Wexford lies on the south side of Wexford Harbour, the estuary of the River Slaney. According to a local legend, the town got its Irish name, Loch Garman, from a young man named Garman Garbh who was drowned on the mudflats at the mouth of the River Slaney by flood waters released by an enchantress. The resulting loch or lough was thus named Loch Garman. The town was founded by the Vikings in about 800 AD. They named it Veisafjqdr, meaning inlet of the mud flats, and the name has changed only slightly into its present form. For about three hundred years it was a Viking town, a city state, largely independent and owing only token dues to the Irish kings of Leinster.
However, in May 1169 Wexford was besieged by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and his Norman ally, Robert Fitz-Stephen. The Norse inhabitants resisted fiercely, until the Bishop of Ferns persuaded them to accept a settlement with Dermot. Wexford was an Old English settlement in the Middle ages. An old dialect of English, known as Yola, was spoken uniquely in Wexford up until the 19th century.
Until this point, the Norman kingdom consisted only of England and the lands in Ireland. In 1296, however, King Edward 1st of England sought to expand northwards and invaded Scotland. He took control, and removed the Stone of Scone (an important royal treasure of the Scottish Royal family that was finally returned 700 years later in 1996). For 10 years the English – Normans ruled the Scots. In 1306, however, a Scot named Robert Bruce hatched a plot to regain Scottish independence and with help of some Scottish lords, he defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314. The victorious Robert Bruce then became King of Scotland.
The Irish Lords in ulster, O’Neil and O’Donnell, were impressed by this turnaround in Scotland and wondered if Bruce could help them defeat the remaining Normans in Ireland. Robert Bruce knew that the English got many supplies from Ireland so the two sides worked out an agreement whereby Robert’s brother, Edward Bruce, would become High King of Ireland in return for military assistance. Edward landed at Larne in Ulster (just north of present day Belfast) in 1315 with a large army, rapidly defeated the Normans of Meath and then continued southwards. However, many Irish didn’t like him because he disrespected the Irish peasants and damaged their property by marching through it rather than going around it. Edward, nonetheless, was crowned King of Ireland in May 1316. Edward was joined by Robert Bruce later that year, and Robert returned to Scotland but Edward was finally defeated and killed by the Normans on 14 October 1318. Although the Bruces were gone, the Normans were weakened and the Irish now felt able to defeat them themselves. The pestilence of the Black Death of 1348 merely added to the decline of the Normans.
In 1360, King Edward 3rd finally realized that he was on the verge of losing control of the last Norman parts of Ireland and sent his son lionel to try to reverse the declining the trend. He arrived in Dublin in 1361 with an army and recruited local Normans. He then launched a series of unsuccessful offensives into Leinster and Munster. Faced with no good news to come home with, he held a conference in 1366 called the “Parliament of Kilkenny”. This conference was designed to pass legislation for the Norman-controlled parts of Ireland, and attempted to reverse the trend of Norman declined by separating Irish and Norman culture. The laws passed banned Normans from marrying Irish, speaking Irish, using Irish law or dress, and listening to Irish music or stories. However, few Normans obeyed the laws – the families of many had been in Ireland for two centuries, and no longer felt patriotism towards England.
This ends the time period that Two Rivers Medieval Faire is set in. Lionel died in 1367, with not much success to his name.