Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. I.—: Political Condition of Ireland in the twelfth century. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. I.—: Political Condition of Ireland in the twelfth century. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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Political Condition of Ireland in the twelfth century.
In the twelfth century the political organisation of Ireland was such that its social forces, infinitely divided, could be held together by no common bond. The four provinces, Leinster, Ulster, Munster, and Connaught, had each a separate king.* In truth, these four kings recognised one of their number as monarch of all Ireland, but his supremacy was more nominal than real; besides, none of the four provinces having the privilege of conferring on its monarch the power of ruling over the rest, violent quarrels arose at the death of every sovereign, each of the four equal kings claiming the vacant monarchy.* The same elements of discord and anarchy which incessantly divided the four provinces externally, were also to be found in their internal condition.
For, as beneath the same monarch were placed kings who were his equals, though subordinate to him, so beneath the king of each province was an infinity of secondary kings and princes, who were also as equal, as independent, and as divided as their immediate superiors.† This fractional division of the social forces did not stop there. After the petty principalities came a multitude of clans, tribes, and families, all separated from each other, not only independent among themselves, but held by the feeblest ties to the sovereignty within whose sphere they were comprised.‡ Besides the inherent weakness arising from this indefinite subdivision of public powers, there was in such a political state another source of exhaustion and ruin; to wit, the perpetual struggles which arose from this great number of equivocal sovereignties, of rights destitute of sanction, of authorities, rivals in fact, though nominally subordinate one to the other, and which incessantly produced opposing pretensions which could only be decided by war.* The chiefs of clans presented, within the narrow limits of their authority, the same spectacle of discord and anarchy as the petty princes above them, in less restricted bounds, and as the kings of the provinces in the wider circle of their power.
It may be easily conceived, that a country where the social forces were thus mutilated, and had no point of contact, save for mutual destruction, was of all countries the most favourable for the invasion of a conqueror. However powerful those forces might have been, collected in a mass, each of them was annihilated in isolation. Such was the state of Ireland at the epoch of the Anglo-Norman conquest.
[*]There was a fifth king in Meath.—Tr.
[*]Leland, vol. i. The two great families which disputed the supremacy, at the time of the contest, were the O’Connors and Hy Nials, or O’Neills. Dermot was a partisan of the latter, and hence Roderic O’Connor eagerly seized the first pretext for his expulsion.—Tr.
[†]Leland, vol. i. p. 11.
[‡]Gordon’s History of Ireland, vol. i. p. 31.
[*]In the list of one hundred and seventy-eight monarchs of the Milesian line, enumerated by Irish historians, only forty-seven died natural deaths;—seventy-one were slain in battle, and sixty murdered.—Tr.