Edward Bruce’s Invasion of Ireland

Edward Bruce invaded Ireland in 1315. Carrickfergus Castle was the Earl of Ulster’s seat of administration, it was of strategic importance and key to a successful campaign in Ulster. Edward Bruce lay siege to the castle for a year between september 1315-1316. The siege of Carrickfergus Castle app is based on  Bruce’s  siege of Carrickfergus Castle. The following research was used to create the game’s narrative and provides historical context.

Scottish Wars of Independence

The death of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1286 throws into question the succession of the Scottish throne. After the death of Alexander’s three year old heir, the English monarch, Edward I, selects John Balliol to be the new king. Balliol is crowned in 1292 but renounces his allegiance to the English crown in 1296. Edward I responds by invading Scotland and defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. William Wallace takes advantage of Edward I’s subsequent return south to lead a rebellion against the English. In 1297, with the support of the church and the people, Wallace becomes ruler of Scotland. Edward I invades in 1298 and defeats Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk. Wallace resigns his guardianship and the powerful Scottish noblemen Robert Bruce and John Comyn become joint guardians. Traditional rivals, Bruce and Comyn meet in 1306 and after an argument, Bruce murders Comyn and his followers. Outlawed by Edward I and excommunicated by the pope, Bruce claims the Scottish throne and, with the support from a section of the church and other noblemen, is crowned six weeks after Comyn’s death. However, Bruce’s reign is brief and he is forced into hiding after a crushing English defeat and the capture of his family. After a year, Bruce returns to attempt to regain support amongst his countrymen. The death of Edward I and the succession of his less experienced, less driven son, Edward II provides an opportunity for Bruce. Edward II temporarily withdraws from the Scottish campaign to deal with discontent amongst his noblemen, allowing Bruce the time to defeat opposing noble families within Scotland. By 1309, Bruce has suppressed his Scottish opposition and is ready for the impending English attack.
The inexperienced Edward II puts his faith in the power and number of his large, well-equipped English army, whereas the skilled Bruce favours guerilla-style tactics and the dedication of a smaller but better organised army. Edward II invades in 1309 and 1310. Each time, Bruce responds by withdrawing and laying waste to the land so the English army are left without food or shelter and are forced to withdraw. By 1311, Edward II has run out of money and is forced to return south. Bruce takes advantage of Edward’s absence to launch raids into the border counties. The English landowners are forced to pay Bruce protection money to prevent further Scottish attacks. Bruce’s strategy is to destroy the castles that provide a base for English rule within Scotland. The taking of Roxburgh and Edinburgh castles by the Scottish is the climax of this campaign. Only Stirling and Bothwell castles remain in English hands. In the Spring of 1314, Edward Bruce lays siege to Stirling; the castle declares it will surrender if it is not relieved by English forces. Stirling is of strategic importance and Edward II quickly musters an army and heads north to reinforce the castle. June 1314, the armies meet south of Stirling at Bannockburn. Bruce is an experienced combatant and a good strategist, he leads a small but determined, well-organised Scottish army. Edward II lacks experience and interest in warfare and is unable to bring his English knights together to mount an effective offence. Although the English have the larger and better-equipped army, the Scots archers, pikemen and light cavalry are better suited to the terrain and after two days battle, the Scottish win and Edward II retreats to England. Bruce’s victory consolidates his authority as king of Scotland. With Scotland under his control he looks to expand his power with further raids into the border counties and an invasion of Ireland.

 The Anglo-Normans in Ireland

The Normans arrive in Ireland in the late 12th century. Henry II accepts the submission of the Irish kings and uses the Irish church to gain control of the island. He creates the position of the Lordship of Ireland to maintain English rule through-out the land. Individual Norman families invade and take control of territories such as John de Courcy in east Ulster. This sporadic colonisation brings feudalism and the building of towns, castles and churches to Ireland. By the 14th century, Norman power is on the wane due to a decline in funds and divisions of lordships. The Gaelic chieftains wish to regain their lands and begin to rebel against the Norman knights. The most powerful Norman knight in Ireland is Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster from 1271 to 1326. He is regarded as the ‘first Englishman’ and is very powerful, holding land in both Ulster and Connaught. The Earl of Ulster was leader of the Irish contingent in the First Scottish Wars of Independence and is keeper of the king’s castles in Ireland. Carrickfergus Castle is the Earl’s seat of administration in Ulster. The castle is of strategic importance and key to a successful campaign in Ulster. Carrickfergus Castle controls Belfast Lough and the Scottish need to secure the stronghold to preserve communications with Scotland.

Edward and Robert Bruce plan an invasion of Ireland

After the defeat of the English, Robert Bruce began to find his brother a serious problem. He is a man of marked military ability and bravery and a great asset at times of war but he is high-spirited and impatient of authority. Throughout the Scottish wars, Ireland is used as a source for money and men. Bruce decides to consolidate his position with an invasion of Ireland, which will distract Edward II and cut off supplies for the English armies. The victory of Bannockburn encourages some Irish chiefs to make an attempt for their own independence. Robert Bruce uses his connections with Scottish settlers in Ireland to enter into negotiations with the Irish. He sends a letter to ‘all the kings of Ireland, to the prelates and clergy, and to the inhabitants of all of Ireland, his friends’ referring to the common ancestry, similarity in language and customs of the Scots and Irish. Donal O’Neill, the most powerful native ruler of Ireland, offers Edward Bruce the kingship of Ireland in return for freedom from English rule.

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Edward Bruce lands in Ireland

Edward Bruce lands at or near Larne harbour, County Antrim on the 26th of May 1315, with 300 vessels containing an army of 6,000 Scottish soldiers. He is accompanied by the experienced military leaders including Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray and Sir John Steward. Edward leads his men inland towards Carrickfergus and encounters opposition from the Earl of Ulster’s men the de Mandevilles, Logans and Savages. The resistance is subdued and the men retreat back to Carrickfergus Castle followed by Bruce’s army. Bruce lays waste to the town but is unable to storm the castle. Bruce is joined by a number of Irish chiefs, including the O’Neill, O’Cahan, O’Hanlon chiefs. He heads on to Rathmore and lays waste to the town before heading south. Bruce wants to achieve authority in Ireland by submission, but not all Irish chiefs are prepared to support him. The Irish are surprised and unprepared by Bruce’s aggressive onslaught- “all the inhabitants of Ireland, both English and Irish, we’re stricken with great terrour”.

Edward Bruce heads south

Bruce travels towards Dundalk from Newry. As he travels through the Moyry Pass he is ambushed by two Irish chiefs who had previously agreed to support his campaign. Bruce is easily victorious, and gains supplies from the fleeing Irish. Bruce carries on towards Dundalk. Outside the town he encounters a considerable army. The Scottish push them back towards Dundalk and lay waste to the town and its inhabitants. The Scottish army continues on to Ardee, plundering the church of its relics and setting it alight with the inhabitants still inside.

Earl of Ulster and Edmund Butler muster their armies

The Earl of Ulster, upon learning of the invasion assembles his followers and raises his standard at Roscommon. He summons Felim O’Connor, king of Connaught, and with an army of 20 000 marches east to meet Bruce. Edmund Butler, Justiciar musters government forces at Leinster and Munster and marches north with 50 000 men. The two armies meet at Ardee, but de Burgh sends the southern army back believing the invasion to be a personal matter – “all edging that himselfe was of sufficient power to expell Bruce and his scottishmen out of the kingdome“.

Butler’s army retires and de Burgh goes in pursuit of the Scottish army. Some skirmishing takes place at Louth, but Bruce decides not to risk a battle and retreats northward. The Earl follows, travelling through land where the inhabitants have joined the Scots. He destroys everything in his path, sparing “neither crop nor residence“. Bruce arrives safely at Coleraine, crosses the Bann, and breaks the bridge behind him. The Earl’s men are unable to cross the river and can only send hails of arrows at the enemy. Edward Bruce contacts Felim O’Connor and persuades him to desert the Earl in return for power in Connaught. Felim’s rival, Ruaidhri O’Connor approaches Bruce with an offer of support in return for possession of Connaught. Bruce accepts Ruaidhri’s offer with the proviso that Ruaidhri does not attack Felim. Ruaidhri lays waste to Connaught and Felim is forced to return to defend his lands. Richard de Burgh is weakened by the departure of Felim and withdraws to Connor.

Edward Bruce and the Earl of Ulster battle at Connor

The Scottish cross the Bann on boats and take cover in the woods. On 10th September, the Scots take the English army unawares at Connor and they battle with heavy losses on both sides. The Earl of Ulster is defeated with considerable losses. The earl’s cousin, William de Burgh, is captured along with his knights Fitzwarren and John de Mandeville. The Earl of Ulster returns to Connaught and his army is cut in two; the Connaught men are chased back home and the English flee to take refuge in Carrickfergus Castle. The Scots have nothing but scorn for Richard de Burgh as he showed“ that he Shall have no great will for to fight” For the remainder of the year, de Burgh was ‘without sway or power in any part of Ireland’. Meanwhile the English government ask the treasurer at Dublin to collect money to raise a fleet in Irish waters. Supplies of corn are sent to Carrickfergus Castle from Dublin, however some of these provisions are diverted to be sold in Carlisle.

 Edward Bruce follows the English to Carrickfergus

Bruce dispatches the Earl of Moray to Scotland for reinforcements and then follows the English to Carrickfergus. Bruce attempts to take Carrickfergus Castle but suffers losses from sallies and withdraws. He travels to Dundalk to meet Moray who is waiting for him with 500 men. The Scottish army heads towards Nobber, Co. Meath, in the heart of English territories. The Scottish burn Kells and Granard and march for two months unopposed through the midlands, devastating the country. Bruce is surprised at the failure of the Irish to support him and his diminished numbers began to cause him alarm. He heads north and is met by Edmund Butler and John Fitzthomas in Kildare. Although the assembled forces easily outnumber the Scottish soldiers, Bruce makes use of the disunion of the armies and wins the battle causing many losses on the English side. Bruce continues his retreat north and meets further opposition at Kells from Roger Mortimer, the Earl of Meath. Although Mortimer’s army consists of 15 000 men, they were not loyal and quickly desert the field, leaving Bruce victorious.

Edward Bruce returns to Carrickfergus Castle

The destruction of land and failure of crops causes a famine in Ireland. Bruce, driven by necessity, returns to Ulster in the Spring to take up the siege of Carrickfergus Castle in earnest. The English supply Dublin castle and set about disrupting Scottish supply and support ships. At Drogheda, Thomas de Mandeville, is given men and supplies to lead an expedition against Bruce. On April 8th, he reaches Carrickfergus and reinforces the garrison with men and supplies. A sally from the castle takes Bruce by surprise and results in the death of thirty Scottish soldiers. Bruce’s men quickly recover and after another sally, de Mandeville is slain during street fighting. However, the siege is not broken. Bruce withdraws and sends to Scotland for reinforcements. By June, with provisions running low, the castle begins negotiations for a surrender. The garrison captures thirty Scots during the negotiations. In July, the government sends eight supply ships for Carrickfergus Castle, but they are commandeered by the Earl of Ulster. Pressed by starvation, the garrison is reduced to eating hides and, according to Pembridge, eight of the thirty Scottish prisoners. The castle holds out until early September when they tender their surrender on good terms for their lives. Bruce uses Carrickfergus as his base until his death at Faughart In October 1318.