Normans

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Ireland’s wealth of valuable historical sites are in danger. Every day they’re under attack from the elements, from neglect, from developers, from public apathy or ignorance, and from misuse by landowners. It’s time to face the fact that many may not be there for the next generation.

Coolbanagher Castle last year, and immediately after the storm on February 17. (photos courtesy of Laois Archaeology)

Coolbanagher Castle last year, and immediately after the storm on February 17. Photos courtesy of Laois Archaeology

2014 has shown us two extreme examples of these dangers as first the severe winter storms eroded the cliffs beneath Dúnbeg Fort in Co. Kerry, resulting in large parts of the structure’s defensive wall falling into the sea, and then the storms caused part of Coolbanagher Castle in Co. Laois to collapse. After that partial collapse, the rest of the castle was completely demolished, although the circumstances of the decision and the identities of those who undertook the demolition are unclear at the time of writing. Read the rest of this entry »

There are several stories and rumors concerning the death of Hugh de Lacy, the first Norman Lord of Meath. 

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Norman view of warfare (from the Bayeux Tapestry)

The less-colorful tale holds that he died in 1186 after being hit by falling masonry while inspecting work at Durrow. The more-colorful and nationalistic version credits a young stone mason with an opportunistic ambush. While inspecting work on the former abbey at Durrow — once the foremost early Irish university in the early days of the Brehon laws — de Lacy was distracted and bending over to peer at some stonework. A young stone mason, a local man, pulled a battle ax from beneath his tunic and quickly cut the lord’s head from his body. The mason then escaped into nearby woods, and presumably was a hero to the native Irish.

De Lacy’s body then became a literal bone of contention between the natives and the Norman forces, and it was almost a decade later, 1195, before the Normans finally secured his remains and removed them to Bective Abbey, where his body was finally laid to rest. His head was later brought to Dublin and interred with his wife in the Abbey of St. Thomas.

But things still may not be as simple as they appear. Hugh was rumored to have ordered a crown and been making plans to declare himself King of Ireland at the time of his death — introducing the possibility that his assassin may not have been an Irish rebel at all, but was possibly acting on Henry II‘s orders.

With this rumor in mind, King John’s alarm at seeing Hugh’s son Walter harboring enemies of the crown in 1210, which motivated John’s marching on Trim at the head of his army, is a little more understandable. You can read John’s action as decisively moving against a potential rival, and less as the act of an insecure king. John may have felt the possibility of a rival Norman king setting himself up in Ireland was once again in danger of becoming reality, and acted quickly to nip that eventuality in the bud.

Two decades after his death, the specter of Hugh de Lacy still seems to have cast a long shadow across the Irish Sea.

 

 

Salt is essential to human survival. In Central Europe, the Celts were among the very the first salt miners, and grew wealthy from establishing an international salt trade. So, where did the early Irish get their salt?

Sea Salt after the water has evaporated in a natural salt pan

Sea Salt after the water has evaporated
in a natural salt pan.
(credit: Devar via cc license on Flickr)

There’s a fascinating chapter on Celtic salt miners and the European salt trade in general in Mark Kurlansky’s excellent book, Salt: A World History. He details how the Celts were innovators, who realized the importance of salt, and developed the means to mine it successfully in the Alps and other central European locations. They became very wealthy through the international salt trade, and their traders travelled all the way to the Middle East, North Africa, and China.

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