Domestic Wars in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XII

The generosity of Finnachta failed in settling the vexed question of tribute. Comgal, who died in 708, ravaged Leinster as fiercely as his predecessors, and Fearghal, his successor, invaded it "five times in one year." Three wonderful showers are said to have fallen in the eighth year of his reign (A.D. 716 according to the Four Masters)—a shower of silver, a shower of honey, and a shower of blood. These were, of course, considered portents of the awful Danish invasions. Fearghal was killed at the battle of Almhain (Allen, near Kildare), in 718. In this engagement, the Leinster men only numbered nine thousand, while their opponents numbered twenty-one thousand. The Leinster men, however, made up for numbers by their valour; and it is said that the intervention of a hermit, who reproached Fearghal with breaking the pacific promise of his predecessor, contributed to the defeat of the northern forces. Another battle took place in 733, when Hugh Allan, King of Ireland, and Hugh, son of Colgan, King of Leinster, engaged in single combat. The latter was slain, and the Leinster men "were killed, slaughtered, cut off, and dreadfully exterminated." In fact, the Leinster men endured so many "dreadful exterminations," that one almost marvels how any of their brave fellows were left for future feats of arms. The "northerns were joyous after this victory, for they had wreaked their vengeance and their animosity upon the Leinster men," nine thousand of whom were slain. St. Samhthann, a holy nun, who died in the following year, is said to have predicted the fate of Aedh, Comgal's son, if the two Aedhs (Hughs) met. Aedh Allan commemorated her virtues in verse, and concludes thus:—

"In the bosom of the Lord, with a pure death, Samhthann passed from her sufferings."

Indeed, the Irish kings of this period manifested their admiration of peaceful living, and their desire for holy deaths, in a more practical way than by poetic encomiums on others. In 704 Beg Boirche "took a pilgrim's staff, and died on his pilgrimage." In 729 Flahertach renounced his regal honours, and retired to Armagh, where he died. In 758 Donal died on a pilgrimage at Iona, after a reign of twenty years; and in 765 his successor, Nial Frassagh, abdicated the throne, and became a monk at Iona. Here he died in 778, and was buried in the tomb of the Irish kings in that island.