The Invasion of Edward Bruce and the Gaelic Revival (2)

Eleanor Hull
The Invasion of Edward Bruce and the Gaelic Revival | start of chapter

But from this moment the luck of Edward Bruce seemed to desert him. Together the two brothers marched to Naas and thence to Tristledermot, the de Lacys being again in their party. Here, however, they were defeated by Edmond Butler, and the resolution made by the invaders “to hold their ways through all Ireland, from one end to the other,” was brought to an end within sight of Limerick, where they turned and began a disastrous retreat to the north, on receiving the news that Roger Mortimer had landed at Youghal on April 7, 1317, to take over the administration.

The Pope, who a short time before had intervened to endeavour to call a two years’ truce between Robert Bruce and the King of England, which had been refused by Robert, now excommunicated the two Scottish brothers and the clergy who supported them. On the other hand, a general pardon was sent over from England to all who would come in; but the de Lacys, who refused it, were driven into Connacht and their lands taken from them.

Dearth and famine prevailed over the whole country, and when by forced marches the Bruces arrived in Ulster, having slipped past the English army by another route, they found the province so impoverished and poverty-stricken that the people were digging up dead bodies and using them for food.

The two Bruces were not on the best terms, Edward being determined to take the credit of any victory to himself, and it was this jealousy that brought about the final scene in the drama of King Edward’s attempt on Ireland.

Learning that Sir John Bermingham was marching north against him with fifteen hundred troops, Edward, whose army, except for the Irish contingents, was much reduced, declared that he would fight before his brother could come up, even if, as he said, the English army were “tryplit or quadruplit” in number. His best advisers besought him to await the arrival of other troops, but his “outrageous succudry [pride] and will” prevailed; the Irish leaders, however, refused to take any part in the battle.

The battle was fought between Faughard and Dundalk, on October 13 or 14, 1318, after a long lull in hostilities. The Scots were unwisely drawn up in three divisions, too far apart to support each other, and were completely routed, most of their leaders being mortally wounded or falling in the fight.[8]

Edward Bruce was slain by John Maupas, whose body was found stretched across the dead body of Bruce. A story in Barbour says that Edward refused on that day to wear his surcoat bearing his coat-of-arms, and that his faithful body-servant, Gib Harper, “that men held als withouten peir,” donned it and was killed in mistake for the King. It seems, however, unlikely that anyone else could be mistaken for Bruce, who certainly fell in the battle, though the change of armour may have caused a momentary doubt.

Sir John Bermingham brought Bruce’s head to the English King and received the earldom of Louth and the barony of Ardee as his reward; and, though the country people still point out the grave of Bruce in the burial-ground of Faughard, it is probably true that his hands and heart were carried to Dublin and his limbs were sent to different places.

The remnant of the troops fought their way out to Carrickfergus, but with difficulty, “for they were mony tymes that day assalit by the Irischry,” who turned against them on their defeat; finally they made their way back to Scotland.

A universal cry of relief went up both from the English and the Irish on the defeat of Bruce. The man to whom the Irish had looked to drive the English out of their land, the man whom they had formally invited over as their king, and for whom they had besought the Pope’s assistance, had become in their experience a more formidable danger than the English whom they wished him to displace. The Annals of Clonmacnois, representing Connacht opinion, exclaim:

“Edward Bruce, destroyer of all Ireland in general, both English and Irish, was killed by the English in main battle by their valour, at Dundalk, October 14, 1318, together with MacRory, King of the Isles, and MacDonnell, prince of the Irish of Scotland, with many other Scottish men. Edward, fearing his brother Robert would get the credit of the victory over the English … was himself slain, as is declared, to the great joy and comfort of the whole kingdom; for there was not done in Ireland a better deed that redounded better or more for the good of the kingdom since the creation of the world and since the banishment of the Fomorians out of the land than the killing of Edward Bruce; for there reigned scarcity of victuals, breach of promises, ill performance of covenants, and the loss of men and women throughout the whole realm for the space of three and a half years that he bore sway, insomuch that men did commonly eat one another for want of sustenance during his time.”[9]

A still more remarkable expression of opinion on the career of Bruce in Ireland was given by a Connacht bard, chief poet to the family of Eoghan (or Owen) O’Madden, who died in 1347. His relations with the foreigners of whom he speaks in the passage about to be quoted had been chiefly confined to the near neighbourhood of the de Burghs, who had established themselves in his district of Hy-Many and possessed themselves of great slices of his territory.

Though he had fought the invaders in his youth, Eoghan appears to have accepted a compromise with the Red Earl, to whose fortunes he and his people attached themselves with the utmost fidelity. He united his forces to de Burgh’s on the side of Felim against that prince’s rivals for the throne of Connacht, and carried his arms successfully as far as Meath and Ulster. He refused a lordship equal to the extent of his own territory rather than prove unfaithful to the Earl, and won from his bard the praise of having “taught truth to the chieftains and kept his people from treachery and fratricide, checking their evil customs and dissentions and instilling charity and humanity throughout his goodly territories.” He did not, like other chiefs, find it necessary to take hostages for fidelity, nor did he have recourse to fetters; and to all he was ready to extend gifts of food, horses, or kine. He improved his lands and enlarged them, built a castle of stone, and repaired churches. It is the bard of this enlightened ruler who speaks thus of the Bruce adventure:

“In his [Eoghan’s] time Scottish foreigners less noble than our own foreigners [i.e., the Norman barons] arrived; for the old chieftains of Erin prospered under those princely English lords who were our chief rulers, and who gave up their foreignness for a pure mind, their surliness for good manners, and their stubbornness for sweet mildness, and who had given up their perverseness for hospitality. Wherefore it was unjust to our nobility to side with foreigners who were less noble than these, like the O’Neills, who first dealt treacherously with their own lords, so that at this juncture, Ireland became one trembling wave of commotion, except the territory of Eoghan [O’Madden] alone, seeing that he would not violate his truth, fearing to act treacherously towards his lord [the Red Earl] without strong cause. … Therefore the chieftains of Ireland in general perished through their excessive pride, except Eoghan only, whom God protected in consequence of his good deeds.”[10]

Such a statement as this shows a new aspect of the relations between the English barons and the Irish chieftains among whom they settled; it is one that makes us reflect that the whole truth about those relations has not generally been understood. There were evidently instances where the position of the Anglo-Irish lord and that of his Irish neighbours was of a friendly nature, recognized as beneficial to both. De Burgh acceded to the wish of Eoghan that no English steward should have authority over his Gaels, but that his own (Irish) stewards should act for both the English and Irish resident in his territory, either in towns or castles; and the same conditions were adhered to by his son William de Burgh. Richard, great fighter as he was, seems to have won his way with the Irish, to whom a forcible character appealed, and even his misfortunes did not lower their esteem for him. When he died in 1326 he is spoken of as “the choice Englishman of all Ireland.”[11]

In spite of the original invitation to Bruce there was no general rising to support him, even at the moment of his sweeping successes. On the contrary, even those bodies of Irish who were nominally under his banner forsook him on critical occasions, and in more than one instance it was through the misleading of his Irish allies that his troops got into difficulties. The Irish showed no disposition to seize the opportunity of a distracted and weakened authority to combine in an effort to rid themselves of the English; the favourable opportunity to drive the foreigner out of Ireland passed harmlessly away.

The end of the wars of Bruce found the English diminished in numbers, their positions isolated and scattered, and in many instances surprised and cut off. In Ulster, Connacht, and Munster the native Irish were to a great extent regaining their former possessions, and they had followed the example of the Normans in building castles all over the country, into the bawns of which the cattle could be driven on the warning of a raid. The de Clares were gone from Munster,[12] and the Power of the de Burghs in Ulster and Connacht had been seriously weakened.

On the death of the Red Earl his grandson, styled the Iarla Donn, or “Brown Earl,” born in 1312, succeeded him. He married Maud Plantagenet, granddaughter of Henry III, and daughter of Henry, Earl of Lancaster, thus allying himself to the royal family of England. But the treacherous murder of this young earl in 1333, by his neighbour, Richard de Mandeville, extinguished the senior male line of the de Burghs; and the chiefs of the junior branches of the family in Connacht, fearing the transfer of his possessions into strange hands by the marriage of his only daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, seized upon his estates in that province.

The Earl’s widow fled into England with her infant daughter, then only a year old. In later life the child was to return as the wife of Prince Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III, who became Viceroy of Ireland in 1361, and whose daughter’s descendants, the Mortimers, laid claim on her account to the earldom of Ulster and the lordship of Connacht in addition to their great patrimonial estates in England and Scotland. In the reign of Edward IV these titles became the appanage of the Crown.

In Connacht the two most powerful of the great family of de Burgh’s or Burkes, as we may henceforth call them, were Sir William (or Ulick) Burke, ancestor of the Earls of Clanricarde, and Sir Edmond Albanach, the “Scottish” Burke, ancestor of the Earls of Mayo. They banded themselves together and declared themselves independent, adopting the Irish title of MacWilliam Uachtar, or the “Upper” Mac William, i.e., the Clanricardes of Galway, and MacWilliam Iochtar, or the “Lower” MacWilliam, Lords of Mayo, under which names they terrorized the entire province. They flung off English dress and habits with the English or French tongues to which they were accustomed, and adopted the ways of life of the Irish around them, their territories descending by the native rule of tanistry, which led to perpetual broils between the aspirants. So well did they accomplish their purpose that Sir Henry Docwra in Elizabethan days thought the Lords of Mayo were of Irish descent, and the compiler of the Book of Howth seems to have regarded the Clanricarde family as of the old Gaelic race. In Sidney’s day it had become worthy of note that MacWilliam spoke “very good English.”

The English Government was too feeble to enforce English law in Connacht, and the decline of its influence in the province was rapid. From this time onward we hear little of the doings of the native princes, but much of the wild deeds of the Norman Burkes, grown Irish. Joined with the O’Rorkes and O’Conors, they formed a league of “the proudest, wildest, and fiercest clans” in Ireland, and they and the O’Flahertys were considered “the greatest nation and possessors of the strongest country of any people in Ireland,” “noble of mind and of good courage.”[13]

Sir John Davies in the reign of James I says that “there were more able men of the name of Burke than of any name whatsoever in Europe,”—high praise from an English judge. The Clanricarde branch of the family had the wildest reputation. Their nicknames of “Burke of the Heads,” “The Devil’s Hook,” etc., show what manner of men they were.

Many of the Burkes, from the close of the thirteenth century onward, added an Irish ‘Mac’ to their Norman names[14] and became MacPhilbin, MacMeyler, or MacHubert; others became Jennings or Gibbons, with many other variations which effectually concealed their name of origin.

The Berminghams became the Clann Fheorais, or MacPheorais (Piers), a name probably adopted from the time of Piers Bermingham (d. 1308), who is called in Grace’s Annals “the noble tamer of the North.” Their Leinster lands round Carberry were called Claniores (Clann Fheorais); in Connacht their possessions lay round Dunmore and Athenry.

In like manner the de Nangles became MacCostellos; the Stauntons, MacEvillys; the FitzSimons of Westmeath, MacRudderys. The Jordans, Prendergasts, FitzStephens, and others, all descended from old Norman families, threw off the English Government; it was powerless to protect them, and its energies for the next three centuries had to be concentrated on holding its own within the limits of the Pale. This district, which included only the present counties of Louth, Dublin, and Kildare, with part of Meath, was so called from a wall or ditch which was erected to enclose it as a protection from the Irish, who came up to its very borders.

Outside, the old families speedily became indistinguishable in manners and language from the native septs among whom they dwelt. They were looked upon as rebels, and large portions of their lands were confiscated as such in the seventeenth century. While Sir Henry Sidney was Viceroy, he used to try to recall them to the memory of their origin by reverting to their original family names; MacCostello (Lord Nangle) he styled de Angulo; MacSurtan (Lord Desert) he addressed as Jordan de Exetore; but in his time they had become “very wild Irish,” and he had no easy task to reclaim them.[15]

It is strange to find such families as the d’Exeters of Gallen, who became known as the MacJordans from Jordan d’Exeter, and who had entered the province as English sheriffs of Connacht, thus grown into “very wild Irish” in 1571. In days to come the Stauntons had to set forth to the Privy Council their English descent and protest that they had revolted from their old loyalty because some of her Majesty’s officers had cast longing eyes on their pleasant lands and their lives had been endangered in consequence. It was this universal sense of danger that caused Barrys of Cork to become MacAdams; de la Freignes of Kilkenny to become MacRickies; Bysets, MacEoin or M‘Keon; FitzUrsules, MacMahons; and so on. Early in the seventeenth century it was still recognized that some who called themselves MacNamaras had once been Mortimers, as some MacSwines had been Savages, some O’Dowds had been Dowdalls, some O’Byrnes Barnewells. The Desmond FitzGeralds had long been commonly known as MacMorishes i.e., sons of Maurice FitzGerald. To say which of these families now bearing Irish names are of Irish and which of English or Norman origin would be quite impossible.

Some of these old Norman lords even took service under Irish chiefs and princes. An instance of this was the case of Gilbert de Nangle, or de Angelo, to whom Hugh de Lacy gave Morgallion in Meath; he took service under Cathal Crovdearg in 1195 against his own people and was rewarded by a grant of land near Loughrea. The Irish called him Gillipert MacGoisdealbh (Costello), i.e., son of Jocelyn.

The original dependence of the Irish kings upon the help of the Norman barons was slowly, all over the country, changing into the dependence of their descendants upon the Irish chiefs. They threw themselves eagerly into the quarrels of the Irish septs and at times took their part against the Government. The battle of Knockdoe (Cnoc Tuadh), the “Hill of the Battleaxes,” was fought in 1504 between Gerald, the Great Earl of Kildare, then Deputy, and MacWilliam Burke, who is said to have had on his side “the greatest power of Irishmen that had been seen together since the conquest,” the O’Briens, MacNamaras, and O’Carrolls. It was caused by the bad treatment received by a daughter of the Deputy at the hands of MacWilliam, her Connacht husband, and resulted in the complete defeat of MacWilliam’s forces, great as they were.[16]

The English become Irish are said by Campian to be “quite altered into the worst rank of Irish rogues; such a force hath education to make or to mar.” To the Irish chiefs found fighting on the English side, the title of Gall, or ‘Foreigner’ was often given. The family of Dermot, elected King of Connacht in 1315, for instance, were so named.[17]

The old Welsh and British settlers, such as the Brannachs, Barretts, Joyces, Lawlesses, Merricks, etc., who had come into the country in early times, were at least as turbulent in their lives as the ‘original Irish’ among whom they dwelt. The savage incident of the blinding of the Lynnotts by the Barretts of Tirawley is unequalled for its cruelty in the annals of the country; the Barretts, in vengeance for the murder of a brutal rent-collector employed by themselves, drove their tenants of the Lynnott family blinded across the stepping-stones of Cloghan na nDall, and, if any passed without stumbling, blinded him a second time.[18]

But everywhere the Irish families were re-establishing themselves and winning back their old lands from the Normans. The O’Kellys reasserted their authority over Hy-Many, and the O’Dowds of Hy-Fiachrach settled down again on their hereditary lands, and the old free life was reorganized among them. In 1351 William MacDonogh O’Kelly invited to his house at Christmas “all the Irish poets, brehons, bards, harpers, gamesters, jesters, and others of their kind in Ireland,” where every one of them was well entertained and used, and departed thanking him for his bounty.[19]