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History of Ireland: The Norman Conquest of Ireland

Updated on February 22, 2013
The first Norman warlords arrived in Ireland from Britain in 1169.
The first Norman warlords arrived in Ireland from Britain in 1169.

Normans Arrive in Ireland

The first Normans in Ireland set foot on the soil of Leinster in 1169. They had been invited by an ousted Irish king called Dermot MacMurrough, to help him reclaim his kingdom. However, this event opened the doorway to a major conquest of the island.

The Normans soon found that their superior military technology and organization allowed them to quickly conquer large tracts of land. They established castles, towns and settlements, and claimed overlordship of large parts of the island.

By 1171, King Henry II of England was already so worried at the success of his Norman vassals that he rushed to Ireland to establish a claim to lordship over the whole island. He was afraid that one of his rivals might become too powerful in Ireland, and may even try to attack him in England and remove him from the throne.

By claiming the lordship of Ireland as belonging to the crown of England, Henry II established a relationship between the two islands which is still controversial today. The Normans made changes to the Irish political, economic and cultural landscape, but most importantly they made Ireland part of the English king'd domain. Later rulers of England would seek to complete the work of the Norman conquest, trying to bring Ireland completely under English control.

Strongbow and Dermot MacMurrough

Richard de Clare was the second Earl of Pembroke, and a powerful Welsh-Norman lord. His nickname was 'strongbow' because of his skill with a long bow.

In 1168 he received a visit from Dermot MacMurrough who had been king of Leinster in the east of Ireland, before being dispossessed by the High King of Ireland on charges of having kidnapped the wife of another local king. Dermot even offered the hand of his daughter Aoife in marriage to Strongbow, which meant that he would succeed as king of Leinster after Dermot's death.

In 1169 Strongbow sent his men to Ireland and fought to have Dermot reinstalled to the kingship of Leinster. They soon conquered the cities of Dublin, Waterford and Wexford.In 1170 he arrived in person and was married to Aoife. Dermot died soon after and Strongbow became king of Leinster.

Alarmed by the prospect of such a powerful rival in Ireland, Henry II quickly arrvied in Ireland to ensure the loyalty of Strongbow and the other Normans.

Normans bring changes to Ireland - and get changed themselves

When the Normans arrived in Ireland, they did so as conquerors. They quickly established control over large parts of the island and they brought new language, customs and political institutions.

A parliament was established in Dublin, but only the Anglo-Norman lords in Ireland attended. English courts and laws were established among the settlers and the lands they controlled. The island was divided into a system of counties, which still survives today.

However, in areas where Gaelic lords still prevailed, these laws and customs were not followed and people still held to the ways of native Irish culture. In time, many of the gains made by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th and 13th centuries were reversed as Gaelic Ireland experienced a revival. By the 14th century many descendants of the Normans in Ireland had adopted the Gaelic language and customs, so much so that the parliament in Dublin had to write laws, called the statutes of Kilkenny, trying to make anyone of English descent keep to English customs and laws.

By the end of the 14th century, many ruling Norman families had integrated into Gaelic ways of life (which had also adapted to changes brought by the Normans). The only area following English law and custom was a small area around Dublin, known as the Pale. For those living inside this area, the rest of Ireland seemed wild and dangerous. This is how we got the phrase in English; 'beyond the pale'.

The Normans built many castles in Ireland, like this one at Trim in County Meath.
The Normans built many castles in Ireland, like this one at Trim in County Meath.


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    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      I didn't know that!

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      I love trim castle! Did you know t was used to make the movie braveheart? they do a fantastic tour of the castle.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Well, certainly King Dermot is not a very popular figure among the Irish - but I imagine he had no idea just what was going to happen!

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      I am glad you found it interesting. It was an interesting time because the conquest was only partial, and then even began to reverse!

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      I am glad you enjoyed the article! I have many more on the history of Ireland, if you check my profile you may find more which interest you...

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image

      Mazzy Bolero 

      7 years ago from the U.K.

      This is very interesting and informative. I hadn't realized the Normans had made such inroads into Ireland. What can King Dermot have been thinking of to ally himself with the Normans!

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      7 years ago from California, United States of America

      Very fascinating history, I have been curious about Ireland and England for some time. It is interesting how much the local culture remained intact after conquest. Also interesting is the politics at the time of conquest, between Norman conqueror and English king.

    • torrilynn profile image


      7 years ago

      marie mckeown, i've always wanted to know the history of ireland. i myself am of irish decent so i find the article you have provided very useful and informational. thank you so much. thanks and voted up.


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