THE cost of the Norman invasion was "at least" £20 million in today's terms but the question of who financed the venture had been overlooked, according to a Maynooth archaeologist.
Speaking at a conference on "The Norman Connection" at Fethard on Sea, Co Wexford, Mr John Bradley said the most likely sources of finance were Bristol merchants.
The governor or mayor of Bristol, Robert FitzHarding, had links with Strongbow, the leader of the invasion, and with Dermot McMurrough, the deposed king of Leinster who invited the Normans. FitzHarding may have acted as a broker between the two men.
Strongbow Richard FitzGilbert de Clare was not in a position from his own resources to finance an expedition involving the hire of ships, troops and equipment, Mr Bradley said.
Documentary sources showed that Strongbow's lands in England and Wales had been mortgaged and Mr Bradley said de Clare was on his uppers as a virtual bankrupt. Giraldus Cambrensis, or "Gerald of Wales", wrote that Strongbow was "richer in lineage than he was in pocket".
King Henry II of England was opposed to the Irish invasion because of his fear of a strong Norman kingdom on his doorstep. But the merchants of Bristol and Chester had every reason to be concerned at the emergence of prosperous ports on the other side of the Irish Sea, such as Dublin, Wexford and Waterford.
After the high king, Rory O'Connor, had deposed him as king of Leinster, Dermot McMurrough took refuge with Robert FitzHarding in Bristol. Dermot's proposal for an expedition was rebuffed by Henry but he would have found a more receptive audience among the Bristol merchants, who wanted to control trade on the Irish Sea.