and he was inaugurated there with a grandeur and luxury unknown before. When Dermot outraged morality, he deposed and banished him. When Dermot further sinned, and traitorously brought over the foreigner, Roderick, with stern justice, avenged the father's treason by the son's life. His own son, the heir of his kingdom, leagued with the Normans, and was found fighting in their ranks. Roderick, like a second Brutus, unpitying, yet heroically just, when the youth was brought a prisoner before him, himself ordered his eyes to be put out. His second son also turned traitor, and covenanted with the Normans to deprive his father of the kingdom. Then Roderick, surrounded by foreign foes and domestic treachery, quitted Connaught, and went through the provinces of Ireland, seeking to stir up a spirit as heroic as his own in the hearts of his countrymen. Soon after his unworthy-son was killed in some broil, and Roderick resumed the kingly functions; but while all the other Irish princes took the oath of fealty to King Henry, he kept aloof beyond the Shannon, equally disdaining treachery or submission. His last son, the only one worthy of him, being defeated in a battle by the Normans, slew himself in despair.

The male line of his house was now extinct; the independence of his country was threatened; Norman power was growing strong in the land, and his continued efforts for eighteen years to arouse the Irish princes to a sense of their danger was unavailing. Wearied, disgusted, heartbroken, it may be, he voluntarily laid down the sceptre and the crown, and retired to the monastery of Cong, where he became a monk, and thus, in penance and seclusion, passed ten years—the weary ending of a fated life.

He died there, twenty-eight years after the Norman invasion, "after exemplary penance, victorious over the world and the devil;" and the chroniclers record his title upon his grave where he is laid—

"Roderick O'Connor,
King of all Ireland, both of the Irish and English."

Seven centuries have passed since then, yet even now, which of us could enter the beautiful ruins of that ancient abbey, wander through the arched aisles tapestried by ivy, or tread the lonely silent chapel, once vocal with prayer and praise, without sad thoughts of sympathy for the fate of the last monarch of Ireland, and perchance grave thoughts likewise over the destiny of a people who, on that grave of native monarchy, independence, and nationality, have as yet written no RESURGAM.

Exactly ten months after the Normans took possession of Dublin, King Dermot, "by whom a trembling sod was made of all Ireland, died of an insufferable and unknown disease—for he became putrid while living—without a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as his evil deeds deserved."

Immediately the Earl of Pembroke assumed the title of King of Leinster in right of his wife Eva. Whereupon Henry of England grew alarmed at the independence of his nobility, and hastened over to assert his claims as lord paramount. To his remonstrances Strongbow answered, "What I won was with the sword; what was given me I give you." An agreement was then made by which Strongbow retained Dublin, while Henry appointed what nobles he chose over the other provinces of Leinster.