King John in Ireland (1189-1210)

Patrick Weston Joyce

231. King Henry died in the year 1189 and was succeeded by his son Richard the Lion Hearted. Richard took no interest in Ireland, and left the whole management of its affairs to his brother John, who, in 1189, appointed Hugh de Lacy lord justice, in place of John de Courcy.

At this time and for long after, Connaught was in a miserable state of turmoil, partly from the contests of the members of the O'Conor family for the provincial throne, and partly on account of the interference of the barons, who always took advantage of the native dissensions to advance their own interests.

232. The disturbances began with the contention of Cahal Crovderg (of the Red-hand) and Cahal Carrach, the former the youngest brother and the latter the grandson of the old king Roderick. After a short struggle Cahal Crovderg triumphed, and in 1190 became king of Connaught. The old king Roderick himself, wearied with care, both public and domestic, retired for a time (in 1183) to the monastery of Cong; and though he subsequently came forth to resume his kingdom, he never afterwards played any important part in the government, and finally retired for life. In 1198 he ended his troubled career in peace and penitence in the same monastery.

233. In 1192 the English of Leinster invaded Munster; but Donall O'Brien king of Thomond defeated them with great loss at Thurles. To avenge this they crossed the Shannon to ravage Thomond; but O'Brien fell on them, and having slain great numbers, drove them back. This brave king Donall O'Brien died two years later (in 1194).

234. Cahal Crovderg, having ruled over Connaught for eight or nine years, was driven from his throne by Cahal Carrach aided by William de Burgo. After several vain attempts to regain his kingdom, aided by De Lacy and John de Courcy (229) Cahal Crovderg finally succeeded, in 1201, in slaying his rival, and reigned from that time forth without opposition. He was one of the most valiant chiefs of those times, and is much celebrated in the annals for his bravery, power, and justice. In the end of his life he retired to the abbey of Knockmoy where he died in 1224.

235. King Richard died in 1199 and was succeeded by his brother John.

The years immediately following the death of Donall O'Brien (in 1194) present a weary record of strife and turmoil. There were wars and broils everywhere, among both the Irish chiefs and the English nobles, causing wide devastation and misery among the people.

236. Even Dublin, the centre of government, felt the effects of the general state of disturbance. On Easter Monday, 1209, the dispossessed O'Byrnes and O'Tooles fell upon the citizens at Cullenswood near the city and killed 300 of them; from which Easter Monday was for many ages afterwards called Black Monday.

237. King John was kept well informed of the disturbed state of the country. What seems to have troubled him most, so far as Ireland was concerned, was that some of the great nobles, and notoriously the De Lacys and William de Braose, had thrown off all authority and made themselves, to all intents and purposes, independent princes, like John de Courcy. With the object of reducing these turbulent barons to submission and of restoring quiet, the king resolved to visit Ireland. He landed at Crook near Waterford, in the month of June 1210, with a formidable army. In the presence of this great force the country at once became quiet, and the two De Lacys, Hugh and his brother Walter, fled to France. De Braose also escaped, but his wife and son fell into the tyrant's hands, who had them starved to death in prison.

It is stated that the De Lacys had to work in France as gardeners for subsistence, but that the king after some time pardoned and restored them.

The king proceeded to Dublin, and from thence to Meath, where Cahal Crovderg visited him and made submission.

238. As John had no fighting to do, he employed himself more usefully in making arrangements for the better government of the country. Those parts of Ireland which were under English jurisdiction he parcelled out into twelve shires or counties: namely, Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Uriel (or Louth), Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary. He directed that in all these counties the English laws should be administered. But it must be always borne in mind that these arrangements, including the administration of the law, were for the settlers only, not for the natives, who were then and long afterwards outside the pale of the law.

The king returned to England in August 1210, leaving John de Grey lord justice, to whom he committed the task of carrying out his arrangements. During the remainder of his reign, Ireland was comparatively quiet.