CHAPTER V. FROM THE RETURN OF HENRY II. TO ENGLAND TILL THE DEATH OF EARL RICHARD AND HIS PRINCIPAL COMPANIONS.
The Ard-Righ Roderick, during the period of Henry the Second's stay in Ireland, had continued west of the Shannon. Unsupported by his suffragans, many of whom made peace with the invader, he attempted no military operation, nor had Henry time sufficient to follow him into his strongholds. It was reserved for this ill-fated, and, we cannot but think, harshly judged monarch, to outlive the first generation of the invaders of his country, and to close a reign which promised so brightly at the beginning, in the midst of a distracted, war-spent people, having preserved through all vicissitudes the title of sovereign, but little else that was of value to himself or others.
Among the guests who partook of the Christmas cheer of King Henry at Dublin, we find mention of Tiernan O'Ruarc, the lord of Breffni and East-Meath. For the Methian addition to his possessions, Tiernan was indebted to his early alliance with Roderick, and the success of their joint arms. Anciently the east of Meath had been divided between the four families called "the four tribes of Tara," whose names are now anglicized O'Hart, O'Kelly, O'Connelly, and O'Regan. Whether to balance the power of the great West-Meath family of O'Melaghlin, or because these minor tribes were unable to defend themselves successfully, Roderick, like his father, had partitioned Meath, and given the seaward side a new master in the person of O'Ruarc. The investiture of Hugh de Lacy by King Henry with the seignory of the same district, led to a tragedy, the first of its kind in our annals, but destined to be the prototype of an almost indefinite series, in which the gainers were sometimes natives, but much oftener Normans.
O'Ruarc gave de Lacy an appointment at the hill of Ward, near Athboy, in the year 1173, in order to adjust their conflicting claims upon East-Meath. Both parties naturally guarded against surprise, by having in readiness a troop of armed retainers. The principals met apart on the summit of the hill, amid the circumvallations of its ancient fort; a single unarmed interpreter only was present. An altercation having arisen, between them, O'Ruarc lost his temper, and raised the battle-axe, which all our warriors carried in those days, as the gentlemen of the last century did their swords; this was the signal for both troops of guards to march towards the spot. De Lacy, in attempting to fly, had been twice felled to the earth, when his followers, under Maurice Fitzgerald and Griffith, his nephew, came to his rescue, and assailed the chief of Breffni. It was now Tiernan's turn to attempt escaping, but as he mounted his horse the spear of Griffith brought him to the earth mortally wounded, and his followers fled. His head was carried in triumph to Dublin, where it was spiked over the northern gate, and his body was gibbeted on the northern wall, with the feet uppermost. Thus, a spectacle of intense pity to the Irish, did these severed members of one of their most famous nobles remain exposed on that side of the stronghold of the stranger which looks towards the pleasant plains of Meath and the verdant uplands of Cavan.
The administration of de Lacy was now interrupted by a summons to join his royal master, sore beset by his own sons in Normandy. The Kings of France and Scotland were in alliance with those unnatural Princes, and their mother, Queen Eleanor, might he called the author of their rebellion. As all the force that could be spared from Ireland was needed for the preservation of Normandy, de Lacy hastened to obey the royal summons, and Earl Richard, by virtue of his rank of Marshal, took for the moment the command in chief. Henry, however, who never cordially forgave that adventurer, first required his presence in France, and when alarmed by ill news from Ireland, he sent him back to defend the conquests already made, he associated with him in the supreme command - though not apparently in the civil administration - the gallant Raymond le gros. And it was full time for the best head and the bravest sword among the first invaders to return to their work - a task not to be so easily achieved as many confident persons then believed, and as many ill-informed writers have since described it.