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Art. V.- History of the Civil Wars of Ireland, from the Anglo-Norman
Invasion, till the Union of the Country with Great Britain. By W. C. Taylor, Esq., A. B., of Trinity College, Dublin. In two volumes,
18mo. Edinburgh, Constable & Co. London: Hurst & Chance. 1831. The history of Ireland is the collection of an almost uninterrupted series of national misfortunes. Broken before its political connexion with England, into five kingdoms, which five kingdoms were again parcelled out into several principalities, inhabited by distinct septs or clans, each governed by its own chieftain, it has remained to this hour as much divided as it was in the days of Brian Boiromhe; and most probably will continue to be so, until some mighty influence shall arise, which shall be popular and powerful enough to blend the various provinces into one nation, and to gather the strength of its innumerable parties round one transcendant interest. The thrones of these petty kingdoms having been elective, with a restriction, however, to particular families, their annals are but the records of incessant civil contentions. In the catalogue of one hundred and seventy-eight monarchs of the Milesian line, enumerated by the Irish antiquaries, only forty-seven died natural deaths; seventy-one were slain in battle, and no fewer than sixty were murdered. The list may be incorrect, or may, for aught that we know, be a fabrication altogether; but its existence, at all events, proves the opinion which the early Irish historians had collected, with respect to the nature of the intercourse which these kings kept up with each other, as well as with their own subjects.
Such a state of society, as must have existed in those remote times, in a country cut up into districts, each of which was claimed to be the collective property of the most powerful clan that inhabited it, must have been productive of incessant discord throughout all the grades of the entire community. It gave rise also, of necessity, to those habits of rustic warfare and restless agitation, which even still characterize Ireland; aud it sowed in families those seeds of disunion, which have not yet been eradicated, but which, on the contrary, seem every year to have taken deeper root, and to have yielded to the common enemy annual harvests of the most acceptable description. When he first landed on her shores, he had no nation in arms to contend against him. It was easy for him to beat her petty sovereignties in detail, and he had no occasion to act upon the Roman rule,“ divide and conquer,” for he found the country already divided admirably for his purposes. He had only to keep them as he found them, committed in the most bitter personal strife against each other, and by awarding his favours, now to one party, and now to another, to keep the majority discontented, and yet incapable, from their perpetual local quarrels, ever to join together in one powerful and heroic effort against his domination.
Amidst the frequent and bloody wars in which the Irish kingdoms were engaged in the early ages of Christianity, the hospitable character of the people never failed to shine out with a lustre, that no other nation has ever rivalled. Hence it happened, that when the Franks, the Saxons, and other barbarians, who poured down from the north upon the fair and fertile regions of the south, and in a great measure banished from then men of learning and religion, it is well known, that numbers of persons distinguished for the combination of profound knowledge with the most ardent piety, fled to Ireland, as an asylum at once beyond the reach of their foes, and prepared to afford them a friendly reception. Thus it happened, that during a period when ignorance and barbarism prevailed, like a dense cloud, over the greater part of France, Spain, and Italy, the seminaries of Ireland were filled with scholars, whose acquirements were not surpassed by men of a much later age. Unhappily, these great lighis of civilization shed their influence within circles that were much contined, in consequence of there being at that time but few and imperfect means for communicating with the masses of the people; and although it may be said with truth, that small portions of Ireland were refined by education, and taught the great duties of life by religion, yet the petty kingdoms were as barbarous as ever, and as much divided against each other.
It was in this situation they were found in the ninth century, by those enterprizing pirates, who, under the general name of Danes, swarmed on the seas in vessels which they fitted out upon the northern coasts of the continent. Though not numerous, they obtained,' as Mr. Taylor justly remarks, extraordinary success in a country distracted by internal commotions, where each sept rejoiced in the depression of its rival, and where the feelings of nationality were lost in the virulence of party spirit.' The Danes might have been easily destroyed, if any thing like a general combination could have been formed against them. In point of fact, the first prince, Brian Boiromhe, who, by the vigour of his arms, and his sagacity, obtained a temporary supreme control over nearly the whole island, repressed the power of the invaders, and preserved a general peace for about ten years. But the history of his fall displays, in striking colours, the spirit of factious rivalry and discord, which has been in all ages the bane of the country.
* Murchard, the eldest son of Brian, incautiously reproached Maolmordha, King of Leinster, for his former treacherous connection with the Danes, and so irritated the vindictive passions of the haughty prince, that he determined to purchase revenge, even at the price of his country's ruin. An alliance was soon fornied between the King of Leinster, and the Danish colony of Dublin. Auxiliaries were summoned from Norway, and the northern islands ; emissaries were sent to stimulate the discontented princes into rebellion; and Brian, now in the extremity of old age, found himself involved in a contest inore fearful than any he had hitherto experienced.
The monarch, however, proved himself equal to the emergency; he summoned to his standard all the princes who owed him obedience, and collected together his hereditary forces, on whom alone he saw that implicit reliance could be placed. The battle, which for the time decided the fate of Ireland, was fought on the plains of Clontarf, now a pretty village near Dublin. The engagement commenced on the morning of Good Friday, A. D. 1014, a circumstance which added religious enthusiasm to the patriotic zeal of the Irish, for the Danes had not been as yet converted to Christianity. At the very moment that battle was joined, Malachi, King of Meath, withdrew his forces, leaving Brian with only his own provincial army to withstand the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. The soldiers of Munster were not, however, disconcerted; they had with them in the field every member of the royal house, to which they were passionately attached; for the King brought with him to the battle his five sons, his grandson, and his fifteen nephews. The conflict lasted the entire day; but at length the valour of the Irish prevailed. The traitor Maolmordha, with his chief associates, were slain. His followers immediately broke their lines and fed; and the Danes were driven, with dreadful slaughter, to their ships and the gates of Dublin. But this success was dearly purchased. Brian was slain, while praying in his tent, by a wandering party of the enemy; his son Murchard, with the best and bravest of the Irish nobility, fell in the arms of victory; and the gallant sept of the Dalgais, Brian's own tribe, was almost annihilated.'—vol. i. pp. 27, 28.
New contests then arose for the supreme dignity, which still farther embroiled the parties already abundantly inflamed against each other, and thus the way was easily opened to the expedition which invaded Ireland in the reign of Henry II. It was apparently the intention of that sovereign, when he visited the country, to provide, as far as the political knowledge of the day could enable him, for the proper government of his new dominion; but in the midst of his plans, he was obliged to return to England to defend his throne; and it is very remarkable, that from that day to this, there has been scarcely a single arrangement made for the benefit of Ireland, which originated here, that has not been suspended or neglected, in consequence of more pressing exigencies demanding the attention of its framers. England, in fact, has never since had time to raise Ireland from its original state of disorganization, and she remains to this moment, a conspicuous monument of hasty and abortive legislation.
• The premature departure of Henry was the primary cause of all the evils under which Ireland laboured for centuries. Had he completed the subjugation of the country, he would naturally have established a uniform system of law and government: he would have made his followers, and the native inhabitants, bear the common name of fellow-subjects. Unfortunately, after his departure, the extension of the Anglo-Norman power was intrusted to private adventurers, whose rewards were the spoils of the vanquished. When spoliation was thus legalized, it is not surprising that many Norman leaders were unscrupulous in the selection of their victims, and seized the lands of those who were in the King's peace, as eagerly as the estates of those who still disdained submission. Indeed, the septs which had been foremost in acknowledging the Norman sovereignty, were the greatest sufferers. The adventurers seized their lands on any pretence, or on no pretence. The provincial governors were bribed by a share of the spoil to refuse redress; and an appeal to the sovereign was difficult on account of the distance, and not likely to succeed, when the crime was supposed favourable to the royal interests. The settlement at the synod of Cashel was manifestly misunderstood by all the parties concerned. The clergy believed that Henry assumed the title of Lord Paramount only as deputy to the Pope. The toparchs supposed, that, by their tender of allegiance, they only conceded the precarious sovereignty which had been enjoyed by the native princes : and Henry imagined that he had secured the possession of the island, though his power really extended not beyond the places actually colonized by the Normans. The distinction between the new settlers and the natives was preserved more forcibly by the continuance of the Brehon law, and the old customs of tenure and descent. The English laws were granted only to the Norman settlers, to the citizens of the principal seaports, and to a few who obtained charters of denization as a matter of favour. Five principal septs, the O'Neills of Ulster, the O'Connors of Connaught, the O'Briens of Thomond, the O’Lacklans or Melachlans of Meath, and the Mac Murroghs, called also Kavenaghs, of Leinster, were received within the pale of English law; but all the rest were esteemed aliens or enemies, and could neither sue nor be sued, even down to the reign of Elizabeth, This, in fact, amounted to a total denial of justice for any wrongs inflicted on the natives.* The old rolls contain numberless instances of complaints made for various acts of violence, to which the defendants plead, that“ the plaintiff is an Irishman, and not of the five bloods,” an answer which, if verified, was always held sufficient. When an English settler was slain, the murderer was executed according to English law; but the death of a native was compensated by an eric, according to the Brehon code. Such an incongruity afforded so many chances of escape to the powerful, and opened so many facilities for suppression, that we cannot wonder at the opposition which all plans for the
• One instance may be quoted as an example. It occurs among the rolls of pleas, 28, Edward III.
"“ Simon Neal complains of William Newlagh, that he, with force and arms, on the Monday after the feast of Saint Margaret, at Clondalkin, in the county of Dublin, broke the said Simon's close and his herbage with oxen, calves and sheep, consumed and trampled, contrary to the peace, &c.; whence he says, that he is damaged to the amount of iwenty shillings and thereof, &c.
““ And the aforesaid William comes now and says, that the aforesaid Simon is an Irishman, and not of the five bloods; and asks judgment if he be held to answer him.
““ And the aforesaid Simon says, that he is one of the five bloods, to wit, of the O'Neales of Ulster, who, by the concession of the progenitors of our lord the king, ought to enjoy and use the liberties of England, and be deemed as freemen; and this he offers to verify, &c.
““ And the aforesaid William says, that Simon is an Irishman, and not of the O'Neales of Ulster, nor of the five bloods; and thereupon issue is joined, &c. Wherefore let a jury, &c."'
establishment of a uniform system of law received from the adventurers and their descendants.'- vol. i.
60–62. In this passage we have as perfect an abridgement as could possibly be made, of the policy which has been acted upon by the English government, with respect to Ireland, ever since the reign of Henry II. Substitute in the reigns of Edward VI., Elizabeth, James I., William III., and Anne, the penal laws enacted against the Catholics for the regulations which were made in that of Henry II. : in place of the words “Norman settlers," write the Protestant inhabitants, and for the “five principal septs within the pale of English law," write the dependents of the English government, and
have exactly a continuation under new names, of all the old outrages against justice and honour, which were perpetrated in Ireland with impunity, because the people were too much disunited to rise in combined rebellion, and trample this atrocious system of tyranny to the earth.
It is a singular fact, that we may trace also to the incompleteness of Henry's conquest, another evil, which has been industriously propagated from generation to generation by all the oligarchies that have succeeded the “ Norman settlers.” Prior to his invasion, land in Ireland was held at the will of the district chieftain, or toparch, who thus secured the services of a large number of tenants for military purposes. Those tenants were in no better situation than mere serfs, for they were the slaves of the chieftain in every sense of the word; the precariousness of their power induced the Norman leaders to continue this kind of tenure, which exists to the present day, notwithstanding all the efforts which modern legislators have made to modify or eradicate it; and the consequence is, that there is not, and never has been, a body of substantial yeomanry in Ireland. The occupiers of the land are, for the most part, of what we should call in this country, the lowest class of the peasantry; they are in a state which their universal poverty assimilates to servitude ; they cannot live without land, and they are obliged, from the competition that prevails amongst them, whenever a small farm is to let, to pay for the possession a rent, that scarcely leaves them the power of enjoying the common necessaries of life. Hence,' to use the language of Mr. Taylor, hence, the great mass always ready for insurrection, when summoned by popular leaders, or by their own passions; men possessing no sympathy with their landlords, for r.ever did community of feeling exist between master and slave; men having nothing to lose in agrarian tumult, and every thing to hope from the prospect of revolution.' Mr. Taylor adds, and his description serves equally well for the orangemen of the present day,' The monarchs soon found the degenerate English who had adopted Irish customs, more obstinate and more formidable enemies than the natives. In the language of the old Irish historians, “they were more Irish than the Irish themselves ;” and, froni their first settlement, their principal object, and that of their successors