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STRONGBOW

As with the fall of Troy, the long conquest of Ireland began with a dispute over the abduction of a beautiful woman. In 1167, Dermod MacMorough, the King of Leinster, is said to have kidnapped Dearvorgil, the wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, the Prince of West Brefney. However, this so-called 'abduction' may be described more accurately as an elopement. This incident led to the invasion and conquest of Leinster by Roderick O'Connor, the king of Connacht and self-styled monarch of Ireland, who sided with O'Rourke. Fleeing to England, the defeated MacMorough sought the aid of King Henry II, who allowed MacMorough to gather support among his subjects in return for an oath of fealty. The most influential figure in the events to follow was Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, from Wales. Like his father Gilbert, Richard de Clare was a famed archer, and was popularly called De Arcu Forti, meaning of the strong bow. MacMorough enlisted the help of the man called Strongbow, who used his great influence to raise a powerful army. Landing in the county of Wexford in 1168, Strongbow's army restored MacMorough as king of Leinster in a pitched battle, after which, Strongbow executed his only son for cowardice and flight in the face of the enemy.

More than a decade earlier, when Henry II had ascended the throne of England in 1154, Pope Adrian IV, (who had the distinction of having been the only Englishman to hold the papal office), issued a Papal Bull granting his countryman sovereignty over Ireland. Although Henry II had long coveted the Emerald Isle, he had delayed acting on this authority until a suitable opportunity could be found.

After the military success of 1168, Henry did not waste time in making this Papal Bull known to the Irish. In 1171, Henry II sent Strongbow back to Ireland with a substantial force in order to ensure the acceptance of this Bull. This was followed by a personal visit later that same year. The strongly devout Irish were convinced by the coming of the English in the name of the Pope (together with Henry II's promises to peacefully annex their county) to accept the English monarch as their new ruler. Thus, Henry II's conquest of Ireland was nearly bloodless. However, there were those, such as Murcha O'Melaghin, king of Meath, who refused to recognize the authority of the English; Henry II responded by breaking his vow, deposing these rebels and confiscating their lands.

Although this conquest of Ireland was relatively peaceful, the Strongbow Invasion is historically significant. The political structure of Ireland was irrevocably altered, for while many of the local rulers maintained their powers, the High Kingship of Ireland was brought to an end. Also, many families descended from the "Strongbownian" settlers came to have great influence on the social, political, and military history of Ireland. Moreover, after centuries of fending off the ambitions of both the Romans and the Danes, Ireland was at last brought under the dominion of a foreign power, setting the precedent for the heavy-handed subjugation and oppression the Irish were to later suffer at the hands of Cromwell and several other English rulers of the 16th and 17th centuries.



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last updated on: April 3rd, 2017

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