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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 9267

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The jealousy shown by Henry and his sons towards the earliest invaders of Ireland is doubtless the reason why Giraldus--for a courtier and an ecclesiastic upon his promotion--is so remarkably explicit upon their royal failings. The Geraldines especially seem to have been the objects of this not very unnatural jealousy, and the Geraldines are, on the other hand, to Giraldus himself, objects of an almost superstitious worship. His pen never wearies of expatiating upon their valour, fame, beauty, and innumerable graces, laying stress especially--and in this he is certainly borne out by the facts--upon the great advantage which men trained in the Welsh wars, and used all their lives to skirmishing in the lightest order, had over those who had had no previous experience of the very peculiar warfare necessary in Ireland. "Who," he cries with a burst of enthusiasm, "first penetrated into the heart of the enemy's country? The Geraldines! Who have kept it in submission? The Geraldines! Who struck most terror into the enemy? The Geraldines! Against whom are the shafts of malice chiefly directed? The Geraldines! Oh that they had found a prince who could have appreciated their distinguished worth! How tranquil, how peaceful would then have been the state of Ireland under their administration!"

Even their indignant chronicler admits however that the Geraldines did not do so very badly for themselves! Maurice Fitzgerald, the eldest of the brothers, became the ancestor both of the Earls of Kildare and Desmond; William, the younger, obtained an immense grant of land in Kerry from the McCarthys, indeed as time went on the lordship of the Desmond Fitzgeralds grew larger and larger, until it covered nearly as much ground as many a small European kingdom. Nor was this all. The White Knight, the Knight of Glyn, and the Knight of Kerry were all three Fitzgeralds, all descended from the same root, and all owned large tracts of country. The position of the Geraldines of Kildare was even more important, on account of their close proximity to Dublin. In later times their great keep at Maynooth dominated the whole Pale, while their followers swarmed everywhere, each man with a G. embroidered upon his breast in token of his allegiance. By the beginning of the sixteenth century their power had reached to, perhaps, the highest point ever attained in these islands by any subject. Whoever might be called the Viceroy in Ireland it was the Earl of Kildare who practically governed the country.

Originally there were three Palatinates--Leinster granted to Strongbow, Meath to De Lacy, and Ulster to De Courcy. To these two more were afterwards added, namely, Ormond and Desmond. The power of the Lord Palatine was all but absolute. He had his own Palatinate court, with its judges, sheriffs, and coroners. He could build fortified towns, and endow them with charters. He could create as many knights as he thought fit, a privilege of which they seem fully to have availed themselves, since we learn that Richard, Earl of Ulster, created no less than thirty-three upon a single occasion. For all practical purposes the Palatinates were thus simply petty kingdoms or principalities, independent in everything but the name.

Strongbow, the greatest of all the territorial barons, left no son to inherit his estates, only a daughter, who married William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. Through her his estates passed to five heiresses, who married five great nobles, namely, Warrenne, Mountchesny, De Vesci, De Braosa, and Gloucester. Strongbow's Palatinate of Leinster was thus split up into five smaller Palatinates. As none of the new owners moreover chose to live in Ireland, and their revenues were merely drawn away to England, the estates were after awhile very properly declared forfeited, and went to the Crown. Thus the one who of all the adventurers had cherished the largest and most ambitious hopes in the end left no enduring mark at all in Ireland.

Connaught--despite a treaty drawn up between Henry I. and Cathal O'Connor, its native king--was granted by John to William FitzAldelm de Burgh and his son Richard, on much the same terms as Ulster had been already granted to De Courcy, on the understanding, that is to say, that if he could he might win it by the sword. De Courcy failed, but the De Burghs were wilier and more successful. Carefully fostering a strife which shortly after broke out between the two rival princes of the house of O'Connor, and watching from the fortress they had built for themselves at Athlone, upon the Shannon, they seized an opportunity when both combatants were exhausted

to pounce upon the country, and wrest the greater part of it away from their grasp. They also drove away the clan of O'Flaherty--owners from time immemorial of the region known as Moy Seola, to the east of the bay of Galway--and forced them back across Lough Corrib, where they took refuge amongst the mountains of far Connaught, descending continually in later times in fierce hordes, and wreaking their vengeance upon the town of Galway, which had been founded by the De Burghs at the mouth of the river which carries the waters of Lough Corrib to the sea. To this day the whole of this region of Moy Seola and the eastern shores of Lough Corrib may be seen to be thickly peppered over with ruined De Burgh castles, monuments of some four or five centuries of uninterrupted fighting.

At one time the De Burghs were by far the largest landowners in Ireland. Not only did they possess an immense tract of Connaught, but by the marriage of Richard de Burgh's son to Maud, daughter of Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, they became the nominal owners of nearly all Ulster to boot. It never was more, however, than a nominal ownership, the clutch of the O'Neills and O'Donnells being found practically impossible to unloose, so that all the De Burghs could be said to hold were the southern borders of what are now the counties of Down, Monaghan, and Antrim. When, too, William, the third Earl of Ulster, was murdered in 1333, his possessions passed to his daughter and heiress, a child of two years old. A baby girl's inheritance was not likely, as may be imagined, to be regarded at that date as particularly sacred. Ulster was at once retaken by the O'Neills and O'Connels. Two of the Burkes, or De Burghs, Ulick and Edmund, seized Connaught and divided it between them, becoming in due time the ancestors, the one of the Mayos, the other of the Clanricardes.

Another of the great houses was that of the Ormonds, descended from Theobald Walter, a nephew of Thomas à Becket, who was created hereditary cup-bearer or butler to Henry II. Theobald Walter received grants of land in Tipperary and Kilkenny, as well as at Arklow, and in 1391 Kilkenny Castle was sold to his descendant the Earl of Ormond by the heirs of Strongbow. The Ormonds' most marked characteristic is that from the beginning to the end of their career they remained, with hardly an exception, loyal adherents of the English Crown. Their most important representative was the "great duke" as he was called, James, Duke of Ormond, who bore an important part in the civil wars of Charles I., and is perhaps the most distinguished representative of all these great Norman Irish houses, unless indeed one of the greatest names in the whole range of English political history--that of Edmund Burke--is to be added to the list, as perhaps in fairness it ought.

Troublesome as it is to keep these different houses in the memory, it is hopeless to attempt without doing so to understand anything of the history of Ireland. In England where the ruling power was vested first in the sovereign and later in the Parliament, the landowners, however large their possessions, rarely attained to more than a local importance, save of course when one of them chanced to rise to eminence as a soldier or a statesman. In Ireland the parliament, throughout nearly the whole of its separate existence, was little more than a name, irregularly summoned, and until the middle of the sixteenth century, representing only one small corner of the country. The kings never came; the viceroys came and went in a continually changing succession; practically, therefore, the great territorial barons constituted the backbone of the country--so far as it could be said to have had any backbone at all. They made war with the native chiefs, or else made alliances with them and married their daughters. They raided one another's properties, slew one another's kerns, and carried one another away prisoner. Sometimes their independent action went even further than this. The battle of Knocktow, of which we shall hear in due time, arose because the Earl of Kildare's daughter had quarrelled with her husband, the Earl of Clanricarde, and her father chose to espouse her quarrel. Two large armies were collected, nearly all the lords of the Pale and their followers being upon one side, under the banner of Kildare, a vast and undisciplined horde of natives under Clanricarde upon the other, and the slaughter is said to have exceeded 8,000. Parental affection is a very attractive quality, but when it swells to such dimensions as these it becomes formidable for the peace of a country!

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