Connaught, indeed, bowed to a nominal acknowledgment of Henry's overlordship; John De Courcy penetrated into Ulster and established himself at Downpatrick; and the King planned for a while the establishment of his youngest son, John, as Lord of Ireland. But the levity of the young prince, who mocked the rude dresses of the native chieftains, and plucked them in insult by the beard, compelled his recall; and nothing but the feuds and weakness of the Irish tribes enabled the adventurers to hold the districts of Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, Water-ford, and Cork, which formed what was thenceforth known as the "English Pale".
Had the Irish driven their invaders into the sea, or the English succeeded in the complete conquest of Ireland, the misery of its after history might have been avoided. A struggle such as that in which Scotland drove out its conquerors might have produced a spirit of patriotism and national union, which would have formed a people out of the mass of warring clans. A conquest such as that of England by the Normans would have spread at any rate the law, the order, the peace and civilization of the conquering country over the length and breadth of the conquered. Unhappily Ireland, while powerless to effect its deliverance, was strong enough to hold its assailants partially at bay. The country was broken into two halves, whose conflict has never ceased. The barbarism of the native tribes was only intensified by their hatred of the more civilized intruders. The intruders themselves, penned up in the narrow limits of the Pale, fell rapidly to the level of the barbarism about them. All the lawlessness, the ferocity, the narrowness, of feudalism broke out unchecked in the horde of adventurers who held the land by their sword.
It needed the stern vengeance of John, whose army stormed their strongholds, and drove the leading barons into exile, to preserve even their fealty to the English Crown. John divided the Pale into counties, and ordered the observance of the English law; but the departure of his army was the signal for a return of the anarchy which he had trampled under foot. Every Irishman without the Pale was deemed an enemy and a robber, nor was his murder cognizable by the law. Half the subsistence of the barons was drawn from forays across the border, and these forays were avenged by incursions of native marauders, which carried havoc to the walls of Dublin. The English settlers in the Pale itself were harried and oppressed by enemy and protector alike; while the feuds of the English lords wasted their strength, and prevented any effective combination for conquest or defence. The landing of a Scotch force after Bannockburn with Edward Bruce at its head, and a general rising of the Irish which welcomed this deliverer, drove indeed the barons of the Pale to a momentary union; and in the bloody field of Athenree their valour was proved by the slaughter of eleven thousand of their foes, and the almost complete extinction of the sept of the O'Connors. But with victory returned anarchy and degradation.
The barons sank more and more into Irish chieftains; the FitzMaurices, who became Earls of Desmond, and whose great territory in the south was erected into a County Palatine, adopted the dress and manners of the natives around them; and the provisions of the Statute of Kilkenny were fruitless to check the growth of this evil. The Statute forbade the adoption by any man of English blood of the Irish language or name or dress; it enforced within the Pale the use of English law, and made that of the native or Brehon law, which was gaining ground, an act of treason; it made treasonable any marriage of the Englishry with persons of Irish blood, or any adoption of English children by Irish foster-fathers. But stern as they were, these provisions proved fruitless to check the fusion of the two races, while the growing independence of the Lords of the Pale threw off all but the semblance of obedience to the English government. It was this which stirred Richard the Second to a serious effort for the conquest and organization of the island. He landed with an army at Waterford, and received the general submission of the native chieftains.
But the Lords of the Pale held sullenly aloof; and Richard had no sooner quitted the island than the Irish in turn refused to carry out their promise of quitting Leinster. In 1398 his lieutenant in Ireland, the Earl of March, was slain in battle, and Richard resolved to complete his work by a fresh invasion; but the troubles in England soon interrupted his efforts, ana all traces of his work vanished with the embarkation of his soldiers.
With the renewal of the French wars, and the outburst of the Wars of the Roses, Ireland was again left to itself, and English sovereignty over the island dwindled to a shadow. But at last Henry the Seventh took the country in hand. Sir Edward Poynings was despatched as deputy; the Lords of the Pale were scared by the seizure of their leader, the Earl of Kildare; the Parliament of the Pale was forbidden by the famous Poynings' Act to treat of any matters save those first approved of by the English King and his Council. For a while however the Lords of the Pale must still serve as the English garrison against the unconquered Irish, and Henry made his prisoner the Earl of Kildare Lord Deputy. "All Ireland cannot rule this man," grumbled his ministers. " Then shall he rule all Ireland," replied the King. But though Henry the Seventh had begun the work of bridling Ireland he had no strength for exacting a real submission; and the great Norman Lords of the Pale, the Butlers and Geraldines, the De la Poers and the Fitzpatricks, though subjects in name, were in fact defiant of royal authority.
In manners and outer seeming they had sunk into mere natives; their feuds were as incessant as those of the Irish septs; and their despotism over the miserable inhabitants of the Pale combined the horrors of feudal oppression with those of Celtic anarchy. Crushed by taxation, by oppression, by misgovernment, plundered alike by Celtic marauders and by the troops levied to disperse them, the wretched descendants of the first English settlers preferred even Irish misrule to English "order,"and the border of the Pale retreated steadily towards Dublin. The towns of the seaboard, sheltered by their walls and their municipal self-government, formed the only exceptions to the general chaos; elsewhere throughout its dominions the English Government, though still strong enough to break down any open revolt, was a mere phantom of rule. From the Celtic tribes without the Pale even the remnant of civilization and of native union which had lingered on to the time of Strongbow had vanished away. The feuds of the Irish septs were as bitter as their hatred of the stranger; and the Government at Dublin found it easy to maintain a strife, which saved it the necessity of self-defence, among a people whose "nature is such that for money one shall have the son to war against his father, and the father against his child." During the first thirty years of the sixteenth century, the annals of the country which remained under native rule record more than a hundred raid? and battles between clans of the north alone.