Aoife Ní MacMurrough, also known by later historians as Eva of Leinster, was a noble, princess of Leinster and countess of Pembroke. She was the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and his second wife, Mor O’Toole, a relation of St Lawrence O’Toole.
Following the Norman invasion of Ireland that her father had requested, she married Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow, the leader of the Norman invasion force, in Christchurch cathedral in Waterford. Her father, Dermot MacMurrough, who was seeking a military alliance with Strongbow in his feud with the King of Breffney, Tiernan O’Rourke, had promised Aoife to Pembroke. However, according to Brehon Law, both the man and the woman had to consent to the marriage, so it is fair to conclude that Aoife accepted her father’s arrangements.
Under Anglo-Norman law, this gave Strongbow succession rights to the Kingdom of Leinster. Under Brehon law, the marriage gave her a life interest only, after which any land would normally revert to male cousins; but Brehon Law also recognised a transfer of “swordland” following a conquest. Aoife led troops in battle and is sometimes known as Red Eva.
She had two sons and a daughter with her husband Richard de Clare and through their daughter, Isabel de Clare, within a few generations their descendants included much of the nobility of Europe including all the monarchs of Scotland since Robert I (1274–1329) and all those of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom since Henry IV (1367–1413); and, apart from Anne of Cleves, all the queen consorts of, as well as, Henry VIII.
While the exact date of the death of Aoife of Leinster is unknown (one suggested year is 1188), there is in existence one tale of her demise. As a young woman, she lived many years following the death of Strongbow in 1176, and devoted herself to raising their children and defending their territory. She had a fortress tower constructed at Cappamore where she was to conduct a feud with the Quinns. One day, while walking in the grounds of Cappamore, she was shot through the throat by one of the Quinns while talking with the captain of her guard. Her remains were interred in the crypt of Kilkenny Castle.
It’s also been said that she was sent to live in Wales at one of Strongbows castles and in fact never set foot in Ireland again. She was 13 when she married Strongbow who was more interested in cementing his control over Leinster.
A life-size statue of her sits at Carrickfergus Castle, with a plaque describing her as “thinking of home.”
Image | Painting of the marriage of Aoife and Strongbow | By Daniel Maclise | Iconic image of the Norman Invasion of Ireland
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