The countryside of Ireland is today a patchwork of many different landscape types. One of the most spectacular is the upland area of County Wicklow which, despite its proximity to the sprawling city-scape of Dublin, has some of the best, unspoilt walking trails in Ireland. While not perfectly alike to that through which the army of Diarmait Mac Murchada and Richard Strongbow would’ve marched, it is probably one of the few that would remain recognisable to those who would’ve walked its secret and shrouded paths in the early autumn of 1170.
As you may have read in my previous post, the Norman baron, Strongbow, had landed on Irish shores on the eve of the Feast of St Bartholomew (August 23rd) and had laid siege to the Hiberno-Norse city of Waterford. At that time Waterford was one of a number of walled towns built by the descendants of the Norse and Danish settlers who had become collectively known as Ostmen. The townsfolk had, to differing degrees, adopted many Gaelic Irish practices but were still seen as a separate people (much like how members of different Gaelic tribes saw each other). However, the great wealth of the Ostmen cities – based primarily on slavery – soon made them the target of the more powerful Gaelic kings and at different times they had been forced to pay homage to the provincial kings.
Nevertheless thanks to the actions of Strongbow’s most trusted captain, Raymond de Carew, Waterford fell to the Normans before the start of September. The sack of the city led the most powerful man in Ireland, High King Ruaidhrí Ua Conchobair, to finally take note of the threat from the foreigners and to sweep down from Connacht and form an alliance with the King of Dublin, Hasculv Mac Torcaill. Both knew that Dublin would be Diarmait’s next target for both now realised that the King of Leinster would not stop until he had taken the High Kingship for his own. For Strongbow and the Normans only possession of the rich city would suffice.
Ruaidhrí, along with his allies from Breifne, Meath and Oriel, placed his army in the Liffey Valley, probably somewhere in northern County Kildare, and awaited Diarmait’s arrival, hoping that his vast numbers would overwhelm the enemy. However, Diarmait and Strongbow moved far more swiftly and, using paths through the Wicklow Mountains (including those around Glendalough) that were unknown to the High King from the far west, they descended unexpectedly at Dublin’s walls without the High King’s knowledge.
The Ostmen of the city attempted to stall the attackers by opening negotiations led by the famous Lorcán Ua Tuathail (now remembered as St Laurence O’Toole), Archbishop of Dublin, in order to allow Ruaidhrí the time to return to their aid. However, the High King presumed that he had been betrayed by his allies and withdrew to his lands in the west.
On this day 845 years ago, with the negotiations still ongoing, Strongbow’s captains, Raymond de Carew and Milo de Cogan, assaulted the town without orders from their master and claimed the city for their suzerain lord. Hasculv and his chief men fled to the sea with as many of their possessions as they could carry, eventually finding solace on the Isle of Man with their Viking kinsmen. There they would plot their revenge and the recovery of their city.
Edward Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland which was published by Accent Press in February 2015. The second in the series, Lord of the Sea Castle, will follow within the year. The third book of the Invader Series, charting Strongbow’s arrival in Ireland, will be published in 2016.
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