The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter Two:  The Period of Conquest and Rebellion, page 1

The internal disputes between various Irish leaders erupted spectacularly in the next stage in Irish history:  in the mid-1100's, two competing Irish Kings, Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster and Rory O’Connor of Connacht, feuded over the high kingship of Ireland.  O'Connor won his bid for the high kingship, and MacMurrough was sent into exile.  He then sought aid from Henry II, King of England, and invited the British Earl of Pembroke, subsequently known as Strongbow, to invade part of Ireland and help him subdue his rival. Strongbow conquered much of the east, including Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin [see map]. Henry II wanted to insure that his lords did not set up an independent, rival kingdom in Ireland; hence Henry subsequently claimed the conquered lands as English domains. When O’Connor formally submitted to Henry in 1175 (thereby becoming the last High King in Irish history), the English conquest of Ireland (and the first holding in the future British Empire) had begun.

During the next two centuries English occupation in Ireland consolidated itself, and the English married and mingled with the "native" Irish to form the Old Anglo-Irish or Old English, the elite ruling class who constituted the great earldoms of the 14th century. Though English by descent, this class soon considered itself Irish, so much so that an anxiety arose among the English about the "gaelicization" of the Anglo-Irish, resulting in the passage of the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366. These statutes mandated the use of the English language, not Irish, required horses to be ridden in the English manner, set up English legal codes and traditions, and enacted other means to maintain the divide between native Irish and Anglo-Irish. Thus a distinct class division was maintained between the native Irish and their foreign, though somehow now "Irish," rulers.

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