Stormin’ Normans

Aoife

The marriage of Aoife and Strongbow

May 1st 1169 is traditionally given as the day the Normans came to Ireland.  It was a tradition in Ireland for ousted kings or princes to run abroad to seek support to retake their crowns.  Belgium was a popular place to go because Flemish mercenary spearmen had a good reputation.

On this occasion though the ousted King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough decided to go to Aquitane.  100 years on from the Battle of Hastings the Norman invaders were well settled in England, Wales and parts of Scotland.  In Wales the Normans intermarried with the Welsh Marcher Lords and created extended families of troublemakers.

Henry II, based in Southern France, the lands of his wealthy wife,  maybe thought he could get rid of a few Welsh troublemakers by sending them to wild Ireland.  Or else Dermot, rebuffed by Henry, went independently to Wales, and pitched his case to Robert DeClare (Strongbow).  Dermot dangled the promise of his daughter and the kingshop of Leinster in front of Strongbow, who reached for the prize.  So Robert Fitzstephen was despatched to lead an expedition.  He brought three ships, thirty mounted knights and about 300 Welsh and Flemish footsoldiers to Bannow Strand in Co.  Wexford in the south west of Ireland.

Two days later they were followed by two more ships led by Maurice de Prendergast and a further 300 soldiers.  There they were met by 500 Irish supporters of MacMurrough.  They marched on Wexford and successfully took the Danish city.  For a time it seems that matters stabilised or went against the invaders.  McMurrough begged Strongbow for more troops and a year later another force landed at Baginbun led by Raymond le Gros.  They routed an army of Irish and Norse from Waterford.

In August 1170 Strongbow himself arrived with thousand men and now the Normans had a critical mass of troops.  First they took the stoutly defended city of Waterford.  There Strongbow married his promised prize, Aoife MacMurrough, in the wedding pictured in the painting above from the Irish National Gallery.  They swept rapidly up the coast and siezed Dublin.

In May 1171 with the death of Dermot the Norman knight Strongbow became King of Leinster and was threatening to expand to the rest of Ireland.  Henry II the Angevin King of lands from Southern France all the way up to Scotland had reason to fear a rival Kingdom in Ireland.  He brought his army to Ireland and rapidly established some of his own knights in lands here.  It then appears that he did a deal with the remaining Irish of Ulster, Munster and Connacht.  At the Rock of Cashel he met the Kings and appears to have set out a stable peace.  No doubt this involved their support for Henry to deny Strongbow any further power.

Henry installed his younger son, John Lackland, as Lord of Ireland.  This is the John we see frequently represented as the weakling younger brother to Richard Lionheart.  The evil prince of the Robin Hood tales depicted in the Disney movie as a spoiled thumb sucking juvenile lion.  The craven who ended up capitulating to the powerful Barons when he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymeade.

 

 

Perils of online translators

I am linking to this brilliant article which highlights in detail how translation does not work if you don’t know both languages.

Gorm chónaí ábhar

In short the translator plugged the American phrase “Blue Lives Matter” into an English/Irish dictionary and came up with the phrase above which translates as something like “Substance they live blue”.

It is incredible that in translating just 3 words the translation got all 3 wrong.

The beautiful irony of it is this.  Had the translation actually worked, if the policeman had rendered “Blue Lives Matter” into English he would still have tripped over his own cleverness.  Fear gorm in Irish, literally blue man, is a term we use to describe black people.  The words for black man (fear dubh) refer to the devil.  So he would have been going around wearing a #BlackLivesMatter shirt.

As bad translations go though, you just can’t beat this one where a guy got a tattoo on his back of the first sentence every Irish child learns in our native language.  Any Irish language speaker, even those you have no more than a dozen words, can translate this.  It says “May I have permission to go to the toilet”.

Leithras

 

Firearms in Ireland

Medieval Irish Soldiers

Medieval Irish Soldiers

The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland.  We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy.  Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them.  According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!

The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other.  Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is  a bit of a misnomer.  The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.

Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.

The Burkes were throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.

The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter.  The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland.  Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured.  Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.

The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.

Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)

Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.

Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.

Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.

Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.

Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.

Sunken Treasure

Shipwreck

Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”