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…The chalice is a physical token of the integration of the former invaders into Gaelic aristocratic society.…
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An inscription on this fine silver chalice, perhaps given to the Dominican abbey of Burrishoole, in Co. Mayo, in 1494, bears the names of Thomas de Burgo and his wife, Gráinne Ní Mháille (Gráinne O’Malley). The first surname is that of a scion of one of the great Anglo-Norman warlord families in Ireland; the second is obviously Gaelic. (Gráinne was an ancestor of the famous Granuaile.) The chalice—Michael Kenny of the National Museum of Ireland suspects it was probably made in Galway—is a physical token of the integration of the former invaders into Gaelic aristocratic society. Its Gothic style reveals a continuous exposure of Irish art to a shared European heritage.
The de Burgo presence in Ireland dates to the late-twelfth century, when William de Burgo was granted land in Tipperary by Lord John, the future King of England. William’s son Richard invaded Connacht in the 1230s and, after a devastating series of conflicts, took control of most of it in 1235. The Bruce invasion and vicious infighting among various claimants to the de Burgo lordship gradually weakened it. Connacht was effectively lost to Anglo-Norman control, and hence to the English government, by 1350.
Anglo-Norman landholders—Burkes, Joyces, Stauntons—melted, as the chalice shows, into Gaelic upper-class society. In this sense, the chalice symbolises the revival of the Gaelic aristocracy and the retreat of the Anglo-Norman colony. The idea that Anglo-Norman Ireland was ‘Gaelicised’ in the fifteenth century neglects the fact that many of the major Anglo-Norman families resulted from marriages to high-status Irish women. For example, Thomas fitz Maurice, ancestor of the powerful Desmond clan, had an Irish wife called Sadhbh. The colonial aristocracy was always partly Irish, and the process of making it Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis (more Irish than the Irish) was a long one.
This process also involved more ordinary settlers. Hence, the Statute of Kilkenny, promulgated by Edward III’s son Lionel, duke of Clarence, in 1366, complained ‘many English…live and govern themselves by the manners, fashion and language of the Irish enemies’. Uniquely in the Christian world, the statute attempted to ban marriage between two Christian communities, the English and the Irish. Laws such as this were re-enforced by further parliamentary decrees even to the time this chalice was made, but the names inscribed on its base show how futile they were. Ironically, the English themselves began to think of the Anglo-Norman population of Ireland as simply Irish. In the fifteenth century, those of Anglo-Irish origin were officially classified in England as aliens. The earls of Desmond, descended from Thomas fitz Maurice, typified this new hybrid identity. Gerald FitzGerald was justiciar (royal governor) of Ireland in the 1360s but wrote Gaelic poetry. He had a daughter who did not know how to dress in English clothes and a son who was fostered by a Gaelic chief, Conor O’Brien of Thomond. It was increasingly necessary for such magnates to maintain theoretical loyalty to the English monarch while operating on the ground as Irish chieftains.