Anglo Norman Ireland

The Norman conquest of England eventually had repercussions for Ireland. The English pope Adrian had authorised the English king to proclaim the truths of Christianity ‘to a rude and barbarous people’; without his intervention the Irish church was already reformed under Malachi. The four-part division of the Irish church was set in place, Armagh was confirmed as the prime Christian centre and the Cistercian monks were introduced into Ireland where the remains of their magnificent buildings can still be seen. An inter-dynastic row lead to an invitation to the English king Henry 11 to intervene in Ireland and an invasion ensued through the east coast county town of Wexford, already a Viking town. This intervention was the first step in a colonisation of Irish society by the Anglo-Normans, through the English crown. The key moment in this complex intermingling is depicted in Daniel Maclise’s superb nineteenth century painting The marriage of Strongbow and Aoife. Henry exercised what he chose to see as a pre-existing English title to Ireland through a papal Bull Laudibiliter and a process of colonisation began.

The key text of the coloniser here is that of Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerald of Wales. Soon the Normans fortified their sites with their distinctive architecture. By 1199, under King John, they had consolidated their hold on many locations, particularly in the north and east. The de Courceys and De Lacys extended into Down and Antrim, though they were held back from what is now called mid and west Ulster by the 0’ Neills.
These Normans had originally come from Normandy in Northern France but arrived in Ireland through what was now English conquest; they had consolidated themselves as a forward party through conquering the harsh borderlands of 'Celtic’ North Wales. The Normans proceeded systematically, but the Shannon essentially acted as a divide beyond which their conquest did not succeed.

Dublin Castle was constructed as a king’s treasury in Ireland as the centre of a new polity. The conquest was however weakened by the limited numbers who moved in, and by practices of intermarriage and ‘going native’. The Statutes of Kilkenny attempted to halt this assimilation by proscribing the Irish language, Irish dress, music, customs and practices but they were only partially successful. The Crown was forced to rule Ireland through the major Anglo Norman families- the Fitmaurices, the FitzGeralds, the Ormondes and the Desmonds. Over time they became a Hiberno- Norman aristocracy, separate yet deeply integrated into a range of aspects of Irish society, even as they acted as ostensibly the king’s men in Ireland. This was to have dangerous and precarious consequences particularly for the FitzGeralds of Kildare as they dangerously implicated themselves in English Royal Dynastic politics in what they saw as the Kingdom of Ireland. This left them vulnerable to attack under Henry VIII, when Thomas Cromwell pushed for the integration of the Irish colony in actuality, rather than simply in name.

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