A Brief Irish History

In very early times, god-like warriors (possible from Persia or Greece) with magical powers were alleged to live in Ireland. It is said that the early Irish kings traced their ancestry to Japhet, Noah's oldest son. By the 6th century BC, these warriors had disappeared, perhaps exterminated by King Milesius of Spain and Egypt. When Heremon, a son of Milesius, married about 1500 BC, his wife chose Tara in Ireland as her dowry. Tara remained the capital of Ireland and home of the Irish High Kings for 2500 years, until the Norman invasion. About 400 BC the Celts westward march was halted by their landing in Ireland, the last piece of European soil. About 100 AD the Gaels began to emerge, following the legends, myths and customs of those who had preceeded them. This was the beginning of the Gaelic culture that exists in Ireland to this very day.

Ireland was a pagan country until the time of St. Patrick in 432 AD. The arrival of Christianity brought schools, recording on manuscripts thousands of years of folklore and traditions, brilliant gold and other metal works, as well as the great monastic settlements that were to "save civilization" in Western Europe during the Dark Ages. About 900 AD, Vikings began to invade Ireland, plundering and looting treasures from the monasteries along the east coast. By 1014, Brian Boru was elected High King of Ireland and attacked the Viking stronghold of Dublin in what is known as the Battle of Clontarf. The Irish forces prevailed and it stopped Viking advances in Ireland for all time. Of particular interest to those of us gathered here today is the story of Tadhg of the White Horse. The Irish were losing the battle and King Brian prevailed upon Tadhg, "Hard warrior, show me the strength of your hand!" The forces of the White Knight helped the Irish win the battle and Tadhg subsequently took the surname "ÓChruadhlaoich", Irish for "hardy warrior". Thus marked the beginnning of the Crowley surname, or so tradition has it.

In 1169 AD, the beginning of the Norman invasions started in Co. Wexford. Strongbow led some of the expeditions and overwhelmed the local Irish who were not used to defending against "new" military strategies of the Normans. The Normans were great administrators and started introducing infrastructure into Irish life, such as coinage, jury systems and centralized government in Dublin. Their influence was in the area around Dublin which became known as "The Pale" and did not extend to the western provinces of Ireland. It is said that they "became more Irish than the Irish themselves". The English king, Henry II, was concerned enough to come to Ireland to stop the Norse progress. The Normans were eventually forbidden by the English to adopt the traditions and dress of the Irish or even to speak the Irish language!

The next several hundred years were periods of intermittent English administration and squabbles among the Irish Chieftains themselves. It is thought that the Crowleys continued as soldiers and aristocrats in Connacht (northwestern Ireland) until the 13th century. About that time they appeared to have relocated to Munster (southeastern Ireland) probably due to the fact that Connacht had been subdued by the Normans and also since Munster offered more opportunities. In 1283 the MarCarthy left for Munster and the Crowleys probably accompanied him. In any event, by 1500 the Crowleys were in service to MacCarthy Mor, King of Desmond in Co. Cork.

In 1541 the king of England, Henry VIII, made himself King of Ireland. The Irish Chieftains seem to recognize this but when Henry also declared himself head of the Church of England, the Irish began to revolt. Over the next 50 years there were numerous uprisings and skirmishes. In 1601 an Irish army led by O'Neill and O'Donnell marched from Ulster to Kinsale in Co. Cork where they planned to join a Spanish fleet and engage the English. As happened many times in Irish history, they were betrayed by an informer and lost the Battle of Kinsale. This was the beginning of the end for the old Gaelic order. Many of the Irish royalty fled to mainland Europe in what is known as the "Flight of the Earls". It is said that as the Crowley forces started for Kinsale from their castle at Ahakeera (near present day Dunmanway, Co. Cork) about 30 miles away, they were caught in a valley by a severe fog and their arrival at Kinsale was delayed by several days, by which time the battle was lost.

During the next 50 years, the English still considered Ireland as a vital military location. After Kinsale, cattle and lands were appropriated, inheritance rights denied, and other indignities were imposed on the Irish leadership remaining in Ireland. The Queen of England's representative told one of the English military leaders in 1602 that, "MacCarthy is most assisted by the O'Crowleys; have a special care to prosecute him and his assistants." In 1642 twenty six Crowleys (one a yeoman and the others "gentlemen") were outlawed by the English and many more indicted for treason in subsequent years. The notorious Cromwell came in 1649 and waged unspeakable slaughters upon the Irish. Penal laws were introduced that, among other things, barred Catholics from Parliament, from holding any public office, joining the army, attending schools or religious services, owning a horse worth more than £5 (in an agricultural society) or speaking the Irish language! They were compelled to drop the "O" and "Mac" prefixes from their names. The English were determined to wipe out any traces of Irishness. As an example of the cruelty, in 1694, an English soldier cut off the hand of a starving child who had snatched a piece of food from the soldier's plate. Teige Crowley was told of this and promptly hanged the soldier. Teige was later captured, escaped, was shot dead, and had his head impaled in Cork City. The Battle of the Boyne was the final major defeat and the remnants of the Irish leadership fled to Spain, France, Russia, Italy and South America, in what has become known as the "Flight of the Wild Geese." This defeat paradoxically spread the Irish influence throughout the world.

The American and French Revolutions of the 18th century sowed the seeds for some relaxing of the anti-Catholic laws. There were many minor English-Irish conflicts and some major ones such as the 1798 Rebellion which featured Protestant Irish hero and patriot Wolfe Tone. In 1829, Daniel O'Connell won Catholic emancipation by the power of non-violent speech. In 1849, the Young Ireland Movement led a failed insurrection and their leaders were transported to Australia. An Gorta, the "Great Hunger" arrived in the 1840's and caused the death of one million Irish and the emigration of another two million within 10 years. This was precipitated by several failures of the potato crop, but was not a famine. There was food in Ireland, but the English continued to export it, despite the starvation. This was a watershed event in Irish history and today there are far fewer people in Ireland (four million) than in 1840. Other results such as physical and mental handicaps due to malnutrition and starvation are still evident in Ireland today, several generations later.

The fight for Home Rule and land reform continued during the late 19th century. With the advent of WWI, England was preoccupied and on Easter Monday 1916, some Irish rebels occupied the Dublin General Post Office and fighting broke out with the English forces throughout Dublin. Irish public opinion was not with the Rebels. However, when the English crushed the outbreak by executing the rebel leaders, the Irish were brought together more so than they had been in the previous 350 years. A treaty granting Home Rule was finally negotiated after 1918 but at the price of partitioning Ireland's six counties in a portion of Ulster. This partition is the cause of the current "Troubles" in Ireland today. Partition also caused an Irish Civil War in 1921/22 between the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces. That split is still evident in Irish politics today.

As far as I can determine, the first Irish in New Zealand were 18th century whalers, sealers, traders, and, occasionally convicts from New South Wales, Australia. The latter were "transported" by the English from Ireland to Australia for trivial offenses, never again to see their families. The greatest Irish influx came around 1850 with the arrival at Panmure, Howick, and Auckland of Fencible soldiers and their families. During the 1850's most Irish came to New Zealand as soldiers, to flee the hunger in Ireland and to fight the Maori here. Gold was the lure in the 1860's and emigration schemes sponsored by a government that needed laborers was the impetus for the major 1870's influx of Irish. As in other parts of the world, about half the people who left Ireland at this time were female. About 25% if Irish settlers were Protestant, including a large number of Katakati. A review of ship listings shows that most Irish came to New Zealand from Munster and Ulster.

As in all countries the Irish emigrated to, they had a profound influence on New Zealsnd life. William Hobson of Waterford, was Victoria's representative at the treaty of Waitangi in 1840. A Galway man, John Balance was the Premier influential in getting the vote for women, and the New Zealand national anthem was composed by Thomas Bracken of County Monaghan. Robert Muansell of Limerick translated the Old Testament into Maori and did missionary work among them. William Ferguson Massey was Prime Minister from 1912 to 1925. He was a native of Limavady, Co. Derry. Other Irish-New Zealanders include Jim Bolger, the former Prime Minister and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa whose mother was Irish.

Remarks presented by
Thomas R. Crowley - Tanaiste
to the Crowley Family Gathering
New Plymouth, New Zealand
St Padraig's Day Weekend, 2000