- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

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The relations of the Irish with other nations, notwithstanding the injurious effects of their War of Succession on national unity and reputation, present several points of interest. After the defeat of Magnus Barefoot, we may drop the Baltic countries out of the map of the relations of Ireland. Commencing, therefore, at the north of the neighbouring island--which, in its entirety, they sometimes called Inismore--the most intimate and friendly intercourse was always upheld with the kingdom of Scotland. Bound together by early ecclesiastical and bardic ties, confronting together for so many generations a common enemy, those two countries were destined never to know an international quarrel. About the middle of the ninth century (A.D. 843), when the Scoto-Irish in Caledonia had completely subdued the Picts and other ancient tribes, the first national dynasty was founded by Kenneth McAlpine. The constitution given by this Prince to the whole country seems to have been a close copy of the Irish--it embraced the laws of Tanistry and succession, and the whole Brehon code, as administered in the parent state. The line of Kenneth may be said to close with Donald Bane, brother of Malcolm III., who died in 1094, and not only his dynasty but his system ended with that century. Edgar, Alexander I., and David I., all sons of Malcolm III., were educated in England among the victorious Normans, and in the first third of the twelfth century, devoted themselves with the inauspicious aid of Norman allies, to the introduction of Saxon settlers and the feudal system, first into the lowlands, and subsequently into Moray-shire. This innovation on their ancient system, and confiscation of their lands, was stoutly resisted by the Scottish Gael. In Somerled, lord of the Isles, and ancestor of the Macdonalds, they found a powerful leader, and Somerled found Irish allies always ready to assist him, in a cause which appealed to all their national prejudices. In the year 1134, he led a strong force of Irish and Islesmen to the assistance of the Gaelic insurgents, but was defeated and slain, near Renfrew, by the royal troops, under the command of the Steward of Scotland. During the reigns of William the Lion, Alexander II., and Alexander III., the war of systems raged with all its fierceness, and in nearly all the great encounters Irish auxiliaries, as was to be expected, were found on the side of the Gaelic race and Gaelic rights. Nor did this contest ever wholly cease in Scotland, until the last hopes of the Stuart line were extinguished on the fatal field of Culloden, where Irish captains formed the battle, and Irish blood flowed freely, intermingled with the kindred blood of Highlanders and Islesmen.

The adoption of Norman usages, laws, and tactics, by the Scottish dynasties of the twelfth and succeeding centuries, did not permanently affect the national relations of Ireland and Scotland. It was otherwise with regard to England. We have every reason to believe--we have the indirect testimony of every writer from Bede to Malmsbury --that the intercourse between the Irish and Saxons, after the first hostility engendered by the cruel treatment of the Britons had worn away, became of the most friendly character. The "Irish" who fought at Brunanburgh against Saxon freedom were evidently the natural allies of the Northmen, the Dano-Irish of Dublin, and the southern seaports. The commerce of intelligence between the islands was long maintained; the royalty of Saxon England had more than once, in times of domestic revolution, found a safe and desired retreat in the western island. The fair Elgiva and the gallant Harold had crossed the western waves in their hour of need. The fame of Edward the Confessor took such deep hold on the Irish mind that, three centuries after his death, his banner was unfurled and the royal leopards laid aside to facilitate the march of an English King, through the fastnesses of Leinster. The Irish, therefore, were not likely to look upon the establishment of a Norman dynasty, in lieu of the old Saxon line, as a matter of indifference. They felt that the Norman was but a Dane disguised in armour. It was true he carried the cross upon his banner, and claimed the benediction of the successor of St. Peter; true also he spoke the speech of France, and claimed a French paternity; but the lust for dominion, the iron self-will, the wily devices of strategy, bespoke the Norman of the twelfth, the lineal descendant of the Dane of the tenth century. When, therefore, tidings reached Ireland of the battle of Hastings and the death of Harold, both the apprehensions and the sympathies of the country were deeply excited. Intelligence of the coronation of William the Conqueror quickly followed, and emphatically announced to the Irish the presence of new neighbours, new dangers, and new duties.

The spirit with which our ancestors acted towards the defeated Saxons, whatever we may think of its wisdom, was, at least, respectable for decision and boldness. Godwin, Edmund, and Magnus, sons of Harold, had little difficulty in raising in Ireland a numerous force to co-operate with the Earls Edwin and Morcar, who still upheld the Saxon banner. With this force, wafted over in sixty-six vessels, they entered the Avon, and besieged Bristol, then the second commercial city of the kingdom. But Bristol held out, and the Saxon Earls had fallen back into Northumberland, so the sons of Harold ran down the coast, and tried their luck in Somersetshire with a better prospect. Devonshire and Dorsetshire favoured their cause; the old Britons of Cornwall swelled their ranks, and the rising spread like flame over the west. Eadnoth, a renegade Saxon, formerly Harold's Master of Horse, despatched by William against Harold's sons, was defeated and slain. Doubling the Land's End, the victorious force entered the Tamar, and overran South Devon. The united garrisons of London, Winchester, and Salisbury, were sent against them, under the command of the martial Bishop of Coutances; while a second force advanced along the Tamar, under Brian, heir of the Earl of Brittany, who routed them with a loss of 2,000 men, English, Welsh, and Irish. The sons of Harold retreated to their vessels with all their booty, and returned again into Ireland, where they vanish from history. Such, in the vale of Tamar, was the first collision of the Irish and Normans, and as the race of Rolla never forgot an enemy, nor forewent a revenge, we may well believe that, even thus early, the invasion of Ireland was decided upon. Meredith Hanmer relates in his Chronicle that William Rufus, standing on a high rock, and looking towards Ireland said: "I will bring hither my ships, and pass over and conquer that land;" and on these words of the son of the Conqueror being repeated to Murkertach O'Brien, he replied: "Hath the King in his great threatening said if it please God?" and when answered "No;" "Then," said the Irish monarch, "I fear him not, since he putteth his trust in man and not in God."

Ireland, however, was destined to be reached through Wales, and along that mountain coast we early find Norman castles and Norman ships. It was the special ambition of William Rufus to add the principality to the conquests of his father, and the active sympathy of the Welsh with the Saxons on their inland border gave him pretexts enough. A bitter feud between North and South Wales hastened an invasion, in which Robert Fitz-Aymon and his companions played, by anticipation, the parts of Strongbow and Fitz-Stephen, in the invasion of Ireland.

The struggle, commenced under them, was protracted through the reign of Rufus, who led an army in person (A.D. 1095) against the Welsh, but with little gain and less glory. As an after thought he adopted the device of his father, (followed, too, in Ireland by Henry II.,) of partitioning the country among the most enterprising nobles, gravely accepting their homage in advance of possession, and authorizing them to maintain troops at their own charges, for making good his grant of what never belonged to him. Robert Fitz-Aymon did homage for Glamorgan, Bernard Newmarch for Brecknock, Roger de Montgomery for Cardigan, and Gilbert de Clare for Pembroke: the best portions of North Wales were partitioned between the Mortimers, Latimers, De Lacys, Fitz-Alans, and Montgomerys. Rhys, Prince of Cambria, with many of his nobles, fell in battle defending bravely his native hills; but Griffith, son of Rhys, escaped into Ireland, from which he returned some twenty years later, and recovered by arms and policy a large share of his ancestral dominions. In the reign of Henry I. (A.D. 1110), a host of Flemings, driven from their own country by an inundation of the sea, were planted upon the Welsh marches, from which they soon swarmed into all the Cambrian glens and glades. The industry and economy of this new people, in peaceful times, seemed almost inconsistent with their stubborn bravery in battle; but they demonstrated to the Welsh, and afterwards to the Irish, that they could handle the halbert as well as throw the shuttle; that men of trade may on occasion prove themselves capable men of war.

The Norman Kings of England were not insensible to the fact that the Cymric element in Wales, the Saxon element in England, and the Gaelic element in Scotland, were all more agreeable to the Irish than the race of Rollo and William. They were not ignorant that Ireland was a refuge for their victims and a recruiting ground for their enemies. They knew, furthermore, that most of the strong points on the Irish coast, from the Shannon to the Liffey, were possessed by Christian Northmen kindred to themselves. They knew that the land was divided within itself, weakened by a long war of succession; groaning under the ambition of five competitors for the sovereignty; and suffering in reputation abroad under the invectives of Saint Bernard, and the displeasure of Rome. More tempting materials for intrigue, or fairer opportunities of aggrandizement, nowhere presented themselves, and it was less want of will than of leisure from other and nearer contests, which deferred this new invasion for a century after the battle of Hastings.

While that century was passing over their heads, an occasional intercourse, not without its pleasing incidents, was maintained between the races. In the first year of the twelfth, Arnulph de Montgomery, Earl of Chester, obtained a daughter of Murkertach O'Brien in marriage; the proxy on the occasion being Gerald, son of the Constable of Windsor, and ancestor of the Geraldines. Murkertach, according to Malmsbury, maintained a close correspondence with Henry I., for whose advice he professed great deference. He was accused of aiding the rebellion of the Montgomerys against that Prince; and if at one time he did so, seems to have abandoned their alliance, when threatened with reprisals on the Irish engaged in peaceful commerce with England. The argument used on this occasion seems to be embodied in the question of Malmsbury--and has since become familiar--"What would Ireland do," says the old historian, "if the merchandize of England were not carried to her shores?"

The estimation in which the Irish Princes were held in the century preceding the invasion, at the Norman Court, may be seen in the style of Lanfranc and Anselm, when addressing the former King Thorlogh, and the latter King Murkertach O'Brien. The first generation of the conquerors had passed away before the second of these epistles was written. In the first, the address runs--"Lanfrancus, a sinner, and the unworthy Bishop of the Holy Church of Dover, to the illustrious Terdelvacus, King of Ireland, blessing," &c., &c.; and the epistle of Anselm is addressed--"To Muriardachus, by the grace of God, glorious King of Ireland, Anselm, servant of the Church of Canterbury, greeting health and salvation," &c., &c. This was the tone of the highest ecclesiastics in England towards the ruler of Ireland, in the reigns of William I. and Henry I., and equally obsequious were the replies of the Irish Princes.

After the death of Henry I., nineteen years of civil war and anarchy diverted the Anglo-Normans from all other objects. In the year 1154, however, Henry of Anjou succeeded to the throne, on which he was destined to act so important a part. He was born in Anjou in the year 1133, and married at eighteen the divorced wife of the King of France. Uniting her vast dominions to his own patrimony, he became the lord of a larger part of France than was possessed by the titular king. In his twenty-first year he began to reign in England, and in his thirty-fifth he received the fugitive Dermid of Leinster, in some camp or castle of Aquitaine, and took that outlaw, by his own act, under his protection. The centenary of the victory of Hastings had just gone by, and it needed only this additional agent to induce him to put into execution a plan which he must have formed in the first months of his reign, since the Bull he had procured from Pope Adrian, bears the date of that year--1154. The return from exile, and martyrdom of Beckett, disarranged and delayed the projects of the English King; nor was he able to lead an expedition into Ireland until four years after his reception of the Leinster fugitive in France.

Throughout the rest of Christendom--if we except Rome-- the name of Ireland was comparatively little known. The commerce of Dublin, Limerick, and Galway, especially in the article of wine, which was already largely imported, may have made those ports and their merchants somewhat known on the coasts of France and Spain. But we have no statistics of Irish commerce at that early period. Along the Rhine and even upon the Danube, the Irish missionary and the Irish schoolmaster were still sometimes found. The chronicle of Ratisbon records with gratitude the munificence of Conor O'Brien, King of Munster, whom it considers the founder of the Abbey of St. Peter in that city. The records of the same Abbey credit its liberal founder with having sent large presents to the Emperor Lothaire, in aid of the second crusade for the recovery of the Holy Land. Some Irish adventurers joined in the general European hosting to the plains of Palestine, but though neither numerous nor distinguished enough to occupy the page of history, their glibs and cooluns did not escape the studious eye of him who sang Jerusalem Delivered and Regained.

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