John de Courcy was a Norman who served Henry II in England and France before coming to Ireland in 1176. He was a minor member of a Somerset family with important connections in the north of England. Described by the chronicler Gerald of Wales as ‘fair-haired and tall with bony and sinewy limbs’ and possessing ‘immense bodily strength’, de Courcy launched a daring attack on Ulster in 1176, with a force of 22 knights and 300 Anglo-Norman troops. He soon consolidated his control over much of the north east and built Carrickfergus and Dundrum castles. He also founded a number of monastic sites, such as Inch and Grey Abbey and encouraged the cult of Saint Patrick. Appointed Justiciar of Ireland in 1185, de Courcy expanded his territories as far north and west as Coleraine and raided as far as Inishowen in 1199. He also developed his own coinage at Carrickfergus and Downpatrick and ruled this territory for 30 years. He eventually posed such a challenge to royal authority in Ireland that he was finally expelled by his rival Hugh de Lacy in 1203. Ironically, he returned as a member of King John’s expedition, which later expelled the de Lacys. He seems to have died, perhaps in exile, in France around 1219.