An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800
by Mary Frances Cusack
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Brian was now undisputed King of Munster. In 984 he was acknowledged Monarch of Leth Mogha, the southern half of Ireland. Meanwhile Malachy, who governed Leth Cuinn, or the northern half of Ireland, had not been idle. He fought a battle with the Danes in 979, near Tara, in which he defeated their forces, and slew Raguall, son of Amlaibh, King of Dublin. Amlaibh felt the defeat so severely, that he retired to Iona, where he died of a broken heart. Donough O'Neill, son of Muircheartach, died this year, and Malachy obtained the regal dignity. Emboldened by his success at Tara, he resolved to attack the foreigners in Dublin; he therefore laid siege to that city, and compelled it to surrender after three days, liberated two thousand prisoners, including the King of Leinster, and took abundant spoils. At the same time he issued a proclamation, freeing every Irishman then in bondage to the Danes, and stipulating that the race of Nial should henceforth be free from tribute to the foreigners.

It is probable that Brian had already formed designs for obtaining the royal power. The country resounded with the fame of his exploits, and Malachy became aware at last that he should either have him for an ally or an enemy. He prudently chose the former alternative, and in the nineteenth year of his reign (997 according to the Four Masters) he made arrangements with Brian for a great campaign against the common enemy. Malachy surrendered all hostages to Brian, and Brian agreed to recognize Malachy as sole Monarch of northern Erinn, "without war or trespass." This treaty was absolutely necessary, in order to offer effective resistance to the Danes. The conduct of the two kings towards each other had not been of a conciliatory nature previously. In 981 Malachy had invaded the territory of the Dalcassians, and uprooted the great oak-tree of Magh Adair, under which its kings were crowned—an insult which could not fail to excite bitter feelings both in prince and people. In 989 the monarch occupied himself fighting the Danes in Dublin, to whom he laid siege for twenty nights, reducing the garrison to such straits that they were obliged to drink the salt water when the tide rose in the river. Brian then made reprisals on Malachy, by sending boats up the Shannon burning the royal rath of Dun Sciath. Malachy, in his turn, recrossed the Shannon, burned Nenagh, plundered Ormonde, and defeated Brian himself in battle. He then marched again to Dublin, and once more attacked "the proud invader." It was on this occasion that he obtained the "collar of gold," which Moore has immortalized in his world-famous "Melodies."

When the kings had united their forces, they obtained another important victory at Glen-Mama.[213] Harolt, son of Olaf Cuaran, the then Danish king, was slain, and four thousand of his followers perished with him. The victorious army marched at once to Dublin. Here they obtained spoils of great value, and made many slaves and captives. According to some accounts, Brian remained in Dublin until the feast of St. Brigid (February 1st); other annalists say he only remained from Great Christmas to Little Christmas. Meanwhile there can be but little doubt that Brian had in view the acquisition of the right to be called sole monarch of Ireland. It is a blot on an otherwise noble character—an ugly spot in a picture of more than ordinary interest. Sitric, another son of Olaf's, fled for protection to Aedh and Eochaidh, two northern chieftains; but they gave him up, from motives of fear or policy to Brian's soldiers, and after due submission he was restored to his former position. Brian then gave his daughter in marriage to Sitric, and completed the family alliance by espousing Sitric's mother, Gormflaith, a lady of rather remarkable character, who had been divorced from her second husband, Malachy. Brian now proceeded to depose Malachy. The account of this important transaction is given in so varied a manner by different writers, that it seems almost impossible to ascertain the truth. The southern annalists are loud in their assertions of the incapacity of the reigning monarch, and would have it believed that Brian only yielded to the urgent entreaties of his countrymen in accepting the proffered crown. But the warlike exploits of Malachy have been too faithfully recorded to leave any doubt as to his prowess in the field; and we may probably class the regret of his opponent in accepting his position, with similar protestations made under circumstances in which such regret was as little likely to be real.

The poet Moore, with evident partiality for the subject of his song, declares that the magnanimous character of Malachy was the real ground of peace under such provocation, and that he submitted to the encroachments of his rival rather from motives of disinterested desire for his country's welfare, than from any reluctance or inability to fight his own battle.

But Brian had other chieftains to deal with, of less amiable or more warlike propensities: the proud Hy-Nials of the north were long in yielding to his claims; but even these he at length subdued, compelling the Cinel-Eoghain to give him hostages, and carrying off the Lord of Cinel-Connaill bodily to his fortress at Kincora. Here he had assembled a sort of "happy family," consisting of refractory princes and knights, who, refusing hostages to keep the peace with each other, were obliged to submit to the royal will and pleasure, and at least to appear outwardly in harmony.

These precautionary measures, however summary, and the energetic determination of Brian to have peace kept either by sword or law, have given rise to the romantic ballad of the lady perambulating Erinn with a gold ring and white wand, and passing unmolested through its once belligerent kingdoms.

Brian now turned his attention to the state of religion and literature, restoring the churches and monasteries which had been plundered and burnt by the Danes. He is said also to have founded the churches of Killaloe and Iniscealtra, and to have built the round tower of Tomgrany, in the present county Clare. A gift of twenty ounces of gold to the church of Armagh,—a large donation for that period,—is also recorded amongst his good deeds.[214]

There is some question as to the precise year in which Brian obtained or usurped the authority and position of Ard-Righ: A.D. 1002, however, is the date most usually accepted. He was probably about sixty-one years of age, and Malachy was then about fifty-three.[215]

It will be remembered that Brian had married the Lady Gormflaith. Her brother, Maelmordha, was King of Leinster, and he had obtained his throne through the assistance of the Danes. Brian was Gormflaith's third husband. In the words of the Annals, she had made three leaps—"jumps which a woman should never jump"—a hint that her matrimonial arrangements had not the sanction of canon law. She was remarkable for her beauty, but her temper was proud and vindictive. This was probably the reason why she was repudiated both by Malachy and Brian. There can be no doubt that she and her brother, Maelmordha, were the remote causes of the famous battle of Clontarf. The story is told thus: Maelmordha came to Brian with an offering of three large pine-trees to make masts for shipping. These were probably a tribute which he was bound to pay to his liege lord. The trees had been cut in the great forest of Leinster, called Fidh-Gaibhli.[216] Some other tribes were bringing their tree-tributes at the same time; and as they all journeyed over the mountains together, there was a dispute for precedency. Maelmordha decided the question by assisting to carry the tree of the Ui-Faelain. He had on a tunic of silk which Brian had given[217] him, with a border of gold round it and silver buttons. One of the buttons came off as he lifted the tree. On his arrival at Kincora, he asked his sister, Gormflaith, to replace it for him; but she at once flung the garment into the fire, and then bitterly reproached her brother with having accepted this token of vassalage. The Sagas say she was "grim" against Brian, which was undoubtedly true. This excited Maelmordha's temper. An opportunity soon offered for a quarrel. Brian's eldest son, Murrough,[218] was playing a game of chess with his cousin, Conoing; Maelmordha was looking on, and suggested a move by which Murrough lost the game. The young prince exclaimed: "That was like the advice you gave the Danes, which lost them Glen-Mama." "I will give them advice now, and they shall not be defeated," replied the other. "Then you had better remind them to prepare a yew-tree[219] for your reception," answered Murrough.

Early the next morning Maelmordha left the place, "without permission and without taking leave." Brian sent a messenger after him to pacify him, but the angry chief, for all reply, "broke all the bones in his head." He now proceeded to organize a revolt against Brian, and succeeded. Several of the Irish princes flocked to his standard. An encounter took place in Meath, where they slew Malachy's grandson, Domhnall, who should have been heir if the usual rule of succession had been observed. Malachy marched to the rescue, and defeated the assailants with great slaughter, A.D. 1013. Fierce reprisals now took place on each side. Sanctuary was disregarded, and Malachy called on Brian to assist him. Brian at once complied. After successfully ravaging Ossory he marched to Dublin, where he was joined by Murrough, who had devastated Wicklow, burning, destroying, and carrying off captives, until he reached Cill Maighnenn (Kilmainham). They now blockaded Dublin, where they remained from St. Ciaran's in harvest (Sept. 9th) until Christmas Day. Brian was then obliged to raise the siege and return home for want of provisions.

The storm was now gathering in earnest, and the most active preparations were made on both sides for a mighty and decisive conflict. The Danes had already obtained possession of England, a country which had always been united in its resistance to their power, a country numerically superior to Ireland: why should they not hope to conquer, with at least equal facility, a people who had so many opposing interests, and who rarely sacrificed these interests to the common good? Still they must have had some fear of the result, if we may judge by the magnitude of their preparations. They despatched ambassadors in all directions to obtain reinforcements. Brodir, the earl, and Amlaibh, son of the King of Lochlann, "the two Earls of Cair, and of all the north of Saxon land,"[220] came at the head of 2,000 men; "and there was not one villain of that 2,000 who had not polished, strong, triple-plated armour of refined iron, or of cooling, uncorroding brass, encasing their sides and bodies from head to foot." Moreover, the said villains "had no reverence, veneration, or respect, or mercy for God or man, for church or for sanctuary; they were cruel, ferocious, plundering, hard-hearted, wonderful Dannarbrians, selling and hiring themselves for gold and silver, and other treasure as well." Gormflaith was evidently "head centre" on the occasion; for we find wonderful accounts of her zeal and efforts in collecting forces. "Other treasure" may possibly be referred to that lady's heart and hand, of which she appears to have been very liberal on this occasion. She despatched her son, Sitric, to Siguard, Earl of the Orkneys, who promised his assistance, but he required the hand of Gormflaith as payment for his services, and that he should be made King of Ireland. Sitric gave the required promise, and found, on his return to Dublin, that it met with his mother's entire approbation. She then despatched him to the Isle of Man, where there were two Vikings, who had thirty ships, and she desired him to obtain their co-operation "at any price." They were the brothers Ospak and Brodir. The latter demanded the same conditions as the Earl Siguard, which were promised quite as readily by Sitric, only he charged the Viking to keep the agreement secret, and above all not to mention it to Siguard.

Brodir,[221] according to the Saga, was an apostate Christian, who had "thrown off his faith, and become God's dastard." He was both tall and strong, and had such long black hair that he tucked it under his belt; he had also the reputation of being a magician. The Viking Ospak refused to fight against "the good King Brian," and, touched by some prodigies, became a convert to Christianity, joined the Irish monarch at Kincora, on the Shannon, and received holy baptism.[222] The author of the Wars of the Gaedhil gives a formidable list of the other auxiliaries who were invited by the Dublin Danes. The Annals of Loch Ce also give an account of the fleet he assembled, and its "chosen braves." Maelmordha had mustered a large army also; indeed, he was too near the restless and revengeful Larmflaith to have taken matters quietly, even had he been so inclined.

Meanwhile Brian had been scarcely less successful, and probably not less active. He now marched towards Dublin, "with all that obeyed him of the men of Ireland." These were the provincial troops of Munster and Connaught and the men of Meath. His march is thus described in the Wars of the Gaedhil:—"Brian looked out behind him, and beheld the battle phalanx—compact, huge, disciplined, moving in silence, mutely, bravely, haughtily, unitedly, with one mind, traversing the plain towards them; threescore and ten banners over them—of red, and of yellow, and of green, and of all kinds of colours; together with the everlasting, variegated, lucky, fortunate banner, that had gained the victory in every battle, and in every conflict, and in every combat."[223] The portion of the narrative containing this account is believed to be an interpolation, but the description may not be the less accurate. Brian plundered and destroyed as usual on his way to Dublin. When he had encamped near that city, the Danes came out to give him battle on the plain of Magh-n-Ealta.[224] The king then held a council of war, and the result, apparently, was a determination to give battle in the morning. It is said that the Northmen pretended flight in order to delay the engagement. The Njal Saga says the Viking Brodir had found out by his sorcery, "that if the fight were on Good Friday, King Brian would fall, but win the day; but if they fought before, they would all fall who were against him." Some authorities also mention a traitor in Brian's camp, who had informed the Danes that his forces had been weakened by the absence of his son Donough, whom he had sent to devastate Leinster. Malachy has the credit of this piece of treachery, with other imputations scarcely less disreputable.

The site of the battle has been accurately defined. It took place on the plain of Clontarf,[225] and is called the Battle of the Fishing Weir of Clontarf. The weir was at the mouth of the river Tolka, where the bridge of Ballybough now stands. The Danish line was extended along the coast, and protected at sea by their fleets. It was disposed in three divisions, and comprised about 21,000 men, the Leinster forces being included in the number. The first division or left wing was the nearest to Dublin. It was composed of the Danes of Dublin, and headed by Sitric, who was supported by the thousand mail-clad Norwegians, commanded by Carlus and Anrud. In the centre were the Lagennians, under the command of Maelmordha. The right wing comprised the foreign auxiliaries, under the command of Brodir and Siguard.[226]

Brian's army was also disposed in three divisions. The first was composed of his brave Dalcassians, and commanded by his son Murrough, assisted by his four brothers, Teigue, Donough, Connor, and Flann, and his youthful heir, Turlough, who perished on the field. The second division or centre was composed of troops from Munster, and was commanded by Mothla, grandson of the King of the Deisi, of Waterford, assisted by many native princes. The third battalion was commanded by Maelruanaidh (Mulrooney of the Paternosters) and Teigue O'Kelly, with all the nobles of Connaught. Brian's army numbered about twenty thousand men. The accounts which relate the position of Malachy, and his conduct on this occasion, are hopelessly conflicting. It appears quite impossible to decide whether he was a victim to prejudice, or whether Brian was a victim to his not unnatural hostility.

On the eve of the battle, one of the Danish chiefs, Plait, son of King Lochlainn, sent a challenge to Domhnall, son of Emhin, High Steward of Mar. The battle commenced at daybreak. Plait came forth and exclaimed three times, "Faras Domhnall?" (Where is Domhnall?) Domhnall replied: "Here, thou reptile." A terrible hand-to-hand combat ensued. They fell dead at the same moment, the sword of each through the heart of the other, and the hair of each in the clenched hand of the other. And the combat of those two was the first combat of the battle.

Before the engagement Brian harangued his troops, with the crucifix in one hand and a sword in the other. He reminded them of all they had suffered from their enemies, of their tyranny, their sacrilege, their innumerable perfidies; and then, holding the crucifix aloft, he exclaimed: "The great God has at length looked down upon our sufferings, and endued you with the power and the courage this day to destroy for ever the tyranny of the Danes, and thus to punish them for their innumerable crimes and sacrileges by the avenging power of the sword. Was it not on this day that Christ Himself suffered death for you?"

He was then compelled to retire to the rear, and await the result of the conflict; but Murrough performed prodigies of valour. Even the Danish historians admit that he fought his way to their standard, and cut down two successive bearers of it.

The mailed armour of the Danes seems to have been a source of no little dread to their opponents. But the Irish battle-axe might well have set even more secure protection at defiance. It was wielded with such skill and force, that frequently a limb was lopped off with a single blow, despite the mail in which it was encased; while the short lances, darts, and slinging-stones proved a speedy means of decapitating or stunning a fallen enemy.

The Dalcassians surpassed themselves in feats of arms. They hastened from time to time to refresh their thirst and cool their hands in a neighbouring brook; but the Danes soon filled it up, and deprived them of this resource. It was a conflict of heroes—a hand-to-hand fight. Bravery was not wanting on either side, and for a time the result seemed doubtful. Towards the afternoon, as many of the Danish leaders were cut down, their followers began to give way, and the Irish forces prepared for a final effort. At this moment the Norwegian prince, Anrud, encountered Murrough, whose arms were paralyzed from fatigue; he had still physical strength enough to seize his enemy, fling him on the ground, and plunge his sword into the body of his prostrate foe. But even as he inflicted the death-wound, he received a mortal blow from the dagger of the Dane, and the two chiefs fell together.

The melee was too general for an individual incident, however important in itself, to have much effect. The Northmen and their allies were flying hard and fast, the one towards their ships, the others towards the city. But as they fled across the Tolka, they forgot that it was now swollen with the incoming tide, and thousands perished by water who had escaped the sword. The body of Brian's grandson, the boy Turlough, was found in the river after the battle, with his hands entangled in the hair of two Danish warriors, whom he had held down until they were drowned. Sitric and his wife had watched the combat from the battlements of Dublin. It will be remembered that this lady was the daughter of King Brian, and her interests were naturally with the Irish troops. Some rough words passed between her and her lord, which ended in his giving her so rude a blow, that he knocked out one of her teeth. But we have yet to record the crowning tragedy of the day. Brian had retired to his tent to pray, at the commencement of the conflict. When the forces met, he began his devotions, and said to his attendant: "Watch thou the battle and the combats, whilst I say the psalms." After he had recited fifty psalms, fifty collects, and fifty paternosters, he desired the man to look out and inform him how the battle went, and the position of Murrough's standard. He replied the strife was close and vigorous, and the noise was as if seven battalions were cutting down Tomar's wood; but the standard was safe. Brian then said fifty more psalms, and made the same inquiry. The attendant replied that all was in confusion, but that Murrough's standard still stood erect, and moved westwards towards Dublin. "As long as that standard remains erect," replied Brian, "it shall go well with the men of Erinn." The aged king betook himself to his prayers once more, saying again fifty psalms[227] and collects; then, for the last time, he asked intelligence of the field. Latean replied: "They appear as if Tomar's wood was on fire, and its brushwood all burned down;" meaning that the private soldiers of both armies were nearly all slain, and only a few of the chiefs had escaped; adding the most grievous intelligence of all, that Murrough's standard had fallen. "Alas!" replied Brian, "Erinn has fallen with it: why should I survive such losses, even should I attain the sovereignty of the world?" His attendant then urged him to fly, but Brian replied that flight was useless, for he had been warned of his fate by Aibinn (the banshee of his family), and that he knew his death was at hand. He then gave directions about his will and his funeral, leaving 240 cows to the "successor of Patrick." Even at this moment the danger was impending. A party of Danes approached, headed by Brodir. The king sprang up from the cushion where he had been kneeling, and unsheathed his sword. At first Brodir did not know him, and thought he was a priest from finding him at prayer; but one of his followers informed him that it was the Monarch of Ireland. In a moment the fierce Dane had opened his head with his battle-axe. It is said that Brian had time to inflict a wound on the Viking, but the details of this event are so varied that it is impossible to decide which account is most reliable. The Saga states that Brodir knew Brian,[228] and, proud of his exploit, held up the monarch's reeking head, exclaiming, "Let it be told from man to man that Brodir felled Brian." All accounts agree in stating that the Viking was slain immediately, if not cruelly, by Brian's guards, who thus revenged their own neglect of their master. Had Brian survived this conflict, and had he been but a few years younger, how different might have been the political and social state of Ireland even at the present day! The Danish power was overthrown, and never again obtained an ascendency in the country. It needed but one strong will, one wise head, one brave arm, to consolidate the nation, and to establish a regular monarchy; for there was mettle enough in the Celt, if only united, to resist foreign invasion for all time to come.

On Easter Monday the survivors were employed in burying the dead and attending to the wounded. The remains of more than thirty chieftains were borne off to their respective territorial churches for interment. But even on that very night dissension arose in the camp. The chieftains of Desmond, seeing the broken condition of the Dalcassian force, renewed their claim to the alternate succession. When they had reached Rath Maisten (Mullaghmast, near Athy) they claimed the sovereignty of Munster, by demanding hostages. A battle ensued, in which even the wounded Dalcassians joined. Their leader desired them to be placed in the fort of Maisten, but they insisted on being fastened to stakes, firmly planted in the ground to support them, and stuffing their wounds with moss, they awaited the charge of the enemy. The men of Ossory, intimidated by their bravery, feared to give battle. But many of the wounded men perished from exhaustion—a hundred and fifty swooned away, and never recovered consciousness again. The majority were buried where they stood; a few of the more noble were carried to their ancestral resting-places. "And thus far the wars of the Gall with the Gaedhil, and the battle of Clontarf."

The Annals state that both Brian and his son, Murrough, lived to receive the rites of the Church, and that their remains were conveyed by the monks to Swords, and from thence, through Duleek and Louth, to Armagh, by Archbishop Maelmuire, the "successor of St. Patrick." Their obsequies were celebrated with great splendour, for twelve days and nights, by the clergy; after which the body of Brian was deposited in a stone coffin, on the north side of the high altar, in the cathedral. Murrough was buried on the south side. Turlough was interred in the old churchyard of Kilmainham, where the shaft of an ancient cross still marks the site.

Malachy once more assumed the reins of government by common consent, and proved himself fully equal to the task. A month before his death he gained an important victory over the Danes at Athboy, A.D. 1022. An interregnum of twenty years followed his death, during which the country was governed by two wise men, Cuan O'Lochlann, a poet, and Corcran Cleireach, an anchoret. The circumstances attending Malachy's death are thus related by the Four Masters:—"The age of Christ 1022. Maelseachlainn Mor, pillar of the dignity and nobility of the west of the world, died in Croinis Locha-Aininn, in the seventy-third year of his age, on the 4th of the nones of September, on Sunday precisely, after intense penance for his sins and transgressions, after receiving the body of Christ and His blood, after being anointed by the hands of Amhalgaidh, successor of Patrick, for he and the successor of Colum-Cille, and the successors of Ciaran, and most of the seniors of Ireland were present [at his death], and they sung masses, hymns, psalms, and canticles for the welfare of his soul."


[208] Dagger.—The king visited the shrine on his way to battle, and hanging up his dagger, the then symbol of knightly valour, vowed to release it with a kingly ransom if God gave him the victory. He obtained his desire, and nobly fulfilled his vow.

[209] Tyrants.—J. Roderick O'Flanagan, Esq., M.R.I.A., has permitted me to extract the account of the battle of Dundalk from his valuable and interesting History of Dundalk and its Environs. Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1864. This gentleman has devoted himself specially to elucidating the subject, and with a kindness which I cannot easily forget, permits me to avail myself, not only of his literary labours, but even to transfer to the pages of this work several complete pages from his own.

[210] Chess.—Flann Sionna, Monarch of Ireland, had encamped on this plain, and ostentatiously commenced a game of chess as a mark of contempt for the chieftains whose country he had invaded. His folly met its just punishment, for he was ignominiously defeated. See Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 113, note.

[211] Valour.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 101.

[212] Belach-Lechta.—The site has not been definitely ascertained. Some authorities place it near Macroom, co. Cork.

[213] Glen-Mama.—The Glen of the Gap, near Dunlavin. This was the ancient stronghold of the kings of Leinster in Wicklow. There is a long and very interesting note on the locality, by the Rev. J.F. Shearman, R.C.C., in the "Introduction" to the Wars of the Gaedhil. He mentions that pits have been discovered even recently, containing the remains of the slain.

[214] Deeds.—The origin of surnames is also attributed to Brian Boroimhe, from a fragment in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, supposed to be a portion of a life of that monarch written by his poet Mac Liag. Surnames were generally introduced throughout Europe in the tenth and twelfth centuries. The Irish gave their names to their lands. In other countries patronymics were usually taken from the names of the hereditary possessions.

[215] Fifty-three.—See Dr. O'Donovan's note to Annals, p. 747.

[216] Fidh-Gaibhli.—Now Feegile, near Portarlington.

[217] Given.—The Book of Rights mentions, that one of the rights to which the King of Leinster was entitled from the King of Ireland, was "fine textured clothes at Tara," as well as "sevenscore suits of clothes of good colour, for the use of the sons of the great chieftain."—Book of Rights, p. 251. From the conduct of Gormflaith, as related above, it is evident that the tunic was some token of vassalage.

[218] Murrough.—He was eldest son by Brian's first wife, Mor. He had three sons by this lady, who were all slain at Clontarf.

[219] Yew-tree.—This was a sharp insult. After the battle of Glen-Mama, Maelmordha had hidden himself in a yew-tree, where he was discovered and taken prisoner by Murrough.

[220] Land.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 151.

[221] Brodir.—It has been suggested that this was not his real name. He was Ospak's brother, and Brodir may have been mistaken for a proper name. There was a Danish Viking named Gutring, who was an apostate deacon, and who may have been the Brodir of Irish history.

[222] Baptism.—Burnt Njal, ii. 332.

[223] Combat.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 157.

[224] Magh-n-Ealta.—The Plain of the Flocks, lying between Howth and Tallaght, so called from Eder, a chieftain who perished before the Christian era.

[225] Clontarf.—There is curious evidence that the account of the battle of Clontarf must have been written by an eye-witness, or by one who had obtained his information from an eye-witness. The author states that "the foreigners came out to fight the battle in the morning at the full tide," and that the tide came in again in the evening at the same place. The Danes suffered severely from this, "for the tide had carried away their ships from them." Consequently, hundreds perished in the waves.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 191. Dr. Todd mentions that he asked the Rev. S. Haughton, of Trinity College, Dublin, to calculate for him "what was the hour of high water at the shore of Clontarf, in Dublin Bay, on the 23rd of April, 1014." The result was a full confirmation of the account given by the author of the Wars of the Gaedhil—the Rev. S. Haughton having calculated that the morning tide was full in at 5.30 a.m., the evening tide being full at 5.55 p.m.

[226] Siguard.—Various accounts are given of the disposition of forces on each side, so that it is impossible to speak with accuracy on the subject. We know how difficult it is to obtain correct particulars on such occasions, even with the assistance of "own correspondents" and electric telegraphs.

[227] Psalms.—To recite the Psalter in this way was a special devotional practice of the middle ages.

[228] Brian.—Burnt Njal, ii. 337. If this account be reliable, Brian did not live to receive the last sacraments, as other authorities state.


Distinguished Irish Scholars and Religious—Domestic Feuds—O'Brien's Illness caused by Fright—Pestilence and Severe Winters—Contentions between the Northerns and Southerns—Murtough's Circuit of Ireland—The Danes attempt an Invasion—An Irish King sent to the Isle of Man—Destruction of Kincora—St. Celsus makes Peace—The Synod of Fidh Aengussa—Subjects considered by the Synod: (1) The Regulation of the Number of Dioceses, (2) the Sacrament of Matrimony, (3) the Consecration of Bishops, (4) Ceremonies at Baptism—St. Malachy—The Traitor Dermod—Synod at Mellifont Abbey—St. Laurence O'Toole.

[A.D. 1022-1167.]

Domestic wars were, as usual, productive of the worst consequences, as regards the social state of the country. The schools and colleges, which had been founded and richly endowed by the converted Irish, were now, without exception, plundered of their wealth, and, in many cases, deprived of those who had dispensed that wealth for the common good. It has been already shown that men lived holy lives, and died peaceful deaths, during the two hundred years of Danish oppression; we shall now find that schools were revived, monasteries repeopled, and missionaries sent to convert and instruct in foreign lands. A few monks from Ireland settled in Glastonbury early in the tenth century, where they devoted themselves to the instruction of youth. St. Dunstan, who was famous for his skill in music, was one of their most illustrious pupils: he was a scholar, an artist, and a musician. But English writers, who give him the credit of having brought "Englishmen to care once more for learning, after they had quite lost the taste for it, and had sunk back into ignorance and barbarism," forget to mention who were his instructors.

St. Maccallin, another Irishman, was teaching in France at the same period; and Duncan, who governed the Monastery of St. Remigius, at Rheims, was writing books of instruction for his students, which are still extant. Marianus Scotus, whose chronicles are considered the most perfect compositions of their times, was teaching at Cologne. St. Fingen, who succeeded St. Cadroe as Abbot of the Monastery of St. Felix at Metz, was invested with the government of the Monastery of St. Symphorian in that city[229]. It was then ordered by the bishop, that none but Irish monks should be received into his house, unless their supply failed. In 975 the Monastery of St. Martin, near Cologne, was made over to the Irish monks in perpetuity. Happily, however, Ireland still retained many of her pious and gifted sons. We have mentioned elsewhere the Annals of Tighernach, and the remarkable erudition they evince. The name of Cormac Mac Cullinan may also be added to the list of literary men of the period. The poems of Kenneth O'Hartigan are still extant, as well as those of Eochd O'Flynn. The authorship of the Wars of the Gaedhil and the Gall, has been attributed to Brian Boroimhe's secretary, Mac Liag; it is, at least, tolerably certain that it was written by one who witnessed the events described. The obituaries of several saints also occur at the close of the tenth and commencement of the eleventh centuries. Amongst these we find St. Duncheadh, Abbot of Clonmacnois, who is said to have been the last Irish saint who raised the dead. St. Aedh (Hugh) died in the year 1004, "after a good life, at Ard-Macha, with great honour and veneration." And in the year 1018, we have the mortuary record of St. Gormgal, of Ardvilean, "the remains of whose humble oratory and cloghan cell are still to be seen on that rocky island, amid the surges of the Atlantic, off the coast of Connemara."[230]

Dr. Todd has well observed, in his admirably written "Introduction" to the Wars of the Gaedhil and the Gall, that from the death of Malachy to the days of Strongbow, the history of Ireland is little more than a history of the struggles for ascendency between the great clans or families of O'Neill, O'Connor, O'Brien, and the chieftains of Leinster.

After the death of Brian Boroimhe, his son Donough obtained the undisputed sovereignty of Munster. He defeated the Desmonians, and instigated the murder of his brother Teigue. His next step was to claim the title of King of Ireland, but he had a formidable opponent in Dermod Mac Mael-na-mbo, King of Leinster. Strange to say, though he had the guilt of fratricide on his conscience, he assembled the clergy and chieftains of Munster at Killaloe, in the year 1050, to pass laws for the protection of life and property—a famine, which occurred at this time, making such precautions of the first necessity. In 1033, his nephew, Turlough, avenged the death of Teigue, in a battle, wherein Donough was defeated. After his reverse he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he died in the following year, after doing penance for his brother's murder. The Annals say that "he died under the victory of penance, in the Monastery of Stephen the Martyr."[231] Dermod Mac Mael-na-mbo was killed in battle by the King of Meath, A.D. 1072, and Turlough O'Brien, consequently, was regarded as his successor to the monarchy of Ireland. Turlough, as usual, commenced by taking hostages, but he found serious opposition from the northern Hy-Nials. His principal opponents were the Mac Loughlins of Aileach, and the O'Melaghlins of Meath. In 1079 O'Brien invaded the territory of Roderic O'Connor, King of Connaught, expelled him from his kingdom, and plundered it as far as Croagh Patrick. Next year he led an army to Dublin, and received the submission of the men of Meath, appointing his son Murtough lord of the Danes of Dublin. The Annals of the Four Masters give a curious account of O'Brien's death. They say that the head of Connor O'Melaghlin, King of Meath, was taken from the church of Clonmacnois, and brought to Thomond, by his order. When the king took the head in his hand, a mouse ran out of it, and the shock was so great that "he fell ill of a sore disease by the miracles (intervention) of St. Ciaran." This happened on the night of Good Friday. The day of the resurrection (Easter Sunday) the head was restored, with two rings of gold as a peace-offering. But Turlough never recovered from the effects of his fright, and lingered on in bad health until the year 1086, when he died. He is called the "modest Turlough" in the Annals, for what special reason does not appear. It is also recorded that he performed "intense penance for his sins"—a grace which the kings and princes of Ireland seem often to have needed, and, if we may believe the Annals, always to have obtained.

A period of anarchy ensued, during which several princes contended for royal honours. This compliment was finally awarded to Mac Loughlin, King of Aileach, and a temporary peace ensued. Its continuance was brief. In 1095 there was a pestilence all over Europe, "and some say that the fourth part of the men of Ireland died of the malady." A long list is given of its victims, lay and ecclesiastical. Several severe winters are recorded as having preceded this fatal event; probably they were its remote cause. In the year 1096, the festival of St. John Baptist fell on Friday. This event caused general consternation, in consequence of some old prophecy. A resolution "of the clergy of Ireland, with the successor of St. Patrick[232] at their head," enjoined a general abstinence from Wednesday to Sunday every month, with other penitential observances; and "the men of Ireland were saved for that time from the fire of vengeance."[233]

But the most important event of the period was the contention between the northern and southern Hy-Nials. Murtough was planning, with great military ability, to obtain the supreme rule. The Archbishop of Armagh and the clergy strove twice to avert hostilities, but their interference was almost ineffectual. "A year's peace" was all they could obtain. In the year 1100, Murtough brought a Danish fleet against the northerns, but they were cut off by O'Loughlin, "by killing or drowning." He also assembled an army at Assaroe, near Ballyshannon, "with the choice part of the men of Ireland," but the Cinel-Connaill defended their country bravely, and compelled him to retire "without booty, without hostages, without pledges." In 1101, when the twelvemonths' truce obtained by the clergy had expired, Murtough collected a powerful army, and devastated the north, without opposition. He demolished the palace of the Hy-Nials, called the Grianan of Aileach.[234] This was an act of revenge for a similar raid, committed a few years before, on the stronghold of the O'Briens, at Kincora, by O'Loughlin. So determined was he on devastation, that he commanded a stone to be carried away from the building in each of the sacks which had contained provisions for the army. He then took hostages of Ulidia, and returned to the south, having completed the circuit of Ireland in six weeks. The expedition was called the "circuitous hosting." His rather original method of razing a palace, is commemorated in the following quatrain:—

"I never heard of the billeting of grit stones, Though I heard [sic] of the billeting of companies, Until the stones of Aileach was billeted On the horses of the king of the west."[235]

Murtough appears to have been a not unusual compound of piety and profanity. We read in one place of his reckless exploits in burning churches and desecrating shrines, and in others of his liberal endowments of the same.

The Danes had now settled quietly in the mercantile towns which they had mainly contributed to form, and expended all their energies on commerce instead of war; but the new generation of Northmen, who had not yet visited Ireland, could not so easily relinquish the old project of conquering it. About the year 1101, Magnus planned an expedition to effect this purpose. He arrived in Dublin the following year; a "hosting of the men of Ireland came to oppose him;"[236] but they made peace with him for one year, and Murtough gave his daughter in marriage to his son Sitric, "with many jewels and gifts." The year 1103 was distinguished for sanguinary conflicts. Murdhadh Drun was killed on a predatory excursion in Magh Cobha. Raghnall Ua h-Ocain,[237] lawgiver of Felach Og, was slain by the men of Magh Itha. There was a "great war" between the Cinel-Eoghain and the Ulidians; and Murtough O'Brien, with the men of Munster, Leinster, and Ossory, the chiefs of Connaught, and the men of Meath and their kings, proceeded to Magh Cobha (Donaghmore, co. Down) to relieve the Ulidians. When the men of Munster "were wearied," Murtough proceeded to Ard-Macha, and left eight ounces of gold upon the altar, and promised eightscore cows. The northern Hy-Nials then attacked the camp of the Leinster men, and a spirited battle was fought. The Cinel-Eoghain and Cinel-Connaill returned victoriously and triumphantly to their forts, with valuable jewels and much wealth, together with the royal tent, the standard, and jewels.

Magnus, King of Lochlann and the Isles, was slain by the Ulidians this year.

It is noticeable that, in the Annals of the Four Masters, obituaries of saints or good men always occupy the first place. The Annals of this year are of unusual length; but they commence with the obituary of Murchadh O'Flanaghan, Arrchinneach of Ardbo, a paragon of wisdom and instruction, who died on his pilgrimage at Ard-Macha. A priest of Kildare is also mentioned, and the Tanist-Abbot of Clonmacnois, a prosperous and affluent man.

It would appear that the Irish were sufficiently occupied with domestic wars to prevent their offering assistance elsewhere. This, however, was not the case. When Harold returned to England, his brother-in-law, Donough, lent him nine ships; and we find the Irish affording assistance in several other feuds of the Anglo-Saxons of this period. A deputation of the nobles of Man and other islands visited Dublin, and waited on Murtough O'Brien to solicit a king. He sent his nephew, Donnell; but he was soon expelled on account of his tyranny. Another Donnell O'Brien, his cousin, was, at the same time, lord of the Danes in Dublin. In 1114 Murtough O'Brien was obliged to resign the crown in consequence of ill-health; the Annals say that he became a living skeleton. His brother, Dermod, took advantage of this circumstance to declare himself King of Munster. This obliged Murtough to resume the reins of government, and put himself at the head of his army. He succeeded in making Dermod prisoner, but eventually he was obliged to resign the kingdom to him, and retired into the Monastery of Lismore, where he died in 1119. The Annals call him the prop of the glory and magnificence of the western world. In the same year Nial Mac Lochlann, royal heir of Aileach and of Ireland, fell by the Cinel-Moain, in the twenty-eighth year of his age. He was the "paragon of Ireland, for personal form, sense, hospitality, and learning." The Chief Ollamh of Ireland, Cucollchoille ua Biagheallain, was killed by the men of Lug and Tuatha-ratha (Tooragh, co. Fermanagh), with his wife, "two very good sons," and five-and-thirty persons in one house, on the Saturday before Little Easter. The cause of this outrage is not mentioned. The Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster record the same event, and mention that he was distinguished for charity, hospitality, and universal benevolence.

Donnell O'Loughlin died in 1121, in the Monastery of St. Columba, at Derry. He is styled King of Ireland, although the power of his southern rival preponderated during the greater part of his reign. In 1118 Rory O'Connor died in the Monastery of Clonmacnois. He had been blinded some years previously by the O'Flaherties. This cruel custom was sometimes practised to prevent the succession of an obnoxious person, as freedom from every blemish was a sine qua non in Erinn for a candidate to royal honours. Teigue Mac Carthy, King of Desmond, died, "after penance," at Cashel, A.D. 1124. From the time of Murtough O'Brien's illness, Turlough O'Connor, son of the prince who had been blinded, comes prominently forward in Irish history. His object was to exalt the Eoghanists or Desmonian family, who had been virtually excluded from the succession since the time of Brian Boroimhe. In 1116 he plundered Thomond as far as Limerick. In 1118 he led an army as far as Glanmire (co. Cork), and divided Munster, giving Desmond to Mac Carthy, and Thomond to the sons of Dermod O'Brien. He then marched to Dublin, and took hostages from the Danes, releasing Donnell, son of the King of Meath, whom they had in captivity. The following year he sailed down the Shannon with a fleet, and destroyed the royal palace of Kincora, hurling its stones and timber beams into the river. He then devoted himself to wholesale plundering, and expelled his late ally and father-in-law from Meath, ravaging the country from Traigh Li (Tralee) to the sanctuary lands of Lismore. In 1126 he bestowed the kingdom of Dublin on his son Cormac. In 1127 he drove Cormac Mac Carthy from his kingdom, and divided Munster in three parts. In fact, there was such a storm of war throughout the whole country, that St. Celsus was obliged to interfere. He spent a month and a year trying to establish peace, and promulgating rules and good customs in every district, among the laity and clergy. His efforts to teach "good rules and manners" seem to have been scarcely effectual, for we find an immediate entry of the decapitation of Ruaidhri, after he had made a "treacherous prey" in Aictheara. In the year 1128 the good Archbishop succeeded in making a year's truce between the Connaught men and the men of Munster. The following year the saint died at Ardpatrick, where he was making a visitation. He was only fifty years of age, but anxiety and care had worn him old. St. Celsus was buried at Lismore, and interred in the cemetery of the bishops.

We must now give a brief glance at the ecclesiastical history of Ireland, before narrating the events which immediately preceded the English invasion.

In the year 1111 a synod was convened at Fidh Aengussa, or Aengus Grove, near the Hill of Uisneach, in Westmeath. It was attended by fifty bishops, 300 priests, and 3,000 religious. Murtough O'Brien was also permitted to be present, and some of the nobles of his province. The object of the synod was to institute rules of life and manners for the clergy and people. St. Celsus, the Archbishop of Armagh, and Maelmuire[238] or Marianus O'Dunain, Archbishop of Cashel, were present. Attention had already been directed to certain abuses in ecclesiastical discipline. Such abuses must always arise from time to time in the Church, through the frailty of her members; but these abuses are always carefully reprehended as they arise, so that she is no longer responsible for them. It is remarkable that men of more than ordinary sanctity have usually been given to the Church at such periods. Some have withheld heretical emperors from deeds of evil, and some have braved the fury of heretical princes. In Ireland, happily, the rulers needed not such opposition; but when the country had been again and again devastated by war, whether from foreign or domestic sources, the intervention of saintly men was especially needed to restore peace, and to repair, as far as might be, the grievous injury which war always inflicts on the social state of those who have suffered from its devastations.

Lanfranc, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, had already noticed the state of the Irish Church. He was in constant communication with the Danish bishops, who had received consecration from him; and their accounts were probably true in the main, however coloured by prejudice. He wrote an earnest epistle to Turlough O'Brien, whom he addresses respectfully as King of Ireland, and whose virtues as a Christian prince he highly commends. His principal object appears to have been to draw the king's attention to an abuse, of which the Danes had informed him, with regard to the sacrament of matrimony. This subject shall be noticed again. Pope Gregory VII. also wrote to Turlough, but principally on the temporal authority of the Holy See.

The synod had four special subjects for consideration: (1) First, to regulate the number of bishops—an excessive and undue multiplication of episcopal dignity having arisen from the custom of creating chorepiscopi or rural bishops. It was now decided that there should be but twenty-four dioceses—twelve for the northern and twelve for the southern half of Ireland. Cashel was also recognized as an archiepiscopal see, and the successor of St. Jarlath was sometimes called Archbishop of Connaught. The custom of lay appropriations, which had obtained in some places, was also firmly denounced. This was an intolerable abuse. St. Celsus, the Archbishop of Armagh, though himself a member of the family who had usurped this office, made a special provision in his will that he should be succeeded by St. Malachy. This saint obtained a final victory over the sacrilegious innovators, but not without much personal suffering.[239]

The (2) second abuse which was now noticed, referred to the sacrament of matrimony. The Irish were accused of abandoning their lawful wives and taking others, of marrying within the degrees of consanguinity, and it was said that in Dublin wives were even exchanged. Usher, in commenting on the passage in Lanfranc's letter which refers to these gross abuses, observes that the custom of discarding wives was prevalent among the Anglo-Saxons and in Scotland. This, however, was no excuse for the Irish. The custom was a remnant of pagan contempt of the female sex,—a contempt from which women were never fully released, until Christianity restored the fallen, and the obedience of the second Eve had atoned for the disobedience of the first. It appears, however, that these immoralities were almost confined to the half-Christianized Danes, who still retained many of their heathen customs. The canons of St. Patrick, which were always respected by the native Irish, forbid such practices; and the synod, therefore, had only to call on the people to observe the laws of the Church more strictly.

Two other subjects, (3) one regarding the consecration of bishops, the other (4) referring to the ceremonies of baptism, were merely questions of ecclesiastical discipline, and as such were easily arranged by competent authority. In St. Anselm's correspondence with the prelates of the south of Ireland, he passes a high eulogium on their zeal and piety, while he deplores certain relaxations of discipline, which they were as anxious to reform as he could desire.

We have already mentioned that St. Celsus appointed St. Malachy his successor in the Archiepiscopal See of Armagh. Malachy had been educated by the Abbot Imar O'Hagan, who presided over the great schools of that city; and the account given of his early training, sufficiently manifests the ability of his gifted instructor, and the high state of intellectual culture which existed in Ireland. While still young, St. Malachy undertook the restoration of the famous Abbey of Bangor. Here he erected a small oratory of wood, and joined himself to a few devoted men ardent for the perfection of a religious life. He was soon after elected Bishop of Connor. With the assistance of some of his faithful monks, he restored what war and rapine had destroyed; and was proceeding peacefully and successfully in his noble work, when he was driven from his diocese by a hostile prince. He now fled to Cormac Mac Carthy, King of Desmond;[240] but he was not permitted to remain here long. The See of Armagh was vacated by the death of St. Celsus, and Malachy was obliged to commence another arduous mission. It is said that it almost required threats of excommunication to induce him to undertake the charge. Bishop Gilbert of Limerick, the Apostolic-Delegate, and Bishop Malchus of Lismore, with other bishops and several chieftains, visited him in the monastery which he had erected at Ibrach,[241] and at last obtained compliance by promising him permission to retire when he had restored order in his new diocese.

St. Malachy found his mission as painful as he had anticipated. The lay intruders were making a last attempt to keep up their evil custom; and, after the death of the usurper who made this false claim, another person attempted to continue it; but popular feeling was so strong against the wretched man, that he was obliged to fly. Ecclesiastical discipline was soon restored; and after Malachy had made a partition of the diocese, he was permitted to resign in favour of Gelasius, then Abbot of the great Columbian Monastery of Derry.

But peace was not yet established in Ireland. I shall return again to the narrative of domestic feuds, which made it a "trembling sod," the O'Loughlins of Tyrone being the chief aggressors; for the present we must follow the course of ecclesiastical history briefly. St. Malachy was now appointed Bishop of Down, to which his old see of Connor was united. He had long a desire to visit Rome—a devotional pilgrimage of the men of Erinn from the earliest period. He was specially anxious to obtain a formal recognition of the archiepiscopal sees in Ireland, by the granting of palliums. On his way to the Holy City he visited St. Bernard at Clairvaux, and thus commenced and cemented the friendship which forms so interesting a feature in the lives of the French and Irish saints. It is probable that his account of the state of the Irish Church took a tinge of gloom from the heavy trials he had endured in his efforts to remove its temporary abuses. St. Bernard's ardent and impetuous character, even his very affectionateness, would lead him also to look darkly on the picture: hence the somewhat over-coloured accounts he has given of its state at that eventful period. St. Malachy returned to Ireland after an interview with the reigning Pontiff, Pope Innocent II. His Holiness had received him with open arms, and appointed him Apostolic Legate; but he declined to give the palliums, until they were formally demanded by the Irish prelates.

In virtue of his legatine power, the saint assembled local synods in several places. He rebuilt and restored many churches; and in 1142 he erected the famous Cistercian Abbey of Mellifont, near Drogheda. This monastery was liberally endowed by O'Carroll, King of Oriel, and was peopled by Irish monks, whom St. Malachy had sent to Clairvaux, to be trained in the Benedictine rule and observances. But his great act was the convocation of the Synod of Inis Padraig. It was held in the year 1148. St. Malachy presided as Legate of the Holy See; fifteen bishops, two hundred priests, and some religious were present at the deliberations, which lasted for four days. The members of the synod were unwilling that Malachy should leave Ireland again; but Eugene III., who had been a Cistercian monk, was visiting Clairvaux, and it was hoped he might grant the favour there. The Pope had left the abbey when the saint arrived, who, in a few days after, was seized with mortal sickness, and died on the 2nd November, 1148. His remains were interred at Clairvaux. His feast was changed from the 2nd of November, All Souls, to the 3rd, by "the seniors," that he might be the more easily revered and honoured.

In 1151 Cardinal Paparo arrived in Ireland with the palliums which had been solicited by St. Malachy. The insignia of dignity were conferred the following year, at the Council of Kells. Tithes were then introduced for the first time in Ireland, but they were not enforced until after the English invasion.

It will be remembered that we turned to ecclesiastical history, after mentioning the year's truce (A.D. 1128) which had been made, through the intervention of St. Celsus, between the men of Munster and Connaught. In 1129 the great Church of Clonmacnois was robbed[242] of some of its greatest treasures. Amongst these was a model of Solomon's Temple, presented by a prince of Meath, and a silver chalice burnished with gold, which had been engraved by a sister of King Turlough O'Connor—an evidence that the ladies of Ireland were by no means behind the age in taste and refinement.

After the death of Donnell O'Loughlin, Turlough had full scope for the exercise of his ambitious projects; but in 1131 he found serious opposition from Connor O'Brien, who had succeeded his father, Dermod, on the throne of Munster. Connor now carried off hostages from Leinster and Meath, and defeated the cavalry of Connaught. The following year he sent a fleet to the western coast of Ireland. Eventually Turlough O'Connor was glad to make a truce with his opponents. In 1184 the consecration of a church at Cashel was celebrated. This is still known as Cormac's Chapel, and was long supposed to have been erected by the more ancient monarch of that name. But the good king was soon after treacherously slain in his own house, by Turlough O'Connor and the two sons of the O'Connor of Kerry. Turlough was unquestionably somewhat Spartan in his severities, if not Draconian in his administration of justice. In 1106 he put out the eyes of his own son, Hugh, and in the same year he imprisoned another son, named Roderic. The nature of their offences is not manifest; but Roderic was liberated through the interference of the clergy. Seven years after he was again imprisoned, "in violation of the most solemn pledges and guarantees." The clergy again interfered; from which we may infer that he was a favourite. They even held a public feast at Rathbrendan on his behalf; but he was not released until the following year. In the year 1136 we find the obituary of the chief keeper of the calendar of Ard-Macha, on the night of Good Friday. He is also mentioned as its chief antiquary and librarian, an evidence that the old custom was kept up to the very eve of the English invasion. The obituary of Donnell O'Duffy, Archbishop of Connaught, is also given. He died after Mass and celebration; according to the Annals of Clonmacnois, he had celebrated Mass by himself, at Clonfert, on St. Patrick's Day, and died immediately after. About the same time the Breinemen behaved "so exceedingly outrageous," that they irreverently stript O'Daly, arch-poet of Ireland, "of all his clothes."

In the meantime domestic wars multiplied with extraordinary rapidity. Dermod Mac Murrough, the infamous King of Leinster, now appears for the first time in the history of that country which he mainly contributed to bring under the English yoke. He commenced his career of perfidy by carrying off the Abbess of Kildare from her cloister, killing 170 of the people of Kildare, who interfered to prevent this wanton and sacrilegious outrage. In 1141 he endeavoured to crush the opposers of his atrocious tyranny by a barbarous onslaught, in which he killed two nobles, put out the eyes of another, and blinded[243] seventeen chieftains of inferior rank. A fitting commencement of his career of treachery towards his unfortunate country! In 1148 a temporary peace was made by the Primate of Armagh between the northern princes, who had carried on a deadly feud; but its duration, as usual, was brief. Turlough O'Brien was deposed by Teigue in 1151. He was assisted by Turlough O'Connor and the infamous Dermod. The united armies plundered as far as Moin Mor,[244] where they encountered the Dalcassian forces returning from the plunder of Desmond. A sanguinary combat ensued, and the men of north Munster suffered a dreadful slaughter, leaving 7,000 dead upon the field of battle. This terrible sacrifice of life is attributed to the mistaken valour of the Dal-Cais, who would neither fly nor ask quarter.

In 1157 a synod was held in the Abbey of Mellifont, attended by the Bishop of Lismore, Legate of the Holy See, the Primate, and seventeen other bishops. Murtough O'Loughlin, the Monarch of Ireland, and several other kings, were also present. The principal object of this meeting was the consecration of the abbey church and the excommunication of Donough O'Melaghlin, who had become the common pest of the country. He was, as might be expected, the particular friend and ally of Dermod Mac Murrough. His last exploit was the murder of a neighbouring chief, despite the most solemn pledges. In an old translation of the Annals of Ulster, he is termed, with more force than elegance, "a cursed atheist." After his excommunication, his brother Dermod was made King of Meath, in his place.

At this synod several rich gifts were made to the abbey. O'Carroll, Prince of Oriel, presented sixty ounces of gold. O'Loughlin made a grant of lands, gave one hundred and forty cows and sixty ounces of gold. The Lady Dervorgil gave the same donation in gold, together with a golden chalice for the altar of Mary, with gifts for each of the other nine altars of the church. Dervorgil was the wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, Lord of Breffni, who had been dispossessed of his territories in 1152; at the same time she was carried off by Dermod Mac Murrough. Her abduction seems to have been effected with her own consent, as she carried off the cattle which had formed her dowry. Her husband, it would appear, had treated her harshly. Eventually she retired to the Monastery of Mellifont, where she endeavoured to atone for her past misconduct by a life of penance.

Another synod was held in the year 1158, at Trim. Derry was then erected into an episcopal see, and Flahertach O'Brolchain, Abbot of St. Columba's Monastery, was consecrated its first bishop. The bishops of Connaught were intercepted and plundered by Dermod's soldiers; they therefore returned and held a provincial synod in Roscommon.

In 1162 St. Laurence O'Toole was chosen to succeed Greine, or Gregory, the Danish Archbishop of Dublin. He belonged to one of the most noble ancient families of Leinster. His father was chieftain of the district of Hy-Muirahy, a portion of the present county Kildare. St. Laurence had chosen the ecclesiastical state early in life; at the age of twenty-five he was chosen Abbot of St. Kevin's Monastery, at Glendalough. The Danish Bishop of Dublin had been consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the saint received the episcopal office from the successor of St. Patrick. A synod was held at Clane the year of his consecration; it was attended by twenty-six prelates and many other ecclesiastics. The college of Armagh was then virtually raised to the rank of a university, as it was decreed that no one, who had not been an alumnus of Armagh, should be appointed lector or professor of theology in any of the diocesan schools in Ireland. Indeed, the clergy at this period were most active in promoting the interests of religion, and most successful in their efforts, little anticipating the storm which was then impending over their country.

In 1166 the Irish Monarch, O'Loughlin, committed a fearful outrage on Dunlevy, Prince of Dalriada. A peace had been ratified between them, but, from some unknown cause, O'Loughlin suddenly became again the aggressor, and attacked the northern chief, when he was unprepared, put out his eyes, and killed three of his leading officers. This cruel treachery so provoked the princes who had guaranteed the treaty, that they mustered an army at once and proceeded northwards. The result was a sanguinary engagement, in which the Cinel-Eoghan were defeated, and the Monarch, O'Loughlin, was slain. Roderick O'Connor immediately assumed the reins of government, and was inaugurated in Dublin with more pomp than had ever been manifested on such an occasion. It was the last glittering flicker of the expiring lamp. Submission was made to him on every side; and had he only possessed the ability or the patriotism to unite the forces under his command, he might well have set all his enemies at defiance. An assembly of the clergy and chieftains of Ireland was convened in 1167, which is said to have emulated, if it did not rival, the triennial Fes of ancient Tara. It was but the last gleam of sunlight, which indicates the coming of darkness and gloom. The traitor already had his plans prepared, and was flying from a country which scorned his meanness, to another country where that meanness was made the tool of political purposes, while the unhappy traitor was probably quite as heartily despised.


[229] City.—Some Irish religious are also said to have lived in amity with Greek monks, who were established at Tours, in France; and it is said that the Irish joined them in the performance of the ecclesiastical offices in their own language.

[230] Connemara.—Haverty's History of Ireland, p. 156. See also an interesting note on this subject in the Chronicum Scotorum.

[231] Martyr.—Page 887. The famine in the preceding year is also recorded, as well as the cholic and "lumps," which prevailed in Leinster, and also spread throughout Ireland. Donough was married to an English princess, Driella, the daughter of the English Earl Godwin, and sister of Harold, afterwards King of England. During the rebellion of Godwin and his sons against Edward the Confessor, Harold was obliged to take refuge in Ireland, and remained there "all the winter on the king's security."

[232] St. Patrick.—It is observable all through the Annals, how the name and spiritual authority of St. Patrick is revered. This expression occurs regularly from the earliest period, wherever the Primate of Ireland is mentioned.

[233] Vengeance.—See O'Curry, passim, for curious traditions or so-called prophecies about St. John Baptist's Day.

[234] Aileach.—The remains of this fortress are still visible near Londonderry, and are called Grianan-Elagh.

[235] West.—Annals, vol. ii. p. 969.

[236] Him.—Ib. p 973.

[237] Ua h-Ocain.—Now anglicised O'Hagan. This family had the special privilege of crowning the O'Neills, and were their hereditary Brehons. The Right Honorable Judge O'Hagan is, we believe, the present head of the family.

[238] Maelmuire.—"The servant of Mary." Devotion to the Mother of God, which is still a special characteristic of the Irish nation, was early manifested by the adoption of this name.

[239] Suffering.—This abuse was not peculiar to the Irish Church. A canon of the Council of London, A.D. 1125, was framed to prevent similar lay appropriations. In the time of Cambrensis there were lay (so called) abbots, who took the property of the Church into their own hands, and made their children receive holy orders that they might enjoy the revenues.

[240] Desmond.—See the commencement of this chapter, for an illustration of the ruins of its ancient rath and the more modern castle. These remains are among the most interesting in Ireland.

[241] Ibrach.—Supposed to be Ivragh, in Kerry, which was part of Cormac Mac Carthy's kingdom.

[242] Robbed.—In MacGeoghegan's translation of the Annals of Clonmacnois he says:—"The clergy of Clone made incessant prayer to God and St. Keyran, to be a means for the revelation of the party that took away the said jewels." The "party" was a Dane. He was discovered, and hung in 1130. It is said that he entered several ships to leave the country, but they could get no wind, while other vessels sailed off freely.—Annals of the Four Masters, vol. ii. p. 1035.

[243] Blinded.—In 1165 Henry II. gratified his irritation against the Welsh by laying hands upon the hostages of their noblest families, and commanding that the eyes of the males should be rooted out, and the ears and noses of the females cut off; and yet Henry is said to have been liberal to the poor, and though passionately devoted to the chase, he did not inflict either death or mutilation on the intruders in the royal forests.

[244] Moin Mor.—Now Moanmore, county Tipperary.


Social life previous to the English Invasion—Domestic Habitations—Forts—Granard and Staigue—Crannoges and Log-houses—Interior of the Houses—The Hall—Food and Cooking Utensils—Regulations about Food—The Kind of Food used—Animal Food—Fish—Game—Drink and Drinking Vessels—Whisky—Heath Beer—Mead—Animal Produce—Butter and Cheese—Fire—Candles—Occupations and Amusements—Chess—Music—Dress—Silk—Linen—Ancient Woollen Garments—Gold Ornaments—Trade—General Description of the Fauna and Flora of the Country.

Customs which illustrate the social life of our ancestors, are scarcely the least interesting or important elements of history. Before we enter upon that portion of our annals which commences with the English invasion, under the auspices of Henry II., we shall give a brief account of the habitations, manners, customs, dress, food, and amusements of the people of Ireland. Happily there is abundant and authentic information on this subject, though we may be obliged to delve beneath the tertiary deposits of historical strata in order to obtain all that is required. English society and English social life were more or less influenced by Ireland from the fifth to the twelfth century. The monks who had emigrated to "Saxon land" were men of considerable intellectual culture, and, as such, had a preponderating influence, creditable alike to themselves and to those who bowed to its sway. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, English manners and customs were introduced in Ireland within the Pale. The object of the present chapter is to show the social state of the country before the English invasion—a condition of society which continued for some centuries later in the western and southern parts of the island.

The pagan architecture of public erections has already been as fully considered as our limits would permit. Let us turn from pillar-stones, cromlechs, and cairns, to the domestic habitations which preceded Christianity, and continued in use, with gradual improvements, until the period when English influence introduced the comparative refinements which it had but lately received from Norman sources. The raths, mounds, and forts, whose remains still exist throughout the country, preceded the castellated edifices, many of which were erected in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, principally by English settlers. The rath was probably used for the protection and enclosure of cattle; and as the wealth of the country consisted principally in its herds, it was an important object. Its form is circular, having an internal diameter averaging from forty to two hundred feet, encompassed by a mound and outer fosse or ditch. In some localities, where stone is abundant and the soil shallow, rude walls have been formed: the raths, however, are principally earthwork alone. Forts were erected for defence, and the surrounding fosse was filled with water. They were, in fact, the prototypes of the more modern castle and moat. These forts were sometimes of considerable size, and in such cases were surrounded by several fosses and outworks. They were approached by a winding inclined plane, which at once facilitated the entrance of friends, and exposed comers with hostile intentions to the concentrated attacks of the garrison. The fort at Granard is a good example of this kind of building. It is probably of considerable antiquity, though it has been improved and rebuilt in some portions at a more modern period. The interior of it evidences the existence of several different apartments. An approach internally has been exposed on one side, and exhibits a wide, flat arch of common masonry, springing from the top of two side walls, the whole well-constructed.

Forts of dry-wall masonry, which are, undoubtedly, the more ancient, are very numerous in the south-west of Ireland. It is probable that similar erections existed throughout the country at a former period, and that their preservation is attributable to the remoteness of the district. The most perfect of these ancient habitations is that of Staigue Fort, near Derryquin Castle, Kenmare. This fort has an internal diameter of eighty-eight feet. The masonry is composed of flat-bedded stones of the slate rock of the country, which show every appearance of being quarried, or carefully broken from larger blocks. There is no appearance of dressed work in the construction; but the slate would not admit of this, as it splinters away under the slightest blow. Still the building is an admirable example of constructive masonry; it is almost impossible to dislodge any fragment from off the filling stones from the face of the wall. A competent authority has pronounced that these structures cannot be equalled by any dry masonry elsewhere met with in the country, nor by any masonry of the kind erected in the present day.[245] Some small stone buildings are also extant in this part of Ireland, but it is doubtful whether they were used for ecclesiastical or domestic purposes. The crannoge was another kind of habitation, and one evidently much used, and evincing no ordinary skill in its construction. From the remains found in these island habitations, we may form a clear idea of the customs and civilization of their inmates: their food is indicated by the animal remains, which consist of several varieties of oxen, deer, goats, and sheep; the implements of cookery remain, even to the knife, and the blocks of stone blackened from long use as fire-places; the arrows, which served for war or chase, are found in abundance; the personal ornaments evidence the taste of the wearers, and the skill of the artist; while the canoe, usually of solid oak, and carefully hidden away, tells its own tale how entrance and exit were effected. One of the earliest crannoges which was discovered and examined in modern times, was that of Lagere, near Dunshaughlin, county Meath. It is remarkable that Loch Gabhair is said to have been one of the nine lakes which burst forth in Ireland, A.M. 3581. The destruction of this crannoge is recorded by the Four Masters, A.D. 933, giving evidence that it was occupied up to that period. In 1246 there is a record of the escape of Turlough O'Connor from a crannoge, after he had drowned his keepers; from which it would appear such structures might be used for prisons, and, probably, would be specially convenient for the detention of hostages. In 1560 we read that Teigue O'Rourke was drowned as he was going across a lake to sleep in a crannoge; and even so late as the sixteenth century, crannoges were declared to be the universal system of defence in the north of Ireland.

Log-houses were also used, and were constructed of beams and planks of timber, something like the Swiss chalet. One of these ancient structures was discovered in Drumhalin bog, county Donegal, in 1833. The house consisted of a square structure, twelve feet wide and nine feet high: it was formed of rough planks and blocks of timber; the mortises were very roughly cut—a stone celt,[246] which was found lying upon the floor, was, probably, the instrument used to form them. The logs were most likely formed by a stone axe.[247] The roof was flat, and the house consisted of two compartments, one over the other, each four feet high. A paved causeway led from the house to the fire-place, on which was a quantity of ashes, charred wood, half-burnt turf, and hazle-nuts. So ancient was this habitation, that twenty-six feet of bog had grown up around and over it. It is supposed that this was only one portion of a collection of houses, which were used merely as sleeping-places. A slated enclosure was also traced, portions of the gates of which were discovered. A piece of a leathern sandal, an arrow-headed flint, and a wooden sword, were also found in the same locality.

It is probable that wattles and clay formed the staple commodity for building material in ancient Erinn. Planks and beams, with rough blocks of wood or stone, were most likely reserved for the dwelling-place of chieftains. Such were the material used also for the royal residence in Thorney Island, a swampy morass in the Thames, secured by its insular position, where the early English kings administered justice; and such, probably, were the material of the original Palais de Justice, where the kings of Gaul entrenched themselves in a pal-lis, or impaled fort.

From the description which Wright[248] gives of Anglo-Saxon domestic architecture, it appears to have differed but little from that which was in use at the same period in Ireland. The hall[249] was the most important part of the building, and halls of stone are alluded to in a religious poem at the beginning of the Exeter Book: "Yet, in the earlier period at least, there can be little doubt that the materials of building were chiefly wood." The hall, both in Erinn and Saxon land, was the place of general meeting for all domestic purposes. Food was cooked and eaten in the same apartment; the chief and his followers eat at the same time and in the same place. On the subject of food we have ample details scattered incidentally through our annals. Boiling was probably the principal method of preparing meat, and for this purpose the Irish were amply provided with vessels. A brazen cauldron is lithographed in the Ulster Archaeological Journal, which is a most interesting specimen of its kind. It was found in a turf bog in the county Down, at a depth of five feet from the surface; and as this bog has been used from time immemorial for supplying the neighbourhood with fuel, and is remembered to have been forty feet above its present level by a generation now living, the antiquity of the vessel is unquestionable. As a specimen of superior workmanship, the cauldron has been greatly admired. It is made of sheets of gold-coloured bronze, evidently formed by hammering: the rim is of much thicker metal than the rest, and is rendered stiffer by corrugation—a process which has been patented in England within the last dozen years, as a new and valuable discovery.[250]

Cauldrons are constantly mentioned in the Book of Rights, in a manner which shows that these vessels were in constant use. It was one of the tributes to be presented in due form by the King of Cashel to the King of Tara; and in the will of Cahir Mor, Monarch of Ireland in the second century, fifty copper cauldrons are amongst the items bequeathed to his family. Probably the poorer classes, who could not afford such costly vessels, may have contented themselves with roasting their food exclusively, unless, indeed, they employed the primitive method of casting red hot stones into water when they wished it boiled.

The exact precision which characterizes every legal enactment in ancient Erinn, and which could not have existed in a state of barbarism, is manifested even in the regulations about food. Each member of the chieftain's family had his appointed portion, and there is certainly a quaintness in the parts selected for each. The saoi of literature and the king were to share alike, as we observed when briefly alluding to this subject in the chapter on ancient Tara; their portion was a prime steak. Cooks and trumpeters were specially to be supplied with "cheering mead," it is to be supposed because their occupations required more than ordinary libations; the historian was to have a crooked bone; the hunter, a pig's shoulder: in fact, each person and each office had its special portion assigned[251] to it, and the distinction of ranks and trades affords matter of the greatest interest and of the highest importance to the antiquarian. There can be but little doubt that the custom of Tara was the custom of all the other kings and chieftains, and that it was observed throughout the country in every family rich enough to have dependents. This division of food was continued in the Highlands of Scotland until a late period. Dr. Johnson mentions it, in his Tour in the Hebrides, as then existing. He observes that he had not ascertained the details, except that the smith[252] had the head.

The allowance for each day is also specified. Two cows, and two tinnes,[253] and two pigs was the quantity for dinner. This allowance was for a hundred men. The places which the household were to occupy were also specified; so that while all sat at a common table,[254] there was, nevertheless, a certain distinction of rank. At Tara there were different apartments, called imdas, a word now used in the north of Ireland to denote a couch or bed. The name probably originated in the custom of sleeping in those halls, on the benches which surrounded them, or on the floor near the fire-place. In the ground plan of the banqueting hall at Tara, the house is shown as divided into five parts, which are again divided into others. Each of the two divisions extending along the side wall, is shown as subdivided into twelve imdas, which here mean seats; the central division is represented as containing three fires at equal distances, a vat, and a chandelier.

Benches were the seats used, even by persons of rank, until a late period. In the French Carlovingian romances, even princes and great barons sat on them. Chairs were comparatively rare, and only used on state occasions, as late as the twelfth century. Wright gives some curious woodcuts of persons conversing together, who are seated on settles, or on seats formed in the walls round the room; such as may still be seen in monastic cloisters and the chapter houses of our old cathedrals. Food which had been roasted was probably handed round to the guests on the spit on which it had been cooked.[255] Such at least was the Anglo-Saxon fashion; and as the Irish had spits, and as forks were an unknown luxury for centuries later, we may presume they were served in a similar manner. The food was varied and abundant, probably none the less wholesome for being free from the Anglo-Norman refinements of cookery, introduced at a later period. For animal diet there were fat beeves, dainty venison, pork, fresh and salted, evidently as favourite a dish with the ancients as with the moderns—except, alas! that in the good old times it was more procurable. Sheep and goats also varied the fare, with "smaller game," easily procured by chase, or shot down with arrows or sling stones. The land abounded in "milk and honey." Wheat was planted at an early period; and after the introduction of Christianity, every monastic establishment had its mill. There were "good old times" in Ireland unquestionably. Even an English prince mentions "the honey and wheat, the gold and silver," which he found in "fair Innis-fail." It is probable that land was cultivated then which now lies arid and unreclaimed, for a writer in the Ulster Archaeological Journal mentions having found traces of tillage, when laying out drains in remote unproductive districts, several feet beneath the peaty soil. Dr. O'Donovan also writes in the same journal: "I believe the Irish have had wheat in the more fertile valleys and plains from a most remote period. It is mentioned constantly in the Brehon laws and in our most ancient poems."[256] Nor should we omit to mention fish in the list of edibles. During the summer months, fishing was a favourite and lucrative occupation; and if we are to believe a legend quoted in the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, the Fenians enjoyed a monopoly in the trade, for no man dare take a salmon, "dead or alive," excepting a man in the Fenian ranks; and piscatory squabbles seem to have extended themselves into downright battles between the Northmen and the natives, when there was question of the possession of a weir.[257]

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