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The Bruce
Book 14


Edward Bruce in Ireland

SIR EDWARD BRUCE, the Earl of Carrick, who was bolder than a leopard, and had no desire to be at peace, thought Scotland too small for his brother and himself; therefore he set his purpose to be King of Ireland. To this end he entered into treaty with the Irish, and they on their honour undertook to make him king, provided that he, by hard fighting, could overcome the English then dwelling in the country; and they promised to help him with all their might.

When he heard this promise he had great joy in his heart, and with consent of the king gathered to him men of great valour, and taking ship at Ayr in the next month of May, sailed straight to Ireland.

He had in his company the valiant Earl Thomas, and good Sir Philip the Mowbray, trusty in hard assault, Sir John Soulis, a good knight, and the doughty Sir John Stewart, as well as the Ramsay of Auchterhouse, right able and chivalrous, with Sir Fergus of Ardrossan, and many another knight.

They arrived safely in Wavering Firth [Now Lough Lame] without skirmish or attack, and sent their ships every one home. It was a great enterprise they undertook, when, few as they were, being no more than six thousand men, they set out to attack all Ireland, where many thousands were ready armed to fight them. But though they were few, they were valiant, and without doubt or fear they set forth in two battles towards Carrickfergus, to spy it.

But the lords of that country, Mandeville, Bysset, and Logan, assembled their men every one. De Savage also was there. Their whole gathering was wellnigh twenty thousand men.

When they knew that the Scottish host had arrived in their country, they hastened towards it with all their following. And when Sir Edward knew of a certainty that they were coming near him, he set his men in their strongest array. The Earl Thomas had the vanguard, and the rearguard was under Sir Edward.

Their enemies drew near to battle, and they met them without flinching. Then was to be seen a great melee. Earl Thomas and his host drove so doughtily at their foes, that in a short time a hundred were to be seen lying all bloody. The Irish horses, when they were stabbed, reared and flung, and made great room, and threw their riders. Sir Edward's company then stoutly joined the battle, and all their enemies were driven back. If a man happened to fall in that fight, it was a perilous chance if he rose again. The Scots bore themselves so boldly and well in the encounter that their foes were overwhelmed, and altogether took flight. In that battle were taken or slain the whole flower of Ulster. The Earl of Moray won great praise there, for his right valiant feats of arms encouraged his whole company.

That was a right fair beginning; for being but newly arrived, Sir Edward's host defeated in open battle enemies who were four for their one. Afterwards they went to Carrickfergus, and took quarters in the town. The castle was at that time well and newly furnished with victual and men, and the Scots forthwith set siege to it. Many a bold sally was made while the siege lasted, till at length they made a truce.

When the folk of Ulster came wholly to his peace, and Sir Edward undertook to raid the land further, there came to him some ten or twelve of the chiefs of that country, and gave him their fealty. They kept faith with him, however, only a short while; for two of them, one MacCoolechan and another MacArthy, beset a place on his way where he must needs pass.

Two thousand spearmen were got together there and as many archers; and all the cattle of the country were drawn thither for safety. Men call that place Endwillane; [Probably the Moiry Pass, in Killevy parish, Armagh.] in all Ireland there is none more strait. There the Irish kept watch for Sir Edward, believing he should not escape. But he soon set forth and went straight towards the spot.

Sir Thomas, Earl of Moray, who ever put himself first in attack, alighted on foot with his company, and boldly assailed the fastness. The Irish chiefs of whom I spoke, and all the folk with them, met him right stubbornly; but he with his host made such an attack, that despite their efforts he won the place. Many of the Irish were slain there, and the Scots chased them throughout the wood, and seized an abundance of prey. So great was this that all the Scottish host was refreshed well for a week and more.

Sir Edward lay at Kilnasagart, and there presently he heard that at Dundalk the lords of that country were assembled for war. There was, first, Sir Richard of Clare, lieutenant of all Ireland for the King of England. [Edmund Butler was really the Justiciary or Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland at the time, though Richard of Clare was a conspicuous figure.] The Earl of Desmond also was there, and the Earl of Kildare as well, with De Bermingham and Verdon, lords of great renown. Butler also was with them, and Sir Maurice FitzThomas. These were come thither with their men, and were in truth a right great host.

And when Sir Edward knew of a surety that there was such a knightly company, he forthwith arrayed his force and set out thither, and took quarters near the town. But because he knew full well that a great host was in the town, he arrayed his men, and kept in battle order, to meet the enemy if they should attack.

And when Sir Richard of Clare, and the other lords in that place, knew that the Scottish battles were come so near, they took counsel and agreed not to fight that night, because it was late, but determined that on the morrow, immediately after sunrise, they should sally forth with their whole force. Accordingly that night they did no more, but each side kept its quarters.

That night the Scottish company kept right careful watch, all in order, and on the morrow at daylight they arrayed themselves in two battles, and stood with banners all displayed, ready prepared for the fight.

Those within the town, when the sun was risen and shining clear, sent forth fifty of their number to spy the order and advance of the Scots. These rode forth and soon saw them; then came again without delay. And when they were alighted together they told their lords that the Scots seemed to be valiant and of right great nobleness. "But of a surety," they said, "they are not half a dinner for us here!"

The lords at these tidings were greatly rejoiced and reassured, and caused the order to go throughout the city that all should quickly arm themselves. And when they were armed and ready and all arrayed for the fight, they went forth in good order.

They soon came in touch with their foes, who were watching for them right boldly. Then a fierce battle began, for either side set all its strength to overwhelm its foes in the fight, and each charged the other with all its force. The furious struggle lasted long, while none could see or know who was likely to be uppermost. From soon after sunrise till after midday the fighting lasted thus doubtful; but at length the stout Sir Edward, with the whole of his company, rushed so furiously upon the enemy that they could no longer endure the battle. With broken ranks they all took flight, followed right keenly by the Scots. Mixed all together the two hosts entered the town. There a cruel slaughter was to be seen, for the right noble Earl Thomas followed the chase with his host, and made such a butchery in the place, and such fierce slaughter, that the streets were all bloody with slain men. But the English lords got all away.

When the town, as I have told, was stormed, and all their foes were fled or slain, the Scots quartered in the place. There was in it such plenty of victual, and such great abundance of wine, that the good Earl feared greatly lest his men should be drunken, and in their drunkenness come to blows; therefore he appointed a free gift of wine to be paid to each man, and of a surety they had all enough. That night they were right well at ease, and right glad of the great renown begotten by their valour.

After this fight they sojourned there in Dundalk three days and more, then they set forth southward. The Earl Thomas ever rode in front, and as they marched through the country they could see upon the hills a marvellous number of men. But when the Earl would sturdily make towards them with his banner, they would flee, all that were there, and none abide to fight.

The Scots rode southward till they came to a great forest, Kilross it was called, and they all took their quarters there.

Meantime Richard of Clare, the English king's lieutenant over all the baronage of Ireland, had got together a great host. There were five battles great and broad, and they sought Sir Edward and his men, and were by this time come very near him.

He soon got knowledge that they were coming upon him, and were so near, and he led his men against them, and boldly took the open field. Then the Earl rode forward to espy, and he sent Sir Philip the Mowbray and Sir John Stewart forward to discover the way the English were taking. Soon they saw the host coming at hand. They were, at a guess, fifty thousand strong. Then the knights rode back to Sir Edward, and said the enemy were right many.

"The more they be," he answered, "the more honour altogether have we, if we bear us manfully. We are set here at bay, and to win honour or die. We are too far from home to flee; therefore let each man be valiant. Yonder host are the scourings of the country, and if they be manfully assailed they shall easily, I trow, be made to flee."

All then said they should do well. With that the English battles, ten thousand strong, approached near, ready to fight, and the Scots met them with great force. The Scots were all on foot, and their enemies on steeds well equipped, some covered wholly with iron and steel. But the Scots at the encounter pierced the English armour with spears, and stabbed the horses, and bore down the men. A fierce battle then took place. I cannot tell all their strokes, nor who caused his enemy to fall in the battle; but in a short time, I warrant, the English were so overwhelmed that they durst no more abide, but scattered all of them and fled, leaving dead on the battlefield very many of their good men. The field was all strewn with weapons, armour, and dead men.

That great host was fiercely overthrown, but Sir Edward let no man pursue. With the prisoners they had captured the Scots went again to the wood, where their harness was left, and that night they made merry cheer, and praised God earnestly for His grace.

This good knight, who was so valiant, might well be likened in that fight to Judas Maccabeus. No number of enemies caused him to retreat so long as he had one man against ten.

Thus was Richard of Clare repulsed with his great host. Nevertheless he kept diligently gathering men about him, for he thought still to recover his overthrow. It grieved him wondrous much that he had been twice discomfited in battle by a small company.

And the Scots, who had ridden into the forest to take rest, lay there two nights, and made themselves mirth, solace, and play. Then they rode to meet O'Dempsy, an Irish chief who had made oath of fealty to Sir Edward; for previously he had prayed him to visit his country, and had promised that no victual nor anything that could help should be lacking to the Scottish host.

Sir Edward trusted in his promise, and rode straight thither with his rout. O'Dempsy caused him to cross a great river, and in a right fair place, low by a lough edge, [Professor Skeat conclusively shows the 'great river' to have been the Blackwater, and the lough edge the western shore of Lough Neagh.] he made them take their quarters, and said he would go and have victual brought to them. He departed without more delay, for his plan was to betray them. He had brought them to a place from which all the cattle had been withdrawn full two days' journey and more, so that in all that country they could get nothing sufficient to eat. His plan was to weaken them with hunger, then bring their enemies upon them.

This false traitor had caused his men to dam the outlet of a lough a little above the place where he had quartered Sir Edward and the Scots, and in the night he let it out. The water then came down on Sir Edward's men with such force that they were in peril of being drowned ere they knew they were in the midst of a flood. With great difficulty they got away, and by God's grace kept their lives, but much of their armour was lost there.

Of a truth O'Dempsy made them no brave feast, nevertheless they had enough. For though they lacked meat, I warrant they had plenty to drink. They were bested there in great distress, for they had great want of victual, being set between two rivers, and able to cross none of them. The Bann, which is an arm of the sea, and cannot be crossed with horses, was betwixt them and Ulster. They had been in great peril there, were it not for a rover of the sea, Thomas of Down he was called. He heard that the host was thus straitly bested, and he sailed up the Bann till he came very near the place where they lay. They knew him well, and were glad. With four ships that he had seized he set them every one across the Bann; and when they came to inhabited land they found victual and meat enough, and quartered themselves in a wood. None of the Irish knew where the Scots lay, and Sir Edward's men took their ease, and made good cheer.

At that time Richard of Clare and the great chiefs of Ireland were quartered with a vast host on a forest side near the Scots. Each day they sent riders to bring victual of many kinds from the town of Connor, full ten Irish miles away. Each day, as these riders came and went, they passed within two miles of the Scottish host. And when Earl Thomas had knowledge of their coming and their gathering, he got him a good company of three hundred active and bold horsemen. There were Sir Philip the Mowbray, and also for certain Sir John Stewart, with Sir Allan Stewart, Sir Gilbert Boyd, and others. They rode to meet the victuallers, who were making their way with the provisions from Connor to their host, and so suddenly dashed on them that they were wholly discomfited, and let fall all their weapons, and piteously cried for mercy. Thereupon the Scots gave them quarter, but made such clean capture that not one of them all escaped.

The Earl learned from them that a part of their host would come out in the evening at the woodside, and ride towards their victual. He thought then upon an exploit. He caused his whole following to dress themselves in the prisoners' array. Their pennons also they took with them, and waited till it was near night, and then rode towards the English host. Some of the host saw them coming, and fully supposed they were their victuallers. Therefore they rode in disorder towards them, having no suspicion that they were their enemies, and being sore hungered besides. For that reason they came on recklessly. And when they were near, the Earl and all who were with him rushed upon them at great speed with bare weapons, shouting their battle-cries. And the English, seeing their foes thus suddenly drive at them, were affrighted, and had no heart to help themselves, but made off towards their host.

The Scots made chase and slew many, so that all the field was strewn with them, more than a thousand being slain. They chased them right up to their host, and then again went their way. In this fashion the victual was seized, and many of the English were slain. Then the Earl and his company brought the prisoners and provisions to Sir Edward, who was blithe of their coming. That night the Scots made merry cheer, being all then fully at their ease, and guarded securely.

Their enemies, on the other hand, when they heard how their men had been slain, and their victual all seized, took counsel, and determined to set out towards Connor and take quarters in the city. They did this in great haste, and rode to the city by night. There they found provisions in great plenty, and made good and merry cheer, for all trusted in the town where they were.

Upon the morrow they sent to espy where the Scots had taken quarters. But the spies were all met and seized, and brought to the Scottish host. The Earl of Moray quietly asked one of their company where their host was, and what they planned to do, telling him if he found that he told him the truth he should go home ransom free.

"Of a truth," the man said, "I shall tell you. Their plan is, to-morrow at daybreak, to seek you with their whole host if they can get knowledge where ye be. They have sent word throughout the country that all the men of this region, on right cruel pain of their lives, betake themselves this night to the city. Of a truth there shall be so many that ye shall in no wise cope with them."

"Par Dieu," said the Earl, "that may be so!"

With that he went to Sir Edward and told him the whole tale. Then they took counsel all together, and determined to ride to the city that same night, so as to lie with all their host between the town and those outside. They did as they devised; they came presently. before the town, and rested but half a mile from it.

And when daylight dawned, fifty Irish on active ponies came to a little hill a short space from the town, and saw Sir Edward's place of quartering. They marvelled at the sight, how so few durst in any wise undertake so high an enterprise as to come thus boldly upon the whole great chivalry of Ireland to do battle. This was the truth without fail, for opposed to them were gathered there with the warden, Richard of Clare, the Butler, and the two Earls, of Desmond and Kildare, with Bermingham, Verdon, and Fitz-Warenne, as well as Sir Pascal, a Florentine, and knight of Lombardy, renowned for feats of arms. The Mandevilles were also there, the Byssetts, Logans, and others besides, the Savages as well, and one called Sir Nicol of Kilkenan. And with these lords were so many men that, I trow, for one of the Scots they were five or more.

When the scouts had thus seen the Scottish host, they went in haste, and told their lords all plainly how the Scots were come near, so that there was no need to go far to seek them.

And when the Earl Thomas saw that these men had been on the hill, he took with him a good company of horsemen—there might be a hundred of them—and made his way to the hill. They made an ambush in a hollow place, and in a short time they saw a company of scouts come riding from the city. At that they were blithe, and kept themselves secret till the scouts were come near. Then with a rush all who were there dashed boldly upon them.

The scouts, seeing them thus suddenly come on, were dismayed. Some of them kept their ground stoutly to make fight, while the others fled; but in a right short time those who made halt were overcome so that they altogether turned their backs. The Scots pursued right to the gate, and slew a great number, then went again to their host.


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