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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 8541

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Richard the Second's reign is a more definite epoch for the Irish historian than many more striking ones, for the simple reason of two visits having been paid by him to Ireland. The first of these was in 1394, when he landed at Waterford with 30,000 archers and 40,000 men at arms, an immense army for that age, and for Ireland it was held an irresistible one.

It was certainly high time for some steps to be taken. In all directions the interests of the colonists were going to the wall. Not only in Ulster, Minister, and Connaught, but even in the East of Ireland, the natives were fast repossessing themselves of all the lands from which they had been driven. A great chieftain, Art McMurrough, had made himself master of the greater part of Leinster, and only by a humiliating use of "Black Rent," could he be kept at bay. The towns were in a miserable state; Limerick, Cork, Waterford had all again and again been attacked, and could with difficulty defend themselves. The Wicklow tribes swarmed down to the very walls of Dublin, and carried the cattle off from under the noses of the citizens. The judges' rounds were getting yearly shorter and shorter. The very deputy could hardly ride half-a-dozen miles from the castle gates without danger of being set upon, captured, and carried off for ransom.

Richard flattered himself that he had only to appear to conquer. He was keen to achieve some military glory, and Ireland seemed an easy field to win it upon. Like many another before and after him, he found the task harder than it seemed. The great chiefs came in readily enough; O'Connors, O'Briens, O'Neills, even the turbulent McMurrough himself, some seventy-five of them in all. The king entertained them sumptuously, as Henry II. had entertained their ancestors two centuries before. They engaged to be loyal, and to answer for the loyalty of their dependants--with some mental reservations we must conclude. In return for this submission the king knighted the four chiefs just named, a somewhat incongruous piece of courtesy it must be owned. Shortly after his knighthood, Art McMurrough, "Sir Art," was thrown into prison on suspicion. He was released before long, but the release failed to wipe out the affront, and the angry chief retired, nursing fierce vengeance, to his forests.

Richard remained in Ireland nine months, during which he achieved nothing, and departed leaving the government in the hands of his heir-presumptive, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and, therefore, in right of his mother, Earl of Ulster, and the nominal owner of an immense territory, covering nearly a third of the island, barely one acre of which, however, remained in his hands.

The king had not been gone long before Art McMurrough rose again. The young deputy was in Wicklow, endeavouring to carry out a projected colony. Hearing of this outbreak, he hastened into Meath. An encounter took place near Kells. Art McMurrough, at the head of his own men, aided by some wild levies of O'Tooles and O'Nolans, completely defeated the royal army, and after the battle the heir of the English Crown was found amongst the slain.

This Art McMurrough, or Art Kavangh, as he is sometimes called, was a man of very much more formidable stamp than most of the nameless freebooters, native or Norman, who filled the country. His fashion of making his onset seems to have been tremendous. Under him the wild horsemen and "naked knaves," armed only with skeans and darts, sent terror into the breast of their armour-clad antagonists. One of the few early illustrations of Irish history extant represents him as charging at breakneck pace down a hill. We are told that "he rode a horse without a saddle or housing, which was so fine and good that it cost him four hundred cows. In coming down the hill it galloped so hard that in my opinion," says a contemporary writer, "I never in all my life saw hare, deer, sheep, or other animal, I declare to you for a certainty, run with such speed. In his right hand he bore a great dart, which he cast with much skill[6]." No wonder that such a rider, upon such a horse, should have struck terror into the very souls of the colonists, and induced them to comply with any demands, however

rapacious and humiliating, rather than have to meet him face to face in the field.

[6] "Metrical History of the Deposition of Richard II."

The news of McMurrough's victory and of the death of his heir brought Richard back again to Ireland. He returned in hot wrath resolved this time to crush the delinquents. At home everything seemed safe. John of Gaunt was recently dead; Henry of Lancaster still in exile; the Percys had been driven over the border into Scotland. All his enemies seemed to be crushed or extinguished. With an army nearly as large as before, and with vast supplies of stores and arms, he landed at Waterford in 1399.

This time Art McMurrough quietly awaited his coming in a wood not far from the landing-place. He had only 3,000 men about him, so prudently declined to be drawn from that safe retreat of the assailed. The king and his army sat down on the outskirts of the wood. It was July, but the weather was desperately wet. The ground was in a swamp, the rain incessant; there was nothing but green oats for the horses. The whole army suffered from damp and exposure. Some labourers were hastily collected, and an attempt made to cut down the wood. This, too, as might be expected, proved a failure, and Richard, in disgust and vexation, broke up his camp, and with great difficulty, dragging his unwieldy army after him, fell back upon Dublin.

The Leinster chief was not slow to avail himself of the situation. He now took a high hand, and demanded to be put in possession of certain lands he claimed through his wife, as well as to retain his chieftaincy. A treaty was set on foot, varied by the despatch of a flying column to scour his country. In the middle of the negotiation startling news arrived. Henry of Lancaster had landed at Ravenspur, and all England was in arms. The king set off to return, but bad weather and misleading counsel kept him another sixteen days on Irish soil. It was a fatal sixteen days. When he reached Milford Haven it was to find the roads blocked, and to be met by the news that all was lost. The army of Welshmen, gathered by Salisbury, had dispersed, finding that the king did not arrive. His own army of 30,000 men caught the panic, and melted equally rapidly. He tried to negotiate with his cousin, but too late. At Chester he fell into the hands of the victor, and, within a few weeks after leaving Ireland, had passed to a prison, and from there to a grave. He was the last English king to set foot upon its soil until nearly exactly three centuries later, when two rivals met to try conclusions upon the same blood-stained arena.

From this out matters grew from bad to worse. Little or no attempt was made to enforce the law save within the ever-narrowing boundary of what about this time came to be known as the Pale. Outside, Ireland grew to be more and more the Ireland of the natives. Art McMurrough ruled over his own country triumphantly till his death, and levied tribute right and left with even-handed impartiality upon his neighbours. "Black Rent," indeed, began to take the form of a regularly recognized tribute; O'Neill receiving £40 a year from the county of Louth, O'Connor of Offaly, £60 from the county of Meath, and others in like proportion. In despair of any assistance from England some of the colonists formed themselves into a fraternity which they called the "Brotherhood of St. George," consisting of some thirteen gentlemen of the Pale with a hundred archers and a handful of horsemen under them.

The Irish Government continued to pass Act after Act, each more and more ferocious as it became more and more ineffective. Colonists were now empowered to take and behead any natives whom they found marauding, or whom they even suspected of any such intention. All friendly dealing with natives was to be punished as felony. All who failed to shave their upper lip at least once a fortnight were to be imprisoned and their goods seized. Englishmen who married Irish women were to be accounted guilty of high treason, and hung, drawn, and quartered at the convenience of the viceroy. Such feeble ferocity tells its own tale. Like some angry shrew the unhappy executive was getting louder and shriller the less its denunciations were attended to.

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