The English

part 2

The dynamics of the invasion itself contributed to that development. The Norman invasion was a private enterprise operation. The settlements were established by freebooting adventurers whose activities were uncoordinated and uncontrolled, and largely remained so. The Crown did assert its jurisdiction over those of its subjects who had gone to Ireland. It demanded obedience and taxes from them, and it acknowledged an obligation to provide them with basic government services, but it did not claim the Irish as its subjects. Ireland was a lordship, not a kingdom. In practice, the kings of England had neither the will nor the power to exert authority over more than the heartland, the Pale. Even there, the crown's presence was little more than token and, in truth, its failure to undertake the defence of the colony deprived it of the moral right to require more than token obedience.

The colonists were left to fend for themselves in an only partly conquered Ireland, and their responses were diverse. Each settler community developed the strategy of survival that best suited its own local circumstances. The most remote settlers, in places like Kerry and Mayo, went native, adopting Gaelic customs, Gaelic speech, and even gaelicised family names, but their hibernicisation stopped short of full assimilation, if only because the Gaelic host society, structured as it was on ancestral relationships, never lost sight of their origins.

Less distant or better organised settler groups, on the borders of the Pale or in the powerful lordships of Desmond and Ormond in the south-west and the south-midlands, adapted differently, perhaps more calculatedly, mingling Gaelic practices with their inherited ways. Developing a 'frontier' style of life, they acknowledged but rarely respected the full authority of the king in England. In the counties around Dublin and in the major towns and their immediate hinterlands the position was very different: there, the settlers benefited from the government's legal, administrative and military services; they kept in close touch with England, where the sons of both landed and merchant families often finished their education, and they resisted local influences.

As England itself changed, they changed with it; acquiring the English language, setting up a parliament, incorporating legal and institutional modifications as they evolved in the mother country, following fashion. But they remained conscious of the reality that differences of situation prevented them from being accepted as wholly English. At the beginning of the fourteenth century they still displayed that same sense of aggrieved distinctiveness that Maurice Fitzgerald had expressed 250 years earlier, and they spoke of themselves as 'the middle nation'.

Click here for part 3, or here for part 1.