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The History of Ulster
The Anglo-Norman Invasion


Dermot again King of Leinster - Strongbow arrives - Fall of Waterford - Marriage of Strongbow and Eva - The Taking of Dublin - Death of Dermot - Strongbow's Struggles for Supremacy - King Henry's Demands - Danish Attack on Dublin defeated.

Dermot was now once more King of Leinster. Thanks to his Anglo-Norman allies he had won his own again, and he had in addition the support of his son-in-law, Donnell O'Brien, King of Thomond. But Dermot was an ambitious man. He never suffered from "that dull stagnation of the soul, content". He determined, therefore, not alone to be King of Leinster, but to be Ardri as well. He confided his desires to his friends, FitzStephen and FitzGerald, and following their advice awaited the arrival of more English before he attempted any further conflict.

Having dispatched Raymond le Gros to Ireland, Strongbow marched northward to Milford Haven, collecting men and arms as he proceeded, and his success may be gauged from the fact that when ready to embark he was at the head of a force consisting of 200 knights and 1600 men the majority of whom were archers. At the last moment a message from King Henry arrived commanding him to abandon the enterprise; but it was too late, Strongbow and his troops set sail, and landed, on 23rd August, 1170, at Waterford. Here he was joined by Raymond, and an attack was at once made on the town.

Waterford had been for centuries a stronghold of the Norsemen, and the Ostmen made as vigorous an effort to repulse the Normans as did their kin at Wexford. But though a walled town the walls had their weak spot, and, this spot being discovered by Raymond, he directed all his energies to making a breach, and was so successful that his men poured through it into the town and butchered the unfortunate citizens, two Norse leaders being captured and put to death.

Having taken Waterford, Strongbow sent messengers to Dermot announcing the fact, and Dermot, accompanied by his daughter Eva, and by FitzStephen and FitzGerald, hastened to the scene, arriving in time for Dermot, possibly at the urgent request of his daughter, to beg that no further slaughter of the enemy should take place, and that the lives of Reginald, one of the leaders, and of Melaghlin O'Phelan, Prince of the Decies, should be spared. To this request Strongbow gave a reluctant consent. No doubt he had a shrewd suspicion as to the source from which it emanated and, on the eve of his nuptials, he could not refuse.

The marriage of Eva and Strongbow now took place, not, we may be sure, with the chief actors surrounded by the dead and the dying and in the glare of burning homesteads, as pictured by Maclise, nor with the groans of the wounded and the lamentations of women bereft of their loved ones in the air, but in a quiet orderly fashion such as would suggest itself to the mind of that "strong still man", who, as drawn for us by Giraldus, was " in defeat, as in victory . . . calm and unmoved, neither driven to despair by adversity nor unduly elated by prosperity".

Having by this marriage fulfilled his promise to Strongbow, it was natural that Dermot, who never did anything for nothing, should look to his son-in-law to enlarge the borders which his children were to inherit; accordingly we find him urging an immediate attack on Dublin. The leaders were nothing loath; they were there to do or die, to carve out their fortunes or perish in the attempt. Apart from other interests, it was essential as a base for action that Dublin should be secured, for it was now the keystone to the situation, the most accessible port on the east coast of Ireland.

For nearly three hundred years Dublin had been in the hands of the Scandinavians, who had gradually grown, as we have seen, more devoted to trading than to fighting, and it is therefore not surprising that when Dermot and Strongbow appeared before the walls of the city with nearly 5000 men, the Ostmen should come to the conclusion that terms of peace would better serve them than to try the fortunes of war with such a host. This conclusion was only arrived at after much deliberation. In the first affright the Danish king, Haskulf, had applied for help to Roderick O'Conor, and the Ardri had marched at once to his assistance and stood ready outside Dublin to throw his weight into the balance, being accompanied by O'Rourke and the Kings of Meath and Uriel. At the last moment, however, Haskulf deemed "discretion the better part of valour", and suggested through Laurence O'Toole, the Archbishop of Dublin and a brother-in-law of Dermot, that an agreement might be come to. Dermot sent his secretary, Maurice Regan, to demand thirty hostages, and much delay arose on this score, for the position of hostage was no enviable one, inasmuch as it meant possible loss of sight, or life, in case of any disagreement.

While the negotiations were pending, two impetuous spirits, Raymond le Gros and Miles de Cogan, becoming impatient, rushed at the walls without consulting either Strongbow or Dermot. They gained access, and the Ostmen, surprised at this onslaught, fled to their ships, which lay ready in the river, and sailed off to the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. The city was now thrown open, and Strongbow and Dermot entered in triumph, their entry being witnessed by O'Conor and his confederates, who, deeming that Haskulf had acted treacherously, at once departed and disbanded.

One would imagine that with Dublin at his feet and all Leinster in his hand, Dermot would have been satisfied. He was now sixty years of age and had lived every hour of his life. He had known the bitterness of defeat and the sorrows which spring from misfortune. But the restlessness of his nature and the thirst for revenge were such that he was impelled to wreak further vengeance on O'Rourke and all who had been instrumental in his expulsion. Accordingly he headed an army and invaded O'Rourke's territory, which lay in the county of Cavan, plundering and burning as he went, and taking many prisoners and cattle.

East Meath gave way to Dermot and gave him hostages, withdrawing their allegiance from O'Conor and their support from O'Rourke, with the result that O'Rourke slew the hostages he had from East Meath, and urged O'Conor to slay those he held from Dermot. These included a son and grandson of Dermot, and a son of his foster-brother. Before taking extreme measures the Ardri is said to have written a letter of expostulation to Dermot, reminding him of his undertaking to get rid of the foreigners, and telling him if he did not keep his word he would send him the detruncated head of his son. Dermot sent an arrogant reply, and the hostages were all beheaded.

Henry of England, hearing of the phenomenal successes which had attended Strongbow, became alarmed. No doubt Henry anticipated Thomas Carlyle, and concluded that Ireland was "England's back parlour", and that it was highly dangerous to the peace and welfare of Britain that an independent power, composed for the most part of Englishmen, should be established so close to his own realm. He had had enough to do to keep his haughty barons in proper subjection; to rule them at such a distance should they prove hostile, would be almost impossible. Accordingly he issued an edict forbidding any ship sailing from any part of his dominions to carry anything to Ireland, and ordering all his subjects in Ireland to return before the following Easter, on pain of forfeiting their lands and being for ever banished from his realm.

Strongbow's position now was far from being a happy one. Not alone had he Henry to contend against (an idea which could not for a moment be entertained), but, Dermot dying somewhat suddenly, he found himself immediately the object of a hostile demonstration made by the Irish kings, who refused to recognize in him the lawful successor to the kingdom of Leinster. Only three Irishmen of any note are said to have remained loyal to Strongbow. These were his brother-in-law, Donnell Kavanagh, an illegitimate son of Dermot; O'Reilly of Breffny; and Aulaff O'Garvy, a petty chieftain.

The revolt was led by Murtough McMur rough, son of Dermot's brother, and he was backed up by the Ardri, O'Conor, who summoned "the Irish of all Ireland", and at the head of an army of 5000 laid siege to Dublin. Inside the city the archbishop, Laurence O'Toole, was not idle. He wrote letters inviting, amongst others, Gottred, King of Man, urging him to blockade Dublin by sea. Gottred, nothing loath, sailed to Ireland with thirty ships and cast anchor at the mouth of the Liffey. Thus Strongbow found himself surrounded, and in danger of being starved out.

The siege lasted nearly two months, the provisions were fast running out, and the position was desperate. The besieged knew not where to look for relief when word came that FitzStephen was also besieged in his castle of Carrick and if not relieved within three days all would be over with him. To be quiescent under such circumstances was manifestly impossible, and Strongbow determined to make a last effort. He held a council of war, at which it was resolved to send the archbishop to the Ardri with an offer from the Earl that he would, if the siege were raised, "become his man and hold Leinster of him". This proposal was laughed to scorn by O'Conor, who replied that Strongbow must surrender Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin and clear out of the country with his followers, and that if he did not agree to do so Dublin would be assaulted on the morrow.

Under these circumstances Strongbow did the only thing a courageous man could do. He determined to attack O'Conor and die the death of a man, and having divided his forces into three companies, and leaving a handful of soldiers to keep the Irish within the gates in check, he fell suddenly upon the investing army and routed it, O'Conor himself barely escaping with his life. Many have tried to explain this astonishing victory. The most credible explanation seems to be that the Irish were unprepared, and also that they had a dread of the bow and arrow which dealt death at a distance, and were weapons of war which they had not as yet adopted themselves.

Leaving Dublin in charge of Miles de Cogan, Strongbow hastened to the relief of FitzStephen at Carrick on Slaney, only to find that he, with the handful of archers who were with him, had been taken prisoners by guile; and when the Earl demanded his release, he was told that if he persisted he would be sent the head without the body.

Seeing that FitzStephen's case was hopeless, Strongbow proceeded to Waterford, where he was visited by his brother-in-law, Donnell O'Brien, King of Thomond, who proposed a joint attack on the King of Ossory. To this the Earl consented. Ossory, who had held his own against repeated attacks by Dermot, seeing no good could come of fighting against great odds, came under safe-conduct of Maurice de Prendergast, with the result that he was left unmolested and the expedition broken up.

Henry now sent a peremptory command to Strongbow that he required his presence in England. Vainly the Earl endeavoured to evade the inevitable. First he sent Le Gros with an assurance to the King that all he held in Ireland was at the King's service. Henry not being satisfied, and demanding further explanation of the Earl's conduct, Strongbow sent his uncle, Henry de Montmorency, with instructions to offer on his behalf to surrender to the King the cities of Dublin and Waterford and the other strongholds which the Earl held in right of his wife; and Henry, we are told, promised on his doing so to restore to Strongbow his lands in Wales and Normandy, which had been confiscated, to leave him in possession of the rest of what he had acquired by his marriage, and to appoint him Seneschal of Ireland. At the same time the King commanded the Earl to appear in person before him, and accordingly Strongbow set sail for England and found the King at Pembroke.

In Strongbow's absence a determined attack on Dublin was made by the Danes, who were not going to lose without a struggle their valuable possessions in the city which they had held so long. Haskulf, the ruler of Dublin, who had fled so hurriedly on the approach of Strongbow, now returned with a fleet of sixty vessels and an army of 10,000 men. The little force of defenders, under Miles de Cogan, did not exceed 600 men in all, but they were trained fighters and thoroughly reliable. The Danes, led by John the Wode, or the mad, a warrior, said to be a nephew of the King of Norway, were reported to be "men with iron hearts as well as iron arms".

Before the commencement of hostilities Miles de Cogan had an amusing interview with a petty king of the district bearing the euphonious name of MacGillamocholmog. This worthy evidently had an eye to the main chance, for when O'Conor invested Dublin he had sided with the Ardri, and on his departure had made peace with Miles and given him hostages. Such a broken reed was no use to De Cogan, and as he suspected him of being a weathercock he suggested that the chief should watch the tide of battle from afar and throw in his lot with the winner a happy thought which at once won MacGillamocholmog's approval, and accordingly he placed his men in a secure position from which to watch any turn events might take. As the Danes entered by the eastern gate of the city, Miles advanced to meet them, having first secretly dispatched his brother Richard with some thirty horsemen by a western exit to take a circuitous route and attack the enemy in the rear. While Miles de Cogan's archers were doing good service from the battlements, Richard, as instructed, fell upon the enemy unexpectedly, and John the Wode, hearing the commotion caused by this attack, turned back to the rescue of his men; whereupon Miles at once advanced with some 300 men and played havoc with the Danes, who fled in confusion. This rout was no sooner seen by MacGillamocholmog than he at once called on his men to join "the rightful English" and pursue the flying foe. John the Wode was slain and Haskulf taken prisoner. When brought before De Cogan he maintained a defiant air. "We came", he cried, "this time a small band, but it is only the beginning. If I live we shall soon return in much greater numbers." ("Much virtue in 'if'.") Miles replied by striking off his head.


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