Mere footsteps up a gentle slope from O’Donovan Rossa Bridge, is the tomb of Richard de Clare. Strongbow, as he was known, a seasoned knight who was down on his luck, invaded Ireland by invitation. His mission was to wrest control of the province of Leinster from native Irish kings and he was lured by the promise of untold riches, the hand of a beautiful maiden in marriage and the gratitude of his king, Henry ll, whose displeasure he had incurred.
Behind this cunning plan was the ruthless Dermot McMurrough, driven from his Kingdom of Leinster when he found himself on the losing side, after one battle too many, against the monarch of all Ireland. In France the exiled Dermot seethed, plotted and then set out for London to prostrate himself before Henry ll. Henry, Dermot must well have known, had been granted Ireland by Pope Adrian lV, who had his own grievance with, as he saw it, a most unruly country which did not pay him his regular dues of the ‘pope’s pence’. Henry, busy with his own intrigues, mumbled pleasant ambiguities in reply to Dermot’s pleas - which was good enough for Dermot.

Citing Henry’s favour, Dermot sought assistance and in Strongbow he found a willing partner. The invasion went as planned, the strategic town of Waterford was captured and the flame haired Eva McMurrough and Strongbow were married among the smouldering ruins by the peacemaking archbishop of Dublin, Lawrence O’Toole (who as a young boy had been held cruelly captive by Dermot for two years).

Dublin, too, fell from the hands of the Danes to the invaders but Dermot was shortly thereafter struck down by a mysterious illness declared by his enemies to be divine retribution for his evil ways. Strongbow became all powerful in Dublin, battling off the Danes who dared to return, sixty ships sailing up the Liffey, with iron hearted and iron clad Hasculph the Dane and John the Mad in command. Henry, worried by Strongbow’s growing power established an extravagant court in Dublin, where he feasted among the dancing girls and visiting warlords, daily reminding Strongbow where the real power lay.

Strongbow duly became Henry’s Governor of Ireland and settled into a short reign with never more than a fragile peace. He died in May 1176, his death remaining a secret, until his trusted brother in law, Raymond le Gros, could come back to Dublin to deter the native Irish from attacking. Strongbow was buried by Lawrence O’Toole and, legend has it, laid to rest in the Priory of the Holy Trinity, now Christ Church Cathedral. His daughter and heir, Isabel, came under the guardianship of King Henry and her daughter, also Isabel, grand daughter of Strongbow, is an ancestor of every queen consort of Henry Vlll (except Anne of Cleeves) and every English monarch from Henry V to the present day.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 28th August 2013