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The Bruce in Ireland

by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the March/April 1998, A.S. XXXII issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

Robert Bruce is best remembered for reestablishing Scotland's independence and his victory at Bannockburn. But Scotland is not the only place where he bedeviled the English. What is not widely known is that he instigated an invasion of Ireland. This article will sketch out this forgotten episode.

The invasion was conceived soon after the battle of Bannockburn which occurred on June 24, 1314. There were numerous reasons for this move. Foremost was that it split the attention of the English and deprived them of a source of troops. Secondly, a number of Scottish nobles had relations in Ireland, particularly in Ulster. And finally, Robert sought a crown for his brother Edward.

So on May 25, 1315, Edward crossed the Irish Sea and landed at Larne in Ulster. His landing was unexpected and practically unopposed. Making Edward's job easier was the fact that both the native nobility and the transplanted English nobility was fractured and fighting among itself, more politically than militarily.

There he was joined by some of the local Irish chiefs. Marching due south, he defeated the remaining local chiefs a month later, taking Dundalk. He then plundered the area.

Meanwhile Richard de Burgo the Earl of Ulster, who had been in western Ireland, and Edmund le Botiller the Justiciar of Ireland, who represented the King of England, gathered their forces to meet the threat. They joined forces just south of Dundalk in late July. The earl insisted he meet Edward alone as it was his lands that were invaded. Edward retreated north across the river Bann at Coleraine. There he promised to back one Irish chief to be king of Connacht, who promptly burned all the towns there. The chief's main rival, who was with the Earl of Ulster, hearing this left the Earl. The Earl, now greatly weaken fell back and was defeated on September 10.

Edward continued south. On December 10 he defeated Roger Mortimer in Meath. While the Castle Trim held out, central Ireland was open to Edward. He marched west then turned south. After spending Christmas at Loughsewdy, he moved southeast. The castle at Kildare was ready for him, and resisted for three day before Edward gave up and moved on.

Upon taking Castledermot, he started back north whereupon he met the latest English force. Though larger then Edward's army, it ended up retreating due to the quarreling of the English commanders. Edward took up a strong position in central Ireland.

But could not stay for long. War and a bad harvest had stripped the land bare. So they retreated back to Ulster, reaching there by the end of February. The English did not pursue. The Irish to the south were taking advantage of the chaos caused by the invasion, and so the English turned their attention to regaining control there.

On May 1, Edward had himself crown King of Ireland and set about consolidating his hold on Ulster, though the principal castle of the area, Carrickfergus, held out till September: defeated by hunger. That fall he returned to Scotland to ask for help from Robert, who came to Ireland just after Christmas.

In early February, the Scots marched south. On the twenty-third, they had reached the outskirts of Dublin. But instead of attacking the town, they moved to the southwest going as far as Limerick plundering all the way. Shadowing them was the Justiciar's army. In mid April, hearing that reinforcements were arriving from England, the Scots slipped back to Ulster. By the end of May, Robert was back in Scotland.

The reinforcements were led by Roger Mortimer. He allowed the Scots to go north, and concentrated on restoring order in the rest of Ireland. Circumstances forced him to make a number of concessions to various Irish chiefs which had the result of ceding English power in the outreaches. Nevertheless, these arrangements allowed Mortimer to solidify his position, eliminating Edward's supporters from his forces. But Mortimer was not to see though to victory as he was recalled in May 1318.

For nearly a year and half, Edward remained quiet in Ulster. Then in October 1318, for the last time he moved south. A hastily formed force met him just north of Dundalk, near where he had been crown, and defeated him. He died in battle. With that the Scottish invasion ended.

In the greater scheme of things, the Scottish invasion of Ireland hand no lasting effects outside of Ireland. Inside Ireland, the land was ruined and the population declined. The Black Plague thirty years later just added insult to injury. The invasion did mark the beginning of the decline of English power in Ireland, a decline not checked till the Tudors. It was only the fractional nature of the Irish lords that prevented the English being tossed out.

 

Bibliography

Otway-Ruthven, A.J. A History of Medieval Ireland. New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 1993.

 

Copyright © 1998 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

 

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