From Loughsweedy, Bruce broke up his quarters, and marched into Kildare, encamping successively at Naas, Kildare, and Rathangan. Advancing in a southerly direction, he found an immense, but disorderly Anglo-Irish host drawn out, at the moat of Ardscull, near Athy, to dispute his march. They were commanded by the Lord Justice Butler, the Baron of Offally, the Lord Arnold Poer, and other magnates; but so divided were these proud Peers, in authority and in feeling, that, after a severe skirmish with Bruce's vanguard, in which some knights were killed on both sides, they retreated before the Hiberno-Scottish army, which continued its march unmolested, and took possession of Castledermot.
Animated by these successes, won in their midst, the clans of Leinster began in succession to raise their heads. The tribes of Wicklow, once possessors of the fertile plains to the east and west, rallied in the mountain glens to which they had been driven, and commenced that long guerilla war, which centuries only were to extinguish. The McMurroghs along the ridge of Leinster, and all their kindred upon the Barrow and the Slaney, mustered under a chief, against whom the Lord Justice was compelled to march in person, later in the campaign of 1316. The Lord of Dunamase was equally sanguine, but 800 men of the name of O'Moore, slain in one disastrous encounter, crippled for the time the military strength of that great house. Having thus kindled the war, in the very heart of Leinster, Bruce retraced his march through Meath and Louth, and held at Dundalk that great assembly in which he was solemnly elected King of Ireland. Donald O'Neil, by letters patent, as son of Brian "of the battle of Down," the last acknowledged native king, formally resigned his right, in favour of Bruce, a proceeding which he defends in his celebrated letter to Pope John XXII., where he speaks of the new sovereign as the illustrious Earl of Carrick, Edward de Bruce, a nobleman descended from the same ancestors with themselves, whom they had called to their aid, and freely chosen as their king and lord. The ceremony of inauguration seems to have been performed in the Gaelic fashion, on the hill of Knocknemelan, within a mile of Dundalk, while the solemn consecration took place in one of the churches of the town. Surrounded by all the external marks of royalty, Bruce established his court in the castle of Northburgh (one of de Courcy's or de Verdon's fortresses), adjoining Dundalk, where he took cognizance of all pleas that were brought before him. At that moment his prospects compared favourably with those of his illustrious brother a few years earlier. The Anglo-Irish were bitterly divided against each other; while, according to their joint declaration of loyalty, signed before de Hothun, King Edward's special agent, "all the Irish of Ireland, several great lords, and many English people," had given in their adhesion to Bruce. In Ulster, except Carrickfergus, no place of strength remained in the hands of any subject of Edward of England. The arrival of supplies from Scotland enabled Bruce to resume that siege in the autumn of 1316, and the castle, after a heroic defence by Sir Thomas de Mandeville, was surrendered in mid-winter. Here, in the month of February, 1317, the new King of Ireland had the gratification of welcoming his brother of Scotland, at the head of a powerful auxiliary force, and here, according to Barbour's Chronicle, they feasted for three days, in mirth and jollity, before entering on the third campaign of this war.
We have before mentioned that one of the first successes obtained by Bruce was through the withdrawal of Felim O'Conor from the Red Earl's alliance. The Prince thus won over to what may be fairly called the national cause, had just then attained his majority, and his martial accomplishments reflected honour on his fosterer, McDermott of Moylurg, while they filled with confidence the hearts of his own clansmen. After his secession from de Burgh at Coleraine, he had spent a whole year in suppressing the formidable rival who had risen to dispute his title. Several combats ensued between their respective adherents, but at length Roderick, the pretender, was defeated and slain, and Felim turned all his energies to co-operate with Bruce, by driving the foreigner out of his own province. Having secured the assistance of all the chief tribes of the west, and established the ancient supremacy of his house over Breffni, he first attacked the town of Ballylahen, in Mayo, the seat of the family of de Exeter, slew Slevin de Exeter, the lord de Cogan, and other knights and barons, and plundered the town. At the beginning of August in the same year, in pursuance of his plan, Felim mustered the most numerous force which Connaught had sent forth, since the days of Cathal More. Under his leadership marched the Prince of Meath, the lords of Breffni, Leyny, Annally, Teffia, Hy-Many, and Hy-Fiachra, with their men. The point of attack was the town of Athenry, the chief fortified stronghold of the de Burghs and Berminghams in that region. Its importance dated from the reign of King John; it had been enriched with convents and strengthened by towers; it was besides the burial place of the two great Norman families just mentioned, and their descendants felt that before the walls of Athenry their possessions were to be confirmed to them by their own valour, or lost for ever. A decisive battle was fought on St. Laurence's day--the 10th of August--in which the steel-clad Norman battalion once more triumphed over the linen-shirted clansmen of the west. The field was contested with heroic obstinacy; no man gave way; none thought of asking or giving quarter. The standard bearer, the personal guard, and the Brehon of O'Conor fell around him. The lords of Hy-Many, Teffia, and Leyny, the heir of the house of Moylurg, with many other chiefs, and, according to the usual computation, 8,000 men were slain. Felim O'Conor himself, in the twenty-third year of his age, and the very morning of his fame, fell with the rest, and his kindred, the Sil-Murray, were left for a season an easy prey to William de Burgh and John de Bermingham, the joint commanders in the battle. The spirit of exaggeration common in most accounts of killed and wounded, has described this day as fatal to the name and race of O'Conor, who are represented as cut off to a man in the conflict; the direct line which Felim represented was indeed left without an immediate adult representative; but the offshoots of that great house had spread too far and flourished too vigorously to be shorn away, even by so terrible a blow as that dealt at Athenry. The very next year we find chiefs of the name making some figure in the wars of their own province, but it is observable that what may be called the national party in Connaught for some time after Athenry, looked to McDermott of Moylurg as their most powerful leader.
The moral effect of the victory of Athenry was hardly to be compensated for by the capture of Carrickfergus the next winter. It inspired the Anglo-Irish with new courage. De Bermingham was created commander-in-chief. The citizens of Dublin burned their suburbs to strengthen their means of defence. Suspecting the zeal of the Red Earl, so nearly connected with the Bruces by marriage, their Mayor proceeded to Saint Mary's abbey, where he lodged, arrested and confined him to the castle. To that building the Bermingham tower was added about this time, and the strength of the whole must have been great when the skilful leaders, who had carried Stirling and Berwick, abandoned the siege of Dublin as hopeless. In Easter week, 1317, Roger Mortimer, afterwards Earl of March, nearly allied to the English King on the one hand, and maternally descended from the Marshals and McMurroghs on the other, arrived at Youghal, as Lord Justice, released the Earl of Ulster on reaching Dublin, and prepared to dispute the progress of the Bruces towards the South.
The royal brothers had determined, according to their national Bard, to take their way with all their host, from one cud of Ireland to the other. Their destination was Munster, which populous province had not yet ratified the recent election. Ulster and Meath were with them; Connaught, by the battle of Athenry, was rendered incapable of any immediate effort, and therefore Edward Bruce, in true Gaelic fashion, decided to proceed on his royal visitation, and so secure the hostages of the southern half-kingdom. At the head of 20,000 men, in two divisions, the brothers marched from Carrickfergus; meeting, with the exception of a severe skirmish in a wood near Slane, with no other molestation till they approached the very walls of Dublin. Finding the place stronger than they expected, or unwilling to waste time at that season of the year, the Hiberno-Scottish army, after occupying Castleknock, turned up the valley of the Liffey, and encamped for four days by the pleasant waterfall of Leixlip. From Leixlip to Naas they traversed the estates of one of their active foes, the new made Earl of Kildare, and from Naas they directed their march to Callan in Ossory, taking special pleasure, according to Anglo-Irish Annals, in harrying the lands of another enemy, the Lord Butler, afterwards Earl of Ormond. From Callan their route lay to Cashel and Limerick, at each of which they encamped two or three days without seeing the face of an enemy. But if they encountered no enemies in Minister, neither did they make many friends by their expedition. It seems that on further acquaintance rivalries and enmities sprung up between the two nations who composed the army; that Edward Bruce, while styling himself King of Ireland, acted more like a vigorous conqueror exhausting his enemies, than a prudent Prince careful for his friends and adherents. His army is accused, in terms of greater vehemence than are usually employed in our cautious chronicles, of plundering churches and monasteries, and even violating the tombs of the dead in search of buried treasure. The failure of the harvest, added to the effect of a threefold war, had so diminished the stock of food that numbers perished of famine, and this dark, indelible remembrance was, by an arbitrary notion of cause and effect, inseparably associated in the popular mind, both English and Irish, with the Scottish invasion. One fact is clear, that the election of Dundalk was not popular in Munster, and that the chiefs of Thomond and Desmond were uncommitted, if not hostile towards Bruce's sovereignty. McCarthy and O'Brien seized the occasion, indeed, while he was campaigning in the North, to root out the last representative of the family of de Clare, as we have already related, when tracing the fortunes of the Normans in Munster. But of the twelve reguli, or Princes in Bruce's train, none are mentioned as having come from the Southern provinces.
This visitation of Munster occupied the months of February and March. In April, the Lord Justice Mortimer summoned a Parliament at Kilkenny, and there, also, the whole Anglo-Irish forces, to the number of 30,000 men, were assembled. The Bruces on their return northward might easily have been intercepted, or the genius which triumphed at Bannockburn might have been as conspicuously signalized on Irish ground. But the military authorities were waiting orders from the Parliament, and the Parliament were at issue with the new Justice, and so the opportunity was lost. Early in May, the Hiberno-Scottish army re-entered Ulster, by nearly the same route as they had taken going southwards, and King Robert soon after returned into Scotland, promising faithfully to rejoin his brother, as soon as he disposed of his own pressing affairs. The King of England in the meantime, in consternation at the news from Ireland, applied to the Pope, then at Avignon, to exercise his influence with the Clergy and Chiefs of Ireland, for the preservation of the English interest in that country. It was in answer to the Papal rescripts so procured that Donald O'Neil despatched his celebrated Remonstrance, which the Pontiff enclosed to Edward II., with an urgent recommendation that the wrongs therein recited might be atoned for, and avoided in the future.