One might be forgiven for thinking that the Anglo-Irish lords of the Middle Ages spoke no Irish, or that if they did they had no real interest in Irish culture. Well, think again. When King Richard II came to Ireland in 1394 the then Earl of Ormond (Butler) interpreted the Irish chiefs for him. This Earl was James, third Earl of Ormond; he was influential in bringing the Irish septs, most notably O’Brien, prince of Thomond, to Dublin to submit to Richard. King Richard used his visit to strengthen the loyalty of the Anglo-Irish community, Butlers and FitzGeralds included; but he was happy to receive submissions from the native Irish. He was well aware that the medieval lordship extended only to the Pale around Dublin and what is sometimes referred to as the Second Pale, the Butler (earls of Ormond) district of South Leinster and into Tipperary.
Edmund FitzRichard was a grandson of James, Earl of Ormond. (His father Richard was named after the King who came over in 1394.) This Edmund (FitzRichard) Butler caused the Psalter of Cashel to be made. The manuscript is a transcription of Fenian cycle material, saints lives, genealogies and much historical and theological material. The Psalter changed hands at the battle of Piltown, near the river Suir, in 1462, falling into the possession of Thomas FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond who defeated the Butlers under the leadership of the man who commissioned the book, Edmund FitzRichard. We have this information from what is written by both owners in the margins of the manuscript – and proof that Irish was the language they used in ordinary conversation. The ms is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The Ormond earls were absentees from the 1450s. They became allied with the Boleyns (the family of Henry VIII’s second wife), which sealed their English allegiance and their embrace of the religious revolution at a time when their great rivals to the west and south, the Geraldines, remained Catholic and defiantly Irish. The main Ormond line remained Protestant, but when James FitzMaurice FitzGerald raised the standard of Catholic counter-revolution in 1569 he was joined by the (Catholic) brothers of the current Earl of Ormond. This individual, Black Tom Butler, was a direct descendant of Edmund FitzRichard Butler.
James, third Earl of Ormond, mentioned at the beginning of this article, was the brother-in-law of that earl of Desmond the subject of the recent book from Maire Mhac an tSaoi: Gearóid Iarla. Gearóid is well known for the Gaelic poetry he wrote and the poetry written for him by Goffraidh Fionn O Dálaigh. The other language used was French: his father, the first Earl of Desmond, writes in French when corresponding with the Government (which we find in the printed State Papers). Gearóid is a legendary figure, said to sleep beneath the waters of Lough Gur, only to appear every seven years to ride his horse over the lake.