Ireland and the First Crusade

All the excited souls having taken that pledge, around 100,000 men were chosen, in the presence of the Lord, for military service; that is, from Aquitaine and also from Normandy, England, Scotland and Ireland, Brittany, Galicia, Gascony, Burgundy, Flanders, Lotharingia and other Christian nations whose names occur very seldom now.1

The Franconian (German) monk, and later abbot of Aura, Ekkehard, provides in his chronicle decisive evidence that Irish people were amongst the contingents of participants in the First Crusade. Ekkehard attached himself to Welf IV of Bavaria in the crusade of 1101 and wrote his chronicle, c. 1105. His report is highly significant, for not only was he an eyewitness to the movement of peoples on the First Crusade, but he is one of the earliest medieval continental writers to distinguish between Scotia and Hibernia. The term Scotia having been originally applied to people from Ireland.

Other writers who have addressed this issue have either dismissed the idea that people from Ireland were present on the Crusade, or have followed Edward Gibbon in translating a passage by Guibert of Nogent that uses the term Scoti as being a reference to Ireland.2 Unfortunately, on the only other two occasions that Guibert used the term Scoti, he was referring to Scotland and it is therefore more likely that Guibert's crusaders were Scots than Irish.3 The evidence from Ekkehard is, therefore, much more reliable as it is unambiguous.

Orderic Vitalis wrote his Ecclesiastical History in Normandy between 1125 and 1141, and was very dependent upon the anonymous record of the Crusade called Gesta Francorum. But at one of the points in which he diverged from his source, Orderic wrote: "news of the papal command spread rapidly all over the world and aroused the men of all nations who were predestined to join the army of the almighty Messiah. Its great thunder did not fail to reach England and the other islands of the ocean, though the depths of the sounding sea separated them from the remainder of the world."4 Surely Ireland must be included in the 'other islands of the ocean' separated from the continent?

That people from Ireland were participants on the crusade should in fact come as no surprise given the connections between Ireland and the continent. One grim example of this is provided by the evidence of the plague which ravaged northern Europe in 1094 and devastated Ireland the following year - hitting the country harder than it did England.5

Directly connecting Ireland to the First Crusade were the strong traditions of penitential pilgrimage that existed in the country at the end of the eleventh century. In this regard there is a very interesting entry in the Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles:

Godred subdued Dublin...He subjected the Scots...and died in the Isle of Islay. He left three sons: Lagman, Harald and Olaf. Lagman, the eldest, assumed the crown and ruled for seven years. His brother, Harald, rebelled against him for some time, but was at last captured by Lagman, who castrated him and blinded him. Lagman afterwards repented blinding his brother, and abdicated his kingdom of his own accord; and marked with the sign of the Lord's cross set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but died on the way.6

From 1091 to 1094, Dublin had been part of the kingdom of the Ostman ruler of the Isle of Man, Godred Crovan. In 1094 however Godred was expelled from Dublin by Muirchertach Ua Briain, to die of plague the following year.7 So when the chronicle reported that his son Lagman went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem it was referring to the journey of someone with very strong Irish connections - the antecedents of Godred included Sitric Silkenbeard and Olaf CuarĂ¡n.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, the great historian of the Crusades, takes the annal entry as providing evidence that Lagman was a participant in the First Crusade.8 The symbol of penitents wearing a cross is very much associated with the launch of the Crusade and so it seems reasonable to conclude that Lagman was conscious of being a Crusader. However, the earliest version of the chronicle available to us was not complied until the mid-thirteenth century, by which time the idea of the pilgrim wearing the cross might have contaminated the original source. Nor does the timing of Lagman's journey quite add up. He is reported as dying on the pilgrimage in 1095, which hardly leaves time for the news of the Crusade, preached at Clermont, November 1095, to reach him, although the chronology of the Manx Chronicle is quite confused at this point. It is possible that he set forth on a pilgrimage and encountered information about the Crusade as he travelled. Whether Lagman can be listed as a participant or not, the Chronicle does provide the information that around the time of the First Crusade, people from Ireland were undertaking pilgrimages to the continent.

1 Frutolfi et Ekkehardi, Chronica necnon Anonymi Chronica, F.-J. Schmale and I. Schmale-Ott, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (Darmstadt, 1972) p138: Qua sponsione arrectis animis omnium designata sunt ad presens in Domini miliciam circiter CM virorum, ex Aquitantia scilicet atque Normannia, Anglia, Scotia et Hibernia, Britannia, Galicia, Wasconia, Gallia, Flandria, Lotheringia ceterisque gentibus christianis, quarum nunc minime occurrunt vocabula.

2 E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 6. D. Campbell (London, 1993) p75-6, W. F. Marmion, Were there any Irish names among the first crusaders? Irish Roots Vol 29 (1999) p18-19, Capt. Con Costello, Ireland and the Crusades, Irish Sword, Vol IX (1970) pp263-277.

3 Guibert of Nogent, The deeds of God through the Franks, trans. R. Levine (Woodbridge, 1997) p29.

4 Orderici Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. M. Chibnall, Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1975) p31-2. Apostolicae iussionis fama per totum orbem perniciter uolauit, et de cunctis gentibus predestinatos ad summi Messiae militiam commonuit. Ingens nempe illud tonitruum Angliam quoque aliasque maritimas insulas nequivit latere licet undisoni maris abissus illas remoueat ab orbe.

5 For example, AFM 1095 'some say that a fourth part of the men of Ireland died from the malady'. Ed. J. O'Donovan, Hodges, Smith + Co., (Dublin, 1856) p949.

6 Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles. Trans. B. Stowell + G. Broderick, Broderick (Edinburgh, 1973) p8, f.31 verso.

7 S. Duffy, Irishmen and Islesmen in the kingdoms of Dublin and Man, 1052-1171, Eriu 43 (1992) pp93-133.

8 J. Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders, 1095-1131, C. U. P. (Cambridge, 1997) p83.

9 Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles p8.