Map of Ireland

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


(A.D. 1151), when his most signal success was obtained over his most formidable antagonists. Thorlogh O'Brien, King of Munster, successor to Conor of the fortresses, had on foot, in that year, an army of three battalions (or caths), each battalion consisting of 3,000 men, with which force he overawed some, and compelled others of the southern chiefs to withdraw their homage from his western namesake. The latter, uniting to his own the forces of Meath, and those of Leinster, recently reconciled to his supremacy, marched southward, and, encamping at Glanmire, received the adhesion of such Eugenian families as still struggled with desperation against the ascendency of the O'Briens. With these forces he encountered, at Moanmore, the army of the south, and defeated them, with the enormous loss of 7,000 men--a slaughter unparalleled throughout the war of succession. Every leading house in North Munster mourned the loss of either its chief or its tanist; some great families lost three, five, or seven brothers on that sanguinary day. The household of Kinkora was left without an heir, and many a near kinsman's seat was vacant in its hospitable hall. The O'Brien himself was banished into Ulster, where, from Murkertach, Prince of Aileach, he received the hospitality due to his rank and his misfortunes, not without an ulterior politic view on the part of the Ulster Prince. In this battle of Moanmore, Dermid McMurrogh, King of Leinster, of whom we shall hear hereafter, fought gallantly on the side of the victor. In the same year--but whether before or after the Munster campaign is uncertain--an Ulster force having marched into Sligo, Thorlogh met them near the Curlew mountains, and made peace with their king. A still more important interview took place the next year in the plain, or Moy, between the rivers Erne and Drowse, near the present Ballyshannon. On the Bachall-Isa and the relics of Columbkill, Thorlogh and Murkertach made a solemn peace, which is thought to have included the recognition of O'Conor's supremacy. A third meeting was had during the summer in Meath, where were present, beside the Ard-Righ, the Prince of Aileach, Dermid of Leinster, and other chiefs and nobles. At this conference they divided Meath into east and west, between two branches of the family of Melaghlin. Part of Longford and South Leitrim were taken from Tiernan O'Ruarc, lord of Breffni, and an angle of Meath, including Athboy and the hill of Ward, was given him instead. Earlier in the same year, King Thorlogh had divided Munster into three parts, giving Desmond to MacCarthy, Ormond to Thaddeus O'Brien, who had fought under him at Moanmore, and leaving the remainder to the O'Brien, who had only two short years before competed with him for the sovereignty. By these subdivisions the politic monarch expected to weaken to a great degree the power of the rival families of Meath and Munster. It was an arbitrary policy which could originate only on the field of battle, and could be enforced only by the sanction of victory. Thorlogh O'Brien, once King of all Munster, refused to accept a mere third, and carrying away his jewels and valuables, including the drinking horn of the great Brian, he threw himself again on the protection of Murkertach of Aileach. The elder branch of the family of O'Melaghlin were equally indisposed to accept half of Meath, where they had claimed the whole from the Shannon to the sea. To complicate still more this tangled web, Dermid, King of Leinster, about the same time (A.D. 1153), eloped with Dervorgoil, wife of O'Ruarc of Breffni, and daughter of O'Melaghlin, who both appealed to the monarch for vengeance on the ravager. Up to this date Dermid had acted as a steadfast ally of O'Conor, but when compelled by the presence of a powerful force on his borders to restore the captive, or partner of his guilt, he conceived an enmity for the aged king, which he extended, with increased virulence, to his son and successor.

What degree of personal criminality to attach to this elopement it is hard to say. The cavalier in the case was on the wintry side of fifty, while the lady had reached the mature age of forty-four. Such examples have been, where the passions of youth, surviving the period most subject to their influence, have broken out with renewed frenzy on the confines of old age. Whether the flight of Dermid and Dervorgoil arose from a mere criminal passion, is not laid down with certainty in the old Annals, though national and local tradition strongly point to that conclusion. The Four Masters indeed state that after the restoration of the lady she "returned to O'Ruarc," another point wanting confirmation. We know that she soon afterwards retired to the shelter of Mellifont Abbey, where she ended her days towards the close of the century, in penitence and alms-deeds.

Murtogh of Aileach now became master of the situation. Thorlogh was old and could not last long; Dermid of Leinster was for ever estranged from him; the new arbitrary divisions, though made with the general consent, satisfied no one. With a powerful force he marched southward, restored to the elder branch of the O'Melaghlins the whole of Meath, defeated Thaddeus O'Brien, obliterated Ormond from the map, restored the old bounds of Thomond and Desmond, and placed his guest, the banished O'Brien, on the throne of Cashel. A hostile force, under Roderick O'Conor, was routed, and retreated to their own territory. The next year (A.D. 1154) was signalized by a fierce naval engagement between the galleys of King Thorlogh and those of Murtogh, on the coast of Innishowen. The latter, recruited by vessels hired from the Gael and Galls of Cantire, the Arran Isles, and Man, were under the command of MacScellig; the Connaught fleet was led by O'Malley and O'Dowda. The engagement, which lasted from the morning till the evening, ended in the repulse of the Connaught fleet, and the death of O'Dowda. The occurrence is remarkable as the first general sea-fight between vessels in the service of native Princes, and as reminding us forcibly of the lessons acquired by the Irish during the Danish period.

During the two years of life--which remained to King Thorlogh O'Conor, he had the affliction of seeing the fabric of power, which had taken him nearly half a century to construct, abridged at many points, by his more vigorous northern rival. Murtogh gave law to territories far south of the ancient esker. He took hostages from the Danes of Dublin, and interposed in the affairs of Munster. In the year 1156, the closing incidents which signalized the life of Thorlogh More, was a new peace which he made between the people of Breffni, Meath, and Connaught, and the reception of hostages from his old opponent, the restored O'Brien. While this new light of prosperity was shining on his house, he passed away from this life, on the 13th of the Kalends of June, in the 68th year of his age, and the 50th of his government. By his last will he bequeathed to the clergy numerous legacies, which are thus enumerated by Geoffrey Keating: "namely, four hundred and forty ounces of gold, and forty marks of silver; and all the other valuable treasures he possessed, both cups and precious stones, both steeds and cattle and robes, chess-boards, bows, quivers, arrows, equipments, weapons, armour, and utensils." He was interred beside the high altar of the Cathedral of Clonmacnoise, to which he had been in life and in death a munificent benefactor.

The Prince of Aileach now assumed the title of Monarch, and after some short-lived opposition from Roderick O'Conor, his sovereignty was universally acknowledged. From the year 1161 until his death, he might fairly be called Ard-Righ, without opposition, since the hostages of all Ireland were in those last five years in his hands. These hostages were retained at the chief seat of power of the northern dynasty, the fortress of Aileach, which crowns a hill nearly a thousand feet high, at the head of Lough Swilly. To this stronghold the ancestor of Murtogh had removed early in the Danish period, from the more exposed and more ancient Emania, beside Armagh. On that hill-summit the ruins of Aileach may still be traced, with its inner wall twelve feet thick, and its three concentric ramparts, the first enclosing one acre, the second four, and the last five acres. By what remains we can still judge of the strength of the stronghold which watched over the waters of Lough Swilly like a sentinel on an outpost. No Prince of the Northern Hy-Nial had for two centuries entered Aileach in such triumph or with so many nobles in his train, as did Murtogh in the year 1161, But whether the supreme power wrought a change for the worse in his early character, or that the lords of Ulster had begun to consider the line of Conn as equals rather than sovereigns, he was soon involved in quarrels with his own Provincial suffragans which ended in his defeat and death. Most other kings of whom we have read found their difficulties in rival dynasties and provincial prejudices; but this ruler, when most freely acknowledged abroad, was disobeyed and defeated at home. Having taken prisoner the lord of Ulidia (Down), with whom he had previously made a solemn peace, he ordered his eyes to be put out, and three of his principal relatives to be executed. This and other arbitrary acts so roused the lords of Leath Conn, that they formed a league against him, at the head of which stood Donogh O'Carroll, lord of Oriel, the next neighbour to the cruelly ill-treated chief of Ulidia. In the year 1166, this chief, with certain tribes of Tyrone and North Leitrim, to the number of three battalions (9,000 men), attacked the patrimony of the monarch--that last menace and disgrace to an Irish king. Murtogh with his usual valour, but not his usual fortune, encountered them in the district of the Fews, with an Inferior force, chiefly his own tribesmen. Even these deserted him on the eve of the battle, so that he was easily surprised and slain, only thirteen men falling in the affray. This action, of course, is unworthy the name of a battle, but resulting in the death of the monarch, it became of high political importance.

Roderick O'Conor, son of Thorlogh More, was at this period in the tenth year of his reign over Connaught, and the fiftieth year of his age. Rathcrogan, the chief seat of his jurisdiction, had just attained to the summit of its glory. The site of this now almost forgotten palace is traceable in the parish of Elphin, within three miles of the modern village of Tulsk. Many objects contributed to its interest and importance in Milesian times. There were the Naasteaghna, or place of assembly of the clans of Connaught, "the Sacred Cave," which in the Druidic era was supposed to be the residence of a god, and the Relig na Righ-the venerable cemetery of the Pagan kings of the West, where still the red pillar stone stood over the grave of Dathy, and many another ancient tomb could be as clearly distinguished. The relative importance of Rathcrogan we may estimate by the more detailed descriptions of the extent and income of its rivals--Kinkora and Aileach. In an age when Roscommon alone contained 470 fortified duns, over all which the royal rath presided; when half the tributes of the island were counted at its gate, it must have been the frequent rendezvous of armies, the home of many guests, the busy focus of intrigue, and the very elysium of bards, story-tellers, and mendicants. In an after generation, Cathal, the red-handed O'Conor, from some motive of policy or pleasure, transferred the seat of government to the newly-founded Ballintober: in the lifetime of Thorlogh More, and the first years of Roderick, when the fortunes of the O'Conors were at their full, Rathcrogan was the co-equal in strength and in splendour of Aileach and Kinkora.

Advancing directly from this family seat, on the first tidings of Murtogh's death, Roderick presented himself before the walls of Dublin, which opened its gates, accepted his stipend of four thousand head of cattle, and placed hostages for its fidelity in his hands. He next marched rapidly to Drogheda, with an auxiliary force of Dublin Danes, and there O'Carroll, lord of Oriel (Louth), came into his camp, and rendered him homage. Retracing his steps he entered Leinster, with an augmented force, and demanded hostages from Dermid McMurrogh. Thirteen years had passed since his father had taken up arms to avenge the rape of Dervorgoil, and had earned the deadly hatred of the abductor. That hatred, in the interim, had suffered no decrease, and sooner than submit to Roderick, the ravager burned his own city of Ferns to the ground, and retreated into his fastnesses. Roderick proceeded southward, obtained the adhesion of Ossory and Munster; confirming Desmond to McCarthy, and Thomond to O'Brien. Returning to Leinster, he found that Tiernan O'Ruarc had entered the province, at the head of an auxiliary army, and Dermid, thus surrounded, deserted by most of his own followers, outwitted and overmatched, was feign to seek safety in flight beyond seas (A.D. 1168). A solemn sentence of banishment was publicly pronounced against him by the assembled Princes, and Morrogh, his cousin, commonly called Morrogh na Gael, or "of the Irish," to distinguish him from Dermid na Gall, or "of the Stranger," was inaugurated in his stead. From Morrogh na Gael they took seventeen hostages, and so Roderick returned rejoicing to Rathcrogan, and O'Ruarc to Breffni, each vainly imagining that he had heard the last of the dissolute and detested King of Leinster.




Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page



Map of Ireland