A Century of Turmoil (1210-1314)

Patrick Weston Joyce

239. King John was succeeded, in 1216, by his son Henry III., who was then a boy of nine years old.

The century that elapsed from the death of John to the invasion of Edward Bruce was a period of strife and bloodshed, a period of woe and misery for the common people. There was as usual no strong central government, and the whole nation was abandoned to anarchy.

240. William Marshal earl of Pembroke married Isabel the only child of Strongbow and Eva, through whom he came in for possession of almost the whole of Leinster. Marshal died in 1219, leaving his titles and estates to his son William Marshal the younger. Between him and Hugh de Lacy a war arose in 1224, which continued till the whole of Meath was wasted. This is sometimes called the War of Meath.

241. While this warfare was going on, Connaught was in a state of strife which lasted for many years; and the struggles among the several claimants of the O'Conor family went on unceasingly: battles, skirmishes, and raids without number. The English, under Marshal, De Burgo, or others, were mixed up in most of these contests, now siding with one of the parties, now with another; but always keeping an eye to their own interests. And thus the havoc and ruin went on unchecked. Meanwhile the wretched hunted people had no leisure to attend to their tillage; famine and pestilence followed; and the inhabitants of whole towns and districts were swept away.

242. There was also a War of Kildare as well as of Meath. After William Marshal's death, his brother Richard, a handsome, valiant, noble-minded knight, inherited his titles and estates. He incurred the anger of king Henry III. and fled to Ireland. But Geoffrey Marisco, Maurice Fitzgerald, and Hugh de Lacy conspired to destroy him, hoping to share his vast estates. Marisco pretended friendship, and in 1234 arranged a conference on the Curragh of Kildare. Here young Marshal was suddenly attacked by De Lacy and the others, and being abandoned by Marisco, he was at length overpowered, wounded, and taken prisoner. He soon after died of his wounds; but his assassins gained nothing by their villainy.

243. Maurice Fitzgerald, who had been twice lord justice, marched with his army northwards through Connaught in 1257, resolved to bring Ulster completely under English rule. But he was intercepted by Godfrey O'Donnell, chief of Tirconnell, at Credran-Kill near Sligo town, where a furious battle was fought. The two leaders, Fitzgerald and O'Donnell, met in single combat and wounded each other severely; the English were routed; and Fitzgerald retired to the Franciscan monastery of Youghal, where he died the same year, probably of his wounds.

244. As for O'Donnell, he had himself conveyed to an island in Lough Veagh in Donegal, where he lay in bed for a whole year sinking daily under his wounds; and all this time the Tirconnellians had no chief to lead them.

There had been, for some time before, much dissension between this O'Donnell and Brian O'Neill, prince of Tyrone; and now O'Neill ignobly invaded Tirconnell. O'Donnell, still lying helpless, ordered a muster of his army, and had himself borne on a bier at their head to meet the enemy. And while the bier was held aloft in view of the Kinel Connell, the armies attacked each other near the river Swilly, and the Tyrone men were routed. Immediately afterwards the heroic chief died: and the same bier from which he had witnessed his last victory, was made use of to bear him to his grave.

245. Some of the Irish chiefs now attempted to unite against the common enemy, choosing Brien O'Neill for leader: but in 1260 they were defeated by the English in a bloody battle at Downpatrick; and O'Neill and a large number of chiefs were slain.

246. In the south the Mac Carthys of Desmond, seeing their ancient principality continually encroached upon by the Geraldines, became exasperated and attacked and defeated them in 1261 at Callan near Kenmare; after which they demolished numbers of the English castles. But they soon quarrelled among themselves, and the Geraldines gradually recovered all they had lost.

While this universal strife was raging in Ireland, Henry III. died, and was succeeded by Edward I. in 1272.

247. After the English settlement in 1172 there were two distinct codes of law in force in Ireland—the English and the Brehon. The English law was for the colonists; it did not apply to the Irish: so that an Irishman that was in any way injured by an Englishman had no redress. He could not seek the protection of English law; and if he had recourse to the Brehon law, the Englishman need not submit to it. About this time therefore the Irish several times petitioned to be placed under English law; but though both Edward I. and Edward III. were willing to grant it, the selfish Anglo-Irish barons always prevented it; for it was their interest that the Irish should be regarded as enemies, and that the country should be in a perpetual state of disturbance.