Sir Edward Bruce, High King of Ireland, Earl of Carrick, and brother of Robert I, King of Scots, died on the 14th of October, 1318.
By the year 1315, there were only two de Brus brothers left in Scotland; Robert de Brus and his younger sibling Edward. The English Plantagenet Edwards, I and II, between them had the others chopped into pieces in the manner Longshanks had practiced on yon Welshman, Dafydd ap Gruffudd, in 1283, and perfected as his way of dispatching William Wallace in 1305. Sometime between the Spring of 1307 and the 7th of July that year, when the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ died, he had caused Neil de Brus, the youngest of the brothers, to be drawn, hanged and quartered. The other two Bruce brothers, Alexander and Thomas, had suffered a similar fate at the hands of Edward II after being captured in the Spring of 1308 in the vicinity of Loch Ryan. Bannockburn kinda settled the score to some extent, but the English threat wouldn’t go away and neither Robert nor Edward de Brus were the kind to sit content on their laurels.
One year AB (after Bannockburn), Robert I of Scotland, sent his wee brother to Ireland. Edward's main mission was to make a nuisance o’ himsel’ and create a second front in the ongoing war against England. The Plantagenet dynasty’s right to rule over Ireland had been ‘confirmed’ by the ‘Laudabiliter’ in 1155 – a Papal Bull issued by the English Pope, Adrian IV, in favour of Henry II of England. Thereafter, between 1169 and 1171, the invasion of Ireland consolidated the English rule and afterwards, the country was divided between the surviving Irish dynasties in the west and the Anglo-Norman-Irish Lordship in the east. The Bruces, buoyed by their success against Edward II and in anticipation of support from the Irish, decided it would be a good idea to invade Ireland; if not to drive out the English, at least to keep them on the defensive. In support of their planned invasion of Ireland, the Bruces organised a propaganda campaign, which majored on the close cultural, ethnic and tribal links between the two countries. That was stretching things a bit for a Norman-Scot, but for someone who later subscribed to the notion of the cradle of Scotland’s existence being far off Egypt, it wasn’t too much of a stretch. The Bruces’ vision was of a pan-Gaelic alliance, between the predominantly Gaelic Irish and the part-Gaelic, part-Norman, part-Scottish, emergent Bruce dynasty. You might think that Robert de Brus’ second marriage, to Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster, would have been a factor, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the de Burghs were no less Norman than the Bruces and they were certainly no friends to the indigenous Gaelic hierarchy, and particulary the Ó Néills. Robert de Brus wrote a letter to the Irish chiefs in which he stressed the ancient heritage and common language of the Scots and Irish, using the phrase ‘nostra nacio’ (our nation) in his Latin missive, which read in part:
“Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God's will our nation may be able to recover her ancient liberty.”
The Irish had ceased to be coherent enough to support a High King and some of them recognised the need for a unifying leader. One of these was Domnál mac Brian Ó Néill, notionally King of Ulster, who had been Ard Rí himsel’ briefly, between 1258 and 1260. Clearly, he saw the advantages of the Bruces’ plan and promptly extended an invite to Edward de Brus to become High King. For Ed, it was a ‘no brainer’ that would elevate him to King in his own right and out of the shadow of his elder brother and, on the 26th of May, 1315, he landed with more than 6,000 men near Larne in County Antrim. Edward, aided by Ó Néill, quickly defeated the Norman vassals of Robert de Brus’ father-in-law, the Earl of Ulster, and their Irish allies, and subsequently captured the town of Carrickfergus. Then, at Faughart in County Louth, sometime in early June of 1315, Edward de Brus was proclaimed High King of Ireland by Ó Néill and twelve or so of his northern Irish Kinglings. It was recorded by the Irish Annals that “all the Gaels of Ireland agreed to grant him lordship and they called him King of Ireland.” However, in practice, it was a fairly nominal recognition by many, although Bruce did have ‘de facto’ rule over much of eastern and mid-Ulster for a time. Later, in 1317, Ó Néill even went as far as to write to Pope John XXII, where he described Edward as “pious and prudent, humble and chaste, exceedingly temperate, in all things sedate and moderate, and possessing power (God on high be praised) to snatch us mightily from the house of bondage” and demanded the revoking of the Papal Bull. Pope John said “Bullocks!”
Edward de Brus spent three and a half years in Ireland. During that time he attempted to subdue the island and bring both the Anglo-Norman-Irish and the native Irish Gaels to heel. Prominent battles were fought at Dundalk, Connor and Kells; in each of which Edward was victorious. Robert the Bruce came over for a time ‘to crack a few heids’, but he went back to Scotland in the Spring of 1317 after famine had stricken most of Ireland. The end of Edward’s ‘reign’ came at the Battle of Faughart – the same place where he had been crowned just over three years previously – on the 14th of October, 1318. Edward de Brus was defeated by Anglo-Norman-Irish forces under John de Berminghan, thus ending forever the hopes of a combined Scots-Irish resistance to England. Like his brothers before him, Edward de Brus was chopped up and pieces of his body were displayed in the chief towns of the east. His head was lightly salted and presented to King Edward II in a box, albeit locals can still point to what is supposed to be the grave of de Brus in the churchyard on the Hill of Faughart.
The Bruces’ propaganda had suggested that there was a strong fellow feeling amongst the mediaeval Scottish and Irish and that they had a common enemy in England. However, the Annals of Ulster, referring to Edward de Brus’ death, recorded that “…there was not done from the beginning of the world a deed that was better for the Men of Ireland than that deed” The Annals were reflecting the public joy at the end of the famine and pillaging caused by the fighting between the ‘Foreigners of Ireland’.