Nearly a hundred years before William Rufus once stood on the cliffs of Wales, and cried, as he looked across the waters towards Ireland, "For the conquest of that land I will gather together all the ships of my kingdom, and will make of them a bridge to cross over." The story was carried to a king of Leinster, who listened thoughtfully. "After so tremendous a threat as that," he asked, "did the king add, if the Lord will?" Being told that Rufus used no such phrase, "Since he trusts to do this by human power, not divine," said the shrewd Irishman, "I need not greatly dread his coming." Prophecies which passed from mouth to mouth in Ireland declared that the island should not be conquered till very shortly before the great Day of Judgment. Even in England men commented on the fact that while the Romans had reached as far as the Orkneys, while Saxons and Normans and Danes had overrun England, Ireland had never bowed to foreign rule. The Northmen alone had made any attempt at invasion; but within the fringe of foreign settlements which they planted along the coast from Dublin to Limerick, the various Irish kingdoms maintained themselves according to their ancient customs, and, as English tribes had done before in Britain, waged frequent war for the honour of a shifting and dubious supremacy. The island enjoyed a fair fame for its climate, its healthfulness, its pasturage, its fisheries; English chroniclers dwelt on "the far-famed harbour of Dublin, the rival of our London in commerce," and told of ships of merchandise that sailed from Britanny to Irish ports, and of the busy wine trade with Poitou. Ireland alone broke the symmetry of an empire that bordered the Atlantic from the Hebrides to Spain, and the fame of empire had its attractions for the heirs of the Norman conquerors. Patriotic and courtly historians remembered that their king was representative of Gerguntius, the first king of Britain who had gone to Ireland; the heir of Arthur, to whom Irish kings had been tributary; the ruler over the Basque provinces, from whence undoubtedly the Irish race had sprung. To fill up what was lacking in these titles, he was proclaimed lord and ruler by a yet clearer divine right, when in 1155 John of Salisbury brought to him from Rome a bull, by which the English Pope, Hadrian IV., as supreme lord of all islands, granted Ireland to the English king, that he might bring the people under law, and enlarge the borders of the Church.

From the beginning, indeed, there rested on the unhappy country a curse which has remained to the present moment. The invasion of the Ostmen was the first of a series of half-conquests which brought all the evils of foreign invasion with none of its benefits. In England the great rivers and the Roman roads had been so many highways by which the Scandinavians had penetrated into the heart of the country. But in Ireland no road and no great river had guided the invader onwards past morass and bog and forest. While the great host of the Danish invaders swooped down over England and Gaul, the pirates that sailed to Ireland had only force to dash themselves on the coast, and there cling cautiously to guarded settlements. They settled as a race apart, as unable to mix with the Irish people as they were powerless to conquer them. No memory as in England of a common origin united them, no ties of a common language, no sense of common law or custom, or of a common political tradition. The strangers built the first cities, coined the first money, and introduced trade. But they were powerless to affect Irish civilization. The tribal system survived in its full strength, and Ireland remained divided between two races, two languages, two civilizations in different stages of progress, two separate communities ruled by their own laws, and two half-completed ecclesiastical systems, for the Danish Church long looked, as the Irish had never done, to the Archbishop of Canterbury as their head. Earnest attempts had already been made by Hadrian's predecessor to bring the Irish into closer connection with the see of Rome. In 1152 a papal legate had carried out a great reform by which four archbishops, wholly independent of Canterbury and receiving their palls from Rome, were set over four provinces. But still no Peter's Pence were paid to Rome; Roman canon law, Roman ritual, the Roman rules of marriage, had no authority; the Roman form of baptism was replaced by a tradition which made the father dip his new-born child three times in water, or, if he were a rich man, in milk; there was no payment of tithes; clerks were taxed like laymen when a homicide occurred; Irish nobles still demanded hospitality from religious houses, and claimed, according to ancient custom, provisions from towns on Church domains. Hadrian himself had long been interested in Irish affairs. The religious houses which the Irish maintained in Germany kept up communication with Pope and Emperor; an Irish abbot at Nuremberg was chaplain to the Emperor Frederick; one of Hadrian's masters at Paris had been a monk from the Irish settlement in Ratisbon, and as Pope he still remembered the Irish monk with warm affection. When he was raised to the Papacy in the very year of Henry's coronation, one of his first cares was to complete the organization of Christendom in the West by bringing the Irish Church under Catholic discipline.