I don’t know what you did on your wedding eve. If you are a man maybe you had a stag do – a night out with friends at which they did something to humiliate you. If you are a woman, I imagine it would have been a hen night and along similar lines. Of course, if it took place within the last couple of decades it may well have lasted more than a night and involved travel to some foreign location where you could really let your hair down.
As for me, I and five friends rang a quarter peel of Grandsire Doubles in the tower of our local Church. My bride-to-be stayed up late helping her mother make sandwiches for the small party that was planned to follow the ceremony in her local Church the following afternoon.
Strongbow went on a killing spree. His bride-to-be probably spent a part of the day before the wedding travelling from her home in Ferns, in County Wexford, to Waterford. She was accompanied by her parents and other family and clan members as well as the remnants of Robert FitzStephen’s earlier invasion force.
That is how I imagine it, at least. In this extract she notices a strange smell as she assists with the setting up of a camp outside Waterford.
“I had not fully realised the significance of the Normans’ taking of Waterford. For certain I ought to have done for I had seen often enough the strong defences that the Norsemen had constructed around the city. It would have taken a mighty force to destroy those walls and defeat the defenders.
But I gave no thought to how such a feat might have been accomplished or what the consequence might be. It was enough that the city was once again in the control of my father’s allies. Only as the men were erecting our tents beside the river did I begin to suspect what might have taken place within those walls in the days before our departure from Ferns.
A gentle breeze was blowing from the west and on it was carried the smell of decaying seaweed lying in the mud revealed by the retreating tide. I wrinkled my nose at this as I had done so many times before. But there was something else in the symphony of odours reaching my nostrils. Something else that I’d smelled many times before: when a dead animal was left too long where it had fallen and the weather was hot and humid as indeed it was that late August evening.
I determined to seek out Maurice Regan. He had witnessed the taking of the city. Could he confirm that what I had deduced from the stench was true? He had never been one to hide the truth from me. This time it took longer than usual and I had to use all my womanly charms to wheedle it from him. But what he so reluctantly told me was infinitely worse than I had dared to imagine. People had been slaughtered in their hundreds; women and children as well as fighting men. Bodies were piled in the streets leading to Reginald’s Tower.
I was horrified. These were Father’s former friends, mercilessly cut down by men under the command of the man I was to marry. I decided at once that I could not do it. I went to my father and told him I would not marry such a man. I vented my anger at his having kept the terrible news from me. ‘Did you suppose I would not discover the truth?’ I asked. ‘No amount of cleaning up and disposal of bodies could hide the reality of the evil this man perpetrated against our own people. I will not do it. I cannot.’
Father had acted contrite. He assured me he had only been trying to protect me, not de Clare. And it was, he said, not de Clare who was responsible but his lieutenant, a man called Raymond. Father sought to excuse him, saying he was a young man driven by ambition, and fear of what would happen if he did not take the initiative.
Father said that hostages had been taken and he promised to release them. Furthermore, he said, he would ensure that in future de Clare and his henchmen remained under his direct control. My marriage to de Clare would help guarantee that. If I were to fail in my duty to fulfil the promise Father had made to de Clare, who knew what further horrors the foreigners might wreak upon the Irish. ‘We can ill afford to have such men as enemies,’ he said in a final effort at persuasion.
I could see the logic of Father’s assertion but it only added to the burden of responsibility that now lay upon my shoulders.”
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