More Irish than the Irish themselves

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


BUT a new danger arose to the English power. It was not alone fresh armies and a constant stream of subsidies that England found it necessary to be pouring into Ireland, to insure the retention of the Anglo-Norman Colony. Something more became requisite now.

It was found that a constant stream of fresh colonization from England, a frequent change of governors, nay, further, the most severe repressive laws, could alone keep the colony English in spirit, in interest, in language, laws, manners, and customs.

The descendants of the early Anglo-Norman settlers—gentle and simple, lord and burgher—were becoming thoroughly Hibernicized.

Notwithstanding the ceaseless warfare waged between the Norman lords and the Irish chiefs, it was found that the former were becoming absorbed into or fused with the native element.

The middle of the fourteenth century found the Irish language and Brehon law, native Irish manners, habits and customs, almost universally prevalent among the Anglo-Normans in Ireland; while marriage and “fosterage”—that most sacred domestic tie in Gaelic estimation—were becoming quite frequent between the noble families of each race.

In fact the great lords and nobles of the Colony became chieftains, and their families and following, Septs.

Like the Irish chiefs, whom they imitated in most things, they fought against each other or against some native chief, or sided with either of them, if choice so determined.

Each earl or baron among them kept his bard and his brehon, like any native prince; and, in several instances, they began to drop their Anglo-Norman names and take Irish ones instead.

It needed little penetration on the part of the king and his council in London to discern in this state of things a peril far and away more formidable than any the English power had yet encountered in Ireland.

True, the Anglo-Irish lords had always as yet professed allegiance to the English sovereign, and had, on the whole, so far helped forward the English designs. But it was easy to foresee that it would require but a few more years of this process of fusion with the native Irish race to make the Anglo-Irish element Irish in every sense.

To avert this dreaded and now imminent evil, the London government resolved to adopt the most stringent measures.

Among the first of these was a royal ordinance issued in 1341, declaring that whereas it had appeared to the King (Edward the Third) and his council that they would be better and more usefully served in Ireland by Englishmen whose revenues were derived from England than by Irish or English who possessed estates only in Ireland, or were married there, the king's justiciary should therefore, after diligent inquiries, remove all such officers as were married or held estates in Ireland, and replace them by fit Englishmen, having no personal interest whatever in Ireland.

This ordinance set the Anglo-Irish colony in a flame.

Edward's lord-deputy, Sir John Morris, alarmed at its effect on the proud and powerful barons, summoned them to a parliament to meet in Dublin to reason over the matter.

But they would have no reasoning with him. They contemptuously derided his summons, and called a parliament of their own, which, accordingly, met at Kilkenny in November, 1342, whereat they adopted a strong remonstrance, and forwarded it to the king, complaining of the royal ordinance, and recriminating by alleging, that to the ignorance and incapacity of the English officials sent over from time to time to conduct the government of the colony, was owing the fact that the native Irish had possessed themselves of nearly all the land that had ever hitherto been wrested from them by the “gallant services of themselves (the remonstrancers) or their ancestors.”

Edward was obliged to temporize. He answered this remonstrance graciously, and “played” the dangerous barons.

But the policy of the ordinance was not relinquished. It was to be pushed on as opportunity offered.

Eight years subsequent to the above proceedings—in 1360—Lionel, son of King Edward, was sent over as lord-lieutenant. He brought with him a considerable army, and was to inaugurate the new system with great eclat.

He had personal claims to assert as well as a state policy to carry out. By his wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, he succeeded to the empty titles of Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connaught, and the possessions supposed to follow them; but these were just then held by their rightful Irish owners, and one of Lionel's objects was to obtain them by force of arms for himself.

Soon after landing he marched against “the Irish enemy,” and, confident in the strength of newly-landed legions, he issued a proclamation “forbidding any of Irish birth to come near his army.”

This arrogance was soon humbled. His vaunted English army was a failure. The Irish cut it to pieces; and Prince Lionel was obliged to abandon the campaign, and retreated to Dublin a prey to mortification and humiliation.

His courtiers plied him with flatteries in order to cheer him.

By a process not very intelligible, they argued that he conquered Clare, though, O'Brien had utterly defeated him there, and compelled him to fly to Dublin; and they manufactured for him out of this piece of adulatory invention the title of “Clarence.”

But he only half accepted these pleasant fictions, the falseness of which he knew too well.

He recalled his arrogant and offensive proclamation, and besought the aid of the Anglo-Irish.

To gain their favor he conferred additional titles and privileges on some of them, and knighted several of the most powerful commoners.

After an administration of seven years it was deemed high time for Lionel to bring the new policy into greater prominence.

In 1367 he convened a parliament at Kilkenny, whereat he succeeded in having passed that memorable statute known ever since in history as “The Statute of Kilkenny”—the first formal enactment in that “penal code of race” which was so elaborately developed by all subsequent English legislation for hundreds of years.

The act sets out by reciting that

“Whereas, at the conquest of the land of Ireland, and for a long time after, the English of the said land used the English language, mode of riding and apparel, and were governed and ruled, both they and their subjects, called Betaghese (villeins) according to English law, etc.; but now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws, and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion and language of the Irish enemies, and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid: it is therefore enacted (among other provisions), that all intermarriages, fosterings, gossipred, and buying or selling with the enemy shall be accounted treason; that, English names, fashions, and manners shall be resumed under penalty of the confiscation of the delinquent's lands; that March laws and Brehon laws are illegal, and that there shall be no law but English law; that the Irish shall not pasture their cattle on English lands, that the English shall not entertain Irish rhymers, minstrels, or news men; and, moreover, that no ‘mere Irishman’ shall be admitted to any ecclesiastical benefice or religious house situated within the English district.”

The Anglo-Irish barons must have been strangely overawed or overreached when they were brought to pass this statute; several of themselves being at that moment answerable to all its penalties!

Its immediate result, however, wellnigh completed the ruin of the power it was meant to restore and strengthen.

It roused the native Irish to a full conception of the English policy, and simultaneously, though without the least concert, they fell upon the colony on all sides, drove in the outposts, destroyed the castles, hunted the barons, and reoccupied the country very nearly up to the walls of Dublin.

“O'Connor of Connaught and O'Brien of Thomond,” says Hardiman, “laid aside for the moment their private feuds, and united against the common foe.

The Earl of Desmond, lord justice, marched against them with a considerable army, but was defeated and slain (captured) in a sanguinary engagement, fought A.D. 1369 in the county of Limerick.

O'Farrell, the chieftain of Annaly, committed great slaughter in Meath.

The O'Mores, Cavanaghs, O'Byrnes, and O'Tooles, pressed upon Leinster, and the O'Neills raised the red arm in the north.

The English of the Pale were seized with consternation and dismay, and terror and confusion reigned in their councils, while the natives continued to gain ground upon them in every direction.

At this crisis an opportunity offered such as had never before occurred, of terminating the dominion of the English in Ireland; but if the natives had ever conceived such a project, they were never sufficiently united to achieve it.

The opportunity passed away, and the disunion of the Irish saved the colony.”

As for the obnoxious statute, it was found impossible to enforce it further.

Cunning policy did not risk permanent defeat by pressing it at such a moment. It was allowed to remain “a dead letter” for a while; not dead, however, but only slumbering.