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

Section 26


Now when the Battle of Cluain Tarbh was over and Brian and Murchadh with many Gaels slain, and the Lochlonnaigh and the Leinstermen defeated and the majority of them slain in that battle, and when the Dal gCais and race of Fiachaidh Muilleathan, had reached Mullach Maistean on their return journey, then the race of Fiachaidh formed themselves into a distinct host and separated from the Dal gCais; and as the Dal gCais were weak in hosts and contingents, they formed the resolution of sending envoys to Donnchadh, son of Brian, to ask hostages from him and to point out to him that his father and his father's brother had hostages from them, and they said they had a right to the sovereignty of Munster in alternate succession. ‘It was not with your consent ye were under my father or kinsmen,’ said Donnchadh, ‘it was they who made ye submit against your will and the men of Ireland with you.’ And Donnchadh added that he would give neither hostages nor sureties to them or to anyone else, and said that if he had enough of men to fight them he would not let them go without getting hostages from them for their being submissive to him as they were to his father.

When the Desmond host heard this message they arose promptly and suddenly, and seized their arms and went to give battle to the Dal gCais. Donnchadh, son of Brian, then directed his people to put their wounded men into Raith Maistean with a third of the host in charge of them, ‘and let the other two-thirds,’ added he, ‘meet that party in battle.’ Now the Dal gCais numbered then only one thousand, the remnant of a slaughter, while the Desmond host were three thousand strong. When the


wounded heard this speech of Donnchadh's they arose quickly and put moss in their wounds and sores, and they grasped their weapons in their hands, and their counsel was to engage in the battle. When the race of Fiachaidh Muilleathan observed this courage on the part of the Dal gCais, both sound and wounded, they ceased to speak of engaging in the battle, and marched onwards to their homes without getting hostages from the Dal gCais.

As to the Dal gCais they marched on thence to Ath I on the brink of the Bearbha and began to drink water there. Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phadraig, king of Osruighe, was there to meet them with his full host and reserves, to wit, the Leinstermen and the Ossorians, on Magh Cloinne Ceallaigh, and he had set a watch on the Dal gCais to find what way they would take, by reason of his great enmity against them. For Brian had tied and bound Donnchadh's father and kept him a year in bondage, and had spoiled and wasted all Osruighe and slain many of its people. Hence Mac Giolla Phadraig kept up the enmity against the Dal gCais, and he sent envoys to them to Ath I, to ask them to send him hostages as a condition of his allowing them to pass from that place unmolested. But Donnchadh son of Brian's answer to the envoys was that he would not give hostages. ‘Then,’ said the envoys, ‘Mac Giolla Phadraig would have to be met in battle.’ ‘He will get battle,’ said Donnchadh, ‘and it is a pity that I did not meet the death my father met, before I was overtaken by the misfortune of these people demanding hostages from me.’ The envoys told him not to get angry, seeing that he was not strong enough to fight Mac Giolla Phadraig. ‘Now if it were the custom to give affront to any envoys whatever on account of their message,’ said Donnchadh, ‘I would have your tongues plucked out of your heads, for if I had but a single page as a following I would not refuse battle to Mac Giolla Phadraig and to the Ossorians.’


Then Donnchadh son of Brian set the third of the host in charge of their wounded and the remaining two-thirds to give the battle. When the wounded heard this, they sprang up suddenly, and their wounds and gashes burst open, and they filled them with moss, and they seized their lances and their swords and came in this guise into the midst of their comrades, and they besought the son of Brian to send men into the wood to fetch strong stakes which were to be stuck in the ground, ‘and let us be tied to these,’ said they, ‘and let our arms be given into our hands and let our sons and kinsmen be placed beside us, to wit, two unwounded men around each of us wounded, so that we may act together with the greater earnestness. For the unwounded man will be ashamed to leave his post until the wounded man of our company who is bound leaves it.’ They were arrayed in that way; and that array into which the Dal gCais put themselves was a surprise for the mind, and a very great wonder.

When the Leinstermen and the Ossorians observed this extraordinary courage rising in the Dal gCais they conceived fear and terror of them, and what they said was: ‘It is not a retreat in disorder or panic that may be expected from the Dal gCais,’ said they, ‘but the fighting of a close firm battle in self-defence. For this reason we will not give them battle, for they are indifferent as to whether they shall endure death or life.’ Mac Giolla Phadraig replied: ‘It is cowardly of you to say that, seeing that you are numerous enough to eat yonder company if they were cooked food.’ ‘That is true,’ they replied, ‘but though it be true, none of these will be slain without his having slain five or six, and how is it to our advantage to be slain with them?’ ‘Since you do not wish to give them battle,’ said Mac Giolla Phadraig, ‘harass them by pursuit;’ and the Dal gCais were less pleased at this than they would have been to give them battle. After this the


Dal gCais proceeded unto their own country in want and in difficulties, and only eight hundred and fifty reached home with the son of Brian, for they lost a hundred and fifty through this harassing pursuit of the Ossorians on their failing to give battle.

The following is the account of the Battle of Cluain Tarbh which Maoilseachlainn son of Domhnall, king of Meath, gave a month after the battle was fought; for the clann Cholmain were asking him for tidings of the battle. Thereupon Maoilseachlainn said that he had never seen such a battle or an approach to it. ‘For,’ said he, ‘if God's angel from heaven were to give you an account of it his account would seem incredible. Now I and my host were looking at them at the distance only of a fallow field and a fence. But when these battalions had faced one another and stood breast to breast, they set to flail and to lash one another; and like unto a heavy flock of white sea-gulls over the coast, when the tide is coming up into the land, were the white showers of shields above their heads; and if we wished to go to the assistance of either side it was not in our power to do so, for our lances and our arms were bound and fastened above our heads by the firm closely set wisps of hair which the wind blew to us from the heads and beards of the warriors as they were being hacked and cut down by the edge of the swords and strong weapons on every side, so that we found it difficult to keep the handles of our weapons from getting entangled in one another. And we thought that those who were in the fight did not suffer more than we did who had to look on without running wild and mad.’

Observe, O reader, that though it was as part of the host of Brian that Maoilseachlainn and the men of Meath came to the field of battle, still through a plot between himself and the Lochlonnaigh, he did not come into the battle array amongst Brian's host, but what he did was


to remain with his host beside the battle, as the Lochlonnaigh had directed him.

Neither the Cineal Eoghain nor the siol Conaill were at the battle, but it was not that they did not offer to come there, but that Brian said in his high courage that it was without them he gained any success he had ever gained, ‘and so it will be now,’ said he.

Maoilseachlainn held the sovereignty again after Brian nine years. It was in his reign that the following events took place. Maoilseachlainn, king of Ireland, with a numerous host, together with O Neill and O Maoldoraidh, went to Ath Cliath, and they plundered and burned the town against the remnant of the Lochlonnaigh who lived at that time not having fallen by Brian at the Battle of Cluain Tarbh. Thence they proceeded to Ui Cinnsealaigh, and they spoiled and burned the entire country, and many people were slain there. After that Maoilseachlainn went to Ulster and brought thence many captives. It was about this time that Donnagan, king of Leinster, and Tadhg O Riain, king of O Drona, and many other persons were slain by Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phadraig in the field of Leithghlinn; and Mac Liag, high ollamh of Ireland, died. Maoilseachlainn, king of Ireland, made a hosting in Osruighe, and there slew Dunghal Mac Giolla Phadraig, son of Donnchadh, and many other persons with him.

It was this Maoilseachlainn of whom we are treating who founded the monastery of St. Mary's in the town of Ath Cliath in the year of the Lord 1039. And this Maoilseachlainn was a pious man in his latter days. For when the power of the Lochlonnaigh had been broken at the Battle of Cluain Tarbh so that they had only the wardenship of seaport towns, while it was their wont to make incursions into the country at times to spoil and ravage, as they were not numerous enough to give battle to the Gaels, Maoilseachlainn began to restore schools and to


build and set in order churches, after the example of Brian. We also read that he maintained three hundred students at his own expense.

It was in the reign of this Maoilseachlainn that Brian, son of Maolmordha, son of Murchadh, who was king of Leinster two years, was treacherously blinded by Sitric son of Amhlaoibh, in Ath Cliath. The same Sitric plundered and spoiled Ceanannus, slaying many people there and taking many captives thence. It was about this time that Ughaire son of Dunlaing, son of Tuathal, son of Ughaire, son of Oilill, son of Dunlaing, who was king of Leinster three years, inflicted a great defeat on Sitric son of Amhlaoibh, and the Lochlonnaigh of Ath Cliath, and dreadful slaughter was made of the Lochlonnaigh there. And Donn Sleibhe, son of Maolmordha, son of Muireigen, burned the house of Ughaire, so that Ughaire was burned in it at Dubhloch Leasa Cuile. After this, Sitric son of Iomhar, leader of the Lochlonnaigh of Port Lairge, was slain by the king of Osruighe, and Maoilseachlainn, king of Ireland, died at Cro-inis in Loch Ainninn.

Although the seanchas enumerate high kings as having ruled Ireland after Maoilseachlainn, I do not think that there was a king over the country without opposition until the Norman Invasion, notwithstanding that some of them assumed the sovereignty of Ireland. Here is the testimony of the seancha on this point in this stanza:

    1. After prosperous Maoilseachlainn,
      Son of Domhnall, son of Donnchadh,
      To no tribe remained a fair king,
      And no one king ruled Erin.