The Norman Conquest of Ireland


     In 1066 Duke William of Normandy, France invaded and conquered England. Following that conquest, the new King William the Conqueror had to repay the many Norman barons who had supplied him with money, men and material for the Conquest. He did this by the awarding of English Baronies. Nearly all of the land in England was transferred to Norman hands following the Conquest.

     The first mention of the name Fay that is found in English documentation is that of Radulphus or Ralph De Fay, or De La Fay, to whom Henry II, in 1154, granted the extensive Manor of Bromely, in Surrey.

     Shortly afterwards the Norman invasion of Ireland took place. At the  time  Gaelic Ireland was made up of a number of kingdoms, but with a High King claiming lordship over all. In May 1169,  Norman mercenaries landed in Ireland at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), the recently ousted King of Leinster, who had sought their help in regaining his kingdom. Diarmait and the Normans retook Leinster within weeks and then proceeded to launch raids into the neighbouring kingdoms. This military intervention had the backing of King Henry II of England and was also authorized by Pope Adrian IV.

     In the summer of 1170, there were two further Norman landings led by Richard “Strongbow” de Clare. By May of 1171, Strongbow had assumed control of most of Leinster and had seized the Norse/Irish city-kingdoms of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford. That summer High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor) initiated  an Irish counteroffensive. However the Normans nevertheless managed to hold on to most of their conquered territory.

   In October of 1171, King Henry landed a large Anglo-Norman army in Ireland to assert control over both Strongbow and the Irish. He let Strongbow hold Leinster in fief but declared the cities to be crown land. Many Irish kings subsequently submitted to Henry, presumably in the hope that he would curb further Norman expansion. Before Henry’s departure in March of 1172, he granted the unconquered kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy, who had accompanied him to Ireland and who, early in 1172, had been sent to receive the submission of the  High King of Ireland. De Lacey was given the service of fifty knights and awarded almost royal authority. He was also put in charge of Dublin Castle. After Henry’s departure Norman expansion and Irish counteroffensives continued.

    The first mention of the Fay name in Ireland was  in 1219, when Richard De Fay, son of Ralph De Fay, and a knight of Hugh De Lacy, Lord of Meath, was sent by the latter on a mission to the King. About this time, Richard was seized of Mayneston, in Herefordshire, England.  [Note: Seized means given the status of legally owning and possessing real estate.]

     In 1295, George De Fay, Richard’s son,  was seized of premises in Kilmer, Donore, and Glackmore, in the Liberty of Trim, Meath by right of his wife Isabella, daughter of Richard Fitz John, the fifth Baron of Delvin. By this time the De Fay family had spread to various parts of Meath and eventually to lands in Westmeath, chiefly in Comerstown and Dernagara –around the present towns of Castlepollard, Whitehall and Collinstown, Westmeath. They retained possession of those lands, eventually amounting to some 8000 acres,  well into the 17th century. Around 1400 the “De” part of the surname was dropped and thereafter the family was known simply as Fay.

     Edward Fay of of Garlandstown House and Dernegara  became involved in the The Irish Rebellion of 1641, an attempted coup d’état by Irish Catholic gentry, who tried to seize control of the English administration in Ireland in order to force concessions for Catholics. When Oliver Cromwell invaded and sacked Ireland in 1649 he also confiscated Edward Fay’s estates, although during the Restoration in 1668, the lands were partially restored to Edward’s sons.

      I imagine that over the course of the six centuries that the Fay gentry lived in Ireland there would have been various descendants, whether illegitimate or perhaps fallen on hard times, that would have moved out into the  “common” population, and from there propogated lines of Fay families amoung the Irish peasantry. By the 1800’s the bulk of the population bearing the surname Fay was to be found in the Midlands – Meath, Westmeath and Cavan – most  in close proximity to places where the De Fays originally owned estates.

      In Westmeath there were two areas where the Fay peasantry appeared in larger numbers. One was in the area just to the east of Lough Derravarragh, around Coole and Bigwood – not far from from the seat of the Westmeath De Fays (Comerstown and Dernagara). The other was due west of there – in Milltown and Moyvore Parishes – where, as it turns out, my family line originated from. I can only imagine they arrived there by spreading southwest from the original Lough Derraverragh area, only about 25 miles away.  

The Migration of the Fays in Westmeath