Edward Bruce in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXI

The famous invasion of Ireland by Bruce took place on the 16th of May, A.D. 1315. On that day Edward landed on the coast of Ulster, near Carrickfergus, with six thousand men. He was attended by the heroes of Bannockburn; and as a considerable number of native forces soon joined them, the contingent was formidable. Although a few of the Irish had assisted Edward II. in his war against Scotch independence, the sympathies of the nation were with the cause of freedom; and they gladly hailed the arrival of those who had delivered their own country, hoping they would also deliver Ireland. It was proposed that Edward Bruce should be made King of Ireland. The Irish chieftain, Donnell O'Neill, King of Ulster, in union with the other princes of the province, wrote a spirited but respectful remonstrance to the Holy See, on the part of the nation, explaining why they were anxious to transfer the kingdom to Bruce.

In this document the remonstrants first state, simply and clearly, that the Holy Father was deceived; that they were persuaded his intentions were pure and upright; and that his Holiness only knew the Irish through the misrepresentations of their enemies. They state their wish "to save their country from foul and false imputations," and to give a correct idea of their state. They speak, truthfully and mournfully, "of the sad remains of a kingdom, which has groaned so long beneath the tyranny of English kings, of their ministers and their barons;" and they add, "that some of the latter, though born in the island, continued to exercise the same extortions, rapine, and cruelties, as their ancestors inflicted." They remind the Pontiff that "it is to Milesian princes, and not to the English, that the Church is indebted for those lands and possessions of which it has been stripped by the sacrilegious cupidity of the English." They boldly assert "it was on the strength of false statements" that Adrian transferred the sovereignty of the country to Henry II., "the probable murderer of St. Thomas à Becket."

Details are then given of English oppression, to some of which we have already referred. They state the people have been obliged to take refuge, "like beasts, in the mountains, in the woods, marshes, and caves. Even there we are not safe. They envy us these desolate abodes." They contrast the engagements made by Henry to the Church, and his fair promises, with the grievous failure in their fulfilment. They give clear details of the various enactments made by the English, one of which merits special attention, as an eternal refutation of the false and base charge against the Irish of having refused to accept English laws, because they were a lawless race.

They state (1) "that no Irishman who is not a prelate can take the law against an Englishman, but every Englishman may take the law against an Irishman." (2) That any Englishman may kill an Irishman, "falsely and perfidiously, as often happened, of whatsoever rank, innocent or guilty, and yet he cannot be brought before the English tribunals; and further, that the English murderer can seize the property of his victim." When such was the state of Ireland, as described calmly in an important document still extant, we cannot be surprised that the people eagerly sought the slightest hope of redress, or the merest chance of deliverance from such oppression.[3]

In conclusion, the Irish princes inform his Holiness, "that in order to obtain their object the more speedily and securely, they had invited the gallant Edward Bruce, to whom, being descended from their most noble ancestors, they had transferred, as they justly might, their own right of royal domain."

A few years later Pope John wrote a letter to Edward III., in which he declares that the object of Pope Adrian's Bull had been entirely neglected, and that the "most unheard-of miseries and persecutions had been inflicted on the Irish." He recommends that monarch to adopt a very different policy, and to remove the causes of complaint, "lest it might be too late hereafter to apply a remedy, when the spirit of revolt had grown stronger."


[3] Oppression.—The original Latin is preserved by Fordun. Translations may be found in the Abbe MacGeoghegan's History of Ireland, p. 323, and in Plowden's Historical Review. We append one clause, in which these writers complain of the corruption of manners produced by intercourse with the English settlers: "Quod sancta et columbina ejus simplicitas, ex eorum cohabitatione et exemplo reprobo, in serpentinam calliditatem mirabiliter est mutata."