Cormac MacCullinan

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XII

Of Cormac, however interesting his history, we can only give a passing word. His reign commenced peaceably; and so wise—perhaps we should rather say, so holy—was his rule, that his kingdom once more enjoyed comparative tranquillity, and religion and learning flourished again as it had done in happier times.

But the kingdom which he had been compelled to rule, was threatened by the very person who should have protected it most carefully; and Cormac, after every effort to procure peace, was obliged to defend his people against the attacks of Flann. Even then a treaty might have been made with the belligerent monarch; but Cormac, unfortunately for his people and himself, was guided by an abbot, named Flahertach, who was by no means so peaceably disposed as his good master. This unruly ecclesiastic urged war on those who were already too willing to undertake it; and then made such representations to the bishop-king, as to induce him to yield a reluctant consent. It is said that Cormac had an intimation of his approaching end. It is at least certain, that he made preparations for death, as if he believed it to be imminent.

On the eve of the fatal engagement he made his confession, and added some articles to his will, in which he left large bounties to many of the religious houses throughout the kingdom. To Lismore he bequeathed a golden chalice and some rich vestments; to Armagh, twenty-four ounces of gold and silver; to his own church of Cashel, a golden and a silver chalice, with the famous Saltair. Then he retired to a private place for prayer, desiring the few persons whom he had informed of his approaching fate to keep their information secret, as he knew well the effect such intelligence would have on his army, were it generally known.

Though the king had no doubt that he would perish on the field he still showed the utmost bravery, and made every effort to cheer and encourage his troops; but the men lost spirit in the very onset of the battle, and probably were terrified at the numerical strength of their opponents. Six thousand Munster men were slain, with many of their princes and chieftains. Cormac was killed by falling under his horse, which missed its footing on a bank slippery with the blood of the slain. A common soldier, who recognized the body, cut off his head, and brought it as a trophy to Flann; but the monarch bewailed the death of the good and great prince, and reproved the indignity with which his remains had been treated. This battle was fought at a place called Bealagh Mughna, now Ballaghmoon, in the county of Kildare, a few miles from the town of Carlow.[4]


[4] Carlow.—The site of the battle is still shown there, and even the stone on which the soldier decapitated Cormac. Cormac's death is thus described in a MS. in the Burgundian Library: "The hind feet of his horse slipped on the slippery road in the track of that blood; the horse fell backwards, and broke his [Cormac's] back and his neck in twain; and he said, when falling, In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum, and he gives up his spirit; and the impious sons of malediction come and thrust spears into his body, and sever his head from his body." Keating gives a curious account of this battle, from an ancient tract not known at present.