The Ulster Kingdoms: 8 -Venniconia (Donegal, Derry City and Strabane Districts)

The Ulster Kingdoms

The traditional understanding of the history of the ancient British Venniconian Kingdoms of West Ulster maintained that at some time in the late fifth century the sons of Niall of the Nine hostages, Caipre, Conaill, Enda and Eogan had launched an invasion into that territory from Tara, having defeated and conquered the indigenous people, or at least the rulers of those people. The four brothers were said to have divided out the territory of Donegal between them and each then established a kingdom which subsequently bore his name.  In one form or another these kingdoms were believed to have lasted for all of the early mediæval period.

Collectively these kingdoms were never linked but are known to us now as the “Northern Ui Neill”, who went on to conquer the rest of western and central Ulster. Two of the kingdoms, Cenel Conaill and Cenel nEogan, were said to be the most dominant and for about three centuries after their establishment, the kingship of the whole territory was shared between them.  In addition, when each of their kings was ascendant, they respectively claimed provenance of the prestigious kingship of Tara, which seems to have had some sort of overriding national influence, being an Ancient British Pretani or Cruthin ritual site. The ancient principality of Tír Eogain’s inheritance included the whole of the present counties of Tyrone and Londonderry, and the four baronies  West Inishowen, East Inishowen, Raphoe North and Raphoe South in County Donegal.

As we now know, however, that story is a later propagandistic fiction, rather than a summary of what actually happened.  Almost certainly it was given its classical form by and on behalf of the Cenel nEogan during the reign in the mid eighth century of their powerful and ambitious king, Aed Allan, who died in the year 743. Whatever his actual victories and political successes, they were underlined by a set of deliberately created fictional historical texts which reported to give him and his ancestors a more glorious past than they had actually enjoyed.  The same texts projected his dynasty back to the dawn of history and created a new political relationship with the neighbouring kingdoms.  Whatever the initial reaction to them, these political fictions were plausible enough to endure and have been ultimately accepted as history by most commentators over the past thirteen hundred years. Aed’s pseudo-historians were probably led by the Armagh Bishop Congus, who exploited the opportunity provided by the alliance with the King to advance the case for the supremacy of his own church.  Congus died in 750.

There appears to be no evidence that any of the rulers of the Venniconian Kingdoms of West Ulster were related by blood to Niall of the Nine Hostages or to the Ui Neill.  On the other hand it seems that there is evidence that Cenél Conaill were an Ancient British, Pretani or Cruthin people associated in some way with the Ui Echach Coba and other east Ulster peoples.  The Cenel nEogain, on the other hand, may well have had connections with the Dal Fiatach of maritime Down.  The remarkable fact in all this is that of the groups said to have belonged to the Northern Ui Neill, Cenel Cairpre may have been the only genuine decendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages to have invaded South Donegal in the sixth century.  And whatever evidence we have for the mid sixth century seems to show that it was the Cenel Conaill, rather than the Cenel nEogain, who were dominant among the Donegal Kingdoms at that time.

Conall Gulban , perhaps as Conall  Cernach of the Ulster Cycle, is the figure most closely related to the ancestry of the Cenél Conaill. Whether he existed or not as an actual person, his name demonstrates a powerful political reality of some sort, in that he was definitely  the ancestor of the fully historically attested Cruthin people of Ui Echach Coba of County Down, the Conaille Muirthemne of north Louth, the Sil nAedo of County Meath, and the Clann Cholmain of County Westmeath. The rise to power of what was said to have been Conall Gulban’s immediate descendants is equally something of a mystery. And among those descendants was our Colum Cille (Columba), the founder of the Monastery in Iona, where ironically in an Irish context the practice of keeping Annals and therefore  the study of history seems to have been promoted.

We know almost nothing genuinely historical about Colum Cille’s early clerical life prior to his departure for Iona.  On one occasion Adomnán writes that “this blessed boy’s foster-father a man of admirable life, the priest Cruithnechan” was apparently responsible for the child Colum Cille  In view of the identification above that the saint’s people, the Cenél Conaill, actually belonged  to the Cruthin, the priest’s  name, which is diminuative of that, may be very significant indeed. And the monastery at Derry Calgach, the Oakwood of the British prince Calgacus, was not founded by him at all.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 7 – Erdinia or Erpeditania (Fermanagh District)

The Ulster Kingdoms

The ancient name of the inhabitants of this area were the Eridini or Erpeditani , who were a Pretani or ancient British people known to the Greeks and Romans through Ptolemy’s map of c 150 AD. But we know it today as Fermanagh because of the Menapians (Fir Mannach) who were driven there from the South by the invading Gaels.  The Manapians or Menapii were a tribe of Belgae (Fir Bolg in Gaelic) originating in northern Gaul in pre-Roman and Roman times. According to descriptions in such authors as Strabo, Caesar, Pliny  the Elder and Ptolemy their territory had stretched northwards to the mouth of the Rhine in the north, but more lastingly it stretched along the west of the Schelde. In later geographical terms this territory corresponds roughly to the modern coast of Flanders, the Belgian provinces of Oost and West Flanderen. It also extended into neighbouring France and the river deltas of the southern Netherlands. They may well have been a Germanic-speaking people with Celtic over-lords. It was the Manapians along with the Morini and other Northern tribes who maintained an independent Gaulish area following Caesar’s campaign of 57 BC, when he massacred 50,000 Belgic warriors at the earliest recorded Battle on the Somme.

In the 19th century the great Belgic leader Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance  against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar’s Commentaries of the Gallic War (Commentarii de Bello Gallico). In 54 BC  Ambiorix brought together an alliance of Belgic tribes, the Eburones, Menapii, Nervii and Atuatuci allied to local German tribes. He launched an attack on 9000 Roman troops under Sabinus and Cotta, Caesars favourite generals, at Tongres and wiped them out. Caesar retaliated quickly, determined to exterminate the Belgic confederacy which was ruthlessly ravaged in all-out genocide. Ambiorix, however, was never captured and disappeared from the pages of Continental History, but the Eburones re-emerged in Britain as the Brigantes (Ui Bairrche) just as the Manapians (Managh or Mannach) came to Ireland.

In 52 BC the brilliant Belgic leader Commius of the Atrebates turned against his former ally Caesar. He led a large force to join the armies of his kinsman Vercingetorix against him in a great insurrection which was to change the course of European history. Following Vercingetorix’s defeat, Commius became over-leader of the Belgic Atrebates, Morini, Carnutes, Bituriges, Bellovaci and Eburones and many Belgae followed him to his British Kingdom in the last Celtic folk movement to Britain, rather than endure the savagery of Roman civilisation. In the twenty years following Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Commius’ British Kingdom grew in size and wealth. In the nine years from 34 BC there were three occasions under Caesar’s successor Octavian (Augustus Caesar), 34, 27, and 26 BC, when a full scale invasion of Britain was contemplated. Commius then appears to have set up a Belgic enclave around the mouth of the Shannon in Western Ireland which became known as and was recorded by Ptolemy as Gangani, the descendants of Gann, the form of his full Celtic name.

Meanwhile his sons took over from one another in surprisingly swift succession as kings of South East Britain. Each re-emerged as Kings of the expanding British Belgic settlements in Western Ireland; these were Tincommius (Gaelic Sen Gann), Epillus (Eochill) and Verica (Ferach). However a war between the tribes of Britain brought Verica (Bericus) to the Court of the Emperor Claudius to ask for support. And so in the year 43 AD a Roman army under the able command of Aulus Plautius landed in Britain. Among the distinguished soldiers of this army were Vespasian and his son Titus, both of whom were destined to become Emperors of Rome. It was therefore among the Britons that those soldiers were trained who destroyed that Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

By this time the Brigantes controlled the largest section which is now northern England and a significant part of the midlands, centring on what is now known as Yorkshire. The modern town of York was originally known by the name of Eboracum, founded by the Romans in 71 AD and deriving from the Eburones, whose High Goddess of Sovereignty was Brigantia. Ptolemy also places the Brigantes in South Wexford. They survived into the period of documentary history as the Ui Bairrche giving their name to the Barony of Bargy. It could be that the Brigantes invaded Ireland under pressure from later Belgic and Gaulish tribes and that prior to this they had lived in parts of Britain which were more proximal to Wexford. But they could also have migrated under pressure from the Romans in the 70’s AD.

The legendary Ninth Legion, Legio IX Hispana, the Spanish Legion, was one of the oldest and most feared units in the Roman Army. Put together in Spain by Pompey in 65 BC, it came under the command of Julius Caesar who was Governor of Further Spain in 61 BC, and served in Gaul throughout the Gallic Wars from 58 – 51 BC, the Legion was decisive in ensuring Caesar’s control of the Republic. After Caesar’s assassination it remained loyal to his successor Octavian. It fought with distinction against the Cantabrians in Spain from 25 – 13 BC but suffered terribly in the British revolt led by Boadicea ( Boudicca) in 60 AD, losing as many as 50 – 80 per cent of its men . However, several high ranking Officers who could only have served after 117 AD are well known to us, so we can safely assume that the core of the Legion was still extant in the reign of Hadrian, 117 – 138 AD.

The first great leader of the Fenians (later “Gaels”) in Ireland, Tuathal (Teuto–valos) Techtmar, was probably a Roman soldier, commanding Q-Celtic speaking auxiliaries from Spain. The earliest known source for the story of Tuathal Techtmar’s conquest of Ireland from the Aithech thuatha (Vassal Tribes) is a poem by Mael Mura of Othain AD 885. Mael Mura intimates that about 750 years had elapsed since Tuathal Techtmar had marched on the ancient British or Cruthin ritual centre of Tara to create his kingdom of Meath, which would date the invasion to the early 2nd Century AD. This is probably approximately correct. The standard pseudo-historical convention is employed, however, to make him an exiled Irishman returning with a foreign army.

The account in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which does contain a shadow of history, is probably older and in this we see that Tuathal was born outside Ireland and had not seen the country before he invaded it. We can synchronise his invasion to early in the reign of Hadrian (122 – 138) and his death fighting the Cruthin/Pretani near Antrim in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138 – 161).This fits with Juvenal (c60 to 127 AD) who wrote “We have taken our arms beyond the shores of Ireland…” Tuathal may indeed represent the fictitious Mil Espáne (the Soldier from Spain), or even the Ninth Legion, the Legio IX Hispana, but that we will probably never know.

What we do know, however, is that the Manapians were driven north under pressure from the Southern Gaels to merge with the older British Cruthin in Ulster. We meet them again in their last strongholds of Taughmonagh (Tuath Monaigh or the Manapian Nation) in South Belfast, Fermanagh (Fir Mannach or Men of the Manapians), Monaghan (Muinachan) and the Mournes (Monaig).

Kylie Minogue

And who are the Last of the Belgae? We meet the Manapians again in the 3rd Century AD in the person of Carausius, who by immense naval talent rose to be admiral of the British fleet and ruled Britain from 287 to 292 AD. We meet them through their sea-god Manannán Mac Lir who slept with Cantigern, wife of Fiachna Lurgan, who bore him a son, Mongan. These legends were first put down in Bangor, founded by Comgall, who was sponsored by Cantigern as Queen of Dalaradia. And of course we meet them today as Kylie and Dannii Minogue. The Manapian Quest, based in the Sandy Row, close to Watson Street, Linfield Road, where I wrote the Cruthin, will trace the descendants of the Manapians back to Flanders Fields and the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917. I explained this to senior representatives of the Belgian Community in Ieper (Ypres), West Flanderen and was well received.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 6 – Oriel or Airgialla ( Mid-Ulster, South Tyrone and Armagh Districts)

Now we turn to Oriel, or Airgialla, centred on Clogher, the land of ultimate origin of the great Campbell clan of Argyll. The name Clochar refers to something made of stone (‘Cloch’ is the Gaelic word for ‘stone’ and can be anglicised as ‘cloch’, ‘clogh’ or ‘clough’). Archaeological remains from before the 5th century have been found in the vicinity. Clogher was an important ancient ritual site of the Ulster Cruthin/Pretani, before being conquered by the Gaels. It is said to have been the location of a gold-covered oracle stone named Cermand Cestach. The story goes that “Cloch-Ór (Golden Stone), may have been a ceremonial or oracle stone  originally covered in gold sacred to the ancient British Pretani…given to Mac Cairthinn by an old pagan noble (Cairpre, the father of St Tighernach of Clones, who had harassed him in every possible way until the “saint’s patient love won the local ruler to the faith.”

The stone is recorded as being “a curiosity in the porch of the Cathedral of Clogher” in the time of Annalist Cathal Maquire of Fermanagh in the late 15th century. Tighernach of Clones, later succeeded St. Mac Cairthinn as Bishop of Clogher, which has been a Christian religious centre since St Patrick’s time. St. Aedh Mac Cairthinn of Clogher (c. 430–505 AD), an early disciple and companion of Saint Patrick, founded a monastery at the site, which later the Synod of Rathbreasail recognised as an episcopal see. The Cathedral Church of Saint Macartan in the village is now one of two cathedrals of the Church of Ireland of Clogher; the other is at Enniskillen. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Clogher has its cathedral in Monaghan. The meetinghouse of Clogher Presbyterian church is outside the village in the townland of Carntall.
Ancient tradition has it that a few generations before the reign of Niall of the Nine Hostages, three brothers, the ‘Three Collas’, relatives of the then “king of Tara”, Muiredach Tírech, first initiated the attack on Ulster, though some scholars now feel the actual invasion was the work of Niall and his “sons”, and took place during his reign. The central battle was at Achadh lethderg, probably near Farney in County Monaghan in 331 AD.  Another site claimed for this battle is – Achadh Dearg – ‘red field’ the territory near carn “Achy-Leth-Derg”, Loughbrickland, parish of Aghaderg, county Down, where there still remains a huge cairn of loose stones.
”The Collas asked: ‘what country dost thou of thy power the most readily assign us, that we make swordland of it? (for warriors better than the Collas there were none). Muiredach said: ‘attack Ulster; they are not kindly disposed to us.’ But yonder was a warrior force too great for the Collas; so they went to the men of Connacht, and became their protégés, and they received them. Subsequently Connacht came with them, seven battalions strong all told, and they were at the cairn of Achadh lethderg in Farney, in Ulster. From that cairn they deliver seven battles against Ulster, one daily to a week’s end: being six fought by Connacht and one by the Collas. Every single day Ulster was routed; the Collas’ battle was on the last day; recreant failure in fighting was none there; the battle was maintained for a summer’s day and night, till blood reached shields; hard by the cairn is coll na nothar ‘Hazel of the Wounded.’ [In this last battle] Ulster gave way at break of the second day; the slaughter lasted as far as Glenree. A week then the others spent harrying Ulster, and they made swordland of the country”.
At the time of Niall’s attempt at conquest we do not know what type of internal political structure existed in Ulster. Previous to the attack on the North, the existence of the massive earthwork defences — the ‘Great Wall’ — hinted strongly at a definite regional demarcation, even political boundary, and in the prehistoric period the territory of Ulster may not only have embraced the whole north of the island but stretched as far south as the Boyne valley. There was probably a system of tribal alliances, and within this the dominant political grouping were the Ulaid (from whom ‘Ulster’ was to get its name) — the Voluntii mentioned on Ptolemy’s map. The Ulaid, according to Francis Byrne, “most probably represented a warrior caste of La Tène Celts from Britain, wielding an overlordship over indigenous tribes.” Among these ‘indigenous tribes’, who obviously still formed the majority of the population, the most important and the most populous were the Cruthin (Pytheas’ ‘Pretani). These pre-Celtic peoples shared in the over-kingship of Ulster, particular those Cruthin later known as the Dál nAraidi (Dalaradians).
The Cruthin more often than not bore the brunt of the wars against the Uí Néill, and at times claimed that it was they who were the fír-Ulaid, the ‘true Ulstermen’. In the far west of Ulster the Uí Neill conquest was said to have been the most complete, and most of the Ulster leaders there were driven east. Niall’s “sons”, Connall, Eogan (Owen), Enda and Cairpre, were said to have established their own kingdoms. But this was an eighth century propagandistic fiction. The territory of Connall, now Donegal, became known as Tir-Connall (the Land of Connall), and from Connall were descended the O’Donnells , but Conall was actually a Gaelicised Cruthin. The territory of Owen was Inishowen (the Island of Owen) but Owen was actually probably of the Ulaid. The Clan Owen later expanded into Tir Owen, which is now called Tyrone. From Owen descended the Northern O’Neills, the McLoughlins, O’Kanes, O’Hagans, O’Mullans, Devlins and other Gaelic-speaking people . Of all these “sons” Cairpre was probably the only genuine one, while Niall’s remaining sons stayed in control of the Midlands.

The capital of Ulster at Emain Macha seems to have either fallen to the “Uí Néill”, or been abandoned by the Ulstermen, around 450 AD. In the southern and central part of Ulster a number of vassal tribes, known to us by the collective name of the Airghialla (Oriel) either took the opportunity to declare their autonomy or managed to co-exist precariously between the “Uí Néill” and the retreating Ulstermen.

The boundary between the Federation of Airgialla and the now-reduced territory of Ulster was made permanent by yet another massive earthwork wall, running along the vale of the Newry River (Glen Rige). It extended from Lisnagade one mile north-east of Scarva in County Down, to near Meigh, not far from Killeavy, and Slieve Gullion in Armagh. Parts of this earthwork, much later erroneously named “Dane’s Cast”, can still be seen to this day. In construction it consists of a wide fosse or trench with a rampart on either side. The numerous raths and duns on the eastern side, coupled with the vast quantity of ancient arms found in the vicinity, would seem to indicate that the area was densely populated by a strong military force. The chief fortifications were at Lisnagade, Fathom, Crown Mound, Tierney and Listullyard. Next to Lisnagade, Fathom must have been the most important place since it commands Moiry Pass. This defence system was to remain politically effective for the next two hundred years.

However, excepting the permanent nature of the “Dane’s Cast” fortifications, other parts of the new boundaries of Ulster were more fluid. As Francis Byrne commented: “It seems that the collapse of the Ulaid was not total nor regarded as irreversible. They may have occupied southern Louth well into the seventh century and their Cruthin associates were similarly tenacious in county Londonderry… The Ulaid certainly were to remain for many generations a much more powerful force than later historians of the Uí Néill high-kingship cared to remember.”

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 5 – Iveagh (Newry City, Mourne, Craigavon and Banbridge Districts)

Ulster Kingdoms

Iveagh derives its name from the ancient British Pretani or Cruthin people Ui­bh Eachach, or “descendants of Echu”, and referred to an ancient Irish tuath (district). It is also known more fully as Ui­bh Eachach Cobha (Echu Cobo), and equivalent with Ui­bh Eachach Uladh (Eachach of Ulster). The Ui­bh Eachach were one of the tribes which made up the ancient kingdom of Ulaidh (Ulidia or Old Ulster) in modern eastern Ulster. They shared the kingship of Ulaidh with the Dál Fiatach and their kin the Dál nAraidi (Dalaradia). The Ui­bh Eachach were the most prominent sept of the Dál nAraidi or Dalaradia and linked to the Pretani of Cenel Conaill of Donegal, the so-called “Northern Ui Neill”.

The name Magh Cobha, meaning “plain of Cobo”, appears to have been an older name for Iveagh. The name survived as Moycove, the earliest recorded name in the civil parish of Drumballyroney, where it was the name of an Anglo-Norman castle between 1188–1261. The highest point in the parish is the hills of Knock Iveagh (Cnoc Uíbh Eachach), which may have been the centre of Uíbh Eachach power. Another form of the name appears to have been Cuib, with the title of “king” of Cuib/Cobo making its first appearance in the Annals of Tigernach under the year 685AD, and in the Annals of Ulster under 735AD. The last mention is in the Annals of Ulster under the year 882AD, after which the term is replaced with chief/lord of Uí Eachach.

Uíbh Eachach Cobo is mentioned in the Irish annals from AD 551 to AD 1136, with the last entry stating that “Echri Ua-h-Aitteidh, Lord of Ui-Eathach, was killed by the Ui-Eathach themselves”.The ancestor of the Uíbh Eachach Cobha, Eachach Cobha, descends from Fiacha Araidhe, eponymous founder of Dál nAraidi. The exact line of descent is uncertain as there are several different genealogies given:

The Annals of Ulster give:

  • 553AD, Eochu, ancestor of the “Ui Echach Ulad”, is listed as the son of the king of Ulaid, Conlaed

Rawlinson’s Genealogies gives:

  • The Genelach Dál Araide section: Echdach, son of Condlae, son of Coélbad, son of Cruind Ba Druí.
  • The Genelach Úa n-Echach and Genelach Úa n-Echach Coba sections give: the Uíbh Eachach Cobha are listed as following from Eocho/Echach Coba, son of Cruind Ba Druí.
  • The Genelach Mheg Aenghusu Indso section, which refers to the Mac Aenghusa sept of the Uíbh Eachach Cobo: Echach, son of Condlai, son of Cóelbad Coba, son of Cruind ba Drái, son of Echach Coba (of the Uibh Echach), son of Lugdhach.

The Laud Genealogies and Tribal Histories gives:

  • The Síl Fergusa section: Echach, son of Condlai, son of Cóelbad Coba, son of Cruind ba Drái, son of Echach Coba, son of Lugdhach.
  • De genelach hÚa nEchach Coba section: Echach, son of Cruind ba drui, is given as the progenitor of the “hÍ Echach“, however also mentions an Echach Coba, son of Aililla, son of Fedlimthe.

Kings of Cuib

  • Fothad mac Conaille (died 552)
  • Áedán m. Mongáin (died 616)
  • Fergus mac Áedáin (d.692) – King of Ulster from 674
  • Bressal mac Fergusa (died 685)
  • Eochaid mac Bressail (died 733)
  • Conchad mac Cúanach (died 735)
  • Fergus Glut (died 739)
  • Ailill mac Feidlimid (died 761)
  • Gormgal mac Conaille (died 776)
  • Eochu mac Aililla (died 801)
  • Máel Bressail mac Ailillo(died 825) – King of Ulster from 819
  • Cernach mac Máele Bressail (died 853)
  • Conallán mac Máele Dúin (died 882)
  • Aitith mac Laigni (died 898) – King of Ulster from 896 

At one point the territory of Iveagh was ruled by the Ua hAitidhe, a name which may have been anglicised as O’Haughey or Haughey. The Ua hAitidhe are claimed to have ruled Iveagh for two centuries. The first to be mentioned in the annals is Aodh Ua hAitidhe, king of Uíbh Eachach Cobha, who was killed by his own people in AD965. The last mention is under AD 1136 where Echri Ua hAitidhe, lord of Uíbh Eachach Cobha was killed, likewise by his own people. From then on the name and its variant spellings disappear from the records.

One of the septs under the Ui hAitidhe was the Mac Aonghusa (Magennis/MacGuiness), who ruled Clann Aodha (Clan Hugh), and were descended from Sárán, a descendant of Eachach Cobha. By the 12th-century the Magennises had become the chiefs of Iveagh, with Rathfriland their base. One early mention is in 1153 with the granting of the charter to the abbey of Newry which was witnessed by Aedh Mor Magennis, chief of Clann Aodha, of Iveagh. The Mac Aonghusa are also mentioned in letters by King Edward II, where they are titled Dux Hibernicorum de Ouehagh, meaning “chief of the Irish of Iveagh”.

During the 14th century the Mac Artáin (MacCartan) sept from Kinelarty, who were sub-ordinate to the Mac Aonghusa, became chiefs of Iveagh for a brief period, though in the annals a Muirchertach MacArtain is recorded as tainiste (heir-elect) of Iveagh in the 11th century. The MacCartan descended from Artáin, a great-grandson of Mongán Mac Aonghusa. Arthur Guinness was descended from him.

By the 15th century with the collapse of the Earldom of Ulster, the Mac Aonghusa had expanded Iveagh from what is now County Down all the way east to Dundrum Castle, where County Down meets the Irish Sea. Iveagh however was far from secure as rivalry between the four main branches of the Mac Aonghusa clan—Castlewellan, Corgary, Kilwarlin, and Rathfriland—threatened its cohesion. In 1539 a cattle raid into County Meath was intercepted by Lord Deputy Grey and the clan was defeated at the Battle of Bellahoe. In 1543 the then chief Art MacAonghusa of Rathfriland accepted the new policy of “Surrender and Regrant” and travelled to Greenwich Palace to be knighted as Sir Arthur Guinez by King Henry VIII. In 1550, Arthur Magennis was created Bishop of Dromore by the Pope and from 1539-1563 his kinsman Eugene Magennis was Bishop of Down and Connor. It is generally assumed that, whatever may have been their theological views, both bishops accepted the  Reformation Settlement under Elizabeth and conformed to its requirements.

In 1575 Hugh Magennis of Rathfriland petitioned successfully for a grant of his estates from Queen Elizabeth and was knighted in 1576. He remained consistently loyal to Elizabeth and the Iveagh Cruthin were described as her only friends in Ulster. In 1584 his tenure was improved by a grant in capite “of the entire country or territory of Iveagh”. In 1585 his cousin Ever MacRory Magennis was granted the adjacent lordship and manor of Kilwarlin. During the Nine Year’s War (1594-1603), however, the clan chief Art Roe remained neutral, while many of his clan sided with Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, one of whose wives was Catherine Magennis. O’Neill inaugurated a new chief in 1595 and the clan divided. Despite this, Charles Blount, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, ravaged Iveagh to the point that its chief Art Roe Magennis submitted to prevent the extermination of his people.

Following the Nine Years’ War and just before the process of colonising Ulster with loyal Protestant subjects, the arrangement of dividing mighty Gaelic lordships into smaller weaker lordships, such as what happened in County Monaghan with the MacMahon’s, occurred with Iveagh. In 1605 the “Commission for the Divison and Bounding of the Lords” was established to replicate the Monaghan arrangement. In February 1607, the commission decided to break up Iveagh, a process that continued until 1610, seeing the creation of fifteen freeholds. The Magennises of Iveagh where granted thirteen of these freeholds, with their chief Art Roe Magennis being granted the largest. The rest however was given to officers in the Crown forces, most of whom had served in the Nine Years’ War under Sir Henry Bagenal and Sir Arhur Chichester. 

The barony of Iveagh was created during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I out of the territory of Uíbh Eachach, and was the largest barony in County Down, reflecting the importance of the Irish district. In the early 17th century it was divided into Iveagh Lower and Iveagh Upper, with the boundary running east to west from the settlements of Dromara and Banbridge. By 1851 these two baronies where further divided into four, which, like the rest of those in Northern Ireland are now obsolete for administrative purposes.

The name Iveagh has been used as titles in the Peerage of Ireland and Peerage of the United Kingdom,  specifically in regards to the Magennis and Guinness family:

  • Viscount Magennis of Iveagh (1623–93)
  • Baron Iveagh (created 1885)
  • Viscount Iveagh (created 1905)
  • Earl of Iveagh (created 1919)
  • Lindy Guinness, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.
  • Kenneth Wiggins Maginnis, Baron Maginnis of Drumglass (created 2001).
  • Lord Ballyedmund (Edward Haughey)

In 1929 the Northern Ireland Parliamentary constituency of Iveagh was created, comprising the northern part of county down south-west of Belfast. Almost as if keeping with tradition, a descendant of the Mac Aonghusa, Brian Maginess, represented this constituency from 1938 until 1964. It was abolished in 1972 along with the Northern Ireland Parliament. And, of course , we have Alban  Maginness MLA, former Lord Mayor of Belfast and James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, whom I reminded on the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly that he was of ancient British Royal blood. He found this ” an interesting analysis”. The Dalaradia organisation recently visited the Magennis Coronation Stone on the Bridal Loanen at Warrenpoint as part of our trail of all such sites.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 4 – Dalmunia or Dalboyn ( Lisburn and Castlereagh Districts)

The Ulster Kingdoms

The Parish of Glenavy, which is a Brittonic or Old British name, later Gaelicised, is rich in legendary and historical associations. The ancient name of the territory lying along Lough Neagh and stretching from Larne to Magheralin was The Country of the Cruthin (Cnoc na Cruitne), or so-called “Irish Picts”. The earliest inhabitants of this territory of whom we have any record are described in the Book of Lecan as the race of Conall Cearnach. They claimed descent, therefore, from one of the noblest of the Red Branch Knights, Conall the Victorious (Conall Cearnach). The old Irish genealogies trace their descent back to another of the Red Branch Knights, Keltar, who lived near Downpatrick, at a place still called Rath Keltair ; they tell us that Neim, the daughter of Keltar, was the wife of Ailinn, son of Conall Cearnach. These Red Branch Knights, according to the ancient legends, were the great warriors of the North about the time of Christ. Their King, who ruled the Province of Ulster, was Conor Mac Nessa, and his residence was the famous Palace of Emania. Navan Fort, about two miles outside the city of Armagh, still marks the place where the palace stood. In all the wars that Conor Mac Nessa waged against Queen Maeve of Connacht and the other provinces, Conall Cearnach, Leary, Keltar, and the mighty hero Cuchullain were ever foremost in the fray. And when the enemies of the Ulster King were beaten off and peace restored, the victorious chieftains would return home each to his own stronghold, and there they led an enterprising life. Now they would feast and revel with their retainers, and the banquet-hall would ring with merry song and boisterous laughter. Again they would ride forth with wavy crest and glittering spear to hunt the wild boar over mountain, wood, and glen. Such was the life of chieftain and warrior in those far-off days in Heroic Ireland, when Patrick had not yet set foot on Irish soil, nor had the light of Christianity come to dispel the gloomy clouds of Paganism : for Paganism, with all its careless., joy and revel, left the minds of thoughtful men a prey to-dread anxiety as to the unseen world to come.

The Territory of Dalmunia
The Civil Parish of Glenavy lay within the boundaries of the ancient Dalmunia. (Dal mBuinne= the race of Buinne, son of Fergus Mac Roy). This gives it another link with the legendary past. The territory of Dalmunia, or, as it is sometimes called, Dalboyn, included also Kilultagh, Kilwarlin, Hillsborough, and Lisburn, and was peopled by the race of Fergus Mac Roy, the ancient British Cruthin Fergus was King of Ulster about the beginning of the first century A.D. He wished to marry the beautiful widow Ness. She would not give her consent unless on the understanding that her son Conor, then a mere boy, should be allowed to be king for a year. To this Fergus, with the consent of the nobles, agreed. When the year was up, the queen-mother had guided her son so wisely in the use of his power that the nobles now refused to supersede Conor. This is what the mother had anticipated. And so Conor Mac Nessa remained King of Ulster Fergus Mac Roy acquiesced in the situation, and became chief-counsellor of Conor and tutor of the infant-hero Cuchullain. Some years later, when war broke out between Conor and Maeve of Connacht, we find Fergus as chief-counsellor of Queen Maeve. He had abandoned the service of Conor, and not without good reason. Naoise, one of the nobles, had eloped with Deirdre, the most beautiful of the women of Erin, who was destined to be the wife of King Conor himself. “Therefore, accompanied by Deirdre and his own two brothers, Ainle and Ardan, the sons of Ushna, he fled from the anger of Conor into Scotland. They remained in exile many years, and Conor and Fergus pledged their word of honour that, if they returned home again, they would be unharmed. Deirdre had a foreboding of evil, but the sons of Ushna calmed her fears, and they all returned home. In spite of the royal guarantee, however, they were foully put to death. Fergus Mac Roy could not brook to be a party to such treachery, and it was for this reason he abandoned the Ulster King and took service with Maeve of Connacht.

These are but specimens of the numerous legends that group themselves around the ancient inhabitants of Antrim, Down, and Armagh. No one to-day would venture to put them down as serious history. But the folk-lore of a people cannot be utterly discarded. The stories of the ancient heroes reveal the ideals of a remote antiquity, and the events described must have been founded on real deeds of heroism that were exaggerated and glorified as they were told and retold round the hearth to each succeeding generation.


Its Historical Importance.
The subsequent history of Glenavy is closely connected with that of the Kingdom of Ulaidh or Ulidia. The Kings of Ulaidh were proclaimed on the Crew Hill, on the eastern side of the parish, visited regularly by the Dalaradian organisation. The coronation-stone is still to be seen on the summit of the hill, but the “spreading tree,” under which the ceremony took place, and from which the place itself is named, was cut down in 1099 by the  Clan Owen, the hereditary enemies of the Ulidians. There is a large rath, which may have been the royal residence, on the south side, as you approach the top of the hill. On the summit there have been discovered some stone-lined graves belonging to the Pagan period. Nothing more remains to mark the scene where many a time the clansmen of Ulaidh gathered round their king from far and wide, to be drilled and marshalled for many a fierce encounter.

Then and Now.
The hill itself rises to a height of 629 feet, and commands a view of the entire parish. From the top of the Crew the scene that lies before the visitor on a summer’s day is one not easily to be forgotten. On the west, Lough Neagh stretches away in the distance to where Slieve Gullion and the grey-blue hills of Derry and Tyrone are dimly visible. Ram’s Island, with its clump of trees reflected in the water, seems to float upon the placid surface of the lake ; while here and there a flying sail betrays the Lough Neagh fishermen. In the centre of a picturesque landscape, that lies between us and the shore of the lough, we notice Chapel Hill – an eminence crowned by the Parish Church and Parochial House. The sheltered homesteads of the farmers seem to be within easy reach of one another ; while at some little distance towards the north we see the village of Glenavy half-hidden amongst the trees. We turn towards the south, and the rich plains of Down are stretching out before us. Here and there are towns and villages nestling amongst the woods and by the streams. In the distance far south our view is bounded by the Mourne Mountains, that keep eternal sentinel along the Irish Sea. On the north, the fertile tract of country lying around Crumlin, Antrim, and Templepatrick meets our view, and on a clear day the hills of Mid-Antrim are outlined upon the horizon. The eastern side of the hill presents a contrast to the other three. Here one sees the bleak mountainous district of the Rock ;and Stoneyford, threaded by the lonely roads that lead from Glenavy to the busy city of Belfast. Truly, it was a site well-chosen – this ancient stronghold of the Kings of Ulaidh. The traveller to-day, as he gazes on the quiet country-side, with its fields of golden corn and verdant pasture-lands forgets that these fair plains were many a time and oft the scene of furious battles.



The Fall of Emania.
The Crew Hill came into prominence in Irish history after the destruction of Emania, in 335 A.D. Up to that time Emania was the centre of royal power for the whole Province of Ulster. Its King, according to the Book of Rights, had the privilege of sitting by the side of the King of Erin, and held first place in his confidence. The Palace of Emania yielded in fame and magnificence only to the Palace of the High-King at Tara. At the dawn of history it had a storied past. It had been founded by Queen Macha of the Golden Hair three centuries before the Christian era. It reached its highest glory in the time of Conor Mac Nessa and his Red Branch Knights.

For six centuries, therefore, the King of Emania was Sovereign of all Ulster and sometimes also High-King of Ireland. But in the century before St. Patrick evil days came upon it. The three Collas are reputed to have made war upon the Ulster King, plundered his territory, and burned the palace, around which centred the romantic tales of the Red Branch Knights. The Ulidians were driven eastwards over Glenree, or the Newry River. They took their name with them into their circumscribed territory. From this time onward the term Ulidia, or Ulaidh, is applied to the tract of country lying to the east of Lough Neagh and the Newry River. Sometimes the Plain of Muirtheimhne, or North Louth, was included ; but indeed the boundaries of territories in those days were continually fluctuating, according to the power of each new sovereign to annex the territory of his neighbours.

The King of Ulaidh, then, who was crowned and proclaimed on the Crew Hill, had subject to him the Kings of Dalaradia, of Dalriada, of Dalmunia, of Dufferin, of the Ards of Dal Fiatach, of Lecale, of Iveagh, and of several minor provinces.

Circumscribed Ulaidh.
It would take too long to follow the fortunes of the Kingdom of Ulaidh through all its chequered history. The law of succession was a fruitful source of strife at home. According to the Irish custom, the heir to the throne was not the eldest son, but the member of the royal family, or royal blood, who was adjudged most worthy. This gave a constant pretext to rival claimants. And the enemy abroad was ever on the watch. The  Clan Owen were ready at all times to take advantage of Uladh’s difficulty or temporary weakness. Hence, as years went on, the King of Ulaidh, who had at first aspired to regain his lost sovereignty over Ulster, found himself at length unable to hold his power over his tributary kings and princes.

Battle of the Crew Hill.
One or two events cannot be passed over. The first is the Battle of the Crew Hill, in 1003 A.D., in which the Ulidians were defeated by their old enemies, the  Clan Owen. From the account of the Four Masters, we see what enormous forces were engaged : ” In this battle were slain Eochy, son of Ardghair, King of Ulaidh, and Duftinne, his brother; the two sons of Eochy, Cuduiligh and Donal ; Garvey, lord of Iveagh ; Gillapadruig, son of Tumelty ; Kumiskey, son of Flahrey Dowling, son of Aedh ; Calhal, son of Etroch ; Conene, son of Murtagh ; and the most part of the Ulidians in like manner ; and the battle extended as far as Duneight and Drumbo. Donogh O’Linchey, lord of Dal-Araidhe and royal heir of Ulaidh, was slain on the following day by the  Clan Owen. Aedh, son of Donal O’Neill, lord of Aileach and heir-apparent to the sovereignty of Ireland, fell in the heat of the conflict, in the fifteenth year of his reign and the twentieth year of his age.”


Brian Boru at the Crew Hill.
Two years later another important event occurred–the visit of Brian Boru to the Crew Hill. It was nine years before the Battle of Clontarf. Malachy, of the Southern Uí Néill, had been deposed from the High-Kingship, and Brian acknowledged in his place by almost the whole of Ireland. The Clan Owen and the  Clan Conall still sympathised with Malachy and his adherents. The King of the  Clan Owen had fallen in the Battle of Crew Hill, and Brian thought the time opportune to march northward and secure the submission of the Ulster chieftains. The expedition arrived at the Crew Hill in 1005 A.D., and the Ulidians tendered their allegiance. The Wars of the Gael with the Gall describes the provisions supplied to the army of Brian while he was encamped there : “They supplied him there with twelve hundred beeves, twelve hundred hogs, and twelve hundred wethers ; and Brian bestowed twelve hundred horses upon them, besides gold and silver and clothing. For no purveyor of any of their towns departed from Brian without receiving a horse or some other gift.” But although Brian was well received by the Ulidians, he had to depart from Ulster again without receiving the submission of the  Clan Owen or Clan Conall.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 3 – Dalriada (Causeway Coast and Glens Districts)

Ptolemy’s Map (150 AD)

File:Ireland early peoples and politics.gif

The Ulster Kingdoms

The Epidian Cruthin or Epidii (Greek Επίδιοι) were an ancient British people, known from a mention of them by Ptolemy the geographer c. 150.The name Epidii includes the Gallo-Brittonic  root epos, meaning horse (Compare with Old Gaelic ech). It may, perhaps, be related to the Horse-goddess Epona. They inhabited the modern-day regions of Argyll and Kintyre, as well as the islands of Islay and Jura, from which my great-granny Lambey was sprung. They were Brittonic or Old British in speech, although later Gaelicised to become part of the heartland of the kingdom of Dalriada (Dál Riata).

Linguistic and genealogical evidence associates ancestors of the Dál Riata with the prehistoric Iverni (Erainn) and Darini, suggesting kinship with the Ulaid of Ulster and a number of Belgic kingdoms in Munster. The bulk of the inhabitants in County Antrim would have been the Cruthinic Robogdii, relatives of the Epidian Cruthin across the Sea of Moyle. Ultimately the Dál Riata over-lords, according to the earliest genealogies, are descendants of Deda mac Sin, a prehistoric king or deity of the Belgic Érainn.

Dalriada was founded by Gaelic-speaking people from Ulster, including Robogdian Cruthin, who eventually Gaelicised the west coast of Pictland, according to the Venerable Bede, by a combination of force and treaty. The indigenous Epidian people however remained substantially the same and there is no present archaeological evidence for a full-scale migration or invasion. The inhabitants of Dalriada are often referred to as Scots (Latin Scotti), a name originally used by Roman and Greek writers for the Irish who raided Roman Britain. Later it came to refer to Gaelic-speakers in general, whether from Ireland or elsewhere.The name Dál Riata is derived from Old Gaelic. Dál means “portion” or “share” (as in “a portion of land”) and Riata or Riada is believed to be a personal name. Thus, Riada’s portion.

In Argyll Dalriada consisted initially of three kindreds; Cenél (Clan) Loairn (kindred of Loarn) in north and mid-Argyll, Cenél nÓengusa (kindred of Óengus) based on Islay and Cenél nGabráin (kindred of Gabrán) based in Kintyre; a fourth kindred, Cenél Chonchride in Islay, was seemingly too small to be deemed a major division. By the end of the 7th century another kindred, Cenél Comgaill (kindred of Comgall), had emerged, based in eastern Argyll. The Lorn and Cowal districts of Argyll take their names from Cenél Loairn and Cenél Comgaill respectively, while the Morven district was formerly known as Kinelvadon, from the Cenél Báetáin, a subdivision of the Cenél Loairn.

The kingdom reached its height under Áedán mac Gabráin (r. 574–608), but its growth was checked at the Battle of Degsastan in 603 by Æthelfrith of Northumbria. Serious defeats in Ireland and Scotland in the time of Domnall Brecc (d. 642) ended Dál Riata’s “golden age”, and the kingdom became a client of Northumbria, then subject to the Picts (Caledonian Cruthin). There is disagreement over the fate of the kingdom from the late eighth century onwards. Some scholars have seen no revival of Dalriada after the long period of foreign domination (after 637 to around 750 or 760), while others have seen a revival of Dalriada under Áed Find (736–778), and later Kenneth Mac Alpin (Cináed mac Ailpín, who is claimed in some sources to have taken the kingship there in c.840 following the disastrous defeat of the Pictish army by the Danes). Some even claim that the kingship of Fortriu was usurped by the Dalriadans several generations before MacAlpin (800–858). The kingdom’s independence ended in the Viking Age, as it merged with the lands of the Picts to form the Kingdom of Alba.

 Ulster and the Hebrides

Among the royal centres in Dalriada, Dunadd, which we visited with our Dalaradia organisation recently, appears to have been the most important. It has been partly excavated, and weapons, quern-stones and many moulds for the manufacture of jewellery were found in addition to fortifications. Other high-status material included glassware and wine amphora from Gaul, and in larger quantities than found elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. Lesser centres included Dun Ollaigh, seat of the Cenél Loairn kings, and Dunaverty at the southern end of Kintyre, in the lands of the Cenél nGabráin. The main royal centre in Ulster appears to have been at Dunseverick (Dún Sebuirge).

Footprint used in king-making ceremonies, Dunadd

There are no written accounts of pre-Christian Dalriada, the earliest records coming from the chroniclers of Iona and Irish monasteries. Adomnán’s Life of St Columba implies a Christian Dalriada Whether this is trueor not cannot be known. The figure of Columba looms large in any history of Christianity in Dalriada. Adomnán’s Life, however useful as a record, was not intended to serve as history, but as hagiography. We are fortunate that the writing of saints’ lives in Adomnán’s day had not reached the stylised formulas of the High Middle Ages, so that the Life contains a great deal of historically valuable information. It is also a vital linguistic source indicating the distribution of Gaelic and P-Celtic or British placenames in northern Scotland by the end of the 7th century. It famously notes Columba’s need for a translator when conversing with an individual on Skye. This evidence of a non-Gaelic language is supported by a sprinkling of British placenames on the remote mainland opposite the island.

Columba’s founding Iona within the bounds of Dalriada ensured that the kingdom would be of great importance in the spread of Christianity in northern Britain, not only to Pictland, but also to Northumbria, via Lindesfarne, to Mercia, and beyond. Although the monastery of Iona belonged to the Cenel Conaill of the Venniconian Cruthin of modern Donegal, and not to Dalriada, it had close ties to the Cenél nGabráin, (ties which may make the annals less than entirely impartial), in the territory of the Cenél Loairn, and was sufficiently important for the death of its abbots to be recorded with some frequency. Applecross, probably in Pictish territory for most of the period, and Kingart on Bute, are also known to have been monastic sites. Many smaller sites, such as on Eigg and Tiree, are known from the annals. In Ireland, Armoy was the main ecclesiastical centre associated with Saint Patrick and with Saint Olcán, said to have been first bishop at Armoy. An important early centre, Armoy later declined, overshadowed by the monasteries at Movilla (Newtownards) and the greatest of all, Bangor. The importance of Bangor cannot be over-estimated, yet it has been neglected due to the combined influences of Irish, Scottish and English nationalist academics.

Map of Dalriada at its height, c. 580–600. Pictish regions are marked in yellow.

The history of Dalriada, while unknown before the middle of the 6th century, and very unclear after the middle of the 8th century, is relatively well recorded in the intervening two centuries, There is no doubt that Ulster Dalriada was a lesser kingdom of Ulaid. The Kingship of Ulster was dominated by the Dal Fiatach of North Down and Ards and contested by the Cruthin kings of Dalaradia, who maintained that they, and not the Dal Fiatach, were the true Ulstermen.

In 575, Columba fostered an agreement between Áedán mac Gabráin and his kinsman Áed mac Ainmuirech of the Cenél Conaill at Druim Cett. This alliance was likely precipitated by the conquests of the Dál Fiatach king Baetan mac Cairill. Báetán died in 581, but the Ulaid kings did not abandon their attempts to control Dalriada.The kingdom of Dalriada reached its greatest extent in the reign of Áedán mac Gabráin. It is said that Áedán was consecrated as king by Columba. If true, this was one of the first such consecrations known. As noted, Columba brokered the alliance between Dalriada  and his kindred ,the Venniconian Pretani or Cruthin of Cenél Conaill , of the so-called “Northern Uí Néill”.

This pact was successful, first in defeating Báetan mac Cairill, then in allowing Áedán to campaign widely against his neighbours, as far afield as Orkney and the Pictish lands of the Maeatae, on the River Forth. Áedán appears to have been very successful in extending his power, until he faced the Bernician king Æthelfrith at Degsastan c. 603. Æthelfrith’s brother was among the dead, but Áedán was defeated, and the Bernician kings continued their advances in southern “Scotland”. Áedán died c. 608 aged about 70. Dalriada did expand to include Skye, possibly conquered by Áedán’s son Gartnait. It appears, although the original tales are lost, that Fiachnae mac Báetáin (d. 626), Dalaradian King of Ulster, was overlord of both parts of Dalriada. Fiachnae campaigned against the Northumbrians, and besieged Bamburgh, and the Dalriadans will have fought in this campaign.

Dalriada remained allied with the  “Northern Uí Néill” until the reign of Domnall Brecc, who reversed this policy and allied with Congal Cláen of the Dalaradians. Domnall joined Congal in a campaign against Domnall mac Áedo of the Cenél Conaill, the son of Áed mac Ainmuirech The outcome of this change of allies was defeats for Domnall Brecc and his allies on land at Mag Rath (Moira, County Down) and at sea at Sailtír, off Kintyre, in 637. This, it was said, was divine retribution for Domnall Brecc turning his back on the alliance with the kinsmen of Columba. Domnall Brecc’s policy appears to have died with him in 642, at his final, and fatal, defeat by Eugein map Beli of Alt Clut at Strathcarron, for as late as the 730s, armies and fleets from Dalriada fought alongside the “Uí Néill”.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 2 – Dál Fiatach ( Ards and North Down, Mourne and Down Districts )

 Ulster Kingdoms

Dál Fiatach were a group of related dynasties located in eastern Ulster in the Early Christian and Early Medieval periods of the history of Ireland. The Dál Fiatach were supposedly descended from Fiatach Finn mac Dáire, a King of Ulster, and are thought to be related to the Darini of Ptolemy’s Geographia, and, perhaps more directly, to the pre-historic Dáirine, and the later Corcu Loígde of Munster. Kinship with the Osraige is also supported, and more distantly with the Dál Riata. The Ulaid, of which the Dál Fiatach became the ruling dynasty, who were further associated with the originally Brittonic-speaking Belgic Érainn by genealogists and linguists. All appear to have at one point formed a single population group in the not-so-remote prehistoric past, which was still vaguely recalled in the Early Medieval period. The Dál Fiatach claimed kinship with the legendary Cú RoÍ mac Dáire and the Clanna Dedad.

Although Francis John Byrne describes the few La Tène artefacts discovered in Ireland as ‘rather scanty’, most of the artefacts (mostly weapons and harness pieces) have been found in the North of Ireland, suggesting ‘small bands of settlers (warriors and metalworkers) arrived’ from Britain in the 3rd century BC, and may have been absorbed into the original Ulaid population. The Dál Fiatach were once considered by scholars to be the true historical Ulaid (Uluti), but after the fortunes of the dynasty declined in the 7th century, the legendary heroes of the Ulster Cycle were in fact reclaimed as ancestors by the rival and unrelated Dál nAraidi (Dalaradia) or Pretani/Cruthin, who said that they were the “true Ulaid” themselves and descendants of Rudraige mac Sithrigi through Conall Cernach.

The legendary Ulaid were not, in fact, related to the ancestors of the Dál Fiatach, who rather stressed their kinship with the Clanna Dedad of Munster, fearsome rivals of the Clanna Rudraige. This kinship with the Dáirine and/or Clanna Dedad (Érainn) is not contested by scholars though it can be assumed the early generations of the Dál Fiatach pedigree are quite corrupt. This is also true for the pedigree of the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde. Their natural kinship with the Munster dynasties can only be reconstructed in studies of Ptolemy’s Ireland and by linguistics. Every known king of Dál Fiatach became King of Ulster (Ulaidh), but they did not monopolise the kingship as the Dál nAraidi supplied a number of powerful kings. Among the more influential Dál Fiatach kings were:

  • Muiredach Muinderg (d. 489)
  • Báetán mac Cairill (d. 581)
  • Fiachnae mac Demmáin (d. 627)
  • Bécc Bairrche mac Blathmaic (d. 718)
  • Fiachnae mac Áedo Róin (d. 789)
  • Niall mac Eochada (d. 1063),

A junior branch of the Dál Fiatach ruled Leth Cathail (Leth Cathail “Cathal’s half”) or Lecale, the peninsula beyond Downpatrick. Downpatrick itself, a prestigious monastic site, remained under the control of the main line of Dál Fiatach kings. The old name for Downpatrick, Dún dá Lethglais is, in fact, ‘fort of Lleth Gadwal’, the original Old British or Brittonic  form of ‘Cathal’s half’. The Dál Fiatach were displaced as rulers of all Ulster by the “Ui Neill, Gaelicised kindred to the Pretani/Cruthin and Dal Fiatach, invading from north-western Ulster or Donegal, who gained the allegiance of the Airgialla of central Ulster. As a result the Ulaid were left in control only of Counties Antrim and Down and the title King of Ulster came to mean ruler only of the east of the province. County Down was the centre of the Dál Fiatach lands, and Downpatrick was a royal site and religious centre. Scrabo Hill with its large Fort was its power base, with nearby Movilla,  under Uinnian ,  its religious centre.

In later times, from the 9th century, Bangor, originally controlled by the neighbouring Dál nAraidi, became the main religious site patronised by the kings. The descendants of this royal line include the clans MacDonlevy/MacDunleavy (MacNulty) and their parent, an actually Cruthin/Pretani dynastic house, O’Haughey/O’Hoey (sometimes alternatively prefixed MacCaughey), as well as the Carrolls and Kellys. The last kings of the MacDonlevy line were defeated by the Normans  under John de Courcy. They rallied and counterattacked but were unable to retake their kingdom from the better armed Normans. Most of the MacDonlevys eventually went west to Donegal, where they became hereditary physicians to the ruling O’Donnell dynasty of Tyrconnell, the ancient Venniconian Pretani, and many would later go by the name Mac an Ulltaigh (Son of the Ulstermen), anglicised MacNulty. The O’Haughey/O’Hoeys are still mainly found in County Down.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: I – Dalaradia (Newtownabbey and Antrim and Mid and East Antrim Districts)

Ulster Kingdoms

Dalaradia (Gaelic Dál nAraidi ) — which should not be confused with Dalriada (Gaelic Dál Riata) was the foremost kingdom of the Cruthin or Pretani in Northeast Ireland in the first millennium. The lands of Dalaradia appear to correspond with those of the Robogdii (Greek Rhobogdioi) in Ptolemy’ Geography , a region shared with Dál Riata. Fiachu Araide was the eponymous founder of the Dál nAraidi.

The Kings of Dál nAraidi were rulers of one of the main kingdoms of Ireland and competed with the Dál Fiatach for the overlordship of Ulaidh, Ulidia or Old Ulster, although that doyen of Archaeologists, the Englishman Richard Warner, formerly of the Ulster Museum, Belfast, has said that the Cruthin were “rather minor and they are rather unimportant and they made very little influence on Irish power or politics”.

The dynasty resided at Ráith Mór, east of Antrim in the Mag Line (Moylinne) area and emerged as the dominant group among the Cruthin of Ulaidh. In the sixth and seventh centuries the Cruthin were a loose confederation of petty states with the Dal nAraidi emerging as the dominant group in the 8th century.

Kings of Dál nAraidi and Cruthin

The later rulers of the Dál nAraidi adopted the dynastic surname Ua Loingsig (Ó Loingsigh), anglicized Lynch.

The exemplary missionary priest Tom O Connor has written recently: “Faechno was succeeded at Tara by yet another Dal nAraidi (Dalaradia) Overking of the Cruthin of Ulster and Scotland, namely his own grandson Congal Caech (Cláen), a historic fact fossilised in “Bech Bretha”. He fell at the great watershed Battle of Moira, Co Down, in 637. The law-tract on bees, “Bech Bretha”, preserves the true “untampered version”. It has profound historical implications corroborating Cruthin claims that their kings, and theirs alone, ruled at Tara up to the Battle of Moira in 637. The Battle of Moira ended the Cruthin tenure of the overkingship of Northern Ireland and Scotland from Tara. This fact and its attendant ramifications are vital to the rediscovery of the suppressed and silenced history of Iron Age and early Christian Ireland. The rising roar of the Ui Neill warlords smothered the humble, truthful, voice of the Cruthin. Thereafter all Ireland rode on the back of a fiendish fraud reverberating with profuse repercussions, civil, social, religious, cultural and historical, affecting all Ireland, past, present and future. Ireland is still being taken for a ride”.

This is the original of an article for you on the Battle of Moira, which I commemorate every 24th June. I anglicised some of the names for the Ulster Scot paper. I append a painting on the Battle by my friend Jim Fitzpatrick, whom I commissioned to do the cover of my book on Sir Samuel Ferguson’s Congal, which I entitled The Battle of Moira.

The Battle of Moira


The Battle of Moira in County Down was, according to the great Belfast poet and scholar Sir Samuel Ferguson, “the greatest battle, whether we regard the numbers engaged, the duration of combat, or the stake at issue, ever fought within the bounds of Ireland…….there appears reason to believe that the fight lasted a week….. (near) the Woods of Killultagh, to which, we are told the routed army fled, great quantities of bones of men and horses were turned up in excavating the line of the Ulster Railway”.

The Battle is mentioned prominently in the ancient Irish Annals, but that such a significant event remains so little known at the present time is as a result of the fact that it occurred long before the arrival in Ireland of the Anglo-Normans, and thus has received little attention from the English and Irish historians. The story of Suibhne Geilt, king of Dalaradia, who took part in the Battle, was, however, to have a lingering effect on Irish literature, most notably in Sweeney’s Frenzy by J G O’Keeffe, At-Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien and Sweeney Astray by Seamus Heaney.

Set as Ulster is at the North Eastern corner of Ireland, facing Britain across a narrow sea and separated from the rest of Ireland by a zone of little hills known as Drumlins, by marshlands and by mountains, the characteristics of her language and people have been moulded by movements large and small between the two islands since the dawn of human history. The difference between Ulster and rest of Ireland is therefore one of the most constant facts of early Irish history and Ulster’s bond with Scotland counterbalances her lax tie with the rest of Ireland. Just as the mould was fixed in olden times, modern developments have continued ancient associations.

Thus there were the old ancient British, Pretani or Cruthin Kingdoms in both areas, Dalaradia in Antrim and Down and Pictavia in Northern Britain. There was the Ulster Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada from the last quarter of the fifth till the close of the eighth century and the Scottish Kingdom founded under Gaelic leadership in 842. There were continuing Irish relations with the Kingdom of the Hebrides in Argyle from the 12th Century, particularly with the immigration of Hebridean soldiers or galllowglasses from the 13th to the 16th century. The Glens of Antrim were in the hands of the Scottish MacDonalds by 1400 and for the next 200 years Gaelic speaking Scots came in large numbers. The 17th century immigration of a numerous Scots element need not therefore be considered outside the proceeding series, since it has brought for example Presbyterian Scots with names as familiar as Kennedy, who must be considered rather as people who have returned home.

In 563 AD the power of the ancient British Cruthin in the West of Ulster had been crushed at the Battle of Moneymore and they suffered a further defeat in 579 near Coleraine. Yet they still clung firmly to the territory which they retained east of the Bann river, and as long as their resistance remained, the Gaelicised “Uí Néill” could never call themselves Kings of Ulster.

In 627 Congal Cláen of the Cruthin became over-King of all Ulster. He had received his name of Cláen or half blind since he had been stung in the eye by a bee. In 628 he killed the “Uí Néill” high King Suibne Menn of the Clan Owen, who was replaced as High King by Domnall, of the Clan Connall (Gaelicised Cruthin) . In 629 Domnall defeated Congal and his autonomous Cruthin at the Battle of Dun Ceithirnn in Londonderry, but internal dissention among the “Uí Néill” allowed Congal a respite and he fled to Scotland or Alba, where he began constructing a formidable coalition of forces.

In 637 therefore, he returned with a large army containing contingents of Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons (English) and Britons (Welsh). The outcome was that on Tuesday 24th June in that year of 637 was fought the Great Battle of Moira, when Domnall of the “Uí Néill” and his forces were confronted by the British Ulstermen and their allies. With Domnall’s victory , however, and the death of Congal in the Battle, any pretentions the Ulstermen had of undoing the Uí Néill gains were dashed and from that point on the “Uí Néill” were to become the dominant power in the North.

On the same day a naval engagement between the Dalriadans and Clan Owen on the one side and the Clan Connall forces of Domnall on the other off the Mull of Kintyre resulted in the splitting of Irish and Scottish Dalriada. Despite continuing aggression, the Ulstermen continued to put up a stubborn resistance and in 1004 another great battle was fought at Cráeb Tulcha or Crew Hill (Glenavy) in which the Cruthin King, the Ulidian King and many Princes of Ulster were killed. Indeed complete disaster was possibly only averted because the victorious “Uí Néill” King was himself one of the fatalities. In 1099 a battle was fought between the same parties at the same place where the invaders again gained the day. After the battle the victors cut down the Cráeb, the sacred tree of Ulster. Nevertheless the Ulstermen prevented the supposed descendents of the “Uí Néill”, the O’Neills, gaining unchallenged control of Ulster and it was not until 1364 that a member of that Clan could finally style himself King of Ulster in the eyes of the learned classes.

Subject to continuing pressure by the “Uí Néill”, the Cruthin were to migrate to the old British Kingdoms of Aeron (Ayr) and Rheged (Stranraer), where in the old Scotch or Ullans dialect they became known as Creenies. The impact of the 17th Century Hamilton/Montgomery settlement really lay in its success as a blueprint for plantation in general, and especially the later official Plantation of Ulster in 1610. But it was the 105 day siege of Londonderry which lasted from the 18th April 1689 until 28th July 1689, the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July 1690 and the Battle of Aughrim on 12th July 1691, which allowed the stabilisation of Scottish settlement in Ulster. Indeed only as a result of the Williamite victory was Scottish migration resumed and was able to reach its peak during the 1690’s, in part as a result of cheap land in Ireland after the British revolution and also as a result of severe famine in Scotland during the latter years of that decade. The level of migration in that period was somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 Scots, more than three times as many settlers as during the reign of James IV of Scotland and I of England. Thus at last, the descendants of the Pretani or Cruthin people, the ancient British, were allowed to return to their homeland and their right to be there was finally sealed by their sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916.

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The Gaelic Language Wars

We have looked at the obsessive-compulsive neurosis of modern Protestant Irish Language enthusiasts regarding the censuses of 1901 and 1911. We have also seen the effects of Gaelic League activity on those censuses. But the revival of Gaelic predates the Gaelic League. The first moves had more to do with Irish music than language, and took place in Belfast at the end of the 18th century. They included the organisation of the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, and the consequent efforts of Edward Bunting to collect Irish songs, on which Patrick Lynch was employed. However the Irish Gaelic language was also being taught in Belfast: Lynch had been engaged in this activity in 1794, and William Neilson was to teach Irish Gaelic in the Royal Belfast Academical Institution during his time there as professor of Classics and Hebrew (1818-21).

Although it had existed informally for some time, the year 1830 saw the official foundation in Belfast of Cuideacht Gaedhilge Uladh (The Ulster Gaelic Society) for the preservation of the remains of ancient Irish literature, maintaining teachers of the Irish language where it most prevails, and publishing useful books in that tongue. Leading members included Dr James McDonnell, Rev Dr R.J. Bryce, and Robert S. McAdam. The president was the Marquis of Downshire.

Robert McAdam (1808-1895) was the most active of the members. He had attended the Belfast Academy and very probably learned Irish Gaelic from William Neilson. He was a founding partner in 1835 of the Soho Foundry in Belfast’s Townsend Street, and this was his employment for most of his life. But the Irish Gaelic language was his great interest. He amassed a great collection of manuscripts, and employed individuals such as Peadar O Gealacháin and Aodh Mac Domhnaill from Meath and Art Mac Bionaid from South Armagh in writing and copying material in Irish. McAdam himself compiled manuscripts of Irish materials which he encountered in his travels to all parts of Ulster, including a large manuscript dictionary.

The Cuideacht Gaedhilge Uladh was not merely academic in its approach to Irish Gaelic, but actively promoted its use , for example, by sending teachers of Irish Gaelic to Gaelic-speaking areas such as Ballinascreen in County Londonderry. However its activities were confined to Ulster, and it never envisaged the possibility of reviving Irish Gaelic among the common people in areas where it had been dead for several generations. Yet this was to be the ambitious aim of an organisation founded in 1893, two years before McAdam’s death, Connradh na Gaedhilge or the Gaelic League.

This was a period of heightened nationalistic awareness, led by young and vigorous organisations, such as the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association on the cultural side, and Sinn Fein and the United Irish League on the political side. In this atmosphere the language revival became a mass movement, capable of capturing the nationalist imagination, and people of all ages began to learn Irish Gaelic as a second language in evening classes run by branches of the Gaelic League.

County Down was to the fore in Gaelic League activity in the early years of the 20th century. The first Gaelic League branch in the county was founded in Newry in September 1897. The following branches are mentioned as preparing for the first Feis an Dúin in 1902: Leitrim, Clanvaraghan, Drumaroad, Newcastle, Magheramayo, Kilcoo, Castlewellan, Bryansford, Glassdrummond, Shanrod, Dechomet, Annaclone and Magherill; while branches were also active in Newry, Mayobridge, Killowen, Portaferry and Ballyvarley, at least. The comparatively good showing in the language question of the 1911 census by Moneyreagh, situated well to the north, was apparently due to Gaelic League classes organised there by Rev Richard Lyttle, who had died in 1905.

In the years from 1911 to 1915 Downpatrick was the home of An tAth. Domhnall Ó Tuathail, the author of a  the teaching method known as Módh na Ráidhte. In that short time he made a considerable impact on the revival in East Down, and was instrumental in founding the short-lived Irish College at Rossglass in 1921.

A detailed history of the Gaelic League in County Down has yet to be written.  But the success of the Gaelic League had some consequences for the kind of Gaelic which was promoted. In the early days especially, Gaelic had to be taught by whoever was available and able to teach it. In Ulster generally, and in County Down in particular, these were usually members of the teaching profession or customs and excise officials, very often from the south or west of Ireland. Naturally enough, they taught the dialect of Gaelic with which they were most familiar. In county Down, where native Ulster Gaelic was on the point of extinction, they did not know the local variety.

Moreover, republican nationalist philosophy provided a rationale for a centralised view of Irish Gaelic and for discounting Gaelic in Scotland as something external, although it must be said that individual Gaelic Leaguers were enthusiastic supporters of Gaelic contacts with Scotland. The centrist trend met with opposition, and the “dialect wars” raged fiercely in Belfast between the rival colleges of  Coláiste Chomhghaill, run in the main by Munstermen living in Belfast, and An Árd-Scoil Ultach, which insisted on Donegal Gaelic as the best-known variety of Ulster Gaelic. The point had earlier been diplomatically expressed by Séamus O Ceallaigh (James Kelly):

“Ulster has many Munster and Connacht teachers, and they are nearly all giving instructions in Irish, bail ó Dhia orthu, but the blessing is not an unmixed one. It is easy to see that all attempts to rehabilitate the language in any district should be made from a basis of local usage in the matter of pronunciation. The gap between the Irish-speaking mother and her English-speaking child is so big already that nothing in our methods should tend to widen it. And should not the implied principle be observed as far as possible even where Irish has died out.”

A simple but typical illustration is provided by Adams, commenting on Pulleine’s oration for Owen O’Neill, where the Irish Gaelic name of Holywood is given as Ard Mhic Criosg: ˜about the middle of the 18th century there were enough Irish speakers around north Down …to know its proper pronunciation in the original Irish dialect of the area, which is more than can be said for many bilinguals in the area nowadays who have acquired Irish as a second language.” It is not the abilities of learners which are being criticised here, but rather, an unconscious lack of concern with the local dimension of Gaelic.

The view that Irish Gaelic should be uniform throughout Ireland and that Gaelic outside of Ireland is of no relevance has been formalised in the definition of official standard Irish, which now dominates Gaelic education and publishing in Ulster as it does elsewhere in Ireland, to the detriment of Ulster Gaelic. Comhaltas Uladh, the semi-autonomous Ulster regional organisation of the Gaelic League which was founded in 1925 with the specific object of fostering Ulster Gaelic made representations when standard Irish, An Caighdeán Oifigiúil, was being designed in the late 1940s and 1950s, but these went unheeded.

As a popular expression of Irish culture, the Gaelic League has been rather eclipsed for most of its history by another organisation founded at around the same period, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Though perceived primarily as a sporting organisation, the aims of the GAA include the fostering of Irish culture generally. In the early days, both organisations had a good part of their membership in common, and were often confused in the popular mind, with the result that the activities of one were sometimes attributed to the other.

The GAA appoints Irish-language officers to encourage use of standard Irish, but its promotion of Irish Gaelic suffers from the difficulty that purely recreational activities – such as Gaelic games, Irish music, and Irish dancing – are more easily approachable and pay quicker dividends than re-learning a language, and may be enough in many cases to satisfy the demand for cultural expression. However, by maintaining a positive attitude to things Irish, the GAA has helped to create a situation which is at least passively favourable to the Gaelic language, although of the nationalist variety of Dublin Gaeilge and not Ulster Gaeilic. The influence of the GAA has spread widely as a result of spectacular sporting successes. It is paradoxical, though, that by basing its most prestigious competitions on the county unit, it has created passionate allegiances to those artificial administrative divisions, which, unlike baronies or dioceses, have no historical basis. The GAA celebrated the centenary of its foundation in 1984, and this was the occasion for much historical reflection, which resulted in a number of club histories, as well as a comprehensive county history.


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Trevor’s Raven

We saw a beautiful Raven standing over us in the cove where Trevor rests, in Venniconia, now called Donegal. The Raven is a sacred bird , who follows the spirits of the dead. He is the most wary and intelligent of all British birds. There is an old Gaelic saying of him “Tha fios fhithich aige.” which means in the Beurla or English tongue “He has raven’s knowledge”.

The Raven was sacred to Odin , the principal God of the Scandinavians, so that it is only natural that the Lords of the Isles should have assumed the Raven on  their crest, because of their Norse descent through Ragnhildis, the wife of Somerled or Sorley Boy. The Vikings always carried a Raven with them on their journeys and one is said to have brought them to Iceland, for they had an inherent sense of discerning land.

In Norse mythology, Huginn (from the Old Norse for “thought”) and Munnin (Old Norse for “memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring the god Odin information. Additionally among the Norse, Raven Banner standards were carried by such figures as the Jarls of Orkney, King Cnut the Great of England, Norway and Denmark, and Harald Hanrada.In the British Isles, or Isles of the Pretani, Ravens  were also symbolic. In Ulster mythology, the goddess Morrigan alighted on the hero Cu Chulainn’s shoulder in the form of a Raven after his death. In British mythology they were associated with the Welsh god Bran the Blessed, whose name translates to “raven.” According to the Mabinogion, Bran’s head was buried in the White Hill of London as a talisman against invasion. A legend developed that England would not fall to a foreign invader as long as there were Ravens at the Tower of London.

In Tlingit and Haida cultures, Raven was both a trickster and a creator god. Related beliefs are widespread among the peoples of Siberia and northeast Asia. The Kamchatka, for example, was supposed to have been created by the raven god Kutkh. There are several references to common ravens in the Old Testament of the Bible and it is an aspect of Maha kala in Bhutanese mythology.

In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, the Raven was the first animal to be released from Noah’s Ark. “So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground.” The Raven is mentioned a dozen times in the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable using the Raven to show how people should rely on God for their needs and not riches (Luke 12:24). The raven is also mentioned in Quran at the story of Cain and Abel. Adam’s firstborn son Cain kills his brother Abel but he doesn’t know what to do with the corpse: “Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant.”

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