seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill

máel_seachnaill_II_sculptureMáel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, King of Mide and High King of Ireland, dies on September 2, 1022, at Lough Ennell, County Westmeath. His great victory at the Battle of Tara against Amlaíb Cuarán in 980 results in Gaelic control of the Kingdom of Dublin.

Máel Sechnaill belongs to the Clann Cholmáin branch of the Uí Néill dynasty. He is the grandson of Donnchad Donn, great-grandson of Flann Sinna and great-great-grandson of the first Máel Sechnaill, Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid. The Kings of Tara or High Kings of Ireland have for centuries alternated between the various Uí Néill branches. By Máel Sechnaill’s time this alternating succession passes between Clann Cholmáin in the south and the Cenél nEógain in the north, so that he succeeds Domnall ua Néill in 980.

In 980, Amlaíb Cuarán, King of Dublin, summons auxiliaries from Norse-ruled Scottish Isles and from Man and attacks Meath, but is defeated by Máel Sechnaill at Tara. Reginald, Olaf’s heir, is killed. Máel Sechnaill follows up his victory with a siege of Dublin which surrenders after three days and nights. When Maél Sechnaill takes Dublin in 980 he frees all the slaves then residing in the town.

In 997, at a royal meeting near Clonfert, Máel Sechnaill meets with his long-time rival Brian Boru, King of Munster. The two kings make a truce, by which Brian is granted rule over the southern half of Ireland, while Máel Sechnaill retains the northern half and high kingship. In honour of this arrangement, Máel Sechnaill hands over to Brian the hostages he has taken from Dublin and Leinster. The following year Brian hands over to Máel Sechnaill the hostages of Connacht. In the same year, Brian and Máel Sechnaill begin co-operating against the Norse of Dublin for the first time.

Late in 999, however, the Leinstermen, historically hostile to domination by either the Uí Néill overkings or the King of Munster, ally themselves with the Norse of Dublin and revolt against Brian. The Annals of the Four Masters records that Brian and Máel Sechnaill unite their forces and, according to the Annals of Ulster, they meet the Leinster-Dublin army at Glenmama on Thursday, December 30, 999. Glenmama, near Lyons Hill in Ardclough, County Kildare, is the ancient stronghold of the Kings of Leinster. The Munster-Meath army defeats the Leinster-Dublin army. Ó Corráin refers to it as a “crushing defeat” of Leinster and Dublin, while The dictionary of English history says the battle effectively “quelled” the “desperate revolt” of Leinster and Dublin. Most importantly, the defeat leaves the road to Dublin “free and unimpeded for the victorious legions of Brian and Mael Sechlainn.”

The system of alternating succession between the various Uí Néill branches is ended by Brian Boru’s so-called overthrow of Máel Sechnaill in 1002. It is a bloodless shift resulting from the failure of the Northern Uí Néill to support Máel Sechnaill against the aspirations of the extremely militarized overlord of Munster.

With the deaths of Brian Boru, his son, grandson, and many other Munster nobles at Clontarf in 1014, Máel Sechnaill succeeds in regaining the titular High Kingship, but the High Kingship, albeit with opposition, does not reappear until Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó of Leinster rises to power.

(Pictured: Sculpture of Máel Seachnaill in Trim, County Meath, by James McKenna)

Advertisements


2 Comments

The Battle of Moira

battle-of-moiraThe Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Magh Rath, is fought on June 24, 637, near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what becomes County Down. The battle pits the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dál Riata.

The battle is allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and results in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc. The battle is caused as a result of the invading Gaels spreading out from Galway Bay. The Gaels have fled France and Spain to escape the Roman invasion of those areas. The Gaels are later to be known as Irish but are not native to the island. The native people of Ulster have been pushed into an area the size of two counties in what is now Antrim and Down.

Congal first establishes his power base in Dál nAraidi, where he becomes King before being recognised as King of Ulster in 627. His ambitions soon come into conflict with Domnall II, who becomes High King of Ireland in 628. Ironically, Domnall II rises to such a position because Congal has defeated and killed the previous High King, Suibne Menn, in a previous battle.

Domnall continues to press the rivalry with Congal very quickly. In 629 the two kings engage each other at the Battle of Dún Ceithirn in what is now County Londonderry. On that occasion Congal is defeated and Domnall is left unchallenged as the High King.

Throughout the 630s, Domnall continues to wage war on his rivals in the Uí Néill clan. In 637, however, Congal once again rises to challenge the Ard Rí, and enlists the help of Dál Riata to do so. The two forces meet just east of Lough Neagh.

Little is known about the actual battle itself. The armies of both Domnall II and Congal are primarily made up of warriors native to Ireland. However, Domnall I of Dál Riata brings a more varied force to the fight. His army included Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Britons (Welshmen). At least one side has a substantial cavalry force.

There is reason to believe that the battle might have lasted a week, at the end of which the defeated force flees towards the woods of Killultagh. The forces of Ulster and Dál Riata are defeated, with Domnall of Dál Riata forced to flee north to his kingdom’s holdings. Congall is killed in the course of the battle.

The scale of the battle is confirmed in the 19th century when the railway line in Moira is being constructed. Thousands of bodies of men and horses are excavated. When one considers that the survivors probably numbered quite considerably more, then the reputation of the scale of the battle becomes obvious.


Leave a comment

Death of Saint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill

sts-carthage-catherine-patrickSaint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill, also known as Carthach or Carthach the Younger (a name Latinized as Carthagus and Anglicized as Carthage), dies on May 14, 637. Mo Chutu is abbot of Rahan, County Offaly and subsequently, founder and first abbot of Lismore, County Waterford.

Through his father, Fínall Fíngein, Mo Chutu belongs to the Ciarraige Luachra, while his mother, Finmed, is of the Corco Duibne. Notes added to the Félire Óengusso, the Martyrology of Óengus, claim that his foster father is Carthach mac Fianáin, also known as Carthach the Elder, whose period of activity can be assigned to the late 6th century.

Mo Chutu first becomes abbot of Rahan, a monastery which lays in the territory of the southern Uí Néill. He composes a rule for his monks, an Irish metrical poem of 580 lines, divided into nine separate sections, a notable literary relic of the early Irish Church.

According to the Annals of Ulster, he is expelled from the monastery during the Easter season of 637. The incident is connected with the Easter controversy in which Irish churches are involved during the 7th century. Through his training in Munster, Mo Chutu is possibly a supporter of the Roman system of calculation, which likely brought him into conflict with adherents of the “Celtic” reckoning in Leinster.

Following his expulsion, Mo Chutu journeys to the Déisi, where he founds the great monastery of Lismore in modern day County Waterford. The Latin and Irish lives make very little of Mo Chutu’s earlier misfortune and focus instead on the saint’s resistance to the oppressive Uí Néill rulers and his joyous reception among the Déisi. He is portrayed in a heroic light in Indarba Mo Chutu a r-Raithin (The expulsion of Mo Chutu from Rahan).

His foundation at Lismore flourishes after his lifetime, eclipsing the reputation of the saint’s earlier church. It is able to withstand the Viking depredations which plague the area and benefit from the generosity of Munster kings, notably the Mac Carthaig of Desmond. In the 12th century, St. Déclán‘s foundation of Ardmore aspires to the status of episcopal see in the new diocese, but the privilege goes instead to Lismore.

His feast day in the Irish martyrologies is May 14, as well as in the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church. In the present calendar of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in which May 14 is the feast of Saint Matthias, the memorial of Saint Carthage is celebrated on May 15.

The photograph above is from an altar tomb of 1543 in St. Carthage’s cathedral in Lismore and depicts Mo Chutu along with St. Catherine and St. Patrick.