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The Norman Invasion of Ireland

The Normans were descended from Vikings who had been granted a large province in northern France in the 900's, on condition that they ceased to raid the rest of the country, this area came to be known as Normandy. In 1066, its ruler, William Duke of Normandy, claimed the throne of England, he crossed the English Channel  with a large army, and won a decisive victory at Hastings.

The previous year 1065 Harold Godwinson succeeded Edward the Confessor to the throne of England, Harold's brother Tostig, Duke of Northumberland desired the throne for himself, he mounted an unsuccessful insurrection against Harold which led to his banishment.

Tostig made his way to Norway and enlisted the help of the Norwegian King Harold Hardrada, a  fleet of some three hundred ships were assembled. Setting sail for England they landed on the coast of Northumbria where they won some small skirmishes. They were met at Stamford bridge near York on 25th September by the main body of Harold's army which inflicted a crushing defeat on the invaders, both Tostig and Hardrada being killed. The magnitude of the defeat is indicated in the fact that of the original three hundred ships only twenty four made the return journey to Norway.

Two days later on the 27th William Duke of Normandy set sail for England with his army, they managed to evade the English fleet in the channel, landing at Pevnsy on the 28th September.

Harold learned of William's invasion on 1st of October, on the 3rd he and his army embarked on an eight day forced march south. The two army's meeting at Hastings on the 14th the battle that ensued cost Harold his country and his life, it is said shot in the eye by a arrow.

In 1169, a party of Normans under Fitzstephen landed in Bannow Bay, on the south east coast of Ireland. In 1170, Strongbow brought his forces ashore near Waterford and captured the town, shortly after the battle he married Eva MacMurrough, the first part of the agreement had been kept. The second part soon followed. After the Normans had captured Dublin, MacMurrough fell ill with a mysterious illness he died some time later. Strongbow assumed the title king of Leinster, and he other Norman barons began to seize territorie

Henry II was alarmed by these events; he had no intention of allowing any of his subjects to set up independent kingdoms in Ireland. In 1171, he crossed to Ireland to assert his authority over Strongbow and to find out whether he could repeat the rather easy successes his barons had already achieved. The Normans submitted to him at once, as did many Irish kings and princes. The Irish may have believed that, if they recognized Henry as their overlord, he would protect their property. They were to be disappointed. Henry confirmed Strongbow in his possession of Leinster. He made Hugh de Lacy his Justiciar (viceroy) and granted him the kingdom of Meath.

After Henry II returned to England, the Normans continued to seize the lands of the Irish princes. In the Centre's of Ireland, the territories under Norman rule stretched from Dublin across the central plain. The De Lacy's held lands in Meath and Westmeath and the De Burghs controlled large areas of Connacht. In the south west, the Fitzgerald's held lands in Leinster and on the south bank of the Shannon estuary, and the Butlers controlled territories in East Munster. In the north, John de Courcy seized the old kingdom of Ulster and ruled an area east of the Bann, from Fair Head to Carlingford Lough.

Prince John.

On the 24th April 1185 Prince of England (Son of Henry II) landed in Waterford with 300 Knights and a large number of men at arms, intent on curbing the power of his Barons. Upon his arrival the Irish chief in the area came to welcome and pay homage to him, .John appears to have derided his Irish subjects, it is said that their beards were rudely pulled in reticule, by the clean shaven members of John's retinue. The ever proud and sensitive Irish withdrew and took their grievances to the Kings in the west and south of Ireland, with the result that John's visit to Ireland was a disastrous failure and he returned to England on 17th December.

John de Courcy.

John de Courcy was born in Somerset he was tall and slim with fair hair, in battle he led from the front. Life to de Courcy was perpetual warfare The years between 1197 and 1199 were spent  in unending conflict with the Irish and building castles to keep them in check. De Courcy became embittered in 1197 when his brother Jordan was killed by an Irishman of his household. He avenged his brother’s death on some petty chief's and gave large tracts of their land to a Scotsman named Duncan Galloway who aided him. There appears to have been a Scottish settlement near Coleraine where large grants of land were given to the Scots of Galloway. Other families established in Ulster by de Courcy were the Savages, White, Chamberlain, Riddell, Jordan, Manderville, Stokes, Staunton, Russell, Logan, Martell, Copeland, Fitzsimons, Bensons and Crowley.

De Courcy's rule in Ulster seems to have aroused envy in Hugh de Lacy, who appears to have misrepresented De Courcy to King John as destroying the Kings land in Ireland, at this time De Courcy was minting his own coinage, so possibly he had designs on an independent Kingdom, which King John had no intention of allowing.

The Battle of Downpatrick

In 1201 De Courcy was arrested by De Lacy but was released when his followers agreed not to Plunder De Lacy lands in future. Two years later De Lacy came north again and defeated him in a battle at Downpatrick, banishing him from Ulster. On 31st August 1204 De Courcy was summoned to appear before King John, "as he had sworn and given hostages to do", in default his lands were to be confiscated. De Lacy returned north again and after a struggle took De Courcy prisoner. He was again set free on condition that he went to the holy land. Again he did not comply. The King's patience exhausted, on the 29th May 1205 he granted to Hugh de Lacy all the lands of Ulster, to hold to the King in fee, and created De Lacy Earl of Ulster.

John landed at Waterford on 20th June 1210 he was joined by Justiciar, John de Gray, bishop of Norwich and a body of Irish troops. One of the reasons that King John came to Ireland (was to suppress the power of the lord of Breton, William de Breos, Hugh de Lacy's father in-law).Because after the battle of Mireabeau in 1102 and the capture of his nephew Arthur of Brittany, who as the son of his brother Geoffrey was the only other claimant to the English throne. After the battle Arthur had been placed in the custody of de Breos, and after his disappearance there was much speculation about his death, many believed at the hands of King John personally; as de Breos, who knew the truth about Arthur’s disappearance and had used this to overreached himself in the kings eyes, leading John to curtail his power.

With the King was De Courcy who seems to have ingratiated himself to John, they pursued De Lacy northwards and were at Dundalk on the 8th July, where they were joined by 400 soldiers who had deserted De Lacy. De Lacy's men destroyed and set fire to their castle's in the county, De Lacy fled to Carrickfergus. The King took the De Lacy castle at Carlingford. De Lacy appears to have came south to Dundrum castle then known as the castle of Rath, when John's army approached he fearing having his retreat path cut returned to Carrickfergus his strongest castle, De Lacy did not await John's arrival and took boat to Scotland. The castle surrendered some thirty Knights being taken prisoner. The king stayed in Carrick from the 19th to 28th July

The above text is take from The History of Ulster by Ramsey Colles LLD MRIA F.R. Hist.S

By around the 1300 the Normans controlled most of the country. But they did not succeed in conquering Ireland as they had conquered England. Ireland had no central government which they could take control of. The Normans were not a united group.

The various barons vied with each other to enrich themselves and fought not only with the Irish but among themselves. This continuous warfare gradually reduced their strength, and they were not replaced by fresh settlers.

Those in remote areas of the country began to adopt the language and customs of their Irish neighbours. Some Norman families adopted Irish name forms. The De Burgh family took the name Burke; the Barry family, MacAdam; and the Staunton family, McEvilly.