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

Section 1


Of the kings of Ireland and of their history after the Faith and of its annals to the coming of the Normans hither, and to their acquiring supremacy over the country, as follows:

Sanderus says in the first book on the English Schism that the Gaels, immediately on their accepting the Faith, put themselves and all they had under the power and government of the Bishop of Rome; and that they had no other chief prince over them but the Bishop of Rome until the Normans gained the supremacy of Ireland. These are the authors words: The Irish, (says he,) immediately on their accepting the Faith, put themselves and all they had under the obedience and government of the Bishop of Rome, and they did not acknowledge any other chief prince over Ireland but the Bishop of Rome until that time, {Hiberni initio statim post Christianum Religionem acceptam se suaque omnia in Pontificis Romani ditionem dederant, nec quemquam alium supremum principem Hiberniae ad illud usque tempus praeter unum Romanum Pontificem, agnoverant.}’’

that is, until the Norman Invasion. But this statement of Sanderus is not true, as is plain from the Psalter of Cashel, where it speaks of Irial Faidh, son of Eireamhon, and where it gives the number of the kings of the race of Eireamhon who ruled Ireland before Patrick planted the Faith in Ireland and afterwards. Irial Faidh ruled the kingdom of Ireland ten years, and before the rule of Christ was planted by Patrick in Ireland fifty-seven kings of the stock of that king held the sovereignty of Ireland; and


moreover, there were fifty kings of the descendants of the same man ruling the kingdom of Ireland after Patrick.’’

{Írial propheta per decem annos regnavit, et antequam regula Christi per Patricium seminata esst in Hibernia, de semine eiusdem Regis quinquaginta septem reges regnaverunt super Hiberniam, et post Patricium de prole illius quinquaginta reges.} And this is plain from the ancient annals of Ireland and from the Reim Rioghruidhe.

Thus does the Polycronicon treat of the same matter where it says: From the coming of Patrick to the time of king Feidhlimidh (i.e., king of Munster), there were thirty-three kings on the throne of Ireland in the space of four hundred years. And in the time of Feidhlimidh the Fionnlochlonnaigh, who are called Norwegians, together with their leader Turgesius, came to Ireland. {Ab adventu Sancti Patricii usque ad Feldemidii Regis tempora triginta tres reges per quadringentos in Hibernia regnaverunt; tempore autem Feldemidii Noruaegienses duce Turgesio terram hanc occuparunt}’’

From this it is to be inferred that there were kings over Ireland of the Gaelic race after the time of Patrick. And the same author uses these very words in the same place, From the time of Turgesius to the last king Ruaidhri, king of Connaught, there were seventeen kings over Ireland. {A tempore Turgesii usque ad ultimum monarchum Rodericum Conatiae Regem septemdecem reges in Hibernia fuerunt.}’’

From all these facts it is plain that it is not true to say that there was no king over Ireland from the time of Patrick to the Norman Invasion. And with this agrees what we read in the thirty-sixth epistle written by St. Anselmus, archbishop of Canterbury, in which he writes to Muircheartach O'Briain, king of Ireland, as we read in Doctor Ussher in the gleaning he has made of the letters written to one another by the holy clerics of Ireland and of England, and according to the same author, where Anselmus writes to the same Muircheartach in the year of the Lord 1100, where he says, Anselmus, servant of the Church of Canterbury, to the glorious Muircheartach by the grace of God king of Ireland, {Moriardacho glorioso gratia Dei Regni Hiberniae, Anselmus servus Ecclesiae Cantuariensis.}’’

; and as Lanfrancus, archbishop of Canterbury, writes to Toirrdhealbhach O Briain, king of Ireland, in the year of the Lord 1074, according to Doctor


Ussher in the passage we have quoted: Lanfrancus a sinner and unworthy archbishop of the holy Church of Dorobernia, benediction with service and prayers to Toirrdhealbhach, king of Ireland. {Lanfrancus peccator et indignus Dorobernensis Ecclesiae archiepiscopus magnifico Regi Hiberniae Terdeluaco benedictionem cum servitio et orationibus.}’’

The truth of the same position is strengthened by what we read in the forty-first letter in the same book, where Henry the First of England writes to Radulphus, archbishop of Canterbury, asking him to give orders to a priest called Gregorius and consecrate him bishop in Dublin by the direction of the king of Ireland. Here are the words of the English king in the year of the Lord 1123: The king of Ireland in writing, and the burgesses of Dublin have made known to me that they have elected this Gregorius bishop, and have sent him to thee to be consecrated. Therefore, I command thee to grant their petition and to perform his consecration without delay. {Mandavit mihi Rex Hiberniae per breve suum et Burgenses Dublinae quod elegerunt hunc Gregorium in Episcopum et eum tibi mittunt consecrendum. Unde tibi mando ut pettioni eorum satisfaciens eius conscreationem sine dilatione expleas.}’’

From all we have said it is plain that it is not true to say that there was neither king nor chief ruler over Ireland until the Norman Invasion; and it is moreover plain that the Roman Pontiff had never definite authority over Ireland any more than he had over Spain or France or other countries until the time of Donnchadh, son of Brian Boraimhe, who went to Rome about seventy-seven years before the Normans came to Ireland. But when Donnchadh, son of Brian, went to Rome, as we have said above, himself and the nobles of Ireland consented to the Bishop of Rome's having authority over them, because they were wont to contend with one another for the mastery of Ireland. For, although authors generally write that the Emperor Constantine, after his baptism, bestowed the islands of western Europe on Pope Sylvester, that did not give the Pope possession of Ireland, since no emperor that was ever in Rome, nor Constantine, had possession of Ireland.


How, then, could there be any force in the right which the emperor might give to the Pope, to what was neither in his own possession nor in that of any emperor that succeeded him since? And hence, it is not to be supposed that so large a kingdom as Ireland -Doctor Sanderus notwithstanding- would have no high chief or high king over it from the time of Patrick to the Norman Invasion, but the Pope alone.

Before we speak of the kings of Ireland after the Faith, we shall set down here from the seanchus the manner in which kings were inaugurated in Ireland, and for what object they were inaugurated, including high kings and provincial kings and territorial high chiefs. Know that formerly in Ireland the only title the territorial chiefs had was that of king, as was the custom among the Jewish nation (except that the Jewish nation had dukes), and amongst many other nations; thus the Dal Riada in Scotland had a leader, taoiseach until Fearghus Mor, son of Earc, was made king over them.

Now, the reason why one person is made king over tribes and over districts is in order that each one in his own principality should be obedient to him, and that none of them should have power to resist or oppose him during his sovereignty, an to have it understood that it was by God who is Lord and ruler over all that he has been appointed king over the peoples to govern them, and hence that they are bound to obey him and to bear in mind that it is the same only God who is Lord of heaven and of earth and of hell that gave him that authority, and that it was from Him he obtained sovereignty; and frequently it was the cleverest and most learned people in Ireland who were chosen to reign, to repress evil, to adjust tribute, to make treaties of peace, such as Slainghe, son of Deala, son of Loch, who was chief judge in Ireland in his time, Ollamh Fodla, who was learned, and Tighearnmhus, his son, who was likewise


well-informed, and Cormac, son of Art, who was learned in the Breitheamhnas Tuaithe and who wrote the Instruction for Kings; and thus in the beginning of the ages it was the learned and those who were most zealous for the aggrandisement of the public weal that the men of Ireland elected to rule the districts until Patrick came with the power of the Church. And since the coming of Patrick, it was the bishops and the nobles and the chroniclers who elected the kings and lords until the Norman Invasion; and the titles that are in use now, as baron, viscount, earl, marquess, or duke, were not in vogue in Ireland, but triath (chief), tighearna (lord), flaith (prince) or ri (king), and they were surnamed from the districts they possessed.

Now, on the occasion of their being inaugurated, the chronicler came forward bearing the book called the Instruction for Kings, in which there was a brief summary of the customs and laws of the country, and where it was explained how God and the people would reward the doing of good, and the punishment that awaited the king and his descendants if he did not carry out the principles of justice and equity which the Book of Kings and the Instruction for Kings direct to put in practice.

Often also some of them had to give sureties from amongst their friends for the carrying out of the laws of the country in accordance with the Instruction for Kings, or else to forego the sovereignty without a struggle, as the Tuatha De Danann might take sureties from Breas, son of Ealathan, on the occasion of giving him the sovereignty of Ireland.

It was the chronicler's function to place a wand in the hand of each lord on his inauguration; and on presenting the wand he made it known to the populace that the lord or king need not take up arms thenceforth to keep his country in subjection, but that they should obey his wand as a scholar obeys his master. For, as the wise scholar


loves and obeys and is grateful to his master, in the same way subjects are bound to their kings, for it is with the wand of equity and justice he directs his subjects, and not with the edge of the weapon of injustice.

The wand which the ollamh places in the king's hand is altogether white, as a token of truth as symbolised by the whiteness of the rod, since whiteness is likened to truth, and blackness to falsehood.

The reason why the wand is straight is to signify to the people and the tribes that the king is bound to be straight and faultless, without bias in his words and judgments between friends and enemies, between the strong and the weak, as if there were a contention between both his hands.

The reason it is ordained that the wand be without knot or excrescence, but be altogether smooth, is to signify to the people that the lords are bound to be free from unevenness or roughness in dealing justice and equity to all, to friend and enemy, according to their deserts, etc.

It was at Tara on Leic na Riogh that every one of the kings of Ireland who possessed the kingdom of all Ireland, by the consent of the ollamhs and of the nobles, used to be inaugurated before the Faith, and by the consent of the Church and of the ollamhs ever since the Faith.

It was at Tulach Og that O Neill was inaugurated, and it was O Cathain and O Hagain who inaugurated him; O Donnghaile was his marshal of the hosts and muinntir Bhrislein and clann Biorthagra were the brehons of feineachas of all Ulster.

At Cill Mic Creannain O Domhnaill was inaugurated, and it was O Fiorghail who inaugurated him, and O Gallchubhair was his marshal of the hosts.

At Magh Adhar O Briain was inaugurated; it was Mac na Mara who inaugurated him. O Duibhidhir of Coill na Manach and Mag Cormain were his marshals of the hosts;


muinntear Flannchuidhe were his brehons of feineachas; clann Chraith his ollamhs in poetry; clann Chruitin or clann Bhruaideadha his ollamhs in seanchus.

On Lios Beannchair Mac Carrtaigh was inaugurated. It was O Suilleabhain Mor and O Donnchada Mor who inaugurated him. Muinntear Ruairc were his marshals of the host; clann Aodhagain were his brehons; muinntear Dhalaigh were his ollamhs in poetry, and muinntear Dhuinnin were his ollamhs in seanchus.

On Cnoc an Bhogha Mac Murchadha was inaugurated; and it was O Nuallain who inaugurated him; his steed and trappings for O Nuallain. O Deoradhain was his brehon and Mac Eochadha his ollamh in poetry.

On Leac Mic Eochadha the lord of Ui Cinnsealaigh was inaugurated, and it was Mac Eochadha who inaugurated him.

On Dun Caillighe Beirre O Brain was inaugurated, and it was Mac Eochadha who inaugurated him.