The result of Dermid McMurrogh's interview with Henry II., in Aquitaine, was a royal letter, addressed to all his subjects, authorizing such of them as would, to enlist in the service of the Irish Prince. Armed alone with this, the expelled adulterer, chafing for restoration and revenge, retraced his course to England. He was at this time some years beyond three score, but the snows of age had no effect in cooling his impetuous blood; his stature is described as almost gigantic; his voice loud and harsh; his features stern and terrible. His cruel and criminal character we already know. Yet it is but just here to recall that much of the horror and odium which has accumulated on his memory is posthumous and retrospective. Some of his cotemporaries were no better in their private lives than he was; but then they had no part in bringing in the Normans. Talents both for peace and war he certainly had, and there was still a feeling of attachment, or at least of regret, cherished towards him among the people of his patrimony.
Dermid proceeded at once to seek the help he so sorely needed, upon the marches of Chester, in the city of Bristol, and at the court of the Prince of North Wales. At Bristol he caused King Henry's letter to be publicly read, and each reading was accompanied by ample promises of land and recompense to those disposed to join in the expedition--but all in vain. From Bristol he proceeded to make the usual pilgrimage to the shrine of St. David, the Apostle of Wales, and then he visited the Court of Griffith ap Rhys, Prince of North Wales, whose family ties formed a true Welsh triad among the Normans, the Irish, and the Welsh. He was the nephew of the celebrated Nest or Nesta, the Helen of the Welsh, whose blood flowed in the veins of almost all the first Norman adventurers in Ireland, and whose story is too intimately interwoven with the origin of many of the highest names of the Norman-Irish to be left untold.
She was, in her day, the loveliest woman of Cambria, and perhaps of Britain, but the fabled mantle of Tregau, which, according to her own mythology, will fit none but the chaste, had not rested on the white shoulders of Nesta, the daughter of Rhys ap Tudor. Her girlish beauty had attracted the notice of Henry I., to whom she bore Robert Fitz-Roy and Henry Fitz-Henry, the former the famous Earl of Gloucester, and the latter the father of two of Strongbow's most noted companions. Afterwards, by consent of her royal paramour, she married Gerald, constable of Pembroke, by whom she had Maurice Fitzgerald, the common ancestor of the Kildare and Desmond Geraldines. While living with Gerald at Pembroke, Owen, son of Cadogan, Prince of Powis, hearing of her marvellous beauty at a banquet given by his father at the Castle of Aberteivi, came by night to Pembroke, surprised the Castle, and carried off Nesta and her children into Powis. Gerald, however, had escaped, and by the aid of his father-in-law, Rhys, recovered his wife and rebuilt his castle (A.D. 1105). The lady survived this husband, and married a second time, Stephen, constable of Cardigan, by whom she had Robert Fitzstephen, and probably other children. One of her daughters, Angharad, married David de Barri, the father of Giraldus and Robert de Barri; another, named after herself, married Bernard of Newmarch, and became the father of the Fitz-Bernard, who accompanied Henry II. In the second and third generations this fruitful Cambrian vine, grafted on the Norman stock, had branched out into the great families of the Carews, Gerards, Fitzwilliams, and Fitzroys, of England and Wales, and the Geraldines, Graces, Fitz-Henries, and Fitz-Maurices, of Ireland. These names will show how entirely the expeditions of 1169 and 1170 were joint-stock undertakings with most of the adventurers; Cambria, not England, sent them forth; it was a family compact; they were brothers in blood as well as in arms, those comely and unscrupulous sons, nephews, and grand-sons of Nesta!
When the Leinster King reached the residence of Griffith ap Rhys, near St. David's, he found that for some personal or political cause he held in prison his near kinsman, Robert, son of Stephen, who had the reputation of being a brave and capable knight. Dermid obtained the release of Robert, on condition of his embarking in the Irish enterprise, and he found in him an active recruiting agent, alike among Welsh, Flemings, and Normans. Through him Maurice Fitzgerald, the de Barris, and Fitz-Henrys, and their dependents, were soon enlisted in the adventure. The son of Griffith ap Rhys, who may be mentioned along with these knights, his kinsmen, and whom the Irish annalists consider the most important person of the first expedition--their pillar of battle--also resolved to accompany them, with such forces as he could enlist.
But a still more important ally waited to treat with Dermid, on his return to Bristol. This was Richard de Clare, called variously from his castles or his county, Earl of Strigul and Chepstow, or Earl of Pembroke. From the strength of his arms he was nicknamed Strongbow, and in our Annals he is usually called Earl Richard, by which title we prefer hereafter to distinguish him. His father, Gilbert de Clare, was descended from Richard of Normandy, and stood no farther removed in degree from that Duke than the reigning Prince. For nearly forty years under Henry I. and during the stormy reign of King Stephen, he had been Governor of Pembroke, and like all the great Barons played his game chiefly to his own advantage. His castle at Chepstow was one of the strongest in the west, and the power he bequeathed to his able and ambitious son excited the apprehensions of the astute and suspicious Henry II. Fourteen years of this King's reign had passed away, and Earl Richard had received no great employments, no new grants of land, no personal favours from his Sovereign. He was now a widower, past middle age, condemned to a life of inaction such as no true Norman could long endure. Arrived at Bristol, he read the letter of Henry, and heard from Dermid the story of his expulsion and the grounds on which he vested his hopes of restoration. A consultation ensued, at which it is probable the sons of Nesta assisted, as it was there agreed that the town of Wexford, with two cantreds of land adjoining it, should be given to them. The pay of the archers and men-at-arms, and the duration of their service, were also determined. Large grants of land were guaranteed to all adventurers of knightly rank, and Earl Richard was to marry the King's daughter and succeed him in the sovereignty of Leinster.
Having by such lavish promises enlisted this powerful Earl and those adventurous knights, Dermid resolved to pass over in person with such followers as were already equipped, in order to rally the remnant of his adherents. The Irish Annals enter this return under the year 1167, within twelvemonths or thereabouts from the time of his banishment; by their account he came back, accompanied by a fleet of strangers whom they called Flemings, and who were probably hired soldiers of that race, then easily to be met with in Wales. The Welsh Prince already mentioned seems to have accompanied him personally, as he fell by his side in a skirmish the following year. Whatever this force may have amounted to, they landed at Glascarrig point, and wintered--probably spent the Christmas--at Ferns. The more generally received account of Dermid's landing alone, and disguised, and secretly preparing his plans, under shelter of the Austin Friary at Ferns, must be rejected, if we are still to follow those trite but trustworthy guides, whom we have so many reasons to confide in. The details differ in many very important particulars from those usually received, as we shall endeavour to make clear in a few words.
Not only do they bring Dermid over with a fleet of Flemings, of whom the natives made "small account," but dating that event before the expiration of the year 1167, at least sixteen months must have elapsed between the return of the outlaw and the arrival of the Normans. By allowing two years instead of one for the duration of his banishment, the apparent difficulty as to time would be obviated, for his return and Fitzstephen's arrival would follow upon each other in the spring and winter of the same year. The difficulty, however, is more apparent than real. A year sufficed for the journey to Aquitaine and the Welsh negotiations. Another year seems to have been devoted with equal art and success to resuscitating a native Leinster party favourable to his restoration. For it is evident from our Annals that when Dermid showed himself to the people after his return, it was simply to claim his patrimony--Hy-Kinsellagh--and not to dispute the Kingdom of Leinster with the actual ruler, Murrogh na Gael. By this pretended moderation and humility, he disarmed hostility and lulled suspicion asleep. Roderick and O'Ruarc did indeed muster a host against him, and some of their cavalry and Kernes skirmished with the troops in his service at Kellistown, in Carlow, when six were killed on one side and twenty-five on the other, including the Welsh Prince already mentioned; afterwards Dermid emerged from his fastnesses, and entering the camp of O'Conor, gave him seven hostages for the ten cantreds of his patrimony; and to O'Ruarc he gave "one hundred ounces of gold for his eineach"--that is, as damages for his criminal conversation with Devorgoil. During the remainder of the year 1168, Dermid was left to enjoy unmolested the moderate territory which he claimed, while King Roderick was engaged in enforcing his claims on the North and South, founding lectorships at Armagh, and partitioning Meath between his inseparable colleague, O'Ruarc, and himself. He celebrated, in the midst of an immense multitude, the ancient national games at Tailtin, he held an assembly at Tara, and distributed magnificent gifts to his suffragans. Roderick might have spent the festival of Christmas, 1168, or of Easter, 1169, in the full assurance that his power was firmly established, and that a long succession of peaceful days were about to dawn upon Erin. But he was destined to be soon and sadly undeceived.
In the month of May, a little fleet of Welsh vessels, filled with armed men, approached the Irish shore, and Robert Fitzstephen ran into a creek of the bay of Bannow, called by the adventurers, from the names of two of their ships, Bag-and-Bun. Fitzstephen had with him thirty knights, sixty esquires, and three hundred footmen. The next day he was joined by Maurice de Prendergast, a Welsh gentleman, with ten knights and sixty archers. After landing they reconnoitred cautiously, but saw neither ally nor enemy--the immediate coast seemed entirely deserted. Their messenger despatched to Dermid, then probably at Ferns, in the northern extremity of the county, must have been absent several anxious days, when, much to their relief, he returned with Donald, the son of Dermid, at the head of 500 horsemen. Uniting their troops, Donald and Fitzstephen set out for Wexford, about a day's march distant, and the principal town in that angle of the island which points towards Wales. The tradition of the neighbourhood says they were assailed upon the way by a party of the native population, who were defeated and dispersed. Within ten days or a fortnight of their landing, they were drawn up within sight of the walls of Wexford, where they were joined by Dermid, who obviously did not come unattended to such a meeting. What additional force he may have brought up is nowhere indicated; that he was not without followers or mercenaries, we know from the mention of the Flemings in his service, and the action of Kellistown in the previous year. The force that had marched from Bannow consisted, as we have seen, of 500 Irish horse under his son Donald, surnamed Kavanagh; 30 knights, 60 esquires, and 300 men-at-arms under Fitzstephen; 10 knights and 60 archers under Prendergast; in all, nobles or servitors, not exceeding 1,000 men. The town, a place of considerable strength, could muster 2,000 men capable of bearing arms, nor is it discreditable to its Dano-Irish artizans and seamen that they could boast no captain equal to Fitzstephen or Donald Kavanagh. What a town multitude could do they did. They burned down an exposed suburb, closed their gates, and manned their walls. The first assault was repulsed with some loss on the part of the assailants, and the night past in expectation of a similar conflict on the morrow. In the early morning the townsmen could discern that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was being offered in the camp of their besiegers as a preparative for the dangers of the day. Within the walls, however, the clergy exercised all their influence to spare the effusion of blood, and to bring about an accommodation. Two Bishops who were in the town especially advised a surrender on honourable terms, and their advice was taken. Four of the principal citizens were deputed to Dermid, and Wexford was yielded on condition of its rights and privileges, hitherto existing, being respected. The cantreds immediately adjoining the town on the north and east were conferred on Fitzstephen according to the treaty made at Bristol, and he at once commenced the erection of a fortress on the rock of Carrig, at the narrowest pass on the river Slaney. Strongbow's uncle, Herve, was endowed with two other cantreds, to the south of the town, now known as the baronies of Forth and Bargey, where the descendants of the Welsh and Flemish settlers then planted are still to be found in the industrious and sturdy population, known as Flemings, Furlongs, Waddings, Prendergasts, Barrys, and Walshes. Side by side with them now dwell in peace the Kavanaghs, Murphys, Conors, and Breens, whose ancestors so long and so fiercely disputed the intrusion of these strangers amongst them.
With some increase of force derived from the defenders of Wexford, Dermid, at the head of 3000 men, including all the Normans, marched into the adjoining territory of Ossory, to chastise its chief, Donogh Fitzpatrick, one of his old enemies. This campaign appears to have consumed the greater part of the summer of the year, and ended with the submission of Ossory, after a brave but unskilful resistance. The tidings of what was done at Wexford and in Ossory had, however, roused the apprehension of the monarch Roderick, who appointed a day for a national muster "of the Irish" at the Hill of Tara. Thither repaired accordingly the monarch himself, the lords of Meath, Oriel, Ulidia, Breffni, and the chiefs of the farther north. With this host they proceeded to Dublin, which they found as yet in no immediate danger of attack; and whether on this pretext or some other, the Ulster chiefs returned to their homes, leaving Roderick to pursue, with the aid of Meath and Breffni only, the footsteps of McMurrogh. The latter had fallen back upon Ferns, and had, under the skilful directions of Fitzstephen, strengthened the naturally difficult approaches to that ancient capital, by digging artificial pits, by felling trees, and other devices of Norman strategy. The season, too, must have been drawing nearly to a close, and the same amiable desire to prevent the shedding of Christian blood, which characterized all the clergy of this age, again subserved the unworthy purposes of the traitor and invader. Roderick, after a vain endeavour to detach Fitzstephen from Dermid and to induce him to quit the country, agreed to a treaty with the Leinster King, by which the latter acknowledged his supremacy as monarch, under the ancient conditions, for the fulfilment of which he surrendered to him his son Conor as hostage. By a secret and separate agreement Dermid bound himself to admit no more of the Normans into his service--an engagement which he kept as he did all others, whether of a public or a private nature. After the usual exchange of stipends and tributes, Roderick returned to his home in the west; and thus, with the treaty of Ferns, ended the comparatively unimportant but significant campaign of the year 1169.