annoyed by the less than grateful attitude of his newly rich barons and ordered them home for an accounting of the spoils. At the same time, the remnant Viking settlers rallied to the cause of their former foes, the Celts, and joined them in their incessant guerilla warfare, an art the Irish were never to forget.

       This was all too much for the proud Henry II to bear, so he led a mighty army across the Irish Sea, determined to subjuqate all the wild men who inhabited the island, no matter what they called themselves or from whence they originally came. Henry's army made that of his barons look like a scouting party. The Irish chieftains, stunned by this show of Norman strength, particularly by the quality of the armament, sued for peace. Not all of them, of course, for that would have meant forsaking the national trait of ignoring overwhelming odds in a foe's favor. Rory O'Connor, the high chief of Ulster, refused to surrender to the Norman usurper and put up such fierce resistance that Henry II was content to hold only Leinster and Munster.

Lessening English Influence

       However, even those two provinces were soon to slip from his grasp. Henry II helped this come about with his complicity in the murder of Thomas 'a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. His return to England to face a Papal Inquiry set in motion a debilitation of the Normans left behind. They began to lose their identity as conquerors and began an assimilation of Irish ways. They soon, in fact, were absorbed by the people they had so recently conquered.




Oratory at Gallarus


Photo by Harold Orel

Book: Irish History and Culture



       This occurred, one might note, in spite of Henry's stringent laws designed to prevent that very possibility. For instance, the penalty for a Norman fraternizing with the Irish was rather severe. Anyone caught so doing was to be "half-strangled, then disembowled while still alive," and woe to the hangman careless enough to break a neck, thereby allowing the perpetrator of such a crime a relatively merciful death.

       Incredible as it might seem, despite that law and others equally formidable, the Normans continued to take up Irish ways, to the point where they adopted the native dress, language and names, not-to mention the principal cause of all this -- to take Irish wives. In a relatively short time the barons and lesser rank Normans were so transformed that they actually aspired to become Irish chieftains.

       The government in England naturally took a dim view of the Norman turn of character and in 1295 issued yet another decree forbidding such goings-on. Not only was the statute published in vain, it served a purpose directly opposite its intent -- it hastened a series of self-defense alliances among the Norman-Irish chieftains and the traditional Celtic leaders.

       The seduction of the Norman overlords continued unabated in the ensuing years and the people in Ireland gained a respite from English interference in their affairs, thanks largely to certain events which distracted the English considerably -- The War of Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York, to mention one. In fact, .....




at the time Henry VII assumed the throne, English influence in Ireland was limited to the County of Dublin and parts of Meath, Louth and Kildare.

       The ascension of the seventh Henry to the throne marked three centuries of English rule in at least some parts of Ireland and, all things considered, the whole effort was a stand-off. While Norman banners did, indeed, float over the Irish countryside, the pride paid in blood and defecting sons was a princely one.

       In 1494 Henry VII determined to do something about the Irish problem once and for all time. He decreed from that moment to perpetuity, English law would be the operative one in the land and, needless to say, the Irish code of laws would henceforth become inoperative. This action only served to stiffen resistance and inspire rebellion anew. The dismayed Henry VII decided that the damnable island was not worth the trouble of subjugating it and appointed the Earl of Kildare to rule it as he saw fit.

       Unfortunately for Ireland, Henry VII's successor, the noted Defender of the Faith, Henry VIII, was of a different mind. HO enticed a number of Irish nobles to visit his court, seized them and had them thrown in the Tower. When the sons of the nobles took to the field against the treacherous Tudor Kingi he had a surprise in store for them, a weapon of ultimate horror called the cannon. The rebellion was crushed and the instigators hanged. That was Henry VIII when he was a moderately compassionate man -before the Reformation.