The Ancient Kingdom of Connaught[1]

Roderick O'Connor, the last Milesian Monarch of Ireland, after having reigned twenty years, abdicated the throne, A.D. 1186, and, after a religious seclusion of thirteen years in the monastery of Cong, in the county Mayo, died, A.D. 1198, in the 82nd year of his age; and was buried in Clonmacnoise, in the same sepulchre with his father, Torlogh O'Connor, the 181st Monarch of Ireland. In the chronological poem on the Christian Kings of Ireland, written in the twelfth century, is the following stanza:—

"Ocht m-Bliadhna agus deich Ruadri an Ri,

Mac Toirdhealbhaidh an t-Ard Ri,

Flaith na n-Eirend: gan fhell,

Ri deighneach deig Eirenn."


"Eighteen years the Monarch Roderick,

Son of Torlogh, supreme sovereign,

Ireland's undisputed ruler,

Was fair Erin's latest king."


According to the Four Masters, Roderick O'Connor, reigned as Monarch for twenty years: from A.D. 1166 to A.D. 1186.


[1] Connaught: According to Keating and O'Flaherty, Connaught derived its name either from "Con," one of the chief Druids of the Tua-de-Danans, or from Conn Ceadcatha (Conn of the Hundred Battles), Monarch of Ireland, in the second century, and of the line of Heremon (see No. 80, page 358), whose posterity possessed the country; the word iacht or iocht, signifying children or posterity, and hence "Coniacht," the ancient name of Connaught, means the territory possessed by the posterity of Conn.

The ancient kingdom of Connaught comprised the present counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, and Leitrim, together with Clare, now in Munster, and Cavan, now a part of Ulster; and was divided into Tuaisceart Conacht or North Connaught, Deisceart Conacht or South Connaught, and lar Conacht or West Connaught. North Connaught was also called Iachtar Conacht or Lower Connaught; as was South Connaught called Uachtar Conacht or Upper Connaught.

North Connaught is connected with some of the earliest events in Irish history. According to our ancient annalists, it was in the time of Partholan or Bartholinus, who planted the first colony in Ireland, that the lakes called Lough Conn and Lough Mask in Mayo, and Lough Gara in Sligo, on the borders of Roscommon, suddenly burst forth; and in South Connaught, according to O'Flaherty, the lakes called Lough Cime (now Lough Hackett), Lough Riadh or Loughrea, and some other lakes in the county Galway, and also the river Suck between Roscommon and Galway, first began to flow in the time of Heremon, Monarch of Ireland, No. 37, page 351; and Lough Key in Moylurg, near Boyle in the county Roscommon, first sprang out in the reign of the Monarch Tiernmas, No. 41, page 352. On the arrival of the colony of the Firvolgians in Ireland, a division of them landed on the north-western coast of Connaught, in one of the bays, now called Blacksod or the Broadhaven. These Firvolgians were named Fir-Domhnan or Damnonians: and the country where they landed was called Iarras, or Iarras Domhnan, (from "iar," the west, and "ros," a promontory or peninsula, signifying the western promontory or peninsula of the Damnonians): a term exactly corresponding with the topographical features of the country; and to the present day the name has been retained in that of the half barony of "Erris," in the county Mayo.

When the Tua-de-Danans, who conquered the Firvolgians, first invaded Ireland, they landed in Ulster, and proceeded thence to Slieve-an-larain (or the Iron Mountain), in Brefney, and thenceforward into the territory of Connaught. The Firvolgians having collected their forces to oppose their progress, a desperate battle was fought between them at a place called Magh Tuireadh or the Plain of the Tower, in which the Firvolgians were totally defeated—ten thousand of them being slain, together with Eochad, son of Eirc their king, who was buried, on the sea-shore: a cairn of large stones being erected over him as a sepulchral monument, which remains to this day. This place is on the strand, near Ballysodare in the county of Sligo, and was called Traigh-an-Chairn or the Strand of the Cairn. After a few more battles, the De-Danans became possessors of Ireland, which they ruled until the arrival of the Milesians, who conquered them; and in their turn became masters of Ireland.

The Firvolgians, having assisted the Milesians in the conquest of the Tua-de-Danans, were, in consequence, restored by the Milesians to a great part of their former possessions, particularly in Connaught; in which province they were ruled by their own kings of the Firvolgian race down to the third century, when the Monarch Cormac Mac Art, of the Heremon line, brought them under subjection, and annexed Connaught to his kingdom. The Firvolgians appear to have been an athletic race; and the "Clan-na-Morna" of Connaught, under their Firvolgian chief, Goll, son of Morna, are celebrated in the Ossianic poems and ancient annals as famous warriors in the third century. Many of the Firvolgian race are still to be found in Connaught, but blended by blood and intermarriages with the Milesians. The Tua-de-Danans were originally Scythians, who had settled some time in Greece, and afterwards migrated to Scandinavia or the countries now forming Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. From Scandinavia (the "Fomoria" of the ancient Irish) the De-Danans came to North Britain where they settled colonies, and thence passed into Ireland. It appears that the Danans were a highly civilized people, skilled in the arts and sciences: hence they were considered as magicians. O'Brien, in his learned work on the "Round Towers of Ireland," considers that these beautiful structures were built by the Tua-de-Danans, for purposes connected with pagan worship and astronomical observations: an opinion very probable when it is considered that they were highly skilled in architecture and other arts, from their long residence in Greece and intercourse with the Phoenicians.

It is stated that Orbsen, a chief descended from the Danans and Fomorians, was a famous merchant, and carried on a commercial intercouse between Ireland and Britain; and that he was killed by Uillinn of the Red Brows, another De-Danan chief, in a battle called, from that circumstance, Magh Uillinn or the Plain of Uillinn, now the barony of "Moycullen," in the county Galway. In South Connaught, the territory which forms the present county Clare was taken from Connaught in the latter part of the third century, and added to part of Limerick, under the name of Tuadh-Mumhain or North Munster (a word anglicised "Thomond"); of which the O'Briens, of the Dalcassian race, became Kings.

Cormac Mac Art, the celebrated Monarch of Ireland in the second century, was born in Corran at the place called Ath-Cormac or the Ford of Cormac, near Keis-Corran (now "Keash") in the county Sligo; and hence he was called "Cormac of Corran."

The territory of North Connaught is connected in a remarkable manner with the mission of St. Patrick to Ireland; Mullagh Farry (in Irish Forrach-mhac-nAmhailgaidh), now "Mullafarry," near Killala, in the barony of Tyrawley, and county Mayo, is the place where St. Patrick converted to Christianity the king or prince of that territory (Enda Crom) and his seven sons; and baptized twelve thousand persons in the water of a well called Tobar Enadharc. And Croagh Patrick mountain also in Mayo, was long celebrated for the miracles it is said the saint performed there. The See of Killala was founded by St. Patrick.

At Carn Amhalgaidh or "Carnawley," supposed to be the hill of Mullaghcarn (where King Awley was buried), the chiefs of the O'Dowds were inaugurated as princes of Hy-Fiachra; while, according to other accounts they were inaugurated on the hill of Ardnaree, near Ballina. This principality of Northern Hy-Fiachra comprised the present counties of Mayo and Sligo, and a portion of Galway; while the territory of Hy-Fiachra, in the county Galway was called the Southern Hy-Fiachra or Hy-Fiachra Aidhne: so named after Eogan Aidhne, son of Dathi, the last pagan Monarch of Ireland, who was killed by lightning at the foot of the Alps. A.D. 429. This territory of Hy-Fiachra Aidhne was co-extensive with the present diocese of Kilmacduagh; and was possessed by the descendants of Eoghan Aidhne, the principal of whom were—O'Heyne or Hynes, O'Clery, and O'Shaughnessy. According to O'Dugan and MacFirbis, fourteen of the race of Hy-Fiachra were kings of Connaught: some of whom had their chief residence in Aidhne, in Galway; others at Ceara, now the barony of "Carra" in Mayo; and some on the plain of the Muaidhe or the (river) Moy, in Sligo. O'Dubhda or O'Dowd were head chiefs of the northern Hy-Fiachra, and their territory comprised nearly the whole of the present county Sligo, with the greater part of Mayo. Many of the O'Dowds, even down to modern times, were remarkable for their great strength and stature. (See the "O'Dowd" pedigree.)

Cruaghan or Croaghan, near Eiphin in the county Roscommon, became the capital of Connaught and the residence of its ancient kings; and the estates of Connaught held conventions there to make laws and inaugurate their kings. At Cruaghan was the burial place of the pagan kings of Connaught, called Reilig na Riogh or The Cemetery of the kings; here Dathi, the last pagan Monarch of Ireland, was buried; and a large red pillar-stone erected over his grave remains to this day. A poem, giving an account of the kings and queens buried at Cruaghan, was composed by Torna Eigeas or Torna, the learned, chief bard to the Monarch Niall of the Nine Hostages, in the fourth century, of the commencement of which the following is a translation:

"Under thee lies the fair king of the men of Fail,

Dathi, son of Fiachra, man of fame:

O! Cruacha (Cruaghan), thou hast this concealed

From the Galls and the Gaels."

In the "Books" of Annagh and Ballymote, and other ancient records, are given some curious accounts of the customs used in the interment of the ancient kings and chiefs: Laoghaire (or Leary), Monarch of Ireland in the fifth century, was buried in the rampart or rath called Rath Leary, at Tara, with his military weapons and armour on him; his face turned southwards, bidding defiance, as it were, to his enemies the men of Leinster. And Owen Beul, a king of Connaught in the sixth century, who was mortally wounded at the battle of Sligeach (or Sligo), fought with the people of Ulster, gave directions that he should be buried with his red javelin in his hand, and his face towards Ulster, as in defiance of his enemies; but the Ulstermen came with a strong force and raised the body of the king, and buried it near Lough Gill, with the face downwards, that it might not be the cause of making them "fly" before the Conacians. Near Lough Gill in Sligo are two great cairns still remaining, at which place was probably an ancient cemetery of some of the kings of Connaught; and another large one, near Cong, in the county Mayo. There are still some remains of Reilig-na-Riogh at Cruaghan or Croaghan in the county Roscommon, consisting of a circular area of about two hundred feet in diameter, surrounded with some remains of an ancient stone ditch; and in the interior are heaps of rude stones piled upon each other, as stated in "Weld's Survey of Roscommon." Dun Aengus or the Fortress of Aengus, erected on the largest of the Arran Islands, off the coast of Galway, and situated on a tremendous cliff overhanging the sea, consists of a stone work of immense strength of Cyclopean architecture, composed of large stones without mortar or cement. It is of a circular form, and capable of containing within its area two hundred cows. According to O'Flaherty, it was erected by Aengus or Conchobhar, two of the Firvolgian kings of Connaught, before the Christian era; and was also called the Dun of Concovar or Connor.

After the introduction of Christianity, the Irish kings and chiefs were buried in the abbeys, churches, and cathedrals: the Monarch Brian Boru, killed at the battle of Clontarf, was, it is said, buried in the cathedral of Armagh; the kings of Connaught, in the abbeys of Clonmacnoise, Cong, Knockmoy, Roscommon, etc.

It is stated by O'Flaherty, that six of the sons of Brian, king of Connaught, the ancestor of the Hy-Briuin, were converted and baptized by St. Patrick, together with many of the people, on the plain of Moyseola in Roscommon; and that the saint erected a church, called Domhnach Mór or the "great church," on the banks of Lough Sealga, now Lough Hacket; and that on three pillar stones which, for the purpose of pagan worship, had been raised there in the ages of idolatry, he had the name of Christ inscribed in three languages: on one of them, "Iesus;" on another, "Soter;" and on the third, "Salvator." Ono, a grandson of Brian, king of Connaught, made a present to St. Patrick of his palace, called Imleach Ona, where the saint founded the episcopal see of Oilfinn or "Elphin," which obtained the name from a spring well the saint had sunk there, and on the margin of which was erected a large stone: thus from "Oil," which means a stone or rock, and "finn," which signifies fair or clear, the name Oilfinn or Elphin was derived, and which meant the rock of the limpid water. O'Flaherty states that this stone continued there till his own time, A.D. 1675.

A king of Connaught in the latter end of the seventh century, named Muireadhach Muilleathan, who died A.D. 700, and a descendant of the above named Brian, son of Eochy Moyvone, was the ancestor of the Siol Muireadhaigh; which became the chief branch of the Hy-Briune race, and possessed the greater part of Connaught, but were chiefly located in the territory now forming the county Roscommon: hence the term "Siol Murray" was applied to that territory. The O'Connors who became kings of Connaught were the head chiefs of Siol Murray; and took their name from Conchobhar or Connor, who was a king of Connaught in the tenth century. The grandson of this Conchobhar, Tadhg an Eich Geal or Teige of the White Steed, who was king of Connaught in the beginning of the eleventh century, and who died A.D. 1030, was the first who took the sirname of "O'Connor." In the tenth century, as mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, two or three of the O'Rourkes are styled kings of Connaught; but, with these exceptions, the ancestors of the O'Connors of the race of Hy-Briune and Siol Murray, and the O'Connors themselves, held the sovereignty of Connaught from the fifth to the fifteenth century; and two of them became Monarchs of Ireland, in the twelfth century, namely, Torlogh O'Connor, called Toirdhealbhach Mór or Torlogh the Great, who is called by the annalists the "Augustus of Western Europe;" and his son, Roderick O'Connor, who was the last Milesian Monarch of Ireland. This Torlogh O'Connor died at Dunmore, in Galway, A.D. 1156, in the 68th year of his age, and was buried at Clonmacnoise. And Roderick O'Connor, after having reigned eighteen years, abdicated the throne, A.D. 1184, in consequence of the Anglo-Norman invasion; and, after a religious seclusion of thirteen years in Cong Abbey, in the county Mayo, died A.D. 1198, in the 82nd year of his age, and was buried in Clonmacnoise in the same sepulchre with his father. In the "Memoirs" of Charles O'Connor of Belenagar, it is said, that in the latter end of the fourteenth century the two head chiefs of the O'Connors, namely, Torlogh Roe and Torlogh Don, having contended for the lordship of Siol Murray, agreed to divide the territory between them. The families descended from Torlogh Don called themselves the O'Connors "Don" or the Brown O'Connors; while the descendants of Torlogh Roe called themselves the O'Connors "Roe" or the Red O'Connors. Another branch of the O'Connors got great possessions in the county Sligo, and were styled the O'Connors "Sligo."—CONNELLAN.