Art McMurrough (2)

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


OF this second expedition of King Richard there is extant an account written by a Frenchman who was in his train. In all its main features expedition number two was a singular repetition of expedition number one; vast preparations and levies of men and materials, ships and armaments, as if for the invasion and subjugation of one of the most powerful empires of the world; gorgeous trappings, courtly attendants, and all the necessaries for renewed experiments with the royal "dazzling" policy. Landing at Waterford, Richard, at the head of his panoplied host, marched against M'Murrogh, who, to a lofty and magniloquent invitation to seek the king's gracious clemency, had rudely replied, "that he would neither submit to nor obey him in any way; and that he would never cease from war and the defense of his country until his death." To the overawing force of the English king, Art had, as the French narrator informs us, just "three thousand hardy men, who did not appear to be much afraid of the English."

M'Murrogh's tactics were those which had stood in such good stead on the previous occasion. He removed all the cattle and corn, food and fodder of every kind, as well as the women, children, aged, and helpless of his people, into the interior, while he himself, at the head of his Spartan band, "few, but undismayed," took up a position at Idrone awaiting the invaders. Once more Richard found his huge army entangled in impenetrable forests, hemmed in by bogs, morass, and mountain—M'Murrogh fighting and retiring with deadly craft to draw him deeper and deeper into difficulty, "harassing him dreadfully, carrying off everything fit for food for man or beast, surprising and slaying his foragers, and filling his camp nightly with alarm and blood." A crumb of consolation greatly regarded by the mortified and humiliated English king was the appearance one day in his camp of Art's uncle giving in submission, supplicating for himself "pardon and favor." This Richard only too joyfully granted; and, allowing the incident to persuade him that Art himself might also be wavering, a royal message was sent to the Leinster prince assuring him of free pardon, and "castles and lands in abundance elsewhere," if only he would submit. The Frenchman records M'Murrogh's reply: "Mac-Mor told the king's people that for all the gold in the world he would not submit himself, but would continue to war and endamage the king in all that he could." This ruined Richard's last hope of anything like a fair pretext for abandoning his enterprise. He now relinquished all idea of assailing M'Murrogh, and marched as best he could toward Dublin, his army meanwhile suffering fearfully from famine. After some days of dreadful privation they reached the seashore at Arklow, where ships with provisions from Dublin awaited them. The soldiers rushed into the sea to reach at the food, fought for it ravenously, and drank all the wine they could seize. Soon after this timely relief, a still more welcome gleam of fortune fell upon the English host. A messenger arrived from Art expressing his willingness to meet some accredited ambassador from the king and discuss the matters at issue between them. Whereupon, says the chronicler, there was great joy in the English camp.

The Earl of Gloster was at once dispatched to treat with Art. The French knight was among the earl's escort, and witnessed the meeting, of which he has left a quaint description. He describes Art as a "fine large man, wondrously active. To look at him he seemed very stern and savage and a very able man." The horse which Art rode especially transfixed the Frenchman's gaze. He declares, that a steed more exquisitely beautiful, more marvelously fleet, he had never beheld. "In coming down it galloped so hard, that, in my opinion, I never saw hare, deer, sheep, or any other animal, I declare to you for a certainty, run with such speed as it did." This horse Art rode "without housing or saddle," yet sat like a king, and guided with utmost ease in the most astounding feats of horsemanship. "He and the earl," the Frenchman tells, "exchanged much discourse, but did not come to agreement. They took short leave and hastily parted. Each took his way apart, and the earl returned to King Richard." The announcement brought by his ambassador was a sore disappointment to the king. Art would only agree to "peace without reserve;" "otherwise he will never come to agreement." "This speech," continues the Frenchman, "was not agreeable to the king. It appeared to me that his face grew pale with anger. He swore in great wrath by St. Bernard that no, never would he depart from Ireland till, alive or dead, he had him in his power."

Rash oath—soon broken. Little thought Richard when he so hotly swore against Art in such impotent anger that he would have to quit Ireland, leaving Art free, unconquered, and defiant, while he returned to England only to find himself a crownless monarch, deposed and friendless, in a few brief days subsequently to meet a treacherous cruel death in Pontefract castle!

All this, however, though near at hand, was as yet in the unforeseen future; and Richard, on reaching Dublin, devoted himself once more to "dazzling" revels there. But while he feasted he forgot not his hatred of the indomitable M'Murrogh. "A hundred marks in pure gold" were publicly proclaimed by the king to any one who should bring to him in Dublin, alive or dead, the defiant prince of Leinster; against whom, moreover, the army, divided into three divisions, were dispatched upon a new campaign. Soon the revels and marchings were abruptly interrupted by sinister news from England. A formidable rebellion had broken out there, headed by the banished Lancaster. Richard marched southward with all speed to take shipping at Waterford, collecting on the way the several divisions of his army. He embarked for England, but arrived too late. His campaign against Art M'Murrogh had cost him his crown, eventually his life; had changed the dynasty in England, and seated the house of Lancaster upon the throne.

For eighteen years subsequently the invincible Art reigned over his inviolate territory; his career to the last being a record of brilliant victories over every expedition sent against it. As we wade through the crowded annals of those years, his name is ever found in connection with some gallant achievement.

Wherever else the fight is found going against Ireland, whatever hand falters or falls in the unbroken struggle, in the mountains of Wicklow there is one stout arm, one bold heart, one glorious intellect, ever nobly daring and bravely conquering in the cause of native land. Art, "whose activity defied the chilling effects of age, poured his cohorts through Sculloge Gap on the garrisons of Wexford, taking in rapid succession in one campaign (1406) the castles of Camolins, Ferns, and Enniscorthy. A few years subsequently his last great battle, probably the most serious engagement of his life, was fought by him against the whole force of the Pale under the walls of Dublin. The duke of Lancaster, son of the king and lord lieutenant of Ireland, issued orders for the concentration of a powerful army for an expedition southward against M'Murrogh's allies. But M'Murrogh and the mountaineers of Wicklow now felt themselves strong enough to take the iniative. They crossed the plain which lies to the north of Dublin and encamped at Kilmainham, where Roderick, when he besieged the city, and Brian before the battle of Clontarf, had pitched their tents of old. The English and Anglo-Irish forces, under the eye of their prince, marched out to dislodge them in four divisions. The first was led by the duke in person; the second by the veteran knight, Jenicho d'Artois; the third by Sir Edward Perrers, an English knight; and the fourth by Sir Thomas Butler, prior of the order of St. John, afterward created by Henry the Fifth, for his distinguished service, earl of Kilmain. With M'Murrogh were O'Byrne, O'Nolan, and other chiefs, beside his sons, nephews, and relatives. The numbers on each side could hardly fall short of ten thousand men, and the action may be fairly considered one of the most decisive of those times. The duke was carried back wounded into Dublin; the slopes of Inchicore and the valley of the Liffey were strewn with the dying and the dead; the river at that point obtained from the Leinster Irish the name of Athcroe, or the ford of slaughter; the widowed city was filled with lamentation and dismay."

This was the last endeavor of the English power against Art. "While he lived no further attacks were made upon his kindred or country." He was not, alas! destined to enjoy long the peace he had thus conquered from his powerful foes by a forty-four years' war! On January 12, 1417, he died at Ross in the sixtieth year of his age, many of the chroniclers attributing his death to poison administered in a drink. Whether the enemies whom he had so often vanquished in the battlefield resorted to such foul means of accomplishing his removal, is, however, only a matter of suspicion, resting mainly on the fact that his chief brehon, O'Doran, who with him had partaken of a drink given them by a woman on the wayside as they passed, also died on the same day, and was attacked with like symptoms. Leeches' skill was vain to save the heroic chief. His grief-stricken people followed him to the grave, well knowing and keenly feeling that in him they had lost their invincible tower of defense. He had been called to the chieftaincy of Leinster at the early age of sixteen years; and on the very threshold of his career had to draw the sword to defend the integrity of his principality. Prom that hour to the last of his battles, more than forty years subsequent, he proved himself one of the most consummate military tacticians of his time. Again and again he met and defeated the proudest armies of England, led by the ablest generals of the age. "He was," say the Four Masters, "a man distinguished for his hospitality, knowledge, and feats of arms; a man full of prosperity and royalty; a founder of churches and monasteries by his bounties and contributions." In fine, our history enumerates no braver soldier, no nobler character, than Art M'Murrogh "Kavanagh," prince of Leinster.