More Irish than the Irish themselves

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | February 18, 2018 0

Edward III had a problem in 1366, English power and influence in Ireland and the reach of the Crown was being eroded by the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and officials becoming “More Irish than the Irish themselves” in the words of a chronicler.

This was the description applied to the Anglo- Norman Lords who controlled English occupied Ireland in the 14th Century as the Anglo-Normans married the offspring of Irish Clans and adopted Irish ways. To Edward III of England it put the English colonisation of Ireland at risk and had to be stopped.

On this day  in 1366 Laws were Passed to stop the English from Marrying the Irish. 4000 other Laws were part of this act. It was called the Statute of Kilkenny. The Statute of Kilkenny were a set of laws to try and save the English colony in Ireland. The laws were made by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. They were passed at a meeting of the Irish parliament held at Kilkenny.

The English had difficulty in taking over Ireland. The first English settlers, the Anglo-Irish, began to become Irish in the way they viewed the world. They began to put their own interests ahead of those of the English royalty. The government of Ireland had become weak after the battles with Edward Bruce, and the arrival of the Black Death weakened the country even more. Edward III of England became concerned that the Anglo-Irish were becoming too powerful and threatened his rights and interests in Ireland. He attempted three times to control their increasing independence.

Edward III finally sent his third son, Lionel of Antwerp, to Ireland to try and get back control. He was very concerned that the Anglo-Irish had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. The Statute of Kilkenny were laws designed to bring Ireland back under the control of English born nobles, not English descendants in Ireland. These laws were serious, to break one was seen as treason and could be punished by death.

The Statute of Kilkenny dealt with three distinct groups: the Anglo-Irish colonists known as the “English by blood” or “middle nation”; the “English by birth,” often either imported English administrators or absentee lords who ruled their Irish estates from England; and the native Irish. In addition to revealing aspects of the relationship between the ruling English and subordinated Irish, the Statute of Kilkenny shows internal divisions between the English groups.

In the two decades prior to 1366 rebellious Anglo-Irish colonists had become an increasing problem for England. English taxation, absentee English lordship alongside demands for protection of English interests, and close contact with Irish culture lessened Anglo-Irish allegiance to the Crown. The Black Death of the mid-14th century and the Hundred Years’ War with France may also have greatly reduced the influx of English immigrants, making the colonists more susceptible to Irish influences.

The Statute of Kilkenny had many provisions to separate the English from the Irish. It was against the law for the English in Ireland to:

Marry an Irish person

Adopt an Irish child

Use an Irish name

Wear Irish clothes

Speak the Irish language

Play Irish music

Listen to Irish story-tellers

Play Irish games, especially Hurley

Let an Irish person join an English religious house

Appoint any Irish clergyman to any church in the English settlement

Ride a horse in Irish style, that is, without a saddle.

Because of the weak government, they were not able to make people obey the new laws, and the Anglo-Irish ignored them. Although they were not ultimately successful, the Statute of Kilkenny foreshadowed the continuously troubled relationship between England and Ireland in the following centuries.

Far from showing the strength of the English Colonisation this Law exposed its weakness. The self proclaimed Parliament was an assembly of English overlords held in Kilkenny on the Marches of the Pale and did not represent Ireland or its governance in any meaningful way. Indeed in 1641 Kilkenny was proclaimed capital of Ireland which was effectively independent of England until Cromwell’s invasion and brutal suppression of Ireland in 1649. The Statute of Kilkenny did not prevent Anglo-Irish colonists from being affected by Irish culture and custom. It did set Ireland on a long path of subjugation culminating in the Penal Laws, the abolition of the Irish Parliament in 1801, the callousness towards Irish people exposed by the famine of 1847 and the cycle of rebellion and military repression.

They instead showed the inability of the English colonists to subordinate Ireland successfully. Although the statutes remained in effect for centuries, historical records indicate that Irish and English alike overrode them in the decade following the 1366 parliament. The Statute of Kilkenny now form part of both the historical record of colonization and the English-Irish conflict that continues into the 21st century.

The Skibbereen Eagle

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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