The Ros Tapestry Lovers

Michelle Obama Views  Ros Tapestry Panel at Farmleigh May 2011

In the grounds of St. Mary’s Church, a foreign juggler sets to work, to entertain the crowds attending the May fair in Ros.

The ground is undulating and he is on stilts. He can see some pretty girls – a redhead walking with her Norman boyfriend….But the beasts stampeding through the Earl’s gate into the market area have a wild look, particularly the hairy swine. He would have to avoid them.

The Italian bankers and the tax collectors are there however, ensconced behind their chequered cloth. They will go home rich at the end of the day. He hopes that his friend – the musician with the yellow breeches – will collect for them both, and in the meanwhile, he must not break his neck….

The panel shows imported slaves being led to the market, joined by dealers arriving with hunting dogs, horses and falcons. Ros depended heavily on produce from the surrounding hinterland. Sheep and corn from the manorial farms and Cistercian granges ensured that the town remained wealthy and influential. Even the Black Death in 1345 failed to entirely extinguish her stellar ranking amongst the competitive ports of Leinster. The dreams of William and Isabel had been amply fulfilled. 

Monday, 08 July 2013 20:41

Evening: the lighthouse at Hook Head

“At the very mouth of the harbour there runneth out a narrow neck of land which presented unto the sailors a high turret erected by citizens of Ros when they were in a flourishing state that they might more safely enter into the river’s mouth”

Perched fortress-like over some of the most treacherous waters in Ireland, the lighthouse tower was built by the Marshals about 1207, perhaps after a design seen by William at Acre while crusades. The Welsh monks of Rinn Dubhain had kept a bonfire blazing to alert shipping for many countries. The Vikings, finding such activities useful, did not disturb them. The Norman lighthouse, virtually unchanged, functions to this day.

The daughters of Irish Chieftains and Norman knights had been espoused before the momentous union between Aoife MacMurrough and Strongbow, but rarely with so much at stake or with such far-reaching consequences.

This panel demonstrates how much cultural and material heft attended these two marriages of Aoife and that of her daughter Isabel. At the top of the panel Aoife is seen accepting Richard as her husband, thus legitimising his claim to the province of Leinster. Below is seen the wedding of Isabel and William at Stoke d’Abernon in Surrey, flanked by William’s two friends Gilbert Pipart and Engerrand de Abernon.

Despite their age differences – Isabel was just eighteen and William nearly fifty – their union was long and very happy. Their five daughters inherited their combined estates, the five sons dying without issue. The fate of Leinster might very well have been different if one of the male children had established a family line.

Advisor to the Plantagenet Kings, knight extraordinary, and the reputed Flower of Chivalry – William Marshal, from his simple beginnings, grew to tower over his compatriots, both in the corridors of power and on the battlefield. At the zenith of his career, as Lord of Leinster and Earl of Pembroke – both inherited through his wife – William set about planning an ideal town in his new province, and gave it his name, Villa Willielmi Marescalli, from where we tell our tale.

In the panel we see, from right to left, the three stages of William’s life. As a young man, he became tutor and guide to Henry, heir of Henry II and his wife, Elanor of Aquitaine. He had saved Eleanor’s life when in the employ of his uncle, the Earl of Salisbury, for which he was rewarded with – amongst other things – the stewardship of Elanor’s eldest son.

The second stage of his life shows the tournament champion, the valiant and steadfast knight-errant and the intrepid crusader. His bravery in tackling a difficult horse, in working his way out of tight corners of the battlefield, won him recognition across Europe. However, it was not until he was nearly fifty that a prize worthy of him – the gift in marriage of Isabel, the eighteen year old heiress of Dermot McMurrough – was bestowed by a grateful King Henry II. 

Monday, 08 July 2013 20:35

The Sheaf of Corn: The distaff descent

Aoife, daughter of Mor O’Toole and Dermot, King of Leinster, was, at fourteen, a beautiful girl. Though she had an older sister, it was the pretty blond child who was taken with her parents to meet Henry II in Aquataine in 1167.

Dermot McMurrough was looking for help from Henry, then King of England, Duke of Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine, whose realm stretched from the Pyrenees to the borders of Scotland. The Angevin King gave permission to his vassal Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare to assist Dermot in his struggle in Leinster. Part of the deal was that the widower Richard (Strongbow) should not only have the Irish King’s daughter Aoife in marriage, but the kingship of Leinster on Dermot’s death.

Though there was much that was dubious about this arrangement, so it came to pass. Aoife was married to the fifty-year old Strongbow in Waterford in 1170, thus starting a dynasty which ran mainly on the distaff side for several generations. Aoife bore two children before the death of her husband: Gilbert – who died as a baby – and Isabel who became the heiress of her parents’ large estates. She made a ward of the Crown at four and a half years old.

The illustrious William Marshal won her as his wife when she was eighteen. Through her, he became Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster. What her feelings were about being married off to a middle aged warrior, however famous, are not known. However, they became a most loving couple and she bore him at least ten children, five sons and five daughters. Ownership of Leinster fell to his daughters. 

Monday, 08 July 2013 20:34

Battles in the Kingdom of Ossory

The Kings of Ossory, MacGiolla Padraig, who presided over part of a region now known as Kilkenny, was a mortal enemy of Dermot MacMurrough.

This King had Enna, Dermot’s promising young son and heir, blinded, and had been instrumental in driving Dermot from his capital at Ferns. Now that help had come Dermot had revenge on his mind. His army, numerically smaller than that of the enemy, made their way to Freshford in Ossory in the summer of 1169.

The panel shows Dermot in the thick of battle. Aged sixty four, he is clad in his saffron trews and is carrying an oblong Celtic Shield. His mount is a small active type of dun horse favoured by the Irish. He is flanked by a Norman, bearing a Fitzgerald kite shaped shield. Behind them flies the pennant of the Prendergasts and above, showing that he had recovered from his adventures in Wexford, floats the banner of Robert de Barry. Underfoot, one of the reluctant Norse conscripts lies dead. The loss of life is frightful but Dermot is avenged.

Monday, 08 July 2013 20:30

The Siege of Wexford

Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, and Robert Fitzstephen, with their combined forces of Irish, Norman, Welsh and Flemish combatants, bear down on the first target of their campaign, the Norse town of Wexford.

The Leinster town had been promised by Dermot MacMurrough to the Norman leader Robert Fitzstephen and his half-brother Maurice Fitzgerald during negotiations in Wales. There were some striking weaknesses in the fabric of this offer. Dermot did not own the town. It had for 300 years been a Viking town, a city state, quiet independent and owing only token dues to the Irish Kings of Leinster. It’s economical and religious life was rooted outside Ireland to a great degree.

In the panel, Dermot and Robert Fitzstephen halt on high ground above the town and discuss the tactics to be adopted. At this point, Robert may have realised that it was not simply a matter of receiving the keys of the promised town. A siege would appear to be required since it was obvious that the Norse were not going to come out. 

Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, had his hopes fulfilled at last when, in May 1169, a small band of 30 knights and 360 soldiers landed quietly on Bannow Strand, in the south of Wexford.

The Knights – of Norman / Welsh extraction – were nearly all related to each other. It was something of a family adventure, the Irish undertaking; many had little to lose in Wales, and hoped to improve their individual lot in answering Dermot’s call for help.

The equipment, horses and armour and supplies, is hauled up on to the shore. The knights’ leader, Robert Fitzstephen, is seen being greeted by Dermot and his followers, they having rushed from Ferns to meet them.

Monday, 08 July 2013 20:21

The Abduction of Dervorgilla

The amorous flight of Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster with Derborgilla, wife of his enemy Tiernan O’Rourke, King of Breffni, is depicted in this pane. Brehon Law, liberal but precise dictated that Dermot, for this impudence, would pay a fine of 100 ounces of gold to the injured husband. The fact that Dermot failed to comply possibly changed the course of Irish history.

The pair are seen galloping from the O’Rourke Castle in Roscommon to Dermot’s stone fortress in Ferns in Wexford.

Dervorgilla’s dowry, castle and household chattels accompanied them. Irish wives were entitled to remove their dowry should they decide to take leave of their husbands. In pursuit is the elderly Tiernan O’Rourke in a vain attempt to apprehend the pair, who are met at Ferns by Donal Kavanagh (Caomanac), Dermot’s eldest son. In the foreground is a ghost from the future, of Dermot’s daughter, the yet unborn Aoife, who, because of this event would find herself at fifteen the wife of one of the mighty Norman de Clares.

Thursday, 04 July 2013 15:46

The Walling of Ros

From its foundation in 1207, the prosperous ville of Ros was protected from outside invaders by Leinster’s chief Gaelic family, decendants of Dermot MacMurrough and kinsmen of William Marshal, the town’s founder.

However, when trouble struck, it came from the Normans themselves. Walter de Burg waged war on Maurice FitzMaurice FitzGerald and fierce battles broke out in the streets among the protagonists. The outraged burgers decided to have a fosse thrown around the town to protect themselves. Hired help was slow so the burgers, guild by guild, took over the task of digging out a ditch 20 feet wide to stretch for a mile around the town. What drew the world’s attention to this feat was the fact that a young poet – whose interest in the display of the ladies of the town – who gallantly worked on the fosse on a Sunday – caused him to write in Old French – an account of the entire enterprise. The original document of the poem is extant and is housed in the British Museum where it has excited much interest.

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