« PreviousContinue »
ference seemed to have different effects on the little force of Sir Armoric: the foot, with stern and calm desperation, prepared for their last earthly expectation of vengeance; the thirty knights, seeing that there was no hope in valour, expressed their natural desire to retreat. Their hesitation was observed by the devoted company of foot, who looked on their more fortunate companions with wistful sadness. Their captain, a brother of Sir Armoric's, came up to him, and in pathetic terms remonstrated against the intended movement of his cavalry to desert their comrades in this trying hour.
Sir Armoric's high spirit was but too easily moved to follow even the shadows of honour and fidelity; and he resolved at once to share in the dark fate of his unfortunate soldiers. He instantly proposed the resolution to his thirty knights, who yielded to the energy of their leader's resolution and consented to follow his example. Sir Armoric now alighted from his horse, and kneeling down, kissed the cross upon his sword; the next moment he turned to his horse, and exclaiming “ Thou shalt not serve my enemies," he ran it through with his sword: all followed the example of this decisive act, which placed them at once in the same circumstances with their fellow soldiers. Sir Armoric, lastly, sent two youths of his company to the top of a neighbouring hill, enjoining them to witness and carry a faithful account of the event to De Courcy.
The knights now took their places among the foot, and the devoted band advanced upon the Irish host. The Irish were astonished. Altogether ignorant of the more refined barbarism of chivalric points of honour, they knew not how to understand the spectacle of devoted bravery which passed before them, but imagined that the English came on in the confidence of a seasonable reinforcement. Under this impression they hesitated, until the scouts they sent out returned with assurance that the whole enemy they had to encounter consisted of the little band of foot who were in their toils. They now gave the onset: the English were soon enclosed in their overwhelming ranks. With their gallant leader, they were slain to a man; but not without giving a lesson of fear to the enemy, which was not soon forgotten. Cathal O'Conor, some time after, described the struggle to Hugh De Lacy. He did not believe that any thing to equal it " was ever seen before:” the English, he said, turned back to back and made prodigious slaughter, till by degrees, and at great sacrifice of life, every man fell. They slew a thousand of his men, which amounted nearly to five for each who fell in that bloody fight. Such was the death of Sir Armoric Tristram de Valence.
Hugh O'Niall of Tir Owen.
A. D. 1215.
Of the secondary class of Irish chieftains, who lived in this period, nothing is distinctly known, but as their names are occasionally brought into historical distinctness by their occurrence in the feuds, battles, and rebellions of the time. Amongst these casual notices there occurs much to excite regret that more abundant and distinct information cannot be found in any unquestionable forms; as it must be admitted that, unless in the point of military skill, the little we can discover of their actions may bear a not discreditable comparison with the most renowned and successful of their invaders. The characteristic features are, indeed, in some respects, so different, that such a comparison can hardly be made without the suspicious appearance of over-refining. But a closer inspection must remove something of this difficulty; because, when we scrutinize the conduct of our English barons to find the true indication of the virtues ascribed to chivalry, unfavourable allowances are to be largely made for the action of influences arising from their position as conquerors, holding their territories by continued violence, engaged incessantly in small yet irritating hostilities, possessed of enormous power, and tempted by constant opportunities to enlarge it. If, among the native chiefs, there occurs little that can be viewed with less reproach, equal allowances must be made on the score of the similar pernicious influences; while some indulgence must be thrown into the scale for the natural workings of pride and resentment. The comparison, indeed, has little to recommend it; its best points, on either side, are scarcely to be ranked under the predicament of virtues; but the lower the level on the scale of civilization, to which either side must be referred, the more signal are the examples of prudence and honour of which individual instances occur from time to time.
The main difference consists rather in the different means which we have of attaining to any thing of distinct knowledge of the personal history of the individuals of either class. The Irish chiefs have their record in a class of writers who, of all that ever held the pen of history, have left least information to after times. Barely confined to the dry mention of a fact, in the fewest words, and without description or detail, their accounts are nothing more than the brief entry of a chronological table. It is only incidentally that their names and actions occur in the diffuse page of Cambrensis, who, with all his misconceptions and prejudices, is the only historian from whom either the detail or colour of the time can be known, so far as regards Irish history. Of the English barons, we have abundant means of tracing the genealogy and verifying the biography in the more distinct records and documents of the English history of the same period; while of the Irish, we can only pretend to be so far distinct as their intercourse with the English barons places their names and actions in a clear point of view.
Such are the reasons why we have found it convenient to confine our plan, so far as respects these illustrious persons, to such of them as have a prominent place in the history of the English; and of these, to that portion of their history which thus appertains to the history of the settlement.
Among these, a prominent place cannot be denied to the O'Nialls of Tyrone. Of these, as the first we meet whose name occurs in this period, may be mentioned the chief of Tyrone, who had nearly fallen a victim to the cause of Cathal O'Conor, when he was deprived of his kingdom by De Burgo, in favour of his rival Carragh. To the circumstances of this part of his we shall have to revert;—worsted in the field by De Burgo, he was deposed by his angry subjects, and another chieftain of his family elected.
This chieftain fell in the action, which soon followed, with the people of Tir Connel; but a considerable time elapsed before O’Niall regained his rights. In this he succeeded by means easily conjectured, but of which we have no detail; and some time elapses before we again meet him on the occasion of king John's visit to Ireland, in 1210. On this occasion, it is mentioned that he refused to present himself before the king, unless on the condition of being secured by two hostages for his safe-conduct. The terms of his submission to the English crown were then settled apparently to his own satisfaction, and he was peaceably dismissed; but, with the characteristic uncertainty of his countrymen, he no sooner found himself secure in his own territory, than he dismissed all idea of submission and spurned a demand of hostages from the king. The consequences of this boldness were averted by the timidity and feebleness of John, whose spirit was not roused by a bold defiance from the chief, as he marched through his territory. His chastisement was committed to the garrisons on the frontiers of the English districts, but the force, on either side, was too nearly balanced for any decided result; and this the more so, as the English, few in number and unprepared for extended operations, were confined to the defensive. O’Niall had the advantage of selecting the occasion and point of attack, and generally contrived to obtain some petty advantage, too slight to have any consequence, but sufficient to be exaggerated by the pride and jealous enthusiasm of his people and the magnifying power of report, into the name of victory. With the aid of the neighbouring chiefs, more decided results might have followed from the pertinacious hostility of this spirited chief; but the neighbouring chiefs were engaged in mutual strifes and animosities.
The next incident in which he is to be traced is in a combination with Hugh de Lacy, in which he gave assistance to that ambitious and turbulent chief, in his attempts to possess himself of some territory belonging to William, earl Marshall. Not many years after, his influence is apparent in the election of Tirlogh O'Conor, on the death of Cathal—an election which was defeated in favour of another brother, of which we shall have occasion to speak.
Of the death of Hugh O'Niall, we have no means of fixing the precise date; but from those we have noticed, the time of his appearance on the scene of Irish politics may be somewhat between 1190 and 1215.
There are some curious remains of the ancient rank and grandeur of this family, of whom we shall have to notice some of the descendants. The Dublin Penny Journal, to which we have already been indebted for valuable information on Irish antiquities, gives a woodcut of the coronation chair of one of the branches of this family—the O'Nialls of Castlereagh*; and in the same place mentions, that “there was, and probably still is, another stone chair on which the O'Nialls of Tyrone, the chief branch of the family, were inaugurated. It is marked in some
* Vol. i. p. 208.—The monument here mentioned has been purchased by R. C. Walker, Esq. of Rath Carrick.
of our old maps, under the name of the “stone where they make the O'Nialls.” In the same page of this work, there is also a curious representation of the ancient arms of the family:-a “ bloody hand, from an impression of the silver signet ring of the celebrated Turlogh Lynnoch. It was found, a few years ago, near Charlemont, in the county of Armagh."*
DIED A. D. 1220.
MEILER FITZ-HENRY, the grandson of king Henry I., and one of the original adventurers under Strongbow, was amongst the bravest and most distinguished of these hardy soldiers of fortune. There were few of the most trying perils and signal enterprises, which have been related in the course of these lives, in which this illustrious warrior did not bear a distinguished part.
He comes more distinctly under our notice in 1199, when he was appointed by king John to succeed Hamo de Valois, as chief governor of Ireland—a situation to which he was recommended by his valour, moderation, and justice. He was but ill supported in his administration, and consequently was compelled to remain for some time almost inactive, while the south and west were torn by the dissension and turbulent schemes of both the native chiefs and English barons.
It was at this time that William de Burgo, invested with the custody of Limerick, took advantage of this and other circumstances to raise himself into great power, and with singular caprice to interfere with the succession of the Connaught princes—pulling down Cathal and Carragh by turns, according as flattery and promises swayed his inconstancy, as will be seen in our memoir of Cathal. At last Meiler raised an efficient force, and, by his prudence and conduct, obtained decided advantages over these contending chiefs—conciliating some and repressing others by the unusual demonstration of vigour in the government. He formed an alliance with Cathal and O'Brien, obtained a cession of two-thirds of Connaught, and deprived De Burgo of Limerick. The king invested him with the rents and profits of the Connaught districts thus acquired by the voluntary cession of Cathal, for the purpose of improving this territory. I
He was recalled to England in 1203, and succeeded by Hugh de Lacy; but came over again in 1205. It was in the interval that the reverses of De Courcy, already related, took place. And it was at the period of his return, that the tragical history of the unfortunate De Braosa occurred.
Meiler Fitz-Henry died about 1220, and was interred in an abbey of his own foundation at Conal. Cox, Leland, and other historians call him son of Henry I., we rather presume, from not having thought it worth while to calculate the probability, upon so trifling a point.
• Vol. i. p. 208.
† 1200. Cox.
Gordon calls him grandson, and Mr Moore, in his history, says “another of the descendants of the fair Nesta, and nephew of Maurice FitzGerald.” This is unquestionably the correct statement. Nesta was married in 1112, to Gerald of Windsor, after having first been mistress to Henry, and lastly married to Stephen. If therefore Meiler had been the offspring of the first of these connexions, he should, at the lowest, be 110 years of age at his death, and not less than 61 when he is described as a gallant young warrior, distinguishing himself by his personal prowess in the field. This is on the nearly impossible allowance of two years for the three successive alliances. Our peculiar office will excuse this unimportant statement.
DIED A. D. 1223.
On the death of the last of Ireland's monarchs, there was for some time a violent and bloody contention for the provincial throne. Connor Moienmoy was elected, but immediately after met with his death by the hand of one of his brothers, who in his turn was slain by the son of Moienmoy; and the province was again plunged into contention, until at last the vigour and interest of Cathal O'Conor, a son of Roderick, succeeded in fixing him upon the throne.
Cathal was a prince of active and warlike temper, and had already acquired renown by his personal prowess, and by the many homicides which had gained him the title of the bloody hand. He soon increased his popularity by the demonstration of military ardour, and by his loud declarations and active preparations against the English settlers. He spoke with confidence of their expulsion, and promised the speedy restoration of the monarchy. These threats were rendered not chimerical, by the dissensions of the Irish barons and the weakness of the government; and many other native chiefs, impressed by the vigour of Cathal's preparations, consented to act in concert with him. With this view, long standing animosities were laid aside, and treaties of amity and co-operation were entered upon to support a leader who spoke the language of patriotism, and came forward in the common cause. Among these the princes of Desmond and Thomond were the most prominent; their mutual enmity, imbittered by the constant encroachments of neighbourhood, was adjourned, and they agreed to join in the support of Cathal.
The first fruit of this new combination, was that affecting and tragic battle at Knockniag, near Tuam, in which the renowned knight Armoric de St Lawrence, with two hundred foot and thirty horse, were surrounded by Cathal's army and slaughtered, at the cost to the victor of a thousand men.*
Little creditable as this event was to the arms, the generosity, or even common humanity of the Irish prince, it had the effect of exciting the ardour and the emulation of his allies. O'Brien, the prince of Tho
* See page 322, where the particulars are given.