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Gaelic British Isles & Ireland

Tribes and States of Ireland


Ireland / Erin

The earliest settlers arrived in Ireland around 9500 BC, following the slow Ice Age thaw and a gradual process of rehabitation of the British Isles. Remnants of their presence are still scattered across the island. Mountsandel in Coleraine in the north of Ireland is the oldest known site of settlement, with remains of woven huts, stone tools, and food such as berries and hazelnuts being discovered there by archaeologists. The picture after that is very uncertain, but it seems most likely that several small waves of settlers arrived at various subsequent stages.

At some point after about 500 BC, there were certainly arrivals by Indo-European Celts (and perhaps even as early as 2000 BC), and they remained fully independent as Ireland was never conquered by the Romans. Instead the Celto-Irish helped to hasten the end of Roman control over Britain by constantly raiding the British coastline, capturing slaves and booty. One of those captured slaves helped to convert the Irish to Christianity - the Romano-British Saint Patrick in the mid-fifth century AD. Thanks to that, and isolated from the chaos that swept Britain during the Anglo-Saxon invasion, Ireland was able to develop its own rich and prominent Christian culture. During the sixth century, Saint Columba followed in the footsteps of the earlier Irish raiders to spread the Celtic Church into Dál Riata (now western Scotland), while in western Wales the Déisi settled and helped to form the kingdom of Dyfed.

Ireland was never politically united enough to translate its religious and cultural influence into political power. There were some signs that unity would eventually have come, however. At various points in its early medieval history, from the eighth or ninth centuries onwards, Ireland was nominally united under the high kings (ard ri) and, but for many incursions by Danes, Normans and the Norman-dominated English, Ireland might have developed into a fully unified single kingdom in the same way as England had in the tenth century. The later high kings were nominally in charge but in practice, descended as many were from the prominent Uí Neill clan, there were always stresses and strains with the other regions. For the earlier high kings, the title was more of a ceremonial one, and never implied political control of the whole country. The earliest priest-kings who claimed the high kingship are often legendary, with little or no proof of their actual existence bar oral history. As such, and where necessary, they are shown below with a lilac-tinted background.

The first written record of contact with 'Albion' (by a Greek writer) names both Britain/Alba and Ireland as the 'Prettanik' islands. This is the oldest known name, which then leaves them to be distinguished from each other by Alba (meaning 'white', probably named after the chalk cliffs of Dover), and Hibernia, which is the rather sloppy Latin translation of 'Ierne' as written by the Greeks. Ierne is fairly obviously a mispronunciation of 'Er Inis' or 'Eire Innis' (various spellings are available), meaning 'West Island' in common Celtic. Er Inis became shortened to Erin. The name remains in use today in its full form - Eireann.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Marie McKeown (Hub Pages), and from External Link: Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders, Paul Rincon (BBC News).)

Irish coracle

c.9500 BC

Until now a land bridge has connected Britain to Ireland, roughly from the south-eastern tip of the latter to south-western England. Trapped between this land bridge and the ice sheet to the north, the Irish Sea is filled by melt water that forms a vast lake. At this time, the land bridge is finally submerged beneath the salt water of the Atlantic Sea. Animals, including the Giant Deer, and the hunter-gatherers who have followed them are now cut off. The land bridge makes a few more brief appearances as short-term fluctuations interfere with average sea levels before being swallowed up permanently.

Land bridge
This image may be somewhat fanciful, but it gives some impression of how the shrinking land bridge between Ireland and Britain might have looked

c.4000 BC

FeatureFeatureBy this time, Cairn G, one of a cluster around Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve mountains, has been erected. Carefully set into the entrance of Cairn G is a hole that is positioned to let the sun's rays into the inner chamber for a month either side of midsummer, with possible extra use for the moon's rays at midwinter. The tomb points towards Knocknarea, said to be the burial place of Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connacht, one of the major figures in the Irish saga, Tain Bo Cualnge.

c.3000 BC

FeatureKnowth in County Meath is one of Ireland's most ancient and mysterious sites. The passage tomb there is built around this time according to archaeological estimations, clearly constructed by people who have a sophisticated understanding of the motions of the sun, moon, and stars, thanks to the tomb's alignment and the lunar map found inside it.

Gaelic Ireland

There exists a very small window through which to view the tribes of Ireland (those which largely pre-date the Roman presence in Britain). Claudius Ptolemy in his work Geographia recorded the tribes of Ireland some time in the second century AD. The island of Ireland prior to this is known mainly from legends gleaned from oral tradition and early writings in which individual tribes are not reliably reported. The most striking feature of pre-Ptolemy Ireland are legends of the island being divided in half between north and south.

Post-Ptolemy, the four or five kingdoms with which we are familiar began to appear (Connacht, Laigin, Mide, Munster, and Ulaid), but each of these kingdoms were composed of multiple tribes. Then in the late fourth century, Niall of the Nine Hostages apparently dominated much of Ireland. His offspring, the Uí Neill, used a descent system to describe themselves, and this appears to have been adopted by most of the island. The last holdout may have been the Fir Domnann (the Dumnonii Men), possibly one of several British tribes who saw fragments of their number move to Ireland. Coverage here of the Irish tribes therefore is a snapshot, figuratively taken by Ptolemy. More detail will be available under the individual pages for the traditional Irish kingdoms, but readers should keep in mind the fact that the locations of Ptolemy's tribes cannot always be transferred to locations of the kingdoms that succeeded them. Some tribes were apparently wiped out, while others, such as the Domnonn and Concani/Gangani moved large distances.

FeatureIn terms of physical anthropology the Irish are a very mixed bag. Speaking very basically, they can come in many types which include short, often thickset early Neolithic types who exhibit what could be considered to be a strong Neanderthal admixture, plus very light-skinned people who could be related to early Finns of some sort. These types would have arrived earlier than the smallish, gracile, brown-haired, light-eyed Europeans of the Oetzi Neolithic type who are related to the Amerinds (see features on the Alpine 'Iceman'). The island's stock also includes Mediterraneans, the original Near East's Neolithic farmers who had earlier formed the Sesklo culture in Greece, who probably arrived as Iberians and/or Celtiberians (the mythological Milesians). Then came the three waves of Celts: the first almost certainly Celtiberians, then P-Celtic speakers of the Second Wave, and then a few Belgae. Judging by the name alone one must suspect these latter of being the Fir Bolg reported in legend. But that poses the question just who were the other major legendary group, the Dé Danann? The name suggests that they were worshippers of Dan, also known as 'An', the deity found in combined form in names such as Conan (Gaelic) and Cynan (Welsh), both meaning 'hound of An'. After all of that, there is also evidence of the historical period's Vikings and Saxons moving in. Ireland's history of settlement is a highly complicated picture.

New DNA evidence backs up this picture of a complicated intermix of peoples that makes up the Gaelic Irish. According to the results, the early inhabitants of Ireland were not directly descended from the Celts of Central Europe. In fact the closest genetic relatives of the Irish in Europe are to be found in Basque Country, now in northern Spain. These same ancestors are shared to an extent with the people of Britain, especially the modern Scots who saw a large-scale immigration from Ireland from the fifth century AD. These people pre-dated the arrival of the Indo-Europeans from whom the Celts sprang. While other parts of Europe have integrated continuous waves of new settlers from Asia, Ireland's remote geographical position has meant that the Irish gene pool has been less susceptible to change. Subsequent arrivals were probably small enough not to make a great change in that gene pool but were important or powerful enough to impose cultural changes that made the early Gaels more 'Celtic' in their outlook.

The position of high king was claimed to have been a long-established institution during the medieval period. Its reality in history is about as uncertain as is the high kingship of pre-Roman Britain, and many modern scholars dismiss it entirely. However, establishing a high king was certainly a tendency for Celtic peoples - witness Vercingetorix of the Arverni in Gaul in the first century BC, or Caratacus of the Catuvellauni in first century AD Britain. The high king may not have been the supreme over-king that myth depicts, and it certainly wasn't a position that ensured the subservience of regional kings. Instead it seems to have been a role that was largely used in times of need, much as the position of dictator was used by the Roman republic in times of need (and the positions may even have sprung from the same early, shared Indo-European customs). Usually, the high king was already a dominant regional king, and was probably overlord to several tribes or kingdoms. Bestowing the title upon such a figure may simply have been an acknowledgement of his power. Even in myth the high kings were rarely obeyed as a king might expect, so the position was hardly a guarantee of supreme authority.

It is probably no coincidence that the traditional dating for the mythical high kings starts around the same time as the arrival of the Bronze Age in Ireland. That some of the names of high kings in the list below existed is beyond reasonable doubt (especially the later ones), but their dominance of all of Ireland is highly questionable, especially given the general lack of unity displayed by the Irish kingdoms for much of their independent existence. In general, events that are shown below with dates are historical fact or general estimates worked out from archaeological evidence, while events without dates relate to traditional, legendary storytelling. Clearly legendary high kings with no basis in fact are shown with a lilac background, while those who may well have existed and who may even have claimed to be high king but without necessarily being able to impose any authority over Ireland are shown normally. Overall, it does seem much more likely that the title of high king was bestowed upon the most powerful Irish king of his time, rather than someone who could govern the entire island. The same was definitely true of the English title of Bretwalda. Other kings deferred to him but were not necessarily governed by him.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from the BBC documentary series, The Normans, first broadcast 4 August 2010, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Marie McKeown, Hub Pages, from An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, Alexander MacBain (1982), from Early Irish History and Mythology, T F O'Rahilly, from Ptolemy's Map of Ireland: a Modern Decoding, R Darcy & William Flynn, Journal of the Geographical Society of Ireland, Vol 41 Issue 1 2008, from Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), a collection of poems and prose narratives which covers a supposed history of Ireland from the creation of the world, with information on the legendary high kings prior to Conn of the Hundred Battles (flourished second century AD), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: English-Old Gaelic Dictionary, and Irish Archaeology, and from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), and Annals of the Four Masters, author unknown, plus The History of Ireland (Foras Feasa ar Éirinn - literally the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland), Seathrún Céitinn (known as Geoffrey Keating, and available via CELT.)

Cessair / Cesair (Kesair)

Legendary female leader who first settled Ireland.

According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), Cessair is the leader of the first inhabitants of Ireland. She is the daughter of the non-Biblical son of Noah, named Bith, and his wife Birren who sail to Ireland to escape the Mesopotamian Great Flood, theirs being the only one of three ships to survive the journey.

An alternative and perhaps earlier founding myth describes Banba as the first woman to arrive in Ireland with her followers. The tale is remarkably similar to that of Cessair, although Banba and her sisters Fódla and Ériu are a trio of land goddesses. The later version could be a Christianising of the earlier myth but with their godly status removed to make it palatable for church ears.

Whoever the early folk of Ireland were, either in prehistory or mythology, they certainly were not the inventions of later storytellers and oral tradition, the leprechauns

Partholón / Partholoim / Partholomus

Legendary king who was the first to settle post-Flood.

FeatureIn Irish mythology, Partholón is the leader of the first settlement in Ireland after the Mesopotamian Great Flood. He is also the leader in the defeat of the Fomóraigh (below) at the Battle of Magh Ithe. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions him in conjunction with High King Gurguit Barbtruc of Britain (flourished 360s BC), probably finding him in the Historia Brittonum (Chapter 13), the ninth century Welsh Latin historical compilation put together by Nennius. This is the earliest mention of Partholón in literature. Later works embellish this mention, giving him a lineage that stretches back to Noah.

According to that tradition, Partholón leads the Muintir Partholóin (the people of Partholón, ie. his followers, which suggests nothing greater than a tribe or band). They arrive on the uninhabited island about three hundred years after the Flood and are responsible for introducing such things as farming, cooking, brewing and buildings. After some years, they all die of plague in a single week, leaving Ireland empty again.


Leader of the third group to settle Ireland.

Nemed is the leader of the third group of people to settle in a depopulated Ireland (and again he has a genealogy which connects him to Noah, a popular motif during the medieval period in which these tales were written down). They are referred to as the Muintir Nemid (or Muintir Neimhidh, the 'people of Nemed'), and the Clann Nemid (or Clann Neimhidh, the 'offspring of Nemed'), or Nemedians. The name 'Nemed' supposedly means 'privileged' or 'holy', according to Auriacecht Becc, the little primer (translated in 1881).

The Nemedians are responsible for inflicting several defeats on the Fomóraigh. They cause the death of Sengann at the Battle of Ros Fraechain, Gann at the Battle of Murbolg, and Conand when they raze his tower. Nine years after their arrival in Ireland, Nemed and three thousand of his people die of plague. The survivors are suppressed by the Fomóraigh, but after razing the tower of Conand they are destroyed by a tidal wave and the survivors scatter across the world, some heading 'into the north'.

Fomóraigh High Kings of Ireland

As with other social concepts in Ireland, the high kingship has its origins in Irish mythological history. The mythical first rulers of Ireland were the Fomóraigh (or Fomorians). Their high kings ruled as overlords of the island for an impressive thirteen hundred years, although all dates shown in this legendary period are entirely fabricated. Cíocal Gricenchos leds the Fomóraigh to Ireland, but he was killed by the Partholónians at the Battle of Magh Ithe, the Partholónians being led by their eponymous ruler, who is claimed as being the first to settle Ireland (see above).

The Fomóraigh names are singular only, without the normal descent suffix, such as 'mac' ('son of'), being added. Curiously, two of the names are the same as those of Fir Bolg high kings, their immediate successors. Modern scholars generally class the Fomóraigh as pagan gods who are associated with the more damaging forces of nature - opposing forces to the inhabitants of Ireland. Leaders of the Fomóraigh who were not high kings in Irish myth and legend are shown in green text.

The timescale used is that devised by Seathrún Céitinn (c.1569-c.1644, and known in English as Geoffrey Keating), a seventeenth century Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian. His major work was Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (literally the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, which is more often translated as the History of Ireland). If any of this has a basis in reality then the various mythological peoples of Ireland that provided the dynasties of high kings probably existed alongside each other and ruled a divided land simultaneously, rather than each people succeeding the previous group. If that is the case then the timeline could be tightened up considerably, shedding at least 1450 years.

2751 - 2211 BC

Cíocal Gricenchos

First of the Fomóraigh. Led them to Ireland. Ruled 540 years.

2211 - 2030 BC


Ruled 181 years. Killed in battle.

2211 - 2027 BC


Joint ruler. Ruled 184 years. Killed in battle.

The joint kingship is ended by the death of Sengann. He is killed by the Nemedians at the Battle of Ros Fraechain (see above for details of the Nemedians). Gann survives him by only three years, and is himself killed by the Nemedians at the Battle of Murbolg. They are succeeded by Conand and Morc, who rule alternately, the former in summer, the latter in winter, until Conand is killed by the Nemedians when they raze his tower stronghold.

Browne's Hill dolman
Browne's Hill dolman with its hundred ton capstan (the stone on top) was erected around 2000 BC, during the mythical supremacy of the Fomóraigh high kings

2027 - 1815 BC


The summer king. Ruled 212 years. Killed in battle.

2027 - 1585 BC


Joint ruler as the winter king. Ruled 442 years.

Following Conand's death, Morc rules alone until his own death (apparently not in battle) in the same year in which the Tuatha Dé Danann arrive in Ireland (although this arrival is also given for 1525 BC). He is succeeded by Corb, who rules 'only' for sixty years before he is deposed by Balor.

c.2000 BC

DNA analysis in 2015 of three males from this period backs up the theory that Ireland is populated via waves of immigration. The males are from Rathlin Island and live very soon after metallurgy is introduced into Ireland. They show a different DNA pattern from earlier populations, with a third of their ancestry coming from the Pontic Steppe (now covering much of Ukraine and a large swathe of southern Russia), which links them directly to the Indo-Europeans. They show a close genetic affinity with the modern Irish, Scots, and Welsh, but not so close a connection with the English, who have been diluted by the Anglo-Saxon admixture.

While these arrivals are not necessarily Celts as such, they can seemingly be counted as proto-Celts, springing as they do from the same stock that settles in Central Europe and later forms the basis of Celtic culture. Indo-Europeans are nomadic, moving quickly in four-wheeled carts or chariots. While many of them may indeed be expanding and migrating slowly, generation by generation, it wouldn't take much for a small group (less than 100,000) to leave the others behind. When they reach water they may learn to make boats from the Mediterranean types already occupying the coastal areas. This rapid movement can be compared favourably with how quickly the later Cimbri travel from Jutland to Italy, and the journey could be completed in well under a decade of travel.

c.2000 BC

A discovery in 2011 of a bog body in central Ireland sheds light on possible early kingship rules. Known as 'Cashel Man', the Bronze Age body is found in County Laois and may be the earliest bog body with intact skin known anywhere in the world (to date).

Cashel Man
The Cashel Man bog body has been compressed by four thousand years of peat build-up, but his outstretched hand can still be made out above his legs (to the left of the picture)

Archaeologist Eamonn Kelly suggests that all of the known bog bodies, all of which are male and aged between twenty-five and forty, have suffered violent deaths as victims of human sacrifice. When an Irish king is inaugurated, he is inaugurated in a wedding to the goddess of the land. It is his role to ensure through his marriage to the goddess that the cattle will be protected from plague and the people will be protected from disease. If these calamities should occur, the king will be held personally responsible. He will be replaced, paying the price for his failure with his sacrifice. Cashel Man fits this pattern because his body lay on a border line between territories and within sight of the hill upon which he would have been crowned. He has suffered significant violent injuries to his back, and his arm shows evidence of a cut from a sword or axe.

1585 - 1525 BC


Ruled 60 years. Deposed.

c.1500 BC

The earliest signs of habitation on the Rock of Cashel are uncovered by archaeologists in 2011. The site appears to be ceremonial, although further investigation is required to provide more details. Cashel later forms the seat of the kings of Munster.

1525 - 1447 BC

Balor 'of the Baleful Eye'

Usurper. Ruled 78 years. Killed in battle.

In the first year of the reign of Balor (ie. 1525 BC in this mythical timescale), the Dé Danann arrive in Ireland to join the Heidhbernigh as occupants of the island (although the two seem to be divisions of the same people in some stories). They claim the north-eastern corner of the island for themselves (the later Ulaid territory). Though they rule themselves, they pledge fealty to the king of the Fir Bolg in exchange for peace (presumably after the Fir Bolg arrive although a date is not given for this event, suggesting that they are present in Ireland some time before the events described for 1514 BC, below). Nonetheless, a cold war of sorts exists between them and tensions sometimes run high.

There seems to be a suggestion that the Fomóraigh have a number of kings, but over them all is the high king, Balor. If true, this means that the Fomóraigh are not the single tribe that seems largely to be depicted but are formed of a number of groups or tribes. This is also true of all the other races, the Fir Bolg, Dé Danann, and Milesians.

In the eleventh year of his reign (ie. 1514 BC), Balor allows the Fir Bolg to set up their own high king, but he remains overlord of Ireland until his death at the hands of the Dé Danann at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. This defeat ends the hold of the Fomóraigh kings on the high kingship, and sounds suspiciously like a folk remembrance of a new group of people entering Ireland and swiftly taking over. Balor's successor, Cromcruac, rules as king of the Fomóraigh only.

1447 - 1286 BC


Ruled 161 years. Driven into exile.

As the only Fomóraigh kings to survive the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh, Cromcruac and Elatha (his chamberlain) seek revenge against the Dé Danann by opening a gate to permit the Archons to come to Earth. These are literally 'the lords', seemingly a reference to ancient beings that had emerged in the solar system before Earth's formation. More prosaically, 'archon' is a Greek title of the first millennium BC to denote a lord, or more specifically a lord who holds a degree of power, such as the archons who govern Athens.

Irish knowledge of such a title and its meaning infers contact with Greeks, presumably during or following the exploratory trip by Pytheas of Massalia around 325 BC. That in turn would mean that all of these Irish founding tales could be compressed into a post-325 BC timescale, removing this great swathe of pre-Christian dating and making the entire sequence an Iron Age one.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

The Heidhbernigh, Milesians, Fir Bolg, Danann, and Sídhe (Sidh) unite to defeat Elatha. While the Sídhe and Danann hold off the Archons, the other races invade the Fomóraigh islands. The alliance crushes the Fomóraigh, the Archons are driven off Earth, and the gate is sealed. Cromcruac goes into hiding, but Elatha is captured and killed.

Fir Bolg High Kings of Ireland

As with other social concepts in Ireland, the high kingship has its origins in Irish mythological history. The Fir Bolg succeeded the Fomóraigh as rulers of Ireland, although all dates shown in this legendary period are entirely fabricated. The timescale used is that devised by Seathrún Céitinn (c.1569-c.1644, and known in English as Geoffrey Keating), a seventeenth century Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian. His major work was Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (literally the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, which is more often translated as the History of Ireland. If any of this has a basis in reality then the various mythological peoples of Ireland that provided the dynasties of high kings probably existed alongside each other and ruled a divided land simultaneously, rather than each people succeeding the previous group. If that is the case then the timeline could be tightened up considerably, shedding at least 1450 years.

The stock of people that make up the modern Irish includes three waves of Celts: the first almost certainly Celtiberians, then P-Celtic speakers of the Second Wave, and then a few Belgae. Judging by the name alone one must suspect these latter of being the Fir Bolg reported in legend (sometimes shown as Fir Bholg or Firbolg). Leaders of the Fir Bolg who were not high kings in Irish myth and legend are shown in green text.

The Menapii (or Manapi) in south-eastern Ireland would have been one of the Fir Bolg tribes. The Celtic word 'fir' is usually taken to mean 'men' while 'bolg' is taken as 'Belgae', the men of the Belgae. This tough Fir Bolg tribe was probably the same Fir Bolg Menapii who occupied a section of the Belgic coastline until the fall of Gaul to Julius Caesar when some of them seem to have fled Roman occupation to arrive in Ireland. Despite the apparent ease of translating the name, it is in fact highly obscure and some of the more 'obvious' explanations should not be believed. The Fir Domnann were another group (the Dumnonii Men), a possible group of British refugees.

? - 1514 BC


Led Fir Bolg to Ireland. Died before receiving high kingship.

In the first year of the reign of Balor (ie. 1525 BC in this mythical timescale), the Dé Danann arrive in Ireland to join the Heidhbernigh as occupants of the island (although the two seem to be divisions of the same people in some stories). They claim the north-eastern corner of the island for themselves (the later Ulaid territory). Though they rule themselves, they pledge fealty to the king of the Fir Bolg in exchange for peace (presumably after the Fir Bolg arrive, although a date is not given for this event, suggesting that they are present in Ireland some time before the events described for 1514 BC, below). Nonetheless, a cold war of sorts exists between them and tensions sometimes run high.

Coracles were used extensively in Ireland, whilst the name seems to have an Indo-European origin, being found as far afield as India

In the eleventh year of the reign of Balor of the Fomóraigh (ie. 1514 BC), he is convinced by Dela that the latter should be allowed to declare himself high king so that he can better serve Fomóraigh interests. Balor remains overlord of Ireland until his death at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. This defeat ends the hold of the Fomóraigh kings on the high kingship in favour of the Fir Bolg, and sounds suspiciously like a folk remembrance of a new group of people entering Ireland and swiftly taking over.

Curiously, the reignal lengths of the Fir Bolg high kings look startlingly realistic. Dela himself is claimed as the 'father' of Genann, earliest king of the Connachta to have been remembered. The use of 'father' should probably be replaced by 'ancestor' as, even using the least-speculative chronology for Ireland, there must be several centuries between the two figures.

1514 - 1513 BC

Sláinge mac Dela / Sláine / Slánga

Son. Ruled 1 year. Died.

Sláinge mac Dela and his brothers divide Ireland between them. Sláinge, the youngest, takes Laigin, Rudraige Ulaid (the territory of the Dé Danann), Gann northern Munster, Genann Connacht (seemingly the Fir Bolg heartland), and Sengann southern Munster. They elect Sláinge as their high king, who rules for just a year before his death. He is succeeded by his brother, Rudraige mac Dela, who rules for two years before he too dies. He is succeeded by two other brothers, Gann mac Dela and Genann mac Dela (possibly twins?), but they both die during a spate of plague after only four years in command. Both are connected to the Connachta as their earliest-known kings.

1513 - 1511 BC

Rudraige mac Dela

Brother. Ruled 2 years. Led the Fir Domnann (Dumnonii Men).

1511 - 1507 BC

Gann mac Dela

Brother. Ruled 4 years. Died of plague. Founded Connacht?

1511 - 1507 BC

Genann mac Dela

Brother and joint ruler. Ruled 4 years. Died of plague.

The two brothers are succeeded by their last surviving brother, Sengann mac Dela. Five years later his title and status are usurped and he is killed by Fiacha Cennfinnán mac Starn, grandson of Rudraige.

1507 - 1502 BC

Sengann mac Dela

Brother. Ruled 5 years. Usurped and killed.

1502 - 1497 BC

Fiacha Cennfinnán mac Starn

Son of Starn. Ruled 5 years. Usurped.

Fiacha Cennfinnán's name means 'little white head', because he had been born with white hair. He holds the status of high king for five years before he is usurped and killed by Rinnal mac Genann.

1497 - 1491 BC

Rinnal mac Genann

Son of Genann. Ruled 6 years. Usurped and killed.

Rinnal mac Genann is named for the fact that he is the first high king to fight with a spear instead of a sword. He holds the title for six years before he is usurped and killed by Foidbgen mac Sengann.

1491 - 1487 BC

Foidbgen mac Sengann

Son of Sengann. Ruled 4 years. Killed.

Foidbgen's name means 'the Despoiler', because to prevent himself from being usurped, he tries to kill all of his male relatives, but is instead killed after only four years by Eochaid mac Eirc, grandson of Rinnal mac Genann.

1487 - 1477 BC

Eochaid mac Eirc

Son of Eirc. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

Eochaid mac Eirc puts an end to the dynastic intrigues of his clan, and rules justly and wisely for ten years. By that time relations between the Fir Bolg and Dé Danann have deteriorated to the point of war, although the two sides are absolutely evenly matched at the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh in 1477 BC.

Eochaid takes Nuanda's sword arm in single combat, but then is killed by 'The Morrígan' (or Morrigu, Morríghan, or Mór-ríoghain - the last two being modern spellings - a disputed goddess of battle who may be a character claimed as Medb, illegitimate daughter of Eochaid following a raid on a Heidhbernigh village many years before). The now-leaderless Fir Bolg agree a truce and the now-more powerful Danann assume the high kingship while the Fir Bolg agree to rule Connacht as their domain. Now maimed and therefore imperfect, Nuada is required to step down in favour of Eochaid Bres.

Tuatha Dé Danann High Kings of Ireland

According to mythology, in the first year of the reign of Balor of the Fomóraigh (ie. 1525 BC in this timescale), the Dé Danann arrived in Ireland to join the Heidhbernigh as occupants of the island (although the two seem to be divisions of the same people in some stories). They claimed the north-eastern corner of the island for themselves (the later Ulaid territory). Though they ruled themselves, they pledged fealty to the king of the Fir Bolg in exchange for peace. Despite this, a cold war of sorts existed between them and tensions sometimes ran high.

FeatureThe stock of people that make up the modern Irish includes three waves of Celts, which probably accounts for the Fir Bolg, but that poses the question just who were this other major legendary group, the Da Danann? The name suggests that they were worshippers of Dan, also known as 'An', the deity found in combined form in names such as Conan (Gaelic) and Cynan (Welsh), both meaning 'hound of An'. The name 'Dan' in its various forms is a female river deity that appears across most Indo-European groups. Whether or not it was the same cult or merely a related one is a matter of debate. 'An' was probably 'Than' before the 'th' (which provided a 'd' sound in its pronunciation) was dropped. Were these Second Wave P-Celts, or perhaps third wave, Belgic Celts? The latter option is mentioned here because the Belgae apparently influenced, and were influenced by, the early German tribes when they were still confined to Scandinavia, the Cimbric peninsula, and stretches of the Baltic coastline. A Germanic people who developed into the Danes were apparently also devotees of the cult of Dan, adopting the name to describe 'her' people. So the Irish followers of Dan were either cross-culturally influenced Belgics, or they had remembered 'Than' from their Indo-European origins and her worship had not stopped. Of course, the latter option again lays wide open the mysterious origins of the Danaan. Oddly, the Dan cult seems to have been more popular in the east than the west. The number of river names 'dan' in them give this away, such as the Dnieper and Danube (see feature link).

The timescale used is that devised by Seathrún Céitinn (c.1569-c.1644, and known in English as Geoffrey Keating), a seventeenth century Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian. His major work was Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (literally the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, which is more often translated as the History of Ireland. If any of this has a basis in reality then the various mythological peoples of Ireland that provided the dynasties of high kings probably existed alongside each other and ruled a divided land simultaneously, rather than each people succeeding the previous group. If that is the case then the timeline could be tightened up considerably, shedding at least 1450 years. (Leaders of the Danann who were not high kings are shown in green text.)

1525 - 1477 BC


King for 7 years before arriving in Ireland. Ineligible high king.

Relations between the Fir Bolg and Danann have deteriorated to the point of war, although the two sides are absolutely evenly matched at the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh in 1477 BC. High King Eochaid takes Nuanda's sword arm in single combat, but then is killed by 'The Morrígan' (or Morrigu, Morríghan, or Mór-ríoghain - the last two being modern spellings - a disputed goddess of battle who may be a character claimed as Medb, illegitimate daughter of Eochaid following a raid on a Heidhbernigh village many years before).

Stone of Fal (Lia Fail)
The De Danann brought with them the Stone of Fal (Lia Fail) from the city 'to the North', Failias, which would scream whenever a true king of Ireland would place his foot on it, and which was eventually placed on the mound at Tara, seat of the high kings

The now-leaderless Fir Bolg agree a truce and the now-more powerful Danann assume the high kingship while the Fir Bolg agree to rule Connacht as their domain. Now maimed and therefore imperfect, Nuada is required to step down in favour of Eochaid Bres, son of a lesser Danann chieftain who is based in Ulaid.

1477 - 1470 BC

Eochaid Bres mac Elatha

Son of Elatha. Ruled as high king for 7 years.

After a promising start, Eochaid Bres develops into a tyrant. Nuada's severed arm is replaced by Dian Cecht and Creidhne with one of silver (hence his new epithet, Airgetlám, meaning 'silver arm'). He leads a revolt against Eochaid, eventually defeating him and usurping him. Eochaid escapes, however, and returns with a Fomóraigh army. Nuada is forced to surrender, and is allowed to retain the high kingship but with Eochaid as overlord for the Fomóraigh.

1470 - 1447 BC

Nuada Airgetlám

Restored as high king once whole again. Ruled 23 years.

In the twenty-third year of his accession as high king, Nuada leads a second revolt against Eochaid. This time the Fomóraigh are defeated, at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh, but Nuada is killed by Balor as a last act of Fomóraigh overlordship. Lugh succeeds him and rules for forty years.

1447 - 1407 BC

Lugh mac Cian

Son of Cian. Ruled 40 years. Killed.

Lugh kills a son of the Daghda in a fit of jealous rage, and is himself killed by the Daghda's remaining sons. The Daghda then succeeds him as high king, and rules for seventy years.

1407 - 1337 BC

Eochaid Ollathair (Daghda)

Ruled 70 years. Abdicated.

The sobriquet 'Ollathair' means 'All-Father'. The Daghda is generally equated with a god who acts as a proctor of the tribe, an immense figure who weilds a mighty club. He dies of a wound that he had received 110 years ago at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. He is succeeded by his grandson, Delbáeth mac Aengus. A conflicting account states that he voluntarily abdicates in favour of Delbáeth, and resurfaces as the last leader of the Danann in 1287 BC.

1337 - 1327 BC

Delbáeth mac Aengus

Grandson. Son of Aengus. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

Delbáeth is killed by his son, Fiacha. He in turn rules for ten years before being killed in battle.

1327 - 1317 BC

Fiacha mac Delbáeth

Ruled 10 years. Killed.

Following the death of Fiacha, three brothers rule together: Éthur mac Cermait, who is called mac Cuill (after his god, Coll), Téthur mac Cermait, who is called mac Cecht, and Céthur mac Cermait, who is called mac Gréine. They are all grandsons of the Daghda, and are elected to share the high kingship. They rule alternatively, for a year each, beginning with Céthur, for a total of thirty years.

1317 - 1287 BC

Céthur mac Cermait, called mac Gréine

Ruled for 10 of 30 years. Killed.

1317 - 1287 BC

Éthur mac Cermait, called mac Cuill

Brother and joint ruler. Ruled for 10 of 30 years. Killed.

1317 - 1287 BC

Téthur mac Cermait, called mac Cecht

Brother and joint ruler. Ruled for 10 of 30 years. Killed.

In 1287 BC (by this mythological timeline) a Gael named Ith arrives from Iberia with his brothers and their families. The high kings welcome them and give them land in the south of the island (which seems to fit in with a tribal grouping in Munster that bears a very Iberian nature). But then they treacherously kill Ith and his brothers. The families are able to escape.

The following year, an invasion is led by the sons of Ith's nephew, Mileadh, who are called the Milesians. The Danann try to prevent them from landing but are driven inland. A pitched battle follows, the Battle of Tailtiu, and the three brothers are killed. The Milesians become high kings over Danann, Fir Bolg, and Heidhbernigh alike, with Eibhear Finn largely in authority over the south of the island and his brother Eremon overlord in the north. Each of the peoples of Ireland are confirmed in their domains, the Fir Bolg in Connacht, the Danann in Ulaid, and the Milesians in Mamu (High King Eochaid Mumho of 1071 BC is the original source of this name - Munster in its earliest form). The Heidhbernigh have Laigin, but they are also allowed to live in any province in which they have villages. The Danann turn over their chief town to the Milesians, who rename it Tara, and a new province is created around it called Mide (which echoes real events of around the fifth century AD).

Soon chafing under what they consider to be unfair laws, the last Danann kings make a pact with the Daoine Sídhe to depose the high kings and regain power. They seize Tara, but a coalition of Heidhbernigh, Fir Bolg, and Milesians is assembled against them, although it is unable to retake the capital. Finn Bheara, who rules as king of the Sídhe from inside his mound, is persuaded to withdraw his support for the Danann. They are subsequently defeated and their kings killed. The remaining Danann are led by the Daghda, and follow him into the Otherworld.

Meanwhile, as the only Fomóraigh kings to survive the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh, Cromcruac and Elatha (his chamberlain) seek revenge by opening a gate to permit the Archons to come to Earth (see the end of the Fomóraigh kings for an exploration of what this name may mean). The Heidhbernigh, Milesians, Fir Bolg, Danann, and Sídhe unite to defeat Elatha. While the Sídhe and Danann hold off the Archons, the other races invade the Fomóraigh islands. The alliance crushes the Fomóraigh, the Archons are driven off Earth, and the gate is sealed. Cromcruac goes into hiding, but Elatha is captured and killed.

The Milesians have grown tired of the wars. Eibhear Finn is dead, although Eremon has survived, but with the other races apparently decimated, the Milesians assume the high kingship.

Gaelic / Iberian / Milesian High Kings of Ireland

In Irish mythology, following the great battles against the Dé Danann and Fomóraigh in 1287 BC (in this mythical timescale), the Milesians were effectively the 'last men standing'. Named for the mythical Míl Espáine, they assumed the high kingship of Ireland. This started with Eremon (sometimes mistakenly shown in a Germanised format as Heremon), who was the surviving ruler of the Milesians in Munster and great-grandson of Breoghan, the king of Celtic Galicia in Iberia. The high kingship was contested for centuries between the descendants of Eibhear (or Éber) Finn and Eremon (or Érimón), but with the ancient races removed, it seems that an 'age of man' began which can be paralleled to the Fourth Age of Middle Earth in JRRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, in which the majestic and magical glory of the old times is replaced by the practicality and relative normality of everyday life with everyday rulers.

Ireland's stock includes Mediterraneans, the original Near East's Neolithic farmers, who probably arrived as Iberians and/or Celtiberians. They would have been descendants of an earlier migration of Anatolian farmers who were not only moving into Greece between around 6700-6000 BC to form the Sesklo culture - they were following the Mediterranean coast as part of the Linear Pottery culture to reach Early France and Early Iberia before migrating in some numbers again around 4000 BC to reach Ireland. They seem to be accounted for by the Gaels/Iberians in Irish mythology who are called Milesians. New DNA evidence backs up the mythological picture of a complicated intermix of peoples which made up the Gaelic Irish. According to the results, the early inhabitants of Ireland were not directly descended from the Celts of Central Europe. In fact the closest genetic relatives of the Irish in Europe are to be found in Basque Country, now in northern Spain.

The timescale used is that devised by Seathrún Céitinn (c.1569-c.1644, and known in English as Geoffrey Keating), a seventeenth century Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian. His major work was Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (literally the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, which is more often translated as the History of Ireland. If any of this has a basis in reality then the various mythological peoples of Ireland that provided the dynasties of high kings probably existed alongside each other and ruled a divided land simultaneously, rather than each people succeeding the previous group. If that is the case then the timeline could be tightened up considerably, shedding at least 1450 years.

This is the beginning of Ireland's march from mythology into early history. To differentiate between the two main, feuding, Milesian lines, the descendants of Eremon are shown in black, while those of Eibhear Finn are shown below in green. The Irish Déisi also claimed descent from many of the Milesian high kings of Ireland on the Eremon side of the feud.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Will Parker, from Holocene Climatic Change and Past Irish Societal Response, C S M Turney et al (Journal of Archaeological Science Vol 33 No 1, 2006), from A New History of Ireland, Vol 1: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, D Ó Cróinín (Ed, 2005), from Geography, Ptolemy, from On the Ocean, Pytheas of Massalia (work lost, but frequently quoted by other ancient authors), and from External Link: Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders, Paul Rincon (BBC News).)

1286 - 1272 BC

Eremon / Érimón

Ruled 14 years. King of the Milesians in Munster.

Eremon is also claimed as an ancestor of the Déisi, but with an entirely different likely date given the names which can be linked to him. Upon the death of this Eremon, first high king of the Gaels, his three sons by his wife Odba hold the high kingship for three years, until Muimne dies of plague.

This depiction of Celtiberians ambushing Roman soldiers is a glimpse of the bitter Roman battle to control Iberia after the Punic Wars, but just when a group of Celtiberians from the north of Iberia might have migrated to Ireland is unknown, even though it was certainly before this war took place

1272 - 1269 BC

Muimne mac Eremon

Son. Ruled 3 years. Died of plague.

1272 - 1269 BC

Luigne mac Eremon

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

1272 - 1269 BC

Laigne mac Eremon

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

Luigne and Laigne are killed at the Battle of Árd Ladrann by their cousins, Ir, Orba, Fearon, and Ferga mac Eibhear. These are all sons of Eremon's brother and former co-ruler, Eibhear Finn, and the murders begin a cycle of feuding between the two branches of the Gaels. The deceased high kings leave no direct heirs, so the mac Eibhears are free to assume the high kingship.

1269 BC

Ir mac Eibhear / Ér

Ruled 6 months. Killed.

1269 BC

Orba mac Eibhear

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

1269 BC

Fearon mac Eibhear

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

1269 BC

Ferga mac Eibhear

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

After six months or so as high kings, all four brothers are killed at the Battle of Cul Martha, in a revenge strike by Irial Fáith mac Eremon. He is the younger half-brother of the murdered mac Eremon high kings by his father's wife, Tea.

1269 - 1259 BC

Irial Fáith mac Eremon

Son of Eremon. Ruled 10 years. Of the Déisi.

1259 - 1239 BC

Eithrial mac Irial

Son. Ruled 20 years. Of the Déisi. Killed.

Eithrial mac Irial is killed at the Battle of Rairiu by Conmáel mac Eibhear. Conmáel is of the Eibhear Finn branch of the clan (effectively, the Finn clan), and the first to claim Munster as his territory (although this contradicts the general Milesian settlement in that region), while Eithrial had been the last of the first generation Gaels to hold the position of high king.

Conmáel fights twenty-five battles against the descendents of Eremon, and is eventually killed by Tigernmas at the Battle of Óenach Macha.

1239 - 1209 BC

Conmáel mac Eibhear

Son of Eibhear Finn. Ruled 30 years. Killed.

1209 - 1159 BC

Tigernmas mac Faelad

Son of Folloch, son of Eithrial mac Irial (Déisi). Ruled 50 yrs.

Tigernmas mac Faelad fights twenty-seven battles against the Finn clan, almost completely destroying them. But he himself is apparently destroyed along with three quarters of the men of Ireland after worshipping Crom Cruac (Cruach), a god who is related to human sacrifice and who is effectively banished by St Patrick.

There may be a gap of seven years between his death and the accession of Eochaid Étgudach (the sources conflict). Eochaid himself is a son of Dáire Doimthech, a descendant of Lugaid mac Ítha (son of the first of the Gaels to arrive in Ireland and nephew of Míl Espáine).

1159 - 1155 BC

Eochaid Étgudach / Eochu

Ruled 4 years. Killed.

Eochaid Étgudach is killed in battle at Tara by Cearmna Finn, who succeeds to the high kingship along with his brother, Sobhairce. They are both great-great-grandsons of Míl Espáine, and are the first high kings from Ulaid. They divide the country between them, with the split being located between Drogheda and Limerick. Cearmna takes the southern half and Sobhairce the northern half.

1155 - 1115 BC

Cearmna Finn / Cermna

Ruled 40 years. Killed.

1155 - 1115 BC

Sobhairce / Sobairce

Brother. Co-ruler. Killed.

In an unusual move, Cearmna Finn is killed at the battle of Dún Cermna by Eochaid Faebar Glas, son of previous high king, Conmáel, despite them being of the same clan. Sobhairce dies in the same year at the hands of Eochaid Menn, son of the king of the Fomóraigh (in a rare reference to these former opposers of man in Ireland). Eochaid kills Smirgoll, grandson of Tigernmas, at the battle of Druimm Liatháin and is eventually killed himself by Smirgoll's son, Fiacha Labhrainne at the battle of Carman.

1115 - 1095 BC

Eochaid Faebar Glas

Son of Conmáel mac Eibhear. Ruled 20 years. Killed.

c.1100 BC

There is evidence, supported by archaeology, of an early influx of Celts into Britain, where they eventually push back or integrate with the indigenous population and settle in the fertile south and east. They also eventually infiltrate into Ireland. This would explain later tradition which claims the conquest of the island of Britain by Brutus and would account for the anthropological appearance of some early Celtic stock in Ireland. This influx, however, would be little more than a new elite ruling the native Bronze Age population of the islands.

1095 - 1071 BC

Fiacha Labhrainne / Labrainne

Son of Smirgoll. Of the Déisi. Ruled 24 years. Killed.

The various battles of Fiacha Labhrainne include one at sea against the Finn clan, and one against the Érainn (the Iverni, an early mention of this possibly Celtiberian tribe in Munster) at Mag Genainn in County Fermanagh, which results in Loch Erne bursting from the ground.

He also kills Mofebis mac Eochaid in battle. Mofebis' son, Eochaid Mumho, kills him in revenge at the Battle of Sliab Belgatain. Eochaid Mumho is the legendary origin of the name 'Munster', and he fights many more battles against the descendants of Eremon.

Cullyhanna dwelling
This sketched reconstruction is of a typical temporary Irish hunting camp of the Bronze Age, this one being based on finds around the shore of Lough Cullyhanna in County Armagh, with a wooden enclosure and a timber hut

1071 - 1050 BC

Eochaid Mumho / Eochu Mumu

Son of Mofebis mac Eochaid. Ruled 21 years. Killed.

Aengus Olmucada kills Eochaid Mumho at the Battle of Clíu. Eochaid's son Enna Airgtheach avenges the death. He also fights numerous battles against the Cruithne, the Fir Bolg, the Fomóraigh and the other peoples in Ireland, with many of these appearing to be out of their time given that they largely withdrew into solitude or exile following the great wars of early mythology. Enna's biography becomes even more extravagant by claiming that he defeats the people of the Orkney islands, and even the Langobards (who will not exist as a recognisable group for at least eight hundred years). He is killed by Enna Airgdech at the battle of Carman.

1050 - 1032 BC

Aengus Olmucada / Óengus Olmucaid

Son of Fiacha. Of the Déisi. Ruled 18 years. Killed.

1032 - 1005 BC

Enna Airgtheach / Airgdech

Son of Eochaid Mumho. Ruled 27 years. Killed.

Enna Airgtheach is killed by Roitheachtaigh mac Maen at the battle of Raigne. His own death, either twenty-two or twenty-five years later, comes in two versions in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the first stating that he is killed in single combat in Cruachan by Sedna mac Airtri in defence of his own son, while the second states that he dies of his wounds in Tara. He may survive the battle after all, but in a critical state. Sedna seizes the high kingship, his claim being through his grandfather, Eibhear Finn.

1005 - 980 BC

Roitheachtaigh mac Maen / Rothechtaid

Grandson of Aengus Olmucada (Déisi). Ruled 25 yrs. Killed.

980 - 975 BC

Sedna mac Airtri / Sétna Airt

Ruled 5 years. Killed.

Sedna mac Airtri is killed by his returning son, Fiacha Finscothach. The killing takes place at Cruachan (Rathcroghan, the 'ring fort of Cruachan', near Tulsk in County Roscommon). He perhaps has help from Muineamhón who in turn kills him and takes the high kingship for himself. Muineamhón's claim stems from his descent from Eochaid Faebar Glas (1115 BC).

975 - 955 BC

Fiacha Finscothach

Son. Ruled 20 years. Killed.

955 - 950 BC


Ruled 5 years. Died of plague.

950 - 943 BC

Faildeargdoid mac Muineamhón

Son. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

Faildeargdoid is killed either by Sírna mac Dian or by Ollamh Fodhla. It had been Faildeargdoid's father, Muineamhón, who killed Ollamh's father, Fiacha Finscothach. Ollamh, whose given name is Eochaid, is claimed as being the founder of the Feis Temrach, the Assembly of Tara (in Mide), an early parliament which gathers at Samhain every three years. Unusually, he dies of natural causes at Tara and, equally unusually, he is succeeded by an unbroken sequence of six descendants in what must be one of the most peaceful periods in mythological Ireland.

943 - 913 BC

Ollamh Fodhla / Ollom Fotla

Son of Fiacha Finscothach. Ruled 30 years.

913 - 895 BC

Finnachta mac Eochaid

Son. Ruled 18 years. Died of plague.

895 - 880 BC

Slanoll mac Eochaid

Brother. Ruled 15 years.

880 - 863 BC

Gedhe Ollghothach / Géde Ollgothach

Brother. Ruled 17 years. Killed.

Gedhe Ollghothach is killed by one Fíachu son of Fíadchú according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, or by his nephew and successor, Fiacha Finnailches, son of Fínnachta according to Seathrún Céitinn (Geoffrey Keating) and also the Annals of the Four Masters. The difference would seem to be down to a mangling of the name in one form or another, making it one and the same person. He who kills the king usually takes his throne.

863 - 833 BC

Fiacha Finnailches / Fíachu Findoilches

Nephew. Ruled 30 years. Killed.

833 - 831 BC

Bearnghal mac Gedhe

Son of Gedhe Ollghothach. Ruled 2 years. Killed.

831 - 815 BC

Ailill mac Slanuill

Cousin. Ruled 16 years. Killed.

815 - 794 BC

Sírna mac Dian / Sírna mac Déin

Great-grandson of Roitheachtaigh. Déisi. Ruled 21 years.

Sírna mac Dian separates the Ulaid from the authority of the high king and goes to war against its people because they had killed his great-grandmother. The Lebor Gabála Érenn claims that the Ulaid unite with the Fomóraigh (still powerful enough to warrant a military union, it seems).

They engage Sírna at the Battle of Móin Trógaide in Mide, but a plague strikes them, killing the leaders on both sides. According to Seathrún Céitinn and the Annals of the Four Masters, Sírna dies at the hands of Roitheachtaigh mac Roan.

794 - 787 BC

Roitheachtaigh mac Roan

Great-great-gndson of Faildeargdoid (950 BC). Ruled 7 years.

According to legend and mythology, Roitheachtaigh mac Roan is a king of the Gailenga. They are a minor people, usually vassals of Connacht and the Uí Neill in medieval history who originate either in Brega or Connacht.

8th century BC

Modern scholars, backed up especially by T F O'Rahilly, estimate a period between the eighth and fifth centuries BC for the arrival of the mysterious Cruithne (seen being defeated in mythological battle in the mid-eleventh century BC, see above). They are also the target of attacks by the Cenél Ailech branch of the Uí Neill in the sixth century AD, showing that they remain a recognisable formation into the historical period.

The traditional view of Picts as the 'painted people' is based on a description given by the Romans - given the fact that the Cruithne were migrant Picts, they may well have continued the practice of body painting whilst in Ireland

787 - 786 BC

Elim Oillfinshneachta

Son. Ruled 1 year. Killed at the Battle of Comair Trí nUisce.

786 - 777 BC

Giallchaidh mac Sírna

Grandson of Sírna mac Dian. Déisi. Ruled 9 years. Killed.

777 - 755 BC

Art Imleach

Son of Elim. Ruled 22 years. Killed.

755 - 735 BC

Nuadat Finnfail

Son of Giallchaidh. Déisi. Ruled 20 years. Killed.

735 - 726 BC

Breisrigh mac Art / Bres Ri

Son of Art. Ruled 9 years. Killed.

726 - 725 BC

Eochaid Apthach

Distant descendant of Míl Espáine. Ruled 1 year. Killed.

725 - 705 BC

Fionn mac Brátha

Great-great-gndson of Ollamh Fodhla (943 BC). Ruled 20 years.

705 - 685 BC

Sedna mac Innaraigh

Son of Breisrigh mac Art. Ruled 20 years. Killed.

685 - 679 BC

Simeon Breac / Siomón Brecc

Grandson of Nuadat. Déisi. Ruled 6 years. Killed.

679 - 674 BC

Duach Finn / Dui Finn

Son of Sedna. Ruled 5 years. Killed.

674 - 670 BC

Muireadach Bolgrach

Son of Simeon. Déisi. Ruled 4 years. Killed.

670 - 658 BC

Enda Dearg / Énna Derg

Son of Duach Finn. Ruled 12 years. Died of plague.

658 - 649 BC

Lugaid Iardonn

Son. Ruled 9 years. Killed.

c.650 BC

The Cadurci tribe of Celts are thought to migrate across the Rhine, leaving the Celtic heartland in southern Germany to enter the land that becomes known as Gaul. The Lexovii make the same journey. Other Celtic groups are also settling in the British Isles and quite possibly in Ireland around this time.

649 - 633 BC

Sirlám mac Fionn

Son of Fionn mac Brátha (725 BC). Ruled 16 years. Killed.

633 - 621 BC

Eochaid Uaircheas / Eochu Uairches

Son of Lugaid. Ruled 12 years. Killed.

621 - 616 BC

Eochaid Fiadmuine

Grandson of Muireadach? Ruled 5 years (in the south). Killed.

621 - 616 BC

Conaing Begeaglach

Brother/half-brother and co-ruler (in the north). Ousted.

616 - 609 BC

Lugaid Lamdearg

Son of Eochaid Uaircheas. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

609 - 599 BC

Conaing Begeaglach

Retook high kingship. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

599 - 593 BC

Art mac Lugdach

Son of Lugaid. Ruled 6 years. Killed.

593 - 586 BC

Fiacha Tolgrach

Son of Muireadach. Déisi. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

586 - 577 BC

Ailill Finn

Son of Art mac Lugdach. Ruled 9 years. Killed.

577 - 570 BC

Eochaid mac Ailella / Eochu mac Ailella

Son. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

570 - 547 BC

Airgeatmhar mac Sirlám

Son of Sirlám (649 BC). Ruled 23 years. Killed.

547 - 537 BC

Duach Ladhgrach / Dui

Son of Fiacha Tolgrach. Déisi. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

After having helped Duach Ladhgrach to the high kingship, Lugaid Laigde then kills him and claims the role for himself. He is the son of one of Dáire Doimthech, of the Dáirine, the proto-historical rulers of Munster prior to the rise of the Eóganachta in the seventh century AD. He also gives his epithet to their principal royal sept, the Corcu Loígde.

537 - 530 BC

Lugaid Laigde

Of the Dáirine. Former accomplice of Duach. Ruled 7 years.

530 - 509 BC

Áed Ruad

Grandson of Airgeatmhar. Ruled 21 years. Drowned.

509 - 488 BC


Grandson of Airgeatmhar. Ruled 21 years. Killed.

488 - 468 BC


Grandson of Airgeatmhar. Ruled 20 years.

Áed Ruad, Díthorba, and Cimbáeth are said by sources other than Seathrún Céitinn to reign in rotation, taking seven years each. All are grandsons of Airgeatmhar mac Sirlám. Áed drowns at the end of his third term, and when would would have been his turn comes around again, his daughter, Macha Ní Áed (nicknamed 'Red Mane'), demands to be allowed to take her father's place. Díthorba, and Cimbáeth refuse and the former is killed in battle, while Macha marries the latter and they share the high kingship.

Following the death of Díthorba, Macha is said to pursue each of his sons, capturing them and taking them to the territory of the Ulaid where she forces them to build the stronghold of Emain Macha (Navan Fort, near Armagh). This will be the capital of Ulaid.

Late Bronze Age horns
This pair of horns were crafted in the Late Bronze Age, which covers the mythological period in which Cimbáeth and his peers held the position of high king

The feud between the descendants of Eibhear Finn and Eremon is largely irrelevant now. Macha takes as a foster son Úgaine Mor, the biological son of the late Duach Ladhgrach, thereby merging the two main branches of the Gaels (if those branches even exist now in a recognisable form). The established norm is for each high king to be killed by his successor, from whichever branch of the family they may originate, and that habit shows no signs of abating.

468 - 461 BC

Macha Ní Áed 'Mong Raud'

Daughter of Áed Ruad. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

468 - 461 BC


Husband and joint high king. Died of plague.

461 - 441 BC

Rechtaid Rígderg

Son of Lugaid Laigde. Ruled 20 years. Killed.

441 - 411 BC

Úgaine Mor

Son of Duach Ladhgrach. Macha's foster. Déisi. Ruled 30 yrs.

411 BC

Badbchaid / Bodbchad

Brother and killer. Ruled 3 months. Killed.

411 - 409 BC

Lóegaire Lorc

Son of Úgaine Mor. Ruled 2 years. Killed.

409 - 379 BC

Cobthach Cóel Breg

Brother. Déisi. Ruled 30 years. Killed.

379 - 369 BC

Labraid Loingsech

Grandson of Lóegaire Lorc. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

Labraid Loingsech is considered to be the ancestor figure of the Laigin. His placement in this list could be the act of personifying an ancient god figure. During his exile at the hands of Cobthach Cóel Breg he is said by the Lebor Gabála Érenn to invade the territory of Laigin and also to make peace with Cobthach. Naturally, the peace does not last.

369 - 362 BC

Meilge Molbthach

Son of Cobthach. Déisi. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

362 - 355 BC

Mog Corb / Mug Corb / Mac Corb

Grandson of Rechtaid Rígderg. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

355 - 337 BC

Aengus Ollamh / Óengus Ollom,

Grandson of Labraid Loingsech. Ruled 18 years. Killed.

337 - 330 BC

Irereo mac Meilge

Son of Meilge Molbthach. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

330 - 319 BC

Fer Corb

Son of Mog Corb. Ruled 11 years. Killed.

c.325 BC

FeaturePytheas of Massalia, a Greek geographer and explorer undertakes a voyage of exploration around north-western Europe. During his trip he visits Britain, which he names the Prettanic isles (spellings vary thanks to the translation from the original Greek - the name is collective, covering Ireland too). He travels extensively, making notes of what he sees, and also provides what may be the earliest written report of Stonehenge. He names the promontory of Kantion (land of the Cantii), the promontory of Belerion (land of the Cornovii), and Orkas (the Orkneys). Belerion is home to a civilised people who are especially hospitable to strangers, apparently due to their dealings with foreign merchants who are involved in the tin trade.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

Belerion may also be home to the people of the Celtic god, Bel. This name occurs in many tribal names among the Celts, including the Bellovaci in Gaul, Belgites in Illyria, Velabri in Ireland, and of course the various Belgic tribes. In Cornwall there is a unbroken tradition of celebrating Bel's day (Beltane) with large fires, cattle being driven between two such fires, and young men jumping the flames. See also the end of the Fomóraigh kings of legend (above) for the possibility of Greek influence on early Iron Age Ireland.

319 - 315 BC

Connla Cáem

Son of Irereo. Déisi. Ruled 4 years. Died!

315 - 290 BC

Ailill Caisfhiaclach

Son. Déisi. Ruled 25 years. Killed.

3rd century BC

It is likely that the Concani Celts or Belgae arrive in eastern Ireland around this time. The Belgae are migrating en masse into northern Gaul and the Low Countries at this time, while others of their number are diverting to the south-east of Britain. The Concani settle in territory that later becomes part of Laigin.

It is also around this time that the climate changes to destabilise the lives of the Irish tribes. More rain and less sun reduces farming in Ireland to a grim subsistence level. There is a decline in human activity and a related increase in wetlands and forest, broadly between about 250 BC and AD 250. The population inevitably falls and warfare becomes endemic. This change could be a northwards extension of the more widely recorded 'Roman Warm Period' (or Roman climatic optimum), a period of unusually warm weather in Europe and the North Atlantic.

290 - 285 BC

Adamair mac Foltchain

Son of Fer Corb. Ruled 5 years. Killed.

285 - 274 BC

Eochaid Ailtleathan

Son of Ailill Caisfhiaclach. Déisi. Ruled 11 years. Killed.

274 - 262 BC

Fergus Fortamail

Son of Bresal Brecc, son of Aengus Ollamh. Ruled 12 yrs. Killed.

262 - 232 BC

Aengus Tuirmech Temrach

Son of Eochaid Ailtleathan. Déisi. Ruled 30 years. Died.

232 - 226 BC

Conall Collamrach

Nephew. Ruled 6 years. Killed.

226 - 219 BC

Nia Segamain

Son of Adamair. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

219 - 191 BC

Enna Aignech

Son of Aengus Tuirmech. Déisi. Ruled 28 years. Killed.

191 - 184 BC

Crimmthann Coscrach

Grandson of Fergus Fortamail. Ruled 7 years. Killed.

184 - 154 BC

Rudraige mac Sithrige

Great-great-gndson of Airgeatmhar (570 BC). Ruled 30 years.

154 - 151 BC

Innatmar mac Nia / Finnat Már

Son of Nia Segamain. Ruled 3 years. Killed.

151 - 140 BC

Breasal Boidhiobhadh / Bresal Bó-Díbad

Son of Rudraige. Ruled 11 years. Killed.

140 - 135 BC

Lugaid Luaigne

Son of Innatmar mac Nia. Ruled 5 years. Killed.

During the high kingship of Lugaid Luaigne, Congal Clairinech shares the regional kingship of Ulaid with Fergus mac Léti. He rules the northern half of Ulaid while Fergus rules the southern half. The men of the region object and petition the high king for a single ruler. Fergus wins the decision but Congal declares war, supported by some of Ulaid's nobles. Fergus rouses his supporters who include Fachtna Fáthach of Ulaid, son of Rudraige mac Sithrige (high king from 184 BC, and later to be high king himself), Cet mac Mágach, a renowned warrior of Connacht, and Mesgegra, king of Laigin. During the ensuing conflict, Congal beheads Lugaid in battle and claims the high kingship. Fergus is subsequently stripped of the kingship of Ulaid, being replaced by Congal's brother, Ross Ruad.

135 - 120 BC

Congal Clairinech

Son of Rudraige. King of Ulaid. Ruled 15 years. Killed.

120 - 110 BC

Duach Dallta Dedad

Grandson of Lugaid Luaigne. Ruled 10 years. Killed.

1st century BC

Elements of the Concani tribe in Laigin probably migrate to the Lleyn peninsula in Wales from Ireland around this time. They force out the original inhabitants, who may be related to the Ordovices, and quickly split into two bodies. The first settles in the peninsula where it retains its name (mutating into Gangani), while the second body, perhaps larger in size, migrates eastwards into the area that is now Clwyd and becomes known as the Deceangli.

Tre'r Ceiri hill fort on the Llyn peninsula
The Lleyn peninsula was the home of the Gangani in Britain, with them probably being the builders of Tre'r Ceiri hill fort, a well preserved five-acre site that contains around one hundred and fifty huts, both round and rectangular

110 - 94 BC

Fachtna Fáthach

Ruled 16 years. Father of Conchobar of Ulaid? Killed.

In 94 BC, Fachtna Fáthach visits the Ulaid and while he is there, Eochaid Feidlech, king of Connacht, raises an army and marches on Tara. Fachtna challenges him to battle, with Leitir Ruad in the Corann in Connacht being chosen. During the fighting, Eochaid and his band surround Fachtna and behead him. Fachtna's ally, Eochaid Sálbuide, king of Ulaid, is also killed, and Fergus mac Róich leads the safe retreat of the Ulaid warriors.

94 - 82 BC

Eochaid Feidlech

Descendant of Enna Aignech. King of Connacht. Ruled 12 yrs.

When Conchobar mac Nessa becomes king of Ulaid, Eochaid Feidlech gives him four of his daughters in marriage in compensation for the death of Fachtna Fáthach, his supposed father. One of those daughters is Medb. She bears Conchobar a son named Amalgad but she later leaves her husband and the high king grants her the kingship of Connacht.

82 - 70 BC

Eochaid Airem

Brother. Ruled 12 years. Killed by Sigmall Sithienta.

70 - 64 BC

Ederscel / Eterscél Mór 'the Great'

Son of Íar mac Dedad of Munster. Ruled 6 years. Killed.

64 - 63 BC

Nuada Necht

Crimthann Coscrach of Laigin descendant. Ruled 1 yr. Killed.

63 - 33 BC

Conaire Mor 'the Great'

Raised as the son of Ederscel. Ruled 30 years.

c.56 BC

The fleet of Roman general Julius Caesar defeats the Veneti off the coast of what becomes known as Armorica. Elements of the tribe may flee to Britain and Ireland where they form two tribes of Venicones, one in what becomes Pictland and the other in County Donegal as the Venicnii, where both are attested by Ptolemy by AD 140.

55 - ? BC

During or following the conquest of Gaul by the Romans, many tribes flee either in their entirety or in smaller groups, heading for Britain and Ireland. Among these are the Menapii, who establish a colony in modern County Kilkenny and the west of County Wexford in Ireland, largely within territory that later forms Laigin.

33 - 13 BC

Lugaid Riab nDerg

Son of Eochaid Feidlech. Ruled 20 years. Died.

fl c.20 BC

Matholug / Matholwch

King of Ireland. Not part of the FFE king list.

FeatureThe Mabinogion contains the tale of Branwen, daughter of Penardin White Throat (or Penarddun), sister of the high king of Britain. When her brother, Bran, becomes high king he is approached by Matholug, who asks for Branwen's hand in marriage. Branwen is taken back to Ireland where she gives birth to a son, Gwern. An insult paid to Matholug by the troubled Emnissien, Branwen's half-brother, plays on his mind so, at the urging of his advisors, Branwen is consigned to captivity in his kitchens. When Bran hears of this, he leads a mighty host which defeats the Irish king. Despite a truce, further fighting erupts, devastating both sides and resulting in the deaths of Bran, Emnissien, Gwern, Matholug and, eventually, Branwen.

Matholug is not part of the mythological king list of Seathrún Céitinn's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (the History of Ireland). He may be a British invention for the Mabinogion alone, but he may equally be a minor or regional Irish king with whom the Britons have dealings and who is remembered in oral tradition.

13 - 12 BC

Conchobar Abradruad

Son of Nuada. Ruled 1 year. Killed.

12 BC - AD 5

Crimmthann Nia Náir

Son of Lugaid Riab nDerg. Déisi. Ruled 16 years. Died.

AD 5 - 25

Feradach Finnfechtnach

Son. Déisi. Ruled 20 years. Died. Father of Fiacha (AD 28).

25 - 28

Fiatach Finn mac Dáire

King of Ulaid. Ruled 3 years. Killed.

Feradach Finnfechtnach is the eponymous founder of the later clan of Ulaid, the Dál Fiatach. This is formed of a group of dynasties of what is now eastern Ulster that are all related and which descend from the Dáirine.

28 - 55

Fiacha Finnfolaidh / Fíachu Finnolach

Déisi. Ruled 27 years. Father of Tuathal. Overthrown.


MapThe might of imperial Rome invades Britain and quickly starts to conquer individual kingdoms. The Cantii and Trinovantes are amongst the first to fall, while the northern Dobunni appear to surrender. The first Roman Governor leads the campaign. Whether or not this causes any ripples in Irish politics has remained unrecorded, but there are certainly signs in subsequent years of refugees finding their way to the island.

55 - 60

Cairbre Cinnchait

Ancestry uncertain, possibly foreign. Ruled 5 years. Plague.

60 - 80

Éllim / Elim

Son of one 'Conrai'. Ruled 20 years.

72 - 79

Some archaeological evidence from the island of Lambay, and a second century map by Ptolemy, reveal the possibility that some Brigantine elements flee to Ireland and settle there following the conquest of their kingdom by the Romans. It is only towards the end of the century that Brigantine artefacts start to appear in Ireland, in the Cork/Waterford area, within the later Munster. Elements of the Deceangli may also flee to Ireland by the end of the decade to escape Roman rule and retribution.

In fact, from the evidence available (which is always limited in terms of Ireland's early history), Ptolemy seems to be the first person to list the Irish tribes, and shortly after this, between the second and fourth centuries, most of Ireland shifts from tribal naming to descent naming. The shift is so complete by around AD 400 that it is almost impossible to link many of the early tribal names to the later descent names.


Further archaeological evidence from at least this date onwards suggests the presence of Romans on the island. One candidate is Stoneyford in County Kilkenny, which is navigable from Waterford on the Nore, while Loughshinny in County Dublin is another candidate. Stoneyford's heavily-defended fort has been identified as a significant Roman beachhead, built to support military campaigns in the first and second centuries AD. Later developing into a large trading town, it contains Roman coins stamped with the names of various emperors from Titus onwards. The Roman presence would seem to last until at least AD 138.

80 - 100

Tuathal Teachtmhar

Of the Déisi. Ruled 20 years. Last name in original list of kings.

Tuathal Teachtmhar, son of Fiacha Finnfolaidh, is the last king mentioned in the original list of high kings as taken from the Lebor Gabála Érenn. Subsequent kings are added by later authors, notably in Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, but these are from Goidelic dynasties that are established by Tuathal.

The stories of his acceding as high king involve him returning from exile and overthrowing the previous high king. TF O'Rahilly suggests that this and many similar stories involving a return from exile are really a legendary remembrance of entirely foreign invasions which establish new groups or dynasties in Ireland. They or their descendants fabricate an Irish origin in order to add legitimacy to their presence or rule. It is fascinating to note that a Roman presence in Ireland has also been suggested from around this date (see AD 79), making it possible that Tuathal is installed as high king with the backing of Roman, acting as their main ally on the island.


Writing at this time, Tacitus not only mentions a large number of tribes in Europe, he also describes Ireland. He calls it 'a small country in comparison with Britain, but larger than the islands of the Mediterranean. In soil and climate, and in the character and civilisation of its inhabitants, it is much like Britain'. He goes on to state that he has often heard his father-in-law, Roman General Agricola, 'say that Ireland could be reduced and held by a single legion with a fair force of auxiliaries'.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (Licensed: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International)

100 - 104

Mal mac Rochride

King of Ulaid. Killed Tuathal. Ruled 4 years. Killed.

104 - 113

Fedlimid Rechtmar

Son of Tuathal of the Déisi. Ruled 9 years. Died.

Fedlimid Rechtmar is the father of future high king, Conn Cétchathach. Two other sons are Fiacha Suighe of the Déisi and Eochaid Finn, both of whom are mentioned in medieval sources. Fiacha is also claimed as the ancestor of the Dal Fiachrach Suighe, meaning the 'Seed of Fiachra Suighe'.

In the story, The Expulsion of the Déisi, Fiachra's great-great-great-great grandsons, the four sons of Art Corb, are expelled from Tara following a failed bid to take the high kingship. The group led by Eochaid Allmhuir (Allmhuir meaning 'over-sea') settles in Dyfed around the start of the fourth century, while another eventually settles amongst the Déisi of southern Munster. These events have been tied to Scotti (Irish) pirate raids along the length of Britain's western and southern coasts in the fourth and fifth centuries, and to the foundation of the Brito-Irish kingdoms of Dyfed and Brycheiniog.

113 - 116

Cathair Mór ('the Great') mac Fedlimid

Descendant of Mog Corb (362 BC). Ruled 3 years. Killed.

Rus Failge, son of Cathair Mór, may be associated with the founding of a tribal kingdom of Uí Failghe, although this is far from certain. Only the name serves as a connection, while the first historically-known king (or at least, semi-historically-known), Failge Berraide, is a rather mysterious figure. The Book of Leinster names one Failge Rot mac Cathair as an early king here, which is close enough to Rus Failge and his father's name to provide a possible link. The early Irish poem, Timna Cathaír Máir (The Testament of Cathair Mór) says that Rus Failge is granted the kingdom in succession to his father, so the assumption has to be that Cathair Mór holds the kingship of Uí Failghe, and his son succeeds him.

116 - 136

Conn Cétchathach

Son of Fedlimid. Ruled 20 years. Conn 'of the Hundred Battles'.

Conn Cétchathach is, in English, Conn 'of the Hundred Battles'. He is the main subject in the earliest surviving list of Irish high kings which appears in the Baile Chuind (The Ecstasy of Conn). This late seventh century poem depicts Conn experiencing a vision of the kings who will succeed him. The list is a mishmash of later tradition, real names, and individuals who remain unidentified. He is also claimed as the ancestor of the Uí Neill and Connachta dynasties, the latter bearing his name.

The early appearance of the poem makes it more likely that Conn himself exists, despite the five hundred year gap between his existence and the poem being written down. Celtic oral tradition stands as a powerful tool at least until the Middle Ages, making it entirely possible for important figures such as Conn to be remembered for generations.

Following the seizure of Munster by Mug Neit, this usurper attacks Conn Cétchathach. The high king defeats him in two battles in the territory of the Uí Failghe (modern County Offaly) and he is killed. The former kings of Munster are restored to their position. Nine years later, Mug Neit's son Mug Nuadat returns and seizes Munster. With the kings of Laigin and Ulaid alongside him, he marches to High King Conn at Mag nAi and enforces a treaty which divides Ireland, giving the southern half to Mug Nuadat. The peace lasts for fifteen years until Mug Nuadat breaks it, again with the kings of Laigin and Ulaid. Mug Nuadat is killed in a surprise attack by Conn and his followers and Ireland is reunited under his high kingship, with Mide being taken from Ulaid. Vengeance later returns from Ulaid when King Tipraiti Tireach kills Conn.

136 - 143

Connaire Cóem

Son-in-law. King of Munster. Ruled 7 years. Killed by Nemed.

Connaire Cóem is the son of Mug Láma, son of Coirpre Crou-Chend, son of Coirpre Firmaora, son of Conaire Mór former high king of Ireland (from 63 BC). Conaire has three sons by Conn's daughter, Saraid. The first of these is Cairpre Músc, founding ancestor of the Múscraige (an important Érainn people of Munster who form a string of petty kingdoms throughout the region) and Corcu Duibne (a notable early kingdom based in the modern County Kerry). The second is Cairpre Baschaín, ancestor of the Corcu Baiscind (another notable early Érainn kingdom based in the County Clare region of Munster). The third is Cairpre Riata, ancestor of the Dál Riata. The Síl Conairi name that had been coined for the descendants of Conaire Mór remains valid for all of the descendants of these sons.


Ptolemy in his Geography is the first ancient writer to note any details about Ireland. He records the various tribes on the island and their locations, probably not at a single moment in time but over a period of time and probably fixed at a date of AD 100. Ptolemy notes fifteen rivers, six promontories, and ten 'cities' (really settlements of varying degrees of sophistication). Some of the tribes can be linked conclusively with the later Irish kingdoms, either through linguistic effects on the later names of regions and kingdoms, or though historical references.

Some names are still recognisable from Ptolemy's work. For instance, Buvinda is the River Boyne (Old Irish 'boänd' (shown by Adamnan as 'boend'), gen. 'boindeo', 'bóinde', dat. 'boïnd'. These show a fluctuation between the 'ä' and 'i' declensions. The original form may have been *Bou-vindã, meaning 'cow-white', an Irish goddess who, as well as being white or bright (*vindã), was often regarded as possessing a bovine shape, not inappropriate in a land in which cattle are of primary importance). Senos is the Shannon, Logia is the Lagan, Obboca is the River Avoca (or possibly the Liffey), while Limnos may be Lambey Island. It has also been suggested that the northern Regia shown on the map might represent the hill fort of Clogher, while Raeba may be the royal site of Cruchain, and Ivernis could be Cashel.

143 - 173

Art mac Cuinn / Art Óenfer

Son of Conn. Ruled 30 years. Killed.

Art mac Cuinn is claimed as being the ancestor of the Uí Neill (through his fourth century descendant, Niall of the Nine Hostages) and also of the Connachta.

173 - 203

Lugaid mac Conn / 'Mac Con'

Maternal grandson of Conn. Ruled 30 years.

203 - 204

Fergus Dubdétach

King of Ulaid. Ruled 1 year. Defeated in battle.

204 - 244

Cormac mac Airt / Corbmac

Son of Art mac Cuinn. Ruled 40 years.

According to legend, Cormac mac Airt is high king of Ireland ('Ard Ri na Eireann') during the time of Finn mac Cuill (Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn MacCool). He is also one of the country's most popular high kings, being mentioned in many tales and poems and also in the Irish annals, the Annals of the Four Masters. He fights many battles, subduing the Ulaid and Connachta and continuing the ongoing struggle to bring Munster to heel.

In the story The Expulsion of the Déisi, the great-great-great-grandson of legendary high king of Ireland, Fedlimid Rechtmar (AD 104, according to Ireland's mythological timeline), is Art Corb. His four sons are expelled from Tara following a failed bid to take the high kingship. Cormac mac Airt is also mentioned in the eighth century text when he is blinded by Óengus Gaíbúaibthech of the Déisi. As no high king can remain in place if he bears a physical blemish, Cormac is replaced by Eochaid Gonnat, although a year later he is killed in battle by Cormac's son, Cairbre Lifechair.

Art Corb's sons each go their own way over time. The group led by Eochaid Allmhuir (Allmhuir meaning 'over-sea') settles in Demetia around the start of the fourth century, while another eventually settles amongst the Déisi of southern Munster (the Déisi Muman). These events have been tied to Scotti (Irish) pirate raids along the length of Britain's western and southern coasts in the fourth and fifth centuries, and to the foundation of the Brito-Irish kingdoms of Dyfed and Brycheiniog. Another branch of the expelled Déisi becomes the Dál gCais clan of Thomond.

Marloes Sands
The coast of Pembrokeshire, part of the territory of Demetae and the later kingdom of Dyfed, is a mixture of sandy beaches and daunting rocks (as at Marloes Sands, shown here), but there would have been many places for the Déisi to land and seize some territory

In connection with the Déisi Muman settlement in Munster, one of leading Déisi protagonists is a rather sinister female druidic figure, known as Eithne Uathach 'Eithne Dread', who had been 'reared on the flesh of little boys' to ensure her preternatural growth. It has been prophesied that through Eithne that the Déisi will eventually 'seize land on which they shall dwell'.

This proves to be the case. Eithne first marries the high king of the Mumu (Munster), then negotiates a homeland for the Déisi, her mother's people. But this homeland is only secured when the Osraige (the 'Deer-People'), rival claimants to the land, are finally overcome. This victory itself is again largely the work of Eithne, following a prophetic vision induced by 'two jars full of wine... from the lands of Gaul' (signifying third century AD trade with Roman Europe).

244 - 245

Eochaid Gonnat / Gunnat

Descendant of Fiatach Finn (AD 25). Ruled 1 year. Killed.

245 - 272

Cairbre Lifechair

Son of Cormac mac Airt. Ruled 27 years.

Bresal Belach, king of Laigin, refuses to pay his bórama (cow tribute) to the high king. Cairbre defeats him at the Battle of Dubchomar and from then on the bórama is paid without fuss. Also during his term as high king, his sons Fiacha Sraibhtine and Eochaid Doimlen kill Óengus Gaíbúaibthech of the Déisi. In an attempt to heal the breach, Cairbre betroths his daughter, Sgiam Sholais, to a Déisi prince but the fianna (a form of semi-independent war band) demands a tribute of twenty gold bars.

Deciding to cut the fianna down to size, Cairbre gathers a huge army from Connacht, Laigin, and Ulaid, with support from Goll mac Morna and his followers from the fianna itself, while the Déisi and Munster side with the fianna. Cairbre is victorious at the resultant Battle of Gabhra, but dies in single combat against Oscar, grandson of his own father-in-law, Finn mac Cuill. Oscar dies of his own wounds shortly after. The only fianna survivors are Caílte mac Rónáin and Fionn's other son, Oisín.

272 - 273

Fothad Cairpthech

Son of Lugaid mac Conn. Ruled 1 year. Killed.

272 - 273

Fothad Airgthech

Brother and joint high king. Ruled 1 year. Killed.

A year after agreeing to share the high kingship with his brother, Fothad Airgthech kills Fothad Cairpthech and is then killed by Caílte mac Rónáin of the fianna and the followers of Caibre's son, Fiacha Sraibhtine, at the Battle of Ollarba.

273 - 306

Fíacha Sroiptine

Son of Cairbre Lifechair. Ruled 33 years. Killed.

306 - 310

Colla Uais

Son of Eochaid Doimlén, son of Cairbre Lifechair. Ruled 4 years.

310 - 343

Muiredach Tirech

Great-gt-gt-grandson of Conn. Ruled 33 years. Overthrown.

Some time around the start of the fourth century, having overthrown Colla Uais, Muiredach Tirech decides that the surviving Colla brothers should have their own territory. He sends them to conquer the Ulaid region with an army supplied from Connacht. The brothers fight seven battles in a week against the Ulaid at Achaidh Leithdeircc. Fergus Foga, king of Ulster, is killed in the seventh battle, along with Colla Menn. They burn the Ulaid capital at Emain Macha, following which it is abandoned. The Collas seize considerable territories in the region which are thought to be the origin of the kingdom of Airgíalla.

343 - 344


Descendant of Conall Cernach. King of Ulaid. Ruled 1 year.

344 - 351

Eochaid Mugmedon

Son of Muiredach. King of Connacht. Ruled 7 years.

While Eochaid's first wife, Mongfind, is an Irishwoman who bears him four sons (Brion, Ailill, Fiachrae and Fergus), his second wife is Cairenn Chasdub. The saga The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon claims she is the daughter of Sachell Balb, king of the Saxons, which is highly unlikely given the timeframe. Seathrún Céitinn refers to her as the daughter of the king of the Britons, strengthening this likelihood. Cairenn is the mother of Niall Noígillach, one of Ireland's most famous high kings.

Eochaid Mugmedon spawns several dynasties that subsequently rule the provinces of Connacht, Mide, and Ulaid into the middle ages. These dynasties are known by the names of Eochaid's four sons, being the Uí Bruin, Uí Fiachrae, Uí Aillil, and Uí Neill (after Niall Noígillach).

351 - 368

Crimthann Mór ('the Great') mac Fidaig

Son of Fidach. King of Munster. Ruled 7 years.

360 - 361

At the start of 360, Roman Caesar Julian (the Apostate) is wintering in Lutetia Parisiorum (the early Paris) when reports reach him that the Scotti and Picts have broken a previous agreement (perhaps made in 343) and are plundering lands close to the frontier, presumably those of the Novantae and Selgovae. Whether the campaign goes ahead under a less senior commander after the original commander is recalled is unknown.

364 - 367

According to Ammianus Marcellinus, the Picts, Scotti, Saxons, and Attacotti attack Roman Britain in what seems to be a serious incursion. Three years later, the Barbarian Conspiracy sees attacks falling on Roman Britain from all sides, including from the Scotti.

It is around this time that Ireland begins to leave behind its mythical past and emerge into history. The transition is gradual, and several subsequent events could still be said to be entirely mythological, but a level of historical validity also makes itself apparent.

Historical Ireland

Post-Ptolemy (second century AD), the four or five Irish kingdoms with which we are familiar began to appear (Connacht, Laigin, Mide, Munster, and Ulaid), but each of these kingdoms were composed of multiple tribes and few of them were formally united or ruled by a single king. Instead they consisted of many tribes and clans which sometimes bonded together during times of need (outside invasion or revenge attacks) but who fought each other for much of the rest of the time. Then in the late fourth century, Niall of the Nine Hostages apparently dominated much of Ireland. His descendants, the Uí Neill, used a descent system to describe themselves, and this appears to have been adopted by most of the island. The last holdout may have been the Fir Domnann (the Dumnonii Men), possibly one of several British tribes who saw fragments of their number move to Ireland.

Coverage here of the early Irish tribes is a snapshot, figuratively taken by Ptolemy. Readers should keep in mind the fact that the locations of Ptolemy's tribes cannot always be transferred to locations of the kingdoms that succeeded them. Some tribes were apparently wiped out, while others, such as the Domnonn and Concani/Gangani moved large distances. Those tribes quickly became the clans and nascent kingdoms of historic Ireland, and the process of their transformation has largely been lost to history.

Ireland's historical period can be said to begin with High King Niall Noígillach. Whilst not being entirely proven to be fully historical himself, it is generally accepted that there was a real figure at the centre of the various sagas surrounding him. He perhaps lived up to half a century later than the position given to him in the mythological king list, although this is constantly being reviewed. In fact, all of the dates for the early historical high kings are largely later constructions and should be viewed with some scepticism.

Following Niall's accession and domination of Ireland, each of his brothers established themselves as kings. Brion gained Connacht, and was soon replaced by Fiachrae before the family began conquering other kingdoms. Niall's son Eógan founded the kingdom of Ailech, while another, Conall Gulban, founded the kingdom of Tír Chonaill, and Coirpre seems to have led the Southern Uí Neill into Mide. All of Niall's direct descendants were counted as members of the Uí Neill, literally the grandsons of Niall.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), and from Geography, Ptolemy.)

368 - 395

Niall Noígillach of the Nine Hostages

Son. Ruled from Tara. First non-legendary high king?


By now the territory of the Deceangli and Ordovices in Britain is under severe threat by waves of Irish raiders. The situation is so bad that much of the land of these tribes is incorporated into a new territory when Cunedda Wledig and his branch of Romanised Venicones are transferred from the Manau dependency of the Guotodin to secure North Wales from the raiders. They are extremely successful, and the kingdom of Venedotia is formed by them.

5th century?

The Laigin interest in Tara, the seat of the high kings, probably becomes a thing of the past when the Southern Uí Neill clan (whose northern kin are beginning to advance on the borders of Ulaid) take over the area known as Brega in which Tara lies, probably in this century. In doing this they apparently push back the old Leinster descent-named tribe known as the Laigin to the area south of the River Liffey, and separate them from their kin the Uí Failghe.

At this time the title of high king (if it exists at all outside of later romantic fiction) is purely a matter of hierarchy. The authority of the Irish kings is determined by how much they rule. Village chiefs are at the bottom, followed by clan chiefs, tribal chiefs, rulers of minor kingdoms, kings of the so-called 'five provinces' (or kingdoms), and finally the high king himself. He is merely the most powerful warrior of his time, the biggest chief, but he does not rule a united Ireland except as at the head of possible coalitions formed in times of need.

The Death of Niall
An illustration depicting the scene after the death of Niall, probably with at least some of his kingdom-founding sons in attendance


Attacks on the south coast of Britain by Niall are best associated with this year. It is Niall who is in effect the dynasty founder of the Uí Neill, who use a descent system to describe themselves which appears in time to be adopted by most of the island. This system replaces the more traditional tribal system to such an extent that the relationships between the earlier tribes and the later kingdoms are largely lost.

395 - 418

Feradach Dathí / Nath I

Nephew. Son of Fiachrae mac Eochaid of Connacht and king.


Immediately prior to Vortigern's apparent rise to power as high king of Britain, the country is subjected to raids along its coastline. In the west, Irish raiders sail up the Severn and seize a large amount of booty in the form of corn, cattle and anything else they can grab, including sons and daughters. They are also credited with kidnapping the young St Patrick from the College of Theodosius (at Llantwit Major, which would place the raid within the territory of Cernyw).

418 - 448/463?

Lóeguire / Lóegaire mac Néill

Son of Niall. First Uí Neill high king? Originally from Connacht?

Whilst generally being historical, there is still much that is unknown or semi-legendary about the early historical high kings. Even the two main sources for reignal lengths disagree, which is why there is an apparent problem around this time with matching the dates used by Seathrún Céitinn (c.1569-c.1644, and known in English as Geoffrey Keating) to those used by the Annals of the Four Masters, and with the few real dates that are available. Keating has 448 for the high king's death. The Annals have 463, and history generally seems to side more with the latter in this instance.


After consecrating St Palladius in Rome, Pope Celestine send him to Ireland as its first bishop, part of the British Church's efforts to convert their Scotti neighbours.


Lóeguire, or Loegaire, is said to be on the losing side in a druidic contest with St Patrick over the lighting of the Easter Fire. The dating here may not be accurate given that circa 464 is given as an approximate date for St Patrick's return to Ireland. It is possible that Lóeguire has accidentally replaced Lugaid mac Lóeguiri in ancient tradition.


Despite apparently holding the territory under his command in relative safety for up to forty years, Eugenius meets his end in battle, probably against Irish raiders. His son succeeds him in ruling what is now certainly the kingdom of Cernyw, rather than a possible protectorate or Romanised territory of mid-south Wales.

Magnus Maximus coin
Two sides of a coin issued in Britain under the command of Magnus Maximus, which would have remained in circulation until at least the second decade of the fifth century


FeatureThere is a probable Irish presence at Dunster Castle in the early post-Roman period. This is a fort which overlooks the approaches to Exmoor, four and-a-half kilometres (three miles) south-east of Minehead in Somerset (roughly on the edges of Dumnonian territory). The modern castle may not be the same site as the post-Roman fort, which could be located a little way inland. Irish settlers are frequenting Somerset at this time, which suggests that they are people who have already been accepted into Britain, such as the Déisi of Dyfed. They are not large in number but they do remain for a long time. Nearby Glastonbury is spoken of as 'Glastonbury of the Gaels' thanks to its shrines of St Patrick and St Brigit. The fort features in the list of twenty-eight cities of Britain in Nennius' Historia Brittonum, appearing as Caer Draithou.


MapDuring a time of large-scale unrest in Britain, the Saxon foederati based around the country rebel and pillage the country in the face of light British opposition. During this time, Irish raids on the west become heavier, and one Irish band captures the Paganes territory in the West Midlands.

5th-6th centuries

The rise of the various dynasties of the Uí Neill in Ireland and their conquests towards Ulaid and in Laigin are not well recorded, with elements that may be semi-mythological. In general, the Uí Neill's immediate ancestors, embodied in Niall of the Nine Hostages and his sons, expand into Ireland's eastern midlands, and also into southern Ulster (Ulaid territory) and northern Laigin (modern Leinster). The main losers in this migration are the Ulaid and the Laigin. The early Uí Neill seem to be prominent in Connacht before the migration, something about which even the mythological period seems to agree, with several late mythological/early historical kings of the Connachta being ancestors of later Uí Neill rulers.

463 - 483

Coirpre mac Néill / Coirpre Cáech

Brother. Missing from some later lists. Southern Uí Neill?

c,460s - 470s?

The leader of the Southern Uí Neill advance into Mide seems to be Coirpre mac Néill, claimed as high king during the late middle fifth century and son of one of the most famous high kings, Niall Noígillach of the Nine Hostages.

Coirpre's descendants are the Cenél Coirpri, and they govern three small kingdoms, one of which is known as Cairbre Drom Cliabh which is located in northern County Sligo, around the southernmost reaches of the original Northern Uí Neill territory and on the northern border of Connacht. The second, another 'Caibre', is located in modern County Longford, while the third is situated at the headwaters of the River Boyne, in Southern Uí Neill territory. The three locations seem to trace the likely route taken by the Southern Uí Neill into Mide and towards Tara. Significantly, perhaps, the last of these is also the last to be founded, much later than the first.

463 - 483

Ailill Molt mac Nath Í

Son of Nath Í mac Fiachrach. King of Connacht. Killed in battle.


St Patrick had possibly been born as Maewyn Succat at Banna Venta Berniae in Britain (location unknown, but subject to much speculation). Around this year, he returns to Ireland as a Christian missionary of the British Church following a period of six years of captivity there as a slave from the age of sixteen. As the country's second bishop (after Palladius), he plays a major part in converting the Irish to Christianity. According to legend, he also rids Ireland of its snakes, which is probably a reference to his driving out of paganism.

483 - 507

Lugaid mac Lóeguiri O'Néill

Son of Lóeguire mac Néill.

c.480 - 550

During this period, the domination of the high kings pressurises the Irish of the north and east of Ulaid into beginning a migration to western Pictland. Once there, they found the Dál Riata kingdom.


This is the generally-agreed date of death for Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. The annals give this date, but also 461. Patrick's efforts in converting the Scotti is sometimes confused, and combined, with those of Palladius, who precedes him in the same work for the British Church by a couple of generations, having been sent there in 431.

St Patrick
This impression of St Patrick in Ireland is one of the less fanciful, and clearly shows the bishop in his later years, towards the end of the fifth century


Tristan, son of Meirchion of Lyonesse, is one of the main characters of the story of Tristan & Iseult. While bringing Iseult, daughter of the Irish king, to Cornubia where she would marry King Mark, the two people fall in love. They have a secret affair which is belatedly discovered by Mark. Tristan manages to escape, but the couple are later forgiven. Unlike some later works, Tristan & Iseult portrays Mark in a sympathetic fashion. Later works paint him in increasingly darker tones, making him more and more evil and less of a sympathetic figure.

507 - 534

Muirchertach mac Ercae O'Néill

King of the Northern Uí Neill.

St Madoc, son of Sawyl Penuchel of The Peak, is educated at the court of his maternal grandfather, King Muiredach of the Uí Neill. It is there that he becomes interested in Christianity, and he later studies under St David (Dewi Sant) at Glyn Rhosyn. After a spell as abbot of Glyn Rhosyn, he returns to Ireland to found several monasteries, including Clonmore, Drumlane, and Ferns.

534 - 544

Tuathal Máelgarb mac Coirpre O'Néill

Son (or grandson) of Coirpre Cáech O'Néill. Killed.

Tuathal Máelgarb seems to be regarded by a single entry in the annals as the man who completes the conquest of territory that later forms the kingdom of Brega. This is a process that had been started by Niall Noígillach, while Tuathal finishes it by being victorious in battle against the Ciannacht at what the annals term 'Luachair between the two estuaries'. The entry in the annals may not be contemporary but it is thought to originate from around the end of the same century.


As the first king of the Uí Fiachrach Aidhne to be mentioned by the annals, Goibnenn mac Conaill is the great-grandson of High King Feradach Dathí of Ireland (Nath Í mac Fiachrach, 395-418). Maine mac Cerbaill, ruler of Uisnech (Mide) of the Southern Uí Neill, is attempting to secure the hostages of the Uí Maine. Goibnenn meets him at the Battle of Claenloch (near Kinelea in County Galway), and defeats and kills him.

The success clearly marks a division - of the Uí Maine (those who are subject to Connacht's dominant clan) and the Cenél Maine of Tethba (those who are subject to the Southern Uí Neill). Goibnenn's descendants soon dominate Connacht's clans until the early eighth century.

544 - 565

Diarmait mac Cerbaill O'Néill

Descendant of Niall. Last pagan high king. Southern Uí Neill.

According to the Irish annals, Diarmait mac Cerbaill of the Southern Uí Neill is the son of Fergus Cerrbél, son of Conall Cremthainne, the son of Niall Noígillach. He seems to be a particularly unlucky king, losing a struggle against Columba, and then losing the Battle of Cúil Uinsen to Áed mac Brénainn, king of Tethbae in Laigin. His final defeat is probably at Ráith Bec in Mag Line (modern Moylinny, near Larne) in Ulaid by Áed Dub mac Suibni, king of the Cruthin.

Later writings also state that Diarmait is cursed by St Ruadhán of Lorrha. This represents the end of pagan kingship in Ireland and the rise of the new Christian way of life. Tara is abandoned around the same time, its role as a centre of pagan druidry and sacral kingship outliving its usefulness. However, its reputation as a place of greatness lives on in Irish minds, and the later high kings do much to foster this reputation.

565 - 566

Domnall mac Muirchertaig O'Néill

'Domnall Ilchelgach'. Probably the son of Muirchertach.

565 - 566

Forggus mac Muirchertaig O'Néill

Brother and joint high king. Died.

566 - 569

Ainmere mac Sátnai O'Néill / Ainmuire

Grandson of Conall Gulban of Tír Chonaill.

569 - 572

Báetán mac Muirchertaig O'Néill

Brother of Domnall. King of the Cenél Conaill Uí Neill.

569 - 572

Eochaid mac Domnaill O'Néill

Son of Domnall mac Muirchertaig. Co-high king. King of Ailech.


Báetán mac Muirchertaig and Eochaid mac Domnaill (uncle and nephew respectively) are defeated and killed by Crónán mac Tigernaig, king of the Ciannachta of Glenn Geimin (modern Glengiven in County Londonderry).

572 - 581

Báetán mac Cairill

King of the Dal Fiatach of Ulaid.


Báetán is not to be confused with Báetán macNinnedo O'Néill of the Northern Uí Neill, although the annals seem to have done this anyway, perhaps to improve O'Neill grandeur at the expense of that of the Ulaid. This Báetán is said to force the king of Dál Riata to pay homage to him at Rinn Seimne on Islandmagee, near Larne in modern County Antrim. This may take place in 574 or early 575, making the king in question Áedán mac Gabráin. 'Ulster' sources also say that Báetán collects tribute from 'Scotland'. Urged by Columba, an alliance is formed by his enemies, Áed mac Ainmuirech of the Northern Uí Neill and Áedán mac Gabráin.

It was entirely possible for a powerful king such as Báetán mac Cairill of the Ulaid to collect tribute from 'Scotland' in the sixth century (or more accurately, the Dál Riata colonies), but 'Scotland' as a name didn't exist until at least the tenth century, showing that a later hand was behind some of the writing in the annals

577 - 578

The Annals of Ulster record an expedition by the Ulaid (in the form of Báetán) to Ynys Manau. Báetán returns in 578 after having imposed his authority on the island - temporarily as it transpires. He is also married to a woman from the Ui Tuitre clan of the Airgíalla, and may have an alliance with them.

581 - 598

Aed mac Ainmerech O'Néill

Son of Ainmere mac Sátnai. High king of the Northern Uí Neill.


Áed mac Ainmuirech of the Northern Uí Neill is defeated and killed at the Battle of Dún Bolg (now Dunboyke in County Wicklow), by Brandub mac Echach, king of the Uí Cheinnselaig of Laigin.

598 - 604

Aed Sláine mac Diarmato O'Néill

Son of Diarmait mac Cerbaill (544). King of Southern Uí Neill?

The mother of Aed Sláine is said to be Mugain Mór, daughter of King Conchrad mac Duach of Osraige. Aed's own descendants, the Síl nÁedo Sláine (meaning 'the seed of Áed of Slane') are prominent in the seventh and eighth centuries. Given the fact that Aed's father had been king of the Southern Uí Neill, it seems likely that Aed succeeds him.

Although he ceases to be high king of Ireland in 604, his apparently peaceful death is given as 612, giving him time to defeat and kill Brandub mac Echach of Laigin in 605 and perhaps be 'retired' the from high kingship due to age, infirmity, or battle mutilation. However, an alternative is given in which he is killed in 604, along with his supporter, Áed Rón mac Cathail, king of Uí Failghe, whilst opposing Conall Guthbinn (who dies in 635) and the Clann Cholmáin in the Southern Uí Neill's internal feud.

598 - 604

Colmán Rímid mac Báetáin O'Néill

Rival claimant. King of Ailech & the Northern Uí Neill.

604 - 612

Aed Uaridnach mac Domnaill O'Néill

Son of Domnall mac Muirchertaig (565). King of Ailech.


Óengus mac Colmán Bec of the Southern Uí Neill of Uisnech (in Mide) defeats his Irish midlands rival in the form of Conall Laeg Breg mac Áedo Sláine at the Battle of Odba (near Navan in the modern County Meath. The battle may be the result of Conall's claim to the high kingship following the death of his father, Áedo Sláine, and his successor, Aed Uaridnach of Ailech.

612 - 615

Máel Cobo mac Aedo O'Néill

Son of Áed mac Ainmuirech O'Néill. King of Ailech.

615 - 628

Suibne Menn mac Fiachnai O'Néill

King of Ailech. Supported by Óengus mac Colmán Bec?


The Book of Leinster (190a) makes mention of a tale, now lost, entitled Sluagad Fiachna maic Báitáin co Dún nGuaire i Saxanaib, 'The Hosting of Fiachna son of Baitan to Dun Guaire in Saxon-land'. The Fiachna mentioned in the title is a son of Baetan mac Cairill, king of Ulaid (died 581). He is a famous warrior who is killed in 626. The Dún Guaire mentioned is the Irish form of the British Din Guayroi, the native name of Bebbanburch (modern Bamborough), the capital of Bernicia.

The isle of Lindisfarne, or Ynys Metcaut to the British, remained the fortress by which the Angles held onto their kingdom in the face of repeated British attacks, but Din Guayroi or Guarie (Bamburgh Castle) shown here may have been another

The Annals of Ulster also mention an event for 623, 'expugnatio Ratho Guali la Fiachna mac Báetáin', 'the storming of Rath Guali by Fiachna son of Baetan'. The details of the event seem to have been lost, but in general terms, an Irish raiding party led by Fiachna, son of Báetán seems to have attempted to storm the Bernician stronghold of Bamborough. Given the fact that the Bernicians had already weathered half a century of similar attacks by Britons, it seems a rather foolish expedition, and it results in Fiachna's death.


Suibne Menn mac Fiachnai O'Néill, king of Ailech, is killed by Congal Cáech of the Cruthin, king of Ulaid. There has been a suggestion that the victory could only be achieved through a surprise attack.

628 - 642

Domnall mac Aedo O'Néill

Son of Áed mac Ainmuirech O'Néill. King of Northern Uí Neill.


Domnall mac Aedo O'Néill defeats Congal Cáech and the combined forces of Ulaid and the Cruthin of Dál nAraidi. The battle is probably a continuance of the Northern Uí Neill push into Ulaid territory.


Domnall is confronted again by Congal Cáech and the Ulaid, who are allied to Domnall Brecc, king of Dál Riata, and also by the Cenél nEógain of Tír Eoghain (a junior line of Ailech until the twelfth century). With Domnall are the Síl nÁedo Sláine, the clan of former High King Aed Sláine mac Diarmato of the Southern Uí Neill and, apparently, all four of the subsequent high kings (about all of whom the annals are a little uncertain). Congal Cáech is killed at the subsequent Battle of Mag Rath (Moira in County Down), which is a decisive victory for Domnall mac Aedo.

The seaborne Battle of Sailtír (which lies off the coast of Kintyre) takes place on the very same day, between Domnall's vessels under the command of his nephew, Conall Cóel mac Máele Cobo, and ships belonging to the Cenél nEógain and Dál Riata. Again the high king's forces win the day, and the Dál Riata seem to lose their lands in County Antrim as a result of the defeat.

642 - 654

Conall Cóel mac Máele Cobo O'Néill

Nephew. Son of Máel Cobo. King of the Northern Uí Neill?

642 - 658

Cellach mac Máele Cobo O'Néill

Brother and joint high king. King of Northern Uí Neill (joint?).

656 - 665

Diarmait mac Aedo Sláine O'Néill

Son of Aed Sláine (598). Joint ruler & then high king (658).

656 - 665

Blathmac mac Aedo Sláine O'Néill

Brother and joint ruler. Both Síl nÁedo Sláine kings of Brega.


Diarmait and Blathmac are the sons of former High King Aed Sláine. As such they are the Síl nÁedo Sláine of the Southern Uí Neill, the descendants of Aed Sláine, and also the kings of Brega which encompasses the hill of Tara, ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland. They also continuously supply the high kings between this point and the death of Cináed mac Irgalaig in 728.

665 - 671

Sechnussach mac Blathmaic O'Néill

Son of Blathmac mac Aedo Sláine. King of Brega.


Little is recorded of the life of Sechnussach mac Blathmaic other than his death. This takes place in November 671 at the hands of Dub Dúin, king of Cenél Coirpri of the upper River Boyne, within Southern Uí Neill territory.

671 - 675

Cenn Fáelad mac Blathmaic O'Néill

Brother. King of Brega.

675 - 695

Finsnechtae Fledach mac Dúnchada O'Néill

Cousin. Grandson of Aed Sláine (598). King of Southern Uí Neill.


The Irish annals record the destruction of Ailech at the hands of Finsnechtae Fledach mac Dúnchada O'Néill. The high king is also the king of the Southern Uí Neill, making this attack seem to be a case of him stamping his authority on the Northern Uí Neill.


In June 684, Ecgfrith of Northumbria sends sent an army under the command of Berht to Ireland. Berht lands his forces on the eastern coast of the Irish midlands and proceeds to lay waste to the plain of Brega, at the heart of the territory of the Southern Uí Neill under the command of High King Finsnechtae Fledach. Hostages are taken and are later repatriated with the help of St Adomnán of Iona.


The Franks of the River Main are still pagan, although itinerant Anglo-Saxon monks from the church at Canterbury are just beginning to wander Germanic areas of Europe to spread the word. One of the first of these is the Irish monk, Kilian, who becomes the apostle to the Franks. Around this time he and his companions, Colman and Totnan, arrive at Würzburg to form a proto-bishopric (in lands that later become part of Franconia). The populace refuse his preaching and murder all three of them, following which they become martyrs.

695 - 704

Loingsech mac Oengus O'Néill

Son of Óengus, son of Domnall (628). King of Northern Uí Neill.


A Celtic Church synod is allegedly held at Tara by Adamnan, abbot of Iona, who is also the biographer of the life of St Columba.


The chances for Cenél Conaill of the Northern Uí Neill to expand their territory in the north are generally being blocked by the expansion of the rival Cenél nEógain of Ailech into County Londonderry, which the latter is trying to dominate itself. Instead, Cenél Conaill looks southwards, towards Connacht. Loingsech mac Oengus attacks the old Connachta king, Cellach mac Rogallaig, at the Battle of Corann (now in southern County Sligo). The attack results in the death of the ambitious high king, although with the same fate for three of his sons, Artgal, Connachtach, and Flann Gerg.

704 - 710

Congal Cinn Magir mac Fergus Fánat O'Néill

Son of Fergus Fanát, son of Domnall mac Aedo.


Congal Cinn Magir pursues a revenge strike against Connacht, to avenge the defeat of 703 and to further press Northern Uí Neill attempts to expand southwards. King Indrechtach mac Dúnchado of Connacht is killed in the encounter. This victory marks a last hurrah for the dominance of the Cenél Conaill of the Northern Ui Neill. Subsequently the rival Cenél nEógain of Ailech are the main driving force in Northern Uí Neill affairs.

710 - 722

Fergal mac Máele Dúin O'Néill

Son of Máel Dúin. King of Ailech.

721 - 722

Cathal mac Finguine, king of Munster, and Murchad mac Brain Mut, king of Laigin, attacks the territory of the Southern Uí Neill and ravages the plain of Brega in which sits Tara. Later in the same year, High King Fergal mac Máele Dúin retaliates against Laigin by invading and ravaging the land until the cattle tribute is paid.

The ancient seat of high kings was Tara, in the plain of Brega, and even after the decline of its importance to the high kingship itself it retained a great deal of cultural significance

A truce is agreed with the Munstermen but they almost immediately break it. Fergal invades again in 722 with a large force that consists of men from the Northern Uí Neill, the Southern Uí Neill, and also Airgíalla. This time, however, the attack is a disaster. On 11 December 722 Fergal and many Uí Neill nobles are killed at the Battle of Allen (in modern County Kildare - the defeat is preserved in the tenth century Cath Almaine saga).

722 - 724

Fogartach mac Néill O'Néill

King of the Southern Uí Neill.

724 - 728

Cináed mac Irgalaig

King of Brega. Last of the Síl nÁedo Sláine high kings.


Following almost a century of dominance of the high kingship by the Síl nÁedo Sláine of the Southern Uí Neill of Brega, they are superseded by Clann Cholmáin Már, who are descended from the largely mythical figure of Colmán Már (seemingly a late 'elder' extension of Colmán Bec of the Southern Uí Neill of Uisnech, 'the younger' in later writings).

724 - 734

Flaithbbertach mac Loingsig O'Néill

Son of Loingsech. King of the Northern Uí Neill. Died in 765.

732 - 734

Flaithbbertach mac Loingsig is regularly opposed by another king of the Northern Uí Neill, Aed Allán mac Fergal, king of Ailech. In 732, Flaithbbertach is defeated by Aed in battle and his cousin, Flann Gohan mac Congaile, is killed. A rematch takes place the following year, and another cousin is killed, Conaing mac Congaile.

Aed is reportedly allied to the Ulaid and the Ciannachta of Glenn Geimin in 734, when he inflicts yet another defeat on the high king in Mag nÍtha. Flaithbbertach is forced to appeal to the navy of the Dál Riata for help but at the mouth of the Bann their fleet is destroyed. According to a less reliable account (in the Annals of the Four Masters), their men still help Flaithbbertach's forces to win the day. The high king abdicates (or is deposed) soon afterwards.

734 - 743

Aed Allán mac Fergal O'Néill

Son of Fergal mac Máele Dúin. King of Ailech.


King Áed Róin mac Bécce Bairrche of Ulaid is killed in battle at Faughart (in Magh Muirtheimhne, modern County Lout), by High King Aed Allán mac Fergal. The defeat results in the loss to Ulaid of overlordship of Conailli Muirtheimne. This sub-kingdom is grabbed by the Northern Uí Neill of Ailech.


High King Áed Allán fights the Laigin at the Battle of Áth Senaig (meaning 'the battle of groans'). Áed Allán is wounded and Áed mac Colggen, king of Laigin, is killed. Such is the extent of the Laigin defeat that the ruling Uí Chennselaig are fatally weakened. For the next three centuries the kingship of Laigin is dominated by the rival Uí Dúnlainge.

743 - 763

Domnall Midi O'Néill

Clann Cholmáin king of the Southern Uí Neill.

763 - 770

Niall Frossach mac Fergal O'Néill

Son of Fergal mac Máele Dúin. King of Ailech. Died in 778.

770 - 797

Donnchad Midi mac Domnaill Midi O'Néill

Son of Domnall Midi. Clann Cholmáin king of Southern Uí Neill.

797 - 819

Aed Oirdnide mac Néill Frossach O'Néill

Son of Niall Frossach. King of Ailech.


By this stage in Ireland's history, four of the traditional later provinces have largely settled their borders. Connacht and Munster remain roughly unchanged but Ulaid (the eastern part of later Ulster) consists of little more than County Antrim and County Down. Laigin is made up of an area that is slightly larger than a combination of the modern County Carlow, County Wexford and County Wicklow. What is left of modern Ulster (ie. most of it) is held by the Northern Uí Neill kingdoms, including Ailech and Airgíalla.

819 - 833

Conchobar mac Donnchado Midi O'Néill

Son of Donnchad Midi. King of the Southern Uí Neill of Mide.


Cummascach mac Cathail, the Uí Cremthainn king of Airgíalla, is playing politics when he expels the confessor of Niall Caille mac Aedo Oirdnide, king of Ailech. Niall raises an army from amongst the Cenél nEógain of Ailech and the Cenél Conaill, dominant over much of the rest of the Northern Uí Neill, and they attack Cummascach at Armagh. The Airgíalla have been joined by Muiredach mac Eochada, king of Ulaid.

The Annals of the Four Masters states that the battle at Leth Cam (near modern Kilmore in County Armagh) lasts for three days and that Niall is the clear victor. Both Cummascach and his brother, Congalach, are dead, along with a large number of leading nobles of the Airgíalla (sub-kings and chieftains). The defeat breaks the power of the Airgíalla. They are subjugated by the Northern Uí Neill kings from now on.

833 - 846

Niall Caille mac Aedo Oirdnide O'Néill

Son of Aed Oirdnide. King of Ailech.


After several years of Viking raids around the country's coastline, one group sets up a settlement of their own in a place called Dublin, a longphort or ship camp of extremely large proportions. During his reign as high king, Niall Caille does a good job of fending off Viking raids in his own Northern Uí Neill lands but does not oppose them elsewhere.


Shortly before becoming high king, Máel Sechnaill is recorded by the Annals of Ulster as capturing and drowning the first Viking king of Dublin, Thorgest. Some lists of the high kings of Ireland show Máel Sechnaill as being the first truly historical overlord of the island.

846 - 862

Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid O'Néill

Grandson of Donnchad Midi. King of Mide.


Máel Sechnaill apparently witnesses or creates a greater sense of unity amongst the Southern Uí Neill of Mide. Previously the two main clans had been constantly warring amongst themselves and jockeying for power. Now, with Clann Cholmáin dominant and the Síl nÁedo Sláine kings of Brega weakened, the kingdom is more united. The men of Munster have also been discouraged by defeat against High King Niall Caille, and their constant raids have largely ended. Even the Vikings of Dublin have been dealt a blow with the death of their chief, Thorgest (or Turgesius) in 845.

The gradual process of Irish unification could be seen as early as the ninth century, in events such as the new sense of unity shown by Mide's two main clans, perhaps a result of the Viking invasion which forced them to band together against a greater enemy

The name Máel Sechnaill is a fascinating one. Firstly, 'mailíseach' is an adjective (graded as 'mailísí', and in its plural form as 'mailíseacha'), meaning 'malicious'. So does that make Mael Sechnaill 'the Malicious Naill'? Not quite. Translations of 'naill' produce 'either' or 'the one... (the other[s])', effectively providing 'the malicious one', but it has to be suspected that 'the one' here is usually translated into English as 'himself'. So the king is named 'Himself the Evil (One)'. One of his descendants re-uses this name (in 979).


Following the death of the powerful Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, Munster has been subjected to repeated attacks by High King Máel Sechnaill. Now the Munstermen, unable to find an equally strong figurehead to lead them to victory, are forced to submit to Mide.


Máel Dúin, king of Ailech, makes Osraige submit to him. This angers High King Máel Sechnaill who has only just secured the submission of Munster to increase his own power and influence, and the two find themselves at war.

862 - 879

Aed Findliath mac Néill Caille O'Néill

Son of Niall Caille. King of Ailech. 'Hugh the Fair Warrior'.

865 - 870

Ivarr the Boneless and his brothers, sons of Ragnarr Lothbrok, king of Denmark, lead the first Viking army from Dublin to invade mainland Britain in search of conquest rather than pillage. They conquer Northumbria in 867. East Anglia falls in 869-870, and the capital of Alt Clut is sacked in 870.

879 - 916

Flann Sionna mac Máele Sechnaill O'Néill

Son of Máel Sechnaill. King of Mide.


Áed mac Conchobair, king of Connacht, has already met his death fighting the Vikings in support of High King Flann Sionna mac Máele Sechnaill O'Néill of Ireland. The annals now record that the men of North Connacht - specifically the Uí Amalgada, a branch of the Uí Fiachrach - defeat Norse forces and slay their leader. That leader seems not to be one of the more senior of their number in Dublin, however.


The combined forces of Laigin and Brega expel the Vikings from Dublin.

916 - 919

Niall Glúndubh mac Aedo Findliath O'Néill

Son-in-law. King of Ailech.


Sihtric and Ragnald, both descendants of Ivarr the Boneless, lead separate fleets in an attack on Ireland. While Ragnald is initially defeated by Niall Glúndubh, Sihtric turns the tables and defeats the high king's army. The Vikings resettle Dublin and re-found their kingdom.

919 - 944

Donnchad Donn mac Flann O'Néill

Son of Flann Sionna. King of Mide.

944 - 956

Congalach Cnogba mac Máel Mithig O'Néill

Nephew. Síl nÁedo Sláine king of Mide.


One of Congalach Cnogba's first acts is to sack Viking Dublin from his base in Brega, adding to the weakened kingdom's woes. The new Viking king is Olaf II, an ally of Congalach's, and it is possible that the two band together to fight off the rival for the high kingship, Ruaidrí ua Canannáin.

944 - 950

Ruaidrí ua Canannáin

Rival claimant.

956 - 980

Domnall ua Néill

Cousin of Congalach. King of Ailech.


Máel Muad mac Brain and the Eóganachta kings of Munster are overthrown by the upstart Dál gCais clan of Thomond under the leadership of Mathgamain mac Cennétig.

980 - 1002

Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill O'Néill

Nephew. Half brother to Glúniairn by his mother. King of Mide.


Máel Sechnaill conquers Viking Dublin following a great victory at the Battle of Tara and a three day siege of Dublin itself, the first time the Irish kings manage to achieve such a conquest. As a result of the imposition of Irish overlordship, some Irish date the founding of Dublin to this year (or 988), despite its ancient heritage. Máel appoints his half-brother, Glúniairn, to rule the Viking kingdom.


Glúniairn is killed in Dublin, apparently by his own slave when he is drunk, although the death is more likely to be the result of factional in-fighting in Dublin. Máel Sechnaill descends on the kingdom and installs Sitric Silkbeard, another son of Olaf, as king.


In a bloodless coup, Máel Sechnaill is dethroned by Brian Bóruma (more popularly known as Brian Boru). It results from the failure of the Northern Uí Neill, nominally Máel's kin, to support him against the military aspirations of this king of the Dál gCais of Thomond and also of Munster, who has effectively ruled the southern half of Ireland since an agreement of 997. As a result of the sudden shift in power, Viking Dublin, never entirely conquered, fights back against Irish dominance.

1002 - 1014

Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig / Brian Boru

Dál gCais king of Thomond & Munster (976).


Brian Boru defeats the Dublin Norse at the Battle of Clontarf, but dies in the process. A great many other Irish nobles also die in the battle, destroying decades of hard-won Irish unity. The Uí Dúnlainge of Laigin are amongst those defeated at Clontarf, and with their usual supporters already declining - the Clann Cholmáin of Mide - their rivals in Laigin, the Uí Cheinnselaig, are able to return from relative obscurity and contest the throne there.

Battle of Clontarf
The Battle of Clontarf was a tactical disaster for the Irish, destroying hard-won unity in the face of the Viking threat that would not be repaired in time to fight off the Normans

More broadly, Máel Sechnaill is able to regain the titular high kingship with the support of his kinsman, Flaithbertach ua Néill, king of Ailech, but Ireland remains fragmented.

1014 - 1022

Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill O'Néill



Máel Sechnaill's restoration has brought a relative amount of peace during his reign, but his death marks the beginning of a period of internecine warfare as Laigin, Munster, and Connacht fight for control of Ireland, making it easier for the subsequent Norman rulers of England to invade in 1171.

1022 - 1063

Donnchad mac Brian

Son of Brian. Dál gCais king of Thomond & Munster (1022?).

1052 - 1063

High King Donnchad mac Brian's main rivals are Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó, king of Laigin and his ally, Niall mac Eochada, king of Ulaid, plus Áed in Gaí Bernaig, king of Connacht. Diarmait now installs his son Murchad as king of Dublin, expelling Donnchad's brother-in-law and ally, Echmarcach mac Ragnaill. The opposition to Donnchad grows so that he is deposed in 1063 and goes on pilgrimage to Rome where he dies the following year. Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó takes the high kingship and installs Toirdelbach O'Brien in Munster.

1063 - 1072

Diarmait mac Máil na mBó

King of Laigin, and ruler of Dublin (1070).


Upon the death of Diarmait mac Máil na mBó in battle, his close ally Toirdelbach O'Brien succeeds him. His first act is to ravage Osraige and Laigin, during which he burns Uí Cheinnselaig and takes a good deal of booty and cows, along with hostages. The Vikings of Dublin, generally known in the annals as 'the foreigners', give him the kingship of their settlement.

In the following year, Conchobar Ua Máel Shechnaill, king of Mide, is murdered and Toirdelbach ravages the now-unprotected midlands. This is followed by a visit to Connacht from which he extracts more hostages, both from the Uí Conchobair and the Uí Ruairc. Laigin is divided between rivals, ending its short-term threat to his power, and Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill is installed in Dublin as his sub-king.

Irish naming conventions undergo a change in this period. Previously an individual would proudly bear his father's name, [name] mac [name]. This is gradually replaced by a clan name, often O'Brien or ua Conchobair. The change may be driven partially by monks, the only writers of this period, who find it more constructive to note a man's clan. The average warrior on the ground would still be hailing his fellows and enemies as 'someone son of someone', but it serves to highlight the growing importance of the clan as a social unit, and a military unit. Eventually the clan name takes over completely, creating the basis for many modern Irish surnames.

1072 - 1086

Toirdelbach O'Brien / Turlough

Dál gCais king of Thomond & Munster. Ruler of Dublin (1072).


Toirdelbach O'Brien's death sees Munster divided for his sons, Tadc, Muirchertach and Diarmait. Tadc dies soon afterwards, and Muirchertach banishes Diarmait, claiming the entire kingdom and also the high kingship of Ireland.

1086 - 1119

Muirchertach O'Brien / Murtagh

Dál gCais king of Thomond & Munster. Ruler of Dublin (1074).

1089 - 1093

As high king, Muirchertach stamps his authority over Ireland by engaging in forays into Mide and Laigin in 1089. He seizes the kingship of Laigin and attacks the Vikings of Dublin. In 1093, he accepts the submission of Domnall mac Flainn Ua Maíl Shechnaill, king of Mide. However, the title of high king is not what it once was. Any claim to be high king is usually contested with the result that the high king may indeed be the most powerful warrior of his time, but he is certainly not the most obeyed.


The Ó Conchobhair rule Connacht unopposed, with the Ua Ruairc and Ua Flaithbertaigh being suborned and confined to their own kingdoms of Bréifne and Iar Connacht (Maigh Seóla) respectively. Connacht is now one of Ireland's five dominant kingdoms (which is the source of the coicead, or fifths, into which mythological Ireland is divided). In-roads made into the other kingdoms by the Norman rulers of England towards the end of the century quickly makes Connacht the strongest of them by simple fact that its western territories remain largely unaffected during the early stages of the invasion.

1119 - 1121

Domnall mac Ardgar O'Lochlainn O'Néill

King of Ailech. 'King of the North of Ireland'', in opposition.

1121 - 1135

Toirrdelbach ua Conchobair / Turlogh

Son of Ruaidrí na Saide Buide. King of Connacht (1106).

1135 - 1141

There may be a break in Toirrdelbach ua Conchobair's claim of the high kingship during this period, although it is hard to tell precisely from the records that are available.

1141 - 1156

Toirrdelbach ua Conchobair / Turlogh

King of Connacht (1106).


Pope Adrian issues the Laudabiliter, a papal bull which apparently issues King Henry II Plantagenet with the authority to invade and secure Ireland. The papal intent is that the Georgian church reforms can be enforced there. In the event, Ireland is indeed invaded but successive English kings site Adrian's successor, Alexander III, as the issuer of their title and authority in Ireland.

1156 - 1166

Muirchertach mac Lochlainn / Murtagh

King of Ailech (1136).

1156 - 1157

Muirchertach mac Lochlainn installs his own client king in Mide. Then he evicts the kings of Loígis, Uí Failghe, and Osraige. All three dispossessed kings flee to Connacht. Munster is subdued, although this is quickly reversed by Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig ua Conchobair, king of Connacht.

1166 - 1183

Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig ua Conchobair

King of Connacht (1156). Submitted 1175. Abdicated. Died 1198.

1166 - 1170

The kingdom of Laigin is under the direct control of Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig after Dermot mac Murrough is forcibly ejected. Dermot gathers support from Normandy and the English king, Henry II, and returns to Ireland with a Norman army. His throne is quickly regained in 1170.


Richard de Clare, earl of Pembroke, or Strongbow, becomes king of Laigin upon the death of Dermot mac Murrough. This development of Norman lords taking control of Irish kingdoms without being under the authority of the king concerns Henry II of England so much that he arrives to take personal control of what is becoming the invasion of Ireland. He is the first king of England to set foot on Irish shores, arriving with a huge army of 400 ships, 4,000 soldiers, and 5,000 knights. In the event it is a bloodless invasion.

The coming of the Normans to Ireland was a blow for the Irish - the newcomers were tactically and militarily far more powerful than anything seen before by the native kings

The Irish kings know that it is pointless to resist such a vast force. Henry leaves a representative in Ireland to ensure his control and a new colonial mentality is born amongst the Normans. Gerald of Wales subsequently portrays the Irish as being backward and barbaric, ignorant of Christ and of civilisation, thereby justifying the colonisation of Ireland. Strongbow's Laigin effectively becomes the core Anglo-Norman territory in Ireland, later being known as 'The Pale'.

1175 - 1183

Ruaidrí and Henry II of England come to terms when they agree the Treaty of Windsor in 1175. Ruaidrí submits to Henry as his lord and in return is promised all of Ireland as his personal domain apart from Laigin, Mide, and the Viking trading settlement of Waterford. In reality, even Henry can do little to prevent raids by Norman lords. In one raid on Connacht in 1177, Ruaidrí's own son leads the attack, and Ruaidrí is forced to have him blinded when he is captured. Saddened and tired, Ruaidrí abdicates in 1183 and Henry II hands the title 'Lord of Ireland' to his son, John, as governor of Ireland.

Lordship & Kingdom of Ireland
AD 1177 - 1542 & AD 1543 - 1801

In 1175, the native high kingship of Ireland was ended when Henry II of England styled himself 'Lord of Ireland'. This title was effectively the same as that of the previous high kingship in terms of the direct control it offered, but it came with a much greater level of authority. Henry handed the title to his son, John, as governor of Ireland. When John became king of England in 1199, control of Ireland was held directly by the crown in the form of a fief of the Holy See under the lordship of England's reigning monarch.

Under the lordship, the day-to-day government of Ireland was in the hands of the Irish parliament, and the king's representative was the lord lieutenant. Normally known as the viceroy and drawn first from the Anglo-Norman and then the British nobility, his own representative was the lord deputy, who handled the more down-to-earth state duties for him. Gaps in the office of lord lieutenant would usually be filled by the lord deputy or lord justice (the next rung down the ladder). The area under direct British control varied, sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing as the Anglo-Norman nobility became embedded and transformed itself into an Hiberno-Norman nobility that often vied with the still-extant Gaelic nobility for ascendancy.

In 1541, the Irish parliament conferred the country's crown upon King Henry VIII of the Tudor dynasty. After this, the English monarch held both crowns in a personal union in the same way that James VI of Scotland would also be James I of England in the early seventeenth century (with Ireland added as a third crown). The Act of Union in 1801 turned the personal union into a political one, under a single British Parliament.

The arrival of the Vikings in Ireland began a process in the ninth century in which regional names began to change subtly. The process was almost certainly hurried along by the Norman takeover of the island. Gaelic names would have been mangled by their French pronunciation. The English language, already subtly altered by the Danes, was effectively banned for the first two centuries of Norman rule, and the language in the royal court was very much French. When English did re-emerge as the dominant language in the British Isles it had been much affected by French, with many loan words and changes in pronunciation.

The same process seems to have taken place in Ireland. Over time Connacht became Connaught, Laigin became Leinster, Ulaid became Ulfastir to the Vikings and Anglo-Latin Ulvestera, otherwise known as Ulster, and Mide became Meath. Lesser regions, groups or kingdoms also changed, such as the Uí Failghe to Offaly, Uí Neill to O'Neill, Ua Conchobair to O'Conner, Deasmumhain (meaning South Munster) to Desmond, Osraige to Ossory, and so on. The '-ster' endings are Viking. Language shifts meant that Laigin lost its 'g', to become Lain or Lein and then had the addition of -ster to become Leinster. Ulaid lost its 'd' and had -ster added to become Ulster, and so on.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216, Austin Lane Poole, Oxford University Press, 1993, and from External Link: Annals of the Four Masters, Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition (dead link).)

1172 - ?

Hugh de Lacy

Lord of Meath. First Norman lord lieutenant of Ireland.

? - 1176

? Fitz-Gislebert

First name unknown.

1177 - 1199

With the high kings of Ireland defeated, Henry II passes the title 'Lord of Ireland' to his youngest son, John. When John becomes king of England in 1199, and the lordship of Ireland is held directly by the crown in personal union. The king of England is also the king of Ireland.

King John
King John of England was also John, lord of Ireland, holding both titles in personal union during his less than happy reign between 1199 and 1216

1177 - 1199


Son of Henry II of England. Governor & Lord of Ireland.

1177 - 1179

Guillaume Fitz-Aldelm de Burgh


Hugh de Lacy

Lord of Meath. Lord lieutenant for the second time.


John FitzRichard

Baron Halton. Constable of Chester.


Richard Peche

Bishop of Lichfield and joint lord lieutenant.

1181 - 1184

Hugh de Lacy

Lord of Meath. Lord lieutenant for the third time.

1181 - 1184

Hubert Walter

Bishop of Salisbury and joint lord lieutenant.

1185 - 1189

Ruaidrí ua Conchobair is briefly returned to power when he is acclaimed high king. However, Ireland is changing and Ruaidrí is being left behind, even within Connacht. He is returned again in 1189, and finds himself even more marginalised than before. He retires to his estates and dies peacefully in 1198.


Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig ua Conchobair

King of Connacht (1156). Restored following abdication.


Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig ua Conchobair

King of Connacht (1156). Restored for a second time.


Hugh de Lacy

First Earl of Ulster & Lord of Meath. Lord Lt for the fourth time.

1190 - 1191

William le Petit

1191 - 1194

William Marshal

First Earl of Pembroke.

1192 - 1193

The Annals of the Four Masters records that the 'English' (meaning the Normans) are defeated at the weir of Aughera by Muintir raoil-t-Sinna. In the same year, the newcomers in Leinster commit 'great depredations' against Donnell O'Brien, following which 'Donnell O'Brien defeated the English of Ossory (Osraige), and made a great slaughter of them'. In 1193, Hugh O'Mulrenin, chief of Clann-Conor, is killed by the Normans of Dublin, and O'Carroll, lord of Oriel, is captured, his eyes being put out before he is hanged.


Pierre Pipard

1197 - 1199

Hamon de Valognes

1199 - 1203

? Fitz-Henry

First name unknown.

1203 - 1204

Hugh de Lacy

First Earl of Ulster & Lord of Meath. Lord Lt for the fifth time.


? Fitz-Henry

First name unknown. Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1205 - 1210

Hugh de Lacy

First Earl of Ulster & Lord of Meath. Lord Lt for the sixth time.

1210 - 1213

William Longespée

Earl of Salisbury.

1181 - 1184

John de Gray

Bishop of Norwich and joint lord lieutenant.


Henry de Loundres

Archbishop of Dublin, deputised by Geoffrey de Marisco.

1221 - 1224

Henry de Loundres

Archbishop of Dublin, lord lieutenant for the second time.

1224 - 1226

William Marshal


From his base to the west of the Shannon, Cathal Crodberg, the former king of Connacht, had played a competent game of politics and warfare to hold back the Norman invaders. Now his son, Aedh (or Hugh) must do the same, balancing external security against the needs to keep internal dissent suppressed. The Annals of the Four Masters records the details of this internal struggle when Donn Óge Mag Oireachtaigh Oge Mageraghty, lord of Clann Taidg and royal chieftain of Síl-Murray, sends a force to assist Turlough and Hugh, the sons of Roderic O'Conor in their fight against Aedh. Mageraghty quickly changes his mind and opposes Hugh, so the Síl-Murray and many others rise against him. His general, O'Neil, meanwhile, plunders Loch Nen at the heart of the Síl-Murray lands.

Temporarily shorn of the kingship, Aedh Ua Conchobair retires to the Normans at Athlone, most of whom are on friendly terms with him. He gathers support and goes on the attack against the O'Conors. In the meantime, southern Connaught is attacked by fresh Normans from Leinster and Munster, including those of Desmond, and the sheriff of Cork. They slaughter and burn, without any permission from Aedh himself. The situation descends into tit-for-tat raids until Aedh is restored to power and can bring control back to the kingdom.

1226 - 1227

Geoffrey de Marisco

Former lord deputy.

1227 - 1229

Richard Mór de Burgh

First Baron of Connaught, taking territory from Connacht.

1229 - 1245

Maurice FitzGerald

Lord of Offaly. Died of wounds gained in battle.


One of the daughters of Ruaidrí mac Toirrdelbaig ua Conchobair of Connacht (died 1183), Rose Ní Conchobair, had married Hugh de Lacy, lord of Meath around 1180, and the union had borne offspring. Ruaidrí's male descendents largely die out in the thirteenth century leaving no recognised link to the last high king of Ireland. Connacht itself is also greatly weakened by civil wars from this century onwards, leaving it open to increasingly widespread Plantagenet settlement under Richard Mór de Burgh, First Baron of Connaught (lord lieutenant of Ireland (1227-1229), married to a daughter of Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Munster and Thomond), and creating even further pressure for the disintegrating kingdom.

Rosses Point
Maurice FitzGerald met his end at the Battle of Creadran Cille (located at Ros Ceide, modern Rosses Point shown here) within the north-western territory of Connacht, whilst fighting against Tír Chonaill and suffering fatal wounds in single combat, leader against leader

1245 - 1255

Sir John Fitz Geoffrey

1255 - 1258

The weight of Plantagenet oppression in Ireland begins to trigger an increasing number of revolts. In 1255, Brian, king of Tir Eoghain, makes the most of weakness in the earldom of Ulster by launching a raid on colonist land across the River Bann and into Ulaid. Towns and castles are destroyed along the way. In 1256, Aodh O'Connor, the son of the king of Connacht, conquers the neighbouring kingdom of Breifne, supported in word by Brian. In 1257, Teige Caeluisce, son of the king of Thomond, defeats the Norman lords and plunders their lands. The three meet in 1258 and Brian is proclaimed high king.

1258 - 1260

Brian Catha an Duin ua Néill

High king & king of Tir Eoghain. Killed in battle.


Brian and Aodh O'Connor meet the colonists at the Battle of Druim Dearg. Although initially supported by the O'Briens of Thomond, the death of Teige Caeluisce in 1259 has made them change their mind. The forces of Connacht and Ulster stand alone against the Plantagenet forces and their Irish levies, mostly from Leinster and Munster, with others from Connaught and Meath. The defeat for the Irish is heavy. Brian is killed, along with many other nobles and chieftains.

Plantagenet rule is restored, although some of the original Anglo-Norman ruling families, many of whom had come from marcher families in Wales, have died out in the direct male line and Irish families have begun to regain ground in the control of Ireland.

1255 - 1259

Alan de la Zouche

Lord lieutenant in opposition to Brian.

1259 - 1260

Stephen Longespée

Lord lieutenant in opposition to Brian.

1260 - 1261

William Dean

1261 - 1266

Sir Richard de la Rochelle

1266 - 1267

John Fitz Geoffrey


Sir Robert D'Ufford


Richard D'Exeter


The Annals of the Four Masters records the fact that the Battle of Áth-an-Chip is fought between Aodh O'Connor of Connacht and the Plantagenet Normans under Walter Burke, earl of Ulster. It takes place near Carrick-on-Shannon after Burke marches his Anglo-Norman forces into the kingdom, and the outcome is a decisive Irish victory.

Battle of Crécy
The Battle of Áth-an-Chip, although fought a couple of generations before the Battle of Crécy as depicted here, would have contained very similar combatants, especially on the Anglo-Norman side

1270 - 1272

James D'Audley

1272 - 1273

Maurice Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald

1273 - 1276

Geoffrey de Joinville

1276 - 1282

Sir Robert D'Ufford

Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1282 - 1288

Stephen de Fulbourn

Archbishop of Tuam.

1288 - 1290

John de Sandford

Archbishop of Dublin.

1290 - 1293

Sir Guillaume de Vesci


Guillaume de la Haye


Guillaume D'Ardingselles

1294 - 1295

Thomas Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald

1295 - 1308

Sir John Wogan

1296 - 1298

Edward I invades Scotland following the formation of a council of twelve to manage the country outside the king's authority. The Scots are defeated at Dunbar in April 1296 and John Balliol formally abdicates on 10 July 1296. The 'Second Interregnum' follows, during which Edward I again rules Scotland directly, using his English and Irish troops to enforce his will. John is imprisoned in the Tower of London until allowed to leave for France in 1299. The rebel guardian of Scotland, Sir William Wallace, wins support in some quarters and is victorious against an unwary English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 (in which year the first Irish parliament is also called). He is defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298.


Piers Gaveston

1308 - 1312

Sir John Wogan

Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1312 - 1317

Edmund Butler

Earl of Carrick. In opposition to Edward de Bruce.

1315 - 1316

In 1315, the forces of Robert the Bruce of Scotland invade Ireland, having offered assistance to King Donal O'Neil of Tír Eoghain (Tyrone) and having been accepted. The following year, this second front in the Scottish wars against England witnesses Edward de Bruce, brother of Robert, being inaugurated as high king of Ireland, increasing the pressure on the English. The Bruce family have direct maternal links to Brian Boru of early eleventh century Munster and are therefore valid candidates to rule Ireland as well.

1316 - 1318

Edward de Bruce

Brother of Robert the Bruce of Scotland.


The unrecorded Second Battle of Athenry is a defeat for Edward de Bruce at the hands of Rickard de Bermingham and William Liath de Burgh for the Anglo-Normans. The defeat is especially devastating for the men of Connacht. A list of the dead does survive, indicating a high number of participants, which includes Fedlim Ó Conchobair, king of Connacht, and Tadhg Ó Cellaigh, king of Uí Maine.


The Scottish campaign in Ireland is initially successful, but the Irish kings outside Ulster are not won over. The attempt peters out and is terminated when Edward is killed at the Battle of Faughart. Anglo-Norman rule in Ireland is restored, with the benefit that the end of the war brings an end to destruction and famine. Lord Lieutenant Roger de Mortimer will go on to become the lover of Queen Isabella and the possible regicide of King Edward II.

1317 - 1318

Roger de Mortimer

First Earl of March. In opposition to Edward de Bruce.


Thomas FitzGerald

Earl of Kildare.


John de Bermingham

First Earl of Louth.


Sir Ralph de Gorges

1323 - 1326

John D'Arcy

1326 - 1328

Thomas FitzGerald

Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1328 - 1331?

Roger Utlagh

1331 - 1332

William Donn de Burgh

Earl of Ulster. Baron of Connaught (Connacht). Killed in 1333.

1332 - 1338

John D'Arcy

Deputies Sir Thms de Burgh (1333) & Sir John Charlton (1337).


The earldom of Ulster comes to a temporary end with the assassination of former Lord Lieutenant William Donn de Burgh, the third earl and also fourth baron of Connaught (based on lands captured from the ailing kingdom of Connacht). His death has been arranged by the sister of Sir Walter Liath de Burgh following the latter's own death at William's hands in 1332. The participants in the crime are apprehended and dealt with by hanging and other forms of dispatch, according to the Annals of the Four Masters. (The earldom survives through William's daughter, Elizabeth to pass to her descendants.)

1338 - 1340

Thomas Charleton

Bishop of Hereford.


Roger Utlagh

Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1340 - 1344

Sir John d'Arcy

Lord lt for the third time. Sir John Moriz/Morris as deputy.

1344 - 1346

Sir Raoul d'Ufford

1346 - 1348?

Sir John Moriz

Former deputy.


The Black Death reaches Britain and Ireland from the Continent. In less than two years approximately a third of Britain's population is killed while in Ireland the Anglo-Norman town dwellers are hit much harder than the native Gaelic population. In some British regions, entire villages are laid waste or are abandoned. The plague causes great social changes as the reduced workforce is now in a position of negotiating power.

The Black Death
The Black Death hit Ireland just as hard as it did the British Isles and Europe, although in 2015 some doubt was raised about the connection of black rats to the spread of the disease, with gerbils being blamed instead

1348 - 1349

Sir Walter de Bermingham



Lord Carew.

1349 - 1355

Sir Thomas de Rokeby

1355 - 1356

Maurice FitzGerald

First Earl of Desmond.


Sir Thomas de Rokeby

Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1356 - 1359?

Almaric de St Amaud

Lord Gormanston, with Maurice FitzGerald as deputy.

1359 - 1361

James Butler

Earl of Ormond.

1361 - 1367

Lionel of Antwerp

Duke of Clarence, with Sir Thomas Dale as deputy.

1367 - 1369

John FitzGerald

Earl of Desmond.


The Annals of the Four Masters records that Brian O'Brien, lord of Thomond, resoundingly defeats the Anglo-Normans of Munster. Garrett, earl of Desmond, and many lords and commanders are taken prisoner by him and Limerick is burned.

1369 - 1376

Sir William de Windsor

1376 - 1378

James Butler

Earl of Ormond. Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1378 - 1380

Alexander de Balscot

1378 - 1380

John de Bromwich

1380 - 1381

Edmund Mortimer

Earl of March.


Roger Mortimer

Earl of March (aged 11), with Sir Thomas de Mortimer as deputy.

1385 - 1386

Philip Courtenay I


Robert de Vere

Duke of Ireland.

1387 - 1389

Alexander de Balscot

Bishop of Meath.

1389 - 1391

Sir John Stanley KG

Later king of Man (1405).

c.1390 - 1450

Direct English control of Ireland has gradually shrunk since the Irish revolt of 1258-1260. Now it amounts to an area on the east coast known as 'The Pale' ('An Pháil' in Gaelic), which stretches from Dundalk to Dalkey, and includes Dublin. Semi-independent Anglo-Norman lords also control the earldoms of Desmond, Kildare, Ormond, and Ulster, and the lordship of Wexford, while the rest of the island is ruled by fragmented independent Gaelic clans that are descended from the former kingdoms. (The phrase, 'beyond the Pale' is initially used around this time to describe something that is outside The Pale's territory, and is therefore outside the control of normal law and order.)


James Butler

Earl of Ormond. Lord lieutenant for the third time.

1392 - 1395

Thomas of Woodstock

Duke of Gloucester.

1395 - 1398

Roger Mortimer

Earl of March. Lord lieutenant for the second time.


Thomas Holland

Duke of Surrey.

1399 - 1402

Sir John Stanley KG

Later king of Man (1405). Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1402 - 1405

Thomas of Lancaster

Duke of Clarence (aged 11).


James Butler

Earl of Ormond. Lord lieutenant for the third time.

1405 - 1408

Gerald FitzGerald

Earl of Kildare.


The Battle of Cluan Immorrais sees the minor kingdom of Uí Failghe defeat the Galls of Mide.

1408 - 1413

Thomas of Lancaster

Duke of Clarence. Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1413 - 1414

Sir John Stanley KG

King of Man (1405). Lord lieutenant for the third time. Died.


Thomas Cranley

Archbishop of Dublin.

1414 - 1421

John Talbot

Earl of Shrewsbury.

1419 - 1421

James Butler

Earl of Ormond. Lord lieutenant for the third time.

1423 - 1425

Edmund Mortimer

Earl of March.


John Talbot

Earl of Shrewsbury. Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1425 - 1427

James Butler

Earl of Ormond. Lord lieutenant for the fourth time.

1427 - 1428

Sir John de Gray

1428 - 1429

John Sutton

Later First Lord Dudley.

1429 - 1431

Sir Thomas le Strange

1431 - 1436

Thomas Stanley

First Baron Stanley.

1438 - 1446

Lionel de Welles

Baron Welles.


John Talbot

Earl of Shrewsbury. Lord lieutenant for the second time.

1447 - 1460

Richard Plantagenet

Duke of York.

1462 - 1478

George Plantagenet

Duke of Clarence. Thomas FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, as deputy.


John de la Pole

Duke of Suffolk.

1478 - 1483

Richard of Shrewsbury

Duke of York (aged 5). Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, deputy.

1483 - 1484

Edward of Middleham

(Aged 11.) Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, as deputy.

1484 - 1485

John de la Pole

Earl of Lincoln.

1485 - 1494

Jasper Tudor

First duke of Bedford. Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, deputy.

1494 - 1519?

Prince Henry

Later King Henry VIII Tudor (aged 4).


At the age of four, Prince Henry is only nominally lord lieutenant of Ireland. Actual power rests with the lord deputy, in the form of Sir Edward Poynings, then Gerald FitzGerald, earl of Kildare (a regular lord deputy), and then his son, also Gerald FitzGerald, earl of Kildare.

Henry VIII of England
It may be hard to think of Henry VIII as young Prince Henry, but during his youth he held some of the princely titles that could be bestowed upon someone who was not expected to be king

1519 - 1523

Thomas Howard

Duke of Norfolk.


After Thomas Howard's term of office as lord lieutenant, the governance of Ireland is largely in the hands of the lords deputies (unless otherwise specified). The gaps between lords deputies are filled by lords justices.

1523 - 1532

Piers Butler

Earl of Ormond & First Earl of Ossery. Lord deputy.

1529 - 1534?

Henry FitzRoy

Duke of Richmond & Somerset.

1534 - 1535

Gerald FitzGerald. earl of Kildare, is Ireland's deputy governor. He is summoned to London and appoints as his deputy his son, Thomas. By July rumours are circulating that Gerald has been imprisoned and that Thomas is next. Thomas takes preventative action by riding to St Mary's Abbey in Dublin, accompanied by 140 horsemen with silk fringes on their helmets (earning him the nickname 'Silken Thomas'). There, he publicly renounces his allegiance to the crown, beginning his rebellion.

Following defeat in Dublin he retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth in County Kildare. This is captured in 1535 by Sir William Skeffington. Thomas is absent at the time, but has over-estimated the support of the Irish people. Eventually he surrenders with a promise of clemency, but he and five uncles are still executed at the Tyburn gallows, on 3 February 1537. One of his supporters, Brian mac Cathaoir, king of Uí Failghe, is pardoned and is granted the title 'baron of Offaly' as this minor kingdom is reduced in rank.

1534 - 1536?

Sir William Skeffington

In opposition to Thomas FitzGerald.

1536 - 1540

Leonard Grey

First Viscount Grane. Executed.

1540 - 1548

Sir Anthony St Leger

1541 - 1542

The Irish parliament confers the country's crown upon King Henry VIII of the Tudor dynasty. The move is partially engineered by Henry in view of his excommunication by the Pope, allowing for the possibility of someone else claiming Ireland as a fief of the Holy See. After this, the English monarch holds both crowns, English and Irish, in personal union in the same way that the seventeenth century James VI of Scotland will also be James I of England (with Ireland added as a third crown). This replaces the 'Lordship of Ireland' with the 'Kingdom of Ireland' in 1542, upon King Henry's insistence. The Crown of Ireland Act confirms the change.

1548 - 1549

Sir Edward Bellingham

1550 - 1551

Sir Anthony St Leger

Lord deputy for the second time.

1551 - 1553

Sir James Croft

1553 - 1556

Sir Anthony St Leger

Lord deputy for the third time.

1556 - 1559

Viscount FitzWalter

1559 - 1564

Thomas Radclyffe / Ratclyffe

Earl of Sussex (lord deputy 1559, lord lieutenant, 1560).

1564 - 1565

Sir Nicholas Arnold

Interim commander.

1565 - 1571

Sir Henry Sidney

Brother-in-law of Thomas Radclyffe.

1569 - 1573

The Irish Gaelic 'Deasmumhain' (meaning South Munster, originating with the Déisi Muman) has become mangled by the Anglo-Normans into Desmond. Along with Ormonde, its dynasty of powerful earls have long been semi-independent of central control. As part of an ongoing process of extending direct Tudor control over all of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney is tasked with stamping crown authority in the south. With Gerald FitzGerald, earl of Desmond, imprisoned, his military cousin takes over. The First Desmond Rebellion is ignited, effectively a Catholic response to a perceived Protestant threat. Opposed by Ormonde and the crown, the Desmond cause is largely defeated by 1570. A guerrilla war ends in 1573 when the rebel James FitzMaurice FitzGerald surrenders and Gerald FitzGerald is restored to his shattered territories.

1571 - 1575

Sir William FitzWilliam

1575 - 1578

Sir Henry Sidney

Second term of office.


Following the end of the First Desmond Rebellion, the old order is now swept away when the country's territory is divided into a number of shires ('shares') or counties which themselves are later sub-divided further. Direct governance is handled by the lordship of Ireland.


Lord Arthur Grey, baron Grey de Wilton, is sent to Ireland in 1580 to quell the Second Desmond Rebellion, sparked by the return of James FitzMaurice FitzGerald. Baron Grey de Wilton takes a recruited force of 6,000 with him, but is defeated when leading half this force into the Battle of Glenmalure (County Wicklow). Later in the year he massacres eight hundred captured mercenaries (from Ireland, Italy, and Spain) at Ard na Caithne (Smerwick, in County Kerry). The notorious incident becomes known as the Siege of Smerwick.

Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne in the Nine Years War of Ireland
Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne won a crushing victory over Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton at Glenmalure in 1580, part of the Second Desmond Rebellion

1580 - 1582

Arthur Grey

Baron Grey de Wilton.


The Second Desmond Rebellion is largely at an end, although the price has been high. Lord Grey's tactics have included hanging Nicholas Nugent, former lord justice, and the Siege of Smerwick. He is recalled to England, still in favour with Queen Elizabeth. James FitzMaurice FitzGerald is hunted to his death in 1583. Such has been the level of violence experience during the revolt that Munster suffers serious famine, and plague breaks out in Cork.

1584 - 1588

Sir John Perrot

1588 - 1594

Sir William FitzWilliam

Lord deputy for the second time.

1594 - 1597

Sir William Russell

1594 - 1603

The Nine Years' War (otherwise known as Tyrone's Rebellion) erupts in Ireland. Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tír Chonaill and Hugh O'Neill of Tír Eoghain lead other allies against the English crown, fighting across the island, although the bulk of the conflict takes place in Ulster.


Thomas Burgh

Baron Burgh.


Robert Devereux

Earl of Essex. Lord lieutenant.


The ambitious earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, leads a massive force of 16,000 men to Ireland and proceeds to conduct a poor campaign against the rebels. Upon his return to England he is placed under house arrest (which leads to his abortive attempt at a coup in 1601, and his subsequent execution).

Robert Devereux, earl of Essex
The young and ambitious Robert Devereux, earl of Essex attempted to woo Queen Elizabeth I at court and win power (and possibly the crown) for himself, but in the end his dreams died in an ill-advised coup attempt and a visit to the executioner's block

1601 - 1603

Spanish troops arrive in southern Ireland in 1601, determined to upset England's hold over the Irish. Both English and rebel Irish immediately zero in on them and the subsequent Battle of Kinsale of 5-6 January 1602 sees the Irish surprised and routed by the English. The Spanish surrender and the end of the Nine Years' War is in sight. The rebels are reduced to guerrilla tactics and the O'Neills themselves are symbolically destroyed when their inauguration stone at Tullaghogue is smashed. Hugh O'Neill surrenders on 30 March 1603 and signs the Treaty of Mellifont.

1600 - 1604

Charles Blount

Lord Mountjoy (lord deputy 1600, lord lieutenant, 1603).

1604 - 1616

Sir Arthur Chichester

1616 - 1622

Sir Oliver St John

1622 - 1629

Henry Cary

First Viscount Falkland.

1633 - 1640

Thomas Wentworth

Viscnt Wentworth. Later Earl of Strafford. Executed May 1641.

1640 - 1643

Robert Sidney

Earl of Leicester (lord lieutenant).


The Catholic nobility of Ireland attempt to stage a coup by seizing the English administration of the country. The hoped-for concessions for Catholics under English rule comes to nothing when the coup fails. Instead the fighting escalates into the Irish Rebellion, pitting native Irish Catholics against English and Scottish Protestants. This is the first stage in a period known collectively as the Irish Confederate Wars. The English Parliament refuses to cooperate with King Charles in putting down the rebellion, with the result that control over much of Ireland is lost.

1642 - 1645

King Charles I of England and Scotland raises his standard, declaring war on a Parliament which is determined to force a confrontation. In 1645 the Royalists are routed at the Battle of Philiphaugh, defeating Charles' cause in Scotland. The archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, is beheaded at Tower Hill in the same year for his High Church stance against the radical Puritanism which is starting to take hold in the country.

1643 - 1647

James Butler

Marquess of Ormonde (appointed by the king).


Philip Sidney

Viscount Lisle (appointed by Parliament until 15 April 1647).

1648 - 1649

James Butler

Marquess of Ormonde (appointed by the king again).

1649 - 1653

One of the leaders of the English Parliament, Oliver Cromwell, supports the execution of the Stuart king in January 1649, and leads an army to crush the Irish in August of the same year. The New Model Army concludes the reconquest of Ireland in 1653, and the Protestant settlers are placed firmly in control.


Oliver Cromwell

Lord lieutenant.

1650 - 1651

Henry Ireton

Lord deputy. Died 20 November 1651.

1652 - 1657

Charles Fleetwood

Lord deputy.

1657 - 1659

Henry Cromwell

Lord deputy 1657, lord lieutenant 1658-1659. Resigned.


Richard Cromwell, entirely unsuited to his role as lord protector of England, abdicates in 1659. Negotiations with Charles II are opened, and the restored king returns to Britain. The body of Oliver Cromwell, buried in Westminster Abbey, is exhumed by Charles' supporters and hanged on the scaffold at Tyburn (near modern day Marble Arch in London). It is later cut down and beheaded, with the body probably being dumped in a nearby pit. The embalmed head is eventually removed from a spike and passes from owner to owner until it is reburied at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge in 1960.


Edmund Ludlow



George Monck

First Duke of Albemarle.

1661 - 1668

James Butler

Duke of Ormonde (formerly marquess). Third term of office.

1668 - 1669

Thomas Butler

Son. Earl of Ossory (lord deputy).


John Robartes

First Earl of Radnor.

1670 - 1672

John Berkeley

Lord Berkeley of Stratton.

1670 - 1671

In a period in which adventurers seem to rule, the privateer Henry Morgan captures the port of Chagres from the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru in 1670 and goes on to destroy the city of Panama in New Granada. On 9 May 1671, the crown jewels are briefly stolen from the Tower of London by Irish adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood.

1672 - 1677

Arthur Capell

Earl of Essex (title revived after death of Robert Devereux).

1677 - 1685

James Butler

Duke of Ormonde. Fourth term of office.

1685 - 1687

Henry Hyde

Earl of Clarendon.

1687 - 1689

Richard Talbot

First Earl of Tyrconnell.


Feeling against the blatantly anti-Protestant James flares up when his second wife, Mary of Modena, gives birth to a Catholic heir (commonly believed to be a changeling). His brother-in-law, William of Orange, lands in Britain with a Dutch army. The disaffected British army goes over to him, and a bloodless takeover is effected with the support of the British people, named the Glorious Revolution. James flees London for France on 11 December, and by this act is deemed to have abdicated. He and his supporters continue to hold a claim to the thrones of England, Scotland (where the full details of his successors are shown), and Ireland for decades to come.

King James II
The staunchly Catholic King James II was intent on ignoring the concerns of his largely Protestant subjects in Britain, but in Ireland with its predominantly Catholic population his cause was much more popular

1689 - 1690

King James II

In Ireland between 12 March 1689 to 4 July 1690.

1689 - 1690

James II has gained Irish and French support for his cause and he invades Ireland from France. However, his attempts are stopped dead at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July (there can be some confusion over pre-1752 dating, and these days it seems to be the case to refer to historical events keeping the old day and month but updating the year. The dates used here are the accepted ones).


King William III

In Ireland, 14 June 1690.


Godert de Ginkell

General in command of William's forces in Ireland.

1692 - 1693

Henry Sydney

Viscount Sydney.

1695 - 1696

Henry Capell

First Baron Capell of Tewkesbury.

1700 - 1703

Laurence Hyde

First Earl of Rochester.

1703 - 1707

James FitzJames Butler

Son of Thomas Butler. Duke of Ormonde.

1707 - 1708

Thomas Herbert

Earl of Pembroke & Montgomery.

1708 - 1710

Thomas Wharton

First Marquess of Wharton.

1710 - 1713

James FitzJames Butler

Duke of Ormonde. Second term of office.

1713 - 1714

Charles Talbot

Duke of Shrewsbury.

1714 - 1717

Charles Spencer

Earl of Sunderland.


Charles Townshend

Viscount Townshend.

1717 - 1720

Charles Paulet

Duke of Bolton.

1720 - 1724

Charles FitzRoy

Duke of Grafton.

1724 - 1730

John Carteret

Earl Granville, Seigneur of Sark.

1730 - 1737

Lionel Sackville

First Duke of Dorset.

1737 - 1744

William Cavendish

Duke of Devonshire.

1745 - 1746

Philip Stanhope

Earl of Chesterfield.

1746 - 1751

William Stanhope

First Earl of Harrington.

1750 - 1755

Lionel Sackville

First Duke of Dorset. Second term of office.

1755 - 1757

William Cavendish

Duke of Devonshire. Second term of office.

1757 - 1761

John Russell

Duke of Bedford.


As part of the Seven Years' War, a force of six hundred French troops lands at Carrickfergus under the command of Privateer François Thurot. The town's small garrison is overwhelmed and the castle captured. Thurot holds the town for five days until a large body of local militia is collected together under General Strode. The appearance of a Royal Navy squadron off the coast decides the issue - Thurot departs the town and heads back out to sea.

1761 - 1763

George Montagu-Dunk

Earl of Halifax.

1763 - 1765

Hugh Percy

Earl of Northumberland.


Thomas Thynne

Viscount Weymouth.

1765 - 1766

Francis Seymour-Conway

Earl of Hertford.


George Hervey

Earl of Bristol. Failed to take up office.

1767 - 1772

George Townshend

Son of Charles Townshend (1717). Viscount Townshend.

1772 - 1776

Simon Harcourt

Earl Harcourt.

1776 - 1780

John Hobart

Earl of Buckinghamshire.

1780 - 1782

Frederick Howard

Earl of Carlisle.


William Cavendish-Bentinck

Duke of Portland.

1782 - 1783

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville

Earl Temple.

1783 - 1784

Robert Henley

Earl of Northington. Died 1786.

1784 - 1787

Charles Manners

Duke of Rutland. Died in office.

1787 - 1789

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville

Marquess of Buckingham. Earl Temple. Second term of office.

1789 - 1794

John Fane

Earl of Westmorland.

1794 - 1795

William Fitzwilliam

Earl Fitzwilliam.

1795 - 1798

John Pratt

Earl Camden.


The United Irishmen are republicans in the recently-instituted US mode. Their leader is Theobald Tone Wolfe, who leaves exile in the USA to win support in France. The French Expédition d'Irlande is made up of about 14,000 veteran troops under General Hoche. It reaches Bantry Bay in December 1796 but fails to make a landing thanks to a mixture of seasonal stormy weather and some weak leadership. The fleet is forced to abandon the mission.


In the furtherance of their cause, the United Irishmen rebel against British rule in Ireland. Known as the Irish Rebellion of 1798, they lead an uprising around Dublin on 23 May which quickly spreads. Despite being beaten in open combat by the superior British troops at almost every opportunity, it takes until July for the last remaining rebels to be defeated in battle.

1798 Irish Rebellion
This painting by William Sadler (1782-1839) is entitled Charge of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the Insurgents and shows British dragoons charging the Irish lines during the Irish Rebellion of 1798

Almost two months later, a thousand French troops land, and are joined by around 5,000 local rebels to form a short-lived republic of Connacht. It is quickly destroyed by the British at the Battle of Ballinamuck. In October yet another French force reaches Ireland, this time of 3,000 men, plus Wolf Tone. The force is intercepted by the Royal Navy and surrenders after a three hour battle. Wolf Tone is sentenced to hang but slits his own throat to cheat his enemies. It takes him a week to die.

1798 - 1801

Charles Cornwallis

Marquess Cornwallis.


The period of the kingdom of Ireland is ended when the Act of Union is passed and Ireland is drawn directly into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland
AD 1801 - 1922

The personal union of the former lordship and kingdom of Ireland was turned into a political union, under the governance of a single British Parliament. The Act of Union with Ireland was agreed late in 1800 and officially passed on 1 January 1801, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Irish Parliament was dissolved, and a hundred Irish MPs entered the House of Commons. Irish Peers elected representatives from amongst their number to sit in the House of Lords.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson.)

1801 - 1805

Philip Yorke

Earl of Hardwicke.


Unhappy at the strengthened union with Great Britain, Irish nationalists stage an unsuccessful uprising. Led by Robert Emmet of the Society of United Irishmen, he finds himself unable to control the rebels outside of his core supporters. People are hacked and beaten to death on the streets of Dublin until order can be restored. Emmet is tried and hanged for his part in the affair.

Society of United Irishmen
The Society of United Irishmen of Belfast was formed in 1791, with the late Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet present in this representation of the society

1805 - 1806

Edward Clive

Earl of Powis. Did not take up office.

1806 - 1807

John Russell

Duke of Bedford.

1807 - 1813

Charles Lennox

Duke of Richmond. Later Governor-Gen of Canada.

1813 - 1817

Charles Whitworth

Viscount Whitworth. First Earl Whitworth (1815).

1817 - 1821

Charles Chetwynd-Talbot

Earl Talbot.

1821 - 1828

Richard Wellesley

First Marquess Wellesley. Former Governor-General of India.

1828 - 1829

Henry Paget

Marquess of Anglesey. Waterloo veteran.

1829 - 1830

Hugh Percy

Duke of Northumberland.

1830 - 1833

Henry Paget

Marquess of Anglesey. Second term of office.

1833 - 1834

Richard Wellesley

Marquess Wellesley Second term of office.

1834 - 1835

Thomas Hamilton

Earl of Haddington.

1835 - 1839

Constantine Phipps

Earl of Mulgrave.

1839 - 1841

Hugh Fortescue

Viscount Ebrington.

1841 - 1844

Thomas de Grey

Earl de Grey.

1844 - 1846

William à Court

First Baron Heytesbury.

1845 - 1852

The Great Famine in Ireland is triggered by the spread of potato blight across Europe. In Ireland the potato is especially vital to the diet of the working classes and they suffer a disproportionate level of death as a result, giving the disaster its alternative name of the Irish Potato Famine (used principally abroad). Roughly three-quarters of the 1845 crop is lost to blight, with the destitution of about 330,000 people being the first result. The first deaths due to starvation are recorded in 1846, and the lack of planting means that good harvests in 1847 are small. The stream of emigration, which has been notable since the start of the century, increases markedly in this period, with by far the largest numbers leaving western Ireland bound for the USA.

1846 - 1847

John Ponsonby

Earl of Bessborough.

1847 - 1852

George Villiers

Earl of Clarendon.


The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 is one of a series of uprisings and revolutions in a year of revolution ( France, Galicia, Hessen-Darmstadt, Liechtenstein, Lombardy-Ventia, and Wallachia also experience problems). On 29 July 1848, the so-called Battle of Ballingarr, or Famine Rebellion, sees an Irish Constabulary unit forced to take refuge and hostages after being chased by a group of Young Irelanders. A fire-fight lasting several hours follows, until police reinforcements arrive and the rebels flee.


Archibald Montgomerie

Earl of Eglinton. In office Feb-Dec.

1853 - 1855

Edward Eliot

Earl of St Germans.

1855 - 1858

George Howard

Earl of Carlisle.

1858 - 1859

Archibald Montgomerie

Earl of Eglinton. Second term of office.

1859 - 1864

George Howard

Earl of Carlisle.

1864 - 1866

John Wodehouse

Lord Wodehouse.

1866 - 1871

An Irish republican organisation named the Fenian Brotherhood is based in the United States. Starting in this year, in support of Irish independence from Britain they launch a series of raids on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada. Their cause serves to split the Catholic Irish-Canadian population of Canada while the Protestant Irish generally support Britain and side with the Orange Order against the Fenians. The US authorities do what they can to prevent the Fenians from launching their raids from US territory, although suspicion exists that what they really could do is a lot more than what they actually achieve. All five Fenian raids between 1866 and 1871 are failures.

1866 - 1868

James Hamilton

Marquess of Abercorn.


The Fenian Rising of 1867 in Ireland is organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but it proves to be just as feeble as the efforts of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. Most of the leaders are arrested and the revolt never really gets started. having been infiltrated and exposed from the beginning.

1868 - 1874

John Spencer

Earl Spencer.


The final Fenian Brotherhood raid into Canada is farcical because of the fact that it actually attacks a Hudson's Bay post within the United States, never actually making it across the border which is about three kilometres (two miles) further north. Despite being arrested (twice) the culprits are never charged for their 'invasion'.

1874 - 1876

James Hamilton

Duke of Abercorn. Second term of office.

1876 - 1880

John Spencer-Churchill

Duke of Marlborough.

1880 - 1882

Francis Cowper

Earl Cowper.

1881 - 1885

The Irish Republican Brotherhood launches a bombing campaign in mainland Britain, known as the Fenian Dynamite Campaign. It is aimed mainly at military, governmental, and police targets but one attack on London's underground railway network on 30 October 1883 injures seventy people at Praed Street Station (now Paddington).

Irish Republican Brotherhood
By the 1860s, the Fenian movement had largely been destroyed, many of its surviving members imprisoned, so it was replaced by the Irish Republican Brotherhood

1882 - 1885

John Spencer

Earl Spencer. Second term of office.

1885 - 1886

Henry Herbert

Earl of Carnarvon.


John Hamilton-Gordon

Earl of Aberdeen. Later governor-general of Canada (1893).

1886 - 1889

Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart

Marquess of Londonderry.

1889 - 1892

Lawrence Dundas

Earl of Zetland (Shetland).

1892 - 1895

Robert Crewe-Milnes

Lord Houghton.

1895 - 1902

George Cadogan

Earl Cadogan.

1902 - 1905

William Humble Ward

Earl of Dudley.

1905 - 1915

John-Hamilton Gordon

Earl of Aberdeen. Second term of office after Canada.


A Home Rule for Ireland Bill is passed in Parliament, but is immediately suspended upon the outbreak of the First World War. Irish troops play their part in the war, as they have done in several centuries of wars and campaigns (with the Napoleonic Peninsula War and the Waterloo Campaign being especially notable).

1915 - 1918

Ivor Guest

Lord Wimborne.

1916 - 1919

The Easter Rising in Dublin and a declaration of an Irish Republic in 1916 leads to the proclamation being ratified by the self-declared Irish Parliament in 1918. The following year, the parliament is declared illegal by the British Government and both the IRA and Sinn Fein are banned.

1918 - 1921

John French

Viscount French.

1921 - 1922

Edmund FitzAlan-Howard

Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent.

1921 - 1922

The British government legislates to establish Ireland as an autonomous region of the United Kingdom, terming the twenty-six counties of the south, appropriately, as Southern Ireland. Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins supports the move, but Irish Republican Army support is split, and a civil war erupts in Ireland.


Following the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish Free State is established as a dominion in the British Commonwealth. Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins, head of the Irish Free State, is killed by militant republicans.

Modern Ireland / Eireann / Éire
AD 1922 - Present Day

The modern republic of Ireland occupies about three quarters of the island of Ireland, which lies on the western edge of Europe. Its nearest neighbour is the United Kingdom, with a land border that divides it from much of Ulster in the north (three of the nine counties of Ulster are within the republic). The British Isles fill its eastern sea border, with Spain sitting some way to the south, across the Bay of Biscay, and the broad expanse of the Atlantic Sea lying along its entire western edge. To the further north-west lies Iceland.

The first written record of contact with 'Albion' (by a Greek writer) names both Britain/Alba and Ireland as the 'Prettanik' islands. This is the oldest known name, while the Greeks generally referred to Ireland as Ierne, which was rather sloppily translated into Latin as Hibernia. Ierne is fairly obviously a mispronunciation of 'Er Inis' or 'Eire Innis' (various spellings are available), meaning 'West Island' in common Celtic. Er Inis became shortened to Erin. The name remains in use today in its full form - Eireann.

The Irish republic was formed as the Irish Free State in December 1922, a move which had been delayed from 1914 after the outbreak of the First World War. The predominantly Protestant north-eastern corner of the island voted to remain within the United Kingdom. Between 1922 and 1931 the free state's head of state remained the British monarch, while the monarch's official representative was the governor-general. This position replaced the seven hundred-and-fifty year-old office of lord lieutenant of Ireland, originating with the Lordship of Ireland. The new office was largely ceremonial, but successive Irish governments still sought to diminish its authority and the office was finally abolished in 1936. In 1949 the External Relations Act of 1936 was repealed and the Free State became a republic, usually known as the republic of Ireland. From that point onwards, the process of government was handled by the taoiseach (the prime minister, an ancient Gaelic term meaning 'chief') through the lower house of the Irish parliament. Each taoiseach is appointed by the president who is himself (or herself) elected every seven years for a maximum of two terms of office.

In 1973 Ireland joined the European Economic Community, but suffered severe economic problems in the 1980s, with rising debt and unemployment. Three elections were held in the space of less than two years. The situation stabilised into the 1990s with Ireland becoming the so-called 'Celtic Tiger' during the economic boom of the end of the millennium. The worldwide economic crisis of 2007-2009 brought that to and end, and now Ireland - like a good many western nations - is managing a slow rebuilding and stabilisation process.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and History - Modern Ireland, and On this day: 1 January 1973, and The Guardian.)

1922 - 1928

Timothy Healy

First governor-general of Irish Free State for United Kingdom.

1922 - 1923

The establishment of the Free State is followed by the bloody Irish Civil War between the new government and those who oppose the treaty which established the state. Éamon de Valera leads those who oppose the treaty. A truce is negotiated in May 1923 but the civil war claims the lives of many who had been prominent in the struggle for independence, among them Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha.

Fourth Executive Council of the Irish Free State
The Fourth Executive Council of the Irish Free State shown here in 1928 was appointed by the elected Sixth Dáil, and was succeeded by three more dáils until the election of the first government of Ireland at the end of 1937

1928 - 1932

James McNeill

Selected by the Irish Free State's government.


The role of governor-general now has no connection with the government of the United Kingdom. The enactment in this year of the Statute of Westminster gives Ireland full control over its political governance (although the Irish government itself considers this to have taken place in 1922). The British monarch remains the country's head of state, but with the Irish crown held in personal union again, as it had been originally during the reign of King John.

1932 - 1936

Domhnall Ua Buachalla

Last governor-general.

1936 - 1937

The office of governor-general is officially abolished on 11 December 1936. Fresh elections are held in 1937, with voters returning Eamonn De Valera. Also approved is a new constitution which, on 29 December 1937, abolishes the Irish Free State and proclaims Eire (the Gaelic form of 'Ireland') as a sovereign, independent, democratic state. The country is still represented internationally by the British monarchy as an instrument of Irish policy.

1939 - 1940

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) conducts the S-Plan (Sabotage Campaign, otherwise known as the England Campaign). They carry out bombings and acts of sabotage against the United Kingdom's civil, economic, and military infrastructure, beginning in January 1939. The introduction of wartime restrictions and increased security serve to dilute the Irish efforts, and they peter out after March 1940. The state of Ireland itself remains neutral during the Second World War, a conflict which it refers to as the 'Emergency'. However, over 50,000 Irishmen enlist with the British or Allied armed forces, approximately half of them from the republic Ireland.


The 'Republic of Ireland' is declared with a president at its head, but the six protestant counties of Northern Ireland remain part of Britain. The crown of Ireland, until now held in personal union by the king of England, is formally abolished, replaced by the office of elected president. The declaration of a republic also removes Ireland from the Commonwealth, and Irish citizens are no longer counted as British subjects within the UK and Commonwealth.


Under the leadership of Prime Minister Edward Heath, the United Kingdom becomes a fully-fledged member of the European Economic Community. Ireland and Denmark also join Britain in becoming the newest members of the community, bringing the total number of member states to nine. Membership applications by the UK to join the EEC have been refused in 1963 and 1967, ostensibly because the French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle, had doubted the UK's political will. It is understood, however, that his real fear had been that English will suddenly become the common language of the community - which subsequently proves to be the case. Ireland's membership application has been similarly delayed because ninety per cent of its exports are to the UK.

O'Connell Street in Dublin
Much of modern central Dublin, Ireland's capital city, was build during the Georgian and Victorian periods, almost entirely replacing the remnants of the medieval town and embodied in the usual tourist views of O'Connell Street


Lord Mountbatten, brother of Louis, marquess of Milford-Haven, and one of his twin grandsons, Nicholas (aged fourteen), and Paul Maxwell (aged fifteen), a local employed as a boat boy, are killed when a bomb planted by the IRA explodes on their leisure boat in Mullaghmore, County Sligo in Ireland on 27 August 1979. Another passenger, Baroness Brabourne, an eighty-two year-old relative by marriage, dies the day after the attack. The bombing is followed only hours later by the massacre of seventeen British soldiers near Warren Point close to the border with the Irish Republic (reports later confirmed that eighteen soldiers die).


As part of the drawn-out process of reaching a solution to the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, the British and Irish governments finalise the Good Friday Agreement following its approval by referenda in the north and the south. The agreement also sees the republic relinquish its territorial claim to Northern Ireland.

2008 - 2009

As the global financial crisis gathers pace, in September 2008 the Irish government introduces a guarantee which covers the debts of the country's banks. This move ultimately sinks the economy, as Ireland does not have sufficient reserves to cover its banks' debts. In February 2009, the unemployment rate reaches eleven per cent, the highest figure since 1996. Some 100,000 people take to Dublin's streets to protest against the government's handling of the economic crisis. The recession in Ireland deepens throughout 2009 and in 2010 the government agrees a rescue package with the EU and IMF. As with the worldwide recession elsewhere, the situation begins to stabilise but it will take at least a decade to get things back to normal.

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