Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 34


It is plain from the examples given above that the Catholic Faith was alive in Ireland just before the Normans came hither; and as regards the bad morals of the Gaels before the Normans came amongst them, it is certain that there came with the Norman Invasion five leaders who did more evil deeds than all the Gaels that lived from the time of Brian to the Norman Invasion as regards the plundering of churches and clerics, bloody deeds of treachery and violent tyranny. Here are their names, the earl of Stranguell, Robert Fitz Stephen, Hugo de Lacy, John de Courcy and William Fitz Aldelmel. It will be easy to see the truth of this from what we shall hereafter state, and in particular from the chronicle of Stanihurst, and moreover from the fact that the majority of these persons on account of their own misdeeds left behind them no son to take up his father's inheritance.

As a proof of this take the earl of Stranguell, Robert Fitz Stephen, John de Courcy and some other leaders whom we shall not mention here who came in the beginning of the conquest. And as regards Richard Stranguell, according to Stanihurst's chronicle after he had committed many robberies and sacrileges against the laity and the church, he died in Ath Cliath seven years after he had come to Ireland, in the year of the Lord 1177; and the only progenny by Aoife, daughter of Diarmaid, that survived him was one daughter called Isabella, and that daughter was married to William Maruscal, and she bore him five sons and five daughters, and the sons died one after another, no offspring or heir remaining after any of them, and the daughters were married to a number


of English nobles, and in that way the earl did not leave a son to become his heir.

As regards Hugo de Lacy, when he received the government of Meath from Henry II he set to slay and behead the clann Colmain and the nobles of Meath, as many of them as he could lay hold on, and as he was building a fortified residence in Durmhagh in Meath a young nobleman of Meath came in the guise of a clown to do work for him, and he slew Hugo. The chronicle of Stanihurst says that the said Hugo was a lustful and very avaricious man. It also states that young Hugo his son and John de Courcy set about committing many robberies and murders and deeds of violence upon the people of Meath to avenge the death of Hugo. The same chronicle says that William Fitz Aldelmel was deceitful, treacherous and of evil disposition, and also relates how he took by treachery from the children of Maurice Fitz Gerald manors which were their own property, and adds that he was ever envious of Maurice and of his children. Moreover, we read in the ancient annals of Ireland that when William Fitz Aldelmel was ruling in Luimneach on behalf of the king of England there arose a confiict between two brothers of the family of Conchubhar for the sovereignty of Connaught, to wit, Cathal Croibhdhearg and Cathal Carrach; and William took the part of Cathal Carrach against Cathal Croibhdhearg; and John de Courcy took the other Cathal's part. This disagreement between the two Cathals was fed on both sides by William and by John until the entire country was destroyed and plundered by them, and till many of the nobles of Connaught were beheaded in that conflict as a result of that disagreement, and a battle took place between the two Cathals, the foreigners helping them on either side, and Cathal Carrach and his followers were defeated and himself was slain in that conflict.

After that William Fitz Aldelmel built a castle in


Milioc Ui Mhadagain, and left a large garrison there and went himself to Luimneach. Cathal Croibhdhearg encamped in front of them to lay siege to them; but the garrison escaped by night and followed William to Luimneach; and Cathal Croibhdhearg razed the castle of Milioc. After this William Fitz Aldelmel got together a host and invaded Connaught, and spoiled and plundered churches and country districts, and made dreadful slaughter on all he encountered of them, so that the Connaught clergy cursed him, as we read in the ancient annals of Ireland which were written about three hundred years ago in a chief book of seanchus which was called the Leabhar Breac of Mac Aodhagain. And in the same book we read that God, on account of his misdeeds, in a miraculous manner, inflicted a foul deformity and an incurable disease on him through which he died a loathsome death, and that he received neither Extreme Unction nor Penance, and that he was not buried in any churchyard but in a deserted grange.

After this a quarrel commenced between John de Courcy and young Hugo de Lacy, and many of the men of Ulster and of Meath fell in the conflict, and both these regions were plundered and spoiled by reason of their quarrel. And the end of this quarrel was that John de Courcy was treacherously taken prisoner by young Hugo de Lacy and that he was delivered into the hands of the Normans; and Hugo de Lacy undertook to prefer a charge of treason against him. He was sent as a prisoner to England, where he was for a time in captivity. The king granted him a pardon after that, and gave him leave to return to Ireland, and he went to sea to proceed to Ireland, when a storm arose against him and he was put back to land, and so it befell him fourteen times, putting out to sea and being put back again to England, according to Stanihurst's chronicle; and the fifteenth time he went to sea the storm drove him to France, and he died in that country.


We read in the same narrative that a nobleman of the family of John de Courcy who dwelt in Ireland was slain by young Hugo de Lacy and by Walter de Lacy his brother, so that many quarrels and conflicts arose between the nobleman's friends and the sons of Hugo de Lacy to whom we have referred, so that king John was forced to go with a great host of foreigners and Gaels to Meath to chastise these sons. And when they heard this they proceeded to Carraig Fhearghusa, and the king pursued them thither, and they took ship there and fled to France, and both went in disguise as two gardeners to work in the garden of an abbot in the abbey of S. Taurin in Normandy, and they passed some time in that disguise, remaining concealed; and some time afterwards they made their secret known to the abbot and asked him to beseech the king of England to make peace with them and forgive them; and the abbot obtained this for them, and they came to Ireland under these circumstances, the king having restored them to their rank and to their lands; and king John died after this in the year of the Lord 1216.

After this also in the time of Henry III there arose a great war between young Hugo de Lacy and William Maruscal, and they destroyed all Meath, and many Gaels fell on either side helping them. A great war also took place between Myler and Geoffrey Moireis and William Maruscal; and many men of Leinster and Munster were destroyed between them on either side.

Hanmer says in his narrative that William Maruscal was cursed by the bishop of Fearna for his having taken from him two manors which he possessed as his private property; and, having been excommunicated, he died in England; and since his children did not wish to restore that property the five sons died one after another, none of them having left an heir. And the above-mentioned Myler went to Cluain Mic Nois with a numerous host, where they encamped twelve nights, and they plundered the


town, carrying off cattle and food, and also they plundered its temples and churches.

When indeed the Gaels observed the tyranny and injustice, the spoliation and sacrilege the people I have referred to had committed, and also how Lios Mor with its termon lands was plundered by Herimont Morti and by Raymond de la Gros, according to Stanihurst's chronicle, although the said Herveus or Herimont donned a monk's habit and built the abbey of Dun Broith in the county of Loch Garman in the year of the Lord 1179 to expiate the evil he had done in Ireland, and in like manner how William Fitz Aldelmel plundered the church of Inis Cathach and its termon lands, as well as many other churches, and, moreover, that what these same Normans, through the excess of vanity, pride and haughtiness that had grown up in them, paid attention to, was to keep up constant dissension among themselves and to destroy and waste the Gaels between each of their pairs of factions, and that they had no mind, as the Gaels thought, to reform religion or to correct morals in Ireland,—observing these things the Gaels thought to rid themselves of the oppression of these people. And accordingly a body of Gaelic nobles went to the house of Conchubhar of Maonmhagh, king of Connaught, who dwelt at Dun Leogha in Ui Maine, to make him ruler over them.

First Domhnall O Briain, king of Luimneach, and Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe, king of Ulidia, and Domhnall Mac Carrthaigh, king of Desmond, Maoilseachlainn Beag, king of Meath, and O Ruairc, king of Ui Briuin and Conmhaicne, went to his house, and whatever the counsel they adopted, Conchubhar was fatefully slain before they had put it into execution.

It is plain from the facts we have stated above, that it was owing to tyranny and wrong and the want of fulfilling their own law on the part of the Norman leaders in Ireland that there was so much resistance on


the part of the Gaels to the Norman yoke. For I do not think there is a race in Europe who would be more obedient to law than the Irish if the law were justly administered to them. And this is the testimony which John Davies gives of them in the last page of the first book which he has written on Ireland. Thus does he speak: There is no nation under the sun that love equal and indifferent iustice better than the Irish or will rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it be against themselves, provided they have the protection and benefit of the law when upon just occasion they do desire it. {There is noe nation of people under the sunn that doeth love equall and indifferent iustice better than the Irish, or will rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it be against themselves, soe as they maie have the protection and benefitt of the lawe when uppon iust occation they doe desire it.}’’

From the testimony of this author it is to be inferred that it was not through evil disposition on the part of the Irish that they often rebelled against the law, but through the rulers often failing to administer the law justly to them.

Other leaders came to Ireland in the beginning of the Norman Invasion, besides the five we have named above, who did not commit the deeds of treachery that the said five committed, and who did much good in Ireland by building churches and abbeys and giving church lands to clerics for their support, together with many other good deeds besides, and God gave them as a return for this that there are many descendants after them at this day in Ireland, to wit, the Gearaltaigh and the Burcaigh, the Builtearaigh and the Barraigh, the Cursaigh and the Roistigh, the Puerigh and the Grasaigh, and the Prionndarghasaigh, the Pleimonnaigh, the Puirsealaigh and the Priosdunaigh, the Noinnsionnaigh and the Breathnaigh, the Toibinigh and the Suirtealaigh and the Bloinnsinigh, the clann Feorais, the Conndunaigh, the Cantualaigh, the Deibhriusaigh, the Dairsidhigh, the Diolmhainigh, the Easmontaigh, the Leisigh, the Brunaigh and the Keitinnigh, and many other descendants of the Norman nobles who sprang from other leaders whom we shall not name here.