Saturday, 12 November 2011

Edward the Bruce

Edward the Bruce in Ireland with Robert the Bruce

Irish history tells us that the Irish people had great empathy with the struggles of the Scottish people for their fight for independence.  Robert the Bruce’s victory at the battle of Bannockburn had filled the Irish people with hope.  They requested that Edward, the brother of Robert the Bruce become their leader. This was how Edward The Bruce became involved in the history of Ireland.

Fresh from victory at Bannockburn, Edward and a fleet of 6,000 Scottish men landed in Larne, County Antrim in 1315. He instantly adopted the name of the King of Ireland, and was strongly supported by other Irish kings such as Donall O'Neill of Tyrone.

It is often debated as to what Robert the Bruce's true intentions were in sending his younger brother to Ireland. Was it simply to annoy the English or a plan to attack the English from different fronts?

Whatever the real reason, anything that distracted the English in their war with Scotland had to be a good thing for the Irish Kings, as they now wanted rid of the English.

Edward the Bruce and supported by O’Neil quickly set about taking Ulster destroying everything English they came into contact with.  They did also destroy crops as they went despite there being a famine and people starving across Ireland.

They quickly moved as south as Dundalk and conducted their campaign with great verocity and indeed with much cruelty.  In one incident they set fire to a church, where people were hiding and burnt the church to the ground, including those who had taken what they hoped was refuge.

The Red Earl of Ulster, Richard de Burgo and the Lord Justice Edmund Butler headed north in search of Edward the Bruce and they too acted with great violence and cruelty in their search.

De Burgo was however defeated by Edward the Bruce close to the town of Ballymena and returned to Connaught with his depleated army.  Some of the defeated army hurried to Carrickfergus Castle and held Edward’s army at bay for many months before being overcome.  Edward declared himself King of Ireland and was formally crowned.  He then went on to defeat Roger Mortimer in Kells, County Meath and Butler at Ardscull.

Robert the Bruce had spent a full year on the island of Rathlin, a small island off the North Coast of County Antrim and sometimes referred to as Raghery. While there he wrote a letter to the Irish people describing the Irish and Scots as a single nation with a unified cause, and requesting them to search for their liberty. He had also hoped that could he spur the Irish into rebellion, then this would also encourage the Welsh to rise up and rebel against the English.

Robert the Bruce joined his brother Edward in Ireland and in 1317 they marched on Dublin with an army of 20,000 men.  They met with a fortified Dublin and rather than get involved in a siege, moved to Limerick and found that city also heavily defended.  They went back North and lost many of their army on the return journey, mainly due to lack of food, much of which they had destroyed on their outward journey.

Their mission failed and although there were uprisings throughout the country, they simply could not make that final push to eject the English from Ireland. One of the worst famines to happen in Europe certainly didn't help. Some of the Anglo-Irish colonists did swap sides during these attacks, but many more remained loyal.

What the Bruces needed to succeed was for the Anglo-Irish to join with them and that simply didn't happen, so despite Edward being joined by his brother Robert, the mission failed. Another issue that didn't help was that as O'Neill had been supportive of the Bruces, then kings who had been in dispute with O'Neill were resistant to the Bruces.

Robert returned to Scotland and Edward was killed in the Battle of Fochart near Dundalk on 14th October 1318 and the Scottish conquest ended then as well.  Bruce’s body was cut into pieces at the command of Sir John Benjamin and the parts were hung up in the main towns of Ireland, with the head salted and inside a box, given to King Edward II.  The country of Ireland and especially Ulster was left in ruins with many buildings destroyed and land burned and ruined.

You should now read about King Edward III.