Previous page Page 3 of 7 Next page
Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
To the 9th century AD
9th - 11th century
12th - 15th century
     Norman incursions
     Henry II in Ireland
     English government
     Edward Bruce, king of Ireland
     The three great earls

16th - 17th century
18th century
19th century
To 1922

Bookmark and Share
Norman incursions: 1169-1170

Norman adventurers from south Wales, hungry for land, invade Ireland in 1169 and seize Wexford from the Vikings. Many of them are vassals of the earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow. A request to him for help, from a dispossessed Irish ruler in Leinster, provides the occasion to cross the sea in force.

In 1170 Strongbow himself lands and captures Waterford. Before the end of the year the Normans are in Dublin, which has been the capital of a Viking kingdom for the past three centuries. But the Irish, rid of one powerful set of intruders, have merely acquired another. The success of the Normans is followed, in 1171, by the arrival of their king.


Henry II in Ireland: 1171-1172

Henry II lands in Ireland in October 1171 with a large army. His immediate purpose is to ensure that the Norman adventurers, who have conquered much of the east of the island during the previous year, submit their gains to him rather than establishing independent kingdoms.

It is possible that Henry also claims a more idealistic purpose. A contemporary chronicler, Giraldus Cambrensis (a cousin of several of the Norman adventurers from south Wales), writes that in about 1155 the pope granted Henry authority over Ireland so that he could reform the Irish church. The pope, appropriately, is Adrian IV - the only Englishman to have held the see of Rome.


The story of the papal grant of Ireland to the English king may well be a subsequent attempt to justify the invasion, but nearly all the great lords of the island, Irish as well as Norman, do homage to Henry - without force or compulsion - when he holds court in Dublin and elsewhere. This suggests that they recognize some lawful basis for his presence.

Henry spends only seven months in Ireland. During that time he sets up a feudal system of government for the island, just as his Norman ancestor William had done in the previous century after the invasion of England.


The authority of the English crown in Ireland is formally established, but it is little more than nominal. The more important reality on the ground is that there are now powerful Norman families in Ireland, with large holdings of land, who consider the island their rightful home.

Rivalry and warfare is inevitable between these families and the indigenous Gaelic (or Celtic) chieftains. But with the passage of time the two groups mingle and intermarry, weakening the link between the settlers and their origins in Anglo-Norman England. These first settlers become known as the Anglo-Irish (also sometimes called the Old English), by contrast with later immigrants who retain a close link with England.


English government: 1210-1300

In 1210 Ireland receives its second visit from an English monarch. John comes to Dublin and attempts to set up a permanent government structure on English lines. Dublin acquires during the 13th century its own exchequer and chancery. At the end of the century, in 1297, the first Irish parliament is summoned. In the manner of England's recent Model Parliament, knights from the shires and common clergy are included in addition to noblemen, bishops and abbots. In a parliament three years later there are also representatives from the towns.

But English rule remains fragile, as is shown by the Celtic uprising of 1315.


Edward Bruce, king of Ireland: 1315-1318

The great Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314 prompts hopes of a similar Celtic success against the English in Ireland. Chieftains in northern Ireland offer the Irish crown to Edward Bruce, younger brother of Robert the Bruce. Such a scheme appeals to Robert (now King Robert I of Scotland), perhaps on two grounds - certainly on the basis that it will further harass the English, and possibly because he hopes that a potential rival, his brother, will find a kingdom of his own outside Scotland.

With an army of some 6000 Scots, Edward Bruce lands in Ireland in 1315.


All the Irish and a considerable number of Anglo-Irish rally to his cause. Early successes include the capture of the castle at Carrickfergus, where he makes his base. In 1316 Edward is crowned king at Dundalk - well on the way south towards the English capital in Dublin.

During 1317 his elder brother Robert arrives with reinforcements from Scotland. The Bruces campaign successfully through the west and south of Ireland. But they fail to capture Dublin. The uprising ends in 1318 when Edward Bruce is killed in a battle near Dundalk.


The three great earls: 14th - 15th century

The long-term result of the Celtic campaign of 1315-18 is a strengthening of three great Anglo-Irish families. The English crown creates three earldoms in response to the Irish unrest. One branch of the FitzGerald family is granted the earldom of Kildare in 1316; another FitzGerald line is given the earldom of Desmond in 1329; and a member of the Butler family becomes earl of Ormonde in 1328.

By the 15th century the earls of Kildare, Desmond and Ormonde control between them almost the whole of southern Ireland. The exception is the area immediately round Dublin, known as the pale, where English rule prevails under the lord deputy, a representative of the king.


However, since the post of lord deputy is frequently held by one of the three great earls (most often Kildare), the influence of the Anglo-Irish is paramount in Dublin almost as much as elsewhere in southern Ireland.

By contrast in Ulster, where the uprising of 1315 began, the old Celtic traditions remain strong. The province is an almost permanent battleground between two great dynasties, the O'Neills and the O'Donnells, both descended from Ireland's first historical king, Niall of the Nine Hostages.


Previous page Page 3 of 7 Next page
Up to top of page HISTORY OF IRELAND