The curse of the Irish and the British throne

Queen Elisabeth II is no longer barred from a northside Dublin pub, but her planned official visit to Ireland could bring greater hazards. British monarchs have not always fared well in Ireland.

Henry II, the first English king to come to Ireland, did quite well out of his adventures here, but his successors were not always so lucky.

Henry Plantagenet (King of England, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, and Lord of Ireland) hadn’t really planned on conquering Ireland — he was much more interested in France, where he was born — and could also lay claim to the thrones of England as the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, and Scotland as the grandson of Matilda of Scotland.

However, when some of his knights, sought permission to help an Irish king in trouble, Dermot MacMurrough, Henry was glad to give his assent. MacMurrough was driven from his lands by the Irish high king, Rory O’Connor, and with the aid of Richard de Clare (“Strongbow”) and the Fitzgeralds, regained his kingdom in 1169-70. As part of the deal, Strongbow married Dermot’s daughter Aoife, and Henry had a problem. Strongbow was now in line to become king of Leinster, possibly of Ireland, and that threatened Henry’s own position.

Henry travelled to Ireland, demanded submission from both Strongbow and Rory O’Connor, claimed the title of Lord of Ireland for himself, and negotiated a peace treaty that brought an end to the Irish civil war with the help of the bishop of Dublin, Lawrence O’Toole. Satisfied, Henry returned home.

Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart, spent most of his career on the Crusades, and never visited Ireland. His brother, John, succeeded him in 1199, having already been made Lord of Ireland in 1177. He managed to lose his French territories and faced a civil war in England,

The next English king to set foot in Ireland was Richard II, the last of the Plantagenets, who arrived in 1394, staying until May 1395. English lordships in Ireland were in danger of being overrun by the Irish chieftains, and Henry brought with him an army of 8,000. The expedition was a success, at least in the short term, as the Irish chieftains recognised Richard as the Lord of Ireland, but in his absence, trouble was brewing at home.

When Richard got back to England, he charged three of his lords with treason. Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick. Discontent brewed in the court, and Richard exiled two more earls, Bolingbroke and Norfolk, but by 1399 Richard was happy the situation had settled, and returned to Ireland again.

While Richard was in Ireland for the second time, Bolingbroke returned to England from exile I France, and gathered an army. Henry of Bolingbroke marked from York to London, meeting little resistance as most of the lords loyal to Richard were in Ireland with him. Richard had to hurry back to England, and was forced to surrender to Henry, who claimed the throne as Henry IV, the first king from the House of Lancaster.

Over a century later in 1541 another Henry, Henry VII, the second Tudor king, changed his title from Lord of Ireland to King of Ireland. Wisely perhaps, he never set foot in his new kingdom.

In fact, no Tudor ever set foot in Ireland, although English rule was consolidated during their reigns. The first Stuart king, James VI of Scotland, became king of England on the death of the last Tudor, Elisabeth I, where he ruled as James I. James ‘One and Six’ was therefore the first king to hold the titles of King of England, King of Ireland, and King of Scots. He later changed his title to King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland.

James was also the closest England has ever had to an Irish-speaking British king. His father James V was likely a fluent Gaelic speaker (his grandfather certainly was) but its not known how much of a grap he had of the language, which was common to Scotland and Ireland at the time.

Charles I, son of James, was deposed in a civil war by Oliver Cromwell, the next English ruler to travel to Ireland. Cromwell’s Irish campaign is the stuff of folklore, as he ruthlessly put down rebellion in Ireland. It is perhaps a measure of the unpopularity of the last Irish government that Cromwell’s words to a corrupt English parliament became an internet meme in Ireland: “In the name of God, Go!

Cromwell wasn’t a king (he ruled as Lord Protector) and so ruled for another decade after his Irish expedition.

James II and VII, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, had a turbulent reign. Unfortunately, during the Glorious Rebellion, he made the fatal mistake of coming to Ireland. There his armies encountered the forces of his son-in-law William at the Boyne, and James lost his kingdom in the battle that followed.

The next monarch to visit Ireland was Victoria, The longest reigning monarch, she was crowned in 1837 and arrived in Ireland on a visit in 1900. She died in January 1901, of natural causes. Her son Edward VII visited Ireland in 1911, and while his throne survived, Ireland was impatiently waiting for Home Rule at the time.

When the promised powers for an Irish parliament were postponed at the outbreak of the Great War, tensions between unionists and nationalists rose. A failed rising In Easter 1916 led to victory for Sinn Féin in the elections at the end of the Great War, and the Irish parliamentarians set up the first Dáil, refusing to recognise British rule. The war that followed led to partition and eventual Irish independence, and the first cracks in the British Empire, as the curse of the Irish struck again.