August 23rd remains largely unrecognised as an important date in Irish history. Yet, in its way, Strongbow’s landing, on the coast near the modern day border between Counties Wexford and Waterford, would prove to be as significant for Ireland as William of Normandy’s arrival on the Sussex coast was for the future of England.
Like the landing of British, American and Commonwealth troops on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944, this was seen by some of the local population as a liberation force, intended to restore autonomy to the kingdom of Leinster and free it from domination by powerful neighbours.
The fact that, as we now know, most of the invading force saw it instead as an opportunity to plunder and dominate a primitive people, some of whose practices went against the teachings of the Church, was either unrecognised or ignored by McMurrough and bis followers.
And just as the people of France and Belgium had waited years for the arrival of a liberating force, so Aoife, her father and every member of their clan had endured years of waiting for de Clare to deliver on his promise. In this extract from Strongbow’s Wife I try to imagine Aoife’s reaction when she hear’s news of his eventual arrival.
“The summer was almost over and the harvest well underway before news finally reached us of new landings of foreigners near Waterford. It was a busy time: late in August the fields around Ferns are a patchwork of green and gold. By then most of the fields of gold contained conical stacks each comprising several tied bundles of straw topped with fat ears of grain set to dry.
That day groups of men and women were still cutting the standing crops in a few fields whilst in others the bundles were being collected on carts drawn by oxen for transfer to the barns and store houses where the grain would, in time, be threshed from the husk then ground into flour and meal. On the rising ground beyond the town cattle and sheep grazed on grass made lush by late summer rains.
Mother and I were collecting berries with which we planned to make dyes for the yarn we had already spun from the summer’s fleeces. A messenger interrupted us. Bowing in deference, he said I must go at once to my father.
I followed the messenger across the fields wondering about the reason for this summons. Was my father ill? But then, he would surely have called for Mother. Could it mean that de Clare was at last here? Then I thought again about how long he had delayed. It had taken him three summers to answer my father’s pleadings. Could a man who had delayed so long be worthy of Father’s friendship and my hand in marriage?
Approaching the castle I saw there was already great bustle and movement. The men and women working the fields when I first set out had abandoned their work and were assembling in the square before the castle entrance. The crowd parted as I approached, allowing me to enter the castle compound unhindered. There I found my father, brother and uncle assisting grooms to prepare horses.
‘Aoife! There you are.’ Father was smiling. I remember thinking how rare an event that was these days. ‘Go now and prepare yourself for a journey and your marriage,’ he bade me. ‘We leave at first light tomorrow for Waterford where de Clare awaits us.'”
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