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

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


One leading fact, which we have to follow in all its consequences through the whole of the fifteenth century, is the division of the English and of the Anglo-Irish interest into two parties, Lancasterians and Yorkists. This division of the foreign power will be found to have produced a corresponding sense of security in the minds of the native population, and thus deprived them of that next best thing to a united national action, the combining effects of a common external danger.

The new party lines were not drawn immediately upon the English revolution of 1399, but a very few years sufficed to infuse among settlers of English birth or descent the partizan passions which distracted the minds of men in their original country. The third Earl of Ormond, although he had received so many favours from the late King and his grandfather, yet by a common descent of five generations from Edward I., stood in relation of cousinship to the Usurper. On the arrival of the young Duke of Lancaster as Lord Lieutenant, in 1402, Ormond became one of his first courtiers, and dying soon after, he chose the Duke guardian to his heir, afterwards the fourth Earl. This heir, while yet a minor (1407), was elected or appointed deputy to his guardian, the Lord Lieutenant; during almost the whole of the short reign of Henry V. (1413-1421) he resided at the English Court, or accompanied the King in his French campaigns, thus laying the foundations of that influence which, six several times during the reign of Henry VI., procured his appointment to office as Lord Deputy, Lord Justice, or Lord Lieutenant. At length, in the mid-year of the century, his successor was created Earl of Wiltshire, and entrusted with the important duties of one of the Commissioners for the fleet, and Lord Treasurer of England; favours and employments which sufficiently account for how the Ormond family became the leaders of the Lancaster party among the Anglo-Irish.

The bestowal of the first place on another house tended to estrange the Geraldines, who, with some reason, regarded themselves as better entitled to such honours. During the first official term of the Duke of Lancaster, no great feeling was exhibited, and on his departure in 1405, the fifth Earl of Kildare was, for a year, entrusted with the office of Deputy. On the return of the Duke, in August, 1408, the Earl rode out to meet him, but was suddenly arrested with three other members of his family, and imprisoned in the Castle, His house in Dublin was plundered by the servants of the Lord Lieutenant, and the sum of 300 marks was exacted for his ransom. Such injustice and indignity, as well as the subsequent arrest of the sixth Earl, in 1418, "for having communicated with the Prior of Kilmainham"--still more than their rivalry with the Ormonds, drove the Kildare family into the ranks of the adherents of the Dukes of York. We shall see in the sequel the important reacting influence of these Anglo-Irish combinations upon the fortunes of the white rose and the red.

To signalize his accession and remove the reproach of inaction which had been so often urged against his predecessor, Henry IV, was no sooner seated on the throne than he summoned the military tenants of the Crown to meet him in arms upon the Tyne, for the invasion of Scotland. It seems probable that he summoned those of Ireland with the rest, as we find in that year (1400) that an Anglo-Irish fleet, proceeding northwards from Dublin, encountered a Scottish, fleet in Strangford Lough, where a fierce engagement was fought, both sides claiming the victory. Three years later the Dubliners landed at Saint Ninians, and behaved valiantly, as their train bands did the same summer against the mountain tribes of Wicklow. Notwithstanding the personal sojourn of the unfortunate Richard, and his lavish expenditure among them, these warlike burghers cordially supported the new dynasty. Some privileges of trade were judiciously extended to them, and, in 1407, Henry granted to the Mayors of the city the privilege of having a gilded sword carried before them, in the same manner as the Mayors of London.

At the period when these politic favours were bestowed on the citizens of Dublin, Henry was contending with a formidable insurrection in Wales, under the leadership of Owen Glendower, who had learned in the fastnesses of Idrone, serving under King Richard, how brave men, though not formed to war in the best schools, can defend their country against invasion. In the struggle which he maintained so gallantly during this and the next reign, though the fleet of Dublin at first assisted his enemies, he was materially aided afterwards by the constant occupation furnished them by the clans of Leinster. The early years of the Lancasterian dynasty were marked by a series of almost invariable defeats in the Leinster counties. Art McMurrogh, whose activity defied the chilling effects of age, poured his cohorts through Sculloge gap, on the garrisons of Wexford, taking in rapid possession in one campaign (1406) the castles of Camolin, Ferns, and Enniscorthy. Returning northward he retook Castledermot, and inflicted chastisement on the warlike Abbot of Conal, near Naas, who shortly before attacked some Irish forces on the Curragh of Kildare, slaying two hundred men. Castledermot was retaken by the Lord Deputy Scrope the next year, with the aid of the Earls of Ormond and Desmond, and the Prior of Kilmainham, at the head of his Knights. These allies were fresh from a Parliament in Dublin, where the Statute of Kilkenny had been, according to custom, solemnly re-enacted as the only hope of the English interest, and they naturally drew the sword in maintenance of their palladium. Within six miles of Callan, in "McMurrogh's country," they encountered that chieftain and his clansmen. In the early part of the day the Irish are stated to have had the advantage, but some Methian captains coming up in the afternoon turned the tide in favour of the English. According to the chronicles of the Pale, they won a second victory before nightfall at the town of Callan, over O'Carroll of Ely, who was marching to the aid of McMurrogh. But so confused and unsatisfactory are the accounts of this twofold engagement on the same day, in which the Deputy in person, and such important persons as the Earls of Desmond, of Ormond, and the Prior of Kilmainham commanded, that we cannot reconcile it with probability. The Irish Annals simply record the fact that a battle was gained at Callan over the Irish of Munster, in which O'Carroll was slain. Other native authorities add that 800 of his followers fell with O'Carroll, but no mention whatever is made of the battle with McMurrogh. The English accounts gravely add, that the evening sun stood still, while the Lord Deputy rode six miles, from the place of the first engagement to that of the second. This was the last campaign of Sir Stephen Scrope; he died soon after by the pestilence which swept over the island, sparing neither rich nor poor.

The Duke of Lancaster resumed the Lieutenancy, arrested the Earl of Kildare as before related, convoked a Parliament at Dublin, and with all the forces he could muster, determined on an expedition southwards. But McMurrogh and the mountaineers of Wicklow now felt themselves strong enough to take the initiative. They crossed the plain which lies to the north of Dublin, and encamped at Kilmainham, where Roderick when he besieged the city, and Brien before the battle of Clontarf, had pitched their tents of old. The English and Anglo-Irish forces, under the eye of their Prince, marched out to dislodge them, in four divisions. The first was led by the Duke in person; the second by the veteran knight, Jenico d'Artois, the third by Sir Edward Perrers, an English knight, and the fourth by Sir Thomas Butler, Prior of the Order of Saint John, afterwards created by Henry V., for his distinguished service, Earl of Kilmain. With McMurrogh were O'Byrne, O'Nolan, and other chiefs, besides his sons, nephews, and relatives. The numbers on each side could hardly fall short of ten thousand men, and the action may be fairly considered one of the most decisive of those times. The Duke was carried back wounded into Dublin; the slopes of Inchicore and the valley of the Liffey were strewn with the dying and the dead; the river at that point obtained from the Leinster Irish the name of Athcroe, or the ford of slaughter; the widowed city was filled with lamentation and dismay. In a petition addressed to King Henry by the Council, apparently during his son's confinement from the effects of his wound, they thus describe the Lord Lieutenant's condition: "His soldiers have deserted him; the people of his household are on the point of leaving him; and though they were willing to remain, our lord is not able to keep them together; our said lord, your son, is so destitute of money, that he hath not a penny in the world, nor a penny can he get credit for."

One consequence of this battle of Kilmainham was, that while Art McMurrogh lived, no further attacks were made upon his kindred or country. He died at Ross, on the first day of January, 1417, in the 60th year of his age. His Brehon, O'Doran, having also died suddenly on the same day, it was supposed they were both poisoned by a drink prepared for them by a woman of the town. "He was," say our impartial Four Masters, who seldom speak so warmly of any Leinster Prince, "a man distinguished for his hospitality, knowledge, and feats of arms; a man full of prosperity and royalty; a founder of churches and monasteries by his bounty and contributions," and one who had defended his Province from the age of sixteen to sixty.

On his recovery from the effects of his wound, the Duke of Lancaster returned finally to England, appointing Prior Butler his Deputy, who filled that office for five consecutive years. Butler was an illegitimate son of the late Earl of Ormond, and naturally a Lancasterian: among the Irish he was called Thomas Baccagh, on account of his lameness. He at once abandoned South Leinster as a field of operations, and directed all his efforts to maintain the Pale in Kildare, Meath, and Louth. His chief antagonist in this line of action was Murrogh or Maurice O'Conor, of Offally. This powerful chief had lost two or three sons, but had gamed as many battles over former deputies. He was invariably aided by his connexions and neighbours, the MacGeoghegans of West-Heath. Conjointly they captured the castles and plundered the towns of their enemies, holding their prisoners to ransom or carrying off their flocks. In 1411 O'Conor held to ransom the English Sheriff of Meath, and somewhat later defeated Prior Butler in a pitched battle. His greatest victory was the battle of Killucan, fought on the 10th day of May, 1414. In this engagement MacGeoghegan was, as usual, his comrade. All the power of the English Pale was arrayed against them. Sir Thomas Mereward, Baron of Screen, "and a great many officers and common soldiers were slain," and among the prisoners were Christopher Fleming, son of the Baron of Slane, for whom a ransom of 1,400 marks was paid, and the ubiquitous Sir Jenico d'Artois, who, with some others, paid "twelve hundred marks, beside a reward and fine for intercession." A Parliament which sat at Dublin for thirteen weeks, in 1413, and a foray into Wicklow, complete the notable acts of Thomas Baccagh's viceroyalty. Soon after the accession of Henry V. (1413), he was summoned to accompany that warlike monarch into France, and for a short interval the government was exercised by Sir John Stanley, who died shortly after his arrival, and by the Archbishop of Dublin, as Commissioner. On the eve of St. Martin's Day, 1414, Sir John Talbot, afterwards so celebrated as first Earl of Shrewsbury, landed at Dalkey, with the title of Lord Lieutenant.

The appointment of this celebrated Captain, on the brink of a war with France, was an admission of the desperate strait to which the English interest had been reduced. And if the end could ever justify the means, Henry V., from his point of view, might have defended on that ground the appointment of this inexorable soldier. Adopting the system of Sir Thomas Butler, Talbot paid little or no attention to South Leinster, but aimed in the first place to preserve to his sovereign, Louth and Meath. His most southern point of operation, in his first Lieutenancy, was Leix, but his continuous efforts were directed against the O'Conors of Offally and the O'Hanlons and McMahons of Oriel. For three succeeding years he made circuits through these tribes, generally by the same route, west and north, plundering chiefs and churches, sparing "neither saint nor sanctuary." On his return to Dublin after these forays, he exacted with a high hand whatever he wanted for his household. When he returned to England, 1419, he carried along with him, according to the chronicles of the Pale--"the curses of many, because he, being run much in debt for victuals, and divers other things, would pay little or nothing at all." Among the natives he left a still worse reputation. The plunder of a bard was regarded by them as worse, if possible, than the spoliation of a sanctuary. One of Talbot's immediate predecessors was reputed to have died of the malediction of a bard of West-Meath, whose property he had appropriated; but as if to show his contempt of such superstition, Talbot suffered no son of song to escape him. Their satires fell powerless on his path. Not only did he enrich himself, by means lawful and unlawful, but he created interest, which, a few years afterwards, was able to checkmate the Desmonds and Ormonds. The see of Dublin falling vacant during his administration, he procured the appointment of his brother Richard as Archbishop, and left him, at his departure, in temporary possession of the office of Lord Deputy. Branches of his family were planted at Malahide, Belgarde, and Talbotstown, in Wicklow, the representatives of which survive till this day.

One of this Lieutenant's most acceptable offices to the State was the result of stratagem rather than of arms. The celebrated Art McMurrogh was succeeded, in 1417, by his son, Donogh, who seems to have inherited his valour, without his prudence. In 1419, in common with the O'Conor of Offally, his father's friend, he was entrapped into the custody of Talbot. O'Conor, the night of his capture, escaped with his companions, and kept up the war until his death: McMurrogh was carried to London and confined in the Tower. Here he languished for nine weary years. At length, in 1428, Talbot, having "got license to make the best of him," held him to ransom. The people of his own province released him, "which was joyful news to the Irish."

But neither the aggrandizement of new nor the depression of old families effected any cardinal change in the direction of events. We have traced for half a century, and are still farther to follow out, the natural consequences of the odious Statute of Kilkenny. Although every successive Parliament of the Pale recited and re-enacted that statute, every year saw it dispensed in particular cases, both as to trading, intermarriage, and fostering with the natives. Yet the virus of national proscription outlived all the experience of its futility. In 1417, an English petition was presented to the English Parliament, praying that the law, excluding Irish ecclesiastics from Irish benefices, should be strictly enforced; and the same year they prohibited the influx of fugitives from Ireland, while the Pale Parliament passed a corresponding act against allowing any one to emigrate without special license. At a Parliament held at Dublin in 1421, O'Hedian, Archbishop of Cashel, was impeached by Gese, Bishop of Waterford, the main charges being that he loved none of the English nation; that he presented no Englishman to a living; and that he designed to make himself King of Minister. This zealous assembly also adopted a petition of grievances to the King, praying that as the Irish, who had done homage to King Richard, "had long since taken arms against the government notwithstanding their recognizances payable in the Apostolic chamber, his Highness the King would lay their conduct before the Pope, and prevail on the Holy Father to publish a crusade against them, to follow up the intention of his predecessor's grant to Henry II.!"

In the temporal order, as we have seen, the policy of hatred brought its own punishment. "The Pale," which may be said to date from the passing of the Statute of Kilkenny (1367), was already abridged more than one-half. The Parliament of Kilkenny had defined it as embracing "Louth, Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Catherlough, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, and Tipperary," each governed by Seneschals or Sheriffs. In 1422 Dunlavan and Ballymore are mentioned as the chief keys of Dublin and Kildare --and in the succeeding reign Callan in Oriel is set down as the chief key of that part. Dikes to keep out the enemy were made from Tallaght to Tassagard, at Rathconnell in Meath, and at other places in Meath and Kildare. These narrower limits it long retained, and the usual phrase in all future legislation by which the assemblies of the Anglo-Irish define their jurisdiction is "the four shires." So completely was this enclosure isolated from the rest of the country that, in the reign at which we have now arrived, both the Earls of Desmond and Ormond were exempted from attending certain sittings of Parliament, and the Privy Council, on the ground that they could not do so without marching through the enemy's country at great risk and inconvenience. It is true occasional successes attended the military enterprises of the Anglo-Irish, even in these days of their lowest fortunes. But they had chosen to adopt a narrow, bigoted, unsocial policy; a policy of exclusive dealing and perpetual estrangement from their neighbours dwelling on the same soil, and they had their reward. Their borders were narrowed upon them; they were penned up in one corner of the kingdom, out of which they could not venture a league without license and protection, from the free clansmen they insincerely affected to despise.

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.