This coming week will see another significant historic anniversary. For on the 16th of October 1171 Henry II launched his fleet which beached on the 17th at Crooke in Waterford Haven as the harbour was then known. As he stepped ashore he became the first foreign king to do so and it represented the loss of our country’s sovereignty which would endure for 750 years.
There are many intriguing political, religious and entrepreneurial reasons for the Norman invasion of Ireland that began in 1169 on the invitation of an Irish chieftain; Dermot McMurrough. The upshot of it all was the arrival of Henry II, then king of England, Wales and northern France as a means of cementing his authority and control over his new dominion. We would do well to also remember he had papal authority for his conquest in his back pocket!
|Arrival of King Henry II in Waterford James William Edmund Doyle (1864)|
It is speculated that 400 ships* were required to carry the king’s invaders, estimated at 4000**. Apart from the vista this number of ships must have been created in the harbour, it is fascinating to consider the logistics. 500 knights were said to be among them. That would mean at least 500 horses (although it seems knights took at least two horses along, and then more for carrying, drawing carts etc). The horses were transported which would have been beached and unloaded via the stern. It’s likely that the capacity of the time was between 12-30 horses per ship called Taride. There were the much-feared archers and foot soldiers also. Along with attendants, cooks, religious, servants and hangers-on. I found this account to the invasion plan for the battle of Agincourt, which although two centuries later gives some sense of the headaches of organising such a campaign.
|Horses and men being transported on the Bayeux Tapestry
The Pipe Rolls help provide an insight into the scale and costs associated with it. This included the hire of ships; pay of masters, seamen, and artificers; payments for horses and their passage; and other provisions and implements such as; hogs, wheat, oats, beans, cheese, supplies of axes, hand-mills (presumably for milling the wheat) and ovens for baking their bread. Implements included pre-fabricated wooden towers for assembling atop mottes, bridges for fording streams and spades, pick-axes, and nails to do the building work.
|A rainy Passage East strand at high tide yesterday|
Although the landscape at Passage East / Crooke has changed over the centuries, it’s most likely that a beach similar to what now exists, if less vast, was on hand. It’s said that the whole landing took the day and that they camped overnight before departing for the city the following day. In my own opinion, the route they took must have been through Faithlegg, based on the local placename, Strongbow Bridge, which is on the main Cheekpoint Waterford road, just before Jack Meades, at the junction with Carraiglea. Based on this I’d speculate (see map) Henry and his entourage came via Knockroe (A) or Kill St Nicholas(B) (and possibly both) and via Strongbows Bridge (C) in Carraiglea and on past Jack Meades and into Waterford. The present main road from Passage is marked in red and was a later construction
|Some of the possible routes are marked in blue.|
Henry arrived at the gates of Waterford on the Feast of St Luke, 18th October. From there he took the subjugation of the Norman mercenaries, who had managed to sweep the Irish from power in the SE, and Irish chiefs led by Dermot McCarthy, prince of Desmond. Before leaving Waterford he dedicated a new church on the western side of the city to Thomas a Becket (on Thomas’ Hill) which will be subject to an article in the forthcoming History Ireland magazine by my good friend Damien McLellan. Henry left from Wexford on Easter Monday 1172, never to return. But many followed in his wake. A topic I’ve covered previously in my piece A harbour fit for a King
* I’ve also seen a smaller figure of 240 mentioned but most sources quote 400. I’ve read no analysis of the figures.
** Again 4,000 troops is mentioned as a minimum in almost every account. Some add 500 knights to it, others add attendants, squires etc. It’s possible the 4,000 actually covers the entire entourage including ships captains and crews, which would diminish the actual invasion force considerably.
Byrne. N. The Irish Crusade. 2007. Linden. Dublin
Power. P.C> History of Waterford. City & County. 1990. Mercier Press. Dublin