WITHOUT doubt, the arrival of the English from 1167 fundamentally transformed the course of Irish history. Indeed, the consequences of Diarmait MacMurrough's decision to seek help from outside Ireland were to be seen most profoundly in Wicklow, culminating in redrawing the entire political landscape.
Prior to 1169, coastal Wicklow was dominated by three Irish kingdoms and the two Viking towns of Wicklow and Arklow with their respective hinterlands. These kingdoms were Ui Briuin Cualann who ruled over by Domnall Mac Gilla Mo-Cholmoc (d.c.1185) in the northeast, the Ua Fergaile kingdom of Forthuatha Laigin (running from Glendalough to the coast) and the Ua Fiachrach kingdom of Ui Enechglaiss extending from the Aughrim region down the Avonmore to outskirts of Viking Arklow. Details of MacMurrough's reconquest with the English of Wicklow between 1169 and 1170 are sparse.
What is known is that MacMurrough in September 1170 brought his armies through the Wicklow mountains to attack Hasculf MacTurkill's Viking city of Dublin – taking it on September 21. The reactions of the Irish kings of Wicklow to these changed political times varied. Some such as the mercurial Domnall Mac Gilla Mo-Cholmoc rode the tiger of conquest, while others such as MacMurrough's deadly enemy Murchadh O'Byrne (based in Shillelagh) resisted – cuminating in his execution by Strongbow at Ferns in 1172.
Moreover, the conqueror's view of the conquered was captured through the prism of Strongbow's treatment of O'Byrne's corpse – feeding it to his hounds.
As for the Irish kings of east Wicklow, the silence of the annals and the chronicles after 1170 is both deafening and damming as to their respective fates. The last entry preserved in the annals to the kings of Ui Enechglaiss and the Forthuatha Laigin was in 1170, telling us that they were at war with each other. Thereafter only silence, indicating that they had been swept aside by the tide of conquest. Indeed, the only other mention in the annals relating to east Wicklow in the early 1170s was the record of a great flood that swept from Glendalough down the Avonmore to the sea at Arklow.
Yet, it is through the charters of the conquerors that we are able to gain insights into the plight and condition of the pre-1170 inhabitants of coastal Wicklow. If we look at the land of Arklow – the lordship of Theobald Walter (d.1205/6) (ancestor of the Butlers) after 1185 – it is clear that some of the Irish has been reduced to servitude.
In a charter before 1199, Theobald Walter granted land to the Cistercian order in an attempt to entice the order to Arklow. The terms of the indenture are illustrative, mentioning that Irishmen and their families would pass with the land, indicating these Irish were considered unfree at law.
A similar situation can be detected in the neighbouring land of Wicklow, there William Marshal (d.1219), lord of Leinster, granted the 12 carucates which Thomas de Rupe held to the abbey of Glendalough 'for the welfare of his soul'. Significantly, the Irish living on these parcels of land was to pass as part of the property.
The subjection of some of the Irish was in contrast to the favour that the English were to display to the descendant of the Vikings. Even though the MacTurkill dynasty of Dublin had vehemently resisted the English conquest in 1170 and 1171; by the middle of the decade several members of the dynasty had been rehabilitated – finding themselves a place in the new order cast up by the conquest. Indeed, Henry II (d.1189) in 1172 granted the Vikings of Waterford the use of English law and liberty – a grant which was subsequently confirmed by Edward I (d.1307).
There is no doubt that English favour to the descendants of Vikings stemmed from their shared ancestry. In effect, this must have raised the local Vikings of Arklow and Wicklow over the majority of their Irish neighbours and their kinsmen. Indeed, the Viking families of east Wicklow would prove the staunchest defenders of the colony as the Irish reconquest gathered momentum in the 13th and 14th centuries.