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Aoife – Dermot’s Daughter, Strongbow’s Wife

Contributed by Margaret Christopher

Aoife - Dermot's Daughter, Strongbow's Wife

The Ferns of today’s modern age is a vibrant, bustling and thriving country village nestled in the shadow of Mount Leinster in County Wexford. I grew up in Ferns, and while I now live in the neighbouring village of Camolin, Ferns has always been dear to my heart. It has many layers of medieval history from Saints to Kings and many marvellous stories to tell, making it a treasure trove just waiting to be discovered.

The most famous medieval woman who needs no introduction because she may well be woven into the hearts and minds of the people in Leinster and Ireland is Aoife MacMurrough. Her father, Dermot, having invited the English into Ireland to help regain his Kingdom, made a bargain with Strongbow that if he won back his throne and lands, Dermot would offer Strongbow his daughter’s hand in marriage. After his success in conquering the city of Waterford, Strongbow took the ultimate prize, and Dermot’s 17-year-old daughter Aoife became his wife when they married in Christchurch Cathedral in 1170.

But was she prepared to marry him, and how would she have felt?

Well, we know from the Song of Dermot and the Earl (author unknown) that “his daughter he brought there, to the noble earl he gave her,” and in another line, it reads “with his daughter whom he so much loved”.
From reading these few lines alone, we get a sense that Dermot MacMurrough did love his daughter very much, and she presumably loved him in equal measure.

Aoife’s father arranged the marriage in the year 1168, at the time she would have been 15 years of age. So maybe the young Aoife knew that her father had offered her hand in marriage to the Norman knight. She may have realised that she was going to marry a much older man, Strongbow may have been around the same age as her father, she might have panicked, she may have felt angry, and she may have felt sad at the prospect of marriage to a much older man.

But after a while, she may have had time to gather her thoughts and look at the bigger picture. She knew that her father had lost his lands and his throne in both Leinster and Ferns, and she knew that her father needed help in regaining back what was rightfully his. She may have swallowed her pride and agreed to the arrangement.

It is also said that Strongbow “wooed” Aoife at Annagh’s Castle, this castle was situated near the River Barrow, and some say that there is a painting that depicts this romantic scene. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere in a gallery storeroom or in somebody’s attic who knows!

Many nobles were present in the cathedral in Waterford to witness the marriage, and in the publication called the “Norman Invasion of Ireland” by Richard Roche, Giraldus tells us that Aoife was possessed of “exceeding beauty”, and many said that the bride was radiant as she moved up the aisle to marry the Earl of Pembroke who himself must have been looking forward to making her his wife. Famed for her beauty and her red hair (she was nicknamed “Red Eva”), some stories claim that she was a great warrior and fought in many battles; it has been said that her hair was so long that she had iron bars plaited into her hair and she quelled her enemies with this ingenious weapon. Whether you believe this or not, it is up to you to decide. When the deed was done on that day, Ireland’s fate was sealed.

Strongbow and Aoife had an “enduring but short marriage” according to the book entitled “A Foster Son for a King” written by Nicholas Furlong. Aoife and Strongbow, in the end, did grow to love each other, and their marriage did indeed endure. They had a son and a daughter together. Their daughter, Isabel, was responsible for creating an abundance of family connections across Norman England, and many of Isabel’s descendants included much of the nobility of Europe.

Strongbow died of a foot ulcer in 1176 and is buried in Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Aoife died twelve years later in 1188 and was buried in Tintern Abbey in Wales, and there is even a life-size statue of her at Carrickfergus Castle (in county Antrim), with a plaque describing her as “thinking of home”.

So there you have it, what an amazing story capturing momentous events from that time in medieval history. Their lives and legacy still live on in people’s imaginations, and they will always be remembered and never be forgotten.

Sources: 

The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Richard Roche new edition 1995,
A Foster son for a King 1986, by NicholasFurlong,
Schools Folklore duchas.ie,
Song of Dermot and the Earl (Author unknown) https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T250001-01/text002.html 27/12/2021, https://www.nationalgallery.ie/explore-and-learn/conservation-and-research-projects/strongbow-aoife/characters 27/12/2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/57584505/aoife-macmurrough 25/01/2022 ,
Stair na heireann, genealogieonline, military.wikia.org/wiki/Aoife_MacMurrough,
https://www.dib.ie/biography/aife-aoife-eva-a0069 26/01/2022 .

Citation:

Margaret Christopher, “Aoife – Dermot’s Daughter, Strongbow’s Wife,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/36.
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Immigration to Pembrokeshire in the 1600s

Immigration to Pembrokeshire in the 1600s

The 17th century was not a great time to live in Ireland. Between various wars, corn shortages, and widespread famine, many people understandably wanted to leave the island. One popular destination for Irish immigrants was Wales. Less than 90 kilometres away from Irish shores, this beautiful country had thriving industrial and agricultural sectors. However, Wales became a little too popular with Irish immigrants, and many wealthy Welsh citizens began to complain.

On the 28th of August 1628, the Justice of the Peace for Pembrokeshire wrote to the local council complaining that numerous poor Irish had landed in Pembrokeshire without official passes. The Justice also reported that Pembrokeshire fishermen were bringing the Irish over for 3 shillings a person!

He complained that many of his fellow countrymen were taking advantage of the wave of migration by smuggling immigrants into the county. He noted that the Pembrokeshire fishermen had even started making a profit by raising the price of passage from 3 shillings to 5 shillings!

The money the Irish paid did not guarantee them safe passage to a harbour. With the crackdown on illegal migration, many Pembrokeshire fishermen left their Irish passengers stranded on rocks and creeks, far from the major harbours.

Sources: 

Aubrey Gwynn, “Early Irish Emigration to the West Indies: Part II,” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 18, no. 72 (1929): 648-63.

Citation:

Abarta Heritage, “Immigration to Pembrokeshire in the 1600s,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/22.
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From Enniscorthy to Spain via Pembrokeshire

From Enniscorthy to Spain via Pembrokeshire

In 1959, a carpenter from Enniscorthy named Thomas Kehoe had enough of the bad weather and decided to go to Spain. He didn’t fly from Dublin; instead, he made his own canoe and paddled it across the turbulent Irish Sea.

Unfortunately, the strong tides took him off course, and he ended up not on a sandy beach in Spain but on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire. Tired, thirsty and hungry, he made his way to the mainland. He stopped in St Davids, the capital of Pembrokeshire and stocked up on vital supplies, which included copious amounts of chocolate and vitamins, before setting sail again.

Thomas Kehoe’s unexpected adventure across the Irish Sea inspired three young men to attempt the same record-breaking voyage to Pembrokeshire a year later.

Sources: 

https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/collections/show/1

Citation:

Abarta Heritage, “From Enniscorthy to Spain via Pembrokeshire,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/19.discoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/30.
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The Travellers Lament

Contributed by Lorraine O’Dwyer

The Travellers Lament

Just outside the town of Enniscorthy there is a long stretch of road, very straight and very long with very few houses along it and in the past, there were even less.
This road led to the port of New Ross and where much of the exports of that time were sent off abroad. All along the quay were ships piled high with barrels filled with anything and everything from herrings to whiskey, barley to pork and mingling amongst the carts and shorehands where wealthy merchant passengers waiting to board ships to England.
Many of these same merchants had travelled from their luxurious homes surrounding Enniscorthy and the rest of Wexford along this long quiet stretch of road.
It became known as the Travellers Lament as this road quickly became the haunt of Highwaymen and no one was more notorious than James Freney or “The Robber Freney”
He and his horse, Beefsteaks, robbed hundreds if not thousands of wealthy travellers over just a few short years and there are many tales detailing his Robin Hood-like escapades!
Many a poor widow found her rent money left by the turf pile or a poor beggar found a years wages stuffed into his cup!

He was said to be utterly charming during a robbery, even ensuring that any women he robbed, were left with enough funds to get them to their destination safely!

And so a legend began to surround the man, with locals treating him as a celebrity of sorts. And this worked out very well for him!
There was one time where he was only moments from being caught by the British Soldiers sent to hunt him down.
He escaped by running into a nearby Inn only to find, his friend and ally, the Innkeeper, had passed away.
The neighbours were gathered around his coffin waking the poor man, But no matter! The neighbours quickly scooped the body of the Innkeeper up and pushed him into a cupboard, while James slipped into the coffin and with a liberal powdering of flour the soldiers never caught on. James lived to rob another day!

James was so prolific with his highway robbery, he was known to hide money in old stone walls and in rotting tree stumps. Some of which has been found, but some is still said to be out there!
And though James was eventually caught, that charm he was known for came into good use yet again.
He somehow managed, not only to avoid the noose for Highway Robbery but to also receive a job offer, which he gladly took. James Freney lived out his days as the most vigilant of all the Revenue Officers!

Well, you know what they say, it takes a thief to catch one!!

Sources: 

https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/collections/show/1

Citation:

Lorraine O’Dwyer, “The Travellers Lament,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/30.
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Magpies in Ireland

Contributed by Lorraine O’Dwyer

Magpies in Ireland

There were no magpies in Ireland once upon a time. Plenty of crows but non of their handsome black and white family members. That is until a terrible storm in the 1680s not long after that infamous villain Cromwell had visited these same shores.
Colonel Solomon Richards, a veteran officer in Cromwell’s army lived in Wexford town. His descendants still remain in Wexford, though further up the coastline these days.
Colonel Richards wrote in his diary
“there came with a black easterly wind, a flight of magpies, under a dozen, as I remember out of England, or Wales, none having ever been seen in, Ireland before. They lighted in the Barony of Forth where they have bred and are 59 increased, that they are now in every village and wood in this county. My own garden, though in the town of Wexford is continually frequented by them and they are spread, more thinly into other counties and parts of the kingdom”

Furthermore the local Irish, hated the birds with a vengeance as the Colonel goes on to say
“The native Irish much detest them, saying they shall never be rid of the English, while these magpies remain The observation is that the English magpies entered Ireland in the same county where the Englishmen first entered it, and in the English barony also”

And so it has always remained a tradition in Wexford to bless yourself when you see a magpie, as they are still to this day, considered to be bad luck!

Sources: 

https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/collections/show/1

Citation:

Lorraine O’Dwyer, “Magpies in Ireland,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/28.
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Robert FitzStephen, a man of mixed fortunes

Robert FitzStephen, a man of mixed fortunes

The great chronicler Gerald of Wales described Robert FitzStephen as a man ‘who so often, both in Ireland and Wales, experienced with equanimity both the extremes of Fortune’s Wheel. Enduring everything that adversity can inflict, and enjoying everything that good fortune can bestow… He was a well-built and sturdy man, and handsome, a man who lived well, generous and of an open and cheerful disposition, but excessively addicted to wine and women’.

Gerald’s description of Robert FitzStephen seems to be entirely accurate. When the ousted King Diarmait Mac Murchada came to Wales, he found Robert imprisoned by his cousin Rhys ap Gruffydd. After having words with Rhys, Diarmait was able to get Robert released in 1167 under the condition that he joined the Cambro-Norman army Diarmait was building to retake Leinster.

According to Gerald of Wales, Robert FitzStephen was one of the first men to land in Wexford during the 1169 invasion. He led the vanguard of Diarmait’s Cambro-Norman auxiliaries to Ireland and captured Wexford town. King Diarmait rewarded him for his troubles by giving him some land around Wexford.

Robert built a defensive structure a few kilometres outside Wexford town in 1169, which is believed to be one of the first recorded Anglo-Norman defensive earthworks in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Robert’s luck turned, and the Irish besieged this defensive structure. Robert surrendered and was imprisoned in 1171. Once more, he found himself rotting in prison until his luck turned again. This time it was King Henry II of England that freed him, but his freedom came at a cost; he had to forfeit his lands in County Wexford.

Photo credit: Castles of Leinster: Ferrycarrig, Wexford
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Searle – geograph.org.uk/p/3036325

Sources: 

“Robert FitzStephen,” Library Ireland, https://www.libraryireland.com/biography/RobertFitzStephen.php.
Anglo-Norman Wexford 1169-1400, by Billy Colfer
Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis

Citation:

Abarta Heritage, “Robert FitzStephen, a man of mixed fortunes,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/26.
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Yola a Unique Dialect

Yola a Unique Dialect

Across certain parts of Wexford county, there was a now-extinct language that came here with the Normans.
A blend of French, Flemmish, Welsh and English settlers brought with them their native tongue and they became blended with the Viking and Irish settlers already here to create a unique dialect only found here in Wexford.
It was called Yola from the old English world for “old”
And though it is gone today, you can still see traces of it in hour we Wexfordians pronounce certain words. Tea for example becomes Tay, meat becomes Mate and all becomes Aul.
Kilmore Quay is known for the Yola Carols at Christmas, a strange haunting form of singing. You catch the odd word but not many!
There is one word that still remains strong though, the word Quare. This can be used to replace very as in “That’s a quare interesting story!”

Sources:

https://thenormanway.com/the-lost-language-of-yola/

Citation:

“Yola a Unique Dialect,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/31.
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Swimming from Wexford to Pembrokeshire

Contributed by Tara Clarke

Swimming from Wexford to Pembrokeshire

In the year 2000 Eddie McGettigan dove off Tuskar Rock in County Wexford and swam over 60 km in freezing waters to Bishop’s Rock off the coast of Pembrokeshire. Eddie, aged 47, began his swim on Saturday. For twenty-nine hours he endured freezing temperatures until he reached Bishop’s Rock at 10 pm on Sunday. Exhausted and swollen from his colossal swim, Eddie was sadly informed that his achievement would not be recognised because he wore a wetsuit!

Unfortunately, the wearing of a wetsuit is prohibited by long-distance swimming authorities. So to become the first man to swim from Ireland to Wales across the Irish Sea, Eddie would have to redo the journey in normal swimming attire.

Photo Credit: : Tuskar Rock Lighthouse
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © David Dixon – geograph.org.uk/p/5317967

Sources:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/accountant-47-swims-from-ireland-to-wales-in-29-hours-1.286290 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/806156.stm

Citation:

Tara Clarke, “Swimming from Wexford to Pembrokeshire,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/25.
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Archive Stories

St David and Clegyr Boia

Folklore

St David and Clegyr Boia

According to a famous legend, St. David was once instructed by an angel to return to Pembrokeshire to establish a monastery. He and his friends, including St. Aidan, celebrated their arrival home by building a large fire. Unfortunately for them, the fire was on the land of a feared Irish chieftain named Boia. He and his family lived in an old fort and were infamous for terrorising the surrounding lands. Boia was furious with this intrusion on his lands, and decided to lead his best warriors out to attack them. As they approached the holy men, a strange fever came over Boia and his men. They retreated to their fort but soon discovered all of their cattle and sheep were dead. Realising the power of the intruders, Boia returned to St. David and humbly requested mercy. St. David made peace with Boia and restored his animals to life, but only after Boia donated land for the new monastery.

Boia’s wife was furious when she heard this and tried to remove St. David herself. She sent her female slaves to bathe naked, play suggestive games and use lewd words in front of the monks. The monks begged St. David to leave lest they fall to temptation, but he refused and restored order by leading the monks in fasting and praying all night.

In a final act of defiance Boia’s wife sacrificed her step-daughter Dunawd to the pagan gods. When she realised the sacrifice had done nothing, she went mad and was never seen again. Boia decided to avenge his wife and daughter and prepared to attack St. David again, but before he could another Irish chieftain invaded his land and beheaded him. Devine retribution continued; fire rained down from the sky destroying Boia’s settlement. Over 1,400 years later, when archaeologists came to excavate at Clegyr Boia, they found the charred remains of huts and storehouses.

Sources:
Evans, D. S. The Welsh Life of St David, University of Wales Press, 1988

Citation:

Abarta Heritage, “St David and Clegyr Boia,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/4.
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Ogham Stones: A Welsh-Irish Connection Set in Stone

Folklore

Ogham Stones: A Welsh-Irish Connection Set in Stone

Ogham stones are an enigmatic reminder of ancient connections between Wales and Ireland.

Ogham is an early form of Irish writing that consists of a system of notches and horizontal or diagonal scores that were usually cut vertically onto the edge of a stone to represent the sounds of an early form of the Irish language. Ogham stones, found across Ireland and parts of western Britain, (predominantly Pembrokeshire), are inscribed with the names of prominent people, sometimes tribal affiliations or geographical areas. These inscriptions are the earliest recorded form of Irish and are a significant resource for historians, as well as linguists and archaeologists.

Though ogham stones originated in Ireland, a significant number of stones are recorded in Wales. The ogham stones of Wales are very similar but are often bilingual and depict writing in both ogham and Latin, whereas Latin is not used on any of the stones in Ireland. Also, ogham stones found in Wales, do not use certain additional letters of the ogham alphabet, which are commonly used on Irish ogham stones.

There are relatively few surviving ogham stones in our Ancient Connections project area of County Wexford, with just a handful of examples recorded at Portersgate, Cotts, Brandane, Saltee Island, Robbinstown and Killabeg.

The majority of Welsh ogham stones are located in Pembrokeshire. Four are located on the periphery of our project area; two at Brawdy and one each at Jordanston and St. Dogwells. Unfortunately, none of these stones were found in their original context. Most of them were being used as gate posts and were later moved again into churchyards.

It may seem unexpected that there are more ogham stones in Pembrokeshire than Wexford. This may be due to the fact that Wexford’s neighbouring county of Waterford – richly endowed with some 56 recorded ogham stones – was once the territory of the Déisi, an early medieval Irish tribe. In the 4th century AD, the Déisi settled in south west Wales, in the region then known as Dyfed (of which today’s Pembrokeshire forms the most westerly part), perhaps after having been invited there by the Romans to protect Wales from attack by other Irish tribes. Their sphere of influence (and perhaps their rule) eventually stretched all the way to Gwent in south east Wales.

But who were the Déisi? Their name might suggest the status of the tribe in Ireland, as it could signify a vassal or rent-paying tribe, a people who had no clear territory of their own. The reason for their status as a ‘landless’ people may be inferred from the quasi-historic tale known as The Expulsion of the Déisi. This text is thought to originate in the 8th century, though it only survives in manuscripts of a later date. This quasi-legendary account of their expulsion begins with Oengus, one of the princes of the Déisi, killing the son of Cormac, the High King of Ireland, in revenge for the rape of his niece. In the fight he also blinded Cormac in one eye, disqualifying him from the kingship. After a period of moving from region to region, the main part of the tribe eventually settled in Counties Tipperary and Waterford while a smaller branch — under the leadership of Echaid, a brother of Oengus — settled in Dyfed.

History is an ever shifting story and sifting history from the myths of these ancient times is almost impossible. We may never know why the Déisi settled in Dyfed, nor why, how or indeed if they ever left. Only the linear notches of Ogham and a few names and dedications in Latin are actually set in stone.

Sources:
Ancient Connections, the shared stories of Pembrokeshire and Wexford by Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird, Tara Clarke, Dr. Conor Ryan, Angharad Wynne and Neil Jackman.

Citation:

Angharad Wynne, “Ogham Stones: A Welsh-Irish Connection Set in Stone,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/21.