The second largest island in the British Isles is Ireland.
Ireland bears two extensive mountainous regions covering the northern and southern thirds of the land. The northern mountains cover the counties of Donegal and Mayo, while the southern mountains cover the counties of Kerry and Cork. The central land, between the mountain ranges, is a low-lying plain, which holds the majority of the Irish population.
The island’s climate is cool, wet, cloudy, and windy in winter. The climate is livable, but even a single year of unusual cold or heavy rain weakens crops and causes famine.
The Irish people are fierce; many consider them inhuman, a savage, slightly magical, faerie people. The Irish also intermarried with Viking settlers on the east coast. Most Irish or Irish-Vikings are fair of skin, with red or brown hair and slight builds.
Ireland was independent for many centuries. Not even the Romans invaded the island, and Viking raiders could only conquer small coastal areas, establishing port cities, leaving inlands alone. However, the south east coast of Ireland fell to Norman adventurers a mere 40 years ago. Many of the Irish resent English rule (as the kings of Ireland are now subservient to English kings), but the English maintain sufficient troops in Irish cities to forestall rebellion.
Ireland, an island off the western coast of Britain, has the distinction of never having been invaded by the Romans. Consequently, ancient forms of government continued there for much longer than in the rest of Mythic Europe.
Ireland remained a pagan country until St. Patrick arrived in A.D. 432 and began converting the tribes to Christianity. He performed many miracles, and challenged the druids to many contests, winning every one. By his miracles and pious way of life Patrick converted parts of the island.
The early Church in Ireland did not conform to the Roman model of ecclesiastical power, concentrated in the hands of bishops. Rather, early Christian Ireland embraced monasticism, with monastic groups functioning as subkingdoms. The Irish Church also differed from Rome’s in a number of areas, especially in its reckoning of the date of Easter.
Irish monks are accredited with keeping Classical knowledge alive in the west, even as that knowledge died in Gaul and Britain. Furthermore, Irish monks were renowned for their learning, and many traveled throughout Mythic Europe as missionaries. Others founded schools. Indeed, Alcuin was invited to the court of Charlemagne to start a school at Aix-la- Chappele for the Franks. The monks of Ireland also produced beautiful works of religious art, using gold and jewels from mines now lost.
Irish society was ruled by the Ard-ri, or High King, who was elected from one of the four kingdoms of Ireland Ulster in the northeast, Munster in the southwest, Leinster in the southeast, and Connaught in the northwest. Each king ruled over subkings, who ruled clans or Tuaths. The High King was in theory selected from all male relatives, as far as second cousins, but politics and murder often decided who was King. In reality, the High King could only command those kings who decided to offer him loyalty.
The Vikings began raiding Ireland’s rich monasteries in the Ninth Century, but soon settled along the coast in Dublin, Waterford, and Cork. From these cities the Vikings traded, raided, and ruled small landholdings. The Danes never ventured far into the countryside, though, preferring to stay close to the sea. Eventually they mixed with the Irish, and took on local customs, finding their place in Irish society as kings and subkings.
Around the year 1000 an Ard-ri arose in the southern half of Ireland who nearly succeeded in uniting all the kingdoms of the island. Brian Boru did so by taking hostages from all the kings and subkings, forcing them to obey his laws. His error was to restrict the Danes to their coastal enclaves, prompting a rebellion led by Sihtric of Dublin, who was aided by troops from the Orkneys and Leinster. The armies of the High King and rebels met at Clontarf, and most of the leaders of both sides, including Brian Boru, were killed. Sihtric retreated to Dublin, but many Danes took to their ships, leaving Ireland forever.
After Brian Boru the High Kingship never again ruled over a united Ireland.
In fact, a new, foreign leader arose in Ireland. In 1166 Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, was exiled by Rory OConner, the High King of the time. Dermot appealed to Henry II of England to restore his throne, and Henry allowed Richard Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, to gather an army to aid Dermot. Dermot regained his kingdom in 1167 with English help, but wished for the High Kingship. Strongbow married Eva, daughter of Dermot, and continued his campaign, capturing Waterford and but failed to capture Dublin.
When Dermot died in 1171, Strongbow declared himself Dennot’s heir, and entitled to the kingdom of Leinster. The Leinstermen revolted, and Rory OConner besieged Strongbow in Waterford. At the same time, Henry II became suspicious of Strongbow’s plans and attempted to land in Waterford to oversee the conquest for himself. Henry’s fleet was destroyed by a gigantic storm.
It was St. Finbarr who founded a monastery at Cork, in the marshes of Southern Ireland in the Seventh Century. The monastery was plundered many times by the Vikings, who eventually settled to trade with the Irish clans of the interior. Cork remained a Danish port until A.D. 1150, when Dermot McCarthy, lord of Desmond, expelled the Vikings.
Cork, as the southernmost city of the Irish Kings, must be continually on the alert for raiding parties from the Normans/English. The Irish, by tradition, do not fight pitched battles or sieges, but rather raid roads and towns, carrying off cattle and goods. Traders prefer to sail to Cork from other Irish cities, as raids often close the roads to Waterford.
Dublin remains Ireland’s foremost city and port, status it has enjoyed since the time of the Vikings. Dublin was founded by Norse raiders in the Ninth Century as a base for both raids and colonization.
It was sieged in A.D. 1170 by Richard Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, who was invited to Ireland by King Dermot MacMorrough of Leinster to aid the King in his fight with Rory OConner, High King of Connaught. The siege failed.
Like Cork and Dublin, Waterford was founded by the Danes in the Ninth Century, and was a base for raids and colonization. Waterford was captured by Richard Strongbow in A.D. 11 70. There he married Eva, daughter of King Dermot MacMorrough, his ally and host. Henry declared Waterford a royal town, directly controlled by the King of England. It is now the primary town for the Normans/English.