Diamait Mac Murchada, the man who invited the Normans to Ireland.

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The island of Ireland’s history is a turbulent one and one that has to be treated delicately.  Again it is a topic that Henry II just couldn’t keep away from, holding the title of Lord of Ireland at different points of his reign.  Asked to help the disposed King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada Henry began English involvement in what was and would become even more a hotbed of trouble for the smaller of the large islands within the British Isles.  It is this man Diamait Mac Murchada that interests me, and I hope to find out who he was and what led him in more detail to seek Henry’s help.

Diamait was born around 1110, the son of Donnchad  mac Murchada, King of Leinster and Dublin.  His father’s grandmother was Dervorgilla, who was a daughter of Donnchad King of Munster and therefore a great granddaughter of Brian Boru , King of Ireland between 1002-14.  Diamait had two wives as allowed by Brehon Laws.  His first wife was Sadb of Ui Faelain and they had a daughter called Orlaith who married Domnall Mor, King of Munster.  His second wife was Mor Ui Tuathail.

His father died in battle in 1115 killed by his cousin Sigtrygg Silkbeard the king of the Dublin Vikings.  Then his elder brother, Enna mac Donnchada Mac Murchada, Diarmait became king of Leinster.  Although this was opposed by the High King of Ireland Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair who feared Diamait could become a rival.  Toirdelbach enlisted the help of Tigernan Ua Ruairc to attempt to conquer Leinster.  Ua Ruaric slaughtered all the livestock of Leinster trying to starve the population.   Diamait initially lost Leinster but with the aid of the clans in 1132 won back the province.  This then lead to an uneasy peace between Ua Conchobair and Diamait for the next two decades.

In 1166 the current High King Muirchertach Ua Lochlainn and Diamait’s only real ally fell and a large coalition led by Ua Ruairc attacked Leinster once more.  Diamait lost the throne once more and fled to Wales then to England and eventually to France.  He requested help from Henry who allowed Diamait to try and recruit soldiers and support from the Lords of Henry’s kingdoms.  Those who agreed were Richard de Clare and the half-brothers Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald.  De Clare was handed Aoife, Diamait’s daughter from his second marriage as a bride.  He was also promised Kingship of Leinster of Diamait’s death.

They first returned to Wales were FitzStephen assisted in gathering a combined force of Norman and Welsh mercenaries.  They landed at Bannow Bay in Wexford, laying siege to Wexford itself.  Wexford fell in May 1169.  Consolidating themselves they then launched raids against the territories of Ui Tuathail, the Ui Broin and the Ui Conchobhair.  Then Diamait led the army marching on Tara the political capital at the time to attempt to oust Turlough Mor O’Connor the current High King of Ireland.

With the aid of the church the leaders on both sides began negotiations at Ferns.  An agreement was reached where Diamait was allowed to remain as King of Leinster as long as he then recognised Ua Conchobhair as the High King.  In May 1170 Maurice FitzGerald landed in Wexford with a force of 10 knights, 30 men-at-arms and a hundred archers and foot soldiers.  Diamait and FitzGerald then marched on Dublin which surrendered and it didn’t take long to subdue in unrest within the whole of Leinster.

Under the influence of both FitsStephen and FitzGerald persuaded Diamait to write to de Clare asking for assistance with his mind moving towards the High Kingship for himself.  de Clare sent Raymond le Gros with an advance party and arriving later in 1170 himself at Waterford.  The marriage of de Clare and Aoife then took place and de Clare claimed all the lands that were his under Norman law.  Diamait retreated himself back to Ferns where he died a couple of months later in 1171.

de Clare’s successful land grab led to Henry’s larger invasion in 1171 to ensure his control over his Norman subjects.  He accepted the submission of the Irish kings in Dublin in November 1171.  In 1172 the papal bull Laudabiliter was reconfirmed by Pope Alexander III and he then added ‘Lord of Ireland’ to his many titles.  Before he could consolidate his new lands he had to return to France to deal with his son’s rebellion in 1173.

As mentioned Ireland in complicated and from reading and writing about the first major involvement of the English it is easy to see that even before they steped foot in Ireland it was already a very complex island with many local leaders all trying to oust each other for the claim of High King.

Although mainly it’s Henry’s story that we are following at the moment, and next it will be to France and rebellion.

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