Bellshrine of Saint Patrick

Political History

***PAGE UNDER RECONSTRUCTION***The history of early medieval Europe is largely transmitted to us by way of chronicles whose purpose was to present a carefully edited 'royal story' in support of the ruling dynasty. Modern historians too often compound the bias of these chronicles by reading their periods of silence as periods of tranquility and by fabricating a supposed governing constitution after the fact and inserting it into the past. As against these fictions, medieval and modern, the emergence of monarchy in Ireland is played out in a much more immediate fashion, by way of record in annals of prime entry in which killing follows burning follows killing with monotonous frequency, so we should be careful not to interpret these differences in transmission as evidence for a particular turbulence in Ireland, the underlying conflict is simply better reported.

From a reading of events reported in the annals a twelfth century political meta-narrative emerges in which the rulers of Leinster have fallen out of contention for the national kingship as have the rulers of Meath leaving a three way contention between the ruling dynasties of Munster, Connacht and the North. The various dynasties fallen by the wayside did not lose influence, however, but formed a second tier of 'kingmaker' magnates whose support or subjection was seen by the remaining contenders as essential to the achievement of their national goals. Irish customary law gave legal sanction to a serial monogamy that was widely practised by the male elite and so the political machinations of this group would seem to be illuminated by considering the role of women in binding the contending patrilines into dynastic alliance and so allowing us to chart a course as chronicler through the somewhat more prosaic reportage of the annals. While these women were never queens-regnant (women reigning in their own right) they did as queens-consort enjoy considerable influence through their husbands and sons leading to an endemic conflict between the various stepmothers, stepsons and half-brothers. Though falling foul of contemporary developments in canon law, the practice was not inconsistent with the older canon law then observed in Ireland which was based upon the Levitical marriage code of the Old Testament.

The major source for the names of the queens-consort of early medieval Irish kings is the twelfth century body of genealogical material known as banshenchus ('women-lore'). This concerns itself with women only insofar as they are essential to the recording of the maternal patrilineage of royal sons. Though we should treat the early material with caution there is little reason to suppose that the material relating to the twelfth century is anything other than historical. In addition to the banshenchus we may also point to the very occasionally disclosure of relationships such as X ingen Y ('X daughter of Y'), X bean Y ('X wife of Y') or X mathair Y ('X mother of Y') in the annals [candon article ref]***. ***insert details of marriages***Only those whose marriage alliances are known or whose presence is required for connectivity are shown. Names have been standardised.

  |                |
 Niall~Leinster?  daughters~Connacht
  |                |
 Muircheartach    son
  |                |
 Domhnall         daughter~Mann

***The ideological subtext of the circuit poem is that submission in the past demands submission in the present as we see a contemporary campaign by Muircheartach historicised into a fictional campaign along a similar route carried out by his earlier namesake***We can see that Domhnall hedged in his rival O Brien of Munster by marriage alliances with the ruling dynasty of Meath and dissident O Brien family and in next generation by alliances of his son with Leinster? (it is not known to which family Caillech crion belonged though she may have come from Leinster thus completing the encirclement of O Brien) and daughters with Connacht (give details of all these).***results in the last four kings of ireland appearing in the compact genealogy below and it becomes immediately apparent just how consolidated royal power had become by that time

 Domhnall MacLochlainn
  |                 |
 son               daughters=Torlach O Connor
  |                           |
 Muircheartach MacLochlainn  Ruairí O Connor

***DETAILS HERE***The annals disclose that the MacLochlainn dynasty was founded by Ardghal son of Lochlainn who was expelled from Tullaghoge in 1051 but recovered to become ruler of Aileach by the time of his death in 1064. His son Domhnall became ruler of Aileach in 1083 and king of Ireland with opposition in 1090. Domhnall took advantage of a decline in the fortunes of the Clann Domhnaill dynasty to move north and seize Inishowen, moving his base to the religious foundation of Derry around 1100. He militarily engaged his national rivals the O Brien dynasty of Munster using marriage alliances to his advantage while safeguarding his regional position by imposing his son Niall as ruler of Tír Conaill and dividing Ulaid into several lordships. As king he memorialised the alliance that he had struck between Church and state by commissioning a religious reliquary known as the Shrine of Saint Patrick's Bell (pictured above) and died in Derry in 1121 aged seventy three. Niall had been killed by regional rivals in 1119 leaving his brother Conor to succeed as ruler of Aileach. Except for a short period in 1128 when his brother Maghnus was ruler, Conor remained so until his death at the hands of regional rivals in 1136. Muircheartach son of Niall succeeded Conor as ruler of Aileach and became king of Ireland with opposition in 1149. He militarily engaged his national rivals the O Connor dynasty of Connacht until they submitted to his authority. As king he issued charters to religious foundations, commissioned a propaganda tract The Circuit of Ireland by Muircheartach son of Niall to bolster his claims as ruler of all Ireland and was the driving force behind the revival of the religious order of Saint Colmcille and the remodelling of the burgeoning secular settlement of Derry, the encloistering of the religious foundation lying at its heart and the construction of its first cathedral. He sought to consolidate his regional position by dividing Ulaid into several lordships but this was to prove his undoing. In 1166 he was killed by former allies after he blinded the ruler of Ulaid in violation of an agreement guaranteeing his protection.

The banshenchas tails off around the mid-twelfth century and so information on alliances becomes less abundant after that time.***add 'uterine' Osiblen (an ally of Muircheartach against kings of man) to charts***family wipe out in 1166 indicated by the non-appearance of customary brother to brother succession within that generation***Links between Muircheartach/Domhnall and Godred king of Man***Ruairí O Connor not blood relative but brothers half MacLochlainn and mothers pushed their own sons so resentment***wrangling with diocese of raphoe re inishowen, etc***inishowen details prior to lordship page***



BS 191, BS 192, BS 197
AFM 1110
AU 1122, AU 1250
CKM 1154, CKM 1176

BS The Ban Shenchus, M.C. Dobbs, Revue Celtique 48.
AFM Annals of the Four Masters.
AU Annals of Ulster.
CKM Chronicle of the Kings of Mann and the isles, G.Broderick and B. Stowell.