The Skeleton at De Courcey's Wedding Feast. Greencastle Co. Down
Sir John De Courcey was a Norman knight who came to Ireland in 1176.He decided to come North and conquer the lands there, as the other lands of Ireland and been distributed to the Kings favourites.He landed in Dublin and marched North with 22 knights,50 men at arms and about 300 footmen.
His army swept all before them and when they reached Downpatrick they put the population to the sword.King Henry was so pleased with him that he made him The Earl of Ulster.Sir John then set his eyes on the province of Connacht,but his army was no match for that of King Cathal O'Connor of Connaght who routed the Normans, and he had no option but to return to County Down.
Sir John made an alliance with Godfred King of the Isle of Mann,and subsequently married his daughter Africa whom he brought back to Down via Carlingford Lough. The Normans of Co. Down all came to Greencastle to greet the bridal party.Trumpets,horns and drums echoed across the Lough to greet them as they landed at the castle.A great feast was laid out and there was great merriment and dancing.
Long into the night a strange bard appeared,his cloak draped over a very thin body, his hood drawn over his face,and he sang and played for the amusement of the wedding party.Voices called for him to sing a song of praise for the Earl and his new wife.The bard began, but instead of praise he reviled the Earl and prophesied that he would lose his title and his lands because of the numbers he had killed.The knights were stunned and moved away from him in fear.De Courcey too was stunned but gathering himself together called on the knights to seize him.They attempted to move but were rooted to the spot as the bard cast off his cloak and revealed the figure of a skeleton, and pulling off his hood revealed his bare skull.
De Courcey knew now that the bard was the chief bard of Mourne, who's dwelling had been on the site of the Green Castle, and whom De Courcey had killed to obtain it.This was to be his revenge.A strange stillness came over the hall, the bride seemed to have fainted, De Courcey moved closer to Africa, but as he did the bard began to sing the Song of Slumber.All fought the sense of sleep but none could resist it and soon all lay still on the floor.
When they awoke the bard was gone and a messenger was shouting at the gate.The men of Ulster were gathering a force at Clanrye near Newry and would soon attack him at Newry river. De Courcey moved in haste to fight them but suffered huge losses, losing 450 fighters. He fled to Downpatrick castle with only 11 of his followers.By the following year he was as strong as ever.By the year 1200 King John had replaced Henry11 and De Courcey fell out with him. John commanded the De Laceys to fight De Courcey and De Courcey routed them, and then challenged De Lacy to single combat, but De Lacy refused. He bribed De Courceys servants to betray him. He was captured and sent to Normandy. De Lacy got his title and his lands.
King John of England and King Philip Augustus of France agreed that the war between them at that time should be settled by the champion from each army. None in John's army would confront the French giant, till John thought of De Courcey and sent for him. John promised that his title and lands would be restored if he won. He did win, but King John didn't keep his word and De Courcey died in Ireland in 1210. The prophesy of the bard had been fulfilled.