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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 4679

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Whatever lamentations were uttered on this occasion were certainly not uncalled for, for a greater disaster has rarely befallen any country or people. Were proof wanted--which it hardly is--of that notorious ill-luck which has dogged the history of Ireland from the very beginning, it would be difficult to find a better one than the result of this same famous battle of Clontarf. Here was a really great victory, a victory the reverberation of which rang through the whole Scandinavian world, rejoicing Malcolm of Scotland, who without himself striking a blow, saw his enemies lying scotched at his feet, so scotched in fact, that after the defeat of Clontarf they never again became a serious peril. Yet as regards Ireland itself what was the result? The result was that all those ligaments of order which were beginning slowly to wind themselves round it, were violently snapped and scattered to the four winds. As long as Brian's grasp was over it Ireland was a real kingdom, with limitations it is true, but still with a recognized centre, and steadily growing power of combined and concerted action. At his


(From a Drawing by Miss M. Stokes.)

death the whole body politic was once more broken up, and resolved itself into its old anarchic elements again.

It would have been better far for the country had Brian been defeated, so that he, his son Morrogh, or any capable heir had survived, better for it indeed had he never ruled at all if this was to be end. By his successful usurpation the hereditary principle--always a weak one in Ireland--was broken down. The one chance of a settled central government was thus at an end. Every petty chief and princeling all over the island felt himself capable of emulating the achievements of Brian. It was one of those cases which success and only success justifies. Ireland was pining, as it had always pined, as it continued ever afterwards to pine, for a settled government; for a strong central rule of some sort. The race of Hy-Nial had been titular kings for centuries, but they had never held the sovereignty in anything but name. Pushing their claims aside, and gathering all power into his own hands Brian had acted upon a small stage the part of Charlemagne centuries earlier upon a large one. He had succeeded, and in his success

lay his justification. With his death, however, the whole edifice which he had raised crumbled away, and anarchy poured in after it like a torrent. A struggle set in at once for the sovereignty, which ended by not one of Brian's sons but the deposed King Malachy being set upon the throne. Like his greater rival he was however by this time a very old man. His spirit had been broken, and though the Danes had been too thoroughly beaten to stir, other elements of disorder abounded. Risings broke out in two of the provinces at once, and at his death the confusion became confounded. As a native rhyme runs:

"After Malachy, son of Donald,

Each man ruled his own tribe,

But no man ruled Erin."

Henceforward throughout the rather more than a century and a half which intervened between the battle of Clontarf and the Norman invasion, Ireland remained a helpless waterlogged vessel, with an unruly crew, without rudder or compass, above all, without a captain. The house of O'Brien again pushed its way to the front, but none of Brian's descendants who survived the day of Clontarf seem to have shown a trace even of his capacity. A fierce feud broke out shortly after between Donchad, his son, and Turlough, one of his grandsons, and each successively caught at the helm, but neither succeeding in obtaining the sovereignty of the entire island. After the last-named followed Murhertach also of the Dalcassian house, at whose death the rule once more swung round to the house of Hy-Nial and Donald O'Lochlin reigned nominally until his death in 1121. Next the O'Connors, of Connaught, took a turn at the sovereignty, and seized possession of Cashel which since its capture by Brian Boroimhe had been the exclusive appanage of the Dalcassians. Another O'Lochlin, of the house of O'Neill, then appears prominently in the fray, and by 1156, seems to have succeeded in seizing the over-lordship of the island, and so the tale goes on--a wearisome one, unrelieved by even a transitory gleam of order or prosperity. At last it becomes almost a relief when we reach the name of Roderick O'Connor, and know that before his death fresh actors will have entered upon the scene, and that the confused and baffling history of Ireland will, at all events, have entered upon a perfectly new stage.


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