English Invasion of Ireland

IN the middle ages the Popes claimed and exercised great temporal power, which, in the main, they exercised for the general good. The Merovingian dynasty was changed on the decision of Pope Zachary. If Frederick the First did not renounce all pretensions to ecclesiastical property in Lombardy, he was threatened by Pope Adrian with the forfeiture of the Crown received from him and through his Unction.

In 1211, Pope Innocent the Third pronounced sentence of Deposition against King John of England, and conferred that kingdom on Philip Augustus, who instantly prepared to assert his claim; although he had no manner of title, except the Papal Grant. And, in 1493, Pope Alexander the Sixth gave the whole continent of America to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain; ostensibly because the nations which then inhabited that continent were infidels.

King Henry II., of England, ascended the throne, A.D. 1154, and was contemporary with Pope Adrian the Fourth, who was, himself, an Englishman, and whose name originally was Nicholas Brakespeare; to whom Henry sent John of Salisbury, the Secretary of Thomas-a-Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, to make certain representations and stipulations respecting the Kingdom of Ireland, which Henry had long coveted.

In the exercise of his temporal power, Pope Adrian IV. did, regardless of every right, transfer the sovereignty of Ireland to the Crown of England; not because the Irish people of that period were "infidels"[1] (which they certainly were not), but because Adrian IV., in his love of country, naturally wished to aggrandize England!

Among the volumes in the MS. Library of Trinity College, Dublin, is the Collectanea Hiberniae, marked E. 3. 10, which includes the "Invasion and first Invaders of Ireland under Henry II.;" together with some interesting Annals relating to Ireland, commencing with A.D. 322, and ending A.D. 1590. Of those Annals the first is a strange one; for, it asserts that for thirteen years—namely, from 322 to 335, a certain Lady of the Pictish race had been engaged in the conversion of the Irish people to Christianity:

"Prin. Fid. Anno Dom. 322. Fuit conversio ad Christum Hibernorum, 335. Mulier quaedam genere Picta, Anno 322, reginae infirmatata Christi nomen illi inwisite praedicedit . . . effecit, regina regem docuit populum."—Hector Boethus, Lib. 6. Historiae Scotiae.

And the next entry asserts that in 432 Saint Patrick came from Rome to Ireland:

"A.D. 432. S. Patricius venit ad Hiberniam a Roma."

Later on in those Annals it is stated that, in 1142, the Abbey of Mellifont, in the county Louth, then known as the Kingdom of Uriel, was founded:

"A.D. 1142. Mellifons fundatur."

In page 48 of E. 3. 10, the following passage occurs:

"Apud Johannem Rossum Warricensem, De Terris Coronae Anglicae Annexis, extat Declaratio quomodo Dominum Hiberniae ad Coronam Anglicae; devotutum, P. Adrianus (inquit.) Anno Dom. 1150 (1155, legend, ex. Marto. Paris, et Robo, de Monte) . . . concessit Regi Anglicae Henrico Secundo Conquisitionem Hiberniae . . . . Cujus . . . potestatem, causam et modum in Bulla sua ad Regem directa exprimit in his verbis: Adrianus, Servus Servorum Dei, Legibur Papale hoc Diploma, apud Girald. Cambr. De Expng. Hiberniae, Lib. 2. Cap. 6. (pag. 787, Edit. Camden) . . . et a Vernaculis Annalib. Johannis Stowe, ubi ex MSo, quo ille usus, ut Girald. Cambrensis exemplari .... Diplomati huic subjiciuntur, Orabo Dominica et Symbolum Apostolicum Anglicana lingua descripta, et Adrianus (ut videtur) populares suos transmissa."

And we have it on the authority of Mathew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, that Cardinal Pole, in a speech delivered by him in the Parliament of Westminster, announced that Pope Adrian, "led by his love of country," granted the Sovereignty (Imperium) of Ireland to Henry II., King of England:

"Hinc Cardinalis Polus in Oratione quam in patria lingua Westmonsterii in Parliamento habuit, dixit: Hadrianum Quartum Papam fuisse Angln. qui Noriegiam primus Christiana fide imbuit, amore que patriae ductus, Imperium Hiberniae, quae Pontificiae ditionis fuerat, Henrico Secundo Anglorum Rege concessit." (Ut est apud Mat. Parker, in Cant. Archiep. Histor., pag. 415. Lib. 33.)

Acting, however, under the advice of his Mother, the Princess Maude, Henry II. did not for many years advance any pretensions to the sovereignty of Ireland, under the Papal grant. But, A.D. 1167, occurred a plausible opportunity for realizing the dream of his life—the Annexation of Ireland to England; when, unhappily, Celt was pitted against Celt, on account of the abduction [2] of the unfortunate Dearvorgal ("dear:" Irish, a daughter; "forgil," purely fair), the wife of Tiernan O'Rourke (No. 112 on the "O'Rourke" pedigree, Prince of West Brefney, by Dermod MacMorough King of Leinster, which led in that year to the invasion of Dermod's Kingdom by the Irish Monarch, Roderick O'Connor, King of Connaught, who espoused the cause of O'Rourke. Defeated by the Irish Monarch King Dermod fled to England, to invoke the aid of Henry II.; offering to become his liegeman if Henry would assist him:

"A.D. 1167. Diarmicius, Rex Laginiae (Leinster), transfretavit in Anglia ad adducendos Anglicos."

On receiving Dermod's Oath of Allegiance, Henry II. granted a general licence to all his English subjects to aid King Dermod in the recovery of his Kingdom. Dermod then engaged in his cause Richard de Clare, commonly known as "Strongbow,"[3] through whose influence an army was raised, headed by Robert Fitzstephen, Myler Fitzhenry, Harvey de Monte Marisco, Maurice Prendergast, Maurice Fitzgerald, and others; who in May, 1168, landed in Ireland, in Bannow, in the county Wexford (a portion of Dermod's Kingdom):

"A.D. 1168. Circa Kal. Maii applimerunt Anglici primo apud Bannam."

When, to relieve Fitzstephen, Strongbow was marching to the town of Wexford, through the barony of Idrone, he was confronted and briskly assaulted by O'Rian, Chief of that territory; but O'Rian being slain by an arrow, shot at him by Nichol the Monk, O'Rian's troops were scattered and many of them slain. It was there that Strongbow's only son, a youth about seventeen years old, frighted with the numbers, ululations, and prowess of the Irish troops, ran away from the battle and made towards Dublin; but, being informed of his father's victory, the son came back to congratulate him. Strongbow, however, having first reproached his son with cowardice, caused him to be immediately executed, by cutting him off in the middle with a sword. The epitaph on Strongbow and his son in Christ Church Dublin, is as follows:

"Nate ingrate mihi pugnanti terga dedisti; Non mihi sed genti Regno quoque terga dedisti."

St. Thomas a-Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, was, in 1170, assassinated; at the instance, it was said, of King Henry II., who, to divert public attention in England from that crime, then prepared to advance his claim to Ireland, under the Papal grant:

"A.D. 1170. Martyr. est B. Thomas, Cant. Archiep."

Accordingly, King Henry lost no time in conveying through his friends to the Irish people the knowledge of the Papal grant with respect to Ireland, conferred on him by Adrian IV.; for, Henry by that time knew how hopeless it was for him to expect the conquest of Ireland by force of arms; and he well knew that, in their deep veneration for the Pope, the Irish would consider it a grievous crime to combat Papal Authority, on the subject, even though that authority had unjustly deprived them of their country and their liberty. However, Henry, in 1171, sent over Strongbow with two thousand soldiers and other warriors; to assist, so far as the display of a military force could do so, in the promulgation in Ireland of Pope Adrian's Bull:

"A.D. 1171. Richardus Strongbow Comes Pembrochiae intravit Hiberniam in 2,000 militib. et aliis bellatoribus."

And afterwards, in the same year, King Henry II., himself, with great pomp and ceremony, came into Ireland:

"A.D. 1171. Henricus Rex Angliae in Hiberniam venit."

The promulgation in Ireland of Pope Adrian's Bull acted as a Spell on the Irish people; for, says Prendergast [4]

"The English coming in the name of the Pope, with the aid of the bishops . . . were accepted by the Irish. Neither King Henry the Second nor King John ever fought a battle in Ireland."

In obedience to the Bull [5] of Pope Adrian IV. (and believing the promises of King Henry II., that he only desired the annexation of Ireland to England, but in no instance to disturb or dispossess any of the Irish Kings, Chiefs, or people), the States (Ordines) of Ireland; Roderick O'Connor, Monarch of Ireland: Dermod MacCarthy, King of Cork; Donal O'Brien, King of Limerick; O'Carroll, King of Uriel; MacShaghlin, King of Offaley; O'Rourke, King of West Brefney; O'Neill [6] King of Ulster, and all their Nobles, did, in 1172, under their Signs Manual, transfer to King Henry the Second of England all their Authority (Imperium) and Power:

"Recitato P. Adriani Diplomate, subdit Johannes Rossus: Rex ergo Henricus circa Festum S. Michaelis, Winton Parliamento de conquirenda Hibernia cum suis optimatibus tractavit . . . Sed ex consilio Matris ejus Matildis Imperatricis res in aliud tempus dilata . . . Anno postea 1172o. omne imperium suum et potestatem in Henricum Secundum transtulerunt Hiberniae Ordines; Rothericus O'Conor Dun, Hiberniae Monarcha; Dermot Mac Cartye, Rex Corcagii; Donald O'Bren, Rex Limerici; O'Carol, Rex Urielae; MacShaghlin, Rex Ophaliae; O'Rork, Rex Brefniae; O'Neal, Rex Ultoniae; proceres que reliqui et populus ipsorum, Chartis subsignatis, oraditis, ad Romam transmissis." (Camden pag. 731, ex Girald. Camb. et MS.o pere Baronem Houth.)

"Johannes Hardingus in Chronicis suis, Cap. 132o, hac de re in hunc modum scribit:"

"The King Henry then conquered all Ireland

By Papal dome, there of his royaltee

The Profytes and revenues of the lande

The Dominacion and the Soverayntee

For ewour which against the spirituallee

They held full long, and would not be connecte

With heresyes, with which they were infacte."

Et Cap. 241o. Rego Edwardi jus ad dominia sua breviter explicans:

"To Ireland also, by King Henry le Fytz of Maude, daughter of firste King Henry that conquered it, for theyr great heresye."

Harding, in the two foregoing Extracts, says that (1) Henry "conquered all Ireland by Papal dome;" and (2) that he "conquered it, for theyr great heresye." But, in Ireland, there was no "heresye" (in the religious sense of the term) then known; unless indeed that the refusal of some of the Irish Kings and Princes to acknowledge the right of Pope Adrian IV. to transfer their sovereignty to King Henry II., may have been considered a "heresy!" In the military sense of the term, there never was a conquest of Ireland by King Henry the Second of England.

It will be seen that the name of Murcha O'Melaghlin, the last King of Meath, was not amongst the signatures above mentioned as sent to Rome (Chartis subsignatis, oraditis, ad Romam transmissis), notifying Pope Adrian IV. of their assent to his transfer of their respective sovereignties to King Henry II.; for, while second to none in their veneration for the Pontiff, and their zeal for the advancement of the Christian religion, Murcha [7] and his Nobility could not recognize in Pope Adrian IV. any authority to transfer to King Henry II., or to any other foreign potentate, the sovereignty of their kingdom, and, with their sovereignty, the power of dispossessing themselves and their people of their ancient patrimonies.

But Henry II. had his revenge; for one of his first public acts in Ireland was to depose King Murcha, confiscate his and most of his nobles' patrimonies, and confer on Hugh de Lacy the Kingdom of Meath: as a nucleus for an English Plantation of Ireland. That kingdom afterwards formed the principal portion of the English Pale.[8] In 1172, King Henry II. landed at Waterford with five hundred horsemen, to enter into possession of the Kingdom of Ireland, under the Papal grant; and, in that year also, Murcha (called in State Papers Murchard), the last King of Meath, died of a broken heart:[9]

"A.D. 1172. Henricus Rex cum 500 equitibus Waterfordia. Fraiectis tota Middia Hugoni De Lacii donavit. Et (ut aiunt) hoc anno Murchardus obit."

The Irish Monarch, Roderick O'Connor, finding that King Henry II. had thus so soon violated his solemn promise, that he would not dispossess any of the Irish people of their ancient patrimonies, sincerely regretted having given his assent to the Papal grant of Ireland by Adrian IV. to Henry II.; for O'Connor saw that Henry would act towards the Kings and Princes of other parts of Ireland as he had done to the King and Nobles of the Kingdom of Meath. Accordingly the Irish Monarch assembled an Army to resist Hugh de Lacy's possession of that Kingdom.

We read in page 16 of the MS. Vol. P. 3. 16, in the Lib. of Trin. Coll., Dub., that:

"Hugh de Lacy had built a strong castle at Tryme [Trim], surrounded with a deep and large ditch; which being furnished and competently garnished, he departed for England, leaving the same in the custody of Hugh Tirrell. The king of Connaught, to destroy it, assembled all the forces he could make; the principal of his Armie who were Commanders and Chieftains were—O'fflahertie, M'Dermond, M'Ghorathie; O'Kelly, King of O'Many; O'Harthiee, O'Himathie, O'Carbry, O'fflanogan, O'Manethan, O'Dude; O'Shaghnes of Poltiloban; the King O'Malachlin, the King O'Rory (alias O'Rourke); O'Noil of Kinell; O'Malory; M'Donleve, King of Ulster; the King O'Carvill; M'Tarvene, M'Skilling, M'Cartan, M'Garraga, M'Kelan; O'Neale, King of Kinelogmh, and manie others whose names are omitted that put themselves into O'Connor's Armie, with purpose to destroye ye castle of Trym."[10]

"Hugh Tirrell being advertised of their comeinge dispatched messengers unto the Earle, beseeching him to come to his aid. The Earle presently assembled his forces and marched towarde Trim; but Hugh Tirrell seeing the Enemie at hand, and findinge himselfe too weak to make resistance against their multitude, abandoned the castle and burned it. The Irish Kings perceiving that done to their hande which they intended to have done by force, returned towards their own countries. The Earle upon his way meeting with intelligence that Trim was burned, marched on, and when he came thither he neyther found castle nor house to lodge in, wherefore he made noe staie but pursued the Enemie and fell upon the reare, of whom 150 were slain; which done he returned to Dublin, and Hugh Tirrell to the ruined castle of Trim, to reedifie the same before Hugh de Lacy his return out of England."

King Henry's emissaries throughout Ireland continued unceasing in proclaiming to the Irish people the Bull of Pope Adrian IV. conferring on Henry II. the sovereignty of Ireland. In their simplicity the people believed that the said Bull was Heaven-inspired, and that it would be blasphemy or worse to gainsay it. They therefore relaxed (and most of them ceased) their resistance to King Henry's pretensions to the sovereignty of Ireland, under the Papal grant; but some of the Irish Chiefs,[11] while bowing in matters spiritual to the authority of the Pope, maintained their national independence, down to A.D. 1603.

Thus, by virtue of the Papal grant, King Henry II. obtained possession of the Kingdom of Ireland; and Hugh de Lacy and his barons obtained and held possession of the Province of Meath.

In the Charter granting the Kingdom of Meath [12] to Hugh de Lacy, and dated at Wexford, AD. 1172, King Henry II. says:

"Henry, by the grace of God, king of England, duke of Normandy and Aquitain, and earl of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, and to all his ministers, and faithful subjects, French, English, and Irish, of all his dominions, greeting: Know ye that I have given and granted, and, by this my Charter, confirmed unto Hugh de Lacy, in consideration of his services, the land of Meath, with the appurtenances; to have and to hold of me and my heirs, to him and his heirs, by the service of fifty knights, in as full and ample manner as Murchard Hu-Melaghlin held it, or any other person before him or after him; and, as an addition, I give to him all fees which he owes or shall owe to me about Duvelin [Dublin], while he is my bailiff, to do me service in my city of Duvelin. Wherefore I will and strictly command, that the said Hugh and his heirs shall enjoy the said land, and shall hold all the liberties and free customs which I have or may have therein, by the aforesaid service, from me and my heirs, well and peaceably, freely, quietly and honourably, in wood and plain, in meadows and pastures, in water and mills, in warren and ponds, in fishings and huntings, in ways and paths, in sea-ports and all other places appertaining to the said land, with all liberties which I have therein, or can grant or confirm to him by this my Charter.

"Witness, earl Richard (Strongbow), son of Gilbert; William de Brosa (and many others), at Weisford (Wexford)."—WARE.

At the Synod of the bishops and clergy, held at Waterford, A.D. 1175, William Fitzadelm de Burgo (who succeeded Strongbow as chief governor of Ireland) published the Bull of Pope Alexander III., confirming the Papal grant of Ireland by Adrian IV., to King Henry II. of England.

According to Rymer's Faedera, Vol. i., p. 31 (Folio. London: 1816), King Henry II., in 1175, at Windsor, after the publication, at the Synod of Waterford, of the Bull of Pope Alexander III., entered into a Treaty with the Irish Monarch, which was signed on O'Connor's behalf, as King of Connaught and Chief King of Ireland, by two of the Pope's new Archbishops of Ireland. By that treaty Roderick O'Connor is made to become the King's liegeman, and to be King of Connaught, and Chief King of Ireland under Henry the Second. The Irish Monarch undertakes:

"That the Irish shall yield to the King of England annually one merchantable hide for every ten cows in Ireland, which Roderick O'Connor is to collect for him through every part of Ireland, except that which is already in the possession of King Henry II. and his barons—namely, Dublin, Meath, and Leinster, with Waterford as far as Dungarvan. The rest of the Kings and people of Ireland are to enjoy all their lands and liberties as long as they shall continue faithful to the King of England, and pay this tribute through the hands of the King of Connaught."—See Prendergast's Cromwellian Settlement, p. 14.

According to that treaty it appears that King Henry II. never effected the military conquest of Ireland, and that his authority in that country was acquired solely through the influence on the Irish people, of Pope Adrian's Bull in Henry's favour; for, says Prendergast—

"Two systems were thus established side by side in Ireland, the Feudal and the Brehon systems; for the Irish, as Sir John Davis remarks, merely became tributaries to the King of England, preserving their ancient Brehon law, and electing their chiefs and tanists, making war and peace with one another, and ruling all things between themselves by this law, until the reign of Queen Elizabeth; and this, as Spenser remarks, not merely in districts entirely inhabited by Irish, but in the English parts."—Ibid. p. 15.

As Ireland had long acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Holy See (Pontificiae ditionis fuerat), it grieves us to find that Adrian IV., as a Pontiff of the Church to which we belong, was so swayed by his love of country (amore patriae), as to issue the now famous Bull annexing Ireland to England; for, that Bull, it may be said, was the fons et origo of all the wrongs since inflicted on Ireland by England. But:

"Could the chain for an instant be riven

Which tyranny flung round us then,

Oh! 'tis not in man nor in Heaven

To let tyranny bind it again."



[1] Infidels: To the great piety and zeal of the Irish people for the glory of God, not only at the time of the English invasion, but since Christianity was first introduced into Ireland, the many remains of Abbeys, Churches and other Christian Monuments throughout the land even at the present day, bear ample testimony:

"Who sees these ruins, but will demand

What barbarous invader sacked the land:

And when he hears no Goth nor Turk did bring

The desolation, but a Christian King;

While nothing but the name of Zeal appears

'Twixt our best actions and the worst of theirs,

What must he think, our sacrilege would spare,

When such the effects of our devotion are."

[2] Abduction: The Dearvorgal here mentioned was daughter of Murcha, the last King of Meath. In his Irish Melodies, in "The Song of O'Ruarc," Thomas Moore commemorates that event of melancholy importance to Ireland; of that song the following is a stanza:

"There was a time, falsest of women!

When Breffni's good sword would have sought

That man, through a million of foemen,

Who dared but to doubt thee in thought!

While now—O degenerate daughter

Of Erin, how fallen is thy fame!

And through ages of bondage and slaughter,

Our country shall bleed for thy shame."

[3] Strongbow: See Paper, headed "Strongbow," in the Appendix to Vol. II.

[4] Prendergast: See Prendergast's "Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland" (Dublin: McGlashan and Gill, 1875).

[5] Bull: That such a Bull ever existed is sometimes disputed; but, unfortunately, it is but too true that Adrian IV., in the exercise of his temporal power as Pope, did issue a Bull annexing the Kingdom of Ireland to the Crown of England. (See the Paper headed "The Invasion of Ireland by Bruce," in the Appendix to Vol. II.)

[6] O'Neill: It is right to mention that this statement relating to O'Neill, King of Ulster, is disputed. We, however, give the statement as we found it in the MS. Volume Collectanea Hiberniae, marked E. 3.10 in the Library of T.C.D., Dublin.

[7] Murcha: Giraldus Cambrensis and other English writers, of his anti-Irish stamp have grossly libelled the Irish people; to justify their subjugation by King Henry II., of England. Yet, among the many other Irish Kings and Princes who founded and endowed the Abbeys of Ireland before its annexation to England, it was this Irish King, who, in his great piety, founded and endowed the Abbey of Bective, in the county Meath.

[8] English Pale: This was the portion of Ireland which was subject to the regular jurisdiction of the King of England and his laws; while that portion of Ireland which was outside the English Pale was called the "Irish Country." In 1603, however, the distinction between the "English Pale" and "Irish Country" terminated, by the submission of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tirowen ; for it was in that year, and by that submission, that the English conquest of Ireland was first effected.

[9] Broken Heart: This Murcha, as already mentioned, was the father of the unfortunate Dearvorgil, who was the ostensible cause of the invasion of Ireland by Henry II. Unhappily, Murcha insisted that she should marry O'Rourke, Prince of Brefney, in preference to Dermod MacMorough, King of Leinster, with whom she afterwards eloped; for Dearvorgil loved MacMorough "not wisely but too well."

[10] Trym: The present anglicised forms of the names of the Commanders and Chieftains in the Irish Monarch's Army on that occasion were—O'Flaherty, MacDermott, MacGeraghty, O'Kelly, O'Hart, O'Hughes, O'Carbery, O'Flanagan, O'Monaghan, O'Dowde, O'Shaughnessy; Murcha O'Melaghlin, the King of Meath; O'Neill, O'Mulroy, MacDonleavy; O'Carroll, king of Uriel MacGarry, MacKilleen, O'Neill, etc.

[11] Irish Chiefs:—

"Oh! to have lived like an IRISH CHIEF when hearts were fresh and true,

And a manly thought, like a pealing Bell, would quicken them through and through;

And the seed of a generous hope right soon to a fiery action grew,

And Men would have scorned to talk and talk, and never a deed to do.

Oh! the iron grasp

And the kindly clasp

And the laugh so fond and gay;

And the roaring board,

And the ready sword,

Were the types of that vanished day."


[12] Meath: The Kingdom of Meath consisted of two great divisions, namely, Magh Breagh (or Bregia), and Teabhtha (or Teffia). Bregia, which was that magnificent plain situated in the eastern part of the kingdom, comprised five triocha-cheds or baronies, and included Fingal, a territory lying along the coast between Dublin and Drogheda; and Teffia comprised the present County Westmeath, with parts of Longford and the King's County. Some of the chiefs of that kingdom, particularly those of Teffia, held their estates down to the Cromwellian confiscations.