Strongbow defeated in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVII

Strongbow was now employing himself by depredating the territories which had been conferred on him. He took an army of 1,000 horse and foot into Offaly, to lay waste O'Dempsey's territory, that prince having also committed the crime of wishing to keep his ancestral estates. He met with no opposition until he was about to return with the spoils; then, as he passed through a defile, the chieftain set upon him in the rear, and slew several of his knights, carrying off the Norman standard. Robert de Quincey, who had just married a daughter of Strongbow's by a former marriage, was amongst the slain. The Earl had bestowed a large territory in Wexford on him.

Henry was at that time suffering from domestic troubles in Normandy; he therefore summoned De Clare to attend him there. It would appear that he performed good service for his royal master, for he received further grants of lands and castles, both in Normandy and in Ireland. On his return to the latter country, he found that the spoilers had quarrelled over the spoil. Raymond le Gros contrived to ingratiate himself with the soldiers, and they demanded that the command should be transferred from Hervey de Montmarisco, Strongbow's uncle, to the object of their predilection. The Earl was obliged to comply. Their object was simply to plunder. The new general gratified them; and after a raid on the unfortunate inhabitants of Offaly and Munster, they collected their booty at Lismore, intending to convey it by water to Waterford.

The Ostmen of Cork attacked them by sea, but failed to conquer. By land the Irish suffered another defeat. Raymond encountered MacCarthy of Desmond on his way to Cork, and plundered him, driving off a rich cattle spoil, in addition to his other ill-gotten goods. Raymond now demanded the appointment of Constable of Leinster, and the hand of Strongbow's sister, Basilia. But the Earl refused; and the general, notwithstanding his successes, retired to Wales in disgust.

Hervey now resumed the command, A.D. 1174, and undertook an expedition against Donnell O'Brien, which proved disastrous to the English. Roderic once more appears in the field. The battle took place at Thurles, and seventeen hundred of the English were slain. In consequence of this disaster, the Earl proceeded in sorrow to his house in Waterford.[1] This great success was a signal for revolt amongst the native chieftains. Donald Cavanagh claimed his father's territory, and Gillamochalmog and other Leinster chieftains rose up against their allies. Roderic O'Connor at the same time invaded Meath, and drove the Anglo-Normans from their castles at Trim and Duleek. Strongbow was obliged to despatch messengers at once to invite the return of Raymond le Gros, and to promise him the office he had demanded, and his sister's hand in marriage.

Raymond came without a moment's delay, accompanied by a considerable force. His arrival was most opportune for the English cause. The Northmen of Waterford were preparing to massacre the invaders, and effected their purpose when the Earl left the town to join the new reinforcements at Wexford. The nuptials were celebrated at Wexford with great pomp; but news was received, on the following morning, that Roderic had advanced almost to Dublin; and the mantle and tunic of the nuptial feast were speedily exchanged for helmet and coat-of-mail.[2] Unfortunately Roderic's army was already disbanded. The English soon repaired the injuries which had been done to their fortresses; and once more the Irish cause was lost, even in. the moment of victory, for want of combination and a leader.


[1] Waterford.—The English and Irish accounts of this affair differ widely. The Annals of Innisfallen make the number of slain to be only seven hundred. MacGeoghegan agrees with the Four Masters.

[2] Coat-of-mail.—Costly mantles were then fashionable. Strutt informs us that Henry I. had a mantle of fine cloth, lined with black sable, which cost 100 of the money of the time—about 1,500 of our money. Fairholt gives an illustration of the armour of the time (History of Costume, p. 74). It was either tegulated or formed of chains in rings. The nasal appendage to the helmet was soon after discarded, probably from the inconvenient hold it afforded the enemy of the wearer in battle. Face-guards were invented soon after.