Norman Vikings – the Vikings Return to Ireland
Though Viking influence in Ireland subsided after AD 1000, it returned two centuries later with renewed vigor and longer lasting consequences through the Normans. The Normans were descendant of Vikings who had settled in what is now known as Normandy in Northern France, and who came to Ireland via England. The story goes as follows.
Norman Conquests – Vikings settle in North France
In the 8th and 9th centuries AD, when the Vikings were raiding Ireland, they were also raiding Britain and France and other countries. A group settle in Northern France and in AD 911, under the leadership of Robert of Normandy, also known as Rollo, they were officially recognised as vassals under the king of France, but in reality virtually independent. The Vikings or Norsemen who had settled there quickly adopted the French language and the area too the name of Normandy (the country of the Norsemen) from them.
Norman Vikings – the Norman Conquest of England
In AD 1066 William the Conqueror who was Duke of Normandy, invaded England and in the famous Battle of Hastings he narrowly defeated the Saxons and their king Harold II and conquered the country. William became king of England, known as William I. The Normans left a lasting legacy in England through the many churches that date from this time, the castles, and the many modern English words that derive from Norman French.
The Norman Vikings Invade Ireland
The Norman Vikings (now known as Anglo Normans) first landed in Ireland in AD 1169 and the background to their landing contains some drama reminiscent of Helen of Troy and the famous Trojan War. Tiernan O’Rourke, a king in Breifne in modern Leitrim, was married to Derbforgaill, often referred to as the “Helen of Ireland”, and one of the more famous women of Medieval Irish history. Derbforgaill was “abducted” in AD 1152 by the king of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrogh. Historians suggest that she went willingly at the instigation of her brother and that the reason she did was not romance but politics – her paternal family who were ruling over Meath wanted to conclude a powerful alliance with Dermot. Soon she left Leinster too and returned to her native Meath where, among other deeds, she is known for a large donation to Mellifont Abbey.
Whatever the real events and reasons behind them, her former husband Tiernan had his revenge. In AD 1166 he invaded the lands of Leinster and outsted Dermot. Dermot fled across the water and returned with an army of Normans, Welshmen and Flemish soldiers. Dermot was victorious but died soon after in AD 1171. His daughter had married the Norman Earl Richard of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, who now claimed Leinster as rightful heir through his wife. And so the began the Norman conquests in Ireland.
Anglo Normans in Ireland
The Anglo Normans did not control all of Ireland. Their control was primarily in the south of the island and also the eastern part of Ulster covering much of what today constitutes Northern Ireland. Norman control was undermined by a number of factors.
First, the Norman conquests in Ireland were not controlled directly by the Norman kings of England, but by powerful Norman barons and lords. Fearing their power, the kings of England often worked secretly to undermine the power and authority of their barons in Ireland.
Second, during the years of Norman control there were areas still under Irish control and there was often fighting between the two sides. In AD 1261, for example, the Normans suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Callann.
Third, when the Black Death arrived in Ireland in AD 1348 it wrought much more devastation on the Normans who lived in sometimes densely populated and unhygienic cities, that to the Irish peasants who lived in the countryside. After the onslaught of the Black Death Norman power in Ireland greatly diminished.
The most visible legacy of Norman Ireland is the many Norman castles constructed during these times. The most famous in Northern Ireland is probably Carrickfergus Castle which dates from the early Norman Period. Across the border is the Carlingford Castle, associated with King John, also from the early Norman period.
In addition, the Normans introduced feudalism to Ireland whereby land was sublet from greater lords to lesser lords and knights who in turn relied on peasant labour for their cultivation. Many of the families that became famous in later history of Ireland were Norman knights or Irish chieftains who fought Norman knights.
All in all the period of Norman control of Ireland lasted about 400 years from AD 1169 until well into the 16th century.