2. The Abduction of Dervogilla

Ros Tapestry Panels - The Abduction of Dervogilla


The abduction by Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, of Dervorgilla, wife of his enemy, Tiernan O’Rourke, King of Breffni, is depicted in this panel. Brehon Law, liberal but precise, dictated that Dermot, for this impudence, would pay a fine of 100 ounces of gold to the injured husband. The fact that Dermot failed to comply possibly changed the course of Irish history.  Although this event took place 14 years before the arrival of the Normans in 1169, the seeds were sown. Dermot’s high handed ambition, territorial and otherwise, was losing him friends everywhere, and he had to seek outside help in order to keep his kingdom.

The pair are seen galloping from the O’Rourke castle in the west of Ireland to Dermot’s stone fortress in Ferns in Wexford, to be met by Donal Kavanagh, his son.   Whilst MacMurrough and Dervorgilla flee on horseback, they are accompanied by Dervorgilla’s dowry. The dowry was made up of possessions that were brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage. The law allowed Irish wives to remove their dowry should they decide to take leave of their husband. Tiernan O’ Rourke can be seen in fruitless pursuit, shaking his fist in anger.

In the foreground is a ghost from the future,  Dermot’s daughter, the yet unborn Aoife, who, because of this event would find herself at fifteen years of age the wife of one of the mighty Norman de Clares, Richard de Clare, commonly called Strongbow.

On the upper border is shown the young prince, Dermot himself, aged 16, being installed as King of Leinster, in a Brehon ritual.  This border also indicates the horrific realities of life for the princely young of the time. Rory O’Connor High King of Ireland, held Dermot’s legitimate heirs as hostages to ensure the good behaviour of the Leinster King. When this was not forthcoming,  the eldest boy Enna was blinded which made him  quite incapable of inheriting his father’s territory, and the second boy was beheaded;  hostages  could expect no mercy.  So  his heir became his illegitimate son Donal MacMurrough Kavanagh.  There is also another depiction of  Celtic ritual involving an Irish King and the white mare, showing once again the need to align the King with nature.

The bottom border shows the forest of Duffry which was an ancient oak forest around Enniscorthy on the east of New Ross.  The O’ Briens of Duffrey, who had always been allies of the Kings of Leinster, are seen fleeing away from the area, abandoning Dermot.   Dermot in fact set fire to his own castle in Ferns so that nobody else could use it,  and set sail for Bristol in search of help from the Normans.