In 1177, John de Courcy invaded Ulster and for about the next 150 years a succession of Norman knights such as Hugh de Lacy, Walter de Burgo, Richard de Burgo (the Red Earl) and William de Burgo (the Brown Earl) consolidated and extended the earldom. The Earls of Ulster did not just have to contend with battles with Irish kings - in 1210, King John arrived in Carrickfergus to defeat Hugh de Lacy, and de Lacy was only able to return in 1223 with the help of Áed Méith Ua Néill, king of Tír Eóghain.
At times of crisis, Normans were able to fall back to their main castles of Carrickfergus and Dundrum. Carrickfergus and Coleraine were the main ports, and each of the bailiwicks (counties) had a county court. Perhaps partly to make amends for the churches that they had burnt during their campaigns, the Normans founded a number of new abbeys, and granted Down to the church, renaming it Downpatrick.
By 1305, Norman controlled area reached along the coast from Downpatrick to the newly built castle of Northburgh (Greencastle) in Inishowen, but Cenél Eóghain and Cenél Conaill still retained control of their lands in Tír Eóghain and Tír Conaill. In 1315, a famine and an invasion by a Scottish army led by Edward Bruce (brother of Robert Bruce) marked the start of the decline of the Norman colony. By 1333, the Norman territory west of the Bann was mostly lost, and the earldom consisted of five bailiwicks: Twescard (Coleraine and the Bush valley), Antrim, Carrickfergus, Blathewyc (Newtownards) and Down.
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