It is too commonly the fashion, as well with historians as with others, to glorify the successful and censure severely the unfortunate. No such feeling actuates us in speaking of the character of Edward Bruce, King of Ireland. That he was as gallant a knight as any in that age of gallantry, we know; that he could confront the gloomiest aspect of adversity with cheerfulness, we also know. But the united testimony, both of history and tradition, in his own country, so tenacious of its anecdotical treasures, describes him as rash, headstrong, and intractable, beyond all the captains of his time. And in strict conformity with this character is the closing scene of his Irish career.
The harvest had again failed in 1317, and enforced a melancholy sort of truce between all the belligerents. The scarcity was not confined to Ireland, but had severely afflicted England and Scotland, compelling their rulers to bestow a momentary attention on the then abject class, the tillers of the soil. But the summer of 1318 brightened above more prosperous fields, from which no sooner had each party snatched or purchased his share of the produce, than the war-note again resounded through all the four Provinces. On the part of the Anglo-Irish, John de Bermingham was confirmed as Commander-in-Chief, and departed from Dublin with, according to the chronicles of the Pale, but 2,000 chosen troops, while the Scottish biographer of the Bruces gives him "20,000 trapped horse." The latter may certainly be considered an exaggerated account, and the former must be equally incorrect. Judged by the other armaments of that period, from the fact that the Normans of Meath, under Sir Miles de Verdon and Sir Richard Tuit, were in his ranks, and that he then held the rank of Commander-in-Chief of all the English forces in Ireland, it is incredible that de Bermingham should have crossed the Boyne with less than eight or ten thousand men. Whatever the number may have been, Bruce resolved to risk the issue of battle contrary to the advice of all his officers, and without awaiting the reinforcements hourly expected from Scotland, and which shortly after the engagement did arrive. The native chiefs of Ulster, whose counsel was also to avoid a pitched battle, seeing their opinions so lightly valued, are said to have withdrawn from Dundalk. There remained with the iron-headed King the Lords Moubray, de Soulis, and Stewart, with the three brothers of the latter; MacRory, lord of the Isles, and McDonald, chief of his clan. The neighbourhood of Dundalk, the scene of his triumphs and coronation, was to be the scene of this last act of Bruce's chivalrous and stormy career.
On the 14th of October, 1318, at the hill of Faughard, within a couple of miles of Dundalk, the advance guard of the hostile armies came into the presence of each other, and made ready for battle. Roland de Jorse, the foreign Archbishop of Armagh--who had not been able to take possession of his see, though appointed to it seven years before--accompanied the Anglo-Irish, and moving through their ranks, gave his benediction to their banners. But the impetuosity of Bruce gave little time for preparation. At the head of the vanguard, without waiting for the whole of his company to come up, he charged the enemy with impetuosity. The action became general, and the skill of de Bermingham as a leader was again demonstrated. An incident common to the warfare of that age was, however, the immediate cause of the victory. Master John de Maupas, a burgher of Dundalk, believing that the death of the Scottish leader would be the signal for the retreat of his followers, disguised as a jester or fool, sought him throughout the field. One of the royal esquires, named Gilbert Harper, wearing the surcoat of his master, was mistaken for him, and slain; but the true leader was at length found by de Maupas, and struck down with the blow of a leaden plummet or slung-shot. After the battle, when the field was searched for his body, it was found under that of de Maupas, who had bravely yielded up life for life. The Hiberno-Scottish forces dispersed in dismay, and when King Robert of Scotland landed a day or two afterwards, he was met by the fugitive men of Carrick, under their leader Thompson, who informed him of his brother's fate. He returned at once into his own country, carrying off the few Scottish survivors. The head of the impetuous Edward was sent to London; but the body was interred in the churchyard of Faughard, where, within living memory, a tall pillar stone was pointed out by every peasant of the neighbourhood as marking the grave of "King Bruce."
The fortunes of the principal actors, native and Norman, in the invasion of Edward Bruce, may be briefly recounted before closing this book of our history, John de Bermingham, created for his former victory Baron of Athenry, had now the Earldom of Louth conferred on him with a royal pension. He promptly followed up his blow at Faughard by expelling Donald O'Neil, the mainspring of the invasion, from Tyrone; but Donald, after a short sojourn among the mountains of Fermanagh, returned during the winter and resumed his lordship, though he never wholly recovered from the losses he had sustained. The new Earl of Louth continued to hold the rank of Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, to which he added in 1322 that of Lord Justice. He was slain in 1329, with some 200 of his personal adherents, in an affair with the natives of his new earldom, at a place called Ballybeagan. He left by a daughter of the Earl of Ulster three daughters; the title was perpetuated in the family of his brothers.
In 1319, the Earls of Kildare and Louth, and the Lord Arnold le Poer, were appointed a commission to inquire into all treasons committed in Ireland during Bruce's invasion. Among other outlawries they decreed those of the three de Lacys, the chiefs of their name, in Meath and Ulster. That illustrious family, however, survived even this last confiscation, and their descendants, several centuries later, were large proprietors in the midland counties.
Three years after the battle of Faughard, died Roland de Jorse, Archbishop of Armagh, it was said, of vexations arising out of Bruce's war, and other difficulties which beset him in taking possession of his see. Adam, Bishop of Ferns, was deprived of his revenues for taking part with Bruce, and the Friars Minor of the Franciscan order, were severely censured in a Papal rescript for their zeal on the same side.
The great families of Fitzgerald and Butler obtained their earldoms of Kildare, Desmond, and Ormond, out of this dangerous crisis, but the premier earldom of Ulster disappeared from our history soon afterwards. Richard, the Red Earl, having died in the Monastery of Athassil, in 1326, was succeeded by his son, William, who, seven years later, in consequence of a family feud, instigated by one of his own female relatives, Gilla de Burgh, wife of Walter de Mandeville, was murdered at the Fords, near Carrickfergus, in the 21st year of his age. His wife, Maud, daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, fled into England with her infant, afterwards married to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, son of King Edward III., who thus became personally interested in the system which he initiated by the odious Statute of Kilkenny. But the misfortunes of the Red Earl's posterity did not end with the murder of his immediate successor. Edmond, his surviving son, five years subsequently, was seized by his cousin, Edmond, the son of William, and drowned in Lough Mask, with a stone about his neck. The posterity of William de Burgh then assumed the name of McWilliam, and renounced the laws, language, and allegiance of England. Profiting by their dissensions, Turlogh O'Conor, towards the middle of the century, asserted supremacy over them, thus practising against the descendants the same policy which the first de Burghs had successfully employed among the sons of Roderick.
We must mention here a final consequence of Edward Bruce's invasion seldom referred to,--namely, the character of the treaty between Scotland and England, concluded and signed at Edinburgh, on St. Patrick's Day, 1328. By this treaty, after arranging an intermarriage between the royal families, it was stipulated in the event of a rebellion against Scotland, in Skye, Man, or the Islands, or against England, in Ireland, that the several Kings would not abet or assist each other's rebel subjects. Remembering this article, we know not what to make of the entry in our own Annals, which states that Robert Bruce landed at Carrickfergus in the same year, 1328, "and sent word to the Justiciary and Council, that he came to make peace between Ireland and Scotland, and that he would meet them at Green Castle; but that the latter failing to meet him, he returned to Scotland." This, however, we know: high hopes were entertained, and immense sacrifices were made, for Edward Bruce, but were made in vain. His proverbial rashness in battle, with his total disregard of the opinion of the country into which he came, alienated from him those who were at first disposed to receive him with enthusiasm. It may be an instructive lesson to such as look to foreign leaders and foreign forces for the means of national deliverance to read the terms in which the native Annalists record the defeat and death of Edward Bruce: "No achievement had been performed in Ireland, for a long time," say the Four Masters, "from which greater benefit had accrued to the country than from this." "There was not a better deed done in Ireland since the banishment of the Formorians," says the Annalist of Clonmacnoise! So detested may a foreign liberating chief become, who outrages the feelings and usages of the people he pretends, or really means to emancipate!