The Song of Dermot and the Earl (or Le Chansun de Dermot et li Quenis), written in Old French, may have been the work of Morice Regan, an Irish poet and scribe in Dermot’s court. He was traditionally credited with writing it within three years of the invasion, but more recent scholarship seems to suggest that the long poem was written perhaps as late as 1225 by a Norman, probably a monk, who had spent some time in Ireland and may have had access to an older rhymed account. Whoever the author, the poem remains, after Gerald of Wales’s Conquest, our most important glimpse of the arrival of the Normans.

At a time when history tended to deal only with highborn men, Le Chansun contains at least one brief portrait of a lowborn woman. Alice of Abervenny, a Welsh widow or camp follower, performs an especially grisly task, probably because the Normans thought that to die at the hands of a female executioner would be especially insulting to the Irish.

Another notable point is Strongbow’s surprising willingness to swear allegiance to the Irish high king, Rory O’Connor, under the proper conditions. Late in the story—after Robert Fitz Stephen’s capture by the Irish—Strongbow sends the archbishop of Dublin, the future saint Laurence O’Toole (or Lorcan Ua Tuathail), to the high king offering a deal, but Rory turns him down.


I wish to tell of King Dermot
How he delivered Wexford
To a noble baron,
The son of Stephen, Robert the baron [Robert FitzStephen].
And Maurice the son of Gerald [Maurice FitzGerald]
Fortified himself at Carrick,
By the permission and by the desire
Of Dermot, the potent king.

Then soon afterwards
Earl Richard [de Clare, i.e. Strongbow] sent over
Some of his men to Ireland,
With nine or ten of his barons.
The first was Raymond le Gros,
A bold and daring knight.
At Dundonuil they landed
Where they then constructed a fort
By the permission of the rich king
Dermot, who was so courteous.
There Raymond le Gros remained
With his knights and barons.
Then he plundered the territory,
Took and killed the cows.
But the men of Waterford
And of Ossory likewise
Assembled their hosts;
Against Dundonuil they resolved to go
In order to attack the fort.
They think surely to shame the English.
Donnell O’Phelan of the Decies,
And O’Ryan of Odrone,
And all the Irish of the country
Surrounded the fort.
By estimation the Irish were
As many as three or four thousand;
Raymond and his men
Were not more than a hundred.
They drove the cows into the fort
By the counsel of Raymond.
The men of Waterford
Came very fiercely
To demolish the fort;
They think to disgrace the English.


Raymond speaks to his men:—
“Sir barons, hearken to me.
You see your enemies coming
Who have resolved to attack you.
It is more honourable for you here
Than within to be killed or taken.
Come now, do you all arm yourselves,
Knights, sergeants, and archers;
Thus shall we place ourselves in open field
In the name of the Almighty Father.”

By the advice of Raymond le Gros,
Resolved to sally from the gates
In order to charge the Irish.
The cows were scared
At the men who were armed;
And owing to the tumult that they made
The cows all in front
By force and by strength
Sallied forth at the gate.
This was the first company
That sallied from the fort, I trow.
Upon the Irish they rushed
In a short space, in a few moments.
The Irish could not stand against them:
They were forced to separate;
And Raymond with his English
Threw himself amid the Irish.
Wherefore they were divided,
The Irish were discomfited,
So that the last company
Fled away through this fright.
There they were discomfited
All the Irish of this district.
On the field a thousand were left
Vanquished, killed, wounded, or taken,
By the force and by the strength
That the good Jesus created against them
And through dread and through fear
They were enfeebled that day.
Of the Irish there were taken
Quite as many as seventy.
But the noble knights
Had them beheaded.

To a wench they gave
An axe of tempered steel,
And she beheaded them all
And then threw their bodies over the cliff,
Because she had that day
Lost her lover in the combat.
Alice of Abervenny was her name
Who served the Irish thus.
In order to disgrace the Irish
The knights did this.
And the Irish of the district
Were discomfited in this way.
To their country they returned
Outdone and discomfited:
To their country they returned
Discomfited and outdone ….


According to the statement of the old people,
Very soon afterwards Earl Richard [Strongbow]
Landed at Waterford.
Full fifteen hundred men he brought with him.
On the eve of St. Bartholomew
Did the earl land.
The most powerful persons in the city
Were called Ragnald and Sedro.
On St. Bartholomew’s day,
Earl Richard, the prudent,
Took by assault and won
The city of Waterford.
But there were many killed there
Of the citizens of Waterford
Before that it was won
Or taken by assault against them.
When the earl by his power
Had taken the city,
The earl immediately sent word
To King Dermot by messenger
That he had come to Waterford
And had won the city,
That the rich king should come to him
And should bring his English.
King Dermot speedily
Came there, be sure, right royally.
The king in his company
Brought there many of his barons,
And his daughter he brought there;
To the noble earl he gave her.
The earl honourably
Wedded her in the presence of the people.
King Dermot then gave
To the earl, who was so renowned—
Leinster he gave to him
With his daughter, whom he so much loved,
Provided only that he should have the lordship
Of Leinster during his life.
And the earl granted
To the king all his desire.
Then they turned aside
The king and Earl Richard.
Raymond le Gros joined them,
A bold and daring knight,
And Maurice de Prendergast
Likewise, as I hear;
For with the earl, of a truth,
He had returned, as people say.
By the advice of the earl
The warrior had returned.
At this council in sooth
Was Meiler the son of Henry,
And many a brave knight
Whose names I cannot mention.
There all the brave knights
Proceeded to advise
That they should go straight to Dublin
And should assault the city.
Then the king departed
Towards Ferns with his English.
He caused his men to be summoned
Everywhere and in great force.
When they were all assembled,
Towards Waterford they set out directly.
Earl Richard then gave
The city in charge of his men:
In Waterford he then left
A portion of his followers.
Then they turned towards Dublin
The king and the renowned earl.


Now all the pride of Ireland
Was at Clondalkin in a moor [in Wicklow],
And the king of Connaught
Was at Clondalkin at this time.
In order to attack the English
He divided his troops.
They plashed the passes everywhere
In order to obstruct the English,
So that in fact they should not come
To Dublin without hostility.
And King Dermot was warned
By a scout whom he had sent
That the Irish were in front
About 30,000 strong.
King Dermot sent to ask
The earl to come to parley with him.
The earl speedily
Came promptly to the king.
“Sir Earl,” thus spake the king,
“Hearken to me at this time:

Figure 1. Sometimes called the Tanderagee Idol for the bog near Newry where it was supposedly found, this Iron Age stone Figure is now displayed in the Protestant cathedral in Armagh, not far from what was traditionally thought to be the grave of Brian Boru. Because of the curious way the Figure holds his arm, some think he may represent Nuadu, king of the mythical De Dannan, who lost an arm in battle and replaced it with a magical silver one. Courtesy Fran Monson.

Figure 2. Dun Aengus, set high on a cliff on Inishmore in the Aran Islands, off the Galway coast, was hailed by nineteenth-century Irish antiquarians as “the most magnificent barbaric monument now extant in Europe.” The huge stone structure, dating back to the Iron Age, was traditionally thought to have been built by the mythical Fir Bolgs after their defeat at the First Battle of Moirura, fought near Sligo. Long assumed to be a fort(dun), some archaeologists now suspect that because of its location (what’s it defending?) and lack of drinking water, its purpose may have been more ceremonial than military. Courtesy the Irish Tourist Board.

Figure 3. In a scene similar to this, the young son of the king of Cooley killed a neighbor’s dog. Conscience-stricken, the boy began calling himself Cuchulain, a variation of the animal’s name. Thereafter, throughout his violent life, he was frequently and sometimes affectionately called “Little Hound.” This early twentieth-century illustration by Arthur Rackham, although not specifically depicting Cuchulain, is from James Stephens’Irish Fairy Tales.

Figure 4. A coronation in Tyconnell (Donegal). This page, from a thirteenth-century manuscript copy of Gerald of Wales’s twelfth-century Typography of Ireland, shows, on the left, a white mare slaughtered before being boiled in a pot. On the right, the new king (in a bath) and his court devour the sacrifice. Courtesy the National Library of Ireland.

Figure 5. The Hill of Tara in County Meath, where the high king (ard ri) was traditionally proclaimed, is composed of two small ring forts (raths) surrounded by a much larger ring called the royal enclosure. Also included on the hilltop, which has archaeological remains dating back to the second millennium B.C., are a burial mound (in the foreground) and indications of a banqueting hall resembling the one that appears in “The Second Battle of Moytura.” The rath to the left is often regarded—without a great deal of supporting evidence—as being the coronation site.

Figure 6. Viking ships in Irish waters came first alone to pillage, then in fleets to conquer and to establish trading posts that grew into Norse city-states with names such as Dublin and Limerick. Artist unknown.

Figure 7. A re-creation of a Viking settlement in the Irish National Heritage Park.

Figure 8. The Rock of Cashel in the ancient kingdom of Munster bears the ruins of a twelfth- and thirteenth-century cathedral and a round tower. Tucked into the southern (left-hand) corner of the building is Cormac’s Chapel, the oldest Romanesque church in Ireland. As an act of defiance against the O’Neills and the North, Brian Boru had himself crowned high king at Cashel rather than at Tara. Courtesy the Irish Tourist Board.

Figure 9. Norse graffiti: A picture of a man high in the rigging of a Viking ship, scratched onto a plank unearthed at Wood Quay, the site of Dublin’s earliest Viking settlement.

Figure 10. Ships in Dublin’s harbor replenishing supplies for the English army in 1393. Artist unknown.

Figure 11. The death of Brian Boru while praying in his tent at the battle of Clontarf in 1014, as imagined by the early nineteenth-century engraver Edward Finden. Brian, high king of Ireland, was battling a combined army of Vikings, Dublin-based Norsemen, and Irish rivals from the Kingdom of Leinster. Courtesy the Bridgeman Art Library.

Figure 12. The silver Gundestrup Cacldron was Viking booty probably seized in lreland in the ninth century and taken back to Denmark, where in was later discovered. Recently some scholars have suggested that its detailed design may represent a cattle raid (lain), such as the legendary one at Cooley, and that it may show scenes from that life of Cuchulain, the mythical hero of the Cattle Raid of Cooley (The Tain), the story ofthat raid. Courtesy Erich Lessing/Art Resource.

Draw up your men in ranks
And marshal your sergeants.
We shall now go by the mountain
On the hard field and on the open ground;
For the woods are plashed
And the roads trenched across,
And all our enemies of Ireland
Are before us in a moor.”

The earl then summoned
All the brave knights.
Miles came to him, first of all,
A noble and brave warrior:
Miles had the name de Cogan
And his body was bold and burly.
He was at the head in front
With seven hundred English soldiers;
And Donnell Kavanagh likewise
Remained with these men.
And then afterwards Raymond le Gros
With about eight hundred companions.
In the third company the rich king
With about a thousand Irish.
And Richard, the courteous earl,
Had with him three thousand English.
In this company there were about
Four thousand vassals, I trow.
In the rear-guard the king
Had the Irish drawn up in ranks.
They were all well armed,
The renowned English barons.
By the mountain did the king
Guide the English host that day.
Without a battle and without a contest
They arrived at the city.
Moreover the city was that day
Taken beyond gainsaying:
The day of St. Matthew the Apostle
The city of Dublin was burning.

City of Dublin coat of arms


When the Irish saw this
That King Dermot was come
And the earl also
With all his English troops,
And that the illustrious liege barons
Had surrounded the city,
The king of Connaught [Rory O’Connor, high king]
   went away
Without a word at this time,
And the Irish from this district
To their country departed.
Hasculf MacTorkil, the deceiver [Viking king of Dublin],
Remained in the city that day,
In order to defend the city
Of which he was acknowledged
Sire, lord, and defender,
Through all the country.
Outside the walls of the city
Was the king encamped;
While Richard, the good earl,
Who was lord of the English,
Remained with his English
And with King Dermot himself.
Nearest to the city
Was Miles encamped,
The good Miles de Cogan
Who was afterwards lord of Mount Brandon [in Dingle],
Which is the wildest spot,
Mountain or plain, in the world.
Now Dermot, the noble king,
Despatched Morice Regan,
And by Morice proclaimed
To the citizens of the city
That without delay, without any respite,
They should surrender without gainsaying:
Without any further gainsaying
They should surrender themselves to their lord.
Thirty hostages demanded
King Dermot of the city.
But those within, i’ faith,
Could not separate among themselves
The hostages of the city
Who should be delivered to the king.
Hasculf accordingly made answer
To Dermot, the renowned king,
That on the morrow speedily
He would perform all his command.


It greatly vexed the baron,
The good Miles de Cogan,
That the parley lasted so long
Between the king and all his people.
Miles shouted all at once:
“Barons, knights, A Cogan!”
Without the king’s command
And without the earl’s either,
He attacked the city.
The baron Miles with his followers
With audacity and with great fury
Then set upon the city.
The baron Miles, the renowned,
By main force took the city.
Before that Dermot knew it that day
Or Richard the good earl,
Had Miles, the strong-limbed baron,
Actually entered into Dublin,
Had already conquered the city,
And put MacTorkil to flight.
And the men of Dublin
Fled away by the sea;
But many remained there
Who were killed in the city.
Much renown acquired that day
Miles who was of such worth;
And the renowned barons
Found much wealth:
In the city they found
Much treasure and other wealth.
Thereupon there came
The king and the earl riding quickly:
To the city they came
The king and the earl together.
And Miles, the renowned baron,
To the earl gave up the city:
The city Miles gave up,
And the earl thereupon received it.
Much provision they found
And good victuals in great plenty.
The earl then abode
While he pleased in the city;
And the king returned
To Ferns in his own country [Leinster].
But on the festival of St. Remy,
When August was over,
Soon after Michaelmas,
Richard, the noble earl,
To Miles delivered, you must know,
The wardship of the city.
To Waterford he set out
The earl and his ample suite.
There the earl abode
So long as it pleased him.
At Ferns then tarried
King Dermot during this winter.
The king, who was so noble,
Lies buried at Ferns.
King Dermot is dead. May God have mercy on his soul!


All the Irish of the country
Revolted against the earl.
Of the Irish at this time
There remained with him only three:
Donnell Kavanagh, in the first place,
Who was brother to his wife,
O’Reilly of Tirbrun,
And thirdly Auliffe O’Garvy;
While the Irish of Hy Kinsellagh,
Who were with King Murtough [Dermot’s nephew],
They then stirred up a great war
Against the earl of Leinster.
And the rich king of Connaught [Rory O’Connor]
Summoned to him
The Irish of all Ireland
In order to lay seige to Dublin.
They came on the day
That their lord had appointed for them.
When they were assembled
They were sixty thousand strong.
At Castleknock, at this time,
Was the rich king of Connaught;
And MacDunlevy of Ulster
Planted his standard at Clontarf;
And O’Brien of Munster
Was at Kilmainham with his brave men;
And Murtough, as I hear,
Was near Dalkey with his men.

The earl, you must know, at this time
Was within the city, of a truth.
The son of Stephen promptly sent
Some of his men to the earl:
In order to aid and succour him
He sent men to him at this crisis.


When Robert had sent
About thirty-six of his men
To aid the earl Richard,
Who was [the subject of such anxiety],
The traitors without any delay
Fell upon Robert.
In the town of Wexford
They wrongfully slew his men:
His men they utterly betrayed,
Killed, cut to pieces, and brought to shame.
Within a castle on the Slaney,
According to what the geste here tells,
The traitors took Robert
And put him in prison at Begerin [an island in Wexford
Five knights, in short,
They imprisoned in Begerin.
And there came Donnell Kavanagh
And the Irish of Hy Kinsellagh:
To Dublin he came
To the noble earl at this juncture.
With him came O’Reilly,
And Auliffe also.
To the earl they told all,
How Robert was imprisoned,
And how his men were slain,
Discomfited, and treacherously killed.
The earl thereupon replies:—
“Donnell, let it not appear,
Let it not appear, my friend,
That our men are brought to shame.”

The earl then summoned
All the lord councillors
To come to him at once to advise
Speedily, without delaying ….


Knights barons as many as twenty:
All the barons of great worth
Came to their lord.
When the renowned barons
Were assembled in council,
The earl sought counsel
Of all his kinsfolk and friends.

“My lords,” thus spake the valiant earl,
“May God of Heaven protect us!
You see, my lords, your enemies
Who have now besieged you here.
We shall have hardly anything to eat
Before the fortnight is out:
(For the measure of corn
Was sold for a silver mark,
And for a measure of barley
One got at that time half a mark:)
Wherefore, Sir Knights,
Let us send a message to the [high] king.”
Then the renowned earl
Sent a message to the king
That he would become his man
And would hold Leinster of him.

“Come now, free-born lords,
To the king of Connaught two vassals
By your counsel we shall despatch,
And we shall send the archbishop,
That I shall be willing to do fealty to him,
And will hold Leinster of him.”
An archbishop they sent,
Who was afterwards called St. Laurence [O’Toole].
The archbishop they then sent
And Maurice de Prendergast with him.
To the king they accordingly announced
The message of the earl.

Thereupon the king said to them
Without taking time or respite:
He answered to the messenger
That he would by no means do this;
No more than Waterford
Dublin and Wexford alone
Would he leave to Earl Richard
Of all Ireland as his share;
Not a whit more would he give
To the earl or to his followers.
The messengers turned back
To the city of Dublin:
The messengers returned
Speedily without delaying.
Aloud they tell their message
In the hearing of all the barons:
To the earl they told completely
The reply of the haughty king:—
That he would not give him more land
In the whole of Leinster,
Except only the three cities
Which I have already named to you;
And if this did not meet his pleasure
They would attack the city;
If he would not accept this offer
The king would hear no more,
For on the morrow, so said the king,
The English would be attacked.


When the earl had heard
What the archbishop related,
Then the earl caused to be summoned
Miles de Cogan the light of limb:
“Make all your men arm, barons,
Sally forth in the foremost van;
In the name of the Almighty Father
In the foremost van sally forth.”
About forty horsemen
Are with Miles before in the front,
Sixty archers and one hundred sergeants
Had Miles under his orders.
And then next, Raymond le Gros
With forty companions,
And he had one hundred fighting-men
And three-score archers.
And then next, the good earl
With forty fighting-men
With one hundred hardy sergeants
And three-score archers.
Very well armed they were
Horsemen, sergeants, and hired soldiers.
When the earl had sallied forth
With his friends and his comrades,
Miles placed himself at the head in the van
With two hundred fighting vassals;
And then next Raymond le Gros
With about two hundred companions;
In the third company the noble earl
With two hundred hardy vassals.
Donnell Kavanagh, of a truth,
Auliffe O’Garvy likewise,
And O’Reilly of Tirbrun,
Of whom you have already heard,
Were in the van with Miles,
As the Song tells us.
But the Irish of the district
Knew nought of this affair:
Of the barons thus armed,
And equipped for battle.

Miles de Cogan very quickly
By the direct road towards Finglas
Towards their stockades thereupon
Set out at a rapid pace.
When Miles had drawn near
To where the Irish were encamped,
“A Cogan!” he shouted aloud,
“Strike, in the name of the Cross!
Strike, barons, nor delay at all,
In the name of Jesus the son of Mary!
Strike, noble knights,
At your mortal enemies!”
The renowned liege barons
At their huts and cabins
Attacked the Irish
And fell upon their tents;
And the Irish unarmed
Fled through the moors:
Throughout the country they fled away
Like scattered cattle.

Raymond le Gros also
Oft invoked St. David [patron saint of Wales].
And went pursuing the Irish
To work his will upon them;
And Richard the good earl
Did so well that day,
So well did the earl do,
That all were astonished;
And Meiler the son of Henry,
Who was of such renown,
Bore himself so bravely
That men wondered.
A hundred and more were slain
While bathing where they were beset,
And more than one thousand five hundred
Of these men were slain,
While of the English there was wounded
Only one foot-sergeant.
The field remained that day
With Richard, the good earl,
And the Irish departed
Discomfited and outdone:
As God willed, at that time,
The field remained with our English
So much provision did they find,
Corn, meal, and bacon,
That for a year in the city
They had victuals in abundance.
To the city with his men
The earl went very joyfully.


Earl Richard, light of limb,
Makes preparations for his journey.
To Wexford he resolved to go
To set free the baron [Robert FitzStephen].
The baron the son of Stephen
The traitors hold in prison:
The traitors of Wexford hold him, in short,
Imprisoned in Begerin.
The wardship of Dublin he gave
To the good Miles the warrior.
Then the earl proceeded
Towards Wexford night and day.
So much did the earl accomplish
By his day’s marches, and so far go,
For so many nights and so many days
That he came to Odrone.
Now the Irish of the district
Were assembled at the pass:
To meet the earl Richard
At one side they were assembled:
To attack the English
Were the Irish assembled.
The earl Richard with his men
Through the midst of the pass in safety
Thought surely to advance,
When an obstacle met him.

The rebel king of Odrone,
O’Ryan was his name,
Shouted out loudly:
“To your destruction, Englishmen, have you come!”
He rallied his men to him,
And attacked the English sharply;
And the English, of a truth,
Manfully defended themselves.
But Meiler, the son of Henry
Carried the prize that day:
In the battle, know in sooth,
There was no better than the son of Henry.
And much renowned that day
Was Nichol, a cowled monk;
For with an arrow he slew that day
The lord of Odrone:
By an arrow, as I tell you,
Was O’Ryan slain that day.
And Meiler, the strong-limbed baron,
Was stunned by a blow
Of a stone in this fight,
So that he reeled to the ground.
But when O’Ryan was slain
The Irish separated.
This wood was afterwards named
And called the earl’s pass,
Because the earl was attacked there
By his enemies.

Thence the earl turned
Toward Wexford city
To liberate the imprisoned Robert,
Of whom I have before told you.
But the perfidious traitors
Would not deliver him up to the earl.
To Begerin [Island] they fled
And Wexford they set on fire.
For the sea ran entirely
All around Begerin;
Werefore the noble earl,
Could not, i’ faith, get at them.


Then the English king [Henry II] sent
To the earl to announce
That, without delay, without gainsaying,
Without taking time or respite,
The earl should come speedily
To speak to him at once.
And the earl at this juncture
To Miles gave the custody of Dublin:
A city much renowned,
Which was formerly called Ath-Cliath.
And the custody of the city of Waterford,
Which was called Port-Lairge,
The noble Earl Richard gave
To Gilbert de Boisrohard.
The earl then got ready,
He resolved to cross over to England;
The noble earl resolved to cross over
To speak to King Henry:
To King Henry Curt-Mantel,
Who was his rightful lord.
His ships he then equipped
To traverse the waves.
He resolved to cross the high seas,
He will go to speak to the English king.
So much did the earl hasten
That he soon crossed the sea.
In Wales he landed,
The earl who was so much dreaded.

Earl Richard at this time
At Pembroke found the rich king.
The noble earl of great worth
Into the presence of his lord,
With his friends and his comrades
Into the presence of his lord came.
The noble earl saluted him
In the name of the Son of the King of Majesty
And the king graciously
Made answer to Earl Richard.
The king thereupon replied:
“May God Almighty bless you!”

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