Off With Their Heads!

skulls-600-7Among the more gruesome finds from an archaeological investigation of the Rock of Dunamase in County Laois were: “Fragments of 10 skulls [that] were found in the early destruction levels of the gate tower, and these are assumed to have once adorned the roof of this structure. Examination of the skulls by Lauren Buckley has shown that they were all beheadings.”

Reading about the history of the medieval period, in Ireland both before and after the Normans’ arrival and elsewhere, one is struck by the brutality of the times. Dermot’s arch enemy, Tiernan O’Rourke, after he was killed in a battle with Hugh de Lacy, had his head removed and either displayed on the wall of Dublin castle or sent to King Henry, depending on which account you read. In another account his headless body is said also to have been hung upside down near Dublin castle.


He was beheaded also by them, and his head and body were carried ignominiously to Dublin. The head was raised over the gate of the fortress, a sore miserable sight for the Gael. The body was hung in another place with the feet upwards. Quoted from the Annals of Ulster by Nicky Furlong in Diarmait King Of Leinster.

Years before, Dermot had aroused O’Rourke’s anger by stealing the latter’s wife, along with a herd of cattle and other effects. By most accounts she was a willing accomplice in this enterprise. In due course she was returned but the “honour price” due was not paid.


Blinding was another common practice between enemies in pre-Norman Ireland. Often a truce would be guaranteed by the giving of hostages. If the truce was broken the hostages would be killed or maimed. Dermot’s son Enna, having been taken hostage, was subsequently blinded before being returned to his family. To guarantee an agreement reached with the High King O’Connor soon after Strongbow’s arrival, a grandson, a nephew and the son of a Dermot’s foster brother were all given as hostages. When a later agreement was broken all three were killed, dismembered and returned. The general consensus is that O’Rourke was behind this atrocity.

Castle Dunamaise ruins #2 webMy final example involves Strongbow’s great grand-daughter and her husband, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore in Herefordshire and Dunamase in Laois. Almost a century after Strongbow’s arrival in Ireland Roger Mortimer killed the rebel baron Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham and sent the head back to his wife at Wigmore castle.

Such barbarism seems shocking to us, until we begin to think of present day events in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan … and even, in May of 2013, on the streets of London.

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