An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800
by Mary Frances Cusack
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But the cursing of Tara was by no means the only misfortune of Diarmaid's reign. His unaccountable hostility to St. Columba involved him in many troubles; and, in addition to these, despite famine and pestilence, the country was afflicted with domestic wars. It is said that his war with Guaire, King of Connaught, was undertaken as a chastisement for an injustice committed by that monarch, who, according to an old chronicle, had deprived a woman, who had vowed herself to a religious life, of a cow, which was her only means of support. It is more probable, however, that the motive was not quite so chivalric, and that extortion of a tribute to which he had no right was the real cause. The high character for probity unanimously attributed to Guaire, makes it extremely unlikely that he should have committed any deliberate act of injustice.

The first great convention of the Irish states, after the abandonment of Tara, was held in Drumceat, in 573, in the reign of Hugh, son of Ainmire. St. Columba and the leading members of the Irish clergy attended. Precedence was given to the saint by the prelates of North Britain, to honour his capacity of apostle or founder of the Church in that country.

Two important subjects were discussed on this occasion, and on each the opinion of St. Columba was accepted as definitive. The first referred to the long-vexed question whether the Scottish colony of Alba should still be considered dependent on the mother country. The saint, foreseeing the annoyances to which a continuance of this dependence must give rise, advised that it should be henceforth respected as an independent state. The second question was one of less importance in the abstract, but far more difficult to settle satisfactorily. The bards, or more probably persons who wished to enjoy their immunities and privileges without submitting to the ancient laws which obliged them to undergo a long and severe course of study before becoming licentiates, if we may use the expression, of that honorable calling, had become so numerous and troublesome, that loud demands were made for their entire suppression. The king, who probably suffered from their insolence as much as any of his subjects, was inclined to comply with the popular wish, but yielded so far to the representations of St. Columba, as merely to diminish their numbers, and place them under stricter rules.

Hugh Ainmire was killed while endeavouring to exact the Boromean Tribute. The place of his death was called Dunbolg, or the Fort of the Bags. The Leinster king, Bran Dubh, had recourse to a stratagem, from whence the name was derived. Finding himself unable to cope with the powerful army of his opponent, he entered his camp disguised as a leper, and spread a report that the Leinster men were preparing to submit.

In the evening a number of bullocks, laden with leathern bags, were seen approaching the royal camp. The drivers, when challenged by the sentinels, said that they were bringing provisions; and this so tallied with the leper's tale, that they were permitted to deposit their burdens without further inquiry. In the night, however, an armed man sprang from each bag, and headed by their king, whose disguise was no longer needed, slaughtered the royal army without mercy, Hugh himself falling a victim to the personal bravery of Bran Dubh.

The deaths of several Irish saints, whose lives are of more than ordinary interest, are recorded about this period. Amongst them, St. Brendan of Clonfert demands more than a passing notice. His early youth was passed under the care of St. Ita, a lady of the princely family of the Desii. By divine command she established the Convent of Cluain Credhuil, in the present county of Limerick, and there, it would appear, she devoted herself specially to the care of youth. When Brendan had attained his fifth year, he was placed under the protection of Bishop Ercus, from whom he received such instruction as befitted his advancing years. But Brendan's tenderest affection clung to the gentle nurse of his infancy; and to her, in after years, he frequently returned, to give or receive counsel and sympathy.

The legend of his western voyage, if not the most important, is at least the most interesting part of his history. Kerry was the native home of the enterprising saint; and as he stood on its bold and beautiful shores, his naturally contemplative mind was led to inquire what boundaries chained that vast ocean, whose grand waters rolled in mighty waves beneath his feet. His thoughtful piety suggested that where there might be a country there might be life—human life and human souls dying day by day, and hour by hour, and knowing of no other existence than that which at best is full of sadness and decay.

Traditions of a far-away land had long existed on the western coast of ancient Erinn. The brave Tuatha De Dananns were singularly expert in naval affairs, and their descendants were by no means unwilling to impart information to the saint.

The venerable St. Enda, the first Abbot of Arran, was then living, and thither St. Brendan journeyed for counsel. Probably he was encouraged in his design by the holy abbot; for, he proceeded along the coast of Mayo, inquiring as he went for traditions of the western continent. On his return to Kerry, he decided to set out on the important expedition. St. Brendan's Hill still bears his name; and from the bay at the foot of this lofty eminence he sailed for the "far west." Directing his course towards the south-west, with a few faithful companions, in a well-provisioned bark, he came, after some rough and dangerous navigation, to calm seas, where, without aid of oar or sail, he was borne along for many weeks. It is probable that he had entered the great Gulf Stream, which brought his vessel ashore somewhere on the Virginian coasts. He landed with his companions, and penetrated into the interior, until he came to a large river flowing from east to west, supposed to be that now known as the Ohio. Here, according to the legend, he was accosted by a man of venerable bearing, who told him that he had gone far enough; that further discoveries were reserved for other men, who would in due time come and christianize that pleasant land.

After an absence of seven years, the saint returned once more to Ireland, and lived not only to tell of the marvels he had seen, but even to found a college of three thousand monks at Clonfert. This voyage took place in the year 545, according to Colgan; but as St. Brendan must have been at that time at least sixty years old, an earlier date has been suggested as more probable.[179]

The northern and southern Hy-Nials had long held rule in Ireland; but while the northern tribe were ever distinguished, not only for their valour, but for their chivalry in field or court, the southern race fell daily lower in the estimation of their countrymen. Their disgrace was completed when two kings, who ruled Erinn jointly, were treacherously slain by Conall Guthvin. For this crime the family were excluded from regal honours for several generations.

Home dissensions led to fatal appeals for foreign aid, and this frequently from the oppressing party. Thus, Congal Caech, who killed the reigning sovereign in 623, fled to Britain, and after remaining there nine years, returned with foreign troops, by whose assistance he hoped to attain the honours unlawfully coveted. The famous battle of Magh-Rath,[180] in which the auxiliaries were utterly routed and the false Congal slain, unfortunately did not deter his countrymen from again and again attempting the same suicidal course.

In 656 the country was once more visited by the fatal Crom Chonaill, and again holy prelates and sainted religious were foremost amongst its victims. Many orphans were of necessity thrown on the mercy of those to whom charity was their only claim. Nor was the call unheeded. The venerable Bishop of Ardbraccan, St. Ultan, whom we may perhaps term the St. Vincent of Ireland, gathered these hapless little ones into a safe asylum, and there, with a thoughtfulness which in such an age could scarcely have been expected, sought to supply by artificial means for the natural nourishment of which they had been deprived.

Venerable Bede mentions this pestilence, and gives honorable testimony to the charity of the Irish, not only to their own people, but even to strangers. He says: "This pestilence did no less harm, in the island of Ireland. Many of the nobility and of the lower ranks of the English nation were there at that time, who, in the days of Bishop Finan and Colman, forsaking their native land, retired thither, either for the sake of divine studies, or for a more continent life. The Scots willingly received them all, and took care to supply them with food, as also to furnish them with books to read and their teaching gratis."[181]

In 673 Finnachta Fleadhach, or the Hospitable, began his reign. He yielded to the entreaties of St. Moling, and remitted the Boromean Tribute, after he had forced it from the Leinster men in a bloody battle. In 687 he abdicated, and showed his respect for religion still further by embracing the monastic state himself. In 684 the Irish coasts were devastated, and even the churches pillaged, by the soldiers of Egfrid, the Saxon King of Northumbria. Venerable Bede attributes his subsequent defeat and death, when fighting against the Picts, to the judgment of God, justly merited by these unprovoked outrages on a nation which had always been most friendly to the English (nationi Anglorum semper amicissimam).

It has been supposed that revenge may have influenced Egfrid's conduct: this, however, does not make it more justifiable in a Christian king. Ireland was not merely the refuge of men of learning in that age; it afforded shelter to more than one prince driven unjustly from his paternal home. Alfred, the brother of the Northumbrian monarch, had fled thither from his treachery, and found a generous welcome on its ever-hospitable shores. He succeeded his brother in the royal dignity; and when St. Adamnan visited his court to obtain the release of the Irish captives whom Egfrid's troops had torn from their native land, he received him with the utmost kindness, and at once acceded to his request.

St. Adamnan, whose fame as the biographer of St. Columba has added even more to the lustre of his name than his long and saintly rule over the Monastery of Iona, was of the race of the northern Hy-Nials. He was born in the territory of Tir-Connell, about the year 627. Little is known of his early history; it is generally supposed that he was educated at Iona, and that, having embraced the monastic rule, he returned to his own country to extend its observance there. He presided over the great Abbey of Raphoe, of which he was the founder, until the year 679, when he was raised to the government of his order, and from that period he usually resided at Iona. The fact of his having been chosen to such an important office, is a sufficient testimony to his virtues, and of the veneration and respect in which he was held by his contemporaries.

St. Adamnan paid more than one visit to his friend the Northumbrian monarch (regem Alfridem amicum). On the second occasion he went with the Abbot Ceolfrid, and after some conversation with him and other learned ecclesiastics, he adopted the Roman paschal computation. Yet, with all his influence and eloquence, he was unable to induce his monks to accept it; and it was not until the year 716 that they yielded to the persuasions of Egbert, a Northumbrian monk. Adamnan was more successful in his own country. In 697 he visited Ireland, and took an important part in a legislative council held at Tara. On this occasion he procured the enactment of a law, which was called the Canon of Adamnan, or the Law of the Innocents, and sometimes "the law not to kill women." We have already referred to the martial tendencies of the ladies of ancient Erinn—a tendency, however, which was by no means peculiar at that period of the world's history. The propensity for military engagements was not confined to queens and princesses—women of all ranks usually followed their lords to the field of battle; but as the former are generally represented as having fallen victims to each other's prowess in the fight, it appears probable that they had their own separate line of battle, or perhaps fought out the field in a common melee of feminine forces.

Had we not the abundant testimony of foreign writers to prove the influence and importance of the missions undertaken by Irish saints at this period of her history, it might be supposed that the statements of her annalists were tinged with that poetic fancy in which she has ever been so singularly prolific, and that they rather wrote of what might have been than of what was. But the testimony of Venerable Bede (to go no further) is most ample on this subject.

Irish missionary zeal was inaugurated in the person of St. Columba, although its extension to continental Europe was commenced by another, who, from similarity of name, has been frequently confounded with the national apostle.

St. Columbanus was born about the year 539. The care of his education was confided to the venerable Senile, who was eminent for his sanctity and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. It was probably through his influence that the young man resolved to devote himself to the monastic life. For this purpose he placed himself under the direction of St. Comgall, who then governed the great Monastery of Bangor (Banchorr).

It was not until he entered his fiftieth year that he decided on quitting his native land, so that there can be no reason to doubt that his high intellectual attainments were acquired and perfected in Ireland.

With the blessing of his superior, and the companionship of twelve faithful monks, he set forth on his arduous mission; and arduous truly it proved to be. The half-barbarous Franks, then ruled by Thierry or Theodoric, lived more a pagan than a Christian life, and could ill brook the stern lessons of morality which they heard from, and saw practised by, their new teacher. The saint did not spare the demoralized court, and the Queen-Dowager Brunehalt became his bitterest foe. He had already established two monasteries: one at Luxovium, or Luxeuil, in a forest at the foot of the Vosges; the other, on account of its numerous springs, was called Ad-fontanas (Fontaines). Here the strict discipline of the Irish monks was rigidly observed, and the coarsest fare the only refection permitted to the religious.

For a time they were allowed to continue their daily routine of prayer and penance without molestation; but the relentless Brunehalt, who, from the basest motives, had encouraged the young king in every vice, could no longer brave either the silent preaching of the cloister or the bold denunciations of the saint. As Columbanus found that his distant remonstrances had no effect on the misguided monarch, for whose eternal welfare he felt the deep interest of true sanctity, he determined to try a personal interview. For a brief space his admonitions were heard with respect, and even the haughty queen seemed less bent on her career of impiety and deceit; but the apparent conversion passed away as a summer breeze, and once more the saint denounced and threatened in vain.

Strict enclosure had been established in the monasteries professing the Columbanian rule[182] and this afforded a pretext for the royal vengeance. Theodoric attempted to violate the sanctuary in person; but though he was surrounded by soldiers, he had to encounter one whose powers were of another and more invincible character. The saint remained in the sanctuary, and when the king approached addressed him sternly:

"If thou, sire," he exclaimed, "art come hither to violate the discipline already established, or to destroy the dwellings of the servants of God, know that in heaven there is a just and avenging power; thy kingdom shall be taken from thee, and both thou and thy royal race shall be cut off and destroyed on the earth."

The undaunted bearing of Columbanus, and, perhaps, some lingering light of conscience, not yet altogether extinguished, had its effect upon the angry monarch. He withdrew; but he left to others the task he dared not attempt in person. The saint was compelled by armed men to leave his monastery, and only his Irish and British subjects were permitted to bear him company. They departed in deep grief, not for the cruel treatment they suffered, but for their brethren from whom they were thus rudely torn. As the monks who were left behind clung weeping to their father, he consoled them with these memorable words: "God will be to you a Father, and reward you with mansions where the workers of sacrilege can never enter."

Nantes was the destination of the exiled religious. Here they were put on board a vessel bound for Ireland; but scarcely had they reached the open sea, when a violent storm arose, by which the vessel was driven back and stranded on the shore, where it lay all night. The captain attributed the misfortune to his travelling companions, and refused to carry them any farther. Columbanus, perceiving in this accident an indication of the will of heaven in their regard, determined to seek a settlement in some other part of the Continent. In the third year after his expulsion from Luxeuil, he arrived at Milan, where he was hospitably received by the Lombard king, A.D. 612. On his journey thither he had evangelised Austrasia, then governed by Theodebert. This prince, though a brother of the monarch by whom he had been expelled, entertained him with the utmost courtesy. At Mentz, the bishop vainly endeavoured to detain him. Zeal for the conversion of souls led the saint to desire a less cultivated field of labour. As he passed along the Lake of Zurich, and in the Canton of Zug, he reaped a rich harvest; from, thence he directed his course to Bregentz, then inhabited by an idolatrous people.

Here he was repulsed by those who most needed his apostolic labours; but, undaunted, he retired to the neighbouring county, where he secured a band of zealous converts. Surrounded by these, and attended by his faithful monks, he once more entered the idolatrous city, and proceeded boldly to the temple where their false gods were enshrined. Here he invoked the Holy Name, and by its power the idols were miraculously overthrown, and a multitude of the people were converted, including in their number some of the principal inhabitants of Bregentz.

The theological controversy, known as that of the "Three Chapters," was now prevalent in northern Italy. A letter is still extant which St. Columbanus addressed to Pope Boniface on this subject, in which, while he uses the privilege of free discussion on questions not defined by the Church, he is remarkably, and perhaps for some inconveniently, explicit as to his belief in papal supremacy. A brief extract from this important document will show that the faith for which Ireland has suffered, and still suffers so much, was the same in the "early ages" as it is now. He writes thus to the Holy Father:—

"For we Irish [Scoti] are disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of all the divinely inspired canonical writers, adhering constantly to the evangelical and apostolical doctrine. Amongst us neither Jew, heretic, nor schismatic can be found; but the Catholic faith, entire and unshaken, precisely as we have received it from you, who are the successors of the holy Apostles. For, as I have already said, we are attached to the chair of St. Peter; and although Rome is great and renowned, yet with us it is great and distinguished only on account of that apostolic chair. Through the two Apostles of Christ you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the churches of the world."[183]

In the year 613 St. Columbanus founded the world-famed Monastery of Bovium, or Bobbio,[184] in a magnificently romantic site on the Apennines. Near his church was an oratory dedicated to the Mother of God, who, as we shall presently see, was as devoutly worshipped in ancient as in modern Erinn.

Agilulph, the Lombardian monarch, was ever a warm patron of the monks. Clothaire had now ascended the French throne. He earnestly pressed the saint to return to Luxeuil, but Columbanus excused himself on the plea of age and infirmities. He did not fail, however, to send advice for the government of the monasteries which he had founded, where his rule had continued to be observed with the utmost fervour.

St. Columbanus died at Bobbio, on the 21st of November, 615, at the age of seventy-two years. His name is still preserved in the town of St. Columbano. His memory has been ever venerated in France and Italy.

While the saint was evangelizing in Switzerland, one of his disciples became seriously ill, and was unable to travel farther. It was a providential sickness for the Helvetians. The monk was an eloquent preacher, and well acquainted with their language, which was a dialect of that of the Franks. He evangelized the country, and the town of St. Gall still bears the name of the holy Irishman, while his abbey contains many precious relics of the literature and piety of his native land. St. Gall died on the 16th October, 645, at a very advanced age. The monastery was not erected until after his decease, and it was not till the year 1798 that the abbey lands were aggregated to the Swiss Confederation as one of the cantons.

Another Irish saint, who evangelized in France, was St. Fiacre. He erected a monastery to the Blessed Virgin in a forest near Meaux. The fame of his sanctity became so great, and the pilgrimage to his tomb so popular, that the French hackney coaches (fiacre) obtained their name from their constant employment in journeys to his shrine.

About the same period, St. Fursey founded a monastery near Burgh Castle, in Suffolk, where he was kindly received by Sigbert, King of the East Angles. From thence he proceeded to Lagny, in France, where his missionary zeal was long remembered. His brothers, St. Foillan and St. Altan, were his constant companions. St. Fursey died on the 16th January, 650, at Macerius. His remains were subsequently translated to Peronne, in Picardy. The evangelic labours of many of his Irish disciples, are matter of history in the Gallic Church. It is said that the fame of the Irish for their skill in music, was so well known on the Continent at this period, that St. Gertrude, daughter of King Pepin, and Abbess of Nivelle, in Brabant, invited the brothers of St. Fursey to instruct her community in sacred music. They complied with her request, and soon after erected a monastery at Fosse, near Nivelle. Nor were the Scoti without their missionary martyrs, amongst whom the great St. Kilian holds a distinguished place. The spirit of devotion to the Holy See seems almost to be an heirloom in the little island of the western sea. True to the instincts of his native land, the martyr-saint would not undertake his mission in Franconia, great as was its necessity, until he knelt at the feet of the Vicar of Christ to obtain his permission and blessing. Thus fortified, he commenced his glorious race, so happily crowned with the martyr's palm. His bold rebuke of the open scandal given by the conduct of the ruling prince, was the immediate cause of his obtaining this favour. St. Kilian was assassinated at midnight, while singing the Divine Office, with two of his faithful companions. Their remains were interred in the church of Wurtzberg, where St. Kilian is still revered as its patron and apostle.

We can but name St. Mailduf, from whom Malmsbury has been named; St. Livin, who converted the inhabitants of Flanders and Brabant; St. Cataldus and his brother, St. Donatus, the former patron of the metropolitan see of Tarentum, and whose name is still preserved in the little town of San Cataldo, the latter Bishop of Lecce, in the kingdom of Naples, and both famous for miracles and sanctity of life; St. Virgilius, called in the ancient annals "Ferghil the Geometer," and by Latin writers Solivagus,[185] or the "solitary wanderer," who died Bishop of Saltzburg, distinguished for literary fame; St. Fridolin, "the traveller," son of an Irish king, who evangelized Thuringia, and was appointed by the Pope Bishop of Buraburgh, near Fritzlar, in the year 741; St. Sedulius the younger, who wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and assisted at a council held in Rome, in the year 721, under Gregory II. It is noticeable that this saint was consecrated Bishop of Oreto, in Spain, while in Rome. When he entered on the mission thus confided to him, he wrote a treatise to prove that, being Irish, he was of Spanish descent; thus showing that at this period the idea of a Milesian origin was common to men of learning in Ireland.[186]

But if Ireland gave saints and martyrs to foreign lands, her charity was in some measure repaid in kind. True, she needed not the evangelic labours of other missionaries, for the gospel-seed had taken deep root, and borne a rich harvest on her happy shores; still, as the prayers of saints are the very life and joy of the Church, she could not choose but rejoice in the hundreds of pure and saintly souls who gathered round her altars at home, who crowded her monasteries, or listened devoutly to the teachers of her distinguished schools. In the Litany of Aengus the Culdee[187] we find hundreds of foreign saints invoked, each grouped according to their nation. "The oldest tract, or collection of the pedigrees of the saints of Erinn," says Professor O'Curry, "of which we have now any recognizable copy remaining, is that which is ascribed to Aengus Ceile De, commonly called Aengus the Culdee. The genuineness of this composition is admitted by all writers of modern times, Protestant and Catholic, by Usher and Ware as well as by Colgan."

Aengus wrote about the year 798. He was descended from the illustrious chieftains of Dalriada, and completed his education in the Monastery of Cluain Eidhneach, in the present Queen's county. The remains of a church he founded at Disert Aengusa, near Ballingarry, in the county of Limerick, may still be seen.

The Monastery of Tamhlacht (Tallaght), near Dublin, was founded in the year 769, by St. Maelruain, on a site offered "to God, to Michael the Archangel, and to Maelruain," by Donnach, the pious and illustrious King of Leinster. St. Aengus presented himself at this monastery as a poor man seeking for service, and was employed for some time in charge of the mill or kiln, the ruins of which have but lately yielded to "the improving hand of modern progress." Here he remained hidden for many years, until, by some happy accident, his humility and his learning were at once discovered.

Aengus composed his "Festology" in the reign of Hugh Oirdnidhe (the Legislator), who was Monarch of Ireland from the year 793 to the year 817. Hugh commenced his reign by attaching the province of Leinster, and then marched to the confines of Meath. The Archbishop of Armagh and all his clergy were commanded to attend this expedition, for such had hitherto been the custom. The ecclesiastics, however, protested against the summons, and complained to the king of the injustice and inconsistency of demanding their presence on such occasions. Hugh referred the matter to Fothadh, his poet and adviser. The learning and piety of the bard were well known; and a decision favourable to the clergy was the result. This decision was given in a short poem of four quatrains which is preserved in the preface to the "Martyrology" of Aengus. The following is a literal translation:—

"The Church of the living God, Touch her not, nor waste; Let her rights be reserved, As best ever they were.

"Every true monk who is Possessed of a pious conscience, To the church to which it is due Let him act as any servant.

"Every faithful servant from that out, Who is not bound by vows of obedience, Has liberty to join in the battles Of Aedh (Hugh) the Great, son of Nial.

"This is the proper rule, Certain it is not more, not less: Let every one serve his lot, Without defect, and without refusal."

This decision obtained the name of a canon, and henceforth its author was distinguished as Fothadh na Canoine, or Fothadh of the Canons.

At the time of the promulgation of this canon, Aengus was residing at his church of Disert Bethech, near the present town of Monasterevan, not far from where the Irish monarch had pitched his camp.

The poet visited Aengus, and showed him the canon before presenting it to the king. An intimacy was thus commenced, which must have proved one of singular pleasure to both parties. Aengus had just finished his "Festology," and showed it for the first time to his brother poet, who expressed the warmest approbation of the work.

This composition consists of three parts. The first part is a poem of five quatrains, invoking the grace and sanctification of Christ for the poet and his undertaking:—

"Sanctify, O Christ! my words: O Lord of the seven heavens! Grant me the gift of wisdom, O Sovereign of the bright sun!

"O bright Sun, who dost illuminate The heavens with all Thy holiness! O King, who governest the angels! O Lord of all the people!

"O Lord of the people! O King, all righteous and good! May I receive the full benefit Of praising Thy royal hosts.

"Thy royal hosts I praise, Because Thou art my sovereign; I have disposed my mind To be constantly beseeching Thee.

"I beseech a favour from Thee, That I be purified from my sins, Through the peaceful bright-shining flock, The royal host whom I celebrate."

Then follows a metrical preface, consisting of eighty stanzas. These verses are in the same measure[188] as the invocation, Englished by modern Gaedhilic scholars as "chain-verse;" that is, an arrangement of metre by which the first words of every succeeding quatrain are identical with the last words of the preceding one.

After the invocation follows a preface, the second part of this remarkable poem. In this there is a glowing account of the tortures and sufferings of the early Christian martyrs; it tells "how the names of the persecutors are forgotten, while the names of their victims are remembered with honour, veneration, and affection; how Pilate's wife is forgotten, while the Blessed Virgin Mary is remembered and honoured from the uttermost bounds of the earth to its centre." The martyrology proper, or festology, comes next, and consists of 365 quatrains, or a stanza for each day in the year.

It commences with the feast of the Circumcision:—

"At the head of the congregated saints Let the King take the front place; Unto the noble dispensation did submit Christ—on the kalends of January."

St. Patrick is commemorated thus, on the 17th of March:—

"The blaze of a splendid sun, The apostle of stainless Erinn, Patrick, with his countless thousands, May he shelter our wretchedness."

On the 13th of April, Bishop Tussach, one of the favourite companions of the great saint, is also mentioned as—

"The kingly bishop Tussach, Who administered, on his arrival, The Body of Christ, the truly powerful King, And the Communion to Patrick."

It will be remembered it was from this saint that the great apostle received the holy viaticum. In the third division of his great work, Aengus explains its use, and directs the people how to read it.

It will be manifest from these poems that the religious principles of the Culdees and of the Irish ecclesiastics generally, were those of the Universal Church at this period. We find the rights of the Church respected and advocated; the monarchs submitting to the decision of the clergy; invocation of the saints; the practice of administering the holy viaticum; and the commemoration of the saints on the days devoted to their honour.

Usher observes, that the saints of this period might be grouped into a fourth order.[189] Bede says: "That many of the Scots [Irish] came daily into Britain, and with great devotion preached the word and administered baptism.... The English, great and small, were by their Scottish [Irish] masters instructed in the rules and observances of regular discipline."[190] Eric of Auxerre writes thus to Charles the Bald: "What shall I say of Ireland, which, despising the dangers of the deep, is migrating with her whole train of philosophers to our coast?" Rency, after describing the poetry and literature of ancient Erinn as perhaps the most cultivated of all Western Europe, adds, that Ireland "counted a host of saints and learned men, venerated in England[191] and Gaul; for no country had furnished more Christian missionaries." It is said that three thousand students, collected from all parts of Europe, attended the schools of Armagh; and, indeed, the regulations which were made for preserving scholastic discipline, are almost sufficient evidence on this subject.

The discussions of the Irish and English ecclesiastics on the time of keeping of Easter, with their subsequent decision, and all details concerning domestic regulations as to succession to office and church lands, are more properly matters for elucidation in a Church History, for which we reserve their consideration.


[169] Blefed.—The name Crom Chonaill indicates a sickness which produced a yellow colour in the skin.

[170] Sanctuary.—This may appear a severe punishment, but the right of sanctuary was in these ages the great means of protection against lawless force, and its violation was regarded as one of the worst of sacrileges.

[171] Oak.—Dr. Petrie mentions that there were stones still at Tara which probably formed a portion of one of the original buildings. It was probably of the Pelasgian or Cyclopean kind.

[172] Hour.—Petrie's Tara, p. 31.

[173] Tuathal.—Very ancient authorities are found for this in the Leabhar Gabhala, or Book of Conquests.

[174] Mill.—"Cormac, the grandson of Con, brought a millwright over the great sea." It is clear from the Brehon laws that mills were common in Ireland at an early period. It is probable that Cormac brought the "miller and his men" from Scotland. Whittaker shows that a water-mill was erected by the Romans at every stationary city in Roman Britain. The origin of mills is attributed to Mithridates, King of Cappadocia, about seventy years B.C. The present miller claims to be a descendant of the original miller.

[175] Identical.—First, "because the Lia Fail is spoken of by all ancient Irish writers in such a manner as to leave no doubt that it remained in its original situation at the time they wrote." Second, "because no Irish account of its removal to Scotland is found earlier than Keating, and he quotes Boetius, who obviously wished to sustain the claims of the Stuarts." The pillar-stone is composed of granular limestone, but no stone of this description is found in the vicinity. As may be supposed, there are all kinds of curious traditions about this stone. One of these asserts that it was the pillar on which Jacob reposed when he saw the vision of angels. Josephus states that the descendants of Seth invented astronomy, and that they engraved their discoveries on a pillar of brick and a pillar of stone. These pillars remained, in the historian's time, in the land of Siris.—Ant. Jud. l. 2, sec. 3.

[176] At once.—See Petrie's Tara, p. 213.

[177] Roads.—See Napoleon's Julius Caesar, vol. ii. p. 22, for mention of the Celtic roads in Gaul.

[178] Chariots.—St. Patrick visited most parts of Ireland in a chariot, according to the Tripartite Life. Carbad or chariots are mentioned in the oldest Celtic tales and romances, and it is distinctly stated in the life of St. Patrick preserved in the Book of Armagh, that the pagan Irish had chariots. Different kinds of roads are expressly mentioned, and also the duty of road-mending, and those upon whom this duty devolved. See Introduction to the Book of Rights, p. 56.

[179] Probable.—The legend of St. Brendan was widely diffused in the Middle Ages. In the Bibliotheque Imperiale, at Paris, there are no less than eleven MSS. of the original Latin legend, the dates of which vary from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. In the old French and Romance dialects there are abundant copies in most public libraries in France; while versions in Irish, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, abound in all parts of the Continent. Traces of ante-Columbian voyages to America are continually cropping up. But the appearance, in 1837, of the Antiquitates Americanae sive ita Scriptores Septentrionales rerum ante-Columbiarum, in America, edited by Professor Rafu, at Copenhagen, has given final and conclusive evidence on this interesting subject. America owes its name to an accidental landing. Nor is it at all improbable that the Phoenicians, in their voyage across the stormy Bay of Biscay, or the wild Gulf of Guinea, may have been driven far out of their course to western lands. Even in 1833 a Japanese junk was wrecked upon the coast of Oregon. Humboldt believes that the Canary Isles were known, not only to the Phoenicians, but "perhaps even to the Etruscans." There is a map in the Library of St. Mark, at Venice, made in the year 1436, where an island is delineated and named Antillia. See Trans. R.I.A. vol. xiv. A distinguished modern poet of Ireland has made the voyage of St. Brendan the subject of one of the most beautiful of his poems.

[180] Magh-Rath.—Now Moira, in the county Down. The Chronicum Scotorum gives the date 636, and the Annals of Tighernach at 637, which Dr. O'Donovan considers to be the true date.

[181] Gratis.—Ven. Bede, cap. xxviii.

[182] Rule.—"The light which St. Columbanus disseminated, by his knowledge and doctrine, wherever he presented himself, caused a contemporary writer to compare him to the sun in his course from east to west; and he continued after his death to shine forth in numerous disciples whom he had trained in learning and piety."—Benedictine Hist. Litt. de la France.

[183] World.—See Herring's Collectanea and the Bibliotheca Patrum, tom. xii.

[184] Bobbio.—My learned friend, the Rev. J.P. Gaffney, of Clontarf, has in his possession a printed copy of the celebrated Bobbio Missal. It is contained in a work entitled "MUSEUM ITALICUM, seu collectio Veterum Scriptorum ex Bibliothesis Italicis," eruta a D.J. Mabillon et D.M. Germain, presbyteris et monachis, Benedictinae, Cong. S. Maure. This work was published at Paris in 1687. The original Missal was discovered by Mabillon two hundred years ago, and is at present preserved in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. It dates from the seventh century, and is no doubt the identical Missal or Mass-book used by the saint. As my friend has allowed me to retain the treasure for a time, I intend to give full details on the subject in my Ecclesiastical History. For further information at present, I refer the reader to the Rev. J.P. Gaffney's Religion of the Ancient Irish Church p. 43, and to Dr. Moran's learned Essays, p. 287. I especially request the superiors of religious orders to afford me any information in their possession concerning the history of their respective orders in Ireland, and also of their several houses. Details of re-erections of religious houses on old sites are particularly desired. All books or documents which may be forwarded to me shall be carefully returned.

[185] Solivagus.—Four Masters, p. 391.

[186] Ireland.—The elder Sedulius, whose hymns are even now used by the Church, lived in the fifth century. The hymn, A solis ortis cardine, and many others, are attributed to him.

[187] Culdee.—There was much dispute at one time as to the origin and true character of the Culdees. The question, however, has been quite set at rest by the researches of recent Irish scholars. Professor O'Curry traces them up to the time of St. Patrick. He thinks they were originally mendicant monks, and that they had no communities until the end of the eighth century, when St. Maelruain of Tallaght drew up a rule for them. This rule is still extant. Mr. Haverty (Irish History, p. 110) has well observed, they probably resembled the Tertiaries, or Third Orders, which belong to the Orders of St. Dominic and St. Francis at the present day. See also Dr. Reeves' Life of St. Columba, for some clear and valuable remarks on this subject.

[188] Measure.—The subject of Irish poetical composition would demand a considerable space if thoroughly entertained. Zeuss has done admirable justice to the subject in his Grammatica Celtica, where he shows that the word rhyme [rimum] is of Irish origin. The Very Rev. U. Burke has also devoted some pages to this interesting investigation, in his College Irish Grammar. He observes that the phonetic framework in which the poetry of a people is usually fashioned, differs in each of the great national families, even as their language and genius differ. He also shows that the earliest Latin ecclesiastical poets were Irish, and formed their hymns upon the rules of Irish versification; thus quite controverting the theory that rhyme was introduced by the Saracens in the ninth century.

[189] Order.—This refers to the vision in which St. Patrick is said to have seen three orders of saints, who should succeed each other in Ireland.

[190] Discipline.—Bede, lib. iii. cap. 3. We have used Bohn's translation, as above all suspicion.

[191] England.—Camden says: "At that age the Anglo-Saxons repaired on all sides to Ireland as to a general mart of learning, whence we read, in our writers, of holy men, that they went to study in Ireland"—Amandatus est ad disciplinam in Hiberniam.


Christianity improves the Social State of Ireland—A Saxon Invasion of Ireland—Domestic Wars—The English come to Ireland for Instruction—A Famine and Tempests—The First Danish Invasion—Cruelty of the Danes—The Black and White Gentiles—King Cormac Mac Cullinan—Cashel—Amlaff the Dane—Plunder of the Towns—Arrival of Sitric—Death of Nial Glundubh—The Circuit of Ireland—Malachy the Second—Entries in the Annals.

[A.D. 693-926.]

Very few events of any special interest occur between the commencement of the seventh century and the Danish invasion. The obituaries of ecclesiastics and details of foreign missions, which we have already recorded, are its salient points. The wars of the Saxon Heptarchy and the Celtic Pentarchy almost synchronize, though we find several Irish kings influenced by the examples of sanctity with which they were surrounded, and distinguished for piety, while Charlemagne pronounces their neighbours a perfidious and perverse race, worse than pagans. There can be no doubt that Charlemagne's high opinion of the Irish was caused by the fact, that so many of the heads of his schools were of that nation, which was then in the vanguard of civilization and progress. The cloister, always the nursery of art, the religious, always the promoters of learning, were pre-eminent in this age for their devotion to literary pursuits. In the present work it is impossible to give details of their MSS. still preserved, of their wonderful skill in caligraphy, still the admiration of the most gifted, and of the perfection to which they brought the science of music; but I turn from this attractive subject with less regret, from the hope of being soon able to produce an Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, in which such details will find their proper place, and will be amply expanded.[192] The revolution of social feeling which was effected in Ireland by the introduction of Christianity, is strongly marked. Before the advent of St. Patrick, few Irish monarchs died a natural death—ambition or treachery proved a sufficient motive for murder and assassination; while of six kings who reigned during the eighth and ninth centuries, only one died a violent death, and that death was an exception, which evidently proved the rule, for Nial was drowned in a generous effort to save the life of one of his own servants.

The fatal pestilence, already recorded, did not appear again after its severe visitation, which terminated in 667. In 693 Finnachta Fleadhach (the Hospitable) commenced his reign. He remitted the Boromean Tribute at the request of St. Moling, and eventually abdicated, and embraced a religious life. In the year 684, Egfrid, the Saxon King of Northumberland, sent an army to Ireland, which spared neither churches nor monasteries, and carried off a great number of the inhabitants as slaves. Bede denounces and laments this barbarous invasion, attributing the defeat and death of King Egfrid, which took place in the following year, to the vengeance of heaven.[193] St. Adamnan was sent to Northumbria, after the death of this prince, to obtain the release of the captives. His mission was successful, and he was honoured there as the worker of many miracles.

The generosity of Finnachta failed in settling the vexed question of tribute. Comgal, who died in 708, ravaged Leinster as fiercely as his predecessors, and Fearghal, his successor, invaded it "five times in one year." Three wonderful showers are said to have fallen in the eighth year of his reign (A.D. 716 according to the Four Masters)—a shower of silver, a shower of honey, and a shower of blood. These were, of course, considered portents of the awful Danish invasions. Fearghal was killed at the battle of Almhain (Allen, near Kildare), in 718. In this engagement, the Leinster men only numbered nine thousand, while their opponents numbered twenty-one thousand. The Leinster men, however, made up for numbers by their valour; and it is said that the intervention of a hermit, who reproached Fearghal with breaking the pacific promise of his predecessor, contributed to the defeat of the northern forces. Another battle took place in 733, when Hugh Allan, King of Ireland, and Hugh, son of Colgan, King of Leinster, engaged in single combat. The latter was slain, and the Leinster men "were killed, slaughtered, cut off, and dreadfully exterminated." In fact, the Leinster men endured so many "dreadful exterminations," that one almost marvels how any of their brave fellows were left for future feats of arms. The "northerns were joyous after this victory, for they had wreaked their vengeance and their animosity upon the Leinster men," nine thousand of whom were slain. St. Samhthann, a holy nun, who died in the following year, is said to have predicted the fate of Aedh, Comgal's son, if the two Aedhs (Hughs) met. Aedh Allan commemorated her virtues in verse, and concludes thus:—

"In the bosom of the Lord, with a pure death, Samhthann passed from her sufferings."

Indeed, the Irish kings of this period manifested their admiration of peaceful living, and their desire for holy deaths, in a more practical way than by poetic encomiums on others. In 704 Beg Boirche "took a pilgrim's staff, and died on his pilgrimage." In 729 Flahertach renounced his regal honours, and retired to Armagh, where he died. In 758 Donal died on a pilgrimage at Iona, after a reign of twenty years; and in 765 his successor, Nial Frassagh, abdicated the throne, and became a monk at Iona. Here he died in 778, and was buried in the tomb of the Irish kings in that island.

An Irish poet, who died in 742, is said to have played a clever trick on the "foreigners" of Dublin. He composed a poem for them, and then requested payment for his literary labours. The Galls,[194] who were probably Saxons, refused to meet his demand, but Rumrann said he would be content with two pinguins (pennies) from every good man, and one from each bad one. The result may be anticipated. Rumrann is described as "an adept in wisdom, chronology, and poetry;" we might perhaps add, and in knowledge of human nature. In the Book of Ballymote he is called the Virgil of Ireland. A considerable number of Saxons were now in the country; and it is said that a British king, named Constantine, who had become a monk, was at that time Abbot of Rahen, in the King's county, and that at Cell-Belaigh there were seven streets[195] of those foreigners. Gallen, in the King's county, was called Galin of the Britons, and Mayo was called Mayo of the Saxons, from the number of monasteries therein, founded by members of these nations.

The entries during the long reign of Domhnall contain little save obituaries of abbots and saints. The first year of the reign of Nial Frassagh is distinguished by a shower of silver, a shower of wheat, and a shower of honey. The Annals of Clonmacnois say that there was a most severe famine throughout the whole kingdom during the early part of his reign, so much that the king himself had very little to live upon. Then the king prayed very fervently to God, being in company with seven holy bishops; and he asked that he might die rather than see so many of his faithful subjects perishing, while he was helpless to relieve them. At the conclusion of his prayer, the "three showers" fell from heaven; and then the king and the seven bishops gave great thanks to the Lord.

But a more terrible calamity than famine was even then impending, and, if we may believe the old chroniclers, not without marvellous prognostications of its approach. In the year 767 there occurred a most fearful storm of thunder and lightning, with "terrific and horrible signs." It would appear that the storm took place while a fair was going on, which obtained the name of the "Fair of the clapping of hands." Fear and horror seized the men of Ireland, so that their religious seniors ordered them to make two fasts, together with fervent prayer, and one meal between them, to protect and save them from a pestilence, precisely at Michaelmas.[196]

The first raid of the Danish pirates is recorded thus: "The age of Christ 790 [recte 795]. The twenty-fifth year of Donnchadh. The burning of Reachrainn[197] by plunderers; and its shrines were broken and plundered." They had already attacked the English coasts, "whilst the pious King Bertric was reigning over its western division." Their arrival was sudden and so unexpected, that the king's officer took them for merchants, paying with his life for the mistake.[198] A Welsh chronicle, known by the name of Brut y Tywysogion, or the Chronicle of the Chieftains, has a corresponding record under the year 790: "Ten years with fourscore and seven hundred was the age of Christ when the pagans went to Ireland." Three MSS. add, "and destroyed Rechren." Another chronicle mentions, that the black pagans, who were the first of their nation to land in Ireland, had previously been defeated in Glamorganshire, and after their defeat they had invaded Ireland, and devastated Rechru.

If by bravery we understand utter recklessness of life, and utter recklessness in inflicting cruelties on others, then the Vikings may be termed brave. The heroism of patient endurance was a bravery but little understood at that period. If the heathen Viking was brave when he plundered and burned monastic shrines—when he massacred the defenceless with wanton cruelty—when he flung little children on the points of spears, and gloated over their dying agonies; perhaps we may also admit those who endured such torments, either in their own persons, or in the persons of those who were dear to them, and yet returned again and again to restore the shrine so rudely destroyed, have also their claim to be termed brave, and may demand some commendation for that virtue from posterity.

As plunder was the sole object of these barbarians, they naturally sought it first where it could be obtained most easily and surely. The islands on the Irish coast were studded with monasteries. Their position was chosen as one which seemed peculiarly suitable for a life of retreat from worldly turmoil, and contemplation of heavenly things. They were richly endowed, for ancient piety deemed it could never give enough to God. The shrines were adorned with jewels, purchased with the wealth which the monks had renounced for their own use; the sacred vessels were costly, the gifts of generous hearts. The Danes commenced their work of plunder and devastation in the year 795. Three years after, A.D. 798, they ravaged Inis-patrick of Man and the Hebrides. In 802 they burned "Hi-Coluim-Cille." In 806 they attacked the island again, and killed sixty-eight of the laity and clergy. In 807 they became emboldened by success, and for the first time marched inland; and after burning Inishmurray, they attacked Roscommon. During the years 812 and 813 they made raids in Connaught and Munster, but not without encountering stout resistance from the native forces. After this predatory and internecine warfare had continued for about thirty years, Turgesius, a Norwegian prince, established himself as sovereign of the Vikings, and made Armagh his head-quarters, A.D. 830. If the Irish chieftains had united their forces, and acted in concert, the result would have been the expulsion of the intruders; but, unhappily, this unity of purpose in matters political has never existed. The Danes made and broke alliances with the provincial kings at their own convenience, while these princes gladly availed themselves of even temporary assistance from their cruel foes, while engaged in domestic wars, which should never have been undertaken. Still the Northmen were more than once driven from the country by the bravery of the native commanders, and they often paid dearly for the cruel wrongs they inflicted on their hapless victims. Sometimes the Danish chiefs mustered all their forces, and left the island for a brief period, to ravage the shores of England or Scotland; but they soon returned to inflict new barbarities on the unfortunate Irish.[199]

Burning churches or destroying monasteries was a favourite pastime of these pirates, wherever they could obtain a landing on Christian shores; and the number of religious houses in Ireland afforded them abundant means of gratifying their barbarous inclinations. But when they became so far masters as to have obtained some permanent settlement, this mode of proceeding was considered either more troublesome or less profitable than that of appropriating to themselves the abbeys and churches. Turgesius, it is said, placed an abbot of his own in every monastery; and as he had already conferred ecclesiastical offices on himself and on his lady, we may presume he was not very particular in his selections. The villages, too, were placed under the rule of a Danish captain; and each family was obliged to maintain a soldier of that nation, who made himself master of the house, using and wasting the food for lack of which the starving children of the lawful owner were often dying of hunger.

All education was strictly forbidden; books and manuscripts were burned and drowned; and the poets, historians, and musicians imprisoned and driven to the woods and mountains. Martial sports were interdicted, from the lowest to the highest rank. Even nobles and princes were forbidden to wear their usual habiliments, the cast-off clothes of the Danes being considered sufficiently good for slaves.

The clergy, who had been driven from their monasteries, concealed themselves as best they could, continuing still their prayers and fasts, and the fervent recital of the Divine Office. The Irish, true to their faith in every trial, were not slow to attribute their deliverance to the prayers of these holy men.

In 831 Nial Caille led an army against them, and defeated them at Derry; but in the meanwhile, Felim, King of Cashel, with contemptible selfishness, marched into Leinster to claim tribute, and plundered every one, except the Danes, who should have been alone considered as enemies at such a time. Even the churches were not spared by him, for he laid waste the termon-lands of Clonmacnois, "up to the church door." After his death,[200] A.D. 843, a brave and good king came to the rescue of his unfortunate country. While still King of Meath, Meloughlin had freed the nation from Turgesius, one of its worst tyrants, by drowning him in Lough Owel. His death was a signal for a general onslaught on the Danes. The people rose simultaneously, and either massacred their enemies, or drove them to their ships. In 846 Meloughlin met their forces at Skreen, where they were defeated; they also suffered a reverse at Kildare.

The Danes themselves were now divided into two parties—the Dubh Galls, or Black Gentiles; and the Finn Galls, or White Gentiles. A fierce conflict took place between them in the year 850, in which the Dubh Galls conquered.[201] In the following year, however, both parties submitted to Amlaff, son of the Norwegian king; and thus their power was once more consolidated. Amlaff remained in Dublin; his brothers, Sitric and Ivar, stationed themselves in Waterford and Limerick. A great meeting was now convened by the ecclesiastics of Ireland at Rathugh, for the purpose of establishing peace and concord amongst the native princes. The northern Hy-Nials alone remained belligerent; and to defend themselves, pursued the usual suicidal course of entering into an alliance with the Danes. Upon the death of the Irish monarch, the northern chief, Hugh Finnlaith, succeeded to the royal power; broke his treaty with Amlaff, which had been only one of convenience; and turned his arms vigorously against the foreigners. This prince was married to a daughter of Kenneth M'Alpine, the first sole Monarch of Scotland. After the death of the Irish prince, his wife married his successor, Flann, who, according to the alternate plan of succession, came of the southern Hy-Nial family, and was a son of Meloughlin, once the formidable opponent of the lady's former husband. During the reign of Flann, Cormac Mac Cullinan, a prelate distinguished for his learning and sanctity, was obliged to unite the office of priest and king. This unusual combination, however, was not altogether without precedent. The archbishopric of Cashel owes its origin remotely to this great man; as from the circumstance of the city of Cashel having been the seat of royalty in the south, and the residence of the kings of Munster, it was exalted, in the twelfth century, to the dignity of an archiepiscopal see.

Of Cormac, however interesting his history, we can only give a passing word. His reign commenced peaceably; and so wise—perhaps we should rather say, so holy—was his rule, that his kingdom once more enjoyed comparative tranquillity, and religion and learning flourished again as it had done in happier times.

But the kingdom which he had been compelled to rule, was threatened by the very person who should have protected it most carefully; and Cormac, after every effort to procure peace, was obliged to defend his people against the attacks of Flann. Even then a treaty might have been made with the belligerent monarch; but Cormac, unfortunately for his people and himself, was guided by an abbot, named Flahertach, who was by no means so peaceably disposed as his good master. This unruly ecclesiastic urged war on those who were already too willing to undertake it; and then made such representations to the bishop-king, as to induce him to yield a reluctant consent. It is said that Cormac had an intimation of his approaching end. It is at least certain, that he made preparations for death, as if he believed it to be imminent.

On the eve of the fatal engagement he made his confession, and added some articles to his will, in which he left large bounties to many of the religious houses throughout the kingdom. To Lismore he bequeathed a golden chalice and some rich vestments; to Armagh, twenty-four ounces of gold and silver; to his own church of Cashel, a golden and a silver chalice, with the famous Saltair. Then he retired to a private place for prayer, desiring the few persons whom he had informed of his approaching fate to keep their information secret, as he knew well the effect such intelligence would have on his army, were it generally known.

Though the king had no doubt that he would perish on the field, he still showed the utmost bravery, and made every effort to cheer and encourage his troops; but the men lost spirit in the very onset of the battle, and probably were terrified at the numerical strength of their opponents. Six thousand Munster men were slain, with many of their princes and chieftains. Cormac was killed by falling under his horse, which missed its footing on a bank slippery with the blood of the slain. A common soldier, who recognized the body, cut off his head, and brought it as a trophy to Flann; but the monarch bewailed the death of the good and great prince, and reproved the indignity with which his remains had been treated. This battle was fought at a place called Bealagh Mughna, now Ballaghmoon, in the county of Kildare, a few miles from the town of Carlow.[202]

Flahertach survived the battle, and, after some years spent in penance, became once more minister, and ultimately King of Munster. As he advanced in years, he learned to love peace, and his once irascible temper became calm and equable.

The Rock of Cashel, and the ruins of a small but once beautiful chapel, still preserve the memory of the bishop-king. His literary fame also has its memorials. His Rule is contained in a poem of fourteen stanzas, written in the most pure and ancient style of Gaedhilic, of which, as well as of many other languages, the illustrious Cormac was so profound a master. This Rule is general in several of its inculcations; but it appears to have been written particularly as an instruction to a priest, for the moral and spiritual direction of himself and his flock. He was also skilled in the Ogham writings, as may be gathered from a poem written by a contemporary, who, in paying compliments to many of the Irish kings and chiefs, addresses the following stanza to Cormac:—

"Cormac of Cashel, with his champions, Munster is his,—may he long enjoy it! Around the King of Raith-Bicli are cultivated The letters and the trees."

The death of Cormac is thus pathetically deplored by Dallan, son of Mor:—

"The bishop, the soul's director, the renowned, illustrious doctor, King of Caiseal, King of Farnumha: O God! alas for Cormac!"

Flann's last years were disturbed by domestic dissensions. His sons, Donough and Conor, both rebelled against him; but Nial Glundubh (of the black knee), a northern Hy-Nial chief, led an army against them, and compelled them to give hostages to their father. Flann died the following year, A.D. 914, and was succeeded by the prince who had so ably defended him. Meanwhile, the Danes were not idle. Amlaff[203] has signalized his advent by drowning Conchobhar, "heir apparent of Tara;" by slaying all the chieftains of the Deisi at Cluain-Daimh; by killing the son of Clennfaeladh, King of Muscraighe Breoghain; by smothering Machdaighren in a cave, and by the destruction of Caitill Find (Ketill the White) and his whole garrison. Oisill is the next chief of importance; and he "succeeded in plundering the greatest part of Ireland." It is not recorded how long he was occupied in performing this exploit, but he was eventually slain, and his army cut off, by the men of Erinn. The deaths of several Danish chieftains occured about this period, and are referred to the vengeance of certain saints, whose shrines they had desecrated. In A.D. 864 according to the Four Masters, 867 according to O'Flaherty, the Danes were defeated at Lough Foyle, by Hugh Finnliath, King of Ireland. Soon after, Leinster and Munster were plundered by a Scandinavian chief, named Baraid, who advanced as far as Ciarraighe (Kerry): "And they left not a cave under ground that they did not explore; and they left nothing, from Limerick to Cork, that they did not ravish." What treasures the antiquarian of the nineteenth century must have lost by this marauder! How great must have been the wealth of the kings and princes of ancient Erinn, when so much remains after so much was taken! In 877 the Black Gentiles took refuge in Scotland, after suffering a defeat in an engagement with the White Gentiles. They were, however, consoled by a victory over the men of Alba, in which Constantine, son of Kenneth, was slain, and many others with him. Their success proved beneficial to Ireland, for we are told that a period of "rest to the men of Erinn" ensued. The Danes still held their own in Dublin and at Limerick, occasionally plundered the churches, and now and then had a skirmish with the "men of Erinn;" but for forty years the country was free from the foreign fleets, and, therefore, enjoyed a time of comparative quiet.

In the year 913 new fleets arrived. They landed in the harbour of Waterford, where they had a settlement formerly; but though they obtained assistance here, they were defeated by the native Irish, both in Kerry and in Tipperary. Sitric came with another fleet in 915, and settled at Cenn-Fuait.[204] Here he was attacked by the Irish army, but they were repulsed with great slaughter. Two years after they received another disastrous defeat at Cill-Mosanhog, near Rathfarnham. A large cromlech, still in that neighbourhood, probably marks the graves of the heroes slain in that engagement. Twelve kings fell in this battle. Their names are given in the Wars of the Gaedhil, and by other authorities, though in some places the number is increased. Nial Glundubh was amongst the slain. He is celebrated in pathetic verse by the bards. Of the battle was said:—

"Fierce and hard was the Wednesday On which hosts were strewn under the fall of shields; It shall be called, till judgment's day, The destructive burning of Ath-cliath."

The lamentation of Nial was, moreover, said:—

"Sorrowful this day is sacred Ireland, Without a valiant chief of hostage reign! It is to see the heavens without a sun, To view Magh-Neill[205] without a Nial."

"There is no cheerfulness in the happiness of men; There is no peace or joy among the hosts; No fair can be celebrated Since the sorrow of sorrow died."

Donough, son of Flann Sinna, succeeded, and passed his reign in obscurity, with the exception of a victory over the Danes at Bregia. Two great chieftains, however, compensated by their prowess for his indifference; these were Muircheartach, son of the brave Nial Glundubh, the next heir to the throne, and Callaghan of Cashel, King of Munster. The northern prince was a true patriot, willing to sacrifice every personal feeling for the good of his country: consequently, he proved a most formidable foe to the Danish invader. Callaghan of Cashel was, perhaps, as brave, but his name cannot be held up to the admiration of posterity. The personal advancement of the southern Hy-Nials was more to him than the political advancement of his country; and he disgraced his name and his nation by leaguing with the invaders. In the year 934 he pillaged Clonmacnois. Three years later he invaded Meath and Ossory, in conjunction with the Danes. Muircheartach was several times on the eve of engagements with the feeble monarch who nominally ruled the country, but he yielded for the sake of peace, or, as the chroniclers quaintly say, "God pacified them." After one of these pacifications, they joined forces, and laid "siege to the foreigners of Ath-cliath, so that they spoiled and plundered all that was under the dominion of the foreigners, from Ath-cliath to Ath-Truisten."[206]

In the twenty-second year of Donough, Muircheartach determined on a grand expedition for the subjugation of the Danes. He had already conducted a fleet to the Hebrides, from whence he returned flushed with victory. His first care was to assemble a body of troops of special valour; and he soon found himself at the head of a thousand heroes, and in a position to commence "his circuit of Ireland." The Danish chief, Sitric, was first seized as a hostage. He then carried off Lorcan, King of Leinster. He next went to the Munster men, who were also prepared for battle; but they too yielded, and gave up their monarch also, "and a fetter was put on him by Muircheartach." He afterwards proceeded into Connaught, where Conchobhar, son of Tadhg, came to meet him, "but no gyve or lock was put upon him." He then returned to Oileach, carrying these kings with him as hostages. Here he feasted them for five months with knightly courtesy, and then sent them to the Monarch Donough.

After these exploits we cannot be surprised that Muircheartach should be styled the Hector of the west of Europe. But he soon finds his place in the never-ceasing obituary. In two years after his justly famous exploit, he was slain by "Blacaire, son of Godfrey, lord of the foreigners." This event occurred on the 26th of March, A.D. 941, according to the chronology of the Four Masters. The true year, however, is 943. The chroniclers briefly observe, that "Ard-Macha was plundered by the same foreigners, on the day after the killing of Muircheartach."[207]

Donough died in 942, after a reign of twenty-five years. He was succeeded by Congallach, who was killed by the Danes, A.D. 954. Donnell O'Neill, a son of the brave Muircheartach, now obtained the royal power, such as it was; and at his death the throne reverted to Maelseachlainn, or Malachy II., the last of his race who ever held the undisputed sovereignty of Ireland. But it must not be supposed that murders and massacres are the staple commodities of our annals during this eventful period. Every noteworthy event is briefly and succinctly recorded. We find, from time to time, mention of strange portents, such as double suns, and other celestial phenomena of a more or less remarkable character. Fearful storms are also chronicled, which appear to have occurred at certain intervals, and hard frosts, which proved almost as trying to the "men of Erinn" as the wars of the Gentiles, black or white. But the obituaries of abbots or monks, with the quaint remarks appended thereto, and epitomes of a lifetime in a sentence, are by no means the least interesting portion of those ancient tomes. In one page we may find record of the Lord of Aileach, who takes a pilgrim's staff; in another, we have mention of the Abbot Muireadhach and others, who were "destroyed in the refectory" of Druim-Mesclainn by Congallach; and we read in the lamentation of Muireadhach, that he was "the lamp of every choir." Then we are told simply how a nobleman "died in religion," as if that were praise enough for him; though another noble, Domhnall, is said to have "died in religion, after a good life." Of some abbots and bishops there is nothing more than the death record; but in the age of Christ 926, when Celedabhaill, son of Scannal, went to Rome on his pilgrimage from the abbacy of Beannchair, we are given in full the four quatrains which he composed at his departure,—a composition which speaks highly for the poetic powers and the true piety of the author. He commences thus:—

"Time for me to prepare to pass from the shelter of a habitation, To journey as a pilgrim over the surface of the noble lively sea; Time to depart from the snares of the flesh, with all its guilt; Time now to ruminate how I may find the great Son of Mary; Time to seek virtue, to trample upon the will with sorrow; Time to reject vices, and to renounce the demon.

* * * * *

"Time to barter the transitory things for the country of the King of heaven; Time to defy the ease of the little earthly world of a hundred pleasures; Time to work at prayer in adoration of the high King of angels."

The obituary notices, however, were not always complimentary. We find the following entry in the Annals of Clonmacnois:—"Tomhair Mac Alchi, King of Denmark, is reported to go [to have gone] to hell with his pains, as he deserved."


[192] Expanded.—I take this opportunity of requesting from laymen or ecclesiastics who may read this announcement, the favour of any information they may consider valuable.

[193] Heaven.—Ec. Hist. lib. iv. c. 26. "From that time the hopes and strength of the English crown began to waver and retrograde, for the Picts recovered their own lands," &c. The Annals of the Four Masters mention a mortality among cattle throughout the whole world, and a severe frost, which followed this invasion: "The sea between Ireland and Scotland was frozen, so that there was a communication between them on the ice."—vol. ii. p. 291. They also mention the mission of Adamnan to "Saxon land."

[194] Galls.—Gall was a generic name for foreigners. The Danes were Finn Galls, or White Foreigners, and Dubh Galls, or Black Foreigners. The former were supposed to have been the inhabitants of Norway; the latter, of Jutland. In Irish, gaill is the nom., and gall, gen.

[195] Streets.—In Armagh the buildings were formed into streets and wards, for the better preservation of monastic discipline. Armagh was divided into three parts—trian-more, the town proper; trian-Patrick, the cathedral close; and trian-Sassenagh, the home of the foreign students.

[196] Michaelmas.—Annals, p. 371. Another fearful thunderstorm is recorded in the Annals for 799. This happened on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. It is said that a thousand and ten persons were killed on the coast of Clare. The island of Fitha (now Mutton Island) was partly submerged, and divided into three parts. There was also a storm in 783—"thunder, lightning, and wind-storms"—by which the Monastery of Clonbroney was destroyed.

[197] Reachrainn.-Rechru appears to be the correct form. It has not yet been ascertained whether this refers to Lambay, near Dublin, or the island 01 Rathlinn. See note, p. 32, to the "Introduction" to the Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gall.

[198] Mistake.—Ethel. Chron. Pro. book iii.

[199] Irish.—The history of the two hundred years during which these northern pirates desolated the island, has been preserved in a MS. of venerable age and undoubted authenticity. It is entitled Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh (the Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gall). It was quoted by Keating, known to Colgan, and used by the Four Masters; but for many years it was supposed to have been completely lost, until it was discovered, in 1840, by Mr. O'Curry, among the Seabright MSS. The work is now edited, with a translation and most valuable notes, by Dr. Todd. Several other copies have been discovered since, notably one by the Franciscan Brother, Michael O'Clery, which is at present in the Burgundian Library at Brussels. From internal evidence, it is presumed that the author was a contemporary of King Brian Boroimhe. Dr. O'Connor refers the authorship to Mac Liag, who was chief poet to that monarch, and died in 1016, two years after his master. Dr. Todd evidently inclines to this opinion, though he distinctly states that there is no authority for it.

[200] Death.—It appears doubtful whether he really died at this time. It is said that he repented of his sins of sacrilege, and ended his days in penance and religious retirement. See Four Masters, p. 472.

[201] Conquered.—Duald Mac Firbis gives a curious account of these contests in his fragments of Annals. The White Galls, or Norwegians, had long been masters of the situation. The Black Galls fought with them for three days and nights, and were finally victorious. They take the ships they have captured to Dublin, and deprive the Lochlanns (Black Galls) of all the spoil they had so cruelly and unjustly acquired from the "shrines and sanctuaries of the saints of Erinn;" which the annalist naturally considers a judgment on them for their sins. They make another struggle, and gain the victory. But the Banish general, Horm, advises his men to put themselves under the protection of St. Patrick, and to promise the saint "honorable alms for gaining victory and triumph" over enemies who had plundered his churches. They comply with this advice; and though greatly inferior in numbers, they gain the victory, "on account of the tutelage of St. Patrick."

[202] Carlow.—The site of the battle is still shown there, and even the stone on which the soldier decapitated Cormac. Cormac's death is thus described in a MS. in the Burgundian Library: "The hind feet of his horse slipped on the slippery road in the track of that blood; the horse fell backwards, and broke his [Cormac's] back and his neck in twain; and he said, when falling, In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum, and he gives up his spirit; and the impious sons of malediction come and thrust spears into his body, and sever his head from his body." Keating gives a curious account of this battle, from an ancient tract not known at present.

[203] Amlaff.—Dr. Todd identifies Amlaff with Olaf Huita (the white), of Scandinavian history, who was usually styled King of Dublin, and was the leader of the Northmen in Ireland for many years. See "Introduction" to the Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 69.

[204] Cenn-Fuait.—Fuat Head. The site has not been accurately identified.

[205] Magh-Neill, i.e., the Plain of Nial, a bardic name for Ireland.—Four Masters, vol. ii. p. 595.

[206] Ath-Truisten.—From Dublin to a ford on the river Green, near Mullaghmast, co. Kildare.

[207] Muircheartach.—This prince obtained the soubriquet of Muircheartach of the Leathern Cloaks. The origin of this appellation has not been precisely ascertained.


The Battle of Dundalk—The Danes supposed to be Christianized—Brian Boroimhe and his Brother Mahoun—The Dalcassians fight the Danes—Mahoun is assassinated—Brian revenges his Brother's Murder—Malachy's Exploits against the Danes—Malachy and Brian form a Treaty and fight the Danes—Malachy wins "the Collar of Gold"—Brian's "Happy Family" at Kincora—He usurps the Supreme Power, and becomes Monarch of Ireland—Remote Causes of the Battle of Clontarf—Gormflaith is "grim" with Brian—Blockade of Dublin—The Danes prepare for a Fierce Conflict—Brian prepares also—The Battle of Clontarf—Disposition of the Forces—Brian's Death—Defeat of the Danes.

[A.D. 926-1022.]

Many of the sea-coast towns were now in possession of the Danes. They had founded Limerick, and, indeed, Wexford and Waterford almost owe them the debt of parentage. Obviously, the ports were their grand securities—a ready refuge if driven by native valour to embark in their fleets; convenient head-quarters when marauding expeditions to England or Scotland were in preparation. But the Danes never obtained the same power in Ireland as in the sister country. The domestic dissensions of the men of Erinn, ruinous as they were to the nation, gave it at least the advantage of having a brave and resolute body of men always in arms, and ready to face the foe at a moment's notice, when no selfish policy interfered. In 937 Athelstane gained his famous victory over the Danes at Brunanbriegh in Northumberland, and came triumphantly to reclaim the dagger[208] which he had left at the shrine of St. John of Beverley. After his death, in 941, Amlaff returned to Northumberland, and once more restored the Danish sway. From this time, until the accession of the Danish King Canute, England was more or less under the dominion of these ruthless tyrants.[209]

"The Danes of Ireland, at this period, were ruled by Sitric, son of Turgesius, whose name was sufficient to inspire the Irish with terror. Through policy he professed willingness to enter into a treaty of peace with Callaghan, King of Munster; and, as proof of his sincerity, offered him his sister, the Princess Royal of Denmark, in marriage. The Irish king had fallen in love with this amiable and beautiful princess, and he readily consented to the fair and liberal measures proposed. He sent word to Sitric he would visit him; and, attended by a royal retinue, to be followed in a little time by his guards, as escort for his future queen, proceeded to meet his royal bride.

"Sitric's project of inveigling the King of Munster into his district, in order to make him prisoner, under the expectation of being married to the Princess of Denmark, having been disclosed to his wife, who was of Irish birth, she determined to warn the intended victim of the meditated treachery, and accordingly she disguised herself, and placed herself in a pass which Callaghan should traverse, and met him. Here she informed him who she was, the design of Sitric against him, and warned him to return as fast as possible. This was not practicable. Sitric had barred the way with armed men; and Callaghan and his escort, little prepared for an encounter, found themselves hemmed in by an overwhelming Danish force. To submit without a struggle was never the way with the Momonians. They formed a rampart round the person of their king, and cut through the Danish ranks. Fresh foes met them on every side; and, after a bloody struggle, the men of Munster were conquered. Callaghan, the king, and Prince Duncan, son of Kennedy, were brought captives to Dublin. Then the royal prisoners were removed to Armagh, and their safe keeping entrusted to nine Danish earls, who had a strong military force at their orders to guard them.

"The news of this insidious act rapidly fanned the ardour of the Munster troops to be revenged for the imprisonment of their beloved king. Kennedy, the Prince of Munster, father of Duncan, was appointed regent, with ample powers to govern the country in the king's absence. The first step was to collect an army to cope with the Danes. To assemble a sufficient body of troops on land was easy; but the great strength of the northern rovers lay in their swift-sailing ships. 'It must strike the humblest comprehension with astonishment,' says Marmion, 'that the Irish, although possessed of an island abounding with forests of the finest oak, and other suitable materials for ship-building—enjoying also the most splendid rivers, loughs, and harbours, so admirably adapted to the accommodation of extensive fleets, should, notwithstanding, for so many centuries, allow the piratical ravages of the Danes, and subsequently the more dangerous subversion of their independence by the Anglo-Normans, without an effort to build a navy that could cope with those invaders on that element from which they could alone expect invasion from a foreign foe.' This neglect has also been noticed by the distinguished Irish writer—Wilde—who, in his admirably executed Catalogue of the Antiquities in the Royal Irish Academy, observes:—'Little attention has been paid to the subject of the early naval architecture of this country. So far as we yet know, two kinds of boats appear to have been in use in very early times in the British Isles—the canoe and the corragh; the one formed of a single piece of wood, the other composed of wickerwork, covered with hides.' Larger vessels there must have been; though, from the length of time which has since elapsed, we have no traces of them now. Kennedy not only collected a formidable army by land, but 'he fitted out a fleet of ships, and manned it with able seamen, that he might make sure of his revenge, and attack the enemy by sea and land.' The command of the fleet was conferred on an admiral perfectly skilled in maritime affairs, Failbhe Fion, King of Desmond.

"When the army of Munster arrived near Armagh, they learnt the prisoners had been removed thence by Sitric, and placed on board ship. Enraged at this disappointment, they gave no quarter to the Danes, and advanced rapidly to Dundalk, where the fleet lay, with the king and young prince on board. Sitric, unable to withstand the opposing army on shore, ordered his troops to embark, and resolved to avoid the encounter through means of his ships. While the baffled Irish army were chafing at this unexpected delay to their hoped for vengeance, they espied, from the shore of Dundalk, where they encamped, a sail of ships, in regular order, steering with a favourable gale towards the Danish fleet moored in Dundalk bay. Joy instantly filled their hearts; for they recognized the fleet of Munster, with the admiral's vessel in the van, and the rest ranged in line of battle. The Danes were taken by surprise; they beheld an enemy approach from a side where they rather expected the raven flag of their country floating on the ships. The Munster admiral gave them no time to form. He steered straight to Sitric's vessel, and, with his hardy crew, sprang on board. Here a sight met his gaze which filled his heart with rage; he saw his beloved monarch, Callaghan, and the young prince, tied with cords to the main-mast. Having, with his men, fought through the Danish troops to the side of the king and prince, he cut the cords and set them free. He then put a sword into the hands of the rescued king, and they fought side by side: Meanwhile Sitric, and his brothers, Tor and Magnus, did all they could to retrieve the fortunes of the day. At the head of a chosen band they attacked the Irish admiral, and he fell, covered with wounds. His head, exposed by Sitric on a pole, fired the Danes with hope—the Irish with tenfold rage. Fingal, next in rank to Failbhe Fion, took the command, and determined to avenge his admiral. Meeting the Danish ruler in the combat, he seized Sitric round the neck, and flung himself with his foe into the sea, where both perished. Seagdor and Connall, two captains of Irish ships, imitated this example—threw themselves upon Tor and Magnus, Sitric's brothers, and jumped with them overboard, when all were drowned. These desperate deeds paralysed the energy of the Danes, and the Irish gained a complete victory in Dundalk bay.

"The Irish fleet having thus expelled the pirates from their coast, came into harbour, where they were received with acclamations of joy by all who witnessed their bravery. Such is a summary of Keating's poetic account of this day's achievements; and there are extant fuller accounts in various pieces of native poetry, especially one entitled 'The Pursuit after Callaghan of Cashel, by the Chief of Munster, after he had been entrapped by the Danes.'"

The year 948 has generally been assigned as that of the conversion of the Danes to Christianity; but, whatever the precise period may have been, the conversion was rather of a doubtful character as we hear of their burning churches, plundering shrines, and slaughtering ecclesiastics with apparently as little remorse as ever. In the very year in which the Danes of Dublin are said to have been converted, they burned the belfry of Slane while filled with religious who had sought refuge there. Meanwhile the Irish monarchies were daily weakened by divisions and domestic wars. Connaught was divided between two or three independent princes, and Munster into two kingdoms.

The ancient division of the country into five provinces no longer held good; and the Ard-Righ, or chief monarch, was such only in name. Even the great northern Hy-Nials, long the bravest and most united of the Irish clans, were now divided into two portions, the Cinel-Connaill and Cinel-Owen; the former of whom had been for some time excluded from the alternate accession of sovereignty, which was still maintained between the two great families of the race of Nial. But, though this arrangement was persevered in with tolerable regularity, it tended little to the promotion of peace, as the northern princes were ever ready to take advantage of the weakness of the Meath men, who were their inferiors both in numbers and in valour.

The sovereignty of Munster had also been settled on the alternate principle, between the great tribe of Dalcassians, or north Munster race, and the Eoghanists, or southeners. This plan of succession, as may be supposed, failed to work peaceably; and, in 942, Kennedy, the father of the famous Brian Boroimhe, contested the sovereignty with the Eoghanist prince, Callaghan Cashel, but yielded in a chivalrous spirit, not very common under such circumstances, and joined his former opponent in his contests with the Danes. The author of the Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gall gives a glowing account of the genealogy of Brian and his eldest brother, Mathgamhain. They are described as "two fierce, magnificent heroes, the two stout, able, valiant pillars," who then governed the Dalcassian tribes; Mathgamhain (Mahoun) being the actual chieftain, Brian the heir apparent. A guerilla war was carried on for some time in the woods of Thomond, in which no quarter was given on either side, and wherein it was "woe to either party to meet the other." Mahoun at last proposed a truce, but Brian refused to consent to this arrangement. He continued the war until he found his army reduced to fifteen men. Mahoun then sent for him. An interview took place, which is described in the form of a poetic dialogue, between the two brothers. Brian reproached Mahoun with cowardice; Mahoun reproached Brian with imprudence. Brian hints broadly that Mahoun had interested motives in making this truce, and declares that neither Kennedy, their father, nor Lorcan, their grandfather, would have been so quiescent towards the foreigners for the sake of wealth, nor would they have given them even as much time as would have sufficed to play a game of chess[210] on the green of Magh Adhair. Mahoun kept his temper, and contented himself with reproaching Brian for his recklessness, in sacrificing the lives of so many of his faithful followers to no purpose. Brian replied that he would never abandon his inheritance, without a contest, to "such foreigners as Black Grim Gentiles."

The result was a conference of the tribe, who voted for war, and marched into the country of the Eoghanists (the present co. Kerry), who at once joined the standard of the Dalcassians. The Danes suffered severely in Munster. This aroused the Limerick Danes; and their chieftain, Ivar, attacked the territory of Dal-Cais, an exploit in which he was joined, to their eternal shame, by several native princes and tribes, amongst whom were Maolmuadh (Molloy), son of Braun, King of Desmond, and Donabhan (Donovan), son of Cathal, King of Ui Cairbhri. The result was a fierce battle at Sulcoit, near Tipperary, wherein the Danes were gloriously defeated. The action was commenced by the Northmen. It continued from sunrise till mid-day, and terminated in the rout of the foreigners, who fled "to the ditches, and to the valleys, and to the solitudes of the great sweet flower plain," where they were followed by the conquerors, and massacred without mercy.

The Dalcassians now obtained possession of Limerick, with immense spoils of jewels, gold and silver, foreign saddles, "soft, youthful, bright girls, blooming silk-clad women, and active well-formed boys." The active boys were soon disposed of, for we find that they collected the prisoners on the hillocks of Saingel, where "every one that was fit for war was put to death, and every one that was fit for a slave was enslaved." This event is dated A.D. 968.

Mahoun was now firmly established on the throne, but his success procured him many enemies. A conspiracy was formed against him under the auspices of Ivar of Limerick and his son, Dubhcenn. The Eoghanist clans basely withdrew their allegiance from their lawful sovereign, allied themselves with the Danes, and became principals in the plot of assassination. Their motive was as simple as their conduct was vile. The two Eoghanist families were represented by Donovan and Molloy. They were descendants of Oilioll Oluim, from whom Mahoun was also descended, but his family were Dalcassians. Hitherto the Eoghanists had succeeded in depriving the tribes of Dal-Cais of their fair share of alternate succession to the throne of Munster; they became alarmed at and jealous of the advancement of the younger tribe, and determined to do by treachery what they could not do by force. With the usual headlong eagerness of traitors, they seem to have forgotten Brian, and quite overlooked the retribution they might expect at his hands for their crime. There are two different accounts of the murder, which do not coincide in detail. The main facts, however, are reliable: Mahoun was entrapped in some way to the house of Donovan, and there he was basely murdered, in violation of the rights of hospitality, and in defiance of the safe-conduct of the bishop, which he secured before his visit.

The traitors gained nothing by their treachery except the contempt of posterity. Brian was not slow in avenging his brother. "He was not a stone in place of an egg, nor a wisp of hay in place of a club; but he was a hero in place of a hero, and valour after valour."[211]

Public opinion was not mistaken in its estimate of his character. Two years after the death of Mahoun, Brian invaded Donovan's territory, drove off his cattle, took the fortress of Cathair Cuan, and slew Donovan and his Danish ally, Harolt. He next proceeded to settle accounts with Molloy. Cogaran is sent to the whole tribe of Ui Eachach, to know "the reason why" they killed Mahoun, and to declare that no cumhal or fine would be received, either in the shape of hostages, gold, or cattle, but that Molloy must himself be given up. Messages were also sent to Molloy, both general and particular—the general message challenged him to battle at Belach-Lechta; the particular message, which in truth he hardly deserved, was a challenge to meet Murrough, Brian's son, in single combat. The result was the battle of Belach-Lechta,[212] where Molloy was slain, with twelve hundred of his troops, both native and foreign. Brian remained master of the field and of the kingdom, A.D. 978.

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