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

Section 21


After this Flann Sionna, king of Ireland, came with a large royal host of cavalry to place Diarmaid, son of Cearbhall, on the throne of Osruighe in the room of his brother Ceallach, son of Cearbhall, who reigned in Osruighe before him and who fell in this battle as he was helping Cormac, to whom as king of Leath Mogha he was subject as to the payment to him of tribute. It was then that a party came to Flann Sionna, king of Ireland, bringing with them the head of Cormac, son of Cuileannan, and they said to Flann: ‘Life and health be thine, O slaughtering powerful king; behold we have the head of Cormac, king of Munster, for thee, and according to the custom of the other kings lift thy thigh and put the head under it and press it beneath thy thigh. For it was the custom of the kings that preceded thee, when they had slain a king in battle to cut off his head and to press it beneath their thighs.’ But instead of thanking this party he reproached them severely for this deed, and said that it was a pity to behead the holy bishop and added that he would not press it; and Flann took the head in his hand and kissed it, and thrice turned round in full circle with the blessed head of the holy bishop.

And then the head was reverently carried from him to the body, at which was Maonach, son of Siadhal, comhorba of Comhghall, and he took the body of Cormac to Disirt Diarmada, and it was there buried with honour.

What heart but must rue this deed, the slaying and


hewing of the holy man, the wisest of the men of Ireland in his time, a man learned in Irish and in Latin, and a most virtuous chaste, pure, prayerful, pious archbishop, leader in teaching in true wisdom and good morals and high king of the two provinces of Munster!

And Flann Sionna, king of Ireland, returned, having left Diarmaid son of Cearbhall on the throne of Osruighe, and having made peace between himself and his kinsmen. The Leinstermen similarly returned in the flush of victory. After this Cearbhall son of Muireigen, king of Leinster, proceeded on his way to Cill Dara bringing with him in charge a large body of Munstermen and with them Flaithbheartach, son of Ionmhainen. Then Flaithbheartach was brought into Cill Dara, and the Leinster clergy fell to reproaching him greatly, for they knew well that it was through his fault the battle was fought.

But on the death of Cearbhall, king of Leinster, Flaithbheartach was set free; and a year after Muireann banchomhorba of Brighid accompanied him out of the town and sent a large party of Leinster clergy to escort him till he reached Magh nAirbh, and when he had thus arrived in Munster he went into his own monastery to Inis Cathaigh, and there he passed some time in virtue and devotion, and came out of Inis Cathaigh again to assume the sovereignty of Munster after the death of Dubh Lachtna, son of Maolguala, who was king of Munster seven years after Cormac; and he was for some years after that king of Munster, as is stated in the old book of the Annals of Cluain Eidhneach Fionntain in Laoighis which gives an account of the Battle of Bealach Mughna, as we read in the historic poem which Dallan, the ollamh of Cearbhall, king of Munster, composed in which he gives an abridged summary of this battle, and in which he enumerates the nobles and gives the numbers of the hosts that fell therein. But I shall


set down here only the first stanza of the poem, since I have mentioned the nobles by name above. Here is the stanza:
    1. Cormac, of Feimhean, Foghartach,
      Colman, Ceallach of hard combats,
      With six thousand, fell
      In the Battle of proud Bealach Mughna.
After this Flann Sionna, king of Ireland, died.

Niall Glundubh, son of Aodh Finnleith, son of Niall Caille, son of Aodh Oirndighe, son of Niall Frasach, son of Fearghal, son of Maolduin, son of Maoilfrithrigh, son of Aodh Uairiodhnach of the race of Eireamhon, held the sovereignty of Ireland three years. He renewed the fair of Taillte. It was this Niall who went with a force of Gaels to give battle to the Lochlonnaigh of Loch da Chaoch in Ulster, and many Lochlonnaigh and Gaels were slain in that battle. It was also in the reign of Niall that the Battle of Ceann Fuaid was won over the Leinstermen by Iomhar, a Lochlonnach chief, wherein fell six hundred Leinstermen under Maolmordha, son of Muireigen, king of Iarthar Lithfe, under Ughaire son of Oilill, under Mughron son of Cinneide, king of the Three Comanns and of Laoighis, and under many other nobles not mentioned here.

It was about this time that Oitir, a Lochlonnach chief, with a numerous host went from Loch da Chaoch to Alba, and Caus, son of Aodh, gave them battle, wherein Oitir and many Lochlonnaigh fell. It was in the reign of Niall Glundubh that a great fleet of Lochlonnaigh came to Ireland together with Sitric and the children of Iomhar, and they seized on the town of Ath Cliath in spite of the men of Ireland.

Niall Glundubh, king of Ireland, assembled the main host of Leath Cuinn and gave battle to the Lochlonnaigh at Ath Cliath, wherein he himself was slain together with


Conchubhar, son of Maoilseachlainn, royal heir to the sovereignty of Ireland, and Aodh, son of Eochagan, king of Ulster, and Maoilmithidh, son of Flannagan, king of Breagha, Maolcraoibhe O Duibhshionnaigh, king of Oirghiall, and many other leaders and men as well.

Donnchadh, son of Flann Sionna, son of Maoilseachlainn, son of Maolruanuidh, son of Donnchadh, son of Domhnall, son of Murchadh, son of Diarmaid, son of Airmeadhach Caoch, son of Conall Guithbhinn, son of Suibhne Meann of the race of Eireamhon, held the sovereignty of Ireland twenty years. Gormfhlaith, daughter of Flann, son of Conaing, was the mother of this Donnchadh, and his wife was Sadhbh, daughter of Donnchadh, son of Ceallach, king of Osruighe. And according to the book of Ard Macha this Donnchadh, son of Flann, king of Ireland, went with a large party to build a wall or fence round Saighir Chiarain by the direction of his wife, namely, Sadhbh, daughter of Donnchadh, son of Ceallach; for she felt envious at there being a wall or fence round every principal church in Ireland, while her own church, that is Saighir, was without a wall; for the burying place of the kings of Osruighe was at Saighir Chiarain at that time. Accordingly the men of Meath came to Donnchadh's mound beside Saighir to the west, and they set themselves to build the fence round the church day by day; and at this time the body of Donnchadh, son of Ceallach, king of Osruighe, was brought to Saighir to be buried; and after it was buried, when the darkness of night had set in, nine hairy jet-black crosans came upon the grave and set to choir-chanting as crosans are wont to do ever since, and their eyes and their teeth were whiter than snow, and all their other limbs blacker than blacksmith's coal.

They had come, it seems, bringing with them a lay for the king of Osruighe. And all who saw them grew sick a day and a night at the sight. Here is the lay:


    1. The people of Donnchadha Mor son of Ceallach,
      A proud quarterage,
      Melodious bands who are calling out
      Are we when on a hosting:
    2. Hosts hunting, full plains,
      Houses for drinking,
      Fair young women, hospitable princes,
      Great nobles;
    3. The shout of his companies and his troops,
      The quarterage of a good host;
      Ranks of skirmishers in the summer sun,
      Drinking cups, feast-shouts;
    4. Harps and pipes in harmony.
      Filés of Faibhle
      With a fair new poem they used to come
      To the gracious king of Raighne;
    5. Dod dor dod dan, O son of the king of Raighne,
      With prosperity,
      Where are the goblets where the friendship
      That thy father had?
    6. May a pang seized us for the man
      Whom all amused,
      Excellent the course on which he was
      In the fair world;
    7. Baptais baptain on his soul
      Since it is heard,
      Great his reward after going to the other world,
      We are his people.

Now this band used to keep chanting this lay from nightfall till morning every night over the grave of Donnchadh, so that a doubt arose in the minds of clergy and laity, for they were surprised that demons should be openly attending the body of that most virtuous king. Indeed among the pious practices of the king were frequent confession and the receiving of the Body of Christ and fervent prayers; and among his exercises of holy zeal was to send food and provisions to be given to God's poor in each principal church in Osruighe on each of the apostles' feasts. Moreover, he used to place an orphan or a poor man to be maintained for God's sake in every


household throughout Osruighe, and had besides three purses or three leather bags, to wit, a bag in which each person of the household put a tithe of the food he ate, and a bag in which each put his Michael's portion, and a third bag in which a portion of beeswax was put, which was at the disposal of the housewife to dispense to the poor who had got no share of the tithes or of the Michael's portion.

As to the clerics, they fasted and prayed for three days that it might be made known to them why the demons attended the king's body; and an angel of God appeared in a vision to a servant of God of the race of Fiachaidh son of Niall, who was in that assembly. ‘Ye have done well in keeping that fast,’ said the angel, ‘now these are nine of the company of Ui Coingheoidh, and this is the third time they have come to Ireland from hell; and since they could not find an occasion against this king during his life, they are causing a disturbance over his body after his death; and do ye have Mass said and water blessed to-morrow,’ continued the angel, ‘and let it be sprinkled on the grave and throughout all the churchyard, and all the demons will go away.’

This was done and the company of Ui Coingheoidh appeared in the air above, in the form of jet black birds, and they did not venture to light on the churchyard ground because of its having been blessed; and they said that the fasting and the bleesing of the grave by the clergy were necessary, ‘for we would be after his body on earth since we have not power over his soul in heaven’. And thereupon they went out of sight of all and they did not see them ever since. It was about this time that the crosan Fionn O Cionga and Mac Rionntach O Connorain lived, and it was they who learned by rote the above mentioned lay from the company of Ui Coinghaoidh while they were chanting it above the grave of Donnchadh, son of Ceallach, king of Osruighe, and the two referred to practised crosantacht as an art until death.