Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 20


It was about this time that Cormac, son of Cuilennan, son of Sealbhach, son of Ailghionan, son of Eochaidh, son of Breasal, son of Aonghus, son of Natfraoch, son of Corc, son of Lughaidh Gaot, son of Oilill Flann Beag, son of Fiachaidh Muilleathan, son of Eoghan Mor, son of Oilill Olom, held the sovereignty of Munster seven years. And great was the prosperity of Ireland while Cormac reigned over Munster. For Ireland was filled with divine favour and worldly prosperity and constant peace in his time, so that cattle were without a herd and flocks without a shepherd during his reign; and cemeteries were protected in his time, and many churches and monasteries and public schools to teach letters, law and seanchus were built in his time; and there was much tilled land, many bees, many beehives, much fasting and prayer and piety of every kind; and many guest houses were being built and many books were being written in his time. And every good deed he asked others to do he did himself first, as almsgiving, mercy, prayer, Mass and every other such good action. And, moreover, he was fortunate in this that the party of Lochlonnaigh who were in Ireland for purposes of plunder abandoned the country while he reigned over Munster.

Now it happened that Cormac son of Cuileannan, was dwelling at Cashel on the approach of Easter, and he made proclamation throughout the Eoghanachts asking them to send to him to Cashel food and provisions with a view to the noble festival, and they refused him. But when the Dal gCais heard this they sent abundance of food and provisions to Cormac so that he was grateful to them. Cormac again sent messengers to the race of Eoghan asking them to send him jewels and valuables with a view to bestowing them on strangers since they did not send him food, but what the race of Eoghan did


was to send him the worst arms and apparel they had, and hence he was displeased with them. Now when the Dal gCais heard this they sent him the choicest arms and apparel and jewels to make gifts of, and he was grateful to them and gave them his blessing, as he himself says in this stanza:
    1. May our sincerest wish be given them,
      To the powerful race of Tal,
      Fair sovereignty enduring for ever,
      Heroism, honour, comeliness, cleric virtues.

We read in the seanchus that there were forty kings on the throne of Munster from the time of Aonghus, son of Natfraoch, to Mathghamhain, son of Cinneide, and that during that time the Dal gCais possessed only Thomond (except Lorcan, who reigned a year and a half after Cormac son of Cuileannan, according to O Dubhagain, and died at the end of that time), namely, from Slighe Dhala which is called Bealach Mor Osruighe to Leim Chon gCulainn in the west of Corca Baiscinn; and it was the same Dal gCais who used to serve in the wars for the king of Cashel against Leinster and Leath Cuinn. Hence some poet says in this stanza:

    1. It is the right of the host of the race of Lughaidh
      To lead in battle the Munster hosts,
      And to be in the rear afterwards,
      Coming from proud unknown lands.

Now when Cormac son of Cuileannan, had been ten years on the throne of Munster in peace and prosperity, as we have said, he was egged on by some of the nobles of Munster, and in particular by Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen, abbot of Inis Cathach, who was of the royal blood, to exact head tribute from the province of Leinster since it belonged to Leath Mogha. Accordingly he assembled and brought together the Munster forces, and when their nobles had come together they resolved to go and demand head tribute from the Leinstermen by right of the


partition which was made between Mogh Nuadhat and Conn. But Cormac was reluctant to go on this expedition as he had a foreboding that he was to fall in the adventure. Still he consented to go, and just before he set out he left legacies for the sake of his soul to the principal churches of Ireland, to wit, an ounce of silver and an ounce of gold and his trappings and his steed to Drom Abhrad, that is Ard Fionain. A chalice of gold and silver and a satin chasuble to Lis Mor; a chalice of gold and silver and four ounces of gold and a hundred ounces of silver to Cashel; three ounces of gold and a missal to Imleach Iobhair; an ounce of gold and an ounce of silver to Gleann da Loch; trappings and a steed, an ounce of gold, and a satin cope to Cill Dara; twenty-four ounces of silver and of gold to Ard Macha; three ounces of gold to Inis Cathaigh; three ounces of gold and a satin chasuble to Mungairid and the blessing of Cormac.

High, indeed, was the testimony Cormac bore to the community of Mungairid, as we read in the poem which begins: O servant bind our provisions, in which he gives the number of the monks who were in the community serving the six temples that were in the church. The cathair of Neasan, the Deacon, that church is called. Here is the number of the monks that were in it, to wit, five hundred learned monks for preaching, six hundred psalm-singers to attend choir, and four hundred aged men for contemplation.

As to Cormac when he was about to set out for Leinster he sent for Lorcan, son of Lochtna, king of Dal gCas, and when he reached the palace at Cashel, Cormac bade him welcome, and he made it known to the nobles of the race of Eoghan who were with him that it was Lorcan who had the true title to the kingdom of Munster after him according to the will of Oilill Olom, by which it was ordained that the sovereignty of Munster should each alternate generation


be held by the race of Fiachaidh Muilleathan and the race of Cormac Cas. But the wish of Cormac was not given effect to in this matter.

Now as to Cormac when he and Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen, had got together a large army of Munstermen, they proceeded to Leinster to demand hostages or rent for the king of Munster, as the people of Leinster belonged to Leath Mogha. While the Munster host were in one camp before setting out on that expedition, Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen, abbot of Inis Cathaigh, went on his horse through the laneway of the camp, and his horse fell under him into a deep trench and that was an ill-omen for him. This caused a large number of his followers and of the entire host to abandon this march, as they regarded the holy man's fall as a bad omen before their setting out on an expedition.

Now noble envoys from the Leinstermen and from Cearbhall, son of Muireigen, came to interview Cormac first, and brought him an offer of peace from the Leinstermen, to wit, that there should be general peace in Ireland until the coming Bealltaine, for a fortnight of autumn was just then over, and hostages were to be given into the hands of Maonach, abbot of Disirt Diarmada, who was a holy, wise, pious man, and the Leinstermen were to give Cormac and Flaithbheartach a large amount of valuables and wealth in consideration of that peace. Cormac was well pleased to make this peace, and went and made known to Flaithbheartach that there had come to him envoys from the king of Leinster asking for peace until the coming Bealltaine, and offering both of them valuables and wealth from the Leinstermen if they returned to Munster in peace. When Flaithbheartach heard this he became greatly enraged and said: ‘From thy feeble courage it is very easy to judge how miserable thy mind and spirit,’ and he


poured out much abuse and insult on Cormac on that occasion.

Cormac answered him thus: ‘I know well,’ said he, ‘what will come of this, to wit, battle will be given to the Leinstermen and I shall be slain, and it is likely that thy death will also come of it.’ And when Cormac had said these words he went into his own tent troubled and sad, and when he sat down a vessel of apples was brought to him and he began to distribute them among his people, saying: ‘My beloved people,’ said he, ‘I shall not distribute apples among you from this time forth for ever.’ ‘O beloved lord,’ said his people, ‘thou hast made us sad and sorrowful, and thou has often forboded ill for thyself.’ ‘How is this, O people of my heart,’ said Cormac, ‘for it is no great wonder that even though I should not give you apples with my own hand there will be some one else with me to give them to you.’ After this Cormac ordered that a guard be set round him, and that the pious man Maonach, namely the comhorba of Comhghall, be brought to him so that he might make his confession and his will in his presence; and he partook of the Body of Christ in his presence, and he renounced the world before Maonach, for Cormac felt sure that he himself would be slain in that battle, still he did not like his people to know this.

Now he ordered that his body be taken to Cluain Uama, if it could be taken there with general convenience, and if not that it be taken to the churchyard of Diarmaid, son of Aodh Roin, that is Disirt Diarmada where he was a student for a long time. However, he preferred to be buried at Cluain Uama with the son of Leinin. But Maonach preferred he should be buried at Disirt Diarmada where there was a community of the monks of Comhghall, and Maonach was then Comhghall's comhorba, and he was a pious wise man, and he endured great hardship and labour in his endeavour to arrange peace between


the Leinstermen and the king of Munster on that occasion.

Now many Munstermen deserted the expedition without leave when they heard that Flann, son of Maoilseachlainn, king of Ireland, was in the camp of the Leinstermen with a numerous host of infantry and cavalry. Thereupon Maonach said: ‘Good people of Munster you should be acting wisely in giving the good hostages offered you into the hands of virtuous people until Bealltaine, to wit, the son of Cearbhall, king of Leinster, and the son of the king of Osruighe.’ All the Munstermen replied with one voice that it was Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen, who forced them to go to Leinster.

After this contention the Munstermen proceeded eastward over Sliabh Mairge to Droichead Leithghlinne. Now Tiobraide the comhorba of Ailbhe and a large party of clerics rested at Leithghlinn as well as the camp-followers and the baggage horses. After this the Munstermen sounded their trumpets and gave the alarm of battle and proceeded to Magh nAilbhe. They rested there in the bosom of a wood and fastness awaiting the enemy. The Munstermen divided themselves into three equal battalions with Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen, and Ceallach, son of Cearbhall, king of Osruighe, in command of the first battalion, Cormac, son of Cuileannan, king of Munster, in command of the second battalion, and Cormac, son of Mothla, king of the Deise, and a party of Munster nobles in command of the third battalion. Now in this array they reached Magh nAilbhe, and they were complaining of the multitude of the enemy and of the smallness of their own host. For authors write that the Leinstermen had a host four times as numerous as the Munstermen. Pitiful indeed was the cry from this battle as the learned relate, that is, the cry of the Munstermen who were being slain, and the cry of the Leinstermen who were exulting over that slaughter.


Now the sudden defeat of the Munstermen was owing to two causes, namely, Ceileachair, kinsman of Ceann Gheagain, one time king of Munster, mounted his horse, and when he had mounted he said: ‘O freemen of Munster,’ said he, ‘fly this awful battle and leave the clerics themselves to fight, as they accepted no other offer but to give battle to the Leinstermen.’ With that Ceileachair and a multitude with him quitted the battlefield. Another cause of the defeat of the Munstermen was that when Ceallach, son of Cearbhall, saw his people being smitten stoutly in the battle he suddenly mounted his horse and said to his followers: ‘Mount your horses,’ said he, ‘and dismiss those that are opposed to you,’ and though he said this it was not to fighting he referred, but to flight. It followed from these two causes that there was general rout of the men of Munster. Alas, great was the slaughter throughout Magh nAilbhe on that occasion. For clerics were no more spared than laics, but were slain equally with them on either side; and when they spared a cleric or a laic, it was not through mercy but through avarice they did so, in the hope of getting ransom-money on their account.

Cormac son of Cuileannan went to the forefront of the leading battalion. But his horse jumped into a drain under him and he got unhorsed, and a party of his followers who were fleeing from the battle saw him and came to his aid and placed him on his horse. Then did Cormac notice a freeborn foster-son of his own, whose name was Aodh, a man learned in wisdom, in law, in history and in Latin, and king Cormac spoke to him thus: ‘Beloved son,’ said he, ‘do not stay with me, but escape as best thou canst; and I told thee that I should be slain in this battle.’ Cormac advanced, and much blood of men and steeds lay along his path, and the hind legs of the horse under him slipped through the slipperiness of


the way which was marked with blood. Thereupon the horse fell backwards and Cormac fell under it and his neck and back were together broken in that fall; and as he fell he said: ‘Into Thy hands, O Lord,’ etc. He died on the spot, and the unruly folk came and assailed him with javelins and his head was cut off.

Dr. Hanmer says in his chronicle that it was by the Lochlonnaigh that Cormac son of Cuileannan, and Cearbhall son of Muireigen, king of Leinster, fell in the year of the Lord 905. But this statement of Hanmer's is false, for Cearbhall did not fall on this occasion, and it was not the Lochlonnaigh who fought the battle but Flann Sionna, king of Ireland, as is evident from the historic tract called the Battle of Bealach Mughna, in which battle the son of Cuilleanna fell.

Now in the very beginning of this battle Ceallach, son of Cearbhall, king of Osruighe, and his son were slain. Many were the good clerics, the kings, the chiefs and the warriors that were slain in this battle. There were slain there Foghartach son of Suibhne, king of Ciarraidhe, and Oilill son of Eoghan, a young prudent noble, and Colman, abbot of Ceann Eiteach, chief judicial ollamh of Ireland, and a large crowd with them. The following are the nobles who fell there, namely, Cormac, king of the Deise, Dubhgan, king of Fear Maighe, Ceannfaolaidh, king of Ui Conaill, Conn of Adhar, Aineislis of Ui Toirrdhealbhaigh, Eidhion king of Eidhne, who had been banished to Munster, Maolmuaidh, Madagan, Dubh dha Bhuireann, Conall, Fearadhach, Aodh king of Ui Liathain, and Domhnall king of Dun Cearmna. And those who won the victory over the Munstermen are Flann, son of Maoilseachlainn, king of Ireland, and Cearbhall, son of Muireigen, king of Leinster, and Tadhg, son of Faolan, king of Ui Cinnselaigh, and Teimheanain, king of Ui Deaghaidh, Ceallach and Lorcan two kings of the Cineals, and Inneirghe, son of


Duibhghiolla, king of Ui Drona, Follamhain son of Oilill, king of Fothorta Feadha, Tuathal son of Ughaire, king of Ui Muireadhaigh, Odhran son of Cinneide, king of Laoighis, Maolcallann son of Fearghal, king of the Forthuath, and Cleircen, king of Ui Bairrche.