In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus purportedly discovered the New World, an incident, with far reaching effects, took place in a chapter house attached to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The incident ended a long running and bloody feud between two of Ireland’s most powerful dynasties, the FitzGeralds and the Butlers. The FitzGeralds, staunch supporters of the fight to remove the English from Ireland, often went to war with the Butlers who swore their allegiance to the English crown.

In 1485, with help from the Butler family, Henry 7th ascended the throne of England as the first monarch of the House of Tudor. His coronation was opposed by many of the Irish Earls, particularly Gerald Mor Fitzgerald, the 8th Earl of Kildare. In 1492, a long running dispute between the two foremost families in medieval Ireland, the Butlers, (Earls of Ormond) and the FitzGeralds, (Earls of Kildare) was resolved by a brave act and an equally brave response.

James Butler (Black James,) the nephew of the Earl of Ormond, while on the run from FitzGerald's soldiers, took sanctuary in the Chapter House of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Although he was in a superior position and with his army surrounding Black James and his men, FitzGerald decided to put an end to the bloody feud. He pleaded with Black James through the Chapter House's oak door, to come out, meet with him and discuss a peace treaty.

Fearing a trap, James refused and prepared to do battle. After numerous failed attempts, FitzGerald ordered his soldiers to cut a hole in the middle of the door. Then, after explaining that he truly wished to bring peace between the families, FitzGerald put his arm through the hole and offered his hand to Black James. It was a risky move as one of James's heavily armed men could easily have hacked FitzGeralds arm off. Despite the fear and mistrust, James shook hands with FitzGerald and ended the dispute.

Though the Chapter House has long been demolished, it was originally located in the South Transept of St Patrick's Cathedral. The door of the Chapter House is on display in the cathedral's north transept where it is now known as the Door of Reconciliation.

This event is locally credited as an etymology of the term to ‘chance one's arm,’ which means "to perform an action in the face of probable failure.”

Read more Here:

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Tags: History of Ireland, Tudor Ireland

Comment by Norah McEvoy on October 14, 2016 at 2:28pm

I'v put an arm through a few holes in doors too, just not my own....

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 14, 2016 at 3:04pm

I think we all have at one time or another Norah.

Comment by michael dunne on October 20, 2016 at 12:09pm

Thank you John Anthony for this historical account. I have seen this door in St Patricks Cathedral. Within weeks of this event St Patricks was to be confiscated like all Church properties by decree of King Henry 8th. The Maynooth Fitzgeralds were powerful and related to the Earls of Desmond (also Fitzgeralds) who were the biggest landowning Earls in  Queen Elizabeth's Realm. She succeeded Henry 8th, who married Ann Boelyn ( a sister of Black Tom Butler.) The Butlers were treacherous and a continuing war over boundaries was ongoing between the Butlers and the Earl of Desmond. History recounts the Desmond Rebellion was the bloodiest and most protracted of all Irish Rebellions with as many as 500,000 killed or starved in the scorched earth policies of the English invasion forces of the day. So instead of honourable efforts at reconciliation maybe Fitzgerald should have done to Black Seamus what the Queens agents done to the Earls of Maynooth and Desmond. Decapitation.

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Comment by Nollaig 2016 on October 29, 2016 at 3:50am

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on October 29, 2016 at 3:54am

When a temporary reconciliation was effected between these powerful chiefs, a hole was cut in the door of the chauntry of St. Patrick’s

church, that they might shake hands through it to prevent accidents: this hole, with a piece of board nailed over it, was shewn not long since at St. Patrick's, and may still exist. .

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on October 29, 2016 at 4:12am
Comment by Colm Herron on October 29, 2016 at 10:58am

You've done it again John. History made not only comprehensible but utterly fascinating. Thanks.

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 29, 2016 at 1:34pm

Thank you Colm. It is a great story for sure.


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