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The History of Ulster
King Henry in Ireland


The Aloofness of Ulster - Cinel Connel and Cinel Owen - Strongbow and King Henry - Henry visits Ireland - His Sojourn in Dublin - His Departure for Normandy - The Treaty of Windsor - Raymond's Romance - Death of Strongbow.

The student of history cannot but be struck by the strange aloofness of Ulster in all this turmoil and uproar. These "drums and tramplings" seem not to have disturbed her serenity, and even the coming of Strongbow failed to arouse in this portion of the country any disquietude or alarm. We have seen that when appealed to by Haskulf, the Ardri hastened to his assistance with the Kings of Meath and of Uriel, but Ulster, apart from Uriel, exhibited no sign of sympathy, and simply attended to her own affairs. By Ulster, we do not refer alone to the counties of Antrim and Down, which were for long known by that name, but the entire north of Ireland, as far south as the County Cavan. We shall see how even on the arrival of Henry of England this indifference as to what was happening in the south was maintained.

The modern province of Ulster, it will be remembered, then consisted of the following "septs": the Cinel Owen, who occupied Tyrone and Derry; the Cinel Connel, seated in Donegal; the Ulidians, inhabitants of Antrim and Down; and the Oirghialla or people of Uriel, a territory embracing Louth, Armagh, and Monaghan. These septs were no less quarrelsome than their kin of the south, and one reason for their keeping aloof possibly was that they were too busy settling their own disputes to pay any attention to what was going on in the rest of Ireland. When Murtough O'Loughlin was slain in 1166, Roderick O'Conor, as Ardri, following his father's example, divided Tirowen between Niall O'Loughlin and Aedh O'Neill; but this state of affairs did not last long, owing to internal dissensions. In 1169 Conor O'Loughlin, a son of Murtough, assumed the kingship, but was killed in a petty war in 1170. Niall O'Loughlin then grasped the crown and appears to have held it, although his authority was disregarded by the Cinel Connel and the Ulidians, and in consequence the septs went to war with each other, the result being that the Cinel Connel defeated the Cinel Owen "and great slaughter was put upon them". Niall O'Loughlin appears to have been King of the Cinel Owen when Henry arrived in Ireland.

Strongbow's surmise that the King would be angry with him proved to be correct. Henry was at the time much perturbed by the action taken by the Pope in connection with Becket's murder. Cardinal legates had been sent to make full enquiry into the King's supposed complicity with the violent death of the archbishop, and Henry found a vent for his anger in upbraiding Strongbow for his conduct in invading Ireland without the royal permit. Strongbow, however, knowing well his royal master, was all humility, and laid all he possessed in Ireland at Henry's feet, so that at last Henry's wrath subsided, "and though the mutterings of the thunder were loud the deadly bolt did not fall".

The King, who had been delayed at Pembroke by unfavourable winds, now embarked, and landed at Waterford on 17th October, 1171. His fleet must have been an imposing sight, consisting as it did of 400 ships, on board of which was an army of 500 knights, and 4000 horse and foot, the latter including a large body of archers. But though Henry was accompanied by this large force, which must in all have numbered about 10,000, he came to Ireland, as he assured a deputation of the men of Wexford who waited on him in connection with Robert FitzStephen, whom they held prisoner in no spirit of hostility, but rather as a friend and a protector against any wrong that might be done them by his barons. In proof of this peaceful attitude the King, when FitzStephen was brought before him, reprimanded him severely and ordered him to be further imprisoned. A little later FitzStephen was released, and some years afterwards was given grants of land in Ireland.

Waterford was now formally surrendered to Henry by Strongbow, who also did homage for Leinster. This example was followed by the submission of the Irish kings and chiefs, who took the oath of fealty, did homage, gave hostages, and agreed to pay tribute. The princes of Ulster, however, held aloof, and Henry does not appear to have concerned himself about them. Roderick O'Conor, the Ardri, did not do personal homage to Henry, but met his messengers, Hugh de Lacy and William FitzAudelin, and made his submission to them.

On 1st November Henry set out for Dublin, arriving on the nth, being the feast of St. Martin. Here, although the royal tent had been brought for his use, he had a palace built outside the walls of the city. The structure was such as was used by the native kings, and made of wattles or peeled osiers, and here he received the native kings, not as an invader of their realms, but as a friend, and such condescension on the part of a monarch who was all-powerful was pleasing to a people who have always been noted for their courtesy.

During his stay in Dublin, which extended over Christmas which was kept with the usual festivities Henry endeavoured to enlist the sympathy of the Church, knowing well it would stand to his credit if he had to come in conflict with the cardinals, whose visitation to England was ruffling his composure. In this he was very successful, prelate after prelate being won over, and giving him letters accepting him as
the Lord of Ireland.

It was during this memorable visit that Henry granted the first Dublin charter, an instrument by which he gave to his men of Bristol his city of Dublin to be inhabited, together with all the liberties and free customs which they had at Bristol and throughout his entire land.

But the news from England became more and more disquieting. Henry was threatened with excommunication and the possibility of his realms being placed under an interdict. In addition, the King had the chagrin to learn that his son Henry and some of the more powerful of the barons were in a state of revolt. Accordingly he took his departure with all speed, setting sail from Wexford on Easter Monday, 17th April, 1172.

During his sojourn in Ireland Henry had rewarded some of his faithful followers by giving them grants of land, with leave to extend their borders as best they could. These grants were to a great extent of a nominal character. Most of what he gave was in the hands of the Irish, and to be enjoyed would have to be won and held by the sword. The grants included the gift of Leinster to Strongbow, Meath to De Lacy, and Ulster, which had not submitted to him and over which he had no control whatever, to John de Courcy.

As soon as Henry had departed, trouble commenced. It began in Meath, where O'Rourke was called upon to share his ancient heritage with De Lacy. He naturally refused, fighting followed, and O'Rourke was slain. In like manner Strongbow found Leinster in a state of ferment. The only known remedy was recourse to arms, and settlement by this means was in active progress when the Earl was summoned by King Henry to Normandy, when he was appointed governor of the frontier fortress of Gisors. Later, Strongbow and De Lacy were engaged in the defence of Verneuil, and Henry was so well pleased with the services of Strongbow that he gave him permission to return to Ireland, at the same time appointing him viceroy. Raymond le Gros is said to have been appointed the Earl's coadjutor, and he returned to Ireland with him, being appointed a little later supreme military commander.

England's troubles proved, as they have often proved since, Ireland's opportunity. Henry was engaged in war with Lewis of France, and, hearing of his difficulties, the Irish chiefs, in spite of the fact that they had so recently sworn fealty to him, arose in rebellion against him, encouraged by the knowledge that Henry had withdrawn the garrisons he had left in Ireland, to aid him in his war with the revolted barons.

The troops left in Dublin were in a state of discontent, and threatened to mutiny if not paid, and the only way to appease them, apparently, was to allow them to subsist by plundering the Irish. Accordingly incursions were made into the surrounding districts, notably into Offalay, which proved very successful, the victors returning with considerable booty and with fresh supplies of horses and arms.

Attacks on Lismore and an expedition against Munster followed, into the particulars of which we need not enter; suffice it to note that in the Munster campaign Strongbow suffered such reverses that when the news became known a general rising of the Irish took place in response to a summons from Roderick, and in this Ulster took a prominent part.

In the year following (1175) reprisals for this rising were made, and the country was in a ferment, indeed so much so that O'Conor wrote to Henry to arrange a treaty of peace. The result of the negotiations which followed was that a treaty was signed whereby Henry "granted to Roderick, his liege man, King of Connaught, as long as he should faithfully serve him, that he should be king under him,

prepared to do him service as his vassal; and that he should hold his land (of Connaught) well and peaceably, as he held it before his lord the King of England entered Ireland, rendering to him tribute". It was arranged by this treaty, known as the Treaty of Windsor, that Roderick was to be overlord, and as such was to collect the tribute due to the English crown and transmit it to Henry, and in the event of the kings or chiefs of other territories refusing to recognize his authority, he was promised the aid of the English troops to reduce them to submission. With regard to Connaught, it was stipulated that O'Conor should pay an annual tribute of one merchantable hide in ten. It was also agreed that the Ardri was not to interfere with the lands held by the King or his barons, such as Leinster and Meath, and the towns of Dublin, Wexford, and Waterford. In return for his services O'Conor was to hold his hereditary kingdom of Connaught as he had held it before the arrival of the English.

Though such arrangements may be deemed satisfactory in theory, the terms of the Treaty of Windsor proved utterly useless in practice. It was manifestly impossible for Roderick O'Conor to collect from the Kings of Ulster the tribute due to Henry. They had never submitted to Henry, and it was not likely that they would submit to O'Conor. In fact, it has been proved that O'Conor was an exceedingly weak man, who could not exact obedience even from his own household. His son Murrough, in 1177, invited the English "to spoil Connaught through hatred of his father", and though in an attempt to carry out his wishes Miles de Cogan and his knights were unsuccessful, much damage was done. Murrough no doubt repented of his very unfilial conduct, his father giving him plenty of time for reflection by blinding him, as was the inhuman custom of the time.

In this arid desert of human misery, of lost hopes and baffled desires, it is delightful to come suddenly across a wayward blossom of pure romance, a story of the triumph not of death but of love. It appears that that popular soldier Raymond le Gros, the idol of the army, and one of the most successful of commanders, had, on the death of the Constable of Leinster, asked his chief the Earl for the vacant post, begging also at the same time for the hand of Strongbow's sister, Basilia, in marriage. Both these requests being refused, Raymond, in high dudgeon, left Ireland for his father's castle at Carew, in Pembrokeshire, De Montmorency, the Earl's uncle, being appointed Constable.

De Montmorency was most unpopular with his men, and in consequence he was seldom able to inspirit them sufficiently to lead them to victory; consequently, as was natural, one disaster followed another. His first expedition was a failure. O'Brien, King of Thomond, having renounced his allegiance to Henry, a large force was sent to ensure his obedience. O'Brien, however, surprised the English at daybreak, and they were driven back to Waterford with the loss of 700 men. Strongbow was shut up in the town, surrounded by the enemy, and in a position of extreme danger. He then remembered Raymond, and sent him an urgent message, begging him to return and promising him that his two requests would be granted. Raymond responded readily, and landed with 500 troops. He immediately repaired to Strongbow's aid, liberated him from a position of great jeopardy, and quelled an incipient mutiny of Ostmen which might have proved serious. As a fitting reward for his many and great services Raymond was married to Basilia in Wexford with great pomp, and appointed, as promised, Constable of Leinster.

The indefatigable and ever-victorious Raymond was requisitioned, in his capacity of Constable of Leinster, not alone to assist in the quelling of rebellions of the Irish against the English, but on more than one occasion he was called upon, as the representative of King Henry, to assist one Irish sept against another, or even a sept divided against itself. One of these expeditions was undertaken at the request of Dermot MacCarthy, King of Desmond, who had been deprived of his kingdom by his eldest son and thrown into prison. MacCarthy, when sending his petition, promised large rewards to Raymond, as well as liberal pay to his troops. Raymond at once repaired to Cork, and by force of arms restored his kingdom to MacCarthy.

It was while on this expedition that Raymond received a letter from his wife telling him that Strongbow was dead. The Earl had died from blood-poisoning, and had left instructions that he was not to be buried until Raymond returned. Raymond returned with all speed, and when he reached Dublin, Strongbow's funeral took place (June, 1176), Arch-bishop Laurence O'Toole performing the obsequies.


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