1 May 1169: Anglo-Normans land in Ireland for the first time

Troops cross the Irish Sea to help a disgraced king regain his throne


Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leinster has not had a good press. According to the historian Gerald of Wales, he was “a man who liked better to be feared by all than loved by any. One who would oppress his greater vassals, while he raised to high station men of lowly birth. A tyrant to his own subjects, he was hated by strangers; his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him.”

Dermot was even accused of kidnapping the abbess of Kildare and killing more than a hundred people who tried to stop this “wanton and sacrilegious outrage”.

In 1166 an alliance of rival Irish kings rose against Dermot and kicked him out. But he was not a man to stay down for long. Having fled across the Irish Sea into exile, Dermot then begged for help from England’s king, Henry II. “Henceforth, all the days of my life, on condition that you be my helper so that I do not lose everything,” he promised, “you I shall acknowledge, as sire and lord.”

Ireland and Britain had always been part of the same world: the Vikings who ravaged England’s shores had also founded Dublin, and there had long been trading contacts across the sea. But on 1 May 1169, Dermot’s entreaties produced a fateful result.

At Bannow Bay, in County Wexford, the Anglo-Norman adventurers Robert FitzStephen and Maurice Prendergast landed with 40 knights, 60 men-at-arms and more than 300 archers. These were the men who were going to recover Dermot’s throne – and in return, they wanted Irish lands of their own.
They made quick progress, not least because many of the Irish were armed only with stones. Wexford fell within weeks, and by 1170 Dermot had recovered his throne. But the bigger story was the arrival of the English – the first chapter in a long and bloody saga. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

1 May 1308

Albrecht I of Habsburg, king of Germany and duke of Austria, is murdered by his disinherited nephew John while on the way to suppress a revolt in Swabia.

1 May 1707

The Act of Union between England and Scotland comes into force, creating Great Britain.

1 May 1759

British forces complete the capture of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe from the French. The original intention had been to take Martinique but it had soon been judged too difficult and the expedition had moved on to Guadeloupe.

1 May 1786

At the Burgtheater in Vienna, opera lovers are treated to the first performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s latest work, The Marriage of Figaro.

1 May 1912

Walkers in London's Kensington Gardens had their first view of Sir George Frampton's bronze statue of Peter Pan, which had been secretly erected in the park overnight.

1 May 1931

New York's Empire State Building was officially opened by US president Herbert Hoover, who pushed a button in Washington DC to turn on the building's lights.


1 May 1933

The Roca-Runciman Treaty was signed by Britain and Argentina. This guaranteed Argentina a fixed share in the British meat market and, in exchange, gave Britain considerable trade advantages in the South American country.

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