IN APRIL 1315, EDWARD BRUCE, younger brother of Robert Bruce, king of the Scots, landed at Larne in Ulster and soon after declared himself king of Ireland. It had been a year since the Bruces had soundly defeated the English at Bannockburn in Scotland. Several reasons have been given for the Irish adventure. One is that it was simply a diversionary tactic to keep England from trying to regain its hold on Scotland. The other is that it was the next step of a planned Celtic revolt in the British Isles, with Wales to follow.

Bruce had some Irish allies, the most important being Donal O’Neill (Donnall Ua Neill), who sent to Pope John XXII his “Remonstrance of the Irish Princes” defending his alliance with Edward (“sprung from our noblest ancestors”), and asking for the pope’s blessing. O’Neill wrote, “In order to shake off the harsh and insupportable yoke of servitude to them [the English] and to recover our native freedom, which for the time being we have lost through them, we are compelled to enter a deadly war.”

At first Edward had nothing but success, defeating the English and their Irish allies at Dundalk, Connor, Trim (where he gained the support of de Lacys), then skirting around Dublin to the west and back again. His brother Robert joined him for a while, but they never did try to take Dublin, although the Dubliners were so afraid of their arrival that they themselves burned down the suburbs outside the city walls to keep them from sheltering the Scots.

But the Irish as a whole never shared the opinion of Donal O’Neill and joined forces with Edward. The destruction of the countryside was widespread, and in The Annals of Clonmacnoise both sides are described in almost the same words. The English “spared neither spirituall nor Temporall land in every place they wen,” while the Scots marched on “spoyling and Destroying all places where they came. Not sparing church or chapel, in so much as they did not leave neither field of corn undestroyed nor towne unransacked.”

Edward was killed at the Battle of Faughart, north of Dublin, in 1318. The Scottish invasion was over, although not all the Scots returned home. By then, the famine that had been ravaging Europe had reached Ireland. With all the early talk of freedom, one of the annalists summed up the years of the invasion by writing: “Theft, famine and the destruction of men occurred throughout Ireland for the space of three years and a half, and people used actually to eat one another throughout Ireland.”

Robert Bruce encouraging his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn (June 23, 1314). Edward II was routed in this battle. Courtesy Corbis/Bettmann.

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