CHAPTER XI. RETROSPECT OF THE NORMAN PERIOD IN IRELAND - A GLANCE AT THE MILITARY TACTICS OF THE TIMES - NO CONQUEST OF THE COUNTRY IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY.
The distinction made in the courts of the adventurers against natives of the soil, even when long domiciled within their borders, was of itself a sufficient cause of war between the races. In the eloquent letter of the O'Neil to Pope John XXII. - written about the year 1318 - we read, that no man of Irish origin could sue in an English court; that no Irishman, within the marches, could make a legal will; that his property was appropriated by his English neighbours; and that the murder of an Irishman was not even a felony punishable by fine. This latter charge would appear incredible, if we had not the record of more than one case where the homicide justified his act by the plea that his victim was a mere native, and where the plea was held good and sufficient.
A very vivid picture of Hiberno-Norman town-life in those days is presented to us in an old poem, on the "Entrenchment of the Town of Ross," in the year 1265. We have there the various trades and crafts-mariners, coat-makers, fullers, cloth-dyers and sellers, butchers, cordwainers, tanners, hucksters, smiths, masons, carpenters, arranged by guilds, and marching to the sound of flute and tabor, under banners bearing a fish and platter, a painted ship, and other "rare devices." On the walls, when finished, cross-bows hung, with store of arrows ready to shoot; when the city horn sounded twice, burgess and bachelor vied with each other in warlike haste. In time of peace the stranger was always welcome in the streets; he was free to buy and sell without toll or tax, and to admire the fair dames who walked the quiet ramparts, clad in mantles of green, or russet, or scarlet. Such is the poetic picture of the town of Ross in the thirteenth century; the poem itself is written in Norman-French, though evidently intended for popular use, and the author is called "Friar Michael of Kildare." It is pretty evident from this instance, which is not singular, that a century after the first invasion, the French language was still the speech of part, if not the majority, of these Hiberno-Norman townsmen.
So walls, and laws, and language arose, a triple barrier between the races. That common religion which might be expected to form a strong bond between them had itself to adopt a twofold organization. Distinctions of nationality were carried into the Sanctuary and into the Cloister. The historian Giraldus, in preaching at Dublin against the alleged vices of the native Clergy, sounded the first note of a long and bitter controversy. He was promptly answered from the same pulpit on the next occasion by Albin O'Mulloy, the patriot Abbot of Baltinglass. In one of the early Courts or Parliaments of the Adventurers, they decreed that no Monastery in those districts of which they had possession, should admit any but natives of England, as novices, - a rule which, according to O'Neil's letter, was faithfully acted upon by English Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, and regular canons. Some of the great Cistercian houses on the marches, in which the native religious predominated, adopted a retaliatory rule, for which they were severely censured by the general Chapter of their Order. But the length to which this feud was carried may be imagined by the sweeping charge O'Neil brings against "Brother Symon, a relative of the Bishop of Coventry," and other religious of his nation, who openly maintained, he says, that the killing of a mere Irishman was no murder.
When this was the feeling on one side, or was believed to be the feeling, we cannot wonder that the war should have been renewed as regularly as the seasons. No sooner was the husbandman in the field than the knight was upon the road. Some peculiarities of the wars of those days gleam out at intervals through the methodic indifference to detail of the old annals, and reveal to us curious conditions of society. In the Irish country, where castle-building was but slowly introduced, we see, for example, that the usual storage for provisions, in time of war, was in churches and churchyards. Thus de Burgh, in his expedition to Mayo, in 1236, "left neither rick nor basket of corn in the large churchyard of Mayo, or in the yard of the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, and carried away eighty baskets out of the churches themselves." When we read, therefore, as we frequently do, of both Irish and Normans plundering churches in the land of their enemies, we are not to suppose the plunder of the sanctuary. Popularly this seizing the supplies of an enemy on consecrated ground was considered next to sacrilege; and well it was for the fugitives in the sanctuary in those iron times that it should be so considered. Yet not the less is it necessary for us to distinguish a high-handed military measure from actual sacrilege, for which there can be no apology, and hardly any earthly atonement.
In their first campaigns the Irish had one great advantage over the Normans in their familiarity with the country. This helped them to their first victories. But when the invaders were able to set up rival houses against each other, and to secure the co-operation of natives, the advantage was soon equalized. Great importance was attached to the intelligence and good faith of the guides, who accompanied every army, and were personally consulted by the leaders in determining their march. A country so thickly studded with the ancient forest, and so netted with rivers (then of much greater volume than since they have been stripped of their guardian woods), afforded constant occasion for the display of minute local knowledge. To miss a pass or to find a ford might determine a campaign, almost as much as the skill of the chief, or the courage of the battalion.