Edward Bruce's Irish Campaign

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXI

The accounts of Bruce's Irish campaign have not been very clearly given. The Four Masters mention it briefly, notwithstanding its importance; the fullest account is contained in the Annals of Clonmacnois, which agree with the Annals of Connaught. Dundalk, Ardee, and some other places in the north, were taken in rapid succession, and a good supply of victuals and wine was obtained from the former place. The Viceroy, Sir Edmund le Botiller, marched to attack the enemy; but the proud Earl of Ulster refused his assistance, and probably the Justiciary feared to offend him by offering to remain. Meanwhile, Felim, King of Connaught, who had hitherto been an ally of the Red Earl, came over to the popular side; and the English forces suffered a defeat at Connor, in. which William de Burgo and several knights were taken prisoners. This battle was fought on the 10th of September, according to Grace's Annals, and the battle of Dundalk on the 29th of July.

After the battle of Connor, the Earl of Ulster fled to Connaught, where he remained a year ;the remainder of his forces shut themselves up in Carrickfergus. Bruce was proclaimed King of Ireland, and marched southward to pursue his conquests. The Earl of Moray was sent to Edinburgh to invite King Robert over, and the Scotch armies prepared to spend the winter with the De Lacys in Westmeath.

When the Christmas festivities were concluded, Bruce again took the field, and defeated the Viceroy at Ardscull, in the co. Kildare. In the month of February some of the chief nobles of the English colony met in Dublin, and signed a manifesto, in which they denounced the traitorous conduct of the Scotch enemy, in trying to wrest Ireland from their Lord, "Monsieur Edward," taking special care to herald forth their own praises for loyalty, and to hint at the compensation which might be required for the same.

But the Irish were again their own enemies; and to their miserable dissensions, though it can never justify the cruelties of their oppressors, must be attributed most justly nearly all their misfortunes. Had the Irish united against the invaders, there can be no doubt that, with the assistance of the Scotch army, they would have obtained a complete and glorious victory, though it may be doubtful whether any really beneficial results would have accrued to the country should disunion continue. When Felim O'Connor joined Bruce, Rory O'Connor and his clan commenced depredations on his territory. Felim returned to give him battle, and defeated him with terrible slaughter. Thus men and time were lost in useless and ignoble strife. Rory was slain in this engagement—a fate he richly merited; and Felim was once more free to fight for his country. He was joined by the O'Briens of Thomond, and they marched together to attack Athenry, which was defended by Burke and Bermingham. A fierce conflict ensued. The Irish fought with their usual valour; but English coats-of-mail were proof against their attacks, and English cross-bows mowed down their ranks.

The brave young Felim was slain, with 11,000 of his followers; and the Irish cause was irretrievably injured, perhaps more by the death of the leader than by the loss of the men. This disaster took place on the 10th of August, 1316.

Still the Irish were not daunted. The O'Tooles and O'Byrnes rose in Wicklow, the O'Mores in Leix. Robert Bruce came over to Ireland. The Franciscan friars, always devoted to their country, made themselves specially obnoxious by encouraging their countrymen to die in defence of their country. They were threatened and cajoled by turns, but with little effect.[4] Edward Bruce again appeared before Carrickfergus. The siege was protracted until September, when Robert Bruce arrived, and found the English so hard pressed, that they ate hides, and fed on the bodies of eight Scots whom they had made prisoners.[5]

In the year 1317, the Scottish army was computed at 20,000 men, besides their Irish auxiliaries. After Shrovetide, King Robert and his brother crossed the Boyne, and marched to Castleknock, near Dublin, where they took Hugh Tyrrell prisoner, and obtained possession of the fortress. There was no little fear in Dublin Castle thereupon, for the Anglo-Normans distrusted each other. And well they might. The De Lacys had solemnly pledged their fidelity, yet they were now found under the standard of Bruce. Even De Burgo was suspected; for his daughter, Elizabeth, was the wife of the Scottish King. When the invading army approached Dublin, he was seized and confined in the Castle. It will be remembered that Dublin had been more than once peopled by the citizens of Bristol. They were naturally in the English interest, and disposed to offer every resistance. They fortified Dublin so strongly, even at the expense of burning the suburbs and pulling down churches, that Bruce deemed it more prudent to avoid an encounter, and withdrew towards the Salmon Leap; from whence he led his forces southward as far as Limerick, without encountering any serious opposition.


[4] Effect.—See Theiner, Vet. Mon. Hiber. et Scot. p. 188, for the efforts made by the Holy See to procure peace. The Pope's letter to Edward III. will be found at p. 206. It is dated Avinione, iii. Kal. Junii, Pontificatus nostri anno secundo.

[5] Prisoners.—Gilbert's Viceroys, p. 138.