King John in Ulster

King John landed near Waterford on 20th June 1210 with a large force to demonstrate his Royal authority, in the subjection of his once favorite William de Braose and his wife Matilda, who had insulted him; de Braose was also father-in-law of Hugh de Lacy who as Lord of Meath,along with his brother, Lord of Ulster gave shelter to the de Baroses in defiance of John authority. Hugh de Lacy fled to Carrickfergus castle with Matilda and her son as John seized the de Lacy’s castle at Carlingford.

On 11 July, John constructed a ’bridge of boats’ across Carlingford Lough at Narrow Water and sent the larger part of his army across to march round the northern side of the Mourne Mountains towards the ‘gate of Lecale’, the massive castle of Rath (Dundrum). He himself went on with the rest by sea to Ardglass, where on 12th July where he made camp beside the Ward of Ardglass, Jordan de Saukeville’s castle. Here he was joined byKing John Murtagh O’Brien, the King of Limerick, to whom he made a payment of 10 marks and here (for reasons unknown) it seems he deprived de Saukeville of his castle and lands of Ardglass and Holywood, through they were restored to him in 1217, after Johns death.

The King then advanced on Dundrum,which on the 14th July the huge castle of Rath was captured with no resistance. It was recorded in Johns household accounts (Called the Irish Pipe Roll), details how much John spent for the repair of the tower at Ardglass (4s 2d) and 42s and 7d for hunting rabbits- perhaps at Coney Island nearby, which derives its name from conine, Irish for rabbit. At Rath Castle £11 8s 6d was paid for work on the large tower and small turret, a new hall and a new granary. It names Nicholas a carpenter, Osbert a quarrier, Alberic a ditcher and two miners named as Pinell and Ernuff who were employed there for a total wage of 25s and one mark, the castle remained in royal passion for the next seventeen years.

On the 16 July 1210 King John and his army progressed to Mead, a meadow near Dun (Downpatrick County Down) at a place called Kingsfield, a mile and a half south of Downpatrick today, is said to have been the place of the royal encampment this is near to Ballyduguan on the Newcastle Rd.

As he progressed throughout Ireland, the King camped in bell tents, since the Irish castles were too small to contain all his courtiers and bodyguards, it must have been a fantastic sight for the locals with brightly coloured pennants flying in the breeze from the top of large bell pavilions; these marquees would have been comfortable furnished with carpets, beds and chairs, and were reserved for the King his knights and barons. Men of lesser rank slept in rough and ready shelters; hundreds of soldiers, pages and servants slept out on the ground, close, if they were lucky to have a campfire.

Carrickfergus castle which was the most heavily fortified in Ulster, quickly surrendered to John and amongst the supporters of de Lacy, captured in the castle where knights and gentlemen with Lecale connections were William and Luke de Audley and Ralph de Rossal (Russell),who where deprived of their lands; other knights with local connections, Robert and Thomas de Sauvage were rewarded by King John for their support. Matilda de Braose and her son who had escaped to Scotland, but were captured and confined at Windsor castle where they later starved to death, which is believed to have been the orders of the King.

After spending 10 days at Carrickfergus, the King sailed across Belfast Lough, arriving at 'apud sanctum boscum',the Latin in the original document may not signify the modern town of Holy Wood’, it is probably that the King spent the night of 29 July at a motte (in Hollywood district) called Ballymaghan, near to what is today Belfast City airport.
As he proceeded southwards the King passed a night at Ballimaran (Ballymorran, in the parish of Killinchy) on the shores of Strangford Lough, arriving at Downpatrick on 2nd of August. Here the pin rolls records payments of 37s and 4d and 20s and 4d made to Robert de Ross, of Strangford.

A reference in the Irish pipe Rolls of King John, dating to 1211-1212, concerns the freighting of a boat to carry the King’s treasure from Downpatrick to Carlingford, this proves that Strangford Lough must have reached Bridge St in Downpatrick, enabling ships with a big enough draft to moore there, highlighting the activity around many of the smaller natural harbour's and creeks around the lough at the time. The local importance of Scrabo sandstone and its exploitation in the building of stone castles, grave markers or coffin lids suggested that it must have been transported around the lough, if not further a field.

King John died on 19th October 1216 few days after losing the royal regalia of England, (crown, scepter, orb etc) jewels and treasury in The Wash, a tidal estuary between Lincoln and Norfolk in the eastern counties of England. History has always portrayed John as a bad king, but in reality he was no worse or better than the rest, for the common people, what king ruled them did not make much difference to their lives.


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