Aoife - Dermot's Daughter, Strongbow's Wife

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Aoife - Dermot's Daughter, Strongbow's Wife

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Local Contributor Margaret Christopher

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Margaret Christopher

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Aoife - Dermot's Daughter, Strongbow's Wife

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The Ferns of today’s modern age is a vibrant, bustling and thriving country village nestled in the shadow of Mount Leinster in County Wexford. I grew up in Ferns, and while I now live in the neighbouring village of Camolin, Ferns has always been dear to my heart. It has many layers of medieval history from Saints to Kings and many marvellous stories to tell, making it a treasure trove just waiting to be discovered.

The most famous medieval woman who needs no introduction because she may well be woven into the hearts and minds of the people in Leinster and Ireland is Aoife MacMurrough. Her father, Dermot, having invited the English into Ireland to help regain his Kingdom, made a bargain with Strongbow that if he won back his throne and lands, Dermot would offer Strongbow his daughter’s hand in marriage. After his success in conquering the city of Waterford, Strongbow took the ultimate prize, and Dermot’s 17-year-old daughter Aoife became his wife when they married in Christchurch Cathedral in 1170.

But was she prepared to marry him, and how would she have felt?

Well, we know from the Song of Dermot and the Earl (author unknown) that “his daughter he brought there, to the noble earl he gave her,” and in another line, it reads “with his daughter whom he so much loved”.
From reading these few lines alone, we get a sense that Dermot MacMurrough did love his daughter very much, and she presumably loved him in equal measure.

Aoife’s father arranged the marriage in the year 1168, at the time she would have been 15 years of age. So maybe the young Aoife knew that her father had offered her hand in marriage to the Norman knight. She may have realised that she was going to marry a much older man, Strongbow may have been around the same age as her father, she might have panicked, she may have felt angry, and she may have felt sad at the prospect of marriage to a much older man.

But after a while, she may have had time to gather her thoughts and look at the bigger picture. She knew that her father had lost his lands and his throne in both Leinster and Ferns, and she knew that her father needed help in regaining back what was rightfully his. She may have swallowed her pride and agreed to the arrangement.

It is also said that Strongbow “wooed” Aoife at Annagh’s Castle, this castle was situated near the River Barrow, and some say that there is a painting that depicts this romantic scene. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere in a gallery storeroom or in somebody’s attic who knows!

Many nobles were present in the cathedral in Waterford to witness the marriage, and in the publication called the “Norman Invasion of Ireland” by Richard Roche, Giraldus tells us that Aoife was possessed of “exceeding beauty”, and many said that the bride was radiant as she moved up the aisle to marry the Earl of Pembroke who himself must have been looking forward to making her his wife. Famed for her beauty and her red hair (she was nicknamed “Red Eva”), some stories claim that she was a great warrior and fought in many battles; it has been said that her hair was so long that she had iron bars plaited into her hair and she quelled her enemies with this ingenious weapon. Whether you believe this or not, it is up to you to decide. When the deed was done on that day, Ireland’s fate was sealed.

Strongbow and Aoife had an “enduring but short marriage” according to the book entitled “A Foster Son for a King” written by Nicholas Furlong. Aoife and Strongbow, in the end, did grow to love each other, and their marriage did indeed endure. They had a son and a daughter together. Their daughter, Isabel, was responsible for creating an abundance of family connections across Norman England, and many of Isabel’s descendants included much of the nobility of Europe.

Strongbow died of a foot ulcer in 1176 and is buried in Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Aoife died twelve years later in 1188 and was buried in Tintern Abbey in Wales, and there is even a life-size statue of her at Carrickfergus Castle (in county Antrim), with a plaque describing her as “thinking of home”.

So there you have it, what an amazing story capturing momentous events from that time in medieval history. Their lives and legacy still live on in people’s imaginations, and they will always be remembered and never be forgotten.

Sources or References

The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Richard Roche new edition 1995,
A Foster son for a King 1986, by NicholasFurlong,
Schools Folklore duchas.ie,
Song of Dermot and the Earl (Author unknown) https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T250001-01/text002.html 27/12/2021, https://www.nationalgallery.ie/explore-and-learn/conservation-and-research-projects/strongbow-aoife/characters 27/12/2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/57584505/aoife-macmurrough 25/01/2022 ,
Stair na heireann, genealogieonline, military.wikia.org/wiki/Aoife_MacMurrough,
https://www.dib.ie/biography/aife-aoife-eva-a0069 26/01/2022 .

Citation

Margaret Christopher, “Aoife - Dermot's Daughter, Strongbow's Wife,” Ancient Connections, accessed June 25, 2022, https://rediscoveringancientconnections.omeka.net/items/show/36.

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