Carrickfergus to Carcassonne

FROM CARRICKFERGUS TO CARCASSONNE  is an exhibition exploring the links between the 13th century earldom of Ulster and the Languedoc region in the South of France.

A Dual exhibition, From Carrickfergus to Carcassonne will run simultaneously in France and in Ireland in numerous locations throughout 2015 and 2016. The Irish side of the exhibition opens on Saturday the 26th of September in the Museum at Carrickfergus and will be accompanied by a one-day conference with speakers including Professor Jean-Michel Picard, Ruari O Baoill, Paul Duffy, Dr. Daniel Brown, Professor Tom McNeilll, Professor Tadhg O’Keeffe,  Professot Terry Barry and David McIlreavy. The French exhibition opens on Saturday the 20th of June in the Town Hall of Laurac, in Aude, Southern France. This project has been made possible with the kind assistance of the Irish Research Council

The event is free but booking is essential. Download the programme here: CarrickfergustoCacassonne_A3_Poster_print (1)

IRC Logo hi-res





 Panels hot off the press,  awaiting pickup




Exhibition Panel no. 1 currently on display in the Town Hall of Laurac France


There is a street in the Southern French city of Toulouse called rue Perigord which belongs to the medieval fabric of the city’s historic centre. Not far from the great sweep of the Garonne River, rue Perigord runs between the ancient secular seat of power, la Capitole and the spiritual heart of Toulouse, the warm, immense red-brick Basilica of St. Sernin. As such, this narrow, wending way occupies a significant space within the city known throughout France as la Ville Rose.

I came to intimately know the city over ten years ago as a visiting student of History and Archaeology. During the 12 months I spent there, producing a dissertation on the 13th century defences of the city, I traced the medieval layout of the walls through old maps and archaeological reports. I became fascinated and infused with the history of the place which still written large in its architecture, its street names and the proud traditions of its inhabitants. My time in Toulouse has left a lasting impression on me and I have been fascinated with the South of France ever since.

It was however a chance encounter with another Irishman on the Rue Perigord that left the most enduring mark upon me. This meeting occurred in Toulouse’s library of History and Heritage. An expansive, low, neo-Corinthian edifice flanked by two august bay trees, the library shoulders incongruously into the narrow medieval dimensions of the streetscape. In a reading room dedicated to regional history, a cool space with high ceilings and a pink marble floor, I sat researching my dissertation with the staid title “The defences of Toulouse during the Siege of 1218”. I had become interested in the subject of the Albigensian crusade, a subject which is as prevalent and as fused into the identity of Toulouse as both the 1916 rising and James Joyce’s Ulysses are in my native Dublin: a constant presence upon which rests a large part of Meridional identity. The crusade is the moment in history which is associated with the absorption of the large, culturally distinct region of Occitania into the kingdom of France and an episode which has fuelled the imagination of many diverse minds including poets, Victorian treasure seekers, authors of bestselling fiction and practitioners of modern, left-of-field religions.

A crucial source for my paper was the epic 13th century poem entitled La Canso de lo Crozade “The Song of the Crusade”, an exemplary piece of literature from the era of the troubadours. Occitania was the birthplace of the Troubadours – itinerant minstrel poets and performers who, through their works, upheld and promoted those most medieval of ideals: chivalry and courtly love.

The poem deals with the shattering events which reconfigured the political landscape of the South of France during the early part of the 13th century. In 1209, answering the call of the Pope, knights from all across the north of Europe waged war against the peaceful practitioners of what has come to be known as the Cathar faith. The siege of Toulouse in 1218 was one of the most protracted conflicts of this crusade. The text of the poem is incredibly rich in detail regarding the siege and the text is widely held to represent a first-hand account from within the city. Due to the clarity and precision of the observation, many details of contemporary siege warfare can be gleaned from the text. I was scanning these stanzas looking for descriptions of defensive features mentioned by the poet.

On this particular morning with vigorous sun cutting shapes of light shadow from the bay trees outside, I encountered for the first time three words in the text which were to prove fateful. The words formed a name which was well known to me – Hugh de Lacy. As anyone familiar with Irish history will be aware, the de Lacys were one of the most prominent families of Anglo-Norman adventurers who were involved in the 12/13th century conquest of Gaelic Ireland. After an initial pause, I collected myself and took account of the fact that de Lacy is a Norman name, the town of Lassy itself occurring in the north of France. I reasoned that there could have been many such de Lacys active in the crusade.

It was three years before I thought of this again. Browsing an old issue of the Irish Sword, a military history journal in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway, I happened upon a short footnote of almost haiku brevity which was to set me on a crusade of my own. The author, discussing the role played by Irish knights in the crusades to the Holy land in the 12th and 13th centuries commented with disappointment that indeed “it seems that Hugh de Lacy participated in a crusade but it was just the Albigensian one”. The excitement resulting from of this joining of dots, the one on the page and the other that I had been ferrying around in the back of my head for years, was genuinely difficult to contain.

Could it be that this figure of bravado and warlike ferocity who can be encountered on the ancient parchment folios of the Canzo, rallying and attacking and “landing fine blows” before the walls of Toulouse in 1218 was the same Hugh de Lacy known to Irish History? Could generations of Irish Historians have overlooked this crucial text? More importantly, could I prove that the knight in the Canzo was indeed de Lacy and if so, what more could I learn about his time crusading in the South of France?

The Carrickfergus to Carcassonne exhibition is the result of the questions that flooded my mind on that innocuous afternoon in the papery quiet of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway.



Through a dazzling career in the early 13th century, Hugh II de Lacy shot to prominence among the Anglo-Norman aristocracy in Ireland. As a younger son to Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, it was Walter de Lacy who inherited Meath as well as the de Lacy estates in England and Normandy.

Through force of arms, single-mindedness and betrayal of his former ally, John de Courcy, Hugh II won the earldom of Ulster. King John belted Hugh II as earl in 1205 and, in doing so made Hugh the first ever Anglo-Norman earl to hold the title in Ireland.

Panneau 1.1

Carrickfergus Castle, Hugh II de Lacy’s caput

This meteoric rise was followed in 1210 by a cataclysmic fall. Hugh II de Lacy earned the animosity of King John and in 1210, the King arrive in Ireland at the head of an army of unprecedented size.

John marched on Ulster and Hugh fled before him making a stand in the stone fortress at the centre of his earldom – Carrickfergus. Despite a dogged resistance, Carrickfergus could not withstand the force of the King’s army.  Hugh made his escape hours before the castle fell, slipping through the postern gate and taking to Belfast Lough under cover of darkness. In his flight, Hugh de Lacy sailed out of the pages of Irish History and for a decade, he spent his exile in a far flung kingdom fighting under a foreign banner.

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The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne

 This exhibiton seeks to bring to light the story of Hugh II de Lacy, his exile, his crusade, his Languedocian Lordship and his eventual return to Ireland.

More details to be posted soon