Knights to remember as village re-enacts Norman conquest 850 years on
The place where Norman knights waded ashore and began the conquest of Ireland is being enlivened again by the spectacle of medieval warriors.
The 850th anniversary of the arrival of the Norman conquerors will be commemorated today at a living history tented village at Carrig-on Bannow in Co Wexford.
A festival is being held to mark the coming of hundreds of warriors aboard three ships that dropped anchor in nearby Bannow Bay at the beginning of May in 1169.
"Among them were 30 knights who were, basically, highly-trained upper-class killing machines," said archaeologist Emmet Stafford, who will give a lecture in the village this evening on the coming of the conquerors.
"I believe what happened in 1169 was one of the most significant events in recorded Irish history."
Two battles involving heavily armed volunteers wearing Norman-style armour will be enacted at the site today.
"While we are currently in a decade of commemorations concerning the fight for independence, this event marks the beginning of the long and difficult relationship between Britain and Ireland," added Wexford-based Emmet Stafford, who lectures on culture and heritage at IT Carlow.
The warriors were invited into Ireland by the ousted king of Leinster, Diarmuid MacMurrough, who promised the Normans vast amounts of land and property if they helped him take back the throne in Leinster. The arriving force was joined by hundreds of Irish warriors who were loyal to MacMurrough.
"MacMurrough thought he was getting the services of a guard dog, but he had in fact hired a wolf," Mr Stafford told the Sunday Independent.
Norman armies that followed those first warriors at Bannow Bay forced the bloody overthrow of the Gaelic and Viking power structures in Ireland, and British rulers then gained supremacy, he said. Wexford remained at the heart of Anglo-Norman Ireland.
The two day-festival, which began yesterday, was organised by a local committee, with local farmers lending their land for the events.
"To this day, around 50pc to 60pc of the population of Co Wexford are descended from the Normans," said John Murphy, one of the organisers. "Three of my grandparents had Norman names - Stafford, Devereux and Sinnott."
Among the many Norman names still plentiful in the county are Power, Furlong, Neville, Lacey, Wall, Harper, Rossiter, French, Walsh, Pettitt and Fleming.
Members of an Enniscorthy re-enactors group will be joined by members of the Fingal Living History Society in today's battles. Film stuntman Jack Gassman has been leading the Horsemen of Eire group in re-enactments during the festival, said Mr Murphy.
Warrior training will be on offer for children who will receive a replica Norman coin for taking part. They will also have a chance to try archery.
Last night, composer Greg French's specially commissioned piece of music for the event was performed by present and former members of the Danescastle National School music group. Strang Hugg, a five-piece band from Normandy, will play a concert tonight with local band Green Road.
The Bannow 1169 Norman Festival is part of a year-long programme of events throughout Co Wexford under the banner 'The Normans Are Here'.