John de Courcy.

John de Courcy came to Ireland around 1171 as part of the Norman army which King Henry used to bring the Irish princes and other adventurers into line. By c.1176 he had been appointed Justicar of Ireland (Chief Minister) and by then his thoughts were turning to acquiring lands and title for himself. He left Dublin in early 1177 with a small army of just 300 men and around 22 knights intent on capturing the kingdom of Dál Fiatach (modern eastern Ulster) which he knew to be rich with good farmland but was riven by factional divisions.

By the time he arrived at the hill fort of Down another 300 fighting Irishmen had joined his army. After two fierce battles, de Courcy defeated the local chieftain, Rory MacDunleavy. He then moved north to the kingdom of Dál nAraide whose king he killed in battle eventually reaching the north coast in 1178. He went on to build his main castle on the Rock of Fergus (modern day Carrickfergus) with another at Dundrum.

John was described as being tall, blonde and physically very strong. He was a man of courage, dedicated to the worship of God and very astute. He knew that by granting Rory MacDunleavy’s former fortress at Down, to the church and dedicating it to Saint Patrick, he would win the support of locals and make it difficult for his enemies to win it back.  In 1186 he arranged for the remains of Saint Patrick to be moved to the Cathedral in what was now known as Downpatrick. This act, overseen by a papal legate, made the cathedral a place of pilgrimage which continues to the present day.

He brought in a feudal system, keeping the local population and bringing in new settlers as well, with his castles and forts providing security & justice for all.

Of course as things always seem to go he fell out of favour with the king and in 1202, the now King John dismissed him from office and in 1203 he offered Hugh de Lacy all John’s lands in return for deposing and capturing him. The story goes that Good Friday was the only day of the year that he went without armour or sword whilst attending worship. His enemies knowing this chose this day to attack him, eventually overcoming him but not before he had killed 13 of them with the cross pole. Whether this is true or not, it is in keeping with the spirit of this Lord of Ulster.

De Courcy was eventually released and tried unsuccessfully to regain his lands. It is believed in died around mid 1219 at which time Affreca was granted her lawful dower of lands in Ulster.