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and that it was contrary to his nature to dwell within cold stones, while the woods were so nigh.” De Courcy's resentment was inflamed by a reply of which the purport was not equivocal. He instantly called out his little force, and entering MacMahon's land, swept away the cattle in vast droves before him. This movement was the precipitate impulse of revenge, and cost him dearly.
The number of the cattle was so great, that it was necessary to divide them into three droves, each of which was committed to a company. The force was thus most perilously divided, and each division compelled to proceed in the utmost confusion and disarray; a space of three miles separated the van from the rear. To complete the dangers of this ruinous and nearly fatal march, their way lay through the narrow passes of a bog, and was every where intercepted by deep mires, with thick copses on either side. In these the enemy, to the number of eleven thousand, took up their ambush, in the certainty of a full measure of vengeance on their invaders. They adopted their precautions with the most fatal skill; the position and circumstances were precisely those adapted to their habits. They so divided their force, that when they burst with sudden fury from their concealing thickets, the three companies of the English were separated by two considerable forces of their enemy. They were further embarrassed by the cattle, which, taking fright, rushed impetuously through them, trampling down and scattering their unformed ranks, so that all the character of military organization was effaced, and they presented themselves singly to the rushing onset of thousands. Such was the fearful combination of disadvantages, from which it is hard to explain how a man could have come out alive.
De Courcy and Sir Armoric rushed from the woods to endeavour to seize on the true position of affairs. They saw each other at the distance of a quarter of a mile. Each of these brave warriors had contrived to extricate some of his companions. They turned to approach each other. As they came on, De La Poer was seen at a small distance from Sir Armoric; he had also been endeavouring to disengage himself from the press, but in the attempt was surrounded by a crowd of the enemy, who were pulling him from his horse. Sir Armoric (whose niece he had married a few days before) rushed to his rescue; the party who had seized him gave way; but their shouts brought from the bushes a considerable force, who now blocked up the way between De Courcy and Sir Armoric. With desperate slaughter, and with some loss, they cut a passage to each other, and seeing that the ground was impassable for horses, they alighted and endeavoured to extricate themselves on foot from the surrounding bogs. Loaded with the weight of their massive accoutrements, it was no easy task to make way through mosses and quagmires which might well task the utmost activity of more lightly equipped pedestrians. They were instantly pursued. De Courcy was quickly overtaken by one Sawyard with a party. He turned on them with his two handed sword, and being bravely seconded by a few persons who were with him, the Irish assailants were driven off, leaving a hundred and twenty dead on the spot. Another chief came quickly on with several hundred followers, and again compelled De Courcy to have recourse to his fatal weapon, of which one hundred and eighty victims attested the prowess. Last of all, MacMahon came rushing breathless up; a .stroke from a son of Sir Armoric intercepted his career, and laid him on the ground. The nearly fainting English took advantage of the pause of terror and surprise occasioned by the result of these slaughtering stands: their foes fell back to a safe distance from where they stood, few and faint, but fearless still," having lost the fight, yet dearly won the honour of that dreadful day. They were allowed to retreat; and as night fell, De Courcy led them to a secure fort of his own. Here they were enabled to take rest and refreshment after their toil. The enemy resolving to secure the advantage they had gained, encamped at the distance of half a mile: thus menacing them with a distressing siege, for which they were utterly unprovided.
As the darkness fell, the watch fires of the enemy shining in vast numbers, starred the horizon for a wide extent with lights that lent no.cheerfulness to the aspect of reverse; and the distant noises of triumphant revellings, sounded like insult to the pride of the knights who had but escaped from the carnage of that day. But at midnight, Sir Armoric with characteristic vigilance and fertility of expedient, after awaking from a short sleep, conceived a desire to steal forth and look out upon the revellers of the hostile encampment. For this purpose
he cautiously awakened a few of the trustiest of his followers, and soon, without interruption, came near enough to the enemy to perceive that they were feasting or sleeping, and quite free from the fear of an enemy. He returned speedily, and rousing De Courcy, proposed a sally. He informed him that by the cabins of the enemy he could judge them to amount to five thousand; but that it was quite evident, that if they did not now make good their way through these, they should have no future chance, as the numbers of the enemy were likely to increase. These reasons were convincing; but the English were seemingly in the lowest stage of weariness, and many of them disabled from their wounds. It was nevertheless agreed on that they could not expect so good a prospect of deliverance; and when Sir Armoric had done speaking, De Courcy's mind was resolved, and his plan formed for the assault. He ordered two men to mount his horse and Sir Armoric's, and taking all the other horses that remained between them, to drive them furiously across the encampment, while himself with his knights and men-at-arms, following close in the rear, might serve them with a still more effective retaliation of the stratagem of the morning. Every thing turned out according to these directions, the horses galloped fiercely among the drinkers and the sleepers, who scarcely suspected the nature of the disturbance when sword and spear were dealing rapid and irresistible destruction on every side. Five thousand were slain, and only about two hundred collected their faculties time enough to escape. Of the English, but two were missing. De Courcy was by this fortunate stroke, enabled to supply the wants of his men.
He was also, for some time at least, secure from further molestation, and sent to Dublin and elsewhere among his friends for reinforcements and other supplies.
We shall not here pause in our narrative, to detail two other fights which occurred in the same period of our hero's life. An extract from Hanmer's Chronicle, may tell the most personally interesting incidents of a fierce and sanguinary fight, in which De Courcy was himself in the most imminent hazard which we meet in the strange romance of his adventurous course. The peculiarity of the battle, which took place near Lurgan, was this: that upwards of six thousand Irish, were staid in their flight by an arm of the sea, " a mile from the Lurgan, on the south side of Dundalk,” where there was no advantage of ground, and, of course, far less than the usual advantages from superior discipline. As the sense of a desperate necessity makes the .coward daring, so it imparts steady and stern composure to the truly brave: in this position of the utmost extremity, says our authority, “there was nothing but dead blows; the foot of the English drew back, Sir John Courcy, their leader, was left in the midst of his enemies, with a two-handed sword, washing and lashing on both sides like a lion among sheep. Nicholas [St Lawrence] posted his father Armoric, who was in chase of the scattered horsemen of the Irish, and cried, “ Alas! my father, mine uncle Sir John is left alone in the midst of his enemies, and the foot have forsaken him.' With that Sir Armoric lighted, killed his horse, and said, “Here my son, take charge of these horsemen, and I will lead on the foot-company to the rescue of my brother Couroy; come on fellow-soldiers,' saith he, let us live or die together. He gave the onset on the foot of the Irish, rescued Sir John Courcy, that was sore wounded, and with cruel fight in manner out of breath; at sight of him the soldiers take heart, and drive the Irish to retreat."
The result of this action was rather in favour of the Irish; and it was followed shortly after by another, of which we can find no satisfactory description, but that it is represented by the Irish annalists as unfavourable to De Courcy. Yet there was, we learn with certainty, no interruption to his arms, sufficiently decided to arrest the
of his conquest of Ulster, where he maintained his settlements against all efforts to disturb them.
After some time, an intermission of these hostilities allowing his absence, De Courcy thought it high time to visit England, and endeavour to secure his interest with the king. Henry, pleased with the progress of his baron's arms, created him lord of Connaught and earl of Ulster. On his return he had to fight a severe battle at the bridge of Ivora, the result of which was such as to secure a continued interval of quiet, which he employed in strengthening his government, securing his possessions, and making many useful arrangements for the civilization of the natives. He erected many castles, built bridges, made highways, and repaired churches; and governed the province peacefully to the satisfaction of its inhabitants, until the days of king John's visit to Ireland.
In 1186, as has been already related in a former notice, the king recalled prince John from the first brief exposure of that combination of folly and imbecility, which afterwards disgraced his reign. Eight months of disorder were, so far as the time admitted, repaired by the :selection of a wiser head and a stronger hand. The brave and wise De Lacy had fallen the victim of an ignoble, but it is believed, insane murderer; but king Henry, seeing the approach of new dangers and resistances from a people thus irritated by acts of oppression, and strengthened by the absence of all prudence, thought the adventurous valour and rough strong-headed sagacity of De Courcy, the best resource in the urgent position of his Irish conquest.
De Courcy's first step was a stern exaction of prudent vengeance for the murder of his predecessor. He proceeded with energy and prompt vigour to the business of repelling the encroachments and repressing the hostilities which had, during the previous year, again begun to spring up on every side, to an extent, and with a violence, which had begun to shake the foundations of English power. Fortunately, for his purpose, incidental circumstances, at this time, had begun to involve the most powerful of the native princes in mutual strife, or in domestic dissensions. The aged Roderic was driven by his ungrateful children from his throne. The chiefs of the Maclaughlin race, were destroying each other in petty warfare, and the practice of seeking aid against each other from the English settlers, gave added temptation, and more decisive issue to their animosities.
To rest satisfied with merely defensive operations, formed no part of the spirit of De Courcy. The state of Connaught was not unpromising, but it was enough to attract the heart of knightly enterprise, that it was the most warlike province of Ireland, and had yet alone continued inviolate by the hand of conquest. He collected a small, but as he judged, sufficient force, and marched “ with more valour than circumspection, into a country where he expected a complete conquest without resistance.” He soon learned his mistake, though not in time altogether to prevent its consequences. He received certain information that Connor Moienmoy, the reigning son of Roderic, was leagued against him with O'Brien, the Munster chief, that their force was overwhelming, and much improved in arms and discipline. Under such circumstances, his further progress, without more suitable preparation, was not to be contemplated, even by the rashness of knighterrantry. De Courcy resolved to measure back his steps. He had not proceeded far on his retreat, when he was met by the alarming intelligence, that another large army had taken up a difficult and unassailable position on his way; there remained no choice, and he retired to the army he had recently left. Here he found the confederate force of Connaught and Thomond, drawn up to the best advantage, in order of battle. Little hope seemed left, but much time for doubt was not permitted ere he was attacked. Charge succeeded charge, from an enemy confident in numbers—brave to desperation—improved in discipline, and encouraged by the weak appearance of the invaders' force. Their charges were calmly met, and after each they recoiled with diminished ranks; but De Courcy's little force was also beginning to be thinned, and, under the oppression of numbers, fatigue itself might turn the odds. It was necessary to cut their way through the armed mob. This they at last effected with vast and bloody effort, in which some of De Courcy's bravest knights were slaughtered.
By this event, the Connaught men had the glory of compelling the retreat of their invader, and preserving inviolate the honour of that unconquered province. Repelled from this design, De Courcy made amends by a combination of firmness and vigilance, which, with the assistance of the popularity acquired by his kniglıtly fame and open generous temper, awed some and conciliated others, and still maintained with universal honour the authority of his master through the country.
Affairs were in this position when the brave and sagacious king Henry, worn by successive shocks of anger, vexation, and wounded feeling from the conduct of his unnatural children, breathed his last in the town of Chinon, in France. On the succession of Richard, the feeble and impolitic John, who thenceforward began to exercise a more absolute interference in Irish affairs, was won by the insinuations of the younger De Lacy to supersede De Courcy, and appoint himself to the government of Ireland. De Courcy did not fail to express his indignation at the insult, and thus laid the foundation of an enmity, which was soon to lead to a fatal reverse in his prosperous fortunes. He now resolved to attend to his own interests alone, and retired to the cultivation of his territory, in his province of Ulster. Here, soon perceiving the urgent necessity of strengthening himself against the fast rising power of fresh confederacies, he sent to call for the assistance of his dear friend Armoric St Lawrence. St Lawrence obeyed the call, but in marching through the province of Cathal O’Čonor, met with a fatal disaster, which we shall have to notice in his memoir.
For some time De Courcy went on strengthening himself in Ulster, and although he met with occasional checks from time to time, still, by the most indefatigable watchfulness and valour, he not only maintained the ascendancy of his arms, but was even enabled to avail himself of the weakness of John's government. He assumed an independent position, not only denying the authority of the king, but impeaching his character, and questioning his title to the crown. In this course of conduct he was for some time joined by his rival, Hugh De Lacy. But the perpetually shifting aspect of the political prospect in Ireland, appeared at length to assume a turn favourable to the
of John. The Irish barons, were mutually contentious, and, like the native chiefs, involved in perpetual strife with each other. De Lacy grew jealous of the growing power of De Courcy, whose superiority he could not help resenting. He reconciled himself by flattery and submission to the king, and exposed the danger of allowing a revolted subject to go on gathering power, and affecting the state of independent royalty. He was thus enabled to awaken a keener and more vindictive spirit in the breast of this base tyrant. The murder of the hapless prince Arthur, which had excited a universal sensation of abhorrence, drew from the generous and romantic ardour of the rough but high-spirited warrior, the most violent expressions of indignation and disgust. These were, by his rival, conveyed to the royal ear. John was enraged, and immediately summoned De Courcy to do homage for his possessions. De Courcy refused with scorn, to submit to the mandate of one whose authority he denied. A commission to seize his person was intrusted to De Lacy and his brother Walter, who, well pleased with the commission, which thus gave a specious appearance of right to their vengeance, proceeded alertly to their office.
De Lacy led his troops into Ulster, and coming to an engagement with De Courcy, was obliged to retreat with loss. But he, soon becom