Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Great ‘What If’. What if Edward Bruce had succeeded in Ireland ?

by Arthur Russell

The early years of England’s King Edward II reign were dogged by many difficulties. First he had to fight his barons who wanted to increase their own power at the expense of Royal power. Of even more significance, he had inherited a disastrous war with Robert Bruce in Scotland arising from his father’s claim (Edward I, nicknamed “Longshanks”) to the throne of Scotland. This was effectively ended with the decisive battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which was a defeat for English arms.

King Edward’s Scottish troubles did not end with Bannockburn. The victorious Bruce had been invited by an alliance of Irish chieftains to take over the vacant throne of Ard-Rí and felt strong enough to do just that in hopes of opening a second war front against the English by forming a pan Celtic alliance which he hoped would attract support not just from Ireland but from dissident elements in Wales. There was much talk of a “Celtic Empire of the West” which potentially would have created a strong counterbalance to the still embryonic power of London and a future British Empire.

On May 26th 1314, a huge army of Scottish soldiers (gallowglasses) landed at Larne in Co Antrim under the leadership of Bruce’s younger brother Edward, the man chosen to assume the title of Ard-Rí (High King). For over 3 years, the Scottish invasion defeated every effort of the English colonists to resist them. Among the English who fought him were Justiciar Edward deBoteler and Sir Roger Mortimer, Earl of Wigmore, who was also Lord of Trim by virtue of his marriage to a scion of the deLacy’s. Mortimer was lucky to escape from the Scots after the decisive battle of Kells in November 1315 which left the whole of Ireland, with the exception of the city of Dublin and a few castled towns; under the control of the invader. Edward Bruce was crowned Ard-Rí of Ireland at Knocknamellan, near Dundalk, in May 1316.

The weather played a vital role in the progress of war. Not for the first (or last!) time, North Western Europe was hit by a succession of wet and windy Summers which impacted on the ability of the land to produce enough to feed the population. Add to this the impact of a hungry invading army intent on starving all opposition into compliance; it created the ideal environment for famine and famine related pestilence that ravaged most of Ireland during those turbulent years. It meant that Bruce could never move too far away from his northern base which was supplied from Scotland. It also caused many Irish allies to blame the Scots for most of the damage that was being done to Ireland’s food supply and to withhold their support for his cause. Bruce’s Gaelic allies also failed to win Papal recognition for the newly crowned Ard-Rí, which further eroded support for the invasion.

The war dragged on until 1318 when the English King finally put together the men and resources to roll back the Scottish advance. Sir Roger Mortimer landed with a huge army at Youghal and succeeded in pinning the Scots back into Ulster where they awaited the arrival of promised reinforcements from King Robert later in the year. The next battle would decide the fate of the invasion and Ireland for centuries. Against all the advice of all his own commanders as well his remaining Irish allies; Bruce insisted on taking to the field at Faughart near Dundalk on October 14th 1318, days before his brother’s army, which had by then arrived in Ireland, could help him. Due to rivalry that existed between the brothers, Edward wanted to win this last deciding battle without Robert’s help. Seriously outnumbered, the Scots were defeated.

Edward Bruce and many leading Scottish nobles were killed at the battle of Faughart.

This battle was the end of Scotland’s interest in Irish affairs and the dream of a strong alliance of Celtic nations that could challenge England’s hegemony. Sir Roger Mortimer, who is rightly credited with being the main architect of the defeat of the Bruces’ invasion of Ireland, subsequently went on to play a significant part in England’s history. (Ref – ‘The Greatest Traitor’ by Ian Mortimer).

The Great what ifs
- What if Edward had waited for his brother at Faughart? What if he had won and succeeded in establishing a strong Irish Royal dynasty allied to Scotland? How different would subsequent Irish, Scottish and English history have been?

Gaelic Ireland

The Bruce invasion of Ireland provides the historical backdrop to the novel ‘Morgallion’ which takes its title from the marchland barony of the same name. It was here that the remains of an ancient lake or “crannóg” settlement was uncovered 20 years ago beside Moynagh Lough in Co Meath. This site was subject of an extensive archaeological excavation led by John Bradley from the National University of Ireland Maynooth, who traced its origins to Neolithic times; and its continued development right into the Middle Ages. Moynagh’s crannóg Gaelic community was therefore on the frontier of Norman-English and Gaelic cultures after the Norman invasion, and inevitably had to endure all the inherent dangers and traumas that living in such a precarious location entailed.

It is also on record that Edward Bruce’s invading army occupied the nearby caput town of Nobber for several weeks on his way to his victory over Sir Roger Mortimer at the battle of Kells in November 1315. In common with every other district in the front-line of the invading army’s advance, its people suffered dreadfully from famine, disease and the ravages of war.

These are some of the “pegs” of historical fact on which the story of ‘Morgallion’ hangs. While it is fiction, it portrays how the lives of ordinary people might have been impacted by events that washed over and around them. The book is an attempt to put some ‘flesh on the bones’ of what scant historic records tell us. The research and writing of the book began twenty years ago and was finally brought to completion in April 2012.

More information on the book and the context of its story, can be found on the website ‘’.

Author of ‘Morgallion’ – Arthur Russell

Arthur Russell is a native of Nobber, Co Meath, Ireland, where he grew up on his father’s farm beside Moynagh Lough and its recently discovered crannog settlement, which features in his book ‘Morgallion’.

By profession he is an Agriculturalist and since 1972 has worked extensively in many parts of Ireland. Since 1992 he has worked professionally in a number of Eastern European and Former Soviet Union countries. He has just completed a three year support project funded by the European Union with the Ministry of Agriculture in Ashgabad, Turkmenistan. He lives with his wife Mary, in Navan, Co Meath. They have four children and three grandchildren.

‘Morgallion’ is his first book.

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