Anglo-Norman Conquests

Anglo-Norman Conquests

Long before conflict between Protestants and Catholics was a problem, or before Protestantism existed for that matter, Ireland has continuously been fighting for a national existence.

Only at one time can it ever be said the island was truly a nation, and that is a direct result of Brian Boru.

In 1002, after 24 years of fighting, Boru was recognized as high king of Ireland and confirmed his supremacy over the Irish church.

Twelve years later, however, Boru was fatally wounded in the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday, April 23, defending his claim to Leinster from an alliance of Vikings, Gaelic Leinstermen and Dublin Ostmen.

Though the battle removed any Viking hope of domination, the death of Boru and his eldest son threw Ireland back into political instability and vulnerability.

British Involvement

War was rampant as kings vied for power and took every opportunity to vanquish a neighbor.

It was this conflict that initially involved the British.

Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leinster, where Boru was killed, and Tiernan O'Rourke, king of Breifne (currently Country Leitrim) had a personal conflict that reached far beyond their alliances to two opposing kings.

MacMurrough, looking to strike a painful blow, kidnapped O'Rourke's wife Devorgilla in 1152, naturally an unforgivable act in the husband's eyes but possibly preferable to the wife.

According to one telling, she "wept and screamed in pretense, as if Dermot were carrying her off by force." Hardly reckless young lovers trying to elope, he was 42 and she, 44.

Regardless, O'Rourke recaptured Devorgilla and started seeking revenge on MacMurrough.

Opportunity knocked in 1166. With several allies, O'Rourke leveled MacMurrough's palace at Ferns, County Wexford, forcing the now-homeless king to seek aid from Henry II of England. Henry, busy with his interests in France, was not especially fascinated by MacMurrough's problems, surprisingly enough. Just over a decade earlier, the English king requested and received permission through the papal bull, Laudabilitier, to invade and become ruler of Ireland. Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Brakespeare), the only English pope in history, happily granted Henry's petition because it would allow the church to regain effective control of the Irish Christians. Henry, on the other hand, benefited by being able to control the fringe of his empire. Despite the opportunity, Henry failed to make Ireland, or the pope's wishes, a priority.

Since the king would not help, MacMurrough went to Henry's enemy, Richard FitzGilbert de Clare. More commonly known as Strongbow, de Clare's possessions were a mere 60 miles across the Irish Sea from the conquered Leinster. He agreed to lead the charge to aid MacMurrough if the needy king would promise his eldest daughter, Eva, and declare Strongbow heir to Leinster.

Agreeing to the terms, MacMurrough returned to Ferns in Wexford with a contingent of knights towards the end 1167.

Several years later, on August 23, 1170, Strongbow landed at Bannow Bay in County Wexford with 200 knights and 1,000 troops to aid the returning king of Leinster. And thus began British involvement in Ireland's affairs.

Henry II Steps In

This soap opera did not end there, however.

Strongbow ravaged the east coast of Ireland, gaining territory at will. Additionally, with the death of MacMurrough in spring 1171, Leinster became part of his conquest.

Naturally, Henry II feared Strongbow's growing acquisitions and arrived in Ireland on October 17, 1171 with 500 knights, 3,000 archers and foot soldiers. Also, this was an opportunity for Henry to placate the pope for ordering the murder Archbishop Thomas Becket a year earlier. Now, Adrian IV could be happy about the chance to truly dominate Irish Christians.

After conquering the land around Dublin, the English king proceeded to bestow kingdoms upon his friends in the hopes that they would check Strongbow's power as Henry left to attend to the rest of his kingdom.

Unfortunately for the English, the new lords immediately began trying to grab land in a haphazard fashion and more or less wore themselves out, allowing the Gaelic rulers to re-assert themselves.

Seeing an opportunity and being desperate to finally eradicate the British, the Gaelic kings offered the high kingship to Haakon IV of Norway if he would expel the English, but death got to Haakon before he could respond.

Sadly enough, this established the second pattern that has plagued Ireland for the past 700 years--inviting outside help to eliminate the British.