Edward Bruce and the Red Earl

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXI

"The new monarch, however, was not disposed to rest inactive, and his troops had many skirmishes with Richard de Burgh, called the Red Earl of Ulster, who drove them as far as Coleraine. There they were in great distress; and they would have suffered much from hunger and want, had not a famous pirate, Thomas of Down, or Thomas Don, sailed up the Bann and set them free. De Burgh's army were supplied with provisions from a distance; and one of Bruce's famous leaders, named Randolph, Earl of Murray, who commanded the left wing at Bannockburn, having surprised the convoy on its way to De Burgh's camp, equipped his men in the clothes of the escort, advanced at dusk with his cavalry, and the banner of the English flaunting in the night wind. A large party of De Burgh's force, perceiving, as they thought, the approach of the expected provisions, advanced unguardedly to drive off the cattle, when they were vigorously assailed by the Scots, shouting their war-cry, and they were chased back with the loss of a thousand slain. De Burgh's army included all the chivalry of Ireland—that is, the English portion, viz.:—'The Butlers, earls two, of Kildare and Desmond; Byrnhame (Bermingham), Widdan (Verdon), and FitzWaryne, and Schyr Paschall off Florentyne, a Knight of Lombardy; with the Mandvillas, Bissetts, Logans, Savages, and Schyr Nyeholl off Kilkenave.' The Ulster Journal thinks this list of Barbour's incorrect; certainly Sir Edmond Butler was not among them, nor probably either of the Geraldine lords. Some lords of Munster, however, were present—Power, Baron of Donisle; Sir George Lord Roche, and Sir Roger Hollywood, of county Meath.

"On the 10th September, A.D. 1315, De Burgh, being reinforced, marched to attack Bruce's position; but the Scots, leaving their banners flying to deceive the Anglo-Irish, fell upon their flank and gained the victory. This gave them Coleraine; and next day they bore off a great store of corn, flour, wax, and wine, to Carrickfergus.

"This success gave to the Gael of the north an opportunity of declaring their exultation. Bruce, whose royal authority was previously confined to his Scottish troops, was proclaimed King of Ireland, and addressed as such.

"He then sent the Earl of Murray to Edinburgh, where the King of Scotland kept his court, entreating him to join him in Ireland.

"'For war thai both in to that land
Thai suld find nane culd thaim withstand.'

Robert gladly promised compliance, but was for some time prevented by the exigencies of his own kingdom. Murray returned with a small reinforcement, but 500 men, and landed at Dundalk, where Edward Bruce met him. This was in the December of 1315.

"In January, 1316, Edward Bruce led his forces into the county of Kildare, and was stoutly opposed by the Lord Justiciary, or Viceroy, Sir Edward Butler, who, backed by the Geraldines, under John Fitzgerald, first Earl of Kildare, bravely repulsed the invaders. They retreated with the loss of Sir Walter Murray and Sir Fergus of Ardrossan, with seventy men, as Clyn records. A new ally for the Palesmen arrived at this juncture—Mortimer, Lord of Meath, in right of his wife, Joan de Joinville. He assembled a large force, and endeavoured to intercept the Scots at Kells, but, on the eve of the onset, was deserted by the Lacys and others, who left him almost defenceless. The season and scarcity made war against the Scots, and vast numbers perished from hunger. Bruce was forced to retreat once more northward, where his chief adherents lay. The citadel of Carrickfergus resisted the attacks of Bruce's army for a year. It was in this town that (probably in September, 1316) Robert, King of Scotland, with a strong force, came to his brother's help. Barbour gives the number who accompanied Robert at 5,000. This was enough to make the Viceroy take heed for his government. He hasted, Barbour says:

"'To Dewellyne, in full gret hy,
With othyr lordis that fled him by,
And warnysit both castyls and towness
That war in their possessionnys.'