Ireland and the Crusades

Review by Michael Potterton

Thirty years ago, when I was a history and archaeology undergraduate at University College Dublin, the phrase ‘Ireland and the Crusades’ seemed almost as absurd as ‘Ireland and the Palaeolithic’ or ‘Ireland and the Renaissance’. Times change, of course, and thankfully all three have become fruitful fields of research, each with a solid and expanding academic literature. Epitomising this scholarly ‘revolution’, two-thirds of the editorial team of the book under review – Edward Coleman and Tadhg O’Keeffe – are UCD-based, while Paul Duffy is a senior field archaeologist.

The medieval Crusades encompassed a diverse array of military expeditions aimed at maintaining and advancing Christianity and the Roman Church. Conventional historiography has posited a minimal association between Ireland and the Crusades. As Coleman notes, however (on p.22), ‘the general lack of attention paid to the history of the Crusades in Ireland over such a long period remains puzzling’. This 2022 collection of essays by 14 archaeologists and historians does much to address the gap, and surely will stimulate further discussion and debate.

Bookended by Coleman’s comprehensive survey of the field and O’Keeffe’s thought-provoking epilogue are a dozen contributions covering the roles of named individuals and other participants from Ireland in the Crusades, the motivation for their engagement, the significance to crusading of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, the military orders, the language of crusade, hospitals, effigies, and the primary sources. The essay by Helen J Nicholson on the military-religious orders is typically brilliant, Paolo Virtuani examines the role of the Hospitallers, David McIlreavy explores a Templar manor in Co. Dublin, and Jean-Michel Picard shines a searchlight on the impact of the Cistercians. Maeve Callan reopens the discussion about the divisive and dubious bull Laudabiliter, and Catherine Swift reminds readers of the potential of the Dublin Guild Merchant Roll, in this case the 80-plus members named ‘palmer’ (meaning pilgrim). Duffy explores the indirect impact in Ireland of the Cathar Crusade. The remarkable Geoffrey de Geneville is the subject of Ciaran McDonnell’s essay, while Emer Purcell briefly draws attention to an altogether more enigmatic ‘crusader’ in the crypt of St Michan’s Church in Dublin. Thomas Ivory comments on the crusader connection with medieval hospitals, and Dave Swift takes a look at the phenomenon of crossed legs on effigial tombs. Kathryn Hurlock offers an intriguing insight into crusading rhetoric still current in the late 16th century.

By providing a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding, the authors challenge the perspective that Ireland had virtually no role in the Crusades. They do not seek to promulgate a revisionist view in which Ireland played a central part, but rather they examine and assemble disparate evidence that demonstrates in a compelling manner that Ireland had a range of relationships with the Crusades on a variety of levels, some of which have, until now, gone entirely unnoticed. Medieval Ireland straddled a number of frontiers, and one of the questions raised in this volume – notably by O’Keeffe – is the degree to which it was viewed by some as a sort of Outremer in need of correction: less of a source and more of a destination for Crusaders.

This well-thought-out and much-anticipated volume is the most significant contribution to the field to-date. It is at once a synthesis of what was already known, a collection of new ideas and approaches, and a springboard for further sustained research. The book is equipped with 38 line drawings, colour photographs, maps, plans, and manuscript excerpts, as well as a proper-noun index. The consolidated bibliography is in itself an important scholarly resource.

This volume belies the myth that publishing with large international publishers somehow makes a book more accessible, more visible, and/or more impactful. It was one of three comparable hardback academic volumes I purchased last month – the others cost £110 and £145. I made some enquiries and found that those more expensive books had print-runs less than half that of the volume under review. At a reasonable £50, the content, editorial standards, and production values are also better in this one. The editors, authors, and publishers have done a very fine job.

Edward Coleman, Paul Duffy, and Tadhg O’Keeffe (eds)
Four Courts Press, £50
ISBN 978-1846828614