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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 40/134 -


Over the common land large herds of cattle roamed--the property of individuals who could own nothing, except of a movable nature, beyond their small wooden houses.

This state of things had existed, according to their annals, for several thousand years. Their ancestors had lived happily under such social conditions, which they wished to abide in and hand down to their posterity.

Foreign trade was distasteful to them; in fact, they had no inclination for commerce. Lucre they despised, scarcely knowing the use of money, which had been lately introduced among them. Yet, being refined in their tastes, fond of ornament, of wine at their feasts, loving to adorn the persons of their wives and daughters with silk and gems, they had allowed the Danes to dwell in their seaports, to trade in those commodities, and to import for their use what the land did not produce.

Those seaport towns had been fortified by the Northmen on their first victories when they took possession of them. Throughout the rest of the island, a fortress or a large town was not to be seen. The people, being all agriculturists or graziers, loved to dwell in the country; their houses were built of wattle and clay, yet comfortable and orderly.

The mansions of the chieftains were neither large architectural piles, nor frowning fortresses. They bore the name of raths when used for dwellings; of duns when constructed with a view to resisting an attack. In both cases, they were, in part under ground, in part above; the whole circular in form, built sometimes of large stones, oftener of walls of sodded clay.

Instead of covering their limbs with coats of mail, like the warriors of mediaeval Europe, they wore woollen garments even in war, and for ornaments chains or plates of precious metal. The Norman invaders, clad in heavy mail, were surprised, therefore, to find themselves face to face with men in their estimation unprotected and naked. More astonished were they still at the natural boldness and readiness of the Irish in speaking before their chieftains and princes, not understanding that all were of the same blood and cognizant of the fact.

Still less could they understand the freedom and familiarity existing between the Irish nobility and the poorest of their kinsmen, so different from the haughty bearing of an aristocracy of foreign extraction to the serfs and villeins of a people they had conquered.

The two nations now confronting each other had, therefore, nothing in common, unless, perhaps, an excessive pertinacity of purpose. The new comers belonged to a stern, unyielding, systematic stock, which was destined to give to Europe that great character so superior in our times to that of southern or eastern nations. The natives possessed that strong attachment to their time-honored customs, so peculiar to patriarchal tribes, in whose nature traditions and social habits are so strongly intermingled, that they are ineradicable save by the utter extirpation of the people.

And now the characteristics of both races were to be brought out in strong contrast by the great question of property in the soil, which was at the bottom of the struggle between clanship and feudalism. The Irish, as we have seen, knew nothing of individual property in land, nor of tenure, nor of rent, much less of forfeiture. They were often called upon by their chieftains to contribute to their support in ways not seldom oppressive enough, but the contributions were always in kind.

A new and very different system was to be attempted, to which the Irish at first appeared to consent, because they did not understand it, attaching, as they did, their own ideas to words, which, in the mouths of the invaders, had a very different meaning.

With the Irish "to do homage" meant to acknowledge the superiority of another, either on account of his lawful authority or his success in war; and the consequences of this act were, either the fulfilment of the enactments contained in the "Book of Rights," or submission to temporary conditions guaranteed by hostages. But that the person doing homage became by that act the liegeman of the suzerain for life and hereditarily in his posterity, subject to be deprived of all privileges of citizenship, as well as to the possibility of seeing all his lands forfeited, besides many minor penalties enjoined by the feudal code which often resolved itself into mere might--such a meaning of the word homage could by no possibility enter the mind of an Irishman at that period.

Hence, when, after the atrocities committed by the first invaders, who respected neither treaties nor the dictates of humanity, not even the sanctuary and the sacredness of religious houses, Henry II. came with an army, large and powerful for that time, the Irish people and their chieftains, hoping that he would put an end to the crying tyranny of the Fitzstephens, Fitzgeralds, De Lacys, and others, went to meet him and acknowledge his authority as head chieftain of Leinster through Strongbow, and, perhaps, as the monarch who should restore peace and happiness to the whole island. McCarthy, king of Desmond, was the first Irish prince to pay homage to Henry.

While the king was spending the Christmas festivities in Dublin, many other chieftains arrived; among them O'Carrol of Oriel and O'Rourke of Breffny. Roderic O'Connor of Connaught, till then acknowledged by many as monarch of Ireland, thought at first of fighting, but, as was his custom, he ended by a treaty, wherein, it is said, he acknowledged Henry as his suzerain, and thus placed Ireland at his feet. Ulster alone had not seen the invaders; but, as its inhabitants did not protest with arms in their hands, the Normans pretended that from that moment they were the rightful owners of the island.

Without a moment's delay they began to feudalize the country by dividing the land and building castles. These two operations, which we now turn to, opened the eyes of the Irish to the deception which had been practised upon them, and were the real origin of the momentous struggle which is still being waged today.

Sir John Davies, the English attorney-general of James I., has stated the whole case in a sentence: "All Ireland was by Henry II. cantonized among ten of the English nation; and, though they had not gained possession of one-third of the kingdom, yet in title they were owners and lords of all, so as nothing was left to be granted to the natives."

McCarthy, king of Desmond, had been the first to acknowledge the authority of Henry II., yet McCarthy's lands were among the first, if not the first, bestowed by Henry on his minions. The grant may be seen in Ware, and it is worthy of perusal as a sample of the many grants which followed it, whereby Henry attempted a total revolution in the tenure of land. The charter giving Meath to De Lacy was the only one which by a clause seemed to preserve the old customs of the country as to territory; and yet it was in Meath that the greatest atrocities were committed.

Yet one difficulty presented itself to the invaders: their rights were only on paper, whereas the Irish were still in possession of the greatest part of the island, and once the real purpose of the Normans showed itself, they were no longer disposed to submit to Henry or to any of his appointed lords. The territory had to be wrested from them by force of arms.

The English claimed the whole island as their own. They were, in fact, masters only of the portion occupied by their troops; the remainder was, therefore, to be conquered. And if in Desmond, where the whole strength of the English first fell, they possessed only a little more than one-fourth of the soil, what was the case in the rest of the island, the most of which had not yet seen them?

Long years of war would evidently be required to subdue it, and the systematic mind of the conquerors immediately set about devising the best means for the attainment of their purpose. The lessons gathered from their continental experience suggested these means immediately; they saw that by covering the country with feudal castles they could in the end conquer the most stubborn nation. A thorough revolution was intended. The two systems were so entirely antagonistic to each other that the success of the Norman project involved a change of land tenure, laws, customs, dress--every thing. Even the music of the bards was to be silenced, the poetry of the files to be abolished, the pedigrees of families to be discontinued, the very games of the people to be interrupted and forbidden. A vast number of castles was necessary. The project was a fearful one, cruel, barbarous, worthy of pagan antiquity. It was undertaken with a kind of ferocious alacrity, and in a short time it appeared near realization. But in the long run it failed, and four hundred years later, under the eighth Henry, it was as far from completion as the day on which the second Henry left the island in 1171.

To show the importance which the invaders attached to their system, and the ardor with which they set about putting it in practice, we have only to extract a few passages from the old annals of the islands; they are wonderfully expressive in their simplicity:

"A.D. 1176. The English were driven from Limerick by Donnall O'Brian. An English castle was in process of erection at Kells."- -(Four Masters.)

"A.D. 1178. The English built and fortified a castle at Kenlis, the key of those parts of Meath, against the incursions of the Ulster men."--(Ware's Antiquities.)

"A.D. 1180. Hugh De Lacy planted several colonies in Meath, and fortified the country with many castles, for the defence and security of the English."--(Ibid.)

Such enumerations might be prolonged indefinitely; we conclude with the following entry taken from the Four Masters:

"A.D. 1186. Hugh De Lacy, the profaner and destroyer of many churches, Lord of the English of Meath (the Irish cannot call him their lord), Breffni, and Oirghialla, he who had conquered the greater part of Ireland for the English, and of whose English castles all Meath, from the Shannon to the sea, was full, after having finished the castle of Der Magh, set out accompanied by three Englishmen to visit it . . . . One of the


Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 40/134

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