History of Ireland
In the years after 1000 AD the cultural and social landscape of Ireland changed a great deal. The influx of foreigners in Ireland had intentions to control, settle, and exploit the people and land and had a profound effect on the otherwise autonomous peoples who existed there. Most people assume the first people to inhabit Ireland were the Celtic speaking natives, who arrived between 700 and 500 BC. However, the island has been inhabited since as far back as 8000BC when nomads crossed the Irish Sea from continental Europe on ice bridges.
Before the arrival of any other groups in Ireland the people of the island were very inward looking and not concerned with the events which took place in the rest of Europe. This paper will detail the effects that the newcomers had on the physical and social climate of Ireland and especially how and why the English were able to establish a control over the island which lasted for over 800 years. The primary unit of the Irish society was the family, each having its own lands. The source of power which gave rise to kingships and other forms of authority was cattle or other livestock given to families for use on their lands.
In return for this families pledged their loyalty and services to their superior, such as in battle. As a result cattle became the measure of wealth and not lands as it was in the rest of Europe. 2 There was no single authority in Ireland to whom all answered; rather, historians noted any number of kingships on the island at any time. The kings were constantly fighting amongst themselves in an attempt to gain power and wealth. Perhaps even more divisive was the infighting amongst their own families; often, even brothers would fight each other dividing the established hierarchy.
This created increased divisions between competing clans on the island and made any attempt to rule over it seemingly impossible as no Irishman was able to accomplish it. The Irish are naturally an open-minded and accepting people who have great respect for other cultures and traditions. The best example of this mentality is the spread of Christianity which St. Patrick introduced there beginning in 432AD. It must be noted that the spread of Christianity in Ireland was bloodless, unlike in many other parts of the world.
By peacefully accepting the new faith, elements of openness and tolerance are evident in their natural character. The Irish people’s actions were morally based on tradition and precedents set by their ancestors. They followed tradition very strictly when they warred with each other or had other disputes. Places such as monasteries were considered sacred, due to their strong belief in Christianity, and not to be interfered with when fighting took place. When a battle was won, the victor did not win the lands because tradition required that they stay in the possession of the family who tended them.
Instead, loyalty and influence was won. This shows the respect land held in Irish society, it could be said that land was too sacred to become a pawn in the games of warring men. The first record of a strong foreign presence in Ireland came in 795 AD when Vikings arrived. It was reported that heathens had come ashore to loot and kill. 5 Throughout the forty years that followed sporadic raids were reported in all parts of Ireland as the Vikings sailed inland on the rivers and continued to attack coastal settlements.
Similar raids were occurring at the same time in England and eventually it became evident to local populations on both islands that the goal of the raiders was shifting from bounty to settlement. 6 By the year 841 AD, the Vikings had established their own settlements on the island called Longphorts. These settlements were located on key waterways and used as a base from which to launch further attacks on the inland settlements of Ireland and on other areas of Europe, especially the island of England.
Settlements included what are now major urban centers of Ireland such as Waterford and Dublin, which was founded in 852. These towns proved to be an important development as they would become forever sources of the wealth associated with trade. After establishing themselves permanently in Ireland the Vikings became much more vulnerable to counter attacks from native peoples and soon became part of the infighting which took place between all who inhabited Ireland. 7 Due to the changing condition of their homeland the Irish people had become more advanced and inline with the developing societies of Europe.
They had been describe as “Tribal, rural, hierarchical and familiar” (In the sense of being family orientated) by one scholar but were quickly losing these traits. 8 Where it was once impossible to control lands or the kingdoms of other families, Irish leaders began to claim these kingdoms and lands in their name. Kings would capture Norse towns and hold them as their own; such acts were previously unheard of. 9 These actions occurred because the Norse had no knowledge of, or respect for the customs which were previously in place.
Therefore, if the Irish wished to hold off the ever-expanding foreigners, their towns would have to have been overtaken and held. As a result of the importance of holding lands and towns a feudal system began to develop in parts of Ireland. . It is not reasonable to expect the Irish to show the traditional respect to an enemy who showed none in return. The effects of the Viking influence on Irish tradition can easily be seen in how the natives fought their wars after the arrival of the outsiders.
No longer were certain things, such as monasteries, sacred and not to be interfered with. The Vikings upon first arrival were not Christian and so had no comprehension of the sanctity of monasteries, rather, they saw them as sources of great wealth and bounty. In order for the Irish to remain competitive in war they had to rebut in the same fashion. They did so by neglecting their traditions and attacking monasteries in Viking held positions. Viking kingdoms were established and were as active in the wars on the island as the clans who fought each other before their arrival.
As intermarriage blurred the distinguish ability of Viking communities from native communities the people were divided less and less by race and more by kingdoms with none becoming dominant over the island as a whole. By the 1150s the Vikings had become much less a foreigner as a people who were establishing their own kingdoms on the island which the three predominate families of the island tried to rule over The most notable Norse Kingdom is that of Dublin where the Vikings traded with much of Europe. 10 It was during such a time that the English presence began in Ireland.
In 1166 Dermot MacMorrough, a King of Leinster and Dublin, appealed to King Henry II of England to help him in his quest to regain his thrown and ultimately become king of all Ireland. The families he had ruled over did not whole-heartedly support him. As a result, when he stole the wife of another Irish king, O’Rourke of Breffni, the peoples who were to support him had an excuse not to. He was ousted in what had become a routine power shift like many which had occurred over the previous two centuries and was banished.
In his mind he felt abandoned by his allies and so he looked to England for help in regaining his position. 11 He went to England because he had influential contacts there whom he met while they were trading in Dublin, as many people from all over Europe did at that time. 12 Henry II, who was fighting his own wars in France, agreed to help with his own motives in mind. He realized the value of the trade rich coastal cities such as Dublin and Waterford and realized Dermot would be in his debt should his attempt at restoration be successful.
Henry himself was not able to help due to the battles he was involved with at the time. He drafted a letter addressed to all his subjects, who were many as he was the most powerful king in Europe at the time. In it he stated his approval for the cause of Dermot and encouraged all to aid him realizing that they went in his name. 13 Equipped with the letter of endorsement Dermot set out to recruit the force with which he would conquer Ireland. Using monies loaned to him by his wealthy friends and giving promises of lands and titles to those who helped him he was able to muster a small force.
He was also able to assure promises of more men in the coming years from someone who would become a predominant figure in the years to come, Richard fitz Gilbert also called Strongbow. This man was eager to help because he was out of favor with Henry as he did not support him in the English Civil War. To Strongbow Dermot promised his daughter in marriage, making him the heir to whatever territories they gained. Using his new allies, Dermot returned in 1167 and reinstated himself in his old capital where for the next two years he waged small scale wars against his old enemies.
As his enemies were still pre-occupied fighting each other he was able to regain most of his former lands and to live in peace as he awaited his next wave. 14 Having been the first Irishman to look to England for help in Ireland he was branded “Dermot of the foreigners” and is still considered the greatest traitor in Irish history as his invitation marked the beginning of the end of Irish sovereignty in the minds of many Irish. 15 It is tragic that the Irish peoples continued to fight against one another even after knowing that Dermot had aligned himself with the most powerful King Europe.
Should they have worked together to throw off the English the course of Irish history would have undoubtedly been different. They would have saved themselves from the centuries of horror and catastrophic neglect which were to follow. As promised, Dermot’s new allies arrived in Ireland in 1170 numbering nearly 2000 men. These newcomers held a tremendous advantage over the natives in the form of their advanced weapons. They possessed archers which proved to be an essential part of their success in the conquests that followed.
They soon gained control of strategic coastal cities where they established themselves and expanded from, mostly winning territories on the eastern half of Ireland and proceeding westward. 16 The Character of Dermot is one dominated by greed and selfishness but also fierce determination. In the city of Waterford Strongbow married Dermot’s daughter and secured his place as heir. Having effectively given what had become the highest position in Ireland to a foreigner it is easy to see why Dermot is seen as a traitor. Another account tells of how Dermot abandoned his own son for power.
As a condition for peace upon his arrival he gave his son to one of his enemies to be held as assurance that Dermot would not go on the offensive. 17 Knowing that his son would be killed he pressed on anyway. These actions show the greed and self-fulfilling character of Dermot, he wished to be King of the Irish at any cost. He cared only about his time and did not bother himself with what would become of his kingdom after his death when he could not personally benefit. Following Dermot’s death in 1171 Strongbow assumed control, however it was not a smooth transition.
Many natives did not recognize him as a legitimate king and rebelled against his authority. Strongbow was able to maintain control but it became increasingly difficult for him after Henry II, who was still unsure of his loyalty and motives, took measures to limit Strongbow’s control and future successes. Henry cut off supplies and reinforcements fearing Strongbow would establish a powerful rival regime so close to England. As a result the new regime had difficulty fending off the Irish who resented his presence and authority and they spent more time fending off attackers than expanding their influence. 8 Henry was not confidant that Ireland was under his control or that it did not pose a future threat even after Strongbow reaffirmed his loyalty to him and submitted the conquered lands to him. Henry decided to travel there and ensure that his objectives were accomplished; he was surprised and encouraged by the accomplishments of his countrymen and was confident that the entire island could be brought under his control.
There is evidence to suggest Henry anticipated battle as he brought with him the largest English army to date, 5000 men, and provisions to last them for months. 9 It is difficult to imagine the state of mind the Irish were in while anticipating the arrival of Henry, they would have undoubtedly realized the threat he posed to them and the power he possessed. The fear of what was to come would have weakened the resolve of the forces still trying to fend off the existing English. Henry finally arrived in Waterford in 1171 and became the first English king to set foot on Irish soil and immediately received the appropriate respect from the Irish. 0 The presence of his army was more useful than their skills or techniques as they did not have to fight a single battle.
All leaders of Ireland, except one high-king in the north-west, submitted to Henry knowing that if a battle was fought, they would not win. Due simply to his superior army Henry was able to conquer almost the entire island without fighting a single battle. Upon leaving Ireland Henry made his son John Lord of Ireland under who the leaders who had submitted to Henry ruled. When John became King of England Ireland was incorporated into the English Kingdom.
The implications of theses events would be felt throughout the rest of Ireland’s history. 21 When Henry II departed Ireland with poise he left behind him a new form of Ireland. Some new concepts were simple such as new foods he had introduced in an attempt to impress the subjugated Irish kings at a lavish dinner. He also effectively pushed most Irish and Viking inhabitants out of Dublin22. Others were more fundamental to the Irish way of life. A more strict enforcement of the evolving Christian church form was to take place in Ireland where it had not been adopted.
This was made possible because now the church could spread a uniform throughout a single Kingdom. The new form of the church was adopted by the Irish and has shaped the faith of the Irish ever since. Even later when the English reformed and become Protestant the Irish remained Catholic. 23 This fundamental divide has shaped relations between Ireland and her authority to the current time. It is seen in the bitter relationship between the Catholic Irish Republic and the Protestant Northern Ireland, which remains part of Great Britain even now.
This difference was a focal point of the separation of the two in 1922 as many inhabitants Northern Ireland were of English backgrounds whose ancestors had settled there and been upper-class citizens. The concept of feudalism was spread after Henry departed, this would prove to be a source of discontent among the Irish for the remainder of their subjugation. Two English Lords were appointed by Henry, given lands which belonged to Irishmen. They established feudal regimes in their territories as the remaining Irish kings continued in their traditional fashion. 4 Eventually, despite strong political and physical opposition from the Irish, the concept was spread throughout the entire island and the plight of the Irish took full effect. The fact that the Irish, along with their customs and heritage, were thrown aside in order for the egos and greed of the Kings men to be satisfied is unsettling. The English portrayed the Irish as uncivil and barbaric, but to in reviewing the English behavior treatment of the natives a paradox is seen. Henry also began a long and merciless neglect and exploitation of the Irish people and their land and crop rights.
All Irish Kings and English Lords he had put in place had to pay a tax to him. The payment of this tax would become another focal point in English-Irish relations. The most evident example of this came in 1845-1847 when many Irish were forced to leave their homelands due to famine. The potato famine caused over one million people to leave from 1847-1851 and the deaths of tens of thousands due to starvation. 25 The Irish starved because they were forced to export their crops, such as corn, to England as a tax.
In most years this left them with little more than potatoes to eat and when they did not grow the deprivation took its toll. If the taxes have been forgiven in these years the displacement and death of over a million Irish could have been prevented. The Irish world was self-concerned and to an extent underdeveloped before the arrival of any foreign people, when power was finally returned to the Irish people in 1922 the entire landscape had changed. The distressing point in this fact is that the Irish had very little to do with shaping their country for over 800 years, instead it was shaped by the prerogatives of outsiders.
The foreigners to settle in Ireland did also leave some positive marks such as key cities, trade partnerships, and the development of Irish nationalism. The most apparent sign of English influence today is that they remain the highest authority in Northern Ireland. If any lessons are to be learned from how the Irish handled the arrival of the Vikings and the English it is that a country divided against itself will fall. If they have worked together the fate of the Irish people, and Europe, would have been much different.