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

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The closing years of the reign of Edward II. of England were endangered by the same partiality for favourites which, had disturbed its beginning. The de Spensers, father and son, played at this period the part which Gaveston had performed twenty years earlier. The Barons, who undertook to rid their country of this pampered family, had, however, at their head Queen Isabella, sister of the King of France, who had separated from her husband under a pretended fear of violence at his hands, but in reality to enjoy more freely her criminal intercourse with her favourite, Mortimer. With the aid of French and Flemish mercenaries, they compelled the unhappy Edward to fly from London to Bristol, whence he was pursued, captured, and after being confined for several months in different fortresses, was secretly murdered in the autumn of 1327, by thrusting a red hot iron into his bowels. His son, Edward, a lad of fifteen years of age, afterwards the celebrated Edward III., was proclaimed King, though the substantial power remained for some years longer with Queen Isabella, and her paramour, now elevated to the rank of Earl of March. In the year 1330, however, their guilty prosperity was brought to a sudden close; Mortimer was seized by surprise, tried by his peers, and executed at Tyburn; Isabella was imprisoned for life, and the young King, at the age of eighteen, began in reality that reign, which, through half a century's continuance, proved so glorious and advantageous for England.

It will be apparent that during the last few years of the second, and under the minority of the third Edward, the Anglo-Irish Barons would be left to pursue undisturbed their own particular interests and enmities. The renewal of war with Scotland, on the death of King Robert Bruce, and the subsequent protracted wars with France, which occupied, with some intervals of truce, nearly thirty years of the third Edward's reign, left ample time for the growth of abuses of every description among the descendants of those who had invaded Ireland, under the pretext of its reformation, both in morals and government. The contribution of an auxiliary force to aid him in his foreign wars was all the warlike King expected from his lords of Ireland, and at so cheap a price they were well pleased to hold their possessions under his guarantee. At Halidon hill the Anglo-Irish, led by Sir John Darcy, distinguished themselves against the Scots in 1333; and at the siege of Calais, under the Earls of Kildare and Desmond, they acquired additional reputation in 1347. From this time forward it became a settled maxim of English policy to draft native troops out of Ireland for foreign service, and to send English soldiers into it in times of emergency.

In the very year when the tragedy of Edward the Second's deposition and death was enacted in England, a drama of a lighter kind was performed among his new made earls in Ireland. The Lord Arnold le Poer gave mortal offence to Maurice, first Earl of Desmond, by calling him "a Rhymer," a term synonymous with poetaster. To make good his reputation as a Bard, the Earl summoned his allies, the Butlers and Berminghams, while le Poer obtained the aid of his maternal relatives, the de Burghs, and several desperate conflicts took place between them. The Earl of Kildare, then deputy, summoned both parties to meet him at Kilkenny, but le Poer and William de Burgh fled into England, while the victors, instead of obeying the deputy's summons, enjoyed themselves in ravaging his estate. The following year (A.D. 1328), le Poer and de Burgh returned from England, and were reconciled with Desmond and Ormond by the mediation of the new deputy, Roger Outlaw, Prior of the Knights of the Hospital at Kilmainham. In honour of this reconciliation de Burgh gave a banquet at the castle, and Maurice of Desmond reciprocated by another the next day, in St. Patrick's Church, though it was then, as the Anglo-Irish Annalist remarks, the penitential season of Lent. A work of peace and reconciliation, calculated to spare the effusion of Christian blood, may have been thought some justification for this irreverent use of a consecrated edifice.

The mention of the Lord Deputy, Sir Roger Outlaw, the second Prior of his order though not the last, who wielded the highest political power over the English settlements, naturally leads to the mention of the establishment in Ireland, of the illustrious orders of the Temple and the Hospital. The first foundation of the elder order is attributed to Strongbow, who erected for them a castle at Kilmainham, on the high ground to the south of the Liffey, about a mile distant from the Danish wall of old Dublin. Here, the Templars flourished, for nearly a century and a half, until the process for their suppression was instituted under Edward II., in 1308. Thirty members of the order were imprisoned and examined in Dublin, before three Dominican inquisitors--Father Richard Balbyn, Minister of the Order of St. Dominick in Ireland, Fathers Philip de Slane and Hugh de St. Leger. The decision arrived at was the same as in France and England; the order was condemned and suppressed; and their Priory of Kilmainham, with sixteen benefices in the diocese of Dublin, and several others, in Ferns, Meath, and Dromore, passed to the succeeding order, in 1311. The state maintained by the Priors of Kilmainham, in their capacious residence, often rivalled that of the Lords Justices. But though their rents were ample, they did not collect them without service. Their house might justly be regarded as an advanced fortress on the south side of the city, constantly open to attacks from the mountain tribes of Wicklow. Although their vows were for the Holy Land, they were ever ready to march at the call of the English Deputies, and their banner, blazoned with the Agnus Dei, waved over the bloodiest border frays of the fourteenth century. The Priors of Kilmainham sat as Barons in the Parliaments of "the Pale," and the office was considered the first in ecclesiastical rank among the regular orders.

During the second quarter of this century, an extraordinary change became apparent in the manners and customs of the descendants of the Normans, Flemings, and Cambrians, whose ancestors an hundred years earlier were strangers in the land. Instead of intermarrying exclusively among themselves, the prevailing fashion became to seek for Irish wives, and to bestow their daughters on Irish husbands. Instead of clinging to the language of Normandy or England, they began to cultivate the native speech of the country. Instead of despising Irish law, every nobleman was now anxious to have his Brehon, his Bard, and his Senachie. The children of the Barons were given to be fostered by Milesian mothers, and trained in the early exercises so minutely prescribed by Milesian education. Kildare, Ormond, and Desmond, adopted the old military usages of exacting "coyne and livery"--horse meat and man's meat--from their feudal tenants. The tie of Gossipred, one of the most fondly cherished by the native population, was multiplied between the two races, and under the wise encouragement of a domestic dynasty might have become a powerful bond of social union. In Connaught and Munster where the proportion of native to naturalized was largest, the change was completed almost in a generation, and could never afterwards be wholly undone. In Ulster the English element in the population towards the end of this century was almost extinct, but in Meath and Leinster, and that portion of Munster immediately bordering on Meath and Leinster, the process of amalgamation required more time than the policy of the Kings of England allowed it to obtain.

The first step taken to counteract their tendency to Hibernicize themselves, was to bestow additional honours on the great families. The baronry of Offally was enlarged into the earldom of Kildare; the lordship of Carrick into the earldom of Ormond; the title of Desmond was conferred on Maurice Fitz-Thomas Fitzgerald, and that of Louth on the Baron de Bermingham. Nor were they empty honours; they were accompanied with something better. The "royal liberties" were formally conceded, in no less than nine great districts, to their several lords. Those of Carlow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Kildare, and Leix, had been inherited by the heirs of the Earl Marshal's five daughters; four other counties Palatine were now added--Ulster, Meath, Ormond, and Desmond. "The absolute lords of those palatinates," says Sir John Davis, "made barons and knights, exercised high justice within all their territories; erected courts for civil and criminal causes, and for their own revenues, in the same form in which the king's courts were established at Dublin; they constituted their own judges, seneschals, sheriffs, coroners, and escheators." So that the king's writs did not run in their counties, which took up more than two parts of the English colony; but ran only in the church-lands lying within the same, which was therefore called THE CROSSE, wherein the Sheriff was nominated by the King. By "high justice" is meant the power of life and death, which was hardly consistent with even a semblance of subjection. No wonder such absolute lords should be found little disposed to obey the summons of deputies, like Sir Ralph Ufford and Sir John Morris, men of merely knightly rank, whose equals they had the power to create, by the touch of their swords.

For a season their new honours quickened the dormant loyalty of the recipients. Desmond, at the head of 10,000 men, joined the lord deputy, Sir John Darcy, to suppress the insurgent tribes of South Leinster; the Earls of Ulster and Ormond united their forces for an expedition into West-Meath against the brave McGeoghegans and their allies; but even these services--so complicated were public and private motives in the breasts of the actors --did not allay the growing suspicion of what were commonly called "the old English," in the minds of the English King and his council. Their resolution seems to have been fixed to entrust no native of Ireland with the highest office in his own country; in accordance with which decision Sir Anthony Lucy was appointed, (1331;) Sir John Darcy, (1332-34; again in 1341;) and Sir Ralph Ufford,

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