The Story of Strongbow (for Youngsters)

The Story of  Strongbow.   To buy the Kindle book, click HERE.


A Thousand Years ago nobody in Ireland spoke anything but Irish. You probably wouldn’t understand them today, even if you were a native speaker from the far side of the Kerry mountains, but Irish was their language, and they didn’t know any other. Most people in the countryside didn’t even know there was any other. English hadn’t even been invented yet. There were no roads anywhere that we would call roads, just rough country boreens. Most people walked everywhere, which meant they never really went very far outside their own home land.

If you were lucky, you might live in the village of a great King, like Brian Mac Cennétig, who you have maybe heard of as Brian Boru. He lived in a great place called Kincora. It was on a spur overlooking Lough Derg, and heavily wooded, with tinkling streams and mysterious oak groves where the Druids of old had prayed. But he was usually away fighting, which he did so well that eventually he became the Ard Ri, the greatest king, the High King, King of all Ireland. There was a lot of fighting in those days, and we Irish were especially good at it.

Brian died of course, fifty years before the time we are interested in, give or take a bit. There was still an Ard Ri, but he wasn’t really the boss any more as King Brian had been. So all the Kings of the Provinces squabbled and fought with each other and stole each others’ cattle, and sometime slaves too.  It was a way of life.

The King of Leinster was a fellow named Dermot. Dermot McMurrough, and a descendant of Brian Boru. And he was a bit of a Ladies’ Man. He loved the ladies. Sometimes he loved them too well, and kidnapped them to come and live with him.

And that was what got him into serious trouble, and changed the Story of Ireland for ever. Because finally he kidnapped the wife of the King of Bréifne, the beautiful Derbforgaill. Bréifne doesn’t exist any more, but it was basically Leitrim and Cavan, with a bit of Sligo thrown in. Quite a long way from Leinster when you went on a horse (if you were lucky), or walked.

The King there, Tiernán O’Rourke, was a determined fellow and recruited all the help he could to fight King Dermot and get his beautiful wife back. It took a long time, all of 14 years, but eventually all the Kings in the whole area, four of them including the Ard Ri Rory O’Connor, drove King Dermot out of Ireland in 1166.

That might have been the end of the matter, if Dermot hadn’t gone over to England, looking for help to get back his Kingdom. England had been conquered by the Normans exactly a hundred years before, in 1066, and the King there was the Norman Henry II. Dermot had to follow him over to France, but once there he got down on his knees and pleaded with him for help. Kings should support each other, was his approach, and he had been wrongly driven from his Kingdom, and now asked for help in getting it back again.

To everyone’s surprise because Henry II had quite enough problems of his own at the time, he agreed that Dermot could go to Wales, and there look for support. “Try the Earl of Pembroke, that fellow Strongbow”, he said. “He might well welcome you if you can make him a good offer”.

Now Pembroke is in Wales, and the Welsh had over the years developed a weapon which made them feared throughout Europe. It was called the Longbow and could fire ten to twenty long arrows a minute with such force that they could go through chain mail armour, and at well over two hundred metres. It was a very big weapon, as tall as the archer who used it. It took a lifetime to become a good archer, and he had to be able to draw the bow with a pressure of up to 80 kgs.

Allied to armoured knights, they were very hard to beat, these archers. That’s why the Earl of Pembroke was called Strongbow, because he had a small army of them. And so did the Welsh Princes living round him, some of whose land his father had invaded and conquered, and they were still trying to get it back. Life in Pembroke seemed to be one long battle, and Strongbow was getting tired of it….

To buy the Kindle book, click HERE.

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