The Irish Army

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVI

The fair of Telltown was celebrated about this time; and from the accounts given by the Annals of the concourse of people, and the number of horsemen who attended it, there can be little doubt that Ireland was seldom in a better position to resist foreign invasion. But unity of purpose and a competent leader were wanted then, as they have been wanted but too often since. Finding so little opposition to his plans, Mac Murrough determined to act on the offensive. He was now at the head of 3,000 men. With this force he marched into the adjoining territory of Ossory, and made war on its chief, Donough FitzPatrick; and after a brave but unsuccessful resistance, it submitted to his rule.[8]

The Irish monarch was at length aroused to some degree of apprehension. He summoned a hosting of the men of Ireland at Tara; and with the army thus collected, assisted by the Lords of Meath, Oriel, Ulidia, Breffni, and some northern chieftains, he at once proceeded to Dublin. Dermod was alarmed, and retired to Ferns. Roderic pursued him thither. But dissension had already broken out in the Irish camp: the Ulster chiefs returned home; the contingent was weakened; and, either through fear, or from the natural indolence of his pacific disposition, he agreed to acknowledge Mac Murrough's authority. Mac Murrough gave his son Cormac as hostage for the fulfilment of the treaty. A private agreement was entered into between the two kings, in which Dermod pledged himself to dismiss his foreign allies as soon as possible, and to bring no more strangers into the country. It is more than probable that he had not the remotest idea of fulfilling his promise; it is at least certain that he broke it the first moment it was his interest to do so. Dermod's object was simply to gain time, and in this he succeeded.

Maurice FitzGerald arrived at Wexford a few days after, and the recreant king at once proceeded to meet him; and with this addition to his army, marched to attack Dublin. The Dano-Celts, who inhabited this city, had been so cruelly treated by him, that they dreaded a repetition of his former tyrannies. They had elected a governor for themselves; but resistance was useless. After a brief struggle, they were obliged to sue for peace—a favour which probably would not have been granted without further massacres and burnings, had not Dermod wished to bring his arms to bear in another quarter.

Donnell O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, who had married a daughter of Dermod, had just rebelled against Roderic, and the former was but too willing to assist him in his attempt. Thus encouraged where he should have been treated with contempt, and hunted down with ignominy, his ambition became boundless. He played out the favourite game of traitors; and no doubt hoped, when he had consolidated his own power, that he could easily expel his foreign allies. Strongbow had not yet arrived, though the winds had been long enough "at east and easterly."[9] His appearance was still delayed. The fact was, that the Earl was in a critical position. Henry and his barons were never on the most amiable terms; and there were some very special reasons why Strongbow should prove no exception to the rule.


[8] Rule.—What the rule of this ferocious monster may have been we can judge from what is related of him by Cambrensis. Three hundred heads of the slain were piled up before him; and as he leaped and danced with joy at the ghastly sight, he recognized a man to whom he had a more than ordinary hatred. He seized the head by the ears, and gratified his demoniacal rage by biting off the nose and lips of his dead enemy.

[9] Easterly.—Cambrensis takes to himself the credit of having advised the despatch of a letter to Strongbow. He also gives us the letter, which probably was his own composition, as it is written in the same strain of bombast as his praises of his family.—Hib. Expug. lib. i. c. 12. It commences thus: "We have watched the storks and swallows; the summer birds are come and gone," &c. We imagine that Dermod's style, if he had taken to epistolary correspondence, would have been rather a contrast.