Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Dublin Pale

Dublin Pale and King Richard II
The Dublin Pale - Understanding the Restrictions

King Richard II of England

In 1394 King Richard II became yet another king, keen to resolve the Irish problem. Like other English kings before him, he believed arriving with a huge army would force the Irish to submit and he came to Waterford with 40,000 men, and with the promise of security of tenure should they remain loyal to him.

He did win widespread support in his early days but in 1397, his popularity began to suffer. Several events compounded to his downfall and this included his marriage to Isabella, a seven year old princess from France, his total reluctance to have a war with France, the various impeachments of Thomas Beauchamp, Thomas Arundel and Thomas Woodstock.

Art McMurrough Kavanagh, king of Leinster did oppose him initially by attacking the town of New Ross, a strong English settlement.  The Irish kings however quickly realised that they were up against a huge army and at Ballygorry in County Carlow the Earl of Nottingham received submission from a number of the southern chiefs including McMurrough.

King Richard received the submission of the northern chiefs at Drogheda and in total 75 chiefs gave their submission to King Richard II.  The chiefs were invited to Dublin and four of them were knighted, O’Brien of Thomond, McMurrough of Leinster, O’Connor of Connaught and O’Neill of Ulster.

In truth this was all a meaningless gesture as the kings did not view Richard as their real sovereign and ignored any idea of loyalty.  Richard returned to England just under a year later and left in charge his cousin Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and heir to the throne of England.  He was the next heir as Richard had no children of his own.  Richard had just left when the wars returned and Mortimer was killed in a battle fought at Kells in County Kilkenny.

Fuelled with anger Richard returned in 1399, but again without success. He marched to Kilkenny and then started for Dublin but was keen to pursue McMurrough in particular and changed direction to go to the Wicklow Hills.

Here his army met dense woods, fallen trees, bogs and quagmires all of which slowed down his army and made them sitting targets for McMurrough, who deployed hit and run tactics.  Unable to find food many of Richard’s troops died of starvation and suffered from the very bad weather.  They only survived when on reaching the coastline they found three ships thankfully laden with provisions.  They took these and now refreshed marched again towards Dublin, but were still harassed by the continuing attacks of McMurrough.

McMurrough and Richard tried to negotiate a truce but this failed and to make matters worse, in his absence, Henry of Lancaster seized the English throne and Richard was forced to abandon Ireland and return home to reclaim his throne. Henry forced Richard to abdicate and died in prison in 1400. Ireland was yet again left to its own devices.  Mc Murrough continued his attacks until his death when he died in 1417.

The lack of money from the Lancastrian kings meant defences weakened and over time the English colonists retreated back towards Dublin, Dundalk and parts of Meath and Kildare. This came to be known as the English Pale, and which was given added defences to prevent Irish raiders. That meant that the rest of Ireland was as good as abandoned allowing a few tyrannical lordships.

Under Henry V little changed in Ireland as he took no interest whatsoever.  When Henry VI took over the English crown in 1422 he also made little improvement and Ireland was simply a country torn apart by strife.

I would now recommend reading the Irish History Wars of the Roses and how it subsequently impacted in Irish History.