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On being apprized of his flight, king Henry bestowed his lordships of Kildare and Rathangan on his adversary, observing, that “albeit Vesey had conveyed his person into France, yet he left his lands behind him in Ireland.”
Notwithstanding this event, the probability is that the accusation of Vesey was just: his attempt to trace to their source the disorders of the country, led to a more distinct notice of the oppressions and disloyalties of the barons, than was satisfactory to these powerful nobles. And it is in the highest degree probable, that if the prompt and dexterous conduct of lord Ophaly had not cut the matter short by an appeal at that time unlikely to be rejected, that the most serious charges would have been substantiated on undoubted evidence. This supposition is confirmed by the subsequent conduct of Fitz-Gerald on his return. The whole of this narration is impugned by Leland, who gives no authority, and substitutes an account far less probable in its circumstances. According to this, the proceedings were entered into, and after being carried to some length, annulled as irregular; and that Vesey voluntarily resigned his manors, because his right, which appears to have been valid, was contested by the co-heiresses of his wife,
Fitz-Gerald, on his return, conducted himself in a manner too consistent with the accusations of Vesey. Amongst other violent proceedings by which he endeavoured to eniarge his vast possessions, he made war on De Burgo, whose person he seized and imprisoned. Continuing this war, he carried his violent proceedings to an extent that rendered all connivance impossible;. he was impeached in form, and obliged to appear before the king and give security for his future peaceable conduct.
From this the tenor of his history changes; in 1296, and in 1301, we find him assisting the king in Scotland. In 1307, he also distinguished himself by his services in conjunction with his son-inlaw Edmond Butler (soon after lord Carrick) against the rebels in Ophaly.
During this iord's time, the principal factions in Ireland were those of De Burgo and his own, who were engaged against each other in hostilities, only interrupted by the occasional influence of the government, or by the accident of circumstances, which from time to time occurred to divert their activity from mutual strife, to the service of the king. On these occasions, the royal service was materially promoted by their jealous anxiety to outshine each other in their force, equipments, and actions.
The last year of his life was one of violent disturbance in Ireland. It was the year of the Scottish invasion, which we must reserve for other lives to which its details more properly appertain. This lord was, however, among those who first gave a check to the invader Ed. • ward Bruce, brother to the king of Scotland, by giving him somo severe defeats. In consideration of these services, as well as to secure his loyalty, king Edward II. created him earl of Kildare, by letters patent, dated 14th May, 1316.*
He died in the same year, and was interred in the Franciscan friary
of Kildare. He was married to a daughter of lord Fermoy, and had four children. Of these, Thomas John succeeded him; Joan was married to Edmond Butler, lord Carrick; and Elizabeth to the ancestor of the Netherville family.
Second Feiðlim O'Conor, Prince of Connaught.
DIED A. D. 1316,
This unfortunate prince was most probably the grandson of the prince of the same name already commemorated in this volume.* Of his personal history we know no more than the particulars which belong to the general history of the period. But these are such as to fix his claim to a separate notice.
On the invasion of Ireland by the Scots, under the command of Edward Bruce, in 1315, Feidlim joined De Burgo with his provincial force. He was about twenty-two years of age, high spirited and distinguished for his military ardour, but rash and inexperienced. He was probably impatient of the domineering influence under which he was controlled by the power and pride of the De Burgos, and was therefore the more open to the secret seductions of Bruce. To him Bruce represented the disgrace of his dependent condition; he reminded him of the ancient power and honour of his illustrious line; and promised to reinstate him in all the possessions of his family as fully as they had been possessed by the greatest monarch of his race; for this purpose he conjured him to desert his oppressors, and the enemies of his family and nation, and to join him in driving them from the island. Feidlim, easily seduced by this romantic notion, sought a pretence to detach himself from the earl of Ulster. Such a pretence was nearer than he would have wished.
Taking advantage of his absence, Roderic, a near relation, possessed himself of his territories. He, too, entered into a communication with Bruce, and promised to assist him and put the province of Connaught under his sovereignty, if he were himself fixed securely in possession of the powers and territories of the rightful prince. His offer of service was accepted; but he was at the same time warned of the danger which would follow from division, and entreated to leave Feidlim's possessions undisturbed, until the expulsion of the common enemy should leave them at liberty to discuss their respective claims. Roderic, who was perhaps aware of the hollowness of this politic counsel, and that he had no claims suited to such a discussion, gave no heed to the advice, and proceeded with vigour and success to obtain his objects. He found no difficulty in compelling or influencing the septs to give hostages for their faithful adherence to his interest; and when Feidlim had arrived to protect his own rights, he found that he was late. His march too had been interrupted and beset by the Northern septs, who looked upon him as an ally of their enemies, and when he had reached a safe position, he was no longer at the head of an
* Page 345.
army; his remaining followers were few and discouraged, and he was without the means of supporting them.
He was soon followed by De Burgo, whose force did not enable him to meet Bruce in the field. But even with this reinforcement, Feidlim was not strong enough to bring matters to the issue of force.
At this time Sir John Birmingham was appointed commander in Ireland; and considering Feidlim as the ally of the English, he immediately joined him with a body of English troops, and he was reinstated in his possessions by an engagement in which his rival was defeated and slain.
The first use this unfortunate prince made of his deliverance, was such as indeed to deserve the fatal consequences which he soon incurred. He was no sooner freed from the presence of his deliverers, than he threw off concealment, and openly declared for Bruce.
The penalty followed soon upon the crime. William de Burgo and Richard'de Birmingham were detached into Connaught, to chastise his defection. He had given much assistance to Bruce, and done great mischief to the English in repeated incursions upon their settlements; in these he surprised at several times, and slew Stephen of Exeter, Miles Cogan, William Prendergast, and other brave knights.* A powerful force of English troops now hung, like a distant thunder-cloud upon the horizon, and Feidlim was in a position of emergency which might have damped the fiercest valour of his race. Feidlim's courage was in no way damped; he prepared to meet the danger with a spirit worthy of a better cause, and marched forward to give battle to the enemy. They met near Athenry, a town within eleven miles of Galway; and an engagement ensued, in which Feidlim was slain. This battle was fatal to his race, who never again recovered their importance and authority. It was also the most sanguinary that had taken place since the arrival of the English: the slain on the part of the Irish are said to have been about 8000, and there seems no reason to doubt the statement.
This nobleman succeeded his brother Theobald, in 1299, and was thus the sixth in succession from the first of that name, whose coming to Ireland we have already detailed.f He was knighted in 1309 by Edward II., and obtained great honour in that year for his success, in concert with Thomas Fitz-Gerald, against the insurgents in Connaught áud Ophaley. In 1312, he was lord deputy, and suppressed the depredation of the Byrnes and Tooles. In 1314 he was lord justice in Ireland, aud rendered himself conspicuous for his prudence and activity in the preparations which were made against Bruce's invasion. It was at this time that he was created earl of Carrick-Mac-Griffine, in the county Tipperary, by patent dated at Lincoln, 1st September, 1315, with
• Boolis of Clonmacnoise, Leland.
+ Page 343.
large grants, to which other extensive possessions in the county of Waterford were added in a few years after. In 1320, he went on a pilgrimage into Spain, to visit the shrine of St James of Compostella ; and on his return, died in London, 13th September, 1321, and was interred at Gowran, in the county Kilkenny.
He was married to a daughter of the first earl of Kildare, by whom he had five children; his eldest son James succeeded him.*
Second Earl of Kildare.
SUCCEEDED A. D. 1316.-DIED A.D. 1328.
This nobleman was appointed as leader of an army of thirty thousand men, which was levied to meet Bruce. But his dispositions were rendered vain by the interference of lord Mortimer, who came over with a considerable force to assume the command, and sent orders for the postponement of active operations till his arrival. The delay was fatal to the occasion, as Bruce took advantage of it to avoid an engagement for which he was not in condition.
This earl was lord justice in 1320, and was again appointed in 1326. He died in this high station, in 1328, in his castle at Maynooth, and was buried in the Franciscan friary of Kildare. He married a daughter of Richard de Burgo; by her he had three sons, of whom Richard succeeded him.
Sir John Birmingham.
died A. D. 1329.
SIR JOHN BIRMINGHAM's ancestors had a castle in the town of Birmingham, from which their name is derived. The English branch continued to possess the lordship of this place until the reign of Henry VIII., when, says Lodge, “ Edward Birmingham, the last heir male, was wrested out of that lordship by John Dudley, afterwards duke of Northumberland.” William de Birmingham, who lived in the reign of Henry II. and Richard I., is supposed to have been the common father of both branches. It is yet doubtful amongst antiquaries, whether it was his son Robert or himself, who came over with Strongbow. We shall not discuss the point: whichever it may have been, he obtained ample grants from Strongbow. From this adventure is traced with more certainty Pierce de Birmingham, the first lord of Athenry, who was a distinguished nobleman in the reign of Henry III. His grandson Peter, the third lord, was fathers to the eminent person whom we are to notice here, who was the second son. He is justly entitled to a conspicuous rank among the most eminent persons of his time. His most illustrious achievement was the termination of the disastrous war consequent on Bruce's invasion, to which we
have been compelled partially to advert in other lives. We may now proceed to its detail.
It will not be necessary to detail the incidents of Scottish history which led to Edward Bruce's descent on the Irish coast. The death of Edward I. freed the Seotch from the pressure of a formidable enemy. Robert Bruce, after a long struggle with adversity, was, by the issue of the battle of Bannockburn, placed in secure possession of the Scottish throne.
The Irish were also soon apprized of the feebleness of the English prince, and were seized by a strong desire to avail themselves of the opportunity to throw off the yoke. To effect such a purpose, it was, however, necessary to bring a force into the field adequate to struggle with the formidable power and valour of the English barons. Robert Bruce, who was at the time, without opposition, ravaging the northern frontiers of England, seemed an obvious resource upon such an occasion. To him, therefore, the chiefs of Northern Ulster applied. They represented the wrongs they had sustained, and were sustaining, from the inveterate enemies of his family, person, and nation; they must also have pleaded the ready assistance which he had in his own difficulties found from them; they reminded him of the near consanguinity of the two nations, and finally offered to receive a king from Scotland, should they first be liberated by his valour.
There were also reasons of a strong and peculiar nature, which operated to give ready effect to such an application. The juncture was seemingly favourable, and Robert Bruce was, by his nature, character, present situation, and tried experience, admirably adapted to succeed in such an enterprise. But other circumstances had been working, to prepare the way for the application made by the Irish, which gave a different turn to the event. The brave monarch to whom their offer was made had a brother, as enterprising and valiant as himself, to whose fiery and impetuous valour he had been indebted for success in many an arduous danger, and who had shared all his fortunes and sufferings, through the long and trying struggle which placed him on the throne. Edward Bruce was restless, violent, enterprising, and ambitious; a character which, though not unfitted to the nature of the warfare in which his youth had been passed, was scarcely compatible with the calm and peaceable subordination, which was so much the interest of his royal brother to preserve in his small and turbulent monarchy. Among the fiery, proud, and contentious elements of the Scottish aristocracy, a character like that of Edward was always to be feared. He was as rash and inconsiderate, as he was ambitious; and having so long been placed, by the emergencies of his brother's life, and the importance of his military services, in a station approaching equal command, he did not think it unreasonable to desire an equal share in the government of the kingdom. Such a proposal must have filled the breast of king Robert with disquietude, if not with alarm: however appeased by reason or concession, the wish itself was full of danger. King Robert, it is said, assured his brother of the succession, in case of the failure of issue male; but the proposal of the Irish chiefs came happily to relieve him from the difficulty, and he offered to place his brother at the head of an army, and to fix him on