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Ousted King Dermot invited the Normans

By Peter Beresford

In the late autumn of AD 1175 the scribe making an entry into the Annals of Clonmacnoise thought that he had good news to report to the people of Ireland.

“Cadhla Ó Dubhtaigh returned out of England from Henry FitzEmpress (Henry II), having obtained the peace of Ireland and the kingship of the same over both Foreigners and the Irish for Ruadrí Ó Conchobhair, and his kingdom and all provincial kings making tribute to Ruadrí as High King of Ireland.”

The scribe, who had taken over the task of keeping the annals up to date from Abbot Tighernach (c. 1020-1088), was either misinformed or was putting the best and most optimistic light on a bad situation.

It had been in 1169 when Norman adventures, at the invitation of the ousted King Dermot MacMorrough of Leinster, came to Ireland in order to put him back on the throne of his provincial kingdom.

Their leader, Richard FitzGilbert de Clare (nicknamed Strongbow) had married Dermot’s eldest daughter Aoife and thought this made him heir to Dermot’s kingdom. But the Irish law of succession did not allow for primogeniture. Kings had to be elected. Then in 1172 Henry II of the Angevin Empire came hot foot to Ireland in case Strongbow carved out an independent kingdom that might challenge his empire.

Although the High King, Ruadrí had managed to gain a few victories against the Normans, Ruadrí realised that he did not have the means to sustain a protracted campaign against the well-armed, centrally organised forces of the Normans. So he opened negotiations with Mylor FitzHenry, Henry II’s chief representative among the Normans in Ireland.

In 1175 Ruadrí appointed plenipotentiaries to go to meet Henry II who was ruler of the Angevin Empire with its capital at Anjou in Normandy. It is sometimes forgotten that England was then only a conquered province of that empire. Henry was neither born nor died in England and spent little time there. However, he agreed to meet the Irish negotiators at one of his castles in England — Windsor.

The Irish were led by Master Lawrence, described as the “Chancellor of the King of Connacht”. It is interesting that Lorcán, this was his Irish name, Chief Brehon to King Ruadrí, has been mistakenly identified as another Lorcán who also accompanied the Irish contingent. This other Lorcán was the Archbishop of Dublin (known today as St. Lawrence O’Toole). It is apparent in the text of the Treaty that they were two different people.

Archbishop Lawrence (c.1128-1180) was the son of The Ó Tuathail of Leinster. He signs the Treaty merely as a witness where it is clearly stated that he is “Archbishop”. The name of “Master Lawrence, Chancellor of the King of Connacht” appears as heading the negotiators at the top of the document.

His name appears with his fellow negotiators who are Cadhla Ó Dubhtaigh, the Archbishop of Tuam, and Cantordis, Abbot of Clonfert. Archbishop Cadhla is recognised as the senior ecclesiastic negotiator present who brings back “the peace” for Ireland.

Did the Treaty of Windsor, signed by the parties in the octaves of Michelmas (October 6) 1175, give peace to Ireland and recognise Ruadrí as remaining High King? The answer is no.

In fact, under the native Irish law system of the kingly successions, Ruadrí could not legally surrender his kingdom as High King. He had to abdicate his office and nowhere in the treaty is he referred to as High King. He is called King of Connacht, which royal line he came from before his appointment as High King. Ruadrí had been High King with much opposition among the other provincial kings.

The last native claimant of the High Kingship was from the Ulster kingdom, Brían Ó Néill. He became King of Ulster in 1241 and at a meeting of the Irish kings was elected High King of Ireland in 1258. He was killed in 1260 at the Battle of Downpatrick and his head was sent to London to be exhibited.

What the Treaty basically agreed was that the Ruadrí could remain as King of Connacht and King of any Irish territory over which he could exert authority that had not been conquered by the Normans. This was on condition that he pay feudal dues to Henry II who would now become Lord of Ireland and Ireland became part of the Angevin Empire.

Henry II, in his turn, had to pay feudal dues to the Pope who had encouraged and approved his conquest of Ireland. He had to pay a penny for every house in Ireland to the Papal coffers. This payment continued until May 15, 1213, when Pope Innocent III increased the annual tribute to 300 marks.

As for bringing peace in Ireland, more and more Norman adventurers arrived and began to carve out their own territories with sword and fire. The borders of the Irish provincial kingdoms were pressed back as the Kings fought to defend their territories. However, these Normans soon adopted the Irish language, Irish law and social customs.

Initially, the Irish people greeted The Treaty of 1175 with dismay and anger. Even in his own kingdom Ruadri found great opposition. He clung to power for 11 more years but, in 1186, was forced to abdicate as King of Connacht. He entered the monastery of Cong where he died in 1198.

One of his sons, Conor Moin, became King for three years and managed to inflict a major defeat on John de Courcy, the Angevin Viceroy. But in 1189 Conor was assassinated and after some period of instability, Ruadrí’s half-brother, Cathal Crobhderg (Cathal of the Wine Red Hand) was inaugurated as king at the traditional site of Carnfree. His reign was to last 23 years and he did much to stabilise the kingdom.

For almost 400 years, until 1541, the Irish kingdoms survived, if not with the same territories as they had in 1175 but with the same dynasties, laws and social structures. The Angevin Empire had vanished, England had asserted its independence and French was no longer the language of its ruling and middle classes.

Henry VIII not only broke with Rome but also announced that his title would be King of Ireland and no longer suzerain Lord of Ireland. He demanded the surrender of the titles and lands of the native Irish kings and their nobility. Should they surrender, they would be given English titles, agree to adopt the English language and English law.

The year 1541 saw the start of the real conquest of the Irish nation.


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