Dermot MacMurrough – Irish king who brought in the Normans

Henry II and -Dermot MacMurrough photo Corbis-

Dermot MacMurrough has gone down in history as the Irish king who brought the Normans to Ireland and unwittingly paved the way for 700 years of British rule. He didn’t mean it to happen and he couldn’t have dreamed of the repercussions; he just wanted a little help to settle some local difficulties and restore his power in Leinster.

His actions meant he was sometimes referred to as Diarmait na nGall – Dermot of the Foreigners.

MacMurrough, or Diarmit MacMurchada to give him his name in Irish, was born in Leinster around 26 June in 1110. He was a descendent of Brian Boru, once the High King of Ireland. Mac Murchada’s father was the King of Leinster but was killed in a battle with the Dublin Vikings. Mac Murchada’s older brother Enna briefly became King, but he also died after a short reign. Diarmait Mac Murchada then became the king of Leinster.

The High King of Ireland, Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, was unhappy about Mac Murchada’s new status as King of Leinster, and feared an invasion. The High King had livestock in Leinster slaughtered in an attempt to leave the people and army starving and unable to mount any attacks.

Mac Murchada was ousted from his position briefly, but regained it with the help of various Leinster clans who had served under him and his father.

In 1166, Mac Murchada’s arch enemy Tigernán Ua Ruairc, the King of Bréifne (the areas now known as counties Leitrim and Cavan as well as parts of Sligo) invaded Leinster. Mac Murchada had previously kidnapped Ua Ruairc’s wife Derbforgaill as part of an invasion of his territory.

Fourteen years had passed since the kidnapping and safe return of Derbforgaill, but Ua Ruairc still hated Mac Murchada and wanted revenge. He invaded and Mac Murchada was forced to flee, having had lost most of his powerful allies.

Mac Murchada travelled to England to request the support of King Henry II in regaining his territory from Ua Ruairc.

Henry granted Mac Murchada permission to recruit soldiers from England, Wales and France to help him regain Leinster. One of these soldiers was Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke who is better known throughout history as Strongbow.

Mac Murchada successfully regained his position as the King of Leinster with the help of Strongbow, who married Mac Murchada’s daughter Aoife as a reward. Mac Murchada also promised Strongbow that he would inherit the kingdom of Leinster. Mac Murchada began to consider an invasion of the territory of the High King, believing that with the help of Strongbow, his family could rule all of Ireland.

King Henry II now feared that Strongbow had become too powerful in Ireland and that he might use it to launch an invasion into England. He sent vast military forces into Ireland to maintain control. Faced with superior military power, Strongbow and MaMurchada had no option but to submit to Henry’s authority.

Mac Murchada died around 1 May, 1171 and is buried at Ferns in Co Wexford. His actions in attempting to regain his crown led to 700 years of Norman then British involvement in Ireland.  By the 17th century following the invasion by Oliver Cromwll, British rule in Ireland was complete and was not overthrown until the Irish War of Independence in 1919-21.