Unlike the Vikings, the Normans didn’t arrive in Ireland uninvited and unannounced. They crossed the Irish Sea at the request of an Irish king who had been forced out of his kingdom.
The king’s name was Diarmait MacMurrough. He could not have guessed it at the time, but he unleashed a force that was to dominate Irish history for nearly 800 years, for the Normans took the first steps in what was to develop into British rule over Ireland.
MacMurrough had with rival kings
Diarmait MacMurrough was the King of Leinster in the 1160s. At this point in the country’s history, there was no one central ruler, but rather a number of separate kingdoms – kingdoms that were often at war with each other.
MacMurrough was involved in a conflict with a minor king, Tigernan O’Rourke, from the kingdom of Bréifne.
MacMurrough kidnapped O’Rouke’s wife Degovilla, which infuriated the Bréifne king. O’Rourke went to the King of Connacht, Rory O’Connor, for help. O’Connor was the most powerful king in Ireland and the closest person the country had to a High King.
O’Connor was too powerful for MacMurrough and defeated him. MacMurrough was forced into exile and headed to Bristol in England for refuge.
MacMurrough went to England for help
He sought help from the King of England, Henry II. However, Henry was busy campaigning in France and was unable to help personally. Instead, he gave MacMurrough permission to call on his barons in Britain.
MacMurrough was able to acquire the considerable forces of key Norman figures such as Robert FitzStephen, Maurice Fitzgerald and the Earl of Pembroke, Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare, who was also known as Strongbow due to his prowess as an archer.
These men had been having difficulties of their own in trying to take control over large areas in Wales. When MacMurrough came to them for help, they saw Ireland as having the same kind of potential as Wales but with a population far less organised and therefore easier to conquer.
The Normans arrive in Ireland
MacMurrough returned to Ireland with a small party of Normans in 1167. He regained some of his territory and two years later a large force of Normans arrived at The Beach of Baginbun, near Wexford to help MacMurrough cement his power.
Having regained his kingdom, MacMurrough set his sights on becoming the High King of Ireland. He offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Strongbow, which strengthened the alliance between the two men.
Strongbow had captured the towns of Dublin, Waterford and Wexford. However, MacMurrough’s dreams of becoming High King of Ireland were ended when he died in 1171.
Following MacMurrough’s death, his son-in-law Strongbow took control of the kingdom. Irish law stated that a foreigner couldn’t rule an Irish kingdom. However, Strongbow was too powerful to be stopped.
Strongbow makes a deal with King of England
King Henry became worried about the power that Strongbow had amassed. Not on behalf of the Irish but rather for himself. He didn’t want Strongbow to become too powerful. He summoned him to a meeting and it was agreed that Strongbow would remain King of Leinster, but Henry would be ruler of Dublin, Waterford and Wexford.
With the emergence of the two powerful Norman rulers in Ireland, MacMurrough’s death marked the last time for nearly 800 years that Ireland was a country governed solely by Irish leaders.