Inisfail never saw a day’s peace after the sails of the Normans were lowered in the harbour at Traig-an-Vaniv,* with Foreign Dermot, in the year 1169. The Normans came to England from France a hundred years before that time, under the command of William the Conqueror, and they routed the Saxons in one single battle. The Saxons were overcome at once, and a Norman was King and task-master over them thenceforward. It was not thus with Ireland. From that King, Henry II, to Henry VIII, the Kings of England were ‘lords’ of Ireland. Not one of them had the courage to call himself King of Ireland until Henry VIII thought that he ought to be really King over the Irish.
He therefore issued a proclamation that all the great chiefs of Ireland must assemble in one place so that he might present them with titles and lands.
Until then, it was the custom of those chiefs to be heads of the clans and to take the family name of their own clan. O’Brien was head of the O’Brien family, O’Neill of the O’Neill family, and so with all of them. Henry VIII will put an end to this custom for the future, and accordingly he sends a notice to the high chiefs of Ireland that he wants nothing but to make peace with them, and that he will make great lords of them, and that he will bestow upon them the lands of their clan, provided they submit themselves to him. The chieftains reflected. According to Irish customs at that time the land of the clan did not belong to the chief, but to themselves and to him jointly. He was their head, because they themselves appointed him on condition that he would give them their rights. For that reason they were free, and the chief would not dare to take their land from them, for they had as much right to that land as he had.
But observe this law that Henry VIII and his cunning minister, Wolsey, devised. The chieftain would in future be the master of each clan, instead of being, as he had been hitherto, the head man of them. The business did not please the clan at all, but it suited the chieftains thoroughly well, and each of them thought for his own part that he and all who came before him were worried and tired with fighting against the English, and that it was time to put a stop to the struggle.
And so it is that we read that the great chiefs of Ireland travelled over to Loudon to Henry in the year 1541, and among them Conn O’Neill; and that the King was most generous and hospitable and respectful towards them, and that he made earls and lords of them according to their rank in life.
It was an unlucky journey, for it parted every clan in Ireland from the custom they had had for ages — that is, making a prince for themselves from among the clan, independently of the King of England. Henceforward they will have to obey this new Earl that the King has made for them, and if they will not be obedient to him, the soldiers of England will be sent to help the new Earl in order to repress the unruly tribe. The new Earl, too, must needs mind himself, or England will put up another Earl in his place who will be obedient and friendly to the Government.
* Somewhere on the coast of Wexford. The name is not now recognisable.