The Irish Strike Back
Norman power in Ireland reached its peak around 1250 to 1275. After this, Irish lords began to reclaim their rights to the land. There were a number of reasons for this.
First, the definitions of Norman and Irish became vague. As Norman families spent a few generations in Ireland, they had less and less in common with their cousins in England. Distinctions of loyalty and family allegiance became blurred as the descendants of Norman settlers began to think of themselves as Irish.
Another reason was the impact of foreign politics. England was constantly fighting with Scotland and mainland Europe, and the king demanded that the Norman-Irish lords contribute men and money. This weakened the power of the Norman-Irish lords.
The English Lose Their Grip
In one instance, the English war with Scotland led to a direct attack by Scots on Normans in Ireland, when the Scot Edward Bruce invaded Ireland between 1315 and 1317. While he didn't achieve any lasting conquests, his army inflicted such damage that many Norman towns did not recover for decades. His invasion also revealed to the Gaelic lords that the Normans were not unified.
The Irish kings took advantage of this Norman weakness. Starting from their strongholds in Connacht and Munster, they pushed Norman lords off their estates one by one. To improve the strength and discipline of their armies, the Irish lords hired tough mercenaries from Scotland called “gallowglasses.” By the late fourteenth century, the Irish had regained much of their land.
Richard II Fails to Reconquer
The English king Richard II wasn't too happy about this. He personally led two reconquest expeditions in 1394 to 1395 and 1399, and he took back much of his lost territory. But the rebellion of Henry Bolingbroke (recounted in Shakespeare's
For the next few decades, the English monarchs were too tied up in the War of the Roses to worry about Ireland, so the Irish lords continued to extend their power. By the early 1500s the area under English control had shrunk down to the city of Dublin and a small area surrounding it. This area of English influence was known as “the Pale.”
The Irish Pale has given us the term “beyond the pale,” which refers to actions or situations that are outside of what is normally accepted. For the English, going beyond the pale meant venturing into the strange and barbaric lands of the Irish.