Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Hugh de Lacy was the first person to hold the role of what would become the Viceroy of Ireland. In other words he was second in command to King John who was recognised by Rome as the Lord of Ireland. As the King’s right hand man it would have been de Lacy’s duty to become intimately acquainted with the various members of the Anglo-Irish society. One of these members descended from the line of an ancient rival family, John de Courcy. John was an ambitious renegade knight and a devious plotter. It would however be the ambition and drive that would open the opportunity to take him down.
For minting his own coins de Courcy was guilty of treason, however de Lacy bolstered this with a story that de Courcy was openly defaming King John, alleging he murdered his nephew Prince Arthur to ensure his succession to the throne. De Lacy proclaimed him an outlaw and broke the confidence of his inner circle of knights enabling his capture. Having orchestrated the downfall of his rival John de Courcy, Hugh de Lacy was made the Earl of Ulster in 1205 by King John.
De Courcy refused to go so easily and went across the Irish Sea to his brother-in-law Ragnold, the King of Mann. Securing a fleet de Courcy came to lay an attack on Dundrum. This time though being engaged in an uphill battle de Courcy was defeated and was brought to the Tower of London.
The usurpation of earldom seen de Lacy take up residence at the castle at Carrickfergus. De Lacy however got a little too comfortable within the great tower which was a thorn in the side of King John. John, enraged, was lead to sort the issue out and lay siege in 1210. Hugh was exiled by John and forced to join the Crusades in France where he fought for thirteen years.
Despite the death of King John in 1216, it was only in 1223 that the silver tongued de Lacy talked his way back into royal affections and return to Ulster. However, burnt by previous experience he aligned himself with the O’Neill. For this his lands were confiscated and given to his elder brother Walter, Lord of Meath. In 1227 however he was bound over into becoming the senior ranger for the King of England to keep abreast of Irish affairs.
De Lacy continued in the securing of the territory of Uladh. He introduced a number of orders to the area including the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar. He spent his latter years at Carrickfergus and died at the castle in around 1243 when he was aged in his late sixties. His daughter Maude’s husband Walter de Burgo became the Earl of Ulster in her right.
The Earldom continued to flourish under the de Burgo, Richard Óg De Burgh, the second Earl, was a close friend and ally of Edward I of England. His daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of the widowed Robert the Bruce and reigned over Scotland.
Robert’s brother Edward however caused some problems for the successive de Burgo Earls. He laid claim to Ireland coming across the sea and landing at Olderfleet Castle, Larne on 26 May 1315. An army led by vassals of the Earl of Ulster including the de Mandevilles, Savages, Logans and Bissets of the Glens, and their Irish allies were sent to deal with the invaders. The Scots managed to capture the town of Carrickfergus, while the Earl’s men held onto the Castle.
He proclaimed himself King and held a coronation in the Abbey of Saint Patrick, now Down Cathedral. Which he later burned to the ground. It was not the cunning of the Anglo-Irish that eventually seen of the Edward, but a famine which weakened his army. He entered the Gap of the North in 1318 and was met by a great resistance. A battle was fought at Faughart at which Bruce was killed. His body was quartered, and his head sent to Edward II. He was interred at the ancient cemetery of Faughart.
As the de Burgo’s were able to hold onto power it incited a hatred and jealousy among members of the family. The third Earl, William Donn de Burgo was murdered by the knights of his household at the age of 20. The ensuing turmoil lead to the Burke Civil War. During this struggle the de Burgo family lost all their lands in Ulster.