Domestic Feuds

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIV

Dr. Todd has well observed, in his admirably written "Introduction" to the Wars of the, Gaedhil and the Gall, that from the death of Malachy to the days of Strongbow, the history of Ireland is little more than a history of the struggles for ascendency between the great clans or families of O'Neill, O'Connor, O'Brien, and the chieftains of Leinster.

After the death of Brian Boroimhé, his son Donough obtained the undisputed sovereignty of Munster. He defeated the Desmonians, and instigated the murder of his brother Teigue. His next step was to claim the title of King of Ireland, but he had a formidable opponent in Dermod Mac Mael-na-mbo, King of Leinster. Strange to say, though he had the guilt of fratricide on his conscience, he assembled the clergy and chieftains of Munster at Killaloe, in the year 1050, to pass laws for the protection of life and property—a famine, which occurred at this time, making such precautions of the first necessity. In 1063, his nephew, Turlough, avenged the death of Teigue, in a battle, wherein Donough was defeated. After his reverse he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he died in the following year, after doing penance for his brother's murder. The Annals say that "he died under the victory of penance, in the Monastery of Stephen the Martyr."[6] Dermod Mac Mael-na-mbo was killed in battle by the King of Meath, A.D. 1072, and Turlough O'Brien, consequently, was regarded as his successor to the monarchy of Ireland. Turlough, as usual, commenced by taking hostages, but he found serious opposition from the northern Hy-Nials. His principal opponents were the Mac Loughlins of Aileach, and the O'Melaghlins of Meath.

In 1079 O'Brien invaded the territory of Roderic O'Connor, King of Connaught, expelled him from his kingdom, and plundered it as far as Croagh Patrick. Next year he led an army to Dublin, and received the submission of the men of Meath, appointing his son Murtough lord of the Danes of Dublin. The Annals of the Four Masters give a curious account of O'Brien's death. They say that the head of Connor O'Melaghlin, King of Meath, was taken from the church of Clomnacnois, and brought to Thomond, by his order. When the king took the head in his hand, a mouse ran out of it, and the shock was so great that "he fell ill of a sore disease by the miracles (intervention) of St. Ciaran." This happened on the night of Good Friday. The day of the resurrection (Easter Sunday) the head was restored, with two rings of gold as a peace-offering. But Turlough never recovered from the effects of his fright, and lingered on in bad health until the year 1086, when he died. He is called the "modest Turlough" in the Annals, for what special reason does not appear. It is also recorded that he performed " intense penance for his sins"—a grace which the kings and princes of Ireland seem often to have needed, and, if we may believe the Annals, always to have obtained.

A period of anarchy ensued, during which several princes contended for royal honours. This compliment was finally awarded to Mac Loughlin, King of Aileach, and a temporary peace ensued. Its continuance was brief. In 1095 there was a pestilence all over Europe, "and some say that the fourth part of the men of Ireland died of the malady." A long list is given of its victims, lay and ecclesiastical. Several severe winters are recorded as having preceded this fatal event; probably they were its remote cause. In the year 1096, the festival of St. John Baptist fell on Friday. This event caused general consternation, in consequence of some old prophecy. A resolution " of the clergy of Ireland, with the successor of St. Patrick [7] at their head," enjoined a general abstinence from Wednesday to Sunday every month, with other penitential observances; and "the men of Ireland were saved for that time from the fire of vengeance."[8]


[6] Martyr.—Page 887. The famine in the preceding year is also recorded, as well as the cholic and "lumps," which prevailed in Leinster, and also spread throughout Ireland. Donough was married to an English princess, Driella, the daughter of the English Earl Godwin, and sister of Harold, afterwards King of England. During the rebellion of Godwin and his sons against Edward the Confessor, Harold was obliged to take refuge in Ireland, and remained there "all the winter on the king's security."

[7] St. Patrick.—It is observable all through the Annals, how the name and spiritual authority of St. Patrick is revered. This expression occurs regularly from the earliest period, wherever the Primate of Ireland is mentioned.

[8] Vengeance.—See O'Curry, passim, for curious traditions or so-called prophecies about St. John Baptist's Day.