Northern and Southern Hy Nials

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIV

But the most important event of the period was the contention between the northern and southern Hy-Nials. Murtough was planning, with great military ability, to obtain the supreme rule. The Archbishop of Armagh and the clergy strove twice to avert hostilities, but their interference was almost ineffectual. "A year's peace" was all they could obtain. In the year 1100, Murtough brought a Danish fleet against the northerns, but they were cut off by O'Loughlin, "by killing or drowning." He also assembled an army at Assaroe, near Ballyshannon, "with the choice part of the men of Ireland," but the Cinel-Connaill defended their country bravely, and compelled him to retire " without booty, without hostages, without pledges." In 1101, when the twelvemonths' truce obtained by the clergy had expired, Murtough collected a powerful army, and devastated the north, without opposition. He demolished the palace of the Hy-Nials, called the Grianan of Aileach.[9] This was an act of revenge for a similar raid, committed a few years before, on the stronghold of the O'Briens, at Kincora, by O'Loughlin. So determined was he on devastation, that he commanded a stone to be carried away from the building in each of the sacks which had contained provisions for the army. He then took hostages of Ulidia, and returned to the south, having completed the circuit of Ireland in six weeks. The expedition was called the "circuitous hosting." His rather original method of razing a palace, is commemorated in the following quatrain:—

"I never heard of the billeting of grit stones,
Though I heard [sic ] of the billeting of companies,
Until the stones of Aileach was billeted
On the horses of the king of the west."[1]

Murtough appears to have been a not unusual compound of piety and profanity. We read in one place of his reckless exploits in burning churches and desecrating shrines, and in others of his liberal endowments of the same.

The Danes had now settled quietly in the mercantile towns which they had mainly contributed to form, and expended all their energies on commerce instead of war; but the new generation of Northmen, who had not yet visited Ireland, could not so easily relinquish the old project of conquering it. About the year 1101, Magnus planned an expedition to effect this purpose. He arrived in Dublin the following year; a "hosting of the men of Ireland came to oppose him;"[2] but they made peace with him for one year, and Murtough gave his daughter in marriage to his son Sitric, "with many jewels and gifts." The year 1103 was distinguished for sanguinary conflicts. Murdhadh Drun was killed on a predatory excursion in Magh Cobha. Raghnall Ua h-Ocain,[3] lawgiver of Felach Og, was slain by the men of Magh Itha. There was a "great war" between the Cinel-Eoghain and the Ulidians; and Murtough O'Brien, with the men of Munster, Leinster, and Ossory, the chiefs of Connaught, and the men of Meath and their kings, proceeded to Magh Cobha (Donaghmore, co. Down) to relieve the Ulidians. When the men of Munster "were wearied," Murtough proceeded to Ard-Macha, and left eight ounces of gold upon the altar, and promised eightscore cows. The northern Hy-Nials then attacked the camp of the Leinster men, and a spirited battle was fought. The Cinel-Eoghain and Cinel-Connaill returned victoriously and triumphantly to their forts, with valuable jewels and much wealth, together with the royal tent, the standard, and jewels.

Magnus, King of Lochlann and the Isles, was slain by the Ulidians this year.


[9] Aileach.—The remains of this fortress are still visible near Londonderry, and are called Grianan-Elagh.

[1] West.—Annals, vol. ii. p. 969.  

[2] Him.—Ib. p. 973.

[3] Ua h-Ocain.—Now anglicised O'Hagan. This family had the special privilege of crowning the O'Neills, and were their hereditary Brehons. The Right Honorable Judge O'Hagan is, we believe, the present head of the family.