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A little more than a century after their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans began their invasion of Ireland. In 1169 an advance party of Anglo-Normans arrived from south Wales bringing with them followers from France, Flanders, and England. A year later, Richard de Clare (Strongbow), Earl of Pembroke, brought with him a stronger force and began the conquest which would result in an Anglo-Norman colony which dominated the island.

Setting the Stage for Conquest:

Ireland had never been a unified kingdom and by the eleventh century the island was divided into a number of kingdoms. The Irish kings had no formal system of inheritance and so succession to the title was sometimes a bit messy. Succession only concerned the family kingdoms, the position of High King was a bit different. While the High King was supposedly the most powerful man in Ireland at this time, the position had to be continually won anew. There was always a contender looking to take over this position and this might involve killing the current High King.

map 1014

Turlough O Connor emerged as a contender for High King in the twelfth century. Turlough O Connor obtained a piece of the cross on which Jesus had been crucified, had it enshrined in the cross of Cong, and then wished upon this relict to become High King of Ireland. With his death in 1156, there were four contenders for the position: Rory O Connor, the King of Connacht; Muirchertach Mac Lochlain of Ulster; Dermot Mac Murrough of Leinster; and Tiernan O Rourke of Breffny. These four families battled with each other for supremacy.

Mac Lochlainn and Mac Murrough formed an alliance and O Connor and O Rourke formed a partnership. As a result, Ireland was divided into two blocks. With this two-way split, there was conflict, meaning that there were a series of battles and squabbles. In the end, the O Connor-O Rourke alliance triumphed, Rory O Connor proclaimed himself High King, and Dermot Mac Murrough sailed off to Bristol, England in exile.

Dermot Mac Murraugh

A drawing of Mac Murraugh is shown above.

The Norman Conquest:

From Bristol, Mac Murrough went to France where he asked King Henry II for help in retaking Ireland. One of the figures who agree to help Mac Murrough was Richard de Clare, the Second Earl of Pembroke, who was also known as Strongbow. Along with Strongbow a whole group of other Normans agreed to help Mac Murrough. With the approval of King Henry II and the help of the Normans, Mac Murrough began his attempt to retake Ireland.

In 1167 Mac Murrough returned to Ireland with a small force but was quickly defeated. Two years later Mac Murrough accompanied by Norman mercenaries from England tried again. They landed in County Wexford and occupied Waterford and Ossory. However, Mac Murrough was again defeated and submitted to O Connor and O Rourke. His English mercenaries had determined that the pay was better on the other side and had deserted him to support the Irish lords.

A year later, in 1170, Strongbow with a force of 1,000 men and 200 knights began their invasion. This was one of the most technologically advanced armies of the time and they soon controlled Dublin. Unlike Mac Murrough’s invasion, this was an invading army rather than a group of mercenaries. This meant that they weren’t interested in going away in a hurry.

In order to gain Strongbow’s support, Mac Murrough had to offer his daughter, Aoife, as a part of the deal. As soon as Strongbow captured Waterford, he claimed his prize and Aoife and Strongbow were married in August 1170. Thus the alliance between Normans and Irish royalty was solidified by marriage.

In her 1868 book An Illustrated History of Ireland, Sister Mary Frances Cusack summarizes the Norman invasion of Ireland this way:

“In the reign of Henry II., certain Anglo-Norman nobles came to Ireland, and, partly by force and partly by intermarriages, obtained estates in that country. Their tenure was the tenure of the sword. By the sword they expelled persons whose families had possessed those lands for centuries; and by the sword they compelled these persons, through poverty, consequence on loss of poverty, to take the position of inferiors where they had been masters.”
O Connor’s days as High King were over and Ireland was destined to be ruled by foreigners until 1922. The Norman invasion also marked a change in the Irish Catholic Church. The Irish kings had traditionally had a close relationship with the Church and the Irish Church often ignored rules and regulations coming out of the Vatican. The Norman invasion ended the isolation of the Irish Church and under the Normans the Vatican directed the Church more directly. With the arrival of the Normans, the significance and power of the Church in Ireland increased.

Norman Towns:

The Normans had come to stay, so Anglo-Norman towns were established most frequently in counties Meath, Kildare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Limerick. One of the earliest of these towns was Drogheda: founded in 1186 at the crossing point known today as Oldbridge. The last of the Norman towns was Roscommon which was founded in 1270. In all an estimated 50-60 towns were founded by the Normans. With regard to Drogheda, archaeological investigations have confirmed that there was no settlement or town here prior to the Normans.

The typical Anglo-Norman town was defended by walls and entered through gates. The town would usually have only one main street within the walls with lanes and narrower streets branching off at right angles. The main street generally functioned as a market place and in some instances it might be expanded in the center or at one end to accommodate the additional stalls during the market days.

Burgage plots—individually owned plots of land—were arranged in strips along the streets of the town. On these plots there would be a house on the street frontage, usually built with the gables fronting onto the street. Outhouses, workshops, and gardens were placed behind the house.

The Anglo-Norman towns usually had one parish church. Religious houses, particularly friaries and hospitals, were usually located outside of the town’s wall. Occasionally other houses—a kind of suburb—would form around the religious houses.

Norman Rural Settlements:

The Norman invaders did not find an empty landscape, but rather a rural land settled by dispersed rural settlements. Unlike the earlier Irish rural settlements, the Normans established a network of nucleated rural settlements in which the houses were located around a central focus. They brought with them an English village model in which the tenants’ houses were grouped around a church and castle or manor house.

Redwood Castle

Redwood Castle, built by the Normans about 1200 and occupied by them until about 1350, is shown above.


Bunratty Castle shown above is an example of a Norman manor house. It was constructed about 1270.

The Norman fortresses and manor houses, such as that of Bunratty Castle, often took the form of a motte and bailey.  The motte was a large artificial earthen mound with a wooden stockade at its summit. The motte, usually situated on a natural height, enclosed a wooden tower. The bailey was a low platform, usually rectangular in shape, located on one side of the motte. The bailey was usually separated from the motte by a ditch or fosse which surrounded both structures. The bailey was used to shelter servants and animals.

Clough Castle

The motte (left) and bailey (right) of Clough Castle is shown above. Archaeological excavations at this site show that it was constructed in the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century. The small two-story stone keep shown in the photo was constructed later in the thirteenth century.

Clough Castle Sign

The sign describing the motte and bailey at Clough Castle is shown above.

One of the features found in many of the mottes are pits around the periphery which were used as emplacements for archers.

Between 1190 and 1310, the Normans constructed a number of castles in Ireland. These castles varied in size and layout, as well as in the skilled labor needed to build them and the local availability of good stone. One of the largest and best known of these Norman castles is Trim in County Meath.

Trim Castle

The keep at Trim Castle is shown above. Trim was initially a fortified house enclosed by a trench and stockade. Initial construction was done in 1172, but the stone work that is seen today was started about 1200 and completed in 1220. The keep was erected after 1254. Archaeological excavations suggest that artisans were brought in from Wales to work on this site.

Many of the Anglo-Norman villages were granted charters of rights by their feudal lords. These charters were intended to attract additional settlers from over-populated England and Wales. Increasing the population was seen as a way of consolidating the Anglo-Norman conquest. The charters generally gave the villagers burgess status which allowed them their own court and the right to tax themselves. It also freed them from many of the onerous duties required under the feudal system.

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 08:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Shamrock American Kossacks, and J Town.

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Comment Preferences

  •  One of the reasons that traditional (20+ / 0-)

    Irish succession was so messy was that it was based on a 4-generation kinship group. Anyone whose great-grandfather was a king could himself become king.

  •  Good stuff, as always. (12+ / 0-)

    My Irish family name is an Anglicization of our Norman French family name.   Not something we crow about a lot, but true, nonetheless.

    The motte served two functions.   One, to create high ground and better fields of fire and, two, to make it harder to undermine the bailey during a siege.  It was often filled with rubble, to make it harder to dig through.  Apparently, this works, as there are a lot that still stand.

    Living proof that hard work can raise your apparent skill level.

    by SpamNunn on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 08:54:13 AM PDT

  •  The Normans (9+ / 0-)

    clearly had a building plan that worked for them - it's like they had the basic plan ready to go, anywhere they needed to build. (Seen one Norman keep, you're able to recognize another anywhere else. And there are a lot of them.)

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 09:21:48 AM PDT

  •  also (9+ / 0-)

    'Dermot and the Earl': both on my family tree, for better or worse.

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 09:22:34 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful stuff (9+ / 0-)

    As an Irish American married to a Dane, these are battles we re-live in the kitchen from time to time ; )

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 09:26:28 AM PDT

  •  This is fascinating, Ojibwa! (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you so much.  I hadn't realized the Normans invaded Ireland.  All I could think of was Britain.

    H'mm, so it's the Normans we have to thank for the stranglehold the Roman church exerted on Ireland?

    Apparently a lot of things changed after the Norman invasion in England.  Read a historical by Norah Lofts that said the Normans branded the Anglo-Saxons, whom they turned into slaves or serfs, and instituted new rules of behavior for women--for instance, they had to stay home all the time instead of being free to wander around.

    Enjoyed the photographs, too.  What a great series!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 10:22:59 AM PDT

    •  Damien Dempsey's song (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, FarWestGirl, Aunt Pat

      'The great Gaels of Ireland' says

      They're the first kings of Europe
      and their women weren't shut up
      no their women were leaders
      they fought battles, gave orders

      A BBC thing, 'Celtic Britain'  had someone saying that the Anglo-Saxon invasion saw the Celts 'diminish into the West'; to me it's a LOTR image of the advancing Dark Dominion of Patriarchy.

    •  Norah Lofts was a novelist, a LONG time ago... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, Ojibwa, Aunt Pat, Ahianne

      not an archaeologist or social anthropologist or historian. 1904-1983. I loved her books when I was younger also, but would never swallow ANY historical novel whole, not even the much more recent stuff (like B Cornwell's Alfred period series), not even from writers known for their research (like Dorothy Dunnett).

      well, Cecelia Holland is pretty darned good, but anybody else in the last 40 or so years or before, I'd take with a grain of salt and go do my own checking!

      and by the way? Ireland was a HUGE stronghold of the Catholic Church from WAY before the Normans. Saint Patrick lived ca. 387 – 493 and proselityzed Ireland ca. 428 to his death.

      And then of course there's

      Thomas Cahill, How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. Cahill details the crucial point or hinge factor, where Irish monks protected and reproduced the written artifacts of Rome, managing to preserve many concepts of Roman civilization and actively continuing the spread of Christianity after the fall of Rome.
      When CHARLEMAGNE (742-814) wanted to educate himself and his court, he sent to Ireland for monks and books!!! (well, and England too... Alcuin came from York)

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 02:31:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love these adventures into the past (6+ / 0-)

    I hope you continue to venture into the past and share. Your writings feed my need for historical knowledge.

  •  Nice stuff! But a grace note. (11+ / 0-)

    The Norman equivilant of Irish 'Mc' or Scottish 'Mac' I.e 'son of' is 'fitz' which is the close cognate of French 'fils'.

    Hence the FitzGeralds, namesakes of obscure American political figures JFK and RFK. The FitzGeralds were top lieutenants to Strongbow and if anything  had a lot more royal blood since patriarch Gerald de Windsor (not a coincidence) was married to Nest, daughter of the Welsh Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr (i.e. Tudor-also not a coincidence).

    So while Americans are likely to associate 'FitzGerald' and other 'Fitz' s with being as Irish as Saints Patrick and Bridgit (and Patrick was not by birth Irish to start with) they actual descend from the top ranks of Norman-Irish nobility.

    Good guys? Bad guys? Hard to say. But ultimately the leaders of the centuries long resistance of the Irish against the English and ultimately the independent Ireland we know today was led by folk descended from Catholic Norman-Welsh invaders of the 12th century.

    Lesson? Irish history is messy. Make sure you keep a scorecard and genealogical chart handy.

    •  More Grace (7+ / 0-)

      The purple patches on the map represent cities originally established by Vikings. And note that even at this map scale each was marked by an identifiable harbor. And as such were carve-outs from the traditional four (or five) Kingdoms of Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, and Munster (and Meath).

      Additionally while Leinster, Munster, and Connacht are mostly geographic names the Northern and Southern Ui Neill are dynastic and are just the modern O'Neills, descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

      Did I say messy? And keep that genealogical chart and timeline handy? Well yes I did.

      I love this stuff.

      •  Dubh Linn a little mysterious (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ojibwa, Aunt Pat, Tennessee Dave

        It is of course modern Dublin. What is mysterious is why a Viking city has a name with a grammatically defective Irish name. Now 'dubh' means black and 'linn' means pool as in English Blackpool near Liverpool so no mystery there. But in Irish the word order is noun adjective (like Romance languages) suggesting it should be Linn-Dubh.

        So maybe the clear as day translation to Black Pool is just a false etymology or maybe there is some other explanation for the oddity. If so maybe some Kossack can throw me a life line here. Because I am drowning in the 'linn'.

        BTW and off topic but the traditional explanation for the name of the island of Anglesey (Welsh Mon) across the Menai Straits from the rest of Wales makes no historical sense at all. It reduces quite nicely to Ongul's ey where Ongul is a perfectly good Viking name and 'ey' is Norse for island (and fully cognate with the 'is' element of island), but unlike S Wales where Viking settlement  has always been assumed based on place names (though I have my doubts even there) Anglesey was the center of native Welsh power during the Viking Age and beyond the simple name Anglesey doesn't. Show that much Norse influence/settlement evidence at all. Now I have a theory here, unlike the Dublin case, but I think I will leave you guessing. It not being my post to hijack.

        •  Viking/Norse naming patterns.... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marykk, Ojibwa, Aunt Pat, Ahianne

          my DH, the Old Norse 30+yr student, says the Norse were always taking local place name elements and arranging them (changing the order) so that they sounded "more right" IN NORSE.

          says LOTS of the place names in Iceland, esp the big cities, have Irish elements, but put in arrangements that sound "right" in Old Norse, regardless of the original language.

          "Dyflinn" is ON spelling for Dublin.

          "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

          by chimene on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 02:49:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Which just raises more questions (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Nothing in Icelandic history (and Icelanders were literate from just after Day One of the Settlement) suggests any pre-existing population on Iceland Irish or not. At least on the main island since certain small islands off the SE coast have place names suggesting some isolated Irish monk hermitages, but no one then or now suggests any self-sustaining Irish population prior to arrival of the initial settlers.

            On the other hand even Icelandic settlement legends suggest a generation or so layover in the northern islands of Britain and substantial interaction with the Dal Raida of Northern Island both in slave taking and inter-marriage and it is likely enough that a big part of the Icelandic genome points more to Ireland than Norway. On the other hand nothing I have ever read suggests a big Gaelic influence on Modern Icelandic which instead is remarkably unchanged from Old Norse.

            Given that why on earth (middle or otherwise) would "LOTS of the place names in Iceland" have Irish elements to start with? Transposed or not? Actually I have some ideas but would rather toss this one out to the curious. Because this field needs more questioners. These are not settled subjects.

            •  While the Irish hermit monks (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              on Iceland may be more legend than reality (there doesn't appear to be any archaeological evidence supporting this), many of the Norse who initially settled Iceland had Irish connections, including Aud the Deepminded. DNA shows a fairly close relationship with Ireland, particularly among today's Icelandic women.

            •  the Vikings had been taking Irish slaves for (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              hundreds of years before ANYBODY reached Iceland. That's how you get gaelic inputs into contemporary norse names.

              also? the folks who are most invested in the claim that modern Icelandic is practically unchanged from Old Norse ... are the modern Icelanders... who appear to be pretty bad at reading ON.  

              teh DH has taught himself Old Norse over the years (since about 1975), and has studied modern Icelandic, and the modern Scandinavian languages. pronunciation has shifted enough that one couldn't understand the spoken language; vocabulary has shifted about 20%.

              Modern Icelanders like the idea of teaching ON with modern Icelandic pronunciation; and putting out editions of the Sagas with modern case endings and vocabulary substituted and thinking they have the same thing.

              "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

              by chimene on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 12:20:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Why just placenames? (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                And not everyday vocabulary?

                Now we have a parallel in England after the Anglo-Saxon incursion where historical philologists find very few examples of British words in Old English and used that as an argument that there had been a near total replacement of population. But what is curious about that is that many city and river names survived the transition, for example London, Chester and indeed all -cester names are survivors from Roman Britain and river names are older yet, for example the River Avon is derived from what is now Welsh 'aber' river and strictly translate would be 'the River River'. But the whole thing is odd, it as if the incoming Saxons, Jutes, and Angles asked the natives to name surrounding geographic features and then told them to hit the road. But the real answer seems to be that there was a substantial survival of the Celtic/British population as slaves or low level tenants and that the wholesale population replacement theory was flawed, despite the apparent non-existence of British words in Old English vocabulary.

                But in any event the continuity of place names from Roman and sub-Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England makes sense because such names had centuries of usage behind them and it is not like every newcomer along various existing River Usk's were likely to have a naming party or that there was some pressing need to rename London, which as a trading port would have been known to even the Continental Saxons. But that in turn is mostly because such places HAD names, unlike the various placenames of the main island of Iceland which was by all accounts and evidence uninhabited.

                Now I fully grant the existence of Irish DNA in the Settlement population, indeed you have direct information in the Sagas of intermarriage between Viking chiefs and Irish nobility, and as I alluded Aud the Deep Minded was just one  leader in a population that had settled the northern islands of Britain for at least a generation prior to the Icelandic Settlement as such. But even accepting a strong presence of Irish blood/DNA among the women and followers of the clearly Norwegian leadership of Settlement chieftains it I a little odd to imagine those chieftains pausing to ask those women and followers what to name NEW places and with Gaelic names to boot.

                Now it is what it is but as with Dubh Linn the mechanism seems curious. From 30000 feet and a millennium or so later the pattern seems clear enough, but as you get closer to ground level and to the year by year developments and try to figure out the precise sequence of events things get sticky.

                This isn't just idle chat on my part, one of my closest college friends wrote his senior thesis on Viking place-names in South West Wales from roughly this same time and he and I debated the topic even as the paper was in draft form even as I came to a different conclusion. Back in 1985. that is this stuff has been rattling around in my skull for 25 years plus. And these are not, despite my tone, just off the cuff enquiries.

                •  Shakespeare in India (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Well not actually but there is more of a relation than you might think.

                  I suspect a lot of historical Kossacks can count to ten in German or perhaps from Slaughterhouse Five are familiar with German 'funf', English five. Now initial German 'f' is generally from Indo-European 'p', think pfennig vs penny, just as the 'v' in Avon is from the 'b' in Welsh 'aber'.

                  So if you take German 'funf' and Welsh 'aber' and apply the simple correspondence rules (as found for example in the invaluable table in the back of the Merriam-Webster dictionary) to give an Indic equivalent you come up with 'Punj-ab' or 'five rivers'. And a simple look at the geographic map of Punjabi State shows you exactly why it got that name, the five rivers looking like fingers on a hand.

                  So like a little Curry with your Stratford on Avon? (Of course these days England is chock-a-block with curry shops, irony being so ironic sometimes)

                •  See this post: (0+ / 0-)


                  Basically, I live in Iceland and have no clue what chimene is talking about.

          •  I live in Iceland and have no idea what you're (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bruce Webb, Ojibwa

            talking about.  I see absolutely nothing Gælic about place names in Iceland.  In general, Icelandic place names are a combination of two or more common Icelandic words that describe the area (for example, Reykjavík -- Reykur, smoke, and vík, cove = Smoky Cove, named beacuse of the local geothermal features) or, less common, a person's name followed by a place description (such as Grímsvötn,  "Grímur's Lakes"),

            And I don't know what you even mean by "big cities".  The one largest city in Iceland (Reykjavík) has over 1/3rd of the total population, and combined with its suburbs in Höfuðborgarsvæði, it's 3/4ths of the island's total population.  The largest city outside of Höfuðborgarsvæði is only 17,000 people.   I live in a Reykjavík suburb (Kópavogur), which by itself is the second largest city in Iceland, but only at 30k people.  And I should add, no, it is not gælic either.  It means "seal pup cove".

    •  Patrick not Irish??? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, Ojibwa, Aunt Pat

      I thought Patrick was kidnapped from Ireland by slavers as a young teen, taken to England where he WAS a slave for quite a few years, converted to Christianity... which may have had something to do with him getting un-slaved???, entered the church, and eventually returned to Ireland (as a Bishop?) to convert his countrymen... or is that all just romantic fuffle?

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 02:35:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Other way around (5+ / 0-)

        Patrick was a Briton Christian kidnapped by the pagan Irish and enslaved in Ireland only to escape back to what is now known as England/Wales to ultimately become a bishop and then return as apostle to the Irish.

        •  Astonishingly we have two letters (5+ / 0-)

          Accepted by modern scholars as being the actual product of Patrick's hand, including the 'Confessio' which is the closest thing to an autobiography we could imagine given the date.

          Hagiography or 'Saint's Lives' are a historical mine-field in that the authors ALWAYS had agendas and may or may not have had actual personal  knowledge of the Saint in question. Or cared. Which is why authentic biographies by contemporaries/followers are so valuable and auto-biographical material treasures beyond belief.

          Saint Patrick is grounded in history like few others of his era. You have Saint Augustine and Saint Benedict and some Popes like Gregory I (known as Gregory the Great and the ONLY Pope whom I would adore if I were the papal adoring type) but for most of the rest of the early Saints you have to approach their written 'Life' with a blowtorch and chisel.

          But as far as St. Patrick goes you are safe to raise and then down a dram or two next Saturday. Slainte!

  •  Is it part of the human condition that whatever (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, marykk, Aunt Pat, Tennessee Dave

    the era or wherever in the world, the thirst for power ends in bloodshed?

  •  Great diary. Thank you. (4+ / 0-)

    This will help explain my position on visiting castles in Ireland on vacation this summer.

    They often have an alien feel to them.

    Please Vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2012.

    by mungley on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 01:36:13 PM PDT

    •  Yes, Celts like circles and serpentines (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Their Iron Age Hill forts and burial tombs being typically circular. It is no wonder that the almost brutal rectangular Norman style comes as a jolt.

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