The Ard-Righ Roderick, during the period of Henry the Second's stay in Ireland, had continued west of the Shannon. Unsupported by his suffragans, many of whom made peace with the invader, he attempted no military operation, nor had Henry time sufficient to follow him into his strongholds. It was reserved for this ill-fated, and, we cannot but think, harshly judged monarch, to outlive the first generation of the invaders of his country, and to close a reign which promised so brightly at the beginning, in the midst of a distracted, war-spent people, having preserved through all vicissitudes the title of sovereign, but little else that was of value to himself or others.
Among the guests who partook of the Christmas cheer of King Henry at Dublin, we find mention of Tiernan O'Ruarc, the lord of Breffni and East-Meath. For the Methian addition to his possessions, Tiernan was indebted to his early alliance with Roderick, and the success of their joint arms. Anciently the east of Meath had been divided between the four families called "the four tribes of Tara," whose names are now anglicized O'Hart, O'Kelly, O'Connelly, and O'Regan. Whether to balance the power of the great West-Meath family of O'Melaghlin, or because these minor tribes were unable to defend themselves successfully, Roderick, like his father, had partitioned Meath, and given the seaward side a new master in the person of O'Ruarc. The investiture of Hugh de Lacy by King Henry with the seignory of the same district, led to a tragedy, the first of its kind in our annals, but destined to be the prototype of an almost indefinite series, in which the gainers were sometimes natives, but much oftener Normans.
O'Ruarc gave de Lacy an appointment at the hill of Ward, near Athboy, in the year 1173, in order to adjust their conflicting claims upon East-Meath. Both parties naturally guarded against surprise, by having in readiness a troop of armed retainers. The principals met apart on the summit of the hill, amid the circumvallations of its ancient fort; a single unarmed interpreter only was present. An altercation having arisen, between them, O'Ruarc lost his temper, and raised the battle-axe, which all our warriors carried in those days, as the gentlemen of the last century did their swords; this was the signal for both troops of guards to march towards the spot. De Lacy, in attempting to fly, had been twice felled to the earth, when his followers, under Maurice Fitzgerald and Griffith, his nephew, came to his rescue, and assailed the chief of Breffni. It was now Tiernan's turn to attempt escaping, but as he mounted his horse the spear of Griffith brought him to the earth mortally wounded, and his followers fled. His head was carried in triumph to Dublin, where it was spiked over the northern gate, and his body was gibbeted on the northern wall, with the feet uppermost. Thus, a spectacle of intense pity to the Irish, did these severed members of one of their most famous nobles remain exposed on that side of the stronghold of the stranger which looks towards the pleasant plains of Meath and the verdant uplands of Cavan.
The administration of de Lacy was now interrupted by a summons to join his royal master, sore beset by his own sons in Normandy. The Kings of France and Scotland were in alliance with those unnatural Princes, and their mother, Queen Eleanor, might he called the author of their rebellion. As all the force that could be spared from Ireland was needed for the preservation of Normandy, de Lacy hastened to obey the royal summons, and Earl Richard, by virtue of his rank of Marshal, took for the moment the command in chief. Henry, however, who never cordially forgave that adventurer, first required his presence in France, and when alarmed by ill news from Ireland, he sent him back to defend the conquests already made, he associated with him in the supreme command--though not apparently in the civil administration--the gallant Raymond le gros. And it was full time for the best head and the bravest sword among the first invaders to return to their work--a task not to be so easily achieved as many confident persons then believed, and as many ill-informed writers have since described it.
During the early rule of de Lacy, Earl Richard had established himself at Ferns, assuming, to such of the Irish as adhered to him, the demeanour of a king. After Dermid's death, he styled himself, in utter disregard of Irish law, "Prince of Leinster," in virtue of his wife. He proceeded to create feudal dignitaries, placing at their head, as Constable of Leinster, Robert de Quincy, to whom he gave his daughter, by his first wife, in marriage. At this point the male representatives of King Dermid came to open rupture with the Earl. Donald Kavanagh, surnamed "the Handsome," and by the Normans usually spoken of as "Prince" Donald, could scarcely be expected to submit to an arrangement, so opposed to all ancient custom, and to his own interests. He had borne a leading part in the restoration of his father, but surely not to this end--the exclusion of the male succession. He had been one of King Henry's guests during the Christmas holidays of the year 1172, and had rendered him some sort of homage, as Prince of Leinster. Henry, ever ready to raise up rivals to Strongbow, seems to have received him into favour, until Eva, the Earl's wife, proved, both in Ireland and England, that Donald and his brother Enna, were born out of wedlock, and that there was no direct male heir of Dermid left, after the execution of Conor, the hostage put to death by King Roderick. To English notions this might have been conclusive against Donald's title, but to the Irish, among whom the electoral principle was the source of all chieftainry, it was not so. A large proportion of the patriotic Leinstermen--what might be called the native party--adhered to Donald Kavanagh, utterly rejecting the title derived through the lady Eva.
Such conflicting interests could only be settled by a resort to force, and the bloody feud began by the Earl executing at Ferns one of Donald's sons, held by him as a hostage. In an expedition against O'Dempsey, who also refused to acknowledge his title, the Earl lost, in the campaign of 1173, his son-in-law, de Quincy, several other knights, and the "banner of Leinster." The following year we read in the Anglo-Irish Annals of Leinster, that King Donald's men, being moved against the Earl's men, made a great slaughter of English. Nor was this the worst defeat he suffered in the same year--1174. Marching into Munster he was encountered in a pitched battle at Thurles by the troops of the monarch Roderick, under command of his son, Conor, surnamed Moinmoy, and by the troops of Thomond, under Donald More O'Brien. With Strongbow were all who could be spared of the garrison of Dublin, including a strong detachment of Danish origin. Four knights and seven hundred (or, according to other accounts, seventeen hundred) men of the Normans were left dead on the field. Strongbow retreated with the remnant of his force to Waterford, but the news of the defeat having reached that city before him, the townspeople ran to arms and put his garrison of two hundred men to the sword. After encamping for a month on an island without the city, and hearing that Kilkenny Castle was taken and razed by O'Brien, he was feign to return to Dublin as best he could.
His fortunes at the close of this campaign, were at their lowest ebb. The loss of de Quincy and the defeat of Thurles had sorely shaken his military reputation. His jealousy of that powerful family connexion, the Geraldines, had driven Maurice Fitzgerald and Raymond the Fat to retire in disgust into Wales. Donald Kavanagh, O'Dempsey, and the native party in Leinster, set him at defiance, and his own troops refused to obey the orders of his uncle Herve, demanding to be led by the more popular and youthful Raymond. To add to his embarrassments, Henry summoned him to France in the very crisis of his troubles, and he dared not disobey that jealous and exacting master. He was, however, not long detained by the English King. Clothed with supreme authority, and with Raymond for his lieutenant, he returned to resume the work of conquest. To conciliate the Geraldines, he at last consented to give his sister Basilia in marriage to the brilliant captain, on whose sword so much depended. At the same time Alina, the widow of de Quincy, was married to the second son of Fitzgerald, and Nesta Fitzgerald was united to Raymond's former rival, Herve. Thus, bound together, fortune returned in full tide to the adventurers. Limerick, which had been taken and burned to the water's edge by Donald O'Brien after the battle of Thurles, was recaptured and fortified anew; Waterford was more strongly garrisoned than ever; Donald Kavanagh was taken off, apparently by treachery (A.D. 1175), and all seemed to promise the enjoyment of uninterrupted power to the Earl. But his end was already come. An ulcer in his foot brought on a long and loathsome illness, which terminated in his death, in the month of May, 1176, or 1177. He was buried in Christ Church, Dublin, which he had contributed to enlarge, and was temporarily succeeded in the government of the Normans by his lieutenant and brother-in-law, Raymond. By the Lady Eva he left one daughter, Isabel, married at the age of fourteen to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who afterwards claimed the proprietary of Leinster, by virtue of this marriage. Lady Isabel left again five daughters, who were the ancestresses of the Mortimers, Braces, and other historic families of England and Scotland. And so the blood of Earl Richard and his Irish Princess descended for many generations to enrich other houses and ennoble other names than his own.
Strongbow is described by Giraldus, whose personal sketches, of the leading invaders form the most valuable part of his book, as less a statesman than a soldier, and more a soldier than a general. His complexion was freckled, his neck slender, his voice feminine and shrill, and his temper equable and uniform. His career in Ireland was limited to seven years in point of time, and his resources were never equal to the task he undertook. Had they been so, or had he not been so jealously counteracted by his suzerain, he might have founded a new Norman dynasty on as solid a basis as William, or as Rollo himself had done.
Raymond and the Geraldines had now, for a brief moment, the supreme power, civil and military, in their own hands. In his haste to take advantage of the Earl's death, of which he had privately been informed by a message from his wife, Raymond left Limerick in the hands of Donald More O'Brien, exacting, we are told, a solemn oath from the Prince of Thomond to protect the city, which the latter broke before the Norman garrisons were out of sight of its walls. This story, like many others of the same age, rests on the uncertain authority of the vain, impetuous and passionate Giraldus. Whether the loss of Limerick discredited him with the king, or the ancient jealousy of the first adventurers prevailed in the royal councils, Henry, on hearing of Strongbow's death, at once despatched as Lord Justice, William Fitz-Aldelm de Burgo, first cousin to Hubert de Burgo, Chief Justiciary of England, and, like Fitz-Aldelm, descended from Arlotta, mother of William the Conqueror, by Harlowen de Burgo, her first husband. From him have descended the noble family of de Burgo, or Burke, so conspicuous in the after annals of our island. In the train of the new Justiciary came John de Courcy, another name destined to become historical, but before relating his achievements, we must conclude the narrative so far as regards the first set of adventurers.
Maurice Fitzgerald, the common ancestor of the Earls of Desmond and Kildare, the Knights of Glyn, of Kerry, and of all the Irish Geraldines, died at Wexford in the year 1177. Raymond the Fat, superseded by Fitz-Aldelm, and looked on coldly by the King, retired to his lands in the same county, and appears only once more in arms--in the year 1182--in aid of his uncle, Robert Fitzstephen. This premier invader had been entrusted by the new ruler with the command of the garrison of Cork, as Milo de Cogan had been with that of Waterford, and both had been invested with equal halves of the principality of Desmond. De Cogan, Ralph, son of Fitzstephen, and other knights had been cut off by surprise, at the house of one McTire, near Lismore, in 1182, and all Desmond was up in arms for the expulsion of the foreign garrisons. Raymond sailed from Wexford to the aid of his uncle, and succeeded in relieving the city from the sea. But Fitzstephen, afflicted with grief for the death of his son, and worn down with many anxieties, suffered the still greater loss of his reason. From thenceforth, we hear no more of either uncle or nephew, and we may therefore account this the last year of Robert Fitzstephen, Milo de Cogan, and Raymond le gros. Herve de Montmorency, the ancient rival of Raymond, had three years earlier retired from the world, to become a brother in the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, at Canterbury. His Irish estates passed to his brother Geoffrey, who subsequently became Justiciary of the Normans in Ireland, the successful rival of the Marshals, and founder of the Irish title of Mountmorres. The posterity of Raymond survived in the noble family of Grace, Barons of Courtstown, in Ossory. It is not, therefore, strictly true, what Geoffrey Keating and the authors he followed have asserted--that the first Normans were punished by the loss of posterity for the crimes and outrages they had committed, in their various expeditions.
Let us be just even to these spoilers of our race. They were fair specimens of the prevailing type of Norman character. Indomitable bravery was not their only virtue. In patience, in policy, and in rising superior to all obstacles and reverses, no group of conquerors ever surpassed Strongbow and his companions. Ties of blood and brotherhood in arms were strong between them, and whatever unfair advantages they allowed themselves to take of their enemy, they were in general constant and devoted in then--friendships towards each other. Rivalries and intrigues were not unknown among them, but generous self-denial, and chivalrous self-reliance were equally as common. If it had been the lot of our ancestors to be effectually conquered, they could hardly have yielded to nobler foes. But as they proved themselves able to resist successfully the prowess of this hitherto invincible race, their honour is augmented in proportion to the energy and genius, both for government and war, brought to bear against them.
Neither should we overstate the charge of impiety. If the invaders broke down and burned churches in the heat of battle, they built better and costlier temples out of the fruits of victory. Christ Church, Dublin, Dunbrody Abbey, on the estuary of Waterford, the Grey Friars' Abbey at Wexford, and other religious houses long stood, or still stand, to show that although the first Norman, like the first Dane, thirsted after spoil, and lusted after land, unlike the Dane, he created, he enriched, he improved, wherever he conquered.