2a. Anglo-Norman Arrival

4. Anglo-Norman Arrival:


The power-sharing agreement between the Vikings and the McCarthy clan was opposed and changed by the Anglo-Normans who arrived at Bannow Bay on the coast of Wexford in 1169, led by Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow. They came at the invitation of power-hungry Diarmuid MacMurrough, an Irish chieftain in Leinster who wished to be High King and saw this foreign force as a means of achieving his ambition. The Anglo-Normans very quickly established themselves as the dominant force, subduing several Gaelic and Viking family groups on the east coast. King Henry II, realising the fiscal benefits Ireland could afford the Crown, sent Norman forces to colonise the Irish countryside and the Viking urban areas.

 Anglo-Normans, Battle of Hastings, Bayeux Tapestry

Early and newly adapted Anglo-Norman towns were mainly located in the east, where new settlements such as Kilkenny and Drogheda were established. Pre-existing Danish Viking settlements were also taken for the Crown, such as Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Cork.


By the early 1170s the Anglo-Normans had taken control of large tracts of land from Waterford to Dublin. In 1172 they turned their attention to Cork. Two Anglo-Norman lords, Milo de Cogan and Robert Fitzstephen, were despatched to Corcach Mór na Mumhan with a small land force to confront and dispossess the chief of the McCarthys, Diarmuid McCarthy, of his lands in counties Cork and Kerry. To avoid confrontation, Diarmuid acknowledged the sovereignty of Henry II without any resistance, handed over much of his lands and even gave the King hostages each year as security and tribute. The land that he was allowed to retain, in particular large sections in County Kerry, would not be subject to Anglo-Norman control. In a bizarre turn of events, Diarmuid’s eldest son Cormac, unhappy at losing his inheritance, captured his father, threw him into a local prison cell and ordered that he be tortured. Milo De Cogan and Robert Fitzstephen rescued Diarmuid, who promptly had the disloyal Cormac beheaded.


Unfortunately for Diarmuid, the spirit of rebellion had not yet been quelled. Leader of the Danes, Gilbert, son of Turgarius, decided to lead a force of men in a naval attack against the new invaders. A reluctant Diarmuid  McCarty agreed to support him with land forces.


The appointed general of the King’s troops was Raymond le Gros, while the King’s admiral was Adam Heresford. Unaware of the imminent threat from Cork, Hereford decided to raid Lismore in County Waterford while waiting for a wind to take his ship to Waterford. As it happened, Gilbert and his men were encamped just sixteen miles away from Lismore, in a neighbouring territory. It is not known why Gilbert was in the area at this time, possibly he was conducting trade or was investigating the extent of Anglo-Norman control. Nevertheless, when he became aware of Heresford’s plans for Lismore, he decided to launch a surprise attack. The two sides clashed in a bloody battle. Gilbert was killed in the fighting and the Cork Danes eventually surrendered. Meanwhile in Waterford, Le Gros heard of the battle and gathered a large force to aid Heresford. On his way to Lismore, however, he encountered Diarmuid McCarthy and his land force. Diarmuid gave up his advance when Le Gros offered him a bribe by of 4,000 cows.


Present day St. Nicholas ChurchSuch was the importance of this victory over the Danes that a church dedicated to St. Nicholas, an eminent saint in the Christian religion of the Normans, was built in 1174 off Douglas Street to commemorate the event. The church on the site now is still called St Nicholas and is the third church built on the site (built 1847). Henceforth, the Vikings were vanquished from Corcach Mór na Mumhan.


Once the Vikings had been defeated, Fitstephen and De Cogan’s began the transformation of the settlement into an Anglo-Norman town. It was to become one of fifty-six early Anglo-Norman walled towns established in Ireland, some re-founded on adapted and extended Viking settlements sites. Initially, they noted that the Danish settlement on the marshy island was “fortified” and had a gate (“porta”) leading into it. The nature of the fortification, whether it was stone or timber, was not recorded. Incorporating elements of the old settlement, the newcomers instigated many fundamental changes to the town.


The name of the town was shortened to Corke. The renaming was significant as it was the first instance of the anglicising of local Gaelic culture. In addition, in the late 1100s, Henry II chose Bristol as the model to be followed in developing manorial towns in Ireland, especially in issues such as liberties, privileges and immunities. Cork’s first royal charter was granted by Prince John in 1185 and read as follows:

“I have granted and given, and by this my charter confirm to the citizens of Cork, all the fields held of my town, and the ground on which the town is now….this to them and to their heirs, to hold of me and my heirs, and to remain in frank burgage by such customs and rent as the Burgesses of Bristol in England pay yearly for their burgages…and to secure my town of Cork, I grant this to the same my citizens of Cork, all the Laws, Franchises and Customs of freight on whoever sails “.

As a Royal town, Cork would enjoy similar privileges as English towns, would be able to become a centre of political and administrative control and also would benefit from the defences and security provided by the Crown.


In 1199, Cork’s first provost, John Dispenser, was appointed to superintend the settlement, to sustain the Kings’ laws and to administrate rent structures. In 1210 Cork County, along with eleven other counties, was made shire ground by King John, who appointed sheriffs and other proper officers to govern them. In 1241-42, King Henry III granted a charter that outlined the rights of individuals living within the town, including one regulation in particular aimed to preserve the native trade in the town. It forbade foreigners to sell cloth or wine in the town and stipulated that they could sell their wares in the town for not more than forty days. Any purchase made by a foreigner had to be from a native merchant, especially if that purchase were corn, leather or wool.


The Anglo-Normans made significant changes to the landscape of the city. Between the 1170s and 1300s, a stone wall, on average eight metres high, became the new perimeter fence for the old Viking settlement area on the island, which was accessible via a new drawbridge built on the site of the Viking bridge, Droichet. Beyond this wall, a suburb called Dungarvan (now the area of North Main Street) was established on a nearby island. There are only scant historic records detailing the existence of Dungarvan. It is unfortunate that a fire at the Court House in 1891 and at Cork City Hall in 1920 destroyed many municipal documents. It is known that the suburb of Dungarvan was connected to the walled island Anglo-Norman town by a bridge. A water mill existed between the walled town and Dungarvan. Three excavations in the past fifteen years have revealed evidence for the existence of Dungarvan. In 1983 a thirteenth-century mural turret was found on Corn Market Street, while in 1994 excavations on the site of Kyrl’s Quay Shopping Centre, uncovered a quay wall in mid-thirteenth century deposits.