Ireland in the 12th Century

I believe it was Marcus Tullius (106 – 43 BC) Roman Consul, orator, writer, and elegant speaker who used rhetoric was quoted as saying “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child.”

In researching the history of the Parle family cognisance should be taken of the part played by Parle Knights (see ‘Flemish Names’ at end of this piece) who were part of the foreign invasion of Ireland that formally began on 1st of May 1169. The first phase of a six-phase invasion was lead by Robert FitzStephen leading three ships and 400 fully armed men landed at Bannow Island, South County Wexford on the 1st of May 1169. The Parle Knights, said to be Flemish, were part of a group of Norman/Welsh & Flemish (Belgian) forces.

This force participated with the Irish King of Leinster Dermot MacMorrough during the invasion, with the full support of Richard de Clare, the Norman Earl of Pembroke, South Wales (known as Strongbow), who was acting under the powers of the English (Norman) King Henry II.

The success of this invasion is said to have resulted in the conception and birth of colonial British rule in Ireland. To more fully appreciate this time period a summary history may be helpful.

Today, there are four Provinces on the island of Ireland. Ulster in the North & Northwest, Connaught in the West, Munster in the South and Southwest, and Leinster in the East and Southeast. There are moves afoot at government level to establish a fifth Province covering the Greater Dublin Region. This may give you a greater appreciation and understanding to the historical events outlined and their location.


Some background history to 12th century Ireland

The Cambro-Norman Invasion of Ireland


In the fifth century AD, Roman Britain collapsed, and the Anglo-Saxons invaded and settled the East, eventually to establish Germanic-speaking England. They pressed the native British groups, whom they called 'Welsh', ever westwards, into the land which would become Wales, and Cornwall. Being just across a short expanse of sea, Wales and Ireland shared an ancient connection. It was common for the Welsh to trade with the Irish and to colonize in Irish lands, and vice versa. When the Norsemen/Danes arrived in the 7th century, alliances were formed between the Irish, Welsh, and others to wage battle against the Norse (Danes/ Vikings). They first came to Ireland to attack and plunder monasteries. Later they began to settle in Ireland. Vikings of course settled elsewhere too – Ireland, Greenland and even Canada. In 911 AD Vikings under a leader called Rollo, captured land for themselves in Northern France, which became known as Normandy, from the word Norse (Norsemen), another name for the Vikings.

William the Conquerer

Within 100 years Normandy had become one of the strongest Regions in France. The Vikings or Normans now spoke French. Their leader Duke William I (1028 – 1087) was cruel but very powerful. In 1066, King Edward of England died without an heir, and William lay claim to the throne, based on a promise supposedly made by the dead king. However, before William could get to England, the English crowned Harold Godwin, Earl of Wessex as their king, becoming Harold II of England, the last Saxon king of England.

William decided to invade England, an event that inspired one of the most amazing works of art of the day, the Bayeux Tapestry. This woven linen cloth is about 50 cms high and about 60 metres wide. In Latin words and embroidered pictures it tells the story of the Norman invasion.

William and his army landed at Hastings on the south coast of England, and Harold with his army marched south to meet them. The Bayeux Tapestry shows us that the Battle of Hastings (Oct 1066) was a bloody one, which was only decided after the death of Harold.

The Norman victory was due to a combination of better equipment and good tactics. The Norman knight was the best-trained and best-equipped soldier in Europe at the time.

After the victory William marched to London where he was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066. From then on he was known as ‘William the Conqueror’. Over the next 100 years (to 1166), William and his successors ruled England, and brought the entire country under Norman control with the help of Norman lords loyal to them.

So, by the eleventh century the Normans (Norsemen/Danes/Vikings from northern France) under William the Conqueror invaded Britain and conquered the Anglo-Saxon lands. The Normans met stiff resistance with the Welsh, who by this time had formed alliances with both the Irish and the Norse, particularly from the Leinster province in Ireland. For more information about these alliances, see this Chronology of Viking Raids into Wales.

The period in which the Normans lived is often called the Middle Ages, because in history it lies between ancient times and modern times. Historians use it as referring to the period between the 12th and 15th century.


Most kingdoms in Medieval Europe had a system of government called feudalism. The king granted land to nobles, including higher churchmen such as bishops and abbots. These people then became the king’s vassals, rather like tenants renting land from the owner. The actual ‘granting’ of the land was called feudum, from which we get the word feudalism, while the piece of land held by the vassal was called the fief (hence fiefdom).

In return for the land, the vassal swore an oath of homage. This basically meant that he became the king’s man (homme is the French for man). He promised money to his overlord, the king, and he promised to provide knights to fight for the king; the number of knights depended upon the value of the land-grant received. This duty was known as knight service. A vassal also had to give food and lodgings to the king and his major followers whenever they visited a vassal’s castle. A feudal king also acted as a judge in disputes between his vassals should a vassal be killed, the king took in his children as wards until they were old enough to takeover their family fief, or, in the case of girls, be married. Most importantly, with the help of all the money and knight-service due to him, it was the duty of the king to protect the country (and so his vassals) in times of war.

The most important noblemen were earls; their fiefs were usually so large that they kept only some of the land for themselves (the demesne). The rest was rented out to lesser nobles such as barons or knights under similar terms to those between the earl and his king. The earl was then the overlord to his own vassals, and it was usually with some of their knights and payments that he paid his own dues to the king.

In the twelfth century the Welsh chieftain Rhys ap Gruffydd was holding his own among the Norman Barons in South Wales, who were by now intermarrying with the Welsh. Rhys held the Cambro-Norman Baron Robert FitzStephen prisoner after overrunning his estates in the 1160's. Robert, who was a cousin of Rhys through his mother Nesta (Rhys' aunt), later came to play an important role in the Invasion of Ireland.

Causes of the Invasion of Ireland

In 1152, the religious see of Dublin opted to become an Irish archbishopric, spurning the ecclesiastical rule of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Shortly after, when Henry II became King of England, the idea of invading Ireland resurfaced; apparently as it had during the previous reigns of William the Conqueror and Henry I. Ecclesiastic reaction to the loss of the see of Dublin was taken on by

Pope Adrian IV, at the insistence of the envoys from Canterbury, who invested Henry and his successors ‘the right to rule Ireland’ and to bring about religious reformation there. However, Henry II was occupied at the outset of his career in securing his hold on England itself, and any plans of Irish invasion were on hold.

The political climate in Ireland at the time was one of inter-tribal rivalries, as it had been for centuries. In the mid 1100's a great rivalry for the High Kingship of Ireland existed between Muirchertach MacLochlainn of Tirowen and Ruairi O'Connor [Ruadrí Ua Conchobair] of Connacht. Dermot MacMurrough [Dairmait Mac Murchada], the King of Leinster, allied himself with MacLochlainn, and Dermot's greatest foe, Tiernan O'Rourke [Tighernán Ua Ruairc], King of Breifne, allied himself with O'Connor. Dermot and Tiernan were bitter rivals contending for the Middle Kingdom of Meath. At one point Dermot abducted the wife of O'Rourke, thus sealing the hatred between these two kings.

In 1166 the High-King, Muirchertach MacLochlainn died. Dermot MacMurrough, losing his greatest ally and protector in MacLochlainn, saw his kingdom in Leinster invaded by O'Connor and O'Rourke. On this occasion the Ostmen (Norsemen) of Dublin also participated in ousting Dermot from his kingship in Leinster.

The Irish King of Leinster seeks help from England

Losing his powerful allies in Ireland, it seemed evident that the ousted King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, would seek assistance in Wales. The English (Norman) King, Henry II, granted Dermot permission to recruit forces including land-hungry Barons, to regain his kingship.

Dermot formed an alliance with (Richard Fits-Gilbert of Clare), Richard de Clare, the Norman 2nd Earl of Pembroke & Strigoil, Wales, and otherwise known to history as Strongbow. Dermot promised Strongbow grants of land as well as his daughter's hand in marriage in exchange for his help. After winning Strongbow over to his cause, Dermot visited the Welsh prince of South Wales, Rhys ap Gruffydd, to gain the freedom of Robert FitzStephen, a "knight of great renown," who had been held captive by Rhys. At the request of Robert's half-brothers, David (Bishop of St. David's) and Maurice FitzGerald, Robert was released on condition that he went to Ireland to assist Dermot MacMurrough.

Thus, by the summer of 1167, after fifteen years of planning, Dermot had achieved the promise of substantial aid. Evidently, however, the prospect of waiting a year for the recovery of his position was too much for the Irish chieftain. After concluding his agreement with Robert Fitz-Stephen, he immediately contacted Richard Fitz-Godebert, a Fleming from near Haverford who apparently commanded a small body of mercenaries. At any rate, Dermot and Fitz-Godebert and his small body of troops sailed from St. David's in August, and landed in Leinster.

In 1167 Dermot returned to Ireland with a small force of Welsh and Flemish under Richard FitzGodebert. With native Irish support to regain control of his homeland, Ui Ceinnsealaigh in southeast Leinster, Dermot attempted to reclaim his kingship of Leinster. He was however defeated southeast of Carlow town in 1168 by the High King of Ireland Ruairi O'Connor and his ally Tiernan O'Rourke, the same who had ousted him in 1166. A large army attacked Dermot and his allies. Dermot's force was overwhelmed in the skirmish that followed, but the victors were generous. Dermot was allowed to retain the chieftainship of his own small tribe, and retired to Ferns. The small mercenary band returned to Wales, where they no doubt spread the word of Dermot's defeat and the terms of the peace he had accepted.

The stage is set for the Norman Invasion of Ireland

Following up on his promise of aid, Robert FitzStephen landed, about the 1st of May 1169, with three ships of Norman, Welsh and Flemish forces, about 400 strong, on the southern coast of County Wexford at Bannow (probably Bannow Island). The following day Maurice de Prendergast with a force of about 200 reinforced FitzStephen's group.

The make-up of this small force deserves considerable attention in that it illustrates the character of the other Cambro-Norman contingents, which were to follow. Also, Fitz-Stephen's group represents in miniature the type of military machine that the marchers had developed to meet the rather stringent requirements, which a century of frontier life had laid upon them. Fitz-Stephen's force, like the smaller group of Fitz-Godebert before him, was tripartite in character. According to The Song of Dermot, the contingent was composed of "Chevalers, archers, e serianz," (14) Giraldus Cambrensis states that the group consisted of milites, arcarii or sagitarii, and loricati. The identity of these men is clear, but some further discussion of the terms is desirable.

The milites, it must be understood, were not "knights" in the more restricted sense of the term. Their very number on this small expedition makes this obvious. Fitz-Stephen numbered thirty such milites in his contingent, drawn mainly from his kinsmen and their retainers. These men were not necessarily members of the nobility, but were rather the fully armoured horsemen who performed the "knight-service" which formed the basic obligation of feudal land-tenure. One commentator states that "this class of military men represented what we should now call the landed gentry of the country; a class below barons and knights, but of sufficient substance to provide themselves with a war horse and complete armour." (16)

The milites formed a company of heavy cavalry that represented the core of Fitz-Stephen's organization. Included within this group were three of Fitz-Stephen's nephews, all members of the Geraldine clan: Miles Menevensis, Meiler Fitz-Henry, and Robert of Barri. (note 17)

The milites each possessed two or three retainers, mounted but more lightly armed who formed a supporting light cavalry corps. (note 18) These were the loricati, of whom Fitz-Stephen was able to field sixty. The nature of their armour is difficult to establish. One commentator suggests that the loricati were "half-armoured," but this term seems scarcely definitive. It must suffice to say that the loricati represented a light cavalry force, usually about double the number of the heavy cavalry group with which it operated.

The remaining group, the sagitarii, constituted perhaps the most distinctive feature of the marcher contingents. Certainly the attachment of a body of archers to a basically cavalry force was no innovation in Norman warfare. (note 20) The innovation lay rather in the character of the force, its skill, and the close coordination with which it was employed. The body of sagitarii, which accompanied Fitz-Stephen, numbered three hundred, a number in accordance with the normal Cambro-Norman ratio of ten archers for each miles. The most surprising thing about Fitz-Stephen's archer force is that they were Welsh. Giraldus describes the group as "de electa Gualliae iuventutae." This says much for their skill. The bow had long been the national weapon of the men of South Wales, and they had developed their equipment and techniques through over a century of frontier skirmishes and ambushes. The arrows of the Welsh could penetrate three-inch oak slabs and could inflict mortal wounds through the armor of the heavily armored cavalryman.

It is only natural that the Norman marcher lords adapted this peculiarly effective weapon to their own purposes. It is most probable that this process of assimilation began quite early, and that the seal of Earl Gilbert of Clare (d. 1148), which depicts him holding an exaggerated arrow, was intended as a tribute to his proficiency with the national arm of South Wales. Indeed, considering the invaluable role that this weapon played in the endemic strife of the Welsh frontier, it is likely that Welsh "friendlies" were employed at a date much earlier than the redoubtable Earl. At any rate, by 1170, Welsh archers appear to have been thoroughly integrated into the Cambro-Norman military organization, and their longbows were recognized as an essential element for military success.

17 Miles was the son of David Fitz-Gerald, bishop of St. David's. Robert of Barri was the brother of Giraldus Cambrensis. Meiler Fitz-Henry was not, properly speaking, a member of the Geraldine clan, but was the illegitimate son of Nesta by Henry I.

18 These men were possibly similar to the servientes francigenae often encountered in Domesday Book.

20 This is amply illustrated by the Bayeux Tapestry. Also see R. Glover, "English Warfare in 1066," The English Historical Review, LXVII (1952), 1-18.

These archers provided the key to the impressive victories which the Cambro-Normans achieved in the difficult terrain which was characteristic of Leinster. The rational use of flexible contingents of cavalry and archers in combination uniformly proved too powerful even for Irish levies of overwhelmingly superior numbers. The Irish were foot soldiers, disdaining armour, and employing spears, javelins, and the battle-axe which they had borrowed from the Dansk warriors of the coastal towns. Only when hard pressed would they employ slingers as missile troops. Although their impetuous tactics, characteristic and obligatory for lightly armed troops, served them well in broken country, they were no matches for cavalry in open terrain. Hence, when possible, the Irish would choose broken and forested terrain in which to fight their battles. In their chosen terrain, however, the Irish now had to face the undoubted superiority of the Welsh archers. Throughout the Cambro-Norman campaigns in Ireland, archers and cavalry were combined, and with devastating results.

The core of the invading force, however, was still the heavy cavalry so basic to the typical Norman plan of battle. Here, too, the Cambro-Normans had developed special characteristics, which better enabled them to wage successfully the type of warfare with which they were faced. Giraldus contrasted the Anglo-Norman and Cambro-Norman milites at great length. His analysis was clouded in some measure by his desire to exalt the role that his kinsmen had played, and in the future could resume, in the subjugation of the Irish. In some measure, too, his comments no doubt reflected the natural antagonism, which the Cambro-Norman "pioneers" must have felt toward the recently arrived Anglo-Norman royal "regulars." The essence of Giraldus' remarks is worthy of consideration, however. He pointed out that the conditions of warfare in France, and in Wales and Ireland, was vastly different, and that each set of conditions had developed its own type of warrior.

Warfare in France consisted of massive battles fought in open country between closely marshalled bodies of heavily armoured horsemen. In such battles, the best warrior was the one who was the most heavily armoured, had the firmest seat, and was the most skilled in close fighting. The equipment and training of the Anglo-Norman knights were designed to secure exactly these qualities. On the marches of Wales, however, warfare consisted of sudden attacks launched or suffered under a variety of conditions, interspersed with long periods of uneasy quiet. The primary virtue of the marcher warrior, therefore, lay in his flexibility. As conditions warranted, he must needs be a mounted knight, an archer, or a light infantryman. These stringent requirements were reflected in his lighter armour and his peculiar saddle. (note 24)

These differences in equipment and tactics were paralleled by an equally great difference in psychology.

Warfare in France was normally restricted to a definite season; campaigns proceeded along previously determined lines; there was little element of surprise; and the troops were usually well supplied. Between campaigns, there was generally the security and luxury of the winter months. The Anglo-Norman troops in Ireland preferred to be stationed near administrative and supply centres, not only where they could enjoy plenty, and hope of advancement, but where there was some measure of collective security and camaraderie. The marchers, on the other hand, were well accustomed to the decentralized and desultory nature of frontier warfare. They were prepared to undergo the privations and boredom that attended frontier service, because this was their way of life. In effect, the Cambro-Norman warriors were willing to face the hard, dull, and brutal facts of frontier warfare in a way the Anglo-Normans could not. There was little honour, less glory, and no sportsmanship here; fighting was neither a profession nor a mystique on the Welsh frontier - it was a necessity made into a way of life.

24 Ibid., p. 386. Giraldus notes that this enabled him to mount and dismount unaided and more quickly.

Such was the character of the small force, which Robert Fitz- Stephen landed on the coast of Ireland near the town of Wexford in May of 1169. The next day the 400 Cambro-Normans were joined by two additional contingents. One, led by Maurice of Prendergast, consisted of a body of about 150 Flemings from Wales, probably mercenaries with whom Dermot had reached a special arrangement. It was maintained as a separate corps, and The Song of Dermot and the Earl generally accords Maurice equal dignity with Fitz-Stephen. To these forces, were added 500 native Irish who arrived under Dermot himself. The allied force, numbering less than 1,100 men marched immediately upon the town of Wexford.

Merging with a force of near 500 Irishmen under MacMurrough, the combined army marched toward the Norse-Irish seaport of Wexford 19 miles away, where battle began outside the walls of the town. Encountering the Norman mounted and armoured knights and the deadly Welsh archers, the Norse army of about 2,000 retired within their own walls. Following assaults on the walled city, the Norsemen called for terms of peace, which ultimately led to their recognition, once again, of Dermot as their overlord.

At this time, Dermot granted lands in Wexford to Robert FitzStephen and his half-brother Maurice FitzGerald, as well as to Hervey de Monte Marisco, an uncle of Strongbow.

Further expansion in Leinster

Dermot and FitzStephen, now with the reluctant Norsemen of Wexford at their side, next set their mark on the westernmost kingdom in Leinster, that of Ossory (Kilkenny and part of Laois). The king of Ossory, Donal MacGiolla Phadriag (later Fitzpatrick) held hostage and had blinded Dermot's eldest son Eanna. In the three-day battle, the Ossorians were routed and defeated near Freshford.

Dermot and his allies next went into north Leinster doing battle in the territories of the O'Byrnes, O'Tooles, and the lands of O'Connor of Offaly. Soon the greater forces of the High King of Ireland Ruairi O'Connor returned to Leinster, and with the interaction of the Church, the two forces sat down in negotiation at Ferns. In the Treaty of 1169, Dermot was allowed to retain the kingship of Leinster if he recognized Ruairi as the High King, and if he agreed to send his foreign allies back to Wales, never to return. Dermot agreed to Ruairi's demands and gave his son O'Conchobair to Ruairi as hostage. In turn the Norsemen at the Leinster seaport of Dublin reluctantly submitted to the terms and to Dermot's kingship.

The Arrival of Strongbow - the Treaty broken

Toward the end of 1169, the third phase under Maurice FitzGerald landed with a force of two ships. Dermot growing more confident was now eyeing the High-Kingship of Ireland for himself.

To do this, he soon saw, he must persuade Richard FitzGilbert (Richard de Clare) to end his procrastination, and to take an active part in the expedition. According to Giraldus, he sent a letter to Strongbow, which stated, in part, "if you come in time with a strong force, the other four parts of the kingdom will be easily united to the fifth.... Needless to say, this new proposal was extremely attractive to the earl. Dermot had promised that he should be heir to the kingdom of Leinster; he now offered all of Ireland. The offer also presented the earl some difficulties, however. The original letter of patent that Henry had granted Dermot had stipulated:  "Wherefore, whosoever within the bounds of our territories shall be willing to give him [Dermot] aid, as our vassal and liegeman, in recovering his territories, let him be assured of our favour on that behalf."

Dermot's new proposal went far beyond the terms of Henry's original grant. Far from merely recovering his own territories, he now contemplated the conquest of all Ireland. The prospect was alluring, but it became doubly necessary for Strongbow to receive specific permission from his monarch. It also was necessary that he hide from Henry II how favourable his prospects were. He went to the court, assuming the role of a man driven to desperation, and petitioned the king either to grant him those lands which were his by right of inheritance, or to give him permission to depart the country and seek his fortune in other realms. Apparently Henry refused to give a direct reply, but Strongbow seized upon a chance remark the king made and interpreted it as the permission he had sought." He departed the court and made preparations for an expedition to Ireland.

About the middle of August in 1170, Strongbow began to move along the old coast road, heading for Milford and gathering recruits along the way. In Pembrokeshire the addition of Maurice of Prendergast's force of Flemings brought his total strength to about two hundred milites and a thousand infantry. It must be noted that the symmetry of the earlier Cambro-Norman contingents here breaks down. This was a more cosmopolitan group, numbering among its members groups of javelin men and of English infantry. Meanwhile, Henry had been reconsidering his rather hasty words, and, even as this force was prepared to embark, a message came from the king forbidding the expedition. It was too late, and was ignored.

Strongbow, after viewing the prospect of marrying Dermot's daughter Aoife and eventually becoming overlord in Leinster, sent another landing party in 1170 under the command of Raymond le Gros. At the same time Strongbow was planning for his own landing force to embark. Around the 1st of May 1170, Raymond landed at Baginbun, near Waterford City, with a small force of about 100 setting about to secure a landing point for the arrival of Strongbow. At Baginbun, Raymond was said to have hastily built his defences and later resisted an attack from a larger Norse-Irish army sent out from Waterford.

Strongbow arrived around the 23rd of August 1170, with a force of about 1,000. The landing occurred at a point very near to Waterford called ‘the Passage’ (Passage East). The combined armies of Strongbow and Raymond le Gros advanced toward the walled city of Waterford. Two attacks on the city were repulsed before the Cambro-Norman force found a weak spot in the walls, allowing them to enter and capture the town. Forces under Dermot MacMurrough, Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald arrived on the 25th of August after the fall of the city.

FitzStephen made a speech to his Cambro-Norman troops. His words, as reported by Giraldus, probe deeply into the mentality of these early conquerors, the "old warriors," then in their youth. He made it clear that the Cambro-Normans considered themselves a special, and superior, breed of men, when he said: ‘We derive our descent, originally, in part from the blood of the Trojans, and partly we are of the French race. From the one we have our native courage, from the other the use of armour. Since, then, inheriting such generous blood on both sides, we are not only brave, but well armed’.

It was in Waterford that Dermot gave his daughter, Aoife, in marriage to Earl Richard de Clare of Pembroke, South Wales (Strongbow), fulfilling his promise and making Richard the heir-in-succession to the kingdom of Leinster. With the Treaty of 1169 broken, war with High King Ruairi O’Connor [Ruadrí Ua Conchobair] of Connacht was imminent.

Turning Point at Dublin

The next target for the Norman-Irish armies in Leinster was the strategic political and trade centre at Dublin. Although many of Ruairi's forces had been doing battle fighting against an O'Brien rebellion in Munster, the High King was already amassing a large army toward Dublin. The Norman-Irish armies managed to reach the southern walls of Dublin and muster an assault on the town. Even though negotiations had already begun between the Norsemen of Dublin and the combined Strongbow/MacMurrough forces, Raymond FitzWilliam le Gros and Milo de Cogan burst into the city from different directions and routed the Ostmen of Dublin. Asculf MacTorkil, the Norse king of Dublin was forced to flee with his remaining forces by ship.

Ruairi felt betrayed and indignant about the negotiations initiated by the Ostmen of Dublin, and his armies apparently marched away. Dermot followed up the victory at Dublin by taking his forces into Meath, a territory north of Leinster, which he contested, in earlier years against one of his greatest enemies, Tiernan O'Rourke [Tighernán Ua Ruairc], King of Breifne. Dermot may have hoped to seek revenge on his old enemy, who had been instrumental in ousting him in 1166, and defeating him on his return in 1168.

The Irish Reaction

Up to this time many of the other Irish kings and leaders felt the Normans were simply aiding Dermot in his "private" feud with Ruari O'Connor, the High King. However, this all changed on Dermot MacMurrough's death in May 1171, and the accession of Strongbow to the kingship of Leinster. This event caused great concern among the native Irish leaders. How could a foreigner so easily establish himself as king of an Irish province? In reaction, the tribes of Leinster rose in revolt and High King Ruairi called on the Irish provincial kings to drive out the foreigner.

Initially the Irish-Norse campaign to oust the Normans was successful. Dermot MacCarthy of Desmond recaptured Waterford. The Norsemen of Wexford captured Robert FitzStephen. A large Norse fleet under MacTorkil returned to lay siege on Dublin, while Ruairi O’Connor’s army was approaching Dublin by land.

However, the Norse attacked Dublin before the arrival of Ruairi's forces and although at first successful, were counter attacked and outflanked by the superior Calvary and archers of Milo de Cogan and his brother Richard.

The joint armies of Ruairi, 60,000 strong, laid siege to Dublin during the months of July and August 1171. As their supplies began to run out, the besieged Normans made a surprise attack on the forces of Ruairi. Demonstrating their supremacy in arms, the Norman forces routed and dispersed Ruairi's armies. Ruairi withdrew to his native Connacht, High King in name only.

The Arrival of Henry II

Strongbow went on to retake Wexford and Waterford, as well as defeat the Ossorians (from Kilkenny and part of Laois) who were being aided by O'Brien of Limerick. The other leaders in Leinster soon submitted.

By this time Henry II had noted the successes of the Cambro-Norman forces and feared a rival Norman State in Ireland.

In October 1171 Henry arrived for a seven-month stay with a large army to assume control of the situation, and to set himself up in the role of the protector against the marauding Norman Barons. Strongbow offered to surrender his Irish conquests to Henry and pay him homage. Henry in return granted the kingdom of Leinster to the Earl, and kept Dublin, Waterford and Wexford for himself.

All but the Irish kingdoms of Mid and West Ulster agreed to the authority given to Henry by Pope Adrian IV in a bull of legitimacy (Laudabiliter), and to the peace he offered in Ireland. In this move he became the only Englishman in history to accede to the papacy. The goal of the Pope was the remedying of the deplorable condition of religion and morals in Ireland.

In the move the Irish kings were substituting one overlord for another, retaining full possession of and jurisdiction over their original territories, and paying tributes to Henry II, which were no heavier than those they formerly paid to the Irish High-King.

Post Invasion

Before leaving Ireland in April 1172, Henry II granted to Hugh de Lacy, one of his followers, the province of Meath (from the Shannon to the sea) and appointed him constable of Dublin and justiciar (i.e. representative of the royal government in Ireland as a whole). Within a few months Hugh de Lacy treacherously killed Tiernan O'Rourke in the course of a parley, effectively reducing Irish resistance in Meath.

It was not however until 1175 that he and Strongbow finally controlled Irish resistance within their vast liberties, allowing the land to be shared out among their chief vassals.

By 1175 the Treaty of Windsor recognized Ruairi O'Connor as High King of Ireland outside Leinster, Meath and the area around Waterford. In return Henry demanded tribute from the Irish chiefs. Ruairi's followers touted the treaty as a diplomatic triumph, but its significance dwindled quickly to a guarantee of immunity for only the province of Connacht, as long as tribute was paid.

In 1176, after repeated rebellions against both Ruari O'Connor and the Normans, the O'Brien king of Thomond burned the city of Limerick (in the west) to prevent its being garrisoned. South Munster was filled with domestic strife among its chiefdoms.

Following Strongbow's death in June 1176 (his tomb lies off the centre aisle of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin), Leinster was temporarily transferred to the wardship of King Henry II, until in 1177 when he transferred all of his rights as Lord of Ireland to his youngest son, Prince John.

In 1177 the newly arrived John de Courcy mounted a successful free-lance expedition into Ulaid (Ulster), and ruled for a time as an independent 'Prince of Ulster.' Hugh De Lacy's charter for Meath was renewed on stricter terms, and the two Irish kingdoms in Munster (held by McCarthy and O'Brien) were speculatively granted away: Cork to Robert FitzStephen and Miles de Cogan, who took possession of 7 cantreds (a district of approx 100 townships) and exacted tribute from McCarthy for the remaining 24, and Limerick to Philip de Braose and others, who failed to conquer any land at all from O'Brien.

For the next century the Normans fought to establish themselves throughout Ireland but, though greatly aided by Papal edicts of excommunication against all Irish Chiefs who refused to submit to the Anglo-Norman King Henry II, they were never wholly successful.

On the Irish side, due largely to local rivalries and the disruptive effects of the earlier prolonged struggle for survival, the war against the Normans was little more than a war of clans. But, eventually, some of the Irish leaders saw the need for troops regularly trained for war and always available for service. This led to the establishment of standing armies, recruited in Ireland and in the Gaelic areas of Scotland, the former being generally the ciatharnach (anglicised ‘kernes’) and the latter the more heavily armed gall-oglaigh (anglicised ‘gallow-glasses’). It should be noted that Edmund Parle, of Brittas, Co. Wicklow, was described as a galloglass in 1570 a member of a special class of soldiers or retainers, maintained by Irish Chiefs.

In the meantime, many of the Normans who had succeeded in establishing themselves among the Irish had taken Irish wives and become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’.

What followed in Ireland of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries was a change from acquiring lordship over men to colonizing land. The founding of borough towns, castles and churches; the importing of tenants; and the increase in agriculture and commerce were among the changes brought on by the Cambro-Normans following the Invasion.


More on the Invaders

From ‘Camden (Britannia, 1610)’ comes this list of persons who participated with Dermot MacMorrogh during the Invasion:

Richard Strongbow, Earle of Pembroch
Robert Fitz-Stephen
Harvey de Montmarish
Maurice Prendergast
Robert Barr
Meiler Meilerine
Maurice Fitz-Gerald
Redmond nephew of Fitz-Stephen
William Ferrand
Miles de Cogan
Gualter de Ridensford
Gualter and Alexander sons of Maurice Fitz-Gerald
William Notte
Robert Fitz-Bernard
Hugh Lacie
William Fitz-Aldelm
William Macarell
Hemphrey Bohun
Hugh De Gundevill
Philip de Hasting
Hugh Tirell
David Walsh
Robert Poer
Osbert de Herloter
William de Bendenges
Adam de Gernez
Philip de Breos
Griffin nephew of Fitz-Stephen
Raulfe Fitz-Stephen
Walter de Barry
Philip Walsh
Adam de Hereford
Others claimed to have been present during the Invasion:
John Courcy
Hugh Contilon
Redmund Fitz-Hugh
Miles of St. David's
Walynus, a Welshman who came to Ireland with Maurice Fitzgerald
Gilbert d'Angulo and sons Jocelyn and Hostilo (Costello) - with Strongbow
Sir Robert Marmion - with Strongbow 1172
William de Wall - with Strongbow
Randolph FitzRalph - with FitzStephen
Alice of Abervenny - with Raymond FitzWilliam Le Gros
Richard de Cogan - with Strongbow
Phillipe le Hore - with Strongbow
Theobald Fitzwalter - with Henry II
Robert de Bermingham - with Stongbow
?? d'Evreux - with Strongbow
?? Eustace
Roger de Gernon - with Strongbow
de la Chapelle (Supple) - with Strongbow

In Richard Roche's book, "The Norman Invasion of Ireland," he points out other Cambro-Norman-Flemish (Belgian) family names prominent among the early invaders and the settlers who soon followed.

Other prominent Norman family names:  Talbot (from the barony of that name near Rouen), Devereux (near Rouen), Neville, Browne, Poer (pronounced Poor in Wexford).

Pembrokeshire Welsh families include:  Barry, Bryan, Barrett, Carew, Caunteton (now Condon), Hay, Keating, Mayler, Roche, Russell, Stackpoole, Scurlock, and Walsh.

Devonshire names:  Furlong, Bellew, Codd, Cruys (now Cruise), Hore.

Uncertain origins before Ireland:  Harper (said to be descended from Strongbow's harper), Sutton, Stafford, Rossiter, Loundres, Esmonde, French, Lamport (or Lambert), Peppard, St. John, and Turner.

Flemish names:  Fleming (barons of Slane), Prendergast (now Prender), Chievres (now Cheevers), Synad (now Sinnott), Cullin (now Cullen), Wadding, Whythay (now Whitty), Cusac (now Cusack), Siggin (Siggins or Siggeen in Wexford), Boscher (Busher), Parle, Waddick, Bolger, Colfer, and Connick.

South Wexford is particularly rich today in descendents of the knights, says Roche, who is a Wexford man himself.

The Cambro-Norman Leaders - Descendants of Nesta

Many of the early Cambro-Norman invaders were related, as indicated in the descendant chart of Nesta, a Welsh princess. Nesta was known as one of the most beautiful women in Wales. Her father was Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr, Prince of South Wales (1081-1093) She had children from (at least) three relationships: Stephen the Castellan (of Cardigan), Gerald FitzWalter (of Windsor) and Henry I (King of England).

       Stephen                             Gerald                         Henry I
              |                                        |                                    |
Robert FitzStephen*    Maurice FitzGerald*    Henry FitzHenry
              |                           David FitzGerald                     |
              |                          William FitzGerald                   |
              |                    Angareta FitzGerald (dau)            |
_____________         _____________        _____________
|                              |        |                               |      |                               |
Meredit FitzRobert    Geraldines of Desmond   Meyler FitzHenry
   Ralf FitzRobert         Raymond FitzWilliam*    Robert FitzHenry
Geoffrey FitzRobert       Griffin FitzWilliam

The descendant chart above shows the relationship of Robert FitzStephen, leader of the 1st landing; Maurice FitzGerald, leader of the 3rd landing; and Raymond FitzWilliam le Gros, leader of the 4th landing. Robert and Maurice were half-brothers (through their mother Nesta) and Raymond was a nephew of both.

The campaigns: - Staged over four years

  • Pre-Invasion - 1167 - Dermot MacMurrough and Flemings under Richard FitzGodebert
  • Bannow Island, Wexford - 1st landing 1st May 1169 - Robert FitzStephen
  • Bannow Island, Wexford - 2nd landing 1169 - Maurice de Prendergast
  • Wexford - 3rd landing 1169 - Maurice FitzGerald
  • Baginbun, Wexford - 4th landing 1st May 1170 - Raymond FitzWilliam le Gros
  • Passage, Waterford - 5th landing 1170 - Richard (Strongbow) de Clare
  • Crook, Waterford - 6th landing 1171 - King Henry II

Family Ties

Among others, Robert FitzStephen had the following relatives who were involved in the Invasion: his son Raulfe; his half-nephews Raymond (FitzWilliam le Gros), Griffin FitzWilliam, Robert de Barri, and Meyler FitzHenry; his half-brother Maurice FitzGerald. Robert FitzStephen's half-brother Henry FitzHenry was in turn a half-brother to King Henry II.

Maurice FitzGerald married Alice de Montgomery and they had the following children: Gerald (Baron of Offaly), Walter and Alexander (invaders), William (Baron of Naas 1), Maurice (of Kiltrany), Thomas, Robert and Nesta FitzGerald.

Maurice's son Gerald married Eve de Bermingham, relative of Robert de Bermingham who was one of the invaders.

Maurice's son William Fitzgerald, Baron of Naas, married one of Strongbow's daughters, Alina de Clare. Their line included son William, and grandson David who married Maud de Lacy to carry on the baronage of Naas.

Maurice's daughter Nesta Fitzgerald married Harvey de Montmarish [aka Hervey de Montmorency], who was an uncle of Strongbow.

Maurice FitzGerald sister, Angareta [Angarhad], married William de Barri and their children included Giraldus Cambrensis who chronicled the invasion, Robert de Barri who also invaded Ireland, and Philip de Barri, who received large estates in Cork. The de Cogans were half-brothers to the de Barri's.

Raymond FitzWilliam le Gros married Basilea de Clare, a sister to Strongbow. After Raymond's death (1186-89), Geoffrey FitzRobert (possible son of Robert FitzStephen), married Basilea.

Meiler [Meilerine] FitzHenry's sister married Walter de Ridelsford who is listed as Gualter de Ridensford on the chart of invaders above.



Further References:

The Norman Conquest of Ireland - Gerald of Wales 

The Cambro-Norman Reaction: The Invasion of Ireland
[note: as of 24 March 2008 the above link returns 'Server not found']



Website by Michael A Parle

This page last changed on 04 March 2019