|Passage Grave at Knowth, Boyne Valley|
They were invaders and were themselves replaced in turn by successive waves of invaders from Britain, France and Spain who brought bronze and iron. The last of these invaders were the Iron Age Celtic Gaels who brought with them the Gaelic language and Celtic traditions that were to become the distinguishing features of the Irish. They arrived in Ireland about 2000 years ago.
The island of Ireland remained almost completely free from Roman influence during Rome’s 400-year occupation of most of Britain. No Roman administrator is known to have set foot on Irish soil and, at the end of Roman rule in Britain, Ireland remained pagan, living by agriculture, raiding and fighting one another; a society of shifting alliances and changing patterns of power and influence
The traditional High Kings of Tara were not, in any modern sense, kings of a united people. Rather, they were holders of semi-sacred symbolic titles and had no law-making powers. Yet, despite this lack of a central authority the Irish tribes had a great deal in common. They spoke the same language and followed a common code (the Brehon Law). They shared a tradition of poetry and music and the same legendary history. One of the distinguishing features of Irish culture was, and is, its resilience.
The Coming of Christianity.
|Illuminated page from the Book of Kells|
Vikings.In AD 795 a second great shock occurred. An armada of open boats filled with strange warriors from unknown lands beached at Lambay Island off the Dublin Coast. The Vikings had arrived. They slaughtered, burned and ransacked their way into Irish life. More than a century later these ‘Danes’, who were mostly of Norwegian origins, were remembered as
"immense floods and countless sea-vomiting of ships and fleets so there was not a harbour or landport in the whole of Munster without floods of Danes and pirate..."
|Viking Invasion of the British Isles|
The Vikings settled and became part of Irish society in their turn. They built the coastal towns of Wexford and Arklow, and Dublin itself, and settled into the Gaelic pattern or warring kings.
Normans.The next great shock was on 1 may 1170. A small group of Norman English, having set sail from Wales, landed at Baginbun in Southwest Wexford and established a bridgehead. From this bridgehead was to flow eight centuries of conflict.
The leader of this band of Normans was a baron of the English King, the Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow. He had been invited by the King of Leinster, Dermot Macmurrough, who needed the superior Norman war technology of armour ad archery to fight his High King who’s own soldiers still used slings and stones. Strongbow captured Dublin for Macmurrough and as a reward was given Macmurrough’s daughter in marriage. When Macmurrough died, Strongbow became King of Leinster.
Ireland now had a king with feudal ties to the English Crown and England had a claim to Leinster. It was, however, only a claim under English feudal laws and had no validity in Gaelic law. Henry II of England, fearing the establishment of a nearby independent Norman kingdom, moved against Strongbow to subdue him and to enforce these feudal ties. In so doing, he took on the problem of subduing the Irish almost by accident.
|Trim Castle on the banks of the Boyne.|
Built by Hugh de Lacey between 1172 and 1224
|Norman Ireland in 1300|