Medieval Warfare Vol VI, Issue 4: The Norman Invasion of Ireland - Contesting the Emerald Isle

Medieval Warfare Vol VI, Issue 4: The Norman Invasion of Ireland - Contesting the Emerald Isle

Medieval Warfare Vol VI, Issue 4: The Norman Invasion of Ireland - Contesting the Emerald Isle

The Norman invasion of 12th century Ireland was probably one of the most influential campaigns in British and Irish medieval history. A group of Anglo-Norman soldiers, led by Richard de Clare, 'Strongbow', sometimes earl of Pembroke, travelled to Ireland at the invitation of Dermot Mac Murragh, exiled king of Leinster. This intervention eventually dragged in Henry II, and the new Norman rulers of parts of Ireland and many of their Irish allies accepted him as their liege lord.

This issue of Medieval Warfare magazine begins with an overview of this campaign, from the initial fighting that forced Dermot into exile, through Strongbow's eventual intervention and onto Henry II's brief Royal campaign in Ireland. This section also includes some useful background information on Ireland, looking at the five main kingdoms. This is followed by a examination of Gerard of Wales's two works on Ireland, less well known than his books on Wales, and flawed but still useful works Strongbow's campaign. 

This is followed by an examination of Irish warfare in the period, suggesting that it was rather more sophisticated that Gerard and other Anglo-Norman sources would suggest. There is also an article on the Irish axe, one of the distinctive weapons of the Irish warriors of this period, and one that apparently inspired some fear or respect in their Anglo-Norman enemies.

There are two articles on fortifications, looking at the earlier Irish ringforts (cashels and raths) and the Anglo-Norman castles that came after the invasion.

Two of the main personalities of the campaign follow – starting with a look at the reaction of High-King Ruaidri U Conchobair, whose sluggish reaction and eventual defeat outside Dublin made him the last High-King of Ireland, and then moving onto Strongbow, examining whether his actions justify Gilbert of Clare's low opinion of him.

There is also an examination of the Waterford massacre of 1170, when a besieged Anglo-Norman garrison executed around seventy high ranked prisoners they had taken in a sortie. This looks at the reported debate within the garrison on what to do, and the possible impact of their act (as well as making it clear that this wasn't an unusual feature of Irish warfare in the period). Overall these articles provide a good overview of this first Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland.

Away from the theme we have an examination of the advantages and pitfalls of battlefield archaeology, a difficult discipline which often fails to live up to expectation, but can still provide useful information. Finally there is a brief look at the Book of Kells, one of the most impressive artifacts to be produced anywhere in the Middle Ages, and one of Ireland's most impressive treasures.

Historical Introduction - The Normans in Ireland
Wild people - Gerald of Wales on the 'conquest' of Ireland
Irish warfare - Irish warfare during the Norman Invasion
Irish defences - A look at ringforts in Ireland
Reclaiming the throne - the High King fights back
Strongbow - the life and times of Richard de Clare
Fortress Ireland? - Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland
Slaughter - The Waterford Massacre, AD 1170
Irish Axeman - A picture from the Topographia Hibernian
A skeleton doesn't an army make - The added value of battlefield archaeology
Book of Kells - Ireland's medieval treasure
Hidden Cinema - Medieval Normans and Irish on film

Go to Ancient Warfare Magazine Website


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