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The History of Ulster
The Betrayal of Ireland


Dermot's Dilemma - His Flight to England - Applies to Henry II for Assistance - Meets Strongbow - Engages FitzStephen - Returns to Ireland - FitzStephen lands - Besieges Wexford - Dermot attacks Ossory - Comes to Terms with Roderick O'Conor and Tiernan O'Rourke - Maurice FitzGerald arrives - Strongbow sends Le Gros.

Dermot was now between the devil and the deep sea. The devil being Tiernan O'Rourke and the sea Roderick O'Conor. Whichever way he turned he had to face a foe, for friends he had none. O'Rourke, a vindictive and violent man, was the first to move. Elated by his victory over O'Loughlin, and strengthened by his alliance with O'Conor, he determined to settle old scores with the ex-King of Leinster. To make assurance doubly sure, he enlisted the friendship of Dermot O'Melaghlin, his brother-in-law, and the sympathy or the Ostmen of Dublin, as well as the support of many of the men of Leinster. With this force he proceeded to exact hostages from Dermot McMurrough "in order to take vengeance upon him" for his wife fourteen years after that eventful episode in her career! Dermot, in face of such a hostile array, fled, and thus left Roderick O'Conor sole King of Ireland.

O'Conor now made a circuit of the island, getting hostages from all the various septs save the Cinel Owen, the subjects of Murtagh O'Loughlin. These held out for over twelve months, and were with difficulty subdued.

It is as necessary here to follow the fortunes of Dermot as it was in a previous chapter those of Brian Boru, for a full understanding of the baleful influences at work for the subjugation of Ireland, and the ultimate loss of her independence.

On the 1st of August, 1166, Dermot fled from Ferns to Youghal, and thence took ship to Bristol. Here he and the few companions of his misfortunes were well received by Robert FitzHarding, a prominent citizen of Bristol who had been a warm supporter of Queen Matilda, and was therefore in high favour with King Henry II. Fitz-Harding, on hearing Dermot's story and on being appealed to by the ex-king for help to regain his kingdom, must have recognized that the work of restoration was far too great an undertaking for a man of his years or means; and there is little doubt that he recommended Dermot to apply direct to King Henry, acquainting him at the same time of Pope Adrian's Bull and Henry's slumbering intention to subdue Ireland. Henry, however, was in distant Aquitaine, and thither Dermot followed him. Here he endeavoured to enlist the active sympathy of the king; but Henry had his time fully occupied in endeavouring to pacify the province, which was in a state of revolt. Nevertheless he gave Dermot a letter in which he stated that any assisting the Prince of Leinster to recover his dominion would be assured of his favour.

Armed with these letters patent Dermot returned to the hospitable house of FitzHarding at Bristol, where he caused the King's letter to be read in public, and issued broadcast invitations to such as would accompany him, and held out liberal inducements to those who would undertake the risk of settling in Ireland. Amongst those who lent an ear to his promises of grants of land in Leinster was Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, who had lost the major portion of the estates in Wales which he had inherited from his father and grandfather, and was ambitious to retrieve his fortune. The nickname of Strongbow which he bore had been first bestowed on his father, but is now associated solely with himself, and it is as Strongbow his name lives to-day.

Dermot and Strongbow quickly came to terms, whereby Dermot, always good at promising, agreed to give his eldest daughter, Eva, to Strongbow as wife, and to ensure him the succession to the throne of Leinster. The first arrangement, of course, lay in Dermot's power to carry out, but the latter could only be assured by conquest. Dermot's eldest son and heir, Enna, was alive and in the clutches of the King of Ossory, who on Dermot's return to Ireland, as was customary in dealing with royal prisoners, cruelly blinded him. In any case the tribal law forbade the transfer of land to any individual, or the succession to the crown to even the heir apparent, without the consent of the people. But no doubt Strongbow valued Dermot's promises at what they were worth, and took the risk with his eyes open. That he exercised due caution is proved by the fact that he pondered on the problem as to whether he should consider Henry's letter to Dermot sufficiently strong to justify his helping him, or get a special permit from the King himself before proceeding. In this way a delay of two years occurred before he took action.

In the meantime, to a man of Dermot's temperament delay was irksome, and, being ill at ease, he, possibly on the advice of Strongbow, repaired to North Wales, and at St. Davids was entertained by the bishop, David FitzGerald, who no doubt sympathized with Dermot as one who had been a munificent patron of the Church, and possibly might be again. Dermot, it must be remembered, had at this time grants of money from King Henry, and was therefore no beggar. At St. Davids Dermot was promised the assistance of Robert FitzStephen, who was released for that purpose from the prison in which he had been immured by his cousin, Rhys ap Gruffudd, a prince of South Wales, on account of his adherence to Henry. It was arranged that FitzStephen, accompanied by Maurice FitzGerald, brother of the bishop, should in the following Spring cross to Ireland and receive as a reward for their services the town of Wexford and a large portion of the adjoining territory, and that Dermot should leave forthwith to make preparations for their coming. Accordingly Dermot, after a twelvemonth's absence, returned to Ireland in August, 1167, landing a little south of Arklow Head, and repairing quietly to Ferns, where the Church secreted and sheltered him during the winter. But a man of Dermot's eminence could not long remain hidden. His presence in Leinster became known to O'Conor and Tiernan O'Rourke, who at once called on the King of Meath and the Ostmen of Dublin, and took the field against him. Dermot, using all the diplomacy he could master with such implacable enemies, prolonged negotiations for peace without avail, and an encounter took place between the foe and his retainers which ended in a victory for the enemy.

It is strange that notwithstanding this victory Dermot succeeded in getting the victors to come to terms. O'Conor he pacified by the giving of hostages, and O'Rourke accepted gold (no doubt English gold supplied by King Henry) in recognition of his personal grievance against Dermot, and so the Ardri and his coadjutor departed, leaving him once more in possession of lands which were less than a moiety of those which he once had held.

The year 1168 seems to have passed away in comparative peace. If human nature then bore even a remote resemblance to human nature in our own day, Dermot no doubt heard with sorrow and anger of the blinding of his eldest son, Enna, by the King of Ossory, and no doubt, if fatherhood was what it is now, he vowed vengeance on his many enemies. At any rate, irritated by the slow coming of the expected invading host, he sent his secretary, Maurice Regan, to Wales, with instructions to renew his promises of grants of land and other rewards to all who would help him. As the "Song of Dermot and the Earl", so admirably edited by Mr. Goddard Orpen, tells us, Dermot announced that

Whoever shall wish for land or pence,
Horses, trappings, or chargers,
Gold or silver, I shall give them
A very ample pay.
Whoever may wish for soil or sod,
Richly shall I enfeoff them.

This message roused the slumbering enthusiasm of Robert FitzStephen, and he got together a small army consisting of some 30 knights, 60 half-armoured horsemen, and 300 youthful archers, and, putting them on board three vessels, he landed on 1st May, 1169, at Bannow Bay, on the coast of Wexford, where a chasm between the rocks was long known as "FitzStephen's Stride". Here next day they were joined by Maurice de Prendergast of Rhos, in Pembrokeshire, who brought with him, in two ships, some ten knights and a large body of archers. The total force must have numbered about 700 men. The acknowledged leader was FitzStephen, who had with him Meyler FitzHenry, his nephew; Miles, a son of the Bishop of St. Davids; Harvey de Montmorency, an uncle of Strongbow; and Robert de Barry, a brother of Giraldus the historian. As soon as Dermot heard of their arrival he sent his son Donnell to greet them, and he himself being again in high favour with his people, they flocked to his standard, with the result that he was able to join the invaders with a force of 500 men. Having determined their line of action, the combined forces marched on Wexford. This old Danish town was filled no longer with vikings but with simple traders, who did what they could in their own defence. The town was garrisoned by 2000 men, who sallied forth, full of confidence, to meet the foe. But they had no longer to contend with kerns and gallowglasses, but an orderly array of fully armed men clad in complete armour and mounted on heavy Flemish horses also clothed in armour. No wonder that they deemed it wiser to return to their towers and battlements for shelter than meet such foes in the open. But they did not retreat until they had set fire to the wooden huts of which their suburbs were composed, and having done so they closed the city gates, from which they twice drove back their assailants. So violently, indeed, did they drive the enemy back, that they withdrew, Giraldus says, "in all great haste from the walls", eighteen English being killed, while the townsmen lost but three. Sunset saw no change in the situation.

Next morning FitzStephen was preparing to renew the attack, when he was approached by the besieged, who, led by two bishops, sued for peace and agreed to surrender the town and swear fealty to Dermot, to whom they gave four hostages. These terms were accepted, and in order to prove his good faith to his Norman allies, Dermot presented the town of Wexford to FitzStephen.

Elated with this success, Dermot, after three weeks' rest at Ferns, proposed an attack on Ossory. With reinforcements his army now consisted of nearly 3000 men. With these he deemed it possible not alone to subdue Ossory but to regain all his lost possessions. To the English it mattered little what enemy they were called upon to face, and accordingly an attack on Ossory was made forthwith. The Ossory men, like the Danes of Wexford, saw the futility of fighting in the open; they therefore attacked the invading force from ambuscades, and, gradually luring them into woods and bogs, very nearly gained the day. But the English, who had been retiring, suddenly faced their foes, and, being supported by the return of many of Dermot's men who had fled, a belated and bloody victory was won. It is said that over 200 heads of his enemies were laid at Dermot's feet, and that he turned them over one by one in order to identify them, praising God the while. Dermot subsequently made several raids on Ossory, but without success.

Roderick O'Conor now began to grow alarmed at the progress made by Dermot and his English allies. He appealed to the princes and chiefs, and, war being declared against Dermot, Roderick found himself at the head of a large army. Dermot, dreading the possible consequences of attempting to cope with such a foe, retired to fastnesses near Ferns, and having strengthened a naturally strong position he awaited the arrival of O'Conor. Roderick, on his part, saw the impossibility of conquering Dermot under such circumstances, and deemed it wiser to send offers of gifts to FitzStephen to induce him to return to his own country. Finding this argument unavailing, he applied to Dermot, promising to restore him to his kingdom if he would join forces with him and exterminate the foreigners. But Dermot, bad as he was, would not consent to this treachery, and in the end, after fruitless negotiations, an understanding was arrived at, Dermot agreeing to acknowledge Roderick as Ardri, and handing over his son Conor as hostage; receiving in return the peaceable possession of Leinster. It is believed that in addition to these terms a secret agreement was made between Dermot and Roderick, whereby the former promised to get rid of the foreigners as soon as Leinster was subdued, and not to introduce any more into the country.

Dermot was, as we have seen, a good promiser, but he had no intention to keep his word. Maurice de Prendergast having left him in disgust at his barbarity, he welcomed with enthusiasm the arrival of Maurice FitzGerald, FitzStephen's half-brother, who brought with him 10 knights, 30 mounted men, and 100 archers. It was the archery which frequently decided the day, for the death -dealing crossbows were
weapons of war with which the Irish were unfamiliar; therefore so large an addition to his forces greatly rejoiced the wily King of Leinster. He recommenced all his old tactics, and when his son-in-law, O'Brien of Thomond, rebelled against O'Conor, he sent FitzStephen and the English to his assistance, with the result that the Ardri was driven back to his kingdom defeated and disgraced.

But Dermot had now a more ambitious project in hand. He determined to march on Dublin and wrest it from the Ostmen. For this he required reinforcements, and he therefore again addressed himself to Strongbow, urging him to hasten his coming. The delay on Strongbow's part, however, was caused by Henry's ambiguous replies to his several applications for permission to attack Ireland; but as he could not come himself he sent, in May, 1170, his friend Raymond le Gros, with a small force consisting of 10 men-at-arms and 70 archers. Le Gros landed near Waterford, and was with De Montmorency, who joined him almost immediately, besieged by the men of Waterford and Ossory, numbering nearly 3000. He had, however, fortified the position and driven into the enclosure several head of wild cattle. These, when he was attacked, he drove out and followed, and, the terrified cattle clearing the way, he fell upon the disordered ranks of the enemy, slaughtering many and taking seventy prisoners. These, at De Montmorency 's instigation, had their limbs broken and were then cast into the sea.

Dermot and his allies now awaited with eagerness the promised coming of Strongbow.


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