The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife: A Union Bathed in Blood.

Daniel Maclisse’s painting of the Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife. National Gallery Ireland.

I think it reasonable to suppose that Maclisse’s painting is a figment of imagination, a nightmare vision, created with full knowledge, not just of what had taken place in the preceding days, but what would transpire in the future. The marriage, and what it symbolises, truly was a union bathed in blood. In succeeding centuries the Anglo-Norman invaders and their descendants used Ireland as the stage on which to conduct numerous proxy wars. From Edward Bruce’s fated invasion in the fourteenth century, in the midst of a famine in which some turned to cannibalism to survive, to Cromwell’s enthusiastic pursuit and massacre of Royalists in the seventeenth, and the Great Famine of 1845-52, Ireland bore the brunt of disputes in which they had no direct interest.

It was also treated as a play space for the wealthy, whose ownership of vast estates allowed them to hunt, fish and to profit from exporting agricultural products with little thought given to the welfare of the indigenous people who performed the work for a pittance. Not that they treated their British workers any differently.

My description of the ceremony in Strongbow’s Wife is brief. I share it here as another taster for the book. Thank you for reading. I promise not to mention Strongbow or his wife for a long time now that the anniversary has passed.

“It was the first time I had been inside the cathedral and I could not help marvelling at its size as I entered to the sound of plain song chanted by a choir of monks. It was the following morning and I had finally consented to the union. My view was restricted by the cowl of the fine linen gown that Mother had fashioned for me during the long months of anticipating this moment. The bishop, in his plain brown robe adorned with a bright green sash, seemed a long way off as I processed towards the altar, Father at my side. The ceremony was brief. Afterwards there was none of the music and dancing that might normally be expected to take place on such an occasion. The idea of Norman, Irish and Norse mingling together as wine, beer and cider were consumed in vast quantities filled me with horror in light of what had taken place just days before. I made it a condition of my agreement to proceed with the ceremony that no such celebration would take place.

The odour of rotting flesh still filled the air. As we passed through the city gates I was grateful for the cowl which limited my view of our surroundings but there was no avoiding the blood stains on the cobbles or the persistent buzzing of flies that swarmed around the corpses.

‘Come, Eva. Let us leave this charnel house and find somewhere we can be together.’ De Clare took my hand as he spoke and led me to an empty hut that, I supposed, had been especially prepared for us. He stepped forward and took both hands in his, lowering his head to kiss each in turn.

‘Fear not! I shall not be too eager for I wish to savour every second of this encounter and would that you do so too.’”

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