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

Section 25


Brian Boraimhe, son of Cinneide, son of Lorcan, son of Lachtna, son of Corc, son of Annluan, son of Mathgamhain, son of Toirrdhealbhach, son of Cathal, son of Aodh Caomh, son of Conall, son of Eochaidh Bailldhearg, son of Carrthann Fionn, son of Blod, son of Cas, son of Conall Eachluaith, son of Lughaidh Meann, son of Aonghus Tireach, son of Fear Corb, son of Mogh Corb, son of Cormac Cas, son of Oilill Olom, of the race of Eibhear, held the sovereignty of Ireland twelve years. Beibhionn, daughter of Archaidh, son of Murchadh, son of Maonach, king of West Connaught, was the mother of Brian. The descent of Beibhionn was as follows: Cianog, daughter of Ciocharan, a Connaughtman, bore a son and daughter to a Leinster chief called


Criachan through the prayer of Caireall, abbot, and of seven hundred monks with him, who prayed together to God that this couple who were barren a long period of their time may have progeny, and God heard the prayer of Caireall and of his community, and Cianog bore a son and daughter to Criachan. The son's name was Maoilmithidh and the daughter's name was Osnadh; and the daughter was given in marriage to Archaidh, son of Murchadh, son of Maonach, king of West Connaught, and she bore him Beibhionn, that is the mother of Brian Boraimhe, son of Cinneide.

It was in the reign of Brian that the following events took place, to wit, Sitric, son of Amhlaoibh, went to spoil Ulster in a large fleet, and he plundered Cill Chleite and Inis Cumhscraigh and took many sureties and much wealth therefrom. After this Naomhan, son of Maoilciarain, chief artificer of Ireland, and Raghnall, son of Gothfraidh, son of Aralt, king of the Isles, a Lochlonnach, died. It was about this time that Brian Boraimhe, son of Cinneide, king of Ireland, went with a numerous host to Cineal Eoghain in Ulster and thence to Meath, and they remained a night at Taillte, thence they went to Ard Macha, and remained there a week, and Brian left twenty ounces of gold on the altar of Ard Macha.

They proceeded thence to Dal nAruidhe, and Brian got sureties for the keeping of peace from the entire province of Ulster. Soon after this Brian went with another large host to Cineal Eoghain and Tir Chonaill and brought many hostages thence as sureties for maintaining peace.

It was about this time that Maolruanuidh, son of Ardghal, king of Ulster, died, also Clothna, son of Aonghus, chief poet of Ireland, and Cathal, son of Conchubhar, who was king of Connaught twenty years, and he died in Iorras Domhnann. After this Murchadh, son of Brian,


with the men of Munster and Leinster and the Ui Neill of the south, and Flaithbheartach, son of Muireadhach, with the young men of the Fochla went to plunder and spoil Cineal Luigdheach and brought thence three hundred in captivity.

Brian, son of Cinneide, king of Ireland, made a hosting to Magh Corainn and brought with him Maolruanuidh O Maoldoraidh, king of Cineal Conaill, to Ceann Choradh in captivity. Murchadh son of Brian spoiled and burned the province of Leinster as far as Gleann da Loch, and thence to Cill Mhaighnionn. It was about this time that the Lochlonnaigh with a large fleet went to Munster and plundered and burned Cork; and God requited them for this, for Amhlaoibh, son of Sitric, king of the Lochlonnaigh, and Mathghamhain, son of Dubhghall, son of Amhlaoibh, were treacherously slain by Cathal, son of Domhnall, son of Dubh da Bhuireann, soon afterwards. After this the Lochlonnaigh and the Leinstermen went into Meath, and they plundered Tearmonn Feichin and took thence many captives, and God took vengeance upon them soon afterwards, as is plain from the above account of the incursion which Murchadh, son of Brian, made into Leinster, in which he spoiled the Leinstermen and the Lochlonnaigh, as we have said.

As to Brian, son of Cinneide, when he was king of Ireland and had crippled the Lochlonnaigh, very great were the benefits he conferred on Ireland as we read in the books of the seanchus. Here follow briefly some of these benefits.

In the first place he restored and built churches, and gave every cleric his own temple according to his rank and his right to it. He built and set in order public schools for the teaching of letters and the sciences in general, and he also gave the price of books and expenses to each one who could not defray the expenses and who desired to devote himself to learning. He


also gave freedom to the lords and territorial chiefs of the people; and all the spoil he had taken from the Lochlonnaigh he gave to the Gaels, and he freed all the Gaels from every species of oppression to which the Lochlonnaigh subjected them; and every territory which he took from the Lochlonnaigh by the strength of his arm, he gave it not to any of his own tribe, but gave each territory to the tribe in Ireland to whom it belonged of right.

It was Brian, too, who gave the men of Ireland distinct surnames by which each separate sept of them is distinguished from the rest. It was Brian also who built the church of Cill Dalua and the church of Inis Cealltrach, and restored the tower of Tuaim Greine. Moreover, Brian built many bridges and causeways and highways, and he built and repaired duns and fortresses and river banks and islands. He also built Cashel of the Kings and Ceann Abhrad, Inis Locha Ce and Inis Locha Gair, Dun Eochair Mhaighe, Dun Iasc and Dun Tri Liag, Dun gCrot and Dun Cliach, Inse an Ghaill Duibh and Inis Locha Saighlionn, Ros na Riogh, Ceann Choradh na Bhoraimhe, and the royal fortresses of Munster generally. It was also in the reign of Brian that a lone lady travelled from Tonn Tuaidhe to Tonn Cliodhna in the south, carrying with her a wand with a gold circlet or ring on it, and she was neither robbed nor violated, by reason of the rigour of Brian's rule in Ireland; and hence the poet composed this stanza:

    1. From Toruidh to pleasant Cliodhna,
      Having a circlet of gold by her side,
      In the reign of bright-limbed, intrepid Brian,
      A lone lady went round Erin.
Ireland was thus rich, prosperous, peaceful during the twelve years that Brian reigned over her, and for him the poet composed this stanza:
    1. The boiling of the sea, a rapid flood,
      Was Brian of Breagha over Banbha of variegated flowers,
      Without sadness, without calumny, without suspicion,
      Twelve years lasted his prosperity.


It is very easy to see from this character which the seanchas give of Brian that it # would not be right to call him a tyrant, for it was not according to his will or his strength that he governed the country during his reign, but according to the country's constitution and law. For a tyrant is one who governs and rules according to might and not according to right; and since it was not thus Brian acted, but according to right and the constitution, he cannot be called a tyrant.

Or if he should be called a tyrant (usurper) for supplanting Maoilseachlainn in the sovereignty of the country, having been chosen by the majority of the Irish nobles, let the reader judge whether it be more just to call him a tyrant (usurper) than to call the majority of the kings of Ireland who sprang from the children of Milidh tyrants (usurpers). For not one in every seven of them gained the sovereignty who did not do so by killing the king who came before him; and since they are not called tyrants (usurpers), being of the royal blood, for killing the king who came before them, in the same way, since Brian was of the royal blood he should not be called a tyrant (usurper) for having supplanted Maoilseachlainn, whom, though he was in his power, he did not kill, as other kings killed those who came before them in the sovereignty of Ireland, as we have said.

Here follow the tribute and dues that Brian Boraimhe claimed from the provincial kings of Ireland outside of Munster for the upkeep of the house of Ceann Choradh as stated by Mac Liag, chief ollamh of Ireland, in the poem which begins: Boraimhe town of the kings. In the first place he got from the province of Connaught eight hundred cows and eight hundred hogs; he got from Tir Chonaill five hundred mantles and five hundred cows; he got from Tir Eoghain three score cows and three score pigs and three score bars of iron; he got from the clann Rudhruighe of Ulster thrice fifty cows and thrice fifty hogs; he got


eight hundred cows from Oirghialla; three hundred hogs, three hundred beeves and three hundred bars of iron from the province of Leinster; three score cows, three score pigs and three score bars of iron from Osruighe; he got from the Lochlonnaigh of Ath Cliath thrice fifty vats of wine; and he got from the Lochlonnaigh of Luimneach a tun of red wine every day in the year. And when Brian sat in his royal seat it was the king of Munster that sat at his right hand, just as it was customary with all the kings of the race of Eireamhon to place the kings of Ulster at their right hand. None of the men of Ireland were permitted to bear arms in Brian's house, but the Dal gCais alone as the above-mentioned poem says in this stanza:
    1. None of the men of Erin,
      Only the Dal gCais of battle triumphs,
      Were permitted to use their arms there
      In the same house with the king of Erin.
It is to be inferred from the amount of meat and wine that was fixed for the support of the household of the court of Ceann Choradh, that with the exception of Cormac son of Art, and Conaire Mor son of Eideirsceol, there was none among the kings of Ireland who had a larger household and more followers and who kept up a more princely house than Brian.

When Brian Boraimhe was residing at Ceann Choradh without strife or discord he besought the king of Leinster, Maolmordha, son of Murchadh, to send him three masts of excellent wood from Fiodh Gaibhle. The king of Leinster had the masts cut down and went with himself to Ceann Choradh where Brian then was; and he ordered the Ui Failghe to carry one of the masts and the Ui Faolain another and Ui Muireadhaigh the third, and a war of words arose between them as they were going up Sliabh an Bhogaigh; and thereupon as the king of Leinster himself put his shoulder under the mast assigned to the Ui Faolain, wearing a satin tunic which Brian had given


him sometime before, and which had gold borders to it and a silver clasp. And so greatly did the king of Leinster exert himself in bearing up the mast that the clasp of his tunic snapped; and when they reached Ceann Choradh the king of Leinster took off his tunic and gave it to his sister Gormfhlaith, daughter of Murchadh (that is Brian's wife), to fix a clasp in it. The queen took the tunic and cast it in the fire that was in front of her, and proceeded to reproach her brother for being in slavery or subjection to anyone on earth, ‘a thing,’ said she, ‘which neither thy father nor thy grandfather brooked;’ and she added, that Brian's son would make the same demand of his son. Now Maolmordha kept in mind the queen's remarks; and the next day Murchadh, son of Brian, and Conaing, son of Donn Cuan, happened to be playing chess, or according to others it was the comhorba of Caoimhghin of Glenn da Loch that was playing with Murchadh, and taught him a move which caused the game to go against him. ‘It was thou who gavest advice to the Lochlonnaigh which caused them to be defeated at the Battle of Gleann Mama,’ said Murchadh. ‘If I gave them advice which caused them to be defeated there,’ said Maolmordha, ‘I will give them another advice through which they will defeat thee in turn.’ ‘I defy thee to do so,’ said Murchadh.

Maolmurdha was enraged at this and he went to his sleeping apartment, and could not be got to come to the drinking hall that night, and he took his departure early the next morning without bidding farewell to Brian.

Now when Brian heard that the king of Leinster left the mansion without bidding him farewell, he sent a page of his household to detain him that he might give him wages and gifts. The place at which the page overtook him was at the end of the plank bridge of Cill Dalua on


the east side of the Sionainn, as he was mounting his steed, and he delievered to him the message Brian had sent him. Maolmordha, the king of Leinster, turned on the page and gave him three blows with the yew wand he held in his hand, so that he broke the bones of his skull, and it was in a litter that he was carried to Brian's house. The page's name was Cogaran and from him are the Ui Cogarain of Munster.

A party of the household of Ceann Choradh desired to pursue the king of Leinster and not to allow him to go to Leinster until he had submitted to Brian. Brian, however, said that it would not be permitted to practise treachery against him in his own house. ‘But,’ added he, ‘it is from the door-post of his own house that justice will be required of him.’

Maolmordha, king of Leinster, went into his own country, and summoned and brought together to him the Leinster nobles, and told them that himself and all his province had been dishonoured and treated to abusive speech at Ceann Choradh. Accordingly what they agreed on was that they themselves and a Lochlonnach force should go against Brian, so that the Battle of Cluain Tarbh was set on foot between them; and since Brian had not left in Ireland as many of the Lochlonnaigh as could fight a battle, having left only the party he suffered, on the excuse of trading, to remain in Ath Cliath, in Loch Garman, in Port Lairge, in Corcach and in Luimneach, for the purpose of attracting commerce from other countries to Ireland, what the king of Leinster and the Lochlonnaigh decided on was to send to the king of Lochloinn for a force with which to meet Brian in battle on Magh nEalta at Cluain Tarbh. And when the message reached the king of Lochloinn he sent his two sons Carolus Cnutus and Andreas with a host of twelve thousand Lochlonnaigh to help the king of Leinster to fight the Battle of Cluain Tarbh, and when they landed at Ath Cliath the king of Leinster


sent word to Brian to give notice that he would give him battle at Cluain Tarbh.

As to Brian, son of Cinneide, king of Ireland, he assembled the forces of Munster and Connaught and proceeded to Ath Cliath to fight the Battle of Cluain Tarbh, as we have said. And there went thither with him the race of Fiachaidh Muilleathan with their branches of descendants a great bulky stately host. Thither went also the descendants of Cas, son of Conall Eachluaith, to wit, the Ui Bloid and the Ui Caisin, and the descendants of Aonghus Chinn nAthrach, and the Cineal Baoth and the Cineal Cuallachtaigh, the Cineal Failbhe, and the clann Eachach under Ceallach, son of Duibhgheann, and the clann Choilein under Meanman, son of Eisidh, son of Sidh, son of Maolcluiche, and the Cineal Fearmhaic under Maolmeadha, son of Baodan. Thither went also the sons of Cinneide son of Lorcan, Annluan, Lachtna, Coscrach, Lorcan, Seanchan, Ogan, Maolruanuidh and Aingidh, Murchadh son of Brian, and his son Toirrdhealbhach and five brothers of Murchadh, to wit, Tadhg, Donnchadh, Domhnall, Conchubhar and Flann. Thither went in like manner the sons of Donn Cuan son of Cinneide, to wit, Longargan, Ceileachair, Cinneide, Fianghalach, Innreachtach, Eochaidh, son of Innreachtach, and Duibhgheann son of Eochaidh and Beallan and as many of the servants and followers of these as came with them. Thither also went a great host of Connaughtmen under Tadhg son of Murchadh O Ceallaigh, king of Ui Maine, and under Maolruanuidh na Paidre O Eidhin, king of Eidhin, with many of the Connaught nobles, through a feeling of kinship with Brian, for Beibhionn, his mother, was a Connaughtwoman. In like manner Maoilseachlainn son of Domhnall, with the strength of Meath under him, went to meet Brian to help him.

And when they came together to one place on Magh nEalta they prepared and arranged themselves for battle


on either side, the king of Leinster and the Lochlonnaigh on one side, the two sons of the king of Lochloinn, to wit, Carolus Cnutus and Andreas being their leaders; Brian with the nobles of Munster, Connaught and Meath on the other side, with Murchadh, son of Brian, as their leader. Maoilseachlainn, however, did not wish to help them.

The battle was bravely fought between them, and the Lochlonnaigh and the Leinstermen were defeated; and the two sons of the king of Lochloinn and the nobles of the fleet who came with them fell there, together with six thousand and seven hundred Lochlonnaigh. There also fell the men of Ath Cliath and another company of the Lochlonnaigh of the fleet about four thousand. In like manner fell the king of Leinster and most of the nobles of Leinster together with three thousand one hundred Leinstermen.

Now on the other side fell Murchadh, son of Brian, the heir apparent to the throne of Ireland, and the majority of the Munster and Connaught nobles around him together with four thousand men. And a party of Lochlonnaigh who were fleeing into the country from the slaughter came upon Brian's tent, and some of them knew that it was Brian who was in it, and Bruadar, their leader, who was of the party, went towards Brian, and they slew him, but Brian's people slew Bruadar and his people. Here follow other supporters of Brian who were slain in that battle, to wit, Toirrdhealbhach, son of Murchadh, son of Brian, and Conaing, son of Donn Cuan, son of Cinneide, and Mothla, son of Domhnall, son of Faolan, king of Deise Mumhan, Eochaidh son of Dunadhach, prince of the clann Scannlain and Niall Ua Cuinn, and Cu Doiligh son of Cinneide, three companions of Brian, and Tadhg, son of Murchadh O Ceallaigh, king of Ui Maine, and Maolruanuidh na Paidre O Heidhin, king of Eidhin, and Geibheannach, son of Dubhagan, king of Feara Muighe, and Mac Beathaidh, son of Muireadhach Claon, king of Ciarraidhe Luachra,


Domhnall, son of Diarmaid, king of Corca Baiscinn, Scannlan, son of Cathal, king of the Eoghanacht of Loch Lein, and Domhnall, son of Eimhin, son of Cainneach, and Mormhaor Marr, that is Muireadhach Mor of Alba, and many other nobles that are not mentioned here. The year of the Lord when the Battle of Cluain Tarbh was fought was 1034, the Friday before Easter. Here is the seanchas setting forth of the number of years that had elapsed from the birth of Christ to the death of Brian:
    1. Four years and thirty,
      With a thousand without deceit,
      From the springing up of a Physician to help us
      To the death of Brian in Breagha.
And Brian's age at that time was eighty-eight years, as the poet says in this stanza:
    1. The life of Brian with victories
      Up to the conflict with shouts,
      Four score years
      And eight are counted.
Moreover, Murchadh, son of Brian, was sixty-three years when he fell in this battle.