Classes of Irish Kings

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER II....continued

2. Classes of Kings.

The government of the whole country, as well as that of each division and subdivision, was in the hands of a king or chief, who had to carry on his government in accordance with the immemorial customs of the country or sub-kingdom: and his authority was further limited by the counsels of his chief men. The usual name for a king in the ancient as well as in the modern language is ri [ree], genitive righ [ree]. A queen was, and is, called rioghan [reean]. Over all Ireland there was one king, who, to distinguish him from others, was designated the Ard-ri, or over-king (árd, 'high'). The over-kings lived at Tara till the sixth century A.D.; after that, elsewhere: hence the Ard-ri was often called "King of Tara," even after its abandonment. The last over-king was Roderick O'Conor. After his death, in 1198, there were no more supreme monarchs: but the provinces and the smaller kingdoms continued to be ruled by their native kings in succession down to a much later period.

There was a king over each of the five provinces—an arrangement commonly known as the Pentarchy. The provinces, again, included many sub-kingdoms, some consisting of a single tuath and some of more, as has been said. The tuath was the smallest territory whose ruler could claim the title of ri, or king; but all the 184 tuaths had not kings.

From this it will be seen that, speaking in a general sense, there were four classes of kings:—the king of the tuath; the king of the mór-tuath; the king of a province; and the king of all Ireland: forming a regular gradation, kingdom within kingdom.

The kings of the provinces were subject to the over-king, and owed him tribute and war-service. A similar law extended to all the sub-kingdoms: in other words, the king of each territory, from the tuath upwards to the province, was—at all events nominally—subject to the king of the larger territory in which it was included. Some of the sub-kingdoms were very large, such as Tyrone, Tirconnell, Thomond, Desmond, Ossory, Hy Many, &c., each of which comprised several tuaths and several tribes.

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