The Norman Invasion and After

The Norman invasion of Ireland changed everything. The invasion occurred initially in 1169 A.D. at Bannow in Co. Wexford, but within a few years the Normans were masters of much of Ireland. In 1170, a combined army under the High King Roderick O’Connor attempted to expel the Norman invaders but failed to do so. The army which included Murrough O’Carroll and his army had surrounded Dublin and the Normans were on the point of surrendering when they counterattacked and defeated the High Kings army. Contemporary accounts relate that the attack was a surprise one under the leadership of Miles De Cogan and that the High King was bathing when the attack came. This was to be the last real opportunity for a native Irish army to expel the Normans. Roderick O’Connor proved to be an ineffectual and weak leader and Murrough O’Carroll must have realised that he could not rely on him for any real support.

In 1172 Murrough O’Carroll, along with O’Rourke of Breffne, submitted to Henry II of England in Dublin.

McCarthy of Desmond, O’Brien of Thomand and other Kings and Chiefs also submitted. Eventually Roderick O’Connor submitted to two of Henry II’s envoys, Hugh de Lacy and William Fitzadelm.

The submitting of a regional King to a High King was an Irish custom of long standing. Donough O’Carroll placed a great emphasis on promoting the authorities of the High King as indeed did Murrough O’Carroll. But Henry was a foreign monarch.

Furthermore, the Norman feudal way was completely alien to the Irish way of life. Murrough O’Carroll must have known more about the feudal customs than any other Irish King. The feudal custom maintains that all land is held by the King who gives it to who so ever he pleases. These Vassels or Lords then sublet to trusted followers or knights.

King Henry II obviously came to an arrangement with Murrough O’Carroll and recognised him as being in charge of Oriel, but holding the land in his name. Murrough O’Carroll and the other Irish Kings who submitted would have viewed their submission as merely acknowledging the military superiority of Henry II. The real reason why Murrough O’Carroll submitted was probably that he could no longer rely on the ability of the High King to give competent leadership and his natural allies were engaged in an ongoing civil war. He could not rely on these either. He was on his own and if Oriel was to survive as an independent kingdom, he had to come to an arrangement with the most powerful local military leader and that was Henry II of England.

Henry II was the eldest son of Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou and he succeeded Stephen in 1154 at the age of 21. Because of the Norman regions in France, he viewed himself as a French King who had possessions in England and now Ireland.

The main reason for Henry II’s success in Ireland probably centred on the Papal Bull of Pope Adrian IV. Adrian IV was an Englishman, Nicholas Breakspeare who ascended the Papal throne in 1154, the year Henry became King. Henry immediately sent messengers to congratulate the new Pope. These included the Bishops of Liseux, Evreux, Le Man and St. Albans. John of Salisbury was also involved and the messengers were not only to congratulate the new Pope, but to tell him that the state of the Irish Church was a matter of great concern and that Henry, if instructed to do so by the Pope, would come to Ireland to rectify the matter.

Despite some evidence to the contrary, Nicholas Breakspeare or Adrian IV issued a Papal Bull authorising Henry’s intervention. The text of the Bull is as follows:

“Adrian, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his dearest Son in Christ, the illustrious King of England, greeting and apostolical benediction.

“Your Majesty quite laudably and profitably considers how to extend the glory of your name on earth and increase the reward of eternal happiness in Heaven, when, as a Catholic Prince, you propose to extend the limits of the Church, to announce the truth of the Christian faith to ignorant and barbarous nations, and to root out the weeds of vice from the field of the Lord; and the more effectually to accomplish this you implore the counsel and favour of the Apostolic See. In which matter we are confident that the higher your aim and the greater the discretion with which you proceed, the happier, with God’s help, will be your success; because these things that originate in the ardour of faith and the love of religion are always wont to arrive at a good issue and end. Certainly Ireland and all the islands on which Christ, the Sun of Justice, has shone, and which have accepted the doctrines of the Christian faith, of right belong, as your Highness doth acknowledge, to Blessed Peter and the Holy Roman Church. Wherefore we the more willingly sow in them a faithful plantation and a seed pleasing to God, inasmuch as we know by internal examination that it will be strictly required of us. You have signified to us, dearest son in Christ, that you desire to enter the island of Ireland to subject that people to laws and to root out therefrom the weeds of vice, also that you desire to pay from every house an annual pension of one penny to Blessed Peter, and to preserve the rights of the churches of that land inviolate and whole. We, therefore, regarding with due favour your pious and laudable desire, and according a gracious assent to your petition, deem it pleasing and acceptable that for the purpose of extending the limits of the Church, checking the torrent of wickedness, reforming evil manners, sowing seeds of virtue, and increasing the Christian religion, you should enter that island and execute whatever shall be conducive to the honour of God and the salvation of that land. And let the people of that land receive you honourably and reverence you as Lord, the rights of the churches remaining indisputably inviolate and whole, and the annual pension of one penny from every house being reserved to Blessed Peter and the Holy Roman Church. If, therefore, you will carry to completion what with a mind so disposed you have conceived, study to form the people to good morals, and as well by yourself as by those whom you shall find qualified for the purpose, by faith, word and conduct so act, that the Church may be adorned, that the religion of the Christian Faith may be planted and may increase; and let all that concerns the honour of God and the salvation of souls be ordered in such manner, that you may deserve to obtain from God a plentiful everlasting reward, and on earth succeed in acquiring a name glorious for ages”.

The Bull was publicly read at Winchester but due to other priorities, was not immediately acted upon. It was almost forgotten about until after almost twenty years, King Denmot McMurrough of Leinster appealed to Henry II of England for assistance in recovering the Kingdom of Leinster. The Papal Bull was quickly remembered but there were two obstacles for Henry to overcome. Adrian IV was dead and a new Pope Alexander III was on the Papal throne. Also, Henry was implicated in the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas á Beckett. This occurred during a turbulent time in the relationship between Henry and the English church. This element of guilt made the Papal Bull of Adrian IV somewhat invalid until Henry had it endorsed by Alexander III.

Alexander III had a close relationship with Henry II. Frederick Barbarossa had invaded Rome and Alexander III was expelled and replaced with an anti-pope whom many nations recognised. Henry II continued to recognise Alexander III as the legitimate Pope. In the meantime Alexander resided in France at Sens while he waited for an opportunity to regain his position.

The murder of Thomas à Beckett, Archbishop of Cantebury in his own cathedral and in front of numerous witnesses by four of Henry’s knights on the 29th of December 1170 sent shockwaves throughout the Christian world at that time. Henry had a longstanding dispute with Thomas à Beckett over what Henry saw as unfair church privileges. Thomas à Beckett resisted and eventually had to flee to France for his own safety. There he met Pope Alexander III also in exile. Alexander III attempted to intervene in the dispute, but found Thomas à Beckett difficult and obstinate. However, safe passage back to Cantebury was guaranteed to Thomas, who was initially confined to the Cistercian Monastery at Pontigny by Alexander III. It was during an outburst of rage by Henry against Thomas à Beckett that four of Henry’s knights set out to kill Thomas. They believed that they were doing the will of Henry, but Henry who saw the consequences such an act would have for him, tried to have the knights apprehended and Thomas, soon to be known as St. Thomas à Beckett taken into protective custody.

In this Henry failed and Thomas was murdered. The consequences for Henry could have been much worse. He had to restore the English churches position of privilege, do public penance and in return Pope Alexander III would reactivate the Papal Bull of Adrian IV, giving Henry permission to invade Ireland. Henry set out for Ireland confident that the Bull would be endorsed by Alexander III.

On 18th of October 1171 Henry II arrived in Ireland landing at Waterford. His army was transported on 400 ships and consisted of 10,000 men.

Nothing on this scale had ever been witnessed before. Henry II must have been confident that the reactivation of Adrian’s Bull was only a matter of time and in fact, the reason why Henry left Ireland in 1172 was to meet the Papal Legates who conveyed the message that the Bull to invade Ireland had been reactivated provided Henry would do certain penance which he duly did, including at the tomb of Thomas à Beckett.

These were the nature of the odds that Murrough O’Carroll was facing as he attempted to preserve the Kingdom of Oriel and his own family line. Henry II of England had an army of 10,000 well trained soldiers and the authority and blessing of the Pope to invade and conquer. Murrough O’Carroll’s only option was to come to an agreement.

In 1176 A.D. Fitzadelm De Burgo became Viceroy and John De Courcy was appointed as deputy . De Courcy was a knight from Somerset whose ancestors had come over with William the Conqueror. He was impatient with De Burgo’s policy of accommodating to the Irish Kings and Princes. De Courcy planned an invasion of Ulster that would take him through Oriel. In 1177, he set out from Dublin for Downpatrick, marching rapidly through Oriel. His progress was unimpeded. When he arrived, there was much slaughter witnessed by Cardinal Vivian who had just arrived from Rome as Papal Legate. Dunleavy, the local Chieftain, organised resistance, mobilising an army of 10,000, but they were defeated by De Courcy’s 700 mounted knights. The Irish again attempted to dislodge De Courcy, but this time 1,500 of them were slain. In 1177 A.D. he turned his attentions to Oriel and intended to invade it with a large army sent south from Downpatrick, but at Glenridhe near Newry, his army was ambushed by Murrough O’Carroll, assisted by Dunleavy, and De Courcy was comprehensively defeated. He lost at least 450 superb knights. It is worth mentioning that in the previous year, 1176, O’Carroll attacked and destroyed the Castle of Slane in Meath. This was because it was occupied by Richard Flemming, a Norman invader who was using it as a base to attack Oriel. Also in this year Murrough O’Carroll’s sister Bean Midhe died. She was Queen of Ui Tuirtri and the wife of King Cummee O’Flynn. The Kingdom of Ui Tuirtri occupies what is now modern South Antrim. De Courcy was not discouraged by his defeats, but decided to leave Oriel alone and to concentrate on consolidating his position in Ulster. This he did effectively by constructing a number of motte and baily structures at strategic locations in east Ulster. His most famous structure is Carrigfergus Castle in Belfast Lough. De Courcy became Viceroy in 1186 as well as Earl of Ulster and moved his residence to Dublin. However, Henry II died in 1189 and his son Richard succeeded him. He appointed Prince John to administer Irish affairs, and one of his first acts was to remove De Courcy and appoint Hugh De Lacy as Viceroy. De Courcy again took up residence in Downpatrick, but he was subsequently taken to England and in 1204 A.D. was tried for disloyalty. Apparently, he had become more of an independent Prince than a Kings subject. He was stripped of his newly acquired lands and of his title, but before that happened Ulster had been largely subdued. In 1189 A.D. a Norman raid into Oriel resulted in defeat for Murrough O’Carroll, although the Normans did not settle. In this same year, Murrough O’Carroll died at Mellifont Abbey. His death removed the Normans greatest opponent and opened up the way for fresh incursions.

Prince John visited Ireland in 1185 and met Murrough O’Carroll. The Prince seemed to accept that Murrough O’Carroll was ruler of Oriel but probably viewed this rule as holding Oriel in trust for the King, his father Henry II. Whatever arrangement Prince John came to with Murrough O’Carroll, it was not the Princes intention that it should extend to his successor, because at the same time as acknowledging Murrough O’Carroll as King of Oriel, he also issued land grants to Gilbert Pipard and Bertram de Verdon in the form of royal charters but these were not to be taken up until the death of Murrough O’Carroll. This occurred in 1189 A.D. at Mellifont Abbey. After his death, Norman settlement and confiscation occurred with great haste and the Episcopal city of Louth and the Royal residence of the Carrolls was confiscated and retained by Prince John as a Royal Demesne of Henry II. Henry II also died in 1189 A.D. and his son Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart, became King of England but his interests were in the crusades and Prince John who attempted to seize the English throne while his brother was abroad crusading eventually became King of England in 1199.

However in 1189 the Pipards and de Vernons were intent in taking up their land grant which was given to them by Prince John.

Obviously, such incursions were totally unacceptable to Mahon O’Carroll who was now the legitimate King of Oriel. Resistance occurred, but in 1193 A.D. he was defeated and captured, taken to Dundalk, blinded and hanged. Resistance also occurred at Donaghmoyne where Gilbert Pipard had seized land and was constructing a fortress. This land had been granted to the Bishop of Oriel by Donough O’Carroll. English law refused to recognise any land grants made by Irish monarchs to the Church and the Bishop of Oriel, Gillacrist Ua MicTurain entered the castle trench clothed in his vestments and lay down so that construction stopped. The workmen were unwilling to intervene, so Gilbert Pipard forcibly removed him from the trench in a violent manner, which probably led to his death later on that year. The way was now open for full scale invasion and plantation. The eastern portion of Oriel became the modern County Louth and it was divided between Gilbert Pipard and De Vernon, who at this time were formally granted land. Irish Oriel continued to exist to the west in modern Monaghan and perhaps west County Louth, but the Episcopal city of Louth and the royal residence was plundered and given to the Platagenent family, now represented by Richard I. Also, sometime between 1193 and 1197 A.D. the Diocese of Oriel ceased to exist. Bishop Edan O’Kelly died in 1182 and was succeeded by Mael Isu O’Carroll, a close relative of Murrough O’Carroll, King of Oriel. He died in 1187 A.D. still Bishop of Oriel and resident in the Episcopal city of Louth. He was succeeded by Gillacrist Ua Mic Turain, who died in 1193. He was succeeded by Maeleisa, the son of a Bishop called Maelcirain. He died in 1197 and it was during his stay that the Diocese of Oriel ceased to exist and the seat of the Bishop was moved back to Clogher. The immediate subsequent history of the Carroll family of Oriel is one of consolidation and adaptation to the new political environment. Mahon II O’Carroll was fifth in descent from Donough O’Carroll and was described as Lord of Oriel although he was the legitimate King. This was an Oriel much reduced in size. He died in 1273. He had two sons, Eochaid, who took the surname of son of Mahon, or Mac Mahon, but this was quickly translated as MacMahon and therefore, this branch of the Carroll family, became indistinguishable from the MacMahon’s who now assumed a prominent role in what was now called Irish Oriel. Thus one branch of the Carroll family amalgamated with the MacMahon family and are now lost to Carroll history. Mahons other son was Walter from whom the Carroll family of Dunbyn and others are descended from. Walter is an interesting name, as it is of Norman derivation, indicating that the Carrolls were blending in with the Normans at this early stage. In 1278 Walter O’Carroll killed Robert Gernon, a Norman indicating the unsettled politics of the region and the constant warfare between native Chieftains and Norman invaders.

In 1296 A.D. he was present at the reading of a Papal Bull of Pope Boniface VIII. In this document which was recorded as part of the register of Clogher, he was described as Lord Clan Carroll. The bull was tilted Clericis Laicos and was read by Bishop Nicholas Mac Mael Isu who toured his Diocese reading it. It forbad taxes being levied on clergy except by permission, but Bishop Nicholas Mac Mael Isu used it as an opportunity to impose his authority more firmly on those parts of Oriel outside of English influence.

Walter Carroll is again mentioned in state documents in 1325, when he was summoned to hear judgement between himself and John Plunkett in a matter relating to land. Walter’s son was called Magnus and his son was named Donough. He was referred to as “Captain of his Nation” by Bishop Alexander Balscot of Ossery who was the Kings Treasurer in Ireland at that time, around 1380 A.D. In documents Donough is referred to as Donatus and he and others were paid £3,228-9-9 ½ d to keep the Kings peace. This is further evidence of how both Irish and Norman accommodated themselves to each other. However, the unsettled politics continued and some years later archers and soldiers were mobilised against Donough.

Clan Carroll occupied the exact interface between Norman and Gaelic Ireland. As a result of this and the dominance of the McMahons the lordship had been reduced in size to about nine square miles. Clan Carroll now corresponds to Donoughmoyne, and a portion of Iniskeen. This name remained in regular use until the 17th Century and Shirley’s history of Monaghan provides a map indicating its boundaries. There is still a crossroads within the area that the local people call Carroll’s Cross.

In this area, the Carroll family retained influence at least until the mid 16th Century. This is known from the fact that the last Abbot of Louth was John Carroll, who was present at the dissolution of his monastery on 25th November, 1539. He was granted a pension of £3 pounds per annum to be paid from revenue generated by the sale of confiscated property. The Abbot of any monastery was always a person of influence who was well connected politically. This was because the role of Abbot was a broad one, which extended far beyond church related matters. It was interesting that the Carroll family still retained sufficient influence as late as 1539 to ensure that John Carroll, a direct descendant of Donough O’Carroll, the founder, was Abbot.

It is worth noting that one of the jurors involved in the dissolution of both St. Mary’s and St’ Peter and Paul’s was William O’Carroll. It was the responsibility of the Jurors to arrange for a pension to be paid to the Abbot upon the sale of the property. Donough O’Carroll of Feraghys is recorded in the proceedings.

There now followed a very unsettled time politically. The nine year war, the Cromwellian period and the Williamite wars all followed over the next Century and a half. This culminated with the Williamite confiscations in north Louth of 1701 – 1702. A census of Louth taken in 1605 records only 53 people having the surname Carroll or one of its variations e.g. O’Carroll. The name was not recorded in Monaghan, although it is likely that a few individuals there also had Carroll as a surname. Only 31 people shared this surname in North Louth at this time. The entire county of Louth contained 9,690 people at 1605.

The Carroll family at Feraghy moved a few miles east to somewhat better land at Culcredan at the time of the confederation of Kilkenny and when the restoration occurred after the Cromwellian period occupied Killencool Castle with their allies the Gernons. Henry Carroll has been recorded as living there around the time of the Williamite War. It has been established by Chevalier William FK Marmion that Henry Carroll’s support for the 7th Viscount Gormanstown led to his expulsion from Killencool.

The Gernons were an old Norman family who supported the Jacobite cause, as did the Carrolls, and suffered politically as a result.

However, by this time the entire Gaelic order had been destroyed. Richard Carroll of Dunbyn probably moved there shortly around the time of his birth to land originally owned by the Gernons and now about to be granted to the Blaney-Balfour family of Townley Hall, Drogheda.

There was no possibility of a restoration of the Gaelic nobility so one got on with the process of farming and living. Further political disturbances would occur up to 1922, but these were founded on different political ideologies often based on the equality of all, a stark contrast to the old Gaelic order of genealogies and chieftainships. In fact, genealogies were largely forgotten about and certainly not encouraged by the Anglo-Irish ruling class who sought to build their own genealogies, fewer of which went back further than the seventeenth century.