Map of Ireland

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LATTER DAYS OF THE NORTHMEN IN IRELAND.

Though Ireland dates the decay of Scandinavian power from Good Friday, 1014, yet the North did not wholly cease to send forth its warriors, nor were the shores of the Western Island less tempting to them than before. The second year after the battle of Clontarf, Canute founded his Danish dynasty in England, which existed in no little splendour during thirty-seven years. The Saxon line was restored by Edward "the Confessor;" in the forty-third year of the century, only to be extinguished for ever by the Norman conquest twenty-three years later. Scotland, during the same years was more than once subject to invasion from the same ancient enemy. Malcolm II., and the brave usurper Macbeth, fought several engagements with the northern leaders, and generally with brilliant success. By a remarkable coincidence, the Scottish chronicles also date the decadence of Danish power on their coasts from 1014, though several engagements were fought in Scotland after that year.

Malachy II. had promptly followed up the victory of Clontarf by the capture of Dublin, the destruction of its fort, and the exemplary chastisement of the tribes of Leinster, who had joined Maelmurra as allies of the Danes. Sitrick himself seems to have eluded the suspicions and vengeance of the conquerors by a temporary exile, as we find in the succession of the Dublin Vikings, "one Hyman, an usurper," entered as ruling "part of a year while Sitrick was in banishment." His family interest, however, was strong among the native Princes, and whatever his secret sympathies may have been, he had taken no active part against them in the battle of Clontarf. By his mother, the Lady Gormley of Offally, he was a half O'Conor; by marriage he was son-in-law of Brian, and uterine brother of Malachy. After his return to Dublin, when, in 1018, Brian, son of Maelmurra, fell prisoner into his hands, as if to clear himself of any lingering suspicion of an understanding with that family, he caused his eyes to be put out--a cruel but customary punishment in that age. This act procured for him the deadly enmity of the warlike mountaineers of Wicklow, who, in the year 1022, gave him a severe defeat at Delgany. Even this he outlived, and died seven years later, the acknowledged lord of his town and fortress, forty years after his first accession to that title. He was succeeded by his son, grandson, and great-grandson during the remaining half century.

The kingdom of Leinster, in consequence of the defeat of Maelmurra, the incapacity of Brian, and the destruction of other claimants of the same family, passed to the family of McMurrogh, another branch of the same ancestry. Dermid, the first and most distinguished King of Leinster of this house, took Waterford (A.D. 1037), and so reduced its strength, that we find its hosts no longer formidable in the field. Those of Limerick continued their homage to the house of Kinkora, while the descendants of Sitrick recognised Dermid of Leinster as their sovereign. In short, all the Dano-Irish from thenceforward began to knit themselves kindly to the soil, to obey the neighbouring Princes, to march with them to battle, and to pursue the peaceful calling of merchants, upon sea. The only peculiarly Danish undertaking we hear of again, in our Annals, was the attempt of a united fleet, equipped by Dublin, Wexford, and Waterford, in the year 1088, to retake Cork from the men of Desmond, when they were driven with severe loss to their ships. Their few subsequent expeditions were led abroad, into the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, or Wales, where they generally figure as auxiliaries or mercenaries in the service of local Princes. They appear in Irish battles only as contingents to the native armies--led by their own leaders and recognized as a separate, but subordinate force. In the year 1073, the Dublin Danes did homage to the monarch Thorlogh, and from 1095, until his death (A.D. 1119), they recognized no other lord but Murkertach More O'Brien; this king, at their own request, had also nominated one of his family as Lord of the Danes and Welsh of the Isle of Man.

The wealth of these Irish-Danes, before and after the time of Brian, may be estimated by the annual tribute which Limerick paid to that Prince--a pipe of red wine for every day in the year. In the year 1029, Olaf, son of Sitrick, of Dublin, being taken prisoner by O'Regan, the Lord of East-Meath, paid for his ransom--"twelve hundred cows, seven score British horses, three score ounces of gold!" sixty ounces of white silver as his "fetter-ounce;" the sword of Carlus, besides the usual legal fees, for recording these profitable formalities.

Being now Christians, they also began to found and endow churches, with the same liberality with which their Pagan fathers had once enriched the temples of Upsala and Trondheim. The oldest religious foundations in the seaports they possessed owe their origin to them; but even as Christians, they did not lose sight of their nationality. They contended for, and obtained Dano-Irish Bishops, men of their own race, speaking their own speech, to preside over the sees of Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick. When the Irish Synods or Primates asserted over them any supervision which they were unwilling to admit--except in the case of St. Malachy--they usually invoked the protection of the See of Canterbury, which, after the Norman conquest of England, became by far the most powerful Archbishopric in either island.

In the third quarter of this century there arose in the Isle of Man a fortunate leader, who may almost be called the last of the sea kings. This was Godard Crovan (the white-handed), son of an Icelandic Prince, and one of the followers of Harald Harfagar and Earl Tosti, in their invasion of Northumbria (A.D. 1066). Returning from the defeat of his chiefs, Godard saw and seized upon Man as the centre of future expeditions of his own, in the course of which he subdued the Hebrides, divided them with the gallant Somerled (ancestor of the MacDonalds of the Isles), and established his son Lagman (afterwards put to death by King Magnus Barefoot) as his viceroy in the Orkneys and Shetlands. The weakened condition of the Danish settlement at Dublin attracted his ambition, and where he entered as a mediator he remained as a master. In the succession of the Dublin Vikings he is assigned a reign of ten years, and his whole course of conquest seems to have occupied some twenty years (A.D. 1077 to 1098). At length the star of this Viking of the Irish sea paled before the mightier name of a King of Norway, whose more brilliant ambition had a still shorter span. The story of this Magnus (called, it is said, from his adoption of the Scottish kilt, Magnus Barefoot) forms the eleventh Saga in "the Chronicles of the Kings of Norway." He began to reign in the year 1093, and soon after undertook an expedition to the south, "with many fine men, and good shipping." Taking the Orkneys on his way, he sent their Earls prisoners to Norway, and placed his own son, Sigurd, in their stead. He overran the Hebrides, putting Lagman, son of Godard Crovan, to death. He spared only "the holy Island," as Iona was now called, even by the Northmen, and there, in after years, his own bones were buried. The Isles of Man and Anglesea, and the coast of Wales, shared the same fate, and thence he retraced his course to Scotland, where, borne in his galley across the Isthmus of Cantyre, to fulfil an old prophecy, he claimed possession of the land on both sides of Loch Awe. It was while he wintered in the Southern Hebrides, according to the Saga, that he contracted his son Sigurd with the daughter of Murkertach O'Brien, called by the Northmen "Biadmynia." In summer he sailed homeward, and did not return southward till the ninth year of his reign (A.D. 1102), when his son, Sigurd, had come of age, and bore the title of "King of the Orkneys and Hebrides." "He sailed into the west sea," says the Saga, "with the finest men who could be got in Norway. All the powerful men of the country followed him, such as Sigurd Hranesson, and his brother Ulf, Vidkunner Johnsson, Dag Eliffsson, Sorker of Sogn, Eyvind Olboge, the king's marshal, and many other great men." On the intelligence of this fleet having arrived in Irish waters, according to the annals, Murkertach and his allies marched in force to Dublin, where, however, Magnus "made peace with them for one year," and Murkertach "gave his daughter to Sigurd, with many jewels and gifts." That winter Magnus spent with Murkertach at Kinkora, and "towards spring both kings went westward with their army all the way to Ulster." This was one of those annual visitations which kings, whose authority was not yet established, were accustomed to make. The circuit, as usual, was performed in about six weeks, after which the Irish monarch returned home, and Magnus went on board his fleet at Dublin, to return to Norway. According to the Norse account he landed again on the coast of Ulidia (Down), where he expected "cattle for ship-provision," which Murkertach had promised to send him, but the Irish version would seem to imply that he went on shore to seize the cattle perforce. It certainly seems incredible that Murkertach should send cattle to the shore of Strangford Lough, from the pastures of Thomond, when they might be more easily driven to Dublin, or the mouth of the Boyne. "The cattle had not made their appearance on the eve of Bartholomew's Mass" (August 23rd, A.D. 1103), says the Saga, so "when the sun rose in the sky, King Magnus himself went on shore with the greater part of his men. King Magnus," continues the scald, "had a helmet on his head; a red shield, in which was inlaid a gilded lion; and was girt with the sword Legbiter, of which the hilt was of ivory, and the hand grip wound about with gold thread; and the sword was extremely sharp. In his hand he had a short spear, and a red silk short cloak over his coat, on which both before and behind was embroidered a lion, in yellow silk; and all men acknowledged that they had never seen a brisker, statelier man." A dust cloud was seen far inland, and the Northmen fell into order of battle. It proved, however, by their own account to be the messengers with the promised supply of cattle; but, after they came up, and while returning to the shore, they were violently assailed on all sides by the men of Down. The battle is described, with true Homeric vigour, by Sturleson. "The Irish," he says, "shot boldly; and although they fell in crowds, there came always two in place of one." Magnus, with most of his nobles, were slain on the spot, but Vidkunner Johnsson escaped to the shipping, "with the King's banner and the sword Legbiter." And the Saga of Magnus Barefoot concludes thus: "Now when King Sigurd heard that his father had fallen, he set off immediately, leaving the Irish King's daughter behind, and proceeded in autumn, with the whole fleet directly to Norway." The annalists of Ulster barely record the fact, that "Magnus, King of Lochlan and the Isles, was slain by the Ulidians, with a slaughter of his people about him, while on a predatory excursion." They place the event in the year 1104.

Our account with the Northmen may here be closed. Borne along by the living current of events, we leave them behind, high up on the remoter channels of the stream. Their terrible ravens shall flit across our prospect no more. They have taken wing to their native north, where they may croak yet a little while over the cold and crumbling altars of Odin and Asa Thor. The bright light of the Gospel has penetrated even to those last haunts of Paganism, and the fierce but not ungenerous race, with which we have been so long familiar, begin to change their natures under its benign influence.

Although both the scalds and chroniclers of the North frequently refer to Ireland as a favourite theatre of their heroes, we derive little light from those of their works which have yet been made public. All connection between the two races had long ceased, before the first scholars of the North began to investigate the earlier annals of their own country, and then they were content with a very vague and general knowledge of the western Island, for which their ancestors had so, fiercely contended throughout so many generations. The oldest maps, known in Scandinavia, exhibit a mere outline of the Irish coast, with a few points in the interior; fiords, with Norse names, are shown, answering to Loughs Foyle, Swilly, Larne, Strang_ford_, and Carling_ford_; the Provincial lines of Ulster and of Connaught are rudely traced; and the situation of Enniskillen, Tara, Dublin, Glendaloch, Water_ford_, Limer_ick_, and Swer_wick_, accurately laid down. It is thought that all those places ending in wick or ford, on the Irish map, are of Scandinavian origin; as well as the names of the islets, Skerries, Lambey, and Saltees. Many noble families, as the Plunkets, McIvers, Archbolds, Harolds, Stacks, Skiddies, Cruises, and McAuliffes, are derived from the same origin.

During the contest we have endeavoured to describe, three hundred and ten years had passed since the warriors of Lochlin first landed on the shores of Erin. Ten generations, according to the measured span of adult life, were born, and trained to arms and marshalled in battle, since the enemy, "powerful on sea," first burst upon the shield-shaped Isle of Saints. At the close of the eighth century we cast back a grateful retrospect on the Christian ages of Ireland. Can we do so now, at the close of the eleventh? Alas! far from it. Bravely and in the main successfully as the Irish have borne themselves, they come out of that cruel, treacherous, interminable war with many rents and stains in that vesture of innocence in which we saw them arrayed at the close of their third Christian century. Odin has not conquered, but all the worst vices of warfare--its violence, its impiety, discontent, self-indulgence, and contempt for the sweet paths of peace and mild counsels of religion--these must and did remain, long after Dane and Norwegian have for ever disappeared!




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Map of Ireland