VIKING AND MEDIEVAL IRELAND
By Tim Lambert
THE VIKINGS IN IRELAND
The Vikings first attacked Ireland in 795. They looted monasteries. They also took women and children as slaves. However the Vikings were not only raiders. They were also traders and craftsmen. In the 9th century they founded Ireland's first towns, Dublin, Wexford, Cork and Limerick. They also gave Ireland its name, a combination of the Gaelic word Eire and the Viking word land. In time the Vikings settled down. They intermarried with the Irish and accepted Christianity.
Around 940 the great High King Brian Boru was born. At that time the Danes had conquered much of the kingdom of Munster. Brian defeated them in several battles. In 968 he recaptured Cashel, the capital of Munster. After 976 Brian was king of Munster and in 1002 he became the High King of Ireland. However in 1014 Leinster, the people of Dublin and the Danes joined forces against him. Brian fought and defeated them at the battle of Clontarf on 23 April 1014, although he was killed himself. This victory ended the Viking threat to Ireland.
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THE ENGLISH INVASION
During the 11th and 12th centuries the church in Ireland flourished once again. In the early and mid 12th century it was reformed. Synods (church meetings) were held at Cashel in 1101, at Rath Bresail in 1111 and Kells in 1152. The church was reorganised on diocesan lines and bishops became the leaders rather than Abbots. However Pope Adrian IV (actually an Englishman called Nicholas Breakspear) was not satisfied. He was determined to bring the Irish church to heel. In 1155 he gave the English king, Henry II, permission to invade Ireland to sort out the church.
However Henry did not immediately invade Ireland. Instead Dermait MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, brought events to a head. In 1166, another king, Tiernan O'Rourke forced MacMurrough to flee from Ireland. However MacMurrough appealed to the English king Henry II for help. Henry gave him permission to recruit in England. MacMurrough enlisted the support of a man named Richard FitzGilbert de Clare (better known as Strongbow) to help him regain his kingdom. In return MacMurrough promised that Strongbow could marry his daughter and would become king of Leinster after him.
MacMurrough returned to South Leinster in 1167. The first English soldiers arrived in 1169. They landed at Bannow Bay in County Wexford and soon captured the town of Wexford. The High King, Rory O'Connor led an army against the English but Dermait came to terms with him. He agreed to submit to O'Connor as High King.
However the next year, 1170, Strongbow led an army to Ireland and captured Waterford and Dublin. Askluv the king of Dublin sailed away. However the next year he returned with a Norwegian army but some English knights sallied out on horseback and defeated them. Askluv was captured and executed. Next Rory O'Connor led an army to Dublin and laid siege to the town. However the English slipped out and made a surprise attack, routing the Irish.
Henry II became alarmed that Strongbow was becoming too powerful and ordered all English soldiers to return to England by Easter 1171. Strongbow made Henry an offer. He agreed to submit to king Henry and accept him as Lord if he was allowed to continue. Henry decided to accept the offer on condition he could have the towns of Dublin, Waterford and Wexford. In the meantime Dermait died and Strongbow became king of Leinster. The English king Henry landed in Ireland in October 1171. Strongbow submitted to him. So did most of the Irish kings. In 1175 Rory O'Connor submitted to Henry by the treaty of Windsor.
In the early 13th century the English extended their control over all of Ireland except part of Connacht and Western Ulster. The English also founded the towns of Atheny, Drogheda, Galway and New Ross. The first Irish parliament was called in 1264 but it represented only the Anglo-Irish ruling class.
However after 1250 the English tide ebbed. In 1258 Brian O'Neill led a rebellion. The rebellion failed when O'Neill was defeated and killed in 1260. However the English landowners were gradually absorbed into Irish society. Many of them intermarried and slowly adopted Irish customs. In 1366 the Kilkenny Parliament passed the Statutes of Kilkenny. The Anglo-Irish were forbidden to marry native Irish. They were also forbidden to speak Gaelic or to play the Irish game of hurling. They were not allowed to wear Irish dress or ride bareback but must use a saddle. However all such attempts to keep the two races separate and distinct failed.
In 1315 the Scots invaded Ireland hoping to open up a second front in their war with the English. Robert the Bruce's brother led the Scottish army with considerable success and was even crowned king of Ireland. However the English sent an army to oppose him and he was defeated and killed in 1318.
In 1394 the English king Richard II led an army to Ireland to try and re-assert English control. The Irish submitted to him but promptly rebelled once he had left. Richard returned in 1399 but he was forced to leave due to trouble at home. From then on English control continued to wane until by the middle of the 15th century the English only ruled Dublin and the surrounding 'Pale'.
A history of Ireland