REIGN OF MALACHY II. AND RIVALRY OF BRIAN.
Melaghlin, or Malachy II., fifth in direct descent from Malachy I. (the founder of the Southern Hy-Nial dynasty), was in his thirtieth year when (A.D. 980) he succeeded to the monarchy. He had just achieved the mighty victory of Tara when the death of his predecessor opened his way to the throne; and seldom did more brilliant dawn usher in a more eventful day than that which Fate held in store for this victor-king. None of his predecessors, not even his ancestor and namesake, had ever been able to use the high language of his "noble Proclamation," when he announced on his accession--"Let all the Irish who are suffering servitude in the land of the stranger return home to their respective houses and enjoy themselves in gladness and in peace." In obedience to this edict, and the power to enforce it established by the victory at Tara, 2,000 captives, including the King of Leinster and the Prince of Aileach, were returned to their homes.
The hardest task of every Ard-Righ of this and the previous century had been to circumscribe the ambition of the kings of Cashel within Provincial bounds. Whoever ascended the southern throne--whether the warlike Felim or the learned Cormac--we have seen the same policy adopted by them all. The descendants of Heber had tired of the long ascendancy of the race of Heremon, and the desertion of Tara, by making that ascendancy still more strikingly Provincial, had increased their antipathy. It was a struggle for supremacy between north and south; a contest of two geographical parties; an effort to efface the real or fancied dependency of one-half the island on the will of the other. The Southern Hy-Nial dynasty, springing up as a third power upon the Methian bank of the Shannon, and balancing itself between the contending parties, might perhaps have given a new centre to the whole system; Malachy II. was in the most favourable position possible to have done so, had he not had to contend with a rival, his equal in battle and superior in council, in the person of Brian, the son of Kennedy, of Kincorra.
The rise to sovereign rank of the house of Kincorra (the O'Briens), is one of the most striking episodes of the tenth century. Descending, like most of the leading families of the South, from Olild, the Clan Dalgais had long been excluded from the throne of Cashel, by successive coalitions of their elder brethren, the Eugenians. Lactna and Lorcan, the grandfather and father of Kennedy, intrepid and able men, had strengthened their tribe by wise and vigorous measures, so that the former was able to claim the succession, apparently with success. Kennedy had himself been a claimant for the same honour, the alternate provision in the will of Olild, against Kellachan Cashel