Edward Bruce (1315-1318)

Patrick Weston Joyce

248. The preceding hundred years I have designated a century of turmoil; but it was peace itself compared with the three and a half years of Bruce's expedition to Ireland.

The Irish people, especially those of the north, viewed with great interest and sympathy the struggles of their kindred in Scotland for independence; and Robert Bruce's glorious victory at Bannockburn filled them with joy and hope. Soon after the battle they requested him to send his brother Edward to be king over them. He eagerly accepted the invitation; and on the 25th of May 1315, Edward Bruce, accompanied by many of the Scottish nobles, landed at Larne with an army of 6,000 of the best soldiers of Scotland. He was immediately joined by Donall O'Neill, and by numbers of the northern Irish; and the combined forces overran a great part of Ulster, destroying everything belonging to the English that came in their way, and defeating them in several battles. Moving southwards, they stormed and burned Dundalk and Ardee; and at this latter place they set fire to the church in which a number of people had taken refuge and burned them all to death.

From first to last the campaign was carried on with great cruelty, and with reckless waste of life and property. All food except what was needed for the use of the army was destroyed, though there was a famine, and the people were starving all over the country.

249. The two leading Anglo-Irish noblemen at this time were Richard de Burgo the Red earl of Ulster, and Sir Edmund Butler the lord justice. The Red earl, who was by far the most powerful nobleman in Ireland, raised a large army, chiefly in Connaught, and set out in quest of the invaders. His march north through the Irish districts was perhaps more savagely destructive than that of Bruce.

Felim O'Conor the young king of Connaught had joined De Burgo and accompanied the English army. But he was recalled to Connaught to suppress a rebellion of some of his subjects. This weakened De Burgo, who was now attacked by Bruce at Connor near Ballymena and wholly defeated; and he returned to Connaught with the broken remnants of his forces.

250. A body of the defeated English fled eastwards to Carrickfergus and took possession of the castle, which they gallantly defended for months against the Scots. Soon after the battle Bruce had himself proclaimed king, of Ireland and formally crowned.

Marching next into Meath he routed an army of 15,000 men under Roger Mortimer at Kells; and at the opening of the new year—1316—he defeated the lord justice Sir Edmund Butler at Ardscull near Athy.

The harvest of this year was a bad one, and scarcity and want prevailed all over the country. Nevertheless the Scottish army, wherever they went, continued to ravage and destroy all they could not consume or bring away, multiplying tenfold the miseries of the people, both English and Irish.

251. Felim O'Conor, having crushed in blood the revolt in Connaught, now declared for the Scots. Intending to expel all the English from the province, he marched to Athenry with a great army; but was there defeated and slain in 1316 in a great battle by William de Burgo and Richard Birmingham. Eleven thousand of the Irish fell, and among them nearly all the native nobility of Connaught.

252. The band of English who had taken possession of Carrickfergus castle held out most heroically, and now Bruce himself came to conduct the siege in person. Reduced to starvation, the brave garrison at last surrendered on condition that their lives should be spared.

253. King Robert had come over to aid his brother; and early in the spring of 1317 they set out for Dublin with an army of 20,000, destroying everything in their march.

They encamped at Castleknock; but the citizens of Dublin took most determined measures for defence, burning the suburbs in their desperation, both houses and churches, to deprive the Scots of shelter; so that the Bruces did not think it prudent to enter on a siege; and they resumed their destructive march till they reached Limerick. But as they found this city also well prepared for defence, and as there was still great scarcity of provisions, they returned northwards after a short stay. They had to traverse the very districts they had wasted a short time before; and in this most miserable march vast numbers of them perished of cold, hunger, and disease—scourged by the famine they had themselves created.

254. Robert Bruce returned to Scotland; and in the autumn of next year, 1318, Edward again marched southwards, but was met at Faughart two miles north of Dundalk with an army much more numerous than his own, under Sir John Bermingham.

The battle fought here on Sunday, the 14th of October, 1318, terminated the war. The issue was decided chiefly through the bravery of Sir John Maupas, an Anglo-Irish knight, who made a dash at Bruce and slew him in the midst of the Scots. Maupas was instantly cut down; and after the battle his body was found pierced all over, lying on that of Bruce. The Scottish army was defeated with great slaughter. Bermingharn, with barbarous vindictiveness, had the body of Bruce cut in pieces to be hung up in the chief towns in the colony, and brought the head salted in a box to king Edward II., who immediately created him earl of Louth and gave him the manor of Ardee.

255. And so ended the celebrated expedition of Edward Bruce. Though it resulted in failure, it shook the Irish government to its foundation and weakened it for centuries. Ulster was almost cleared of colonists; the native chiefs and clans resumed possession; and there were similar movements in other parts of Ireland, though not to the same extent.

There had been such general, needless, and almost insane destruction of property, that vast numbers of the people lost everything and sank into hopeless poverty. The whole country was thrown into a state of utter disorder from which it did not recover till many generations had passed away. And to add to the misery there were visitations of famine and pestilence—plagues of various strange kinds—which continued at intervals during the whole of this century.