The Welsh-Norman known as Gerald of Wales (or Geraldus Cambrensis, 1146-1223) failed in his efforts to become bishop of St. David’s in south Wales, but he did use his impressive family connections to produce a series of books—probably written to promote his candidacy for bishop—that form just about the best portrait we have of Ireland in the twelfth century. It is a highly prejudiced portrait (he doesn’t seem to have liked much about the place except its music and—sometimes—its landscape), but out of his extended visits to the island, he wrote The Typography of Ireland (1188) and soon after, perhaps the more important, Conquest of Ireland [Expugnetio Hibernica]. As a member of the de Barry family and a great-grandson of Rhys ap Tewdwr, he seems to have been either the cousin or nephew of just about all the major Norman figures in the invasion, Strongbow excepted. Although not an eyewitness to the invasion (his first visit to Ireland was in 1183), he clearly used family memories in writing his history.

A good example of Gerald’s low opinion of the Irish is his treatment of Dermot. Although the king had enough good sense, in Gerald’s eyes, to seek help from England, he remained a barbarian, which accounts for the bizarre scene of Dermot frolicking with the severed heads of the enemy. And always it is the members of Gerald’s own family who are given the highest and most unabashed praise. “Even if I had ‘a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths and a voice of iron,’” he writes, “I could not relate all their deeds as they deserve. What a breed, what a noble stock.”

HERE BEGINS THE BOOK OF Prophetic History compiled by Gerald of Wales concerning the successful conquest of Ireland

Diarmait Mac Murchada, prince of Leinster and ruler of that fifth part of Ireland, held in our time the eastern seaboard of the island adjacent to Great Britain, with only the sea separating the two. From his earliest youth and his first taking on the kingship he oppressed his nobles, and raged against the chief men of his kingdom with a tyranny grievous and impossible to bear. There was another unfortunate factor. On an occasion when Ua Ruairc king of Meath had gone off on an expedition to far distant parts, his wife, Ua Máelechlainn’s daughter, whom he had left on an island in Meath, was abducted by the aforesaid Diarmait, who had long been burning with love for her and took advantage of her husband’s absence. No doubt she was abducted because she wanted to be and, since “woman is always a fickle and inconstant creature,” she herself arranged that she should become the kidnapper’s prize.

Almost all the world’s most notable catastrophes have been caused by women, witness Mark Antony and Troy. King Ua Ruairc was stirred to extreme anger on two counts, of which however the disgrace, rather than the loss of his wife, grieved him more deeply, and he vented all the venom of his fury with a view to revenge. And so he called together and mustered his own forces and those of neighbouring peoples, and roused to the same purpose Ruaidrí, prince of Connacht and at that time supreme ruler of all Ireland. The men of Leinster, seeing that their prince was now in a difficult position and surrounded on all sides by his enemies’ forces, sought to pay him back, and recalled to mind injustices which they had long concealed and stored deep in their hearts. They made common cause with his enemies, and the men of rank among this people deserted Mac Murchada along with his good fortune ….

Mac Murchada, then, pursued Fortune, that ever elusive goddess, and put his faith in the changeableness of her wheel. His ship ploughed the waves, the wind was favourable, and he came to Henry II, king of England, intending to make an urgent plea for his help. Although Henry was across the seas in the remote region of Aquitaine, occupied with business in the way that princes are, yet withal he received Diarmait kindly and affectionately, and with the courtesy characteristic of his innate nobility and kindly nature. Accordingly, when he had duly heard the reason for his exile and arrival at the court, and had received from him the bond of submission and the oath of fealty, he granted him letters patent in the following terms: “… if any person from within our wide dominions wishes to help in restoring him, as having done us fealty and homage, let him know that he has our goodwill and permission to do this.”

Diarmait returned by way of Great Britain and, although very much honoured and weighed down by gifts, the evidence of the king’s generosity, he was much more elated by expectations aroused than by any concrete result. He travelled to the noble town of Bristol and spent some time there, supported in fitting style at the public expense, in expectation of the chance visit of ships which, coming from Ireland, had often in the past berthed in that port. For he was eager to learn from these the state of affairs in his country and among his own people. And when he had often caused the king’s letter to be read in the hearing of many there, and had made many promises of money and lands to many people, all to no purpose, at last earl Richard lord of Strigoil, son of earl Gilbert, came to speak with him. On that occasion they got so far in their conversation as to give firm undertakings, the earl that he would help in restoring Diarmait the following spring, and Diarmait that he would give his eldest daughter to the earl in marriage, together with the succession to his kingdom.

When these agreements had been concluded fully and in due order as described, Diarmait, much fired by a desire to see his native land, and ever more feeling the pull of that sweet longing which draws all men to their native soil, hastened without delay to southern Wales and the region of St. David’s. This land is separated from Leinster only by the sea which, in the course of a crossing lasting only one day, does not at any time deprive one of the sight of land. At that time Rhys ap Gruffydd was prince in that region under the suzerainty of the king, and David II was bishop of St. David’s [where he met Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald] … A firm agreement was made between them that Diarmait should confer upon Robert and Maurice under grant the city of Wexford with the two adjoining cantreds, and that they should promise their help in restoring him with the arrival of the west winds and the first swallows.


Robert FitzStephen did not forget his promise nor value lightly the pledge he had given. Having made his preparations, he put in at Bannow in three ships about the kalends of May [May 1, 1169], with thirty knights from among his nearest relations and dependants, and also a further sixty men wearing mail, and about three hundred foot-archers from among the military elite of Wales. At that time the celebrated prophecy of Merlin Silvester was clearly fulfilled: “A knight, sprung of two different races, will be the first to break through the defences of Ireland by force of arms.” If you wish to understand the prophet’s riddle, then look back to the original forbears of FitzStephen.

In the same company came Hervey of Montmorency, another fugitive from Fortune, unarmed and destitute, a spy sent in the interest of earl Richard, whose uncle he was, rather than a would-be conqueror of Ireland. When they had disembarked and drawn up their ships on the island of Bannow, a place ill-protected from all sides, they sent messengers to Diarmait. As is usually the way, rumour spread the news of their arrival, and some of those who lived by the coast, who had previously left Diarmait’s side as soon as good fortune deserted him, immediately came flocking back to him again now that that same good fortune was returning. For as the poet says: “Loyalty stands and falls with Fortune.” When Mac Murchada heard of their arrival, he immediately came to them in triumph with about five hundred men. However he sent his natural son Domnall on ahead of him. He was, although illegitimate, a man of great influence among his people. They renewed their agreements, and oaths were given many times over on both sides to ensure the safety of each party. They then joined forces and, with a common purpose and complete agreement uniting the two different races, directed both their gaze and their battle line towards the city of Wexford, which is about twelve miles distant from Bannow. When they heard this, the people of the city came out, about two thousand strong, hitherto unvanquished and with great faith in their long-standing good fortune. They decided to meet the enemy not far from their camp and engage in a trial of strength there. But when they saw the lines of troops drawn up in an unfamiliar manner, and the squadron of knights resplendent with breastplates, swords and helmets all gleaming, they adopted new tactics in the face of changed circumstances, burned the entire suburbs, and immediately turned back and withdrew inside the walls. FitzStephen and his men eagerly made preparations for the assault. They filled the town ditches with armed men, while the archers watched the ramparts from a distance. With a great rush forward and a mighty shout they all with one accord attacked the walls. But the citizens, very quick to defend themselves, straightway hurled down heavy pieces of wood and stones and drove them back some little distance, inflicting severe wounds on many.

Among these invaders a knight, Robert de Barry, exuberant with youthful hot-headedness and bravely scorning the risk of death, had crept up to the walls in front of everyone else, when he was struck by a stone on his helmeted head. He fell from a height into the bottom of the steep ditch, and in the end just managed to escape by being pulled out by his fellow soldiers. After an interval of sixteen years his molar teeth fell out as the result of the impact of this blow and, what was even more amazing, new ones immediately grew in their place.

Withdrawing from the walls and rushing eagerly to the shore nearby, they immediately set fire to all the ships they found there. But there was one ship lying at anchor in the harbour, which had come from Britain to trade, and was laden with wheat and wine. The greater part of the crack fighting men had bravely seized this, rowing out to it in boats. But now the anchor ropes were deliberately cut by the sailors, and as there was a following north wind, which drove the ship out into the open sea and greatly endangered their safety, it was only with difficulty that they reached land again with the aid of small skiffs and oars. So once again Fortune, unvarying only in her inconstancy, had almost deserted Mac Murchada and FitzStephen.

But on the next day, after the whole army had heard Mass solemnly celebrated, they proceeded to the assault better equipped and with their tactics more carefully thought out, supported by their skill as well as by their military strength, and relying on stratagem no less than on straightforward fighting. When they had come up to the walls, the citizens, mistrusting their capacity to defend themselves, and considering that they were acting wrongly in resisting their king, set about discussing peace after messengers were sent to them. So peace was restored through the mediation of two bishops who were in the city at that time, and other men of goodwill acting as peacemakers. The citizens surrendered themselves to Diarmait’s authority and handed over four chosen hostages for their future loyalty to him. He for his part, being eager to encourage his followers, decided to reward the principal among them on the occasion of his first success. He therefore immediately assigned the city with all its lands to FitzStephen and Maurice according to the obligation incurred in the former agreement. To Hervey of Montmorency he assigned under grant the two cantreds which border on the sea and lie between the two cities of Wexford and Waterford.


When all these matters had been settled as they wished, they added the citizens of Wexford to their forces and with an army of about three thousand men turned to attack Osraige [Osory]. Among all those who had rebelled against Diarmait, Domnall prince of Osraige had always been the most hostile. He had actually blinded Diarmait’s oldest son, whom he had long held a prisoner, out of jealous hatred. This crowning injustice was the most severe of all Diarmait’s misfortunes. To begin with they did not penetrate far into Osraige, but even at the very fringe of the area, in places that were restricted, and impassable because of woods and bogs, they found that the men of Osraige were no weaklings in defence of their homeland. They, relying on previous successes, pursued the invaders to a great distance, right out on to the plain. But FitzStephen’s mounted knights turned back on them, and immediately launching a fierce attack, wounded them with their lances as they scattered over the plain, and threw them into confusion, causing considerable slaughter. Groups of Irish foot soldiers immediately beheaded with their large axes those who had been thrown to the ground by the horsemen. In this way the victory was won, and about two hundred heads of his enemies were laid at Diarmait’s feet. When he had turned each one over and recognized it, out of an excess of joy he jumped three times in the air with arms clasped over his head, and joyfully gave thanks to the Supreme Creator as he loudly revelled in his triumph. He lifted up to his mouth the head of one he particularly loathed, and taking it by the ears and hair, gnawed at the nose and cheeks—a cruel and most inhuman act. But after that they several times penetrated to the more remote and innermost parts of the region, vigorously pursuing a policy of slaughter, plunder and burning. At last the prince of Osraige, on the advice of his own supporters, giving hostages and swearing oaths under the terms of a peace treaty which was nevertheless feigned and a pretence on both sides rather than genuine, apparently returned to his loyal obedience to Diarmait.

In these engagements, as in all others, Meiler and Robert de Barry were conspicuous among all the rest by reason of their praiseworthy valour. Now these two young men were both FitzStephen’s nephews, the one his brother’s son, the other his sister’s. Their characters and dispositions were quite different. Only in valour did they nearly resemble each other. For Meiler loved praise and glory, and related all his actions to that end. Whatever could enlarge his reputation, that he was eager to accomplish by every possible means, and he was far more anxious to appear brave than actually to be brave. But the other, whose innate valour brought him great renown, did not demand praise, or pursue popular esteem. He preferred to be the best among those of the first rank rather than merely seeming to be so. Nature had so shaped his disposition that he was a man of maiden-like modesty, neither boastful nor a wordy braggart. He had no desire either to publicize his outstanding achievements or have them praised by others. The result was that, the less he sought fame, so all the more did he win it. For renown follows good qualities like a shadow and, deserting those who seek it, seeks out those who despise it. Indeed many please all the more from the very fact that they scorn to please, and in a wondrous way they win fame while avoiding it.

On one occasion the army was spending the night encamped in and around an old fortification in Osraige, and these two were sleeping beside each other as was their usual custom. Suddenly there were, as it seemed, countless thousands of troops rushing upon them from all sides and engulfing all before them in the ferocity of their attack. This was accompanied by no small din of arms and clashing of axes, and a fearsome shouting which filled the heavens. Apparitions of this sort used to occur frequently in Ireland around military expeditions. At this terrifying spectacle the greater part of the army took to flight and hid, some in the woods, others in the bogs. Only these two immediately rushed to arm themselves and bravely made for FitzStephen’s tent, vigorously calling back their scattered companions to defend him and giving them new courage. In the midst of a general panic of such an order and such vehemence, Robert de Barry was anxiously looking after a sparrow-hawk, so that this bird, which he had with him there as a pet, and which aroused the admiration and envy of many, should not be lost. For among the various indications of his valour, this in particular is often said of him, that no violent attack, even if unexpected, no unforeseen occurrence or sudden event has ever found him despairing and fearful, ignominiously turning tail in flight, or overwhelmed with terror. He has always been found to be self-possessed, quick in defence and ready to take up arms. Assuredly that man is the bravest “who is ready to endure the terrifying if it should threaten him at close quarters, and powerfully to repel it.” In this conquest of Ireland he was the first knight to receive a blow and to be wounded in martial conflict. He was also the first knight in this island to hunt the daughter of Nisus with a tame domesticated sparrow-hawk ….


Mac Murchada now raised his sights to higher things and, now that he had recovered his entire inheritance, he aspired to his ancestral and long standing rights, and determined, by the use of his armed might, to bring under his control Connacht, together with the kingship of all Ireland. And so he met FitzStephen and Maurice secretly to discuss this, and revealed to them in full what was in his mind. They replied that this could easily be accomplished, if he took steps to surround himself with greater numbers of English troops. He then begged them in every way he knew to bring men of their own race and kin into the island in greater numbers, and to set about putting his plan into execution. Finally, the better to persuade them to do this, he offered each of them in turn his first-born daughter with the right of succession to his kingdom. But since at that time both of them had lawful wives, after a great deal of discussion they agreed that as soon as possible he should send messengers to earl Richard [de Clare], whom we mentioned above, and to whom, when he was in Bristol some time before, he had promised to give this same daughter in marriage. They were to carry with them a letter couched in the following terms: “Diarmait Mac Murchada prince of Leinster, greets earl Richard lord of Strigoil, son of earl Gilbert. ‘If you were to reckon aright the days which we in our need are counting, then you would realize that our complaint does not come before its time.’ We have watched the storks and the swallows. The summer migrants have come and, having come, have now returned with the west wind. But neither the east wind nor the west has brought us your presence, which we have so long awaited and desired. So make good your delay by successfully performing what you have promised and, by showing us deeds, ensure that your word appears ‘false only in point of time.’ Already the whole of Leinster has returned to our allegiance. If you come in good time and with strong military support, the other four parts of Ireland will easily be added to the fifth. So your arrival will be welcome, if it is expeditious; it will bring you renown, if it is swift; it will be felicitous, if it is speedy. A renewed display of affection draws a protecting scab over a friendship that has been wounded in some part by neglect. For a friendship is quickly healed by a kindness rendered, and a service graciously performed makes it grow even stronger and more perfect.”…


So having obtained from Henry permission of a sort—for it was given ironically rather than in earnest—after the end of the winter, about the kalends of May [1170], he sent on into Ireland in advance of himself a young man of his own retinue, by name Raymond [leGros], with ten knights and seventy archers. He was a vigorous and sturdy youth, well trained in the use of arms, nephew to both FitzStephen and Maurice by their oldest brother. Putting in to a rock which is called Dundunnolf, about four miles from Waterford and to the south of Wexford, they constructed a somewhat flimsy fortification of branches and sods. But when rumour immediately spread the news of their arrival, the citizens of Waterford, and Máelsechlainn Ua Fáeláin with them, viewed with mistrust the presence of foreigners close by. On taking council together they considered that they must oppose this venture right at the start, and with one accord decided to take up arms against them. So they crossed the river Suir, which divides Desmond from Leinster close by the city walls on the east side, and bravely approached the ditches of the English camp, about three thousand men drawn up in three companies for the assault.

But since it is virtually impossible for valour to be covered up and concealed, for the fires of courage to be quenched, or the spark of virtue to be suppressed and confined, Raymond with his men—conspicuous for their gallantry, though few in number—went out to meet them and engaged them in a most unequal contest. But because such a small force, though an excellent one, could not withstand such large numbers on level ground, they turned back to their camp. In their haste to enter it, they allowed the enemy, who were pursuing them from behind, inside the doors, which had not been completely hung up on their hinges. But when Raymond saw that he and his men were in a difficult position, or rather in the direst straits, he turned bravely to face the enemy, and in the very doorway transfixed with his sword the first to enter. With a loud shout, with this one blow and valiant rally he called his own men back to resume the defence and excited a fearful panic among the enemy. So, since the fortunes of war are always uncertain, those who had seemed to be vanquished suddenly became the victors and pursued the enemy, who had turned back in flight and were now scattered all over the plains, with such a massive slaughter that they killed five hundred and more there and then. And when they stayed their hands that were worn out by striking, countless others were hurled over the high cliffs into the sea. In this action a knight, William Ferrand, distinguished himself by his amazing bravery. He was physically in poor shape, but very stout hearted, for he wished, so it seems, to anticipate by an untimely but glorious death the malign disease of leprosy with which he was threatened.

It was here that the pride of Waterford took a tumble. Here the whole power of the city faded away. This event began the overthrow of a noble city. From it the English derived hope and comfort, their enemies fear and despair. For hitherto it had been unheard of in those parts for such a small force to cause such immense slaughter. But the victors, acting on bad advice, misused their good fortune by displaying deplorable and inhuman brutality. For when their victory was complete, they held seventy of the more important and influential citizens as prisoners in fetters within their camp. They could have received the city itself or a vast sum of money as ransom for these men. However … the citizens were condemned to die, their limbs were broken, and they were consigned to the cliff overlooking the sea.


Meanwhile, having made the necessary preparations for such an important venture, earl Richard passed through the coastal regions of south Wales on his way to St. David’s, and collected together the pick of the fighting men in those parts. When everything needful for a naval expedition on such a scale had been procured and made ready, he embarked at Milford Haven, a following wind filled his sails, and he put in at Waterford with two hundred knights and about a thousand others around the kalends of September, in fact on St, Bartholomew’s eve [actually August 23, 1170].

The seal of Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, alias Strongbow.

Then was fulfilled the saying of Merlin of Celidon: “A torch will precede the fiery pyre, and just as the spark calls forth the torch, so will the torch call forth the pyre.” Likewise too the prophecy of Moling of Ireland: “A great one will come, forerunner of one yet greater. He will trample on the heads of both Desmond and Leinster, and, with forces excellently well-armed, will widen the paths that have already been prepared for him.”

On the following day, when rumour had spread the news of this event, Raymond, greatly rejoicing, went to meet the earl with forty knights. On the morning after the feast, a Tuesday, they joined forces to carry forward to the assault of the city those battle standards which were already menacing its walls. They were twice vigorously repulsed by the citizens and the survivors of the slaughter at Dundunnolf. Then Raymond, who with general assent had now been made leader and commander of the whole army, and put in charge of military operations, noticed a small building which hung down from the town wall on the outside by a beam. He eagerly urged all his men to attack on all sides, and quickly sent in armed men to cut down the aforesaid beam. When it had been cut down, the building immediately collapsed, and with it a considerable part of the wall. The invaders eagerly effected an entry, rushed into the city and won a most bloody victory, large numbers of the citizens being slaughtered in the streets. The two Sitrics were taken in Raghnall’s tower and put to the sword. Raghnall and MáelSechlainn Ua Fáeláin were likewise captured there, but their lives were spared through the intervention of Diarmait, who at that juncture had arrived with Maurice and FitzStephen. A garrison was assigned to the city, and there too Diarmait’s daughter Eva was lawfully wed to the earl. Her father bestowed her on him, and also confirmed the treaty between them. Then all joined forces and turned their standards towards Dublin.


Now Diarmait knew that the citizens of Dublin had called almost all the inhabitants of Ireland to help in its defence and had blocked with armed men all the approach routes round the city, which were wooded and narrow of access. Consequently, being not unmindful of his father’s downfall, he avoided the well wooded terrain and, coming by way of the flanking slopes of the hills of Glendalough, he brought his army intact right up to the city walls. He hated the citizens of Dublin more than all the other inhabitants of Ireland, not without good reason. For in the middle of a large building, where it was their custom to sit as if before the rostra in the forum, they had buried his father, whom they had killed, along with a dog, thus adding insult to injury. Envoys were despatched and there was, first of all, a discussion of peace terms. This was mainly the result of mediation by Laurence of blessed memory, who was at that time the archbishop of Dublin. But while this was taking place, Raymond from one side and from the other that courageous knight Miles de Cogan, together with the young men who were eager for battle and plunder, made an enthusiastic assault on the walls, were immediately victorious, and valiantly overran the city, with considerable slaughter of the inhabitants. But the greater part of them, led by Askulv, went on board ship, taking their most precious belongings, and sailed off to the northern isles ….

The earl spent some days making arrangements about the government of the city and left Miles de Cogan there as governor. Then at the urging of Mac Murchada who, in a spirit of revenge, called to mind ancient feuds, they overran and devastated the territories of Ua Ruairc king of Meath. When the whole of Meath had been ravaged by frequent raids, slaughter and burnings, Ruaidrí king of Connacht, seeing that it was very much his affair “when a neighbour’s wall is ablaze,” sent messages to Diarmait couched in the following terms: “Contrary to the conditions of our treaty you have invited into this island a large number of foreigners. Yet we put up with this with a good grace while you confined yourself within your province of Leinster. But now, since you are unmindful of your oath and without feelings of pity for the hostage you have given, and have arrogantly trespassed beyond the stipulated limits and your ancestral boundaries, you must either restrain the forays of your foreign troops for the future, or else we will send you without fail the severed head of your son.” Diarmait gave a haughty response to this, and added besides that he would not be deflected from his purpose until he had brought under his control Connacht, which belonged to him by ancestral right, together with the kingship of all Ireland. Ruaidrí thereupon became enraged and condemned to death the son whom Diarmait had given him as a hostage.


After all these events had taken place, the clergy of the whole of Ireland was called together at Armagh, and there was a lengthy debate concerning the arrival of the foreigners in the island. In the end the general consensus of opinion settled upon this as the reason: that because of the sins of their own people, and in particular because it had formerly been their habit to purchase Englishmen indiscriminately from merchants as well as from robbers and pirates, and to make slaves of them, this disaster had befallen them by the stern judgement of the divine vengeance, to the end that they in turn should now be enslaved by that same race. For the English, in the days when the government of England remained fully in their hands, used to put their children up for sale—a vicious practice in which the whole race had a part—and would sell their own sons and relations into Ireland rather than endure any want or hunger. So there are good grounds for believing that, just as formerly those who sold the slaves, so now also those who bought them, have, by committing such a monstrous crime, deserved the yoke of slavery. The aforesaid council therefore decided and publicly decreed by common consent that throughout the island Englishmen should be freed from the bonds of slavery and restored to their former freedom ….


… [Commanded by Raymond, the earl’s troops] began to build up their resources again by taking vast quantities of booty, and to re-equip themselves most handsomely with arms and horses. From there they advanced on Lismore. Having plundered and ravaged the city and the territory belonging to it, they brought immense quantities of booty back to Waterford by the coastal route. With this they loaded thirteen ships, some of which had come with them from Waterford, while others they had found in the harbour of Lismore. When they had been waiting there for a west wind for some time, suddenly from the direction of Cork, which lies sixteen miles to the West, thirty-two ships packed with warriors sailed up to attack them.

So a naval battle began, with one side attacking fiercely with stones and axes, while the others put up a vigorous resistance with arrows and metal bolts, of which they had a plentiful supply. At last the men of Cork were beaten, and their leader Gilbert MacTurger was killed by a sturdy youth, by name Philip of Wales. Then Adam of Hereford, who in that place and on that occasion was in command of the picked force of fighting men, added to the number of his ships and sailed victorious to Waterford with his cargo of arms and plunder. Raymond, who chanced to have heard of this encounter, hastened to the area by the coast road, having with him twenty knights and sixty archers. He immediately dislodged Diarmait prince of Desmond from Lismore, where he had gone with a large army to support the men of Cork, and brought back to Waterford with him four thousand head of cattle.

[About this same time, the Irish of those parts made off with booty from the plain of Waterford and went a little way into the woods, and there, at the very edge of the woods, lay concealed in an ambush. The alarm was raised in the city and the garrison sallied out. Meiler was in the forefront, hasty and courageous as ever, and pursued the robbers right into the woodland thickets, with only one mounted companion. But when Meiler himself was about to turn back, the impetuous youth spurring his horse rushed forward, and penetrated right into the interior of the wood. Immediately the said youth was struck down by many blows and hacked to pieces by axes before Meiler’s very eyes. While Meiler was trying in vain to come to his aid—one man against a thousand—and was making an onslaught on the enemy, he was hemmed in by them and seized by the arms on all sides. However this courageous man drew his sword and opened up a way of escape for himself by force of arms, vigorously lopping off here a hand, there an arm, and robbing yet another of his head and shoulders. Although he had three Irish axes stuck in his horse, and two in his shield, he nevertheless returned to the plain unharmed, and rejoined his men.] …


Meanwhile Domnall prince of Limerick began to conduct himself too arrogantly and, displaying a lack of respect as well as treachery, went back on the oath of loyalty which he had taken to the king. Raymond therefore collected together a force of sturdy fighting men, and with a hundred and twenty knight, three hundred archers, and four hundred foot archers, made a bold assault on Limerick around the kalends of October. When they reached the river Shannon, which encircles that noble city and winds its way round it, they found that the river was swift flowing and deep, and formed an intervening obstacle which they could not cross. Consequently the soldiery, who were eager to take booty and win renown, being as it were poised at the waters of Tantalus, could not endure this barrier, so close to their prize, without experiencing a great deal of frustration.

There was present there a sturdy, newly fledged knight, as yet untried in battle, Raymond’s nephew David “the Welshman”—this was his surname rather than a family name, for he was Welsh by race rather than through any family connection—an excellent youth, handsome and tall. He was more impatient of the delay than all the others and, scorning the fearful danger of death in his eagerness for renown, he hurled himself headlong into the swiftly flowing river with its rough and rocky bed. So, working his way on a slanting course against the current, and keeping a watchful eye on the rest of the rippling waves, he was carried safely to the opposite bank on his noble steed, and shouted to his comrades that he had discovered a ford. But he found no one ready to follow him, except for a single knight, by name Geoffrey Judas. So he returned by the same route, but failed to bring that knight safely back with him; for on the way back he was snatched to the bottom and overwhelmed by the violent force of the torrent.

When Meiler, who had come there with Raymond, saw this, he begrudged David the boldness displayed by such a brave deed and the honour he had won by an action so noble and so daring. So mounted on his strong horse, he entered the river with a shout. Fired as he was with a desire to imitate David’s achievement, and in no way held back by the horrifying warning of the knight who had just been drowned, he immediately succeeded in crossing to the other bank, not nervously or timidly, but in a spirit of boldness and daring.

In their efforts to repel, or rather to overpower him, the citizens met him with a hail of stones and missiles, both on the river bank and aiming from the city walls which overhung the bank. But this noble warrior, seeing on one side the fury of the enemy and on the other the raging torrent, warded off the blows with his helmet and shield and bravely held his ground, caught between these two perils and safe from neither. A great noise arose from each side. Thereupon Raymond, who as leader of the army and commander of the troops had stationed himself in the rear detachment, and knew nothing at all of all this, immediately rushed through the middle of the ranks and came to the water’s edge.

When he looked across from the opposite bank and saw that his nephew was in a difficult position and, unaided, was exposed to attack by the enemy’s troops, he was filled with anxiety and shouted out sharply to his men: “Men, we know that you have in your make-up a sturdy natural valour. We have tested your courage in so many difficult situations. Advance now, my men. We have been shown the way, and thanks to the courage of our comrades a stretch of water which hitherto seemed impassable has in fact turned out to be fordable. Let us then follow the man who has shown the way. Let us aid a brave youth who is being overwhelmed by the enemy. Under no circumstances must we allow one who has undertaken this feat to further our common cause to be within an ace of death for want of support, while we look on.” Having spoken, Raymond was the first to plunge into the river, and with the whole army eagerly following him, entrusted himself and his men to fate. So they crossed over without loss, except for two archers and a single knight called Guido, who were drowned. The enemy were driven into the city and Raymond’s men immediately overran the walls, inflicting great slaughter on the townspeople. Victory brought with it possession of the city, and greatly enriched by the booty and gold they had captured, they made up for the dangers they had endured by winning renown and fresh riches.

You must yourself, dear reader, decide which of these men were the most courageous; whether it was he who without any precedent was the first to make the crossing and showed everyone else the way; or he who, following on his example and the fearful warning of a man’s death, succeeded in crossing and, alone, exposed himself to a vast number of the enemy; or he who, following in the wake of both these men, so bravely exposed himself with his whole army to such danger. At this point it seems worth noting that Limerick was taken on the day of Mars (Tuesday), that that same city was relieved on the day of Mars, that Waterford, Wexford and Dublin were all taken on the same day of Mars, and that this did not happen intentionally, but purely by chance. Yet it is neither wonderful nor unreasonable if the business of war is best concluded on the day dedicated to Mars.

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