Whether Donald Kavanagh McMurrogh, son of Dermid, was born out of wedlock, as the Lady Eva was made to depose, in order to create a claim of inheritance for herself as sole heiress, this, at least, is certain, that his descendants continued to be looked upon by the kindred clans of Leinster as the natural lords of that principality. Towards the close of the thirteenth century, in the third or fourth generation, after the death of their immediate ancestor, the Kavanaghs of Leighlin and Ballyloughlin begin to act prominently in the affairs of their Province, and then--chief is styled both by Irish and English "the McMurrogh." In the era of King Edward Bruce, they were sufficiently formidable to call for an expedition of the Lord Justice into their patrimony, by which they are said to have been defeated. In the next age, in 1335, Maurice, "the McMurrogh," was granted by the Anglo-Irish Parliament or Council, the sum of 80 marks annually, for keeping open certain roads and preserving the peace within its jurisdiction. In 1358, Art, the successor of Maurice, and Donald Revagh, were proclaimed "rebels" in a Parliament held at Castledermot, by the Lord Deputy Sancto Amando, the said Art being further branded with deep ingratitude to Edward III., who had acknowledged him as "the Mac-Murch." To carry on a war against him the whole English interest was assessed with a special tax. Louth contributed 20 pounds; Meath and Waterford, 2 shillings on every carucate (140 acres) of tilled land; Kilkenny the same sum, with the addition of 6 pence in the pound on chattels. This Art captured the strong castles of Kilbelle, Galbarstown, Rathville, and although his career was not one of invariable success, he bequeathed to his son, also called Art, in 1375, an inheritance, extending over a large portion-- perhaps one-half--of the territory ruled by his ancestors before the invasion.
Art McMurrogh, or Art Kavanagh, as he is more commonly called, was born in the year 1357, and from the age of sixteen and upwards was distinguished by his hospitality, knowledge, and feats of arms. Like the great Brian, he was a younger son, but the fortune of war removed one by one those who would otherwise have preceded him in the captaincy of his clan and connections. About the year 1375--while he was still under age--he was elected successor to his father, according to the Annalists, who record his death in 1417, "after being forty-two years in the government of Leinster." Fortunately he attained command at a period favourable to his genius and enterprise. His own and the adjoining tribes were aroused by tidings of success from other Provinces, and the partial victories of their immediate predecessors, to entertain bolder schemes, and they only waited for a chief of distinguished ability to concentrate their efforts. This chief they found, where they naturally looked for him, among the old ruling family of the Province. Nor were the English settlers ignorant of his promise. In the Parliament held at Castledermot in 1377, they granted to him the customary annual tribute paid to his house, the nature of which calls for a word of explanation. This tribute was granted, "as the late King had done to his ancestors;" it was again voted in a Parliament held in 1380, and continued to be paid so late as the opening of the seventeenth century (A.D. 1603). Not only was a fixed sum paid out of the Exchequer for this purpose--inducing the native chiefs to grant a right of way through their territories --but a direct tax was levied on the inhabitants of English origin for the same privilege. This tax, called "black mail," or "black rent," was sometimes differently regarded by those who paid and those who received it. The former looked on it as a stipend, the latter as a tribute; but that it implied a formal acknowledgment of the local jurisdiction of the chief cannot be doubted. Two centuries after the time of which we speak, Baron Finglas, in his suggestions to King Henry VIII. for extending his power in Ireland, recommends that "no black rent be paid to any Irishman for the four shires"--of the Pale--"and any black rent they had afore this time be paid to them for ever." At that late period "the McMurrogh" had still his 80 marks annually from the Exchequer, and 40 pounds from the English settled in Wexford; O'Carroll of Ely had 40 pounds from the English in Kilkenny, and O'Conor of Offally 20 pounds from those of Kildare, and 300 pounds from Meath. It was to meet these and other annuities to more distant chiefs, that William of Windsor, in 1369, covenanted for a larger revenue than the whole of the Anglo-Irish districts then yielded, and which led him besides to stipulate that he was to undertake no new expeditions, but to act entirely on the defensive. We find a little later, that the necessity of sustaining the Dublin authorities at an annual loss was one of the main motives which induced Richard II. of England to transport two royal armies across the channel, in 1394 and 1399.
Art McMurrogh, the younger, not only extended the bounds of his own inheritance and imposed tribute on the English settlers in adjoining districts, during the first years of his rule, but having married a noble lady of the "Pale," Elizabeth, heiress to the barony of Norragh, in Kildare, which included Naas and its neighbourhood, he claimed her inheritance in full, though forfeited under "the statute of Kilkenny," according to English notions. So necessary did it seem to the Deputy and Council of the day to conciliate their formidable neighbour, that they addressed a special representation to King Richard, setting forth the facts of the case, and adding that McMurrogh threatened, until this lady's estates were restored and the arrears of tribute due to him fully discharged, he should never cease from war, "but would join with the Earl of Desmond against the Earl of Ormond, and afterwards return with a great force out of Minister to ravage the country." This allusion most probably refers to James, second Earl of Ormond, who, from being the maternal grandson of Edward I., was called the noble Earl, and was considered in his day the peculiar representative of the English interest. In the last years of Edward III., and the first of his successor, he was constable of the Castle of Dublin, with a fee of 18 pounds 5 shillings per annum. In 1381--the probable date of the address just quoted--he had a commission to treat with certain rebels, in order to reform them and promote peace. Three years later he died, and was buried in the Cathedral of St. Canice, Kilkenny, the place of sepulture of his family.
When, in the year 1389, Richard II., having attained his majority, demanded to reign alone, the condition of the English interest was most critical. During the twelve years of his minority the Anglo-Irish policy of the Council of Regency had shifted and changed, according to the predominance of particular influences. The Lord Lieutenancy was conferred on the King's relatives, Edward Mortimer, Earl of March (1379), and continued to his son, Roger Mortimer, a minor (1381); in 1383, it was transferred to Philip de Courtenay, the King's cousin. The following year, de Courtenay having been arrested and fined for mal-administration, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the special favourite of Richard, was created Marquis of Dublin and Duke of Ireland, with a grant of all the powers and authority exercised at any period in Ireland by that King or his predecessors. This extraordinary grant was solemnly confirmed by the English Parliament, who, perhaps willing to get rid of the favourite at any cost, allotted the sum of 30,000 marks due from the King of France, with a guard of 500 men-at-arms and 1,000 archers for de Vere's expedition. But that favoured nobleman never entered into possession of the principality assigned him; he experienced the fate of the Gavestons and de Spencers of a former reign; fleeing, for his life, from the Barons, he died in exile in the Netherlands. The only real rulers of the Anglo-Irish in the years of the King's minority, or previous to his first expedition in 1394, (if we except Sir John Stanley's short terms of office in 1385 and 1389,) were the Earls of Ormond, second and third, Colton, Dean of Saint Patrick's, Petit, Bishop of Meath, and White, Prior of Kilmainham. For thirty years after the death of Edward III., no Geraldine was entrusted with the highest office, and no Anglo-Irish layman of any other family but the Butlers. In 1393, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, uncle to Richard, was appointed Lord Lieutenant, and was on the point of embarking, when a royal order reached him announcing the determination of the King to take command of the forces in person.
The immediate motives for Richard's expedition are variously stated by different authors. That usually assigned by the English--a desire to divert his mind from brooding over the loss of his wife, "the good Queen Anne," seems wholly insufficient. He had announced his intention a year before her death; he had called together, before the Queen fell ill, the Parliament at Westminster, which readily voted him "a tenth" of the revenues of all their estates for the expedition. Anne's sickness was sudden, and her death took place in the last week of July. Richard's preparations at that date were far advanced towards completion, and Sir Thomas Scroope had been already some months in Dublin to prepare for his reception. The reason assigned by Anglo-Irish writers is more plausible: he had been a candidate for the Imperial Crown of Germany, and was tauntingly told by his competitors to conquer Ireland before he entered the lists for the highest political honour of that age. This rebuke, and the ill-success of Ms arms against France and Scotland, probably made him desirous to achieve in a new field some share of that military glory which was always so highly prized by his family:
Some events which immediately preceded Richard's expedition may help us to understand the relative positions of the natives and the naturalized to the English interest in the districts through which he was to march. By this time the banner of Art McMurrogh floated over all the castles and raths, on the slope of the Ridge of Leinster, or the steps of the Blackstair hills; while the forests along the Barrow and the Upper Slaney, as well as in the plain of Carlow and in the South-western angle of Wicklow (now the barony of Shillelagh), served still better his purposes of defensive warfare; So entirely was the range of country thus vaguely defined under native sway that John Griffin, the English Bishop of Leighlin, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, obtained a grant in 1389 of the town of Gulroestown, in the county of Dublin, "near the marches of O'Toole, seeing he could not live within his own see for the rebels." In 1390, Peter Creagh, Bishop of Limerick, on his way to attend an Anglo-Irish Parliament, was taken prisoner in that region, and in consequence the usual fine was remitted in his favour. In 1392, James, the third Earl of Ormond, gave McMurrogh a severe check at Tiscoffin, near Shankill, where 600 of his clansmen were left dead among the hills.
This defeat, however, was thrown into the shade by the capture of New Boss, on the very eve of Richard's arrival at Waterford. In a previous chapter we have described the fortifications erected round this important seaport towards the end of the thirteenth century. Since that period its progress had been steadily onward. In the reign of Edward III. the controversy which had long subsisted between the merchants of Ross and those of Waterford, concerning the trade monopolies claimed by the latter, had been decided in favour of Ross. At this period it could muster in its own defence 363 cross-bowmen, 1,200 long-bowmen, 1,200 pikemen, and 104 horsemen--a force which would seem to place it second to Dublin in point of military strength. The capture of so important a place by McMurrogh was a cheering omen to his followers. He razed the walls and towers, and carried off gold, silver, and hostages.
On the 2nd of October, 1394, the royal fleet of Richard arrived from Milford Haven, at Waterford. To those who saw Ireland for the first time, the rock of Dundonolf, famed for Raymond's camp, the abbey of Dunbrody, looking calmly down on the confluence of the three rivers, and the half-Danish, half-Norman port before them, must have presented scenes full of interest. To the townsmen the fleet was something wonderful. The endless succession of ships of all sizes and models, which had wafted over 30,000 archers and 4,000 men-at-arms; the royal galley leading on the fluttering pennons of so many great nobles, was a novel sight to that generation. Attendant on the King were his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, the young Earl of March, heir apparent, Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, the Earl of Rutland, the Lord Thomas Percy, afterwards Earl of Westmoreland, and father of Hotspur, and Sir Thomas Moreley, heir to the last Lord Marshal of the "Pale." Several dignitaries of the English Church, as well Bishops as Abbots, were also with the fleet. Immediately after landing, a Te Deum was sung in the Cathedral, where Earl Richard had wedded the Princess Eva, where Henry II. and John had offered up similar thanksgivings.
Richard remained a week at Waterford; gave splendid fetes, and received some lords of the neighbouring country, Le Poers, Graces, and Butlers. He made gifts to churches, and ratified the charter given by John to the abbey of Holy Cross in Munster. He issued a summons to Gerald, Earl of Desmond, to appear before him by the feast of the Purification "in whatever part of Ireland he should then be," to answer to the charge of having usurped the manor, revenues, and honour of Dungarvan. Although it was then near the middle of October, he took the resolution of marching to Dublin, through the country of McMurrogh, and knowing the memory of Edward the Confessor to be popular in Leinster, he furled the royal banner, and hoisted that of the saintly Saxon king, which bore "a cross patence, or, on a field gules, with four doves argent on the shield." His own proper banner bore lioncels and fleur-de-lis. His route was by Thomastown to Kilkenny, a city which had risen into importance with the Butlers. Nearly half a century before, this family had brought artizans from Flanders, who established the manufacture of woollens, for which the town was ever after famous. Its military importance was early felt and long maintained. At this city Richard was joined by Sir William de Wellesley, who claimed to be hereditary standard-bearer for Ireland, and by other Anglo-Irish nobles. From thence he despatched his Earl Marshal into "Catherlough" to treat with McMurrogh. On the plain of Ballygorry, near Carlow, Art, with his uncle, Malachy, O'Moore, O'Nolan, O'Byrne, MacDavid, and other chiefs, met the Earl Marshal. The terms proposed were almost equivalent to extermination. They were, in effect, that the Leinster chieftains, under fines of enormous amount, payable into the Apostolic chamber, should, before the first Sunday of Lent, surrender to the English King "the full possession of all their lands, tenements, castles, woods, and forts, which by them and all other of the Kenseologhes, their companions, men, or adherents, late were occupied within the province of Leinster." And the condition of this surrender was to be, that they should have unmolested possession of any and all lands they could conquer from the King's other Irish enemies elsewhere in the kingdom. To these hard conditions some of the minor chiefs, overawed by the immense force brought against them, would, it seems, have submitted, but Art sternly refused to treat, declaring that if he made terms at all, it should be with the King and not with the Earl Marshal; and that instead of yielding his own lands, his wife's patrimony in Kildare should be restored. This broke up the conference, and Mowbray returned discomfitted to Kilkenny.
King Richard, full of indignation, put himself at the head of his army and advanced against the Leinster clans. But his march was slow and painful: the season and the forest fought against him; he was unable to collect by the way sufficient fodder for the horses or provisions for the men. McMurrogh swept off everything of the nature of food--took advantage of his knowledge of the country to burst upon the enemy by night, to entrap them into ambuscades, to separate the cavalry from the foot, and by many other stratagems to thin their ranks and harass the stragglers. At length Richard, despairing of dislodging him from his fastnesses in Idrone, or fighting a way out of them, sent to him another deputation of "the English and Irish of Leinster," inviting him to Dublin to a personal interview. This proposal was accepted, and the English king continued his way to Dublin, probably along the sea coast by Bray and the white strand, over Killiney and Dunleary. Soon after his arrival at Dublin, care was taken to repair the highway which ran by the sea, towards Wicklow and Wexford.