Preparing the Way for the Invader

Patrick Weston Joyce

176. During the century and a half from the death of Malachi II. to the Anglo Norman invasion, Ireland had no universally acknowledged over-king. To every one there was opposition from some influential quarter or another; which the annalists indicate by the epithet "king with opposition" commonly applied to the kings who during this time aspired to the sovereignty. There were altogether eight "kings with opposition:"—Donogh, Turlogh O'Brien, Dermot Mac Mailnamo, Murkertagh O'Brien, Donall O'Loughlin, Turlogh O'Conor, Murkertagh O'Loughlin, and Roderick O'Conor. During the whole of this period Ireland was in a state of great confusion. The rival claimants waged incessant war with one another; and as a natural consequence, the country became an easy prey to the invaders when they came.

The annalists tell us that for some years after the death of Malachi there was an interregnum; and that the affairs of the kingdom were administered by two learned men, Cuan O'Lochan, a great antiquary and poet, and "Corcran the cleric," a very holy ecclesiastic who lived chiefly in Lismore.

177. Not long after the death of Malachi, Donogh king of Munster, son of Brian Boru, took steps to claim the sovereignty. He is ranked among the kings of Ireland, but he never made any attempt on Ulster.

After some years his nephew Turlogh O'Brien, with the aid of Dermot MacMailnamo king of Leinster deposed him; on which Turlogh became king of Munster; and Donogh, now in his old age, took a pilgrim's staff and fared to Rome where he died in 1064.

178. At the time of Donogh's deposition Dermot of Leinster was the most powerful of the provincial kings, so that he also is reckoned among the kings of Ireland. His most persistent opponent was Conor O'Melaghlin prince of Meath, the son of Malachi, who at last defeated and slew him in 1072 at the battle of Navan in Meath.

Turlogh O'Brien now marched north from Kincora and forced the kings and chiefs of all the other provinces and minor states, except Ulster, to acknowledge his authority. But when he attempted to reduce the Ulstermen they defeated him in 1075 near Ardee so that he had to retreat south. Some say that he ultimately forced Ulster to submit and pay him tribute. In 1086 this king died peacefully in Kincora.

179. Turlogh's son Murkertagh O'Brien succeeded as king of Munster. In the assertion of his claim to the throne of Ireland he had a formidable competitor, Donall O'Loghlin (or Mac Loghlin) king of Ulster, who belonged to the Northern Hy Neill and who now revived the claims of that princely family. These two men for more than a quarter of a century contended with varying fortunes for the throne of Ireland. Donall marched south in 1088 and destroyed O'Brien's palace of Kincora; on which Murkertagh retaliated by an expedition up the Shannon.

180. At last O'Brien had to acknowledge the supremacy of O'Loghlin. But he soon renewed the war; and in 1101 he marched north with an overwhelming army, destroyed Ailech or Greenan-Elly near Derry, the royal palace of the Northern Hy Neill, in revenge for the destruction of Kincora thirteen years before; and to make the demolition more humiliating, he ordered his soldiers to bring away the very stones of the building all the way back to Kincora. He made the whole circuit of Ireland without meeting any opposition, and brought hostages from every territory to his home in Kincora.

The struggle still went on; and five different times—from 1097 to 1113—when the hostile armies were about to engage, the archbishop of Armagh interposed and persuaded the kings to separate without bloodshed.

181. In 1101 Murkertagh granted the old city of Cashel to the church, and changed his own chief residence to Limerick, which after that time continued to be the seat of the kings of Thomond. The Rock of Cashel now contains on its summit the most interesting group of ruins in Ireland. In the year 1098 Murkertagh gave William Rufus a number of great oak trees from the wood of Oxmanstown near Dublin, wherewith was constructed the roof of Westminster Hall.

182. The long contest between these two powerful rivals—O'Brien and O'Loghlin—remained undecided to the last. They are both spoken of as kings of Ireland, reigning with equal authority, though O'Brien was the more distinguished king. Murkertagh, struck down with a wasting sickness, retired to the monastery of Lismore, where having entered the ecclesiastical state, he died in 1119. With him passed away for ever the predominance of the O'Brien family. Donall retired to the monastery of Derry where he died in 1121.

183. For the past century the struggle for supremacy had been chiefly between the O'Briens of Munster and the O'Loghlins or Mac Loghlins of Ulster—a branch of the northern Hy Neill. For the next half century it was between the O'Neills and the O'Conors of Connaught, ending in the triumph of the O'Conors, till the native monarchy was overthrown for ever by the Anglo Normans. Turlogh O'Conor, who at this time ruled over Connaught—the king who caused the Cross of Cong to be made in 1123 (72)—now put forth his claims to the supreme monarchy. He first reduced Munster and weakened it by dividing it, making one of the O'Briens king of Thomond, and one of the Mac Carthys king of Desmond. But the O'Briens proved formidable adversaries, and still retained at least nominal sway over the whole province. They not only disputed O'Conor's supremacy, but led successful expeditions into the heart of Connaught. And thus the wretched country continued to be torn by feuds and broils; so that, as the Four Masters express it, Ireland was "a trembling sod."

184. The most powerful member of the great Dalcassian family (157) at this time was Turlogh O'Brien who had an army of 9,000 men. O'Conor, determined on crushing him, marched south and caught him at a disadvantage, in 1151, at a place called Moanmore either in Limerick or Tipperary. In the terrible battle fought here O'Brien was defeated and his army almost annihilated: 7,000 of them fell, the greatest slaughter since the day of Clontarf. O'Brien fled to Ulster; but he never recovered this downfall.

185. Murkertagh O'Loglin or Mac Loghlin, prince of Ailech was now O'Conor's only opponent. In the same year of the battle of Moanmore—1151—he forced O'Conor to give him hostages. In 1154 O'Conor plundered the coasts of Ulster with a great Connaught fleet; but O'Loghlin met him with a Scoto-Danish fleet quite as large; and a naval battle was fought during a long summer day in which the Danish fleet was defeated and captured; but the Irish commander was killed.

186. King Turlogh O'Conor never relinquished the struggle for supremacy till the day of his death, which occurred in 1156. He was succeeded as king of Connaught by his son Rory, or as he is more commonly called, Roderick O'Connor. Not long after his election, this new king marched towards Ulster to assert his claim to be king of Ireland against O'Loghlin; who however met him in 1159 at Ardee and defeated him. After this O'Conor acknowledged O'Loghlin's supremacy and sent him hostages. But O'Loghlin was soon after (in 1166) killed in battle; and Roderick O'Conor having now no rival of any consequence was formally and solemnly inaugurated king of Ireland.

187. Though most of the great educational establishments had been broken up during the Danish ravages, many rose from their ruins or held their ground. Even to the beginning of the twelfth century Ireland still retained some portion of her ancient fame for learning, and we find the schools of Armagh, Lismore, Clomnacnoise, Monasterboice, and others still attracting great numbers of students, many of them foreigners. At this time flourished the two great scholars and annalists, Flann of Monasterboice and Tighernach of Clonmacnoise (24, 25).

188. Many grave abuses had crept into the church during the Danish troubles—nearly all caused by the encroachments of the lay chiefs: but they were all disciplinal irregularities: none in doctrine. The ecclesiastical authorities exerted themselves to correct these abuses; and their solicitude and activity are shown by a number of synods occurring about this time: in the one half century from 1111 to 1169, eleven synods were held at various places through the country.

In 1111 Murkertagh O'Brien caused a synod to be held at a place called Fid-Aengusa near Ushnagh in Westmeath, which was attended by the archbishops of Cashel and Armagh, and by 50 bishops, 300 priests, and 3,000 clergy of inferior orders, as well as by king Murkertagh himself and the chiefs of Leth-Mow.

Another synod was held about the same time at a place called Rathbrassil, at which the several dioceses all over Ireland were clearly defined; and it was ordained that the lands and revenues allotted to the bishops for their support should be exempted from public tax or tribute. The subdivision into parishes gradually followed. Some say that Fid-Aengusa and Rathbrassil were the same.

The most memorable synod of this period was that held at Kells in 1152, presided over by Cardinal Paparo the Pope's legate. Until this time there had been only two archbishops in Ireland, those of Armagh and Cashel; but at this council Dublin and Tuam were constituted archiepiscopal sees; and the Cardinal conferred the four palliums on the four archbishops, declaring that the archbishop of Armagh was primate over the others.