Edward Bruce and The Black Death

Edward Bruce

In 1315, Edward Bruce, brother of Scottish king Robert, landed at Larne, County Antrim with a Scottish army. He declared himself King of Ireland after taking Carrickfergus. For three years, he did considerable damage to the interests of the colonists in the north-east until he was killed at Faughert, County Louth in October 1318.

Encouraged by his successes, the Irish in Connacht rose, only to be heavily defeated in the bloody Battle of Athenry which claimed the lives of many Connacht chieftains, members of the O’Connor family, and the five regional Irish kings.

The Black Death

The Black Death of 1348-49 also took a terrible toll on the Irish and Normans alike, especially in the towns. So depleted was the Irish economy that Ireland as a colony ceased to be seen as a benefit to England. The immediate impact of the Black Death was general paralysis, as trade ceased and the survivors were in a state of shock.

In an attempt to revive the fortunes of the colony, a series of major campaigns were launched by the English from 1361, culminating in the arrival of Richard II himself in 1394 with a force of nearly 10,000 men. Instability in England itself, though, meant that these expeditions were sporadic rather than sustained.

While these soldiers secured territory and assisted in the enforcement of English law within the colony, there was nothing they could do to help the economic situation. It became clear that Ireland would continue to be a drain on resources rather than an asset.

The plague returned periodically; striking mostly children, until it disappeared from Europe in 1399, not to return again until the seventeenth century. The Black Death changed the demography of Europe substantially. Besides the plague deaths, there was also a decline in birth rate. The net result was that, by 1400, Europe’s population was half what it had been in 1345. This is known with some accuracy from many medieval churches, census and tax records that have survived. Europe’s population took about six generations to recover.

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