Bruce—The Invasion of Ireland by

In the “Scotic Chronicle” of John of Fordun, written in the fourteenth century, there is given in Latin a letter which was sent by Donal O’Neill, King of Ulster, to Pope John the Twenty-Second, complaining of the tyranny exercised by the English in Ireland. Pope John, moved by the remonstrance of O’Neill and the grievances of the Irish people, addressed a letter to King Edward the Second, exhorting him to check the tyranny exercised against the people of Ireland; in consequence of which, the Pontiff says, the Irish were constrained to throw off King Edward’s dominion, and (alluding to Edward Bruce) to appoint another king to rule over them. The remonstrance of O’Neill, and Pope John’s letter to King Edward, are given in Latin, in the French edition of MacGeoghegan. It can do no good to open afresh the now healing wounds of Ireland, by quoting in its entirety Donal O’Neill’s letter to Pope John, nor Pope John’s letter to King Edward. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to a few extracts from those important documents, merely to show why Edward Bruce attempted an invasion of Ireland. O’Neill says:

“After our kings for so long a time had strenuously defended by their own valour, against the tyrants and kings of many foreign countries, the inheritance granted them by God, and always preserving their native liberty, at length, Pope Adrian, your predecessor, an Englishman, not only by birth, but in heart and disposition, in the year of our Lord 1170 … did, as you know, transfer the sovereignty of our kingdom, under some certain form of words to the said king … The judgment of the Pontiff being thus, alas! blinded by his English prejudice, regardless of every right, he did thus in fact unworthily confer on him our kingdom, thereby depriving us of our legal honours; and delivered us up, having committed no crime, and without any rational cause, to be torn as with the teeth of the most cruel wild beasts. … These few statements respecting the general origin of our progenitors, and the miserable state in which the Roman Pontiff has placed us, suffice for the present time.”

In the letter of Pope John to King Edward the Second, it is said:

“We have a long time since received from the princes and people of Ireland letters … addressed to us. These we have read, and, among other things which they contain, have particularly noted that our predecessor, Pope Adrian, of happy memory, hath given to your illustrious progenitor, Henry the Second, King of England, the Kingdom of Ireland, as specified in his apostolical letters to him. … None have dared to stem the persecutions which have been practised against the Irish, nor has any person being found willing to remedy the cause of them; not one, I say, has been moved, through a holy compassion for their sufferings, although frequent appeals have been made to your goodness in their behalf; and the strong cries of the oppressed have reached the ears of your majesty. Thus, no longer able to endure such tyranny, the unhappy Irish have been constrained to withdraw themselves from your dominion, and to seek another to rule over them in your stead. … As it is, therefore, important to your interest to obviate the misfortunes which these troubles are capable of producing, they should not be neglected in the beginning, lest the evil increase by degrees, and the necessary remedies be applied too late.”

Moore, in his History of Ireland, vol. iii. page 76, writes:

“So great was the lust and pride of governing on the one side, and such the resolution on the other, to cast off the intolerable yoke, that, as there never yet had been, so never in this life would there be, peace or truce between the nations; that they themselves had already sent letters to the king and council, through the hands of John Hotham, the bishop of Ely, representing the wrongs and outrages they had so long suffered from the English, and proposing a settlement by which all such lands as were known to be rightfully theirs, should be secured in future to them by direct tenure from the Crown; or, even agreeing, in order to save the further effusion of blood, to submit to any friendly plan proposed by the king himself for fair division of the lands between them and their adversaries. To this proposition, forwarded to England two years before, no answer had been returned: wherefore, they (the Irish) say that, for the speedy and more effectual attainment of their object, they have called to their aid the illustrious Earl of Carrick, Edward de Bruce, a lord descended from the same ancestors as themselves, and have made over to him by Letters Patent all the rights which they themselves, as lawful heirs of the kingdom, respectively possess; thereby constituting him king and lord of Ireland.”

It was, therefore, that, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, Donal O’Neill, Prince of Tyrone, and several other Irish princes and chiefs, invited the renowned Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (after the battle of Bannockburn, A.D. 1314), to assume the sovereignty of Ireland, or to send them some prince of his family; as they considered that the House of Bruce had a claim to the crown of Ireland, being descended from the old Scottish kings who were of the Milesian Irish race. In consequence of this invitation, King Robert sent his brother Edward Bruce to Ireland; who landed at Olderfleet, in the Bay of Larne, on the coast of Antrim, on the 25th day of May, A.D. 1315. with a fleet of three hundred sail and six hundred Scots; and, being joined by the Irish chiefs of Ulster, he seized various castles and garrisons, as Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Carlingford, Dundalk, etc., and was crowned as King of Ireland near Dundalk. During his career in Ireland for about three years and a half, he traversed all the Provinces, and is said to have defeated the English forces in eighteen battles; but his followers were at length mostly cut off by a dreadful famine, and his forces finally defeated and himself slain, on Saturday, the 14th October, A.D. 1318, in a great battle at Faughart, near Dundalk, by the English of the Pale, under the command of Sir John Bermingham; who, for this signal service, was created “Earl of Louth,” by King Edward the Second. During the three years and a half Bruce was in Ireland, the people suffered so much from the famine which then prevailed, that, according to Malone, “they were necessitated to scrape the corpses from the graves.” And, quoting from the Bullarium Romanum, Malone adds, in page 235 of his “Church History”—“By and by, however, the Pope, either because he considered the grievances redressed, or that the extravagances committed in the name of liberty would not compensate the doubtful chance of success, issued a bull, in the year 1319, condemnatory of all opposition to King Edward; and empowered some bishops in England, by the bull, to excommunicate all who, directly or indirectly, attacked the king’s dominion in Ireland.”