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[The True Origins of Irish Society Copyright © 2003 by Desmond Keenan
Hard copy of book available from and]

Chapter Fourteen

                               The Eleventh Century

Summary. The eleventh century saw great changes on the Continent which were to appear in Ireland in the

 following century. But already some beginning of the changes were appearing in Ireland. Otherwise, the

eternal internecine struggles continued, and these may be skipped. The traditional scene in Ireland was upset

when a Munster chief Brian Boru seized the chieftainship of Tara and ended the hegemony of the northern clans.

 Henceforth the strongest chief in any of the Four Provinces became over-chief, but none managed to establish

 a dynasty. As usual, the details of the struggles can be skipped, but the rise of powerful provincial chiefs in

Munster and Connaught should be noted.


General Character of the Romanesque Period 1000 to 1200AD

The Eleventh Century in Europe

Political Affairs in Britain


Over-chiefs (of Tara)

The Provinces

The Church


General Character of the Romanesque Period 1000 to 1200AD

The year 1000 passed with no indication that Christ was coming after the supposedly predicted thousand years in the Bible, and so men ceased to bother about the devil coming out of the bottomless pit and got on with their lives. Great changes were coming across Europe. The storms and invasions from the north, the east and the south had been weathered at leas as far as western Europe was concerned. The invasions from the steppes were to afflict eastern Europe for a long time to come.

            This period was totally different from the preceding one. There was growth and development in every sphere. Men still looked back to Roman days as they were to do up until the twentieth century, but in fact they branched out in all kinds of developments. In the coming centuries architecture was to be transformed by the use of first the round arch and then the pointed arch, warfare was transformed first by the use of the stirrup. From now onwards improvements and technological developments increased in number. This was especially true after the armies of the crusaders went to the East. But the Crusades themselves would probably never have been possible without the development of trade and shipping in the Mediterranean

            There were many different developments that marked off, not merely this period from the preceding but this millennium from the preceding. The Christian rulers had not succeeded in re-establishing the Roman Empire, but they did succeed in establishing local centres of powers, the European 'kingdoms', and in doing so drove back the invaders. Strong kingdoms were established in England, Germany, Scandinavia, and Spain. The king in France was initially weak but gradually his power grew. Kingdoms did not develop in Italy, but instead powerful city trading states with strong armies and fleets grew up. To the north the Scandinavian kingdoms embraced Christianity and were admitted to 'Christendom'. So too was the kingdom of Hungary. The Christian petty kingdoms in Spain began the re-conquest. By the year 1200 all of Europe was nominally at least Christian except for the peoples along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea.

            Under the Macedonian dynasty there was a revival of Byzantine power, and the eastern emperors controlled more territory than they had for centuries. The balance of power in the Middle East was upset when the Seljuq Turks conquered most of the region, first the Arab caliphates and then the Christian provinces. The Seljuqs defeated the Byzantine army at Manzikert in 1071 in what was to prove one of the decisive battles in world history. Byzantium itself was not captured until 1453 but its decline as a great power commenced from this battle. There was another effect of the battle, the capture of the Christian holy places in Palestine from the Fatimid caliphs by the Turks in 1076 which led to counter invasions by the Christian knights of the West in what were called the Crusades, beginning in 1098. The sultanate proved unstable and broke into various emirates which greatly assisted the Crusaders in their attempt to regain the Holy Places. The Crusades themselves had enormous repercussions on the development of the West.

            The first of the crusades was preached by Pope Urban II 1088-99, the successor of Gregory VII, apart from the short-lived Victor III 1086-7. He began preaching the campaign at Clermont-Ferrand in France in November 1095, and the bishops who attended the council there returned home and preached the crusade at home. None of the Christian kings went on the crusade. Individual lords gathered bands of followers, and in the summer of 1096 made their way to Constantinople. In the summer of 1097 they set out from Constantinople. They captured Edessa and Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099. In 1098 entirely coincidentally was founded the monastery of Citeaux in Burgundy. The story of the crusades, like that of the Cistercians, the military Orders, and the revival of learning, belongs to the twelfth century.

            This left the patriarchs of Rome and Byzantium as heads of important Christian regions.  While Byzantium was one of the great cities of the world, and filled with churches, monasteries, and learned theologians, Rome had virtually ceased to exist, and its bishop was the pawn of local robber barons. Its theology consisted of little more than reading the works of St Augustine in Latin. The schism, when it came in 1054 under Pope Leo IX and the patriarch Michael Kellularios, signified that the two branches of the Church felt that they had little in common. When the revival of learning occurred in the West in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it probably owed more to the Muslim cities along the shores of the Western Mediterranean, themselves heirs of the old Roman ways. Palermo in Italy and Cordoba in Spain played a central role in transmitting Arab learning to the Christian West. 

            Many states tried to organise their societies on what became called a feudal basis. Feudalism properly so-called can be said to date from about 1000AD. It was not adopted in the same way or to the same degree everywhere in Europe.  Other similar institutions or customs served the same purpose which was to provide the king or chief with a large body of armed horsemen far beyond what his own lands and revenues could support. The kings or chiefs had to provide farms or lands cultivated by serfs or tenants to these armed horsemen. The king could give the farms individually, or he could assign a portion of his territory (or conquests) to a nobleman and transfer to him the duty of providing a specified number of horsemen. The basis of the theory of feudalism was that the king owned or controlled all the land within his domain. Allodial ownership, the ownership of the soil by the cultivators, if it already existed, was extinguished. So too was ownership of the land by a particular chiefly family as was the custom in Ireland. Everyone in the feudal state 'held' land from the king. Tenant is the French for holder. There were various kinds of holdings or tenancies, but a 'freeholder' whose holding had no duties attached was still a holder. The grant of the holding to the warrior was called a fief, and from 1000 AD onwards was hereditary, and the warrior was called a vassal. When the vassal died his heir succeeded to the fiefdom, but had to pay a sum to the king for recognition, and swear an additional oath of feudal loyalty. If the vassal was a principal one he could assign the various lands to his subordinates, and they held their fiefs from him and swore loyalty to him and not to the king. This was called subinfeudation, and a pyramid of vassals could be built up. Feudalism was imposed on England by the Normans in 1066, and spread to Ireland at the end of the 12th century.

            More and more groups were adopting the system of either primogeniture or ultimogeniture. In the first the whole inheritance passes to the eldest son; in the second it passes to the youngest son. Either land or power could be subject to these rules. In fact it was often the idea to keep both the property and the power together. The drawback of this system was that the eldest son might be less capable than a younger son or a nephew. However, as societies became more developed and differentiated, it was less essential to choose a chief solely by his prowess on the battlefield. The attempt to choose a successor, or tanist, while a chief was still alive proved a failure. The temptation to solve a disputed succession on the battlefield was just too great. But in the feudal system, it was essential that the land held from the king should not be divided, and that the heir be certain. So primogeniture was adopted by the noble classes.

            One result of the feudal and similar systems was that societies became very rigidly controlled. Anything that was not expressly permitted was forbidden. Nothing was left to the initiative of the individual. Merchants could no longer form towns, hold markets, collect tolls, or engage in trade or manufacture without these permissions being set out in a charter. On the other hand, the person who granted the charter bound himself to protect the town or monastery or other enterprise. These customs are clearly derived from the older clientship that became more formalised and defined. On manorial farms no field could be ploughed or crop sown without the express command of the lord or his steward. Every man had to have a lord or a master. The 'masterless man' was almost synonymous with an outlaw. No man could engage in a trade on his own unless he was a master approved by the appropriate guild of masters. Within towns, a tradesman, if not a master had to be a journeyman, i.e. a man paid by the day, of a master. That was the theory at least.

            But there is little doubt that outside the towns and outside the immediate vicinity of manors individuals did cultivate fields that they reclaimed from the waste, and made shoes, wove clothes, and travelled about as itinerant smiths. There would also have been irregular settlements outside the walls of the towns where such goods were bought and sold. Such trade was necessarily merely local, and such vendors could never trade within the walls, or engage in long-distance trade. The habit of clearing parts of the forest or scrub for crops was called assarting, and it was a process that could not be stopped. At first a tiny clearing would be made, and if it were not noticed, it would be gradually enlarged. In course of time adjacent clearings would approach to within about ten yards from each other. The woodland was then left as a broad hedge. Assarting was probably tolerated by the lords because by opening up the forest it improved the chase which dense forests would impede. In Middlesex to this day some hedges survive which started as boundaries between assarts in the forest of Middlesex. Reclamation of land either from marshes or from the sea commenced all over Europe. There was no over-all plan. Each village or group of villages decided how much land they could reclaim. Clearly with a rising population the great effort put into reclamation was essential.

             In Ireland the Gaelic chiefs developed a similar system of sub-chiefs who owed military and other services. A common service was called coshering whereby a chief and his retinue descended on a tenant and demanded to be fed. In England the corresponding custom was called free quartering. The sub-chiefs were called urraghs. It is ironic that the chief dispute of the last of the great Gaelic chiefs, Hugh O Neill, with the crown was because the latter refused to recognise his feudal rights over his urraghs. The feudal pyramid was matched by that of the local chiefs, the mesne chiefs, and the provincial chiefs. Great efforts were made to crown the pyramid by a king, but these were never successful for long. 

            The population of Western Europe started to grow. There were constant agricultural surpluses that stimulated trade and provided cash for the building of churches, monasteries, castles and city walls, provided the sustenance to the horsed knights, and financed the crusades. Trade promoted shipbuilding and also exploration leading to the development of maps and of an international financial system with systems of accountancy. A reform movement swept through the Church leading to a new relationship with the secular powers, and to the spread of reformed monastic houses linked together in what came to be called 'orders'. Schools and learning began to thrive. Waterwheels became common, and in the 12th century windmills. The climate seems to have improved or reached an optimum. Iceland and Greenland had flourishing Christian communities. Agriculture began to spread up the hillsides.

            Trade brought about the growth of towns. Towns had not completely disappeared from northern Europe. The Merovingian kings ignored Paris, but the Capetians made it their capital. Great fairs began to be held in towns like Troyes. Venice was the only large town in the Christian part of Europe at the beginning of the period, though Palermo, Seville, and Cordoba were in the Muslim part. At the end of the period, about 1200 there were in addition, Genoa, Milan, Florence, Rome, and Naples in the south, and Paris, Cologne, and Novgorod in the north. There were many other smaller trading towns like Dublin, London, York, Hamburg, Bremen, Bruges, Ypres, etc, which were later to become very important.

            A common architectural style developed in the middle of the eleventh century from Roman styles, and was called Romanesque. It was characterised by construction of stone or masonry, round arches, barrel vaults, and carved stonework. This reached its full development by 1050. The success of the barrel vault stimulated developments such as intersecting arches, rib vaults, and the pointed arch, and the buttress. By the end of the century the barrel vault was giving way to rib vaulting. The adoption of a pointed arch made the intersection of arches of unequal width more practicable, and permitted also lighter vaulting which in turn permitted lighter walls and the greater use of glass. Romanesque changed into Gothic. The re-building of the abbey of Saint Denis outside Paris about 1140 is held to mark the transition. Though Romanesque has been traditionally distinguished from Gothic the process of developing the stone arch from comparatively small blocks of stone was a continuous process, which only ended when the Renaissance brought in a change of taste.   An art formed also called Romanesque appeared at the same time.

             There was a revival of the study of Greek philosophy among the Muslims in North Africa that was to lead to a revival among Latin scholars. Guido d'Arrezzo about 1030 devised the first practical notation of music. He claimed that his system reduced the time needed to be a fully-fledged cantor from ten years to one year. The organ was adopted in churches and cathedrals. Stained glass too began to be used in church windows. A reasonably accurate form of clock driven by weights for use in bell towers in churches and monasteries. A hammer struck the bell periodically. The clock was heard not seen (audito horologio). It was used for telling the time for the offices in the church especially at night. A minor but important piece of new technology was an improved form of loom, for textiles were to form the basis of industrialisation as it was understood at the time. (The spinning wheel did not appear until the thirteenth century.) The vertical overshot or undershot watermill became the common form. The windmill too appeared in the west, the idea probably brought back by the crusaders. Mills were not used solely for grinding corn but also for crushing ore, fulling cloth and tanning leather. Another development was the adoption of the use of Arabic or Indian numerals in the West. They came in Latin Europe from translations from Arabic. Muslim scholars in North Africa and the Middle East carefully studied Greek learning, and through the caliphate of Baghdad came into contact with Indian speculations. An Arab invention, alcohol (distilled wine) appeared in Italy. Before 1200 the mariner's compass appeared in the West. So too did the sternpost rudder for ships, and siege engines like the trebuchet that threw huge stones. The new defensive technique of the motte-and-bailey castle appeared in the region around Calais in the middle of the eleventh century in northern France. The motte was an artificial circular mound with a defensive fortification on the top composed of large hewn logs. Part of this was made stronger and was called the keep. At the foot of the mound there might be a moat and there was also the bailey, a larger fenced enclosure into which the cattle could be driven. Only if the defences of the bailey were breached did the defenders retreat to the motte, and finally to the keep. Many of these inventions arrived in Western Europe through the Arab world that in turn often received them from the Chinese or Indians. Surprising as it seems nowadays, the Byzantine and Arab cultures of the Middle East were the more advanced.

            This astonishing series of inventions, discoveries and importations, which was to continue throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times, marked out the ancient world from modern times. Irish society, like every other society in Europe adopted all the new inventions, and fashions and trends as they came along. Some of the inventions did not reach Ireland until the very end of the twelfth century. When in the year 1000 Brian Boru ended the old political order in Ireland that had lasted several hundred years, Irish society was already beginning to change through the influences brought in by the Vikings. The processes of change were to accelerate.

            It would seem too that Europe, in the period 1000 to 1200 was reaching a climatic optimum. Agriculture in Brecknockshire for example reached further up the hills than it was to do for several centuries afterwards. Conditions for sea travel in the seas around north west Europe remained favourable. Later, when the climate had deteriorated, ships were much improved and this offset the poorer conditions. This was largely achieved by raising the sides, thus increasing the freeboard of the ships.

            It was also the great era of pilgrimages. Christians and Muslims made pilgrimages, in the latter case exclusively to Mecca. The Christians went to various holy places, to Jerusalem, Rome, or Compostela in north western Spain. Pilgrimages were to have a powerful influence on architecture. It has been noted that the architectural style of Cluny spread out along the routes to Compostela. In this connection it should be remembered that just as the seas could not be passed in winter, or only with difficulty, travel to Rome could only be made in the summer because the alpine passes were blocked by snow in winter. The revival of pilgrimages shows too that Europe was becoming more settled and travel less dangerous. Also trade and pilgrimages flourished side by side, for aids to travellers like inns benefited both, and travel directions were easier to obtain [Top]

The Eleventh Century in Europe


The eleventh century was in many ways in the Church the century of Cluny. Though Cluny had almost no direct influence on Ireland, it indirect influence was enormous. The reason for this is that a great number of the clergy who brought about the Hildebrandine reform of the Church were influenced by Cluny

The lands around Cluny had been a hunting forest of the Dukes of Aquitaine, and one of these had granted the lands to Abbot Berno. Berno and his monks had come from the Burgundian abbey of Baume. The regime at Cluny was not austere, but the rule was observed, and the monks devoted themselves to chanting the canonical hours in the church. They added more and more masses and services until most of the monk's time was spent chanting in the church. This rather unbalanced programme required that the monks be provided with warm clothing and be given plenty of food as the church windows were not glazed. This was no doubt necessary but it led to criticism in the following century. The second abbot was called Odo and he was one of the great churchmen of the century. He was frequently called on to reform monasteries. When he took them over he did not allow the monks to elect an abbot as the Benedictine Rule prescribed, but appointed priors over them. There was thus only one Cluniac abbot at a time. The monastery itself grew in numbers. Instead of the typical number of between 12 and 20 monks, Cluny had a hundred. The third abbot Odilo decided that the great church must be vaulted in stone. Stone vaulting had not been attempted in Europe for five hundred years. The work was commenced in the year 1000. The vaulting was plain tunnel vaulting that admirably suited the plain chant. Soon vaulted churches were appearing all over Europe, and the style was called Romanesque, or as we might nowadays call it, sub-Roman. In 1088 the fifth abbot, Hugh, began to construct the third church which was to be the largest church in Christendom for centuries. Between 910 and 1157 there was a succession of seven famous abbots in Cluny, Berno, Odo, Aymard, Majolus, Odilo, Hugh, and Peter the Venerable.

The Papacy  

The papacy was in a very poor state. The city of Rome was almost deserted, and the local nobility squabbled over the papal possessions, and over which family should be represented on the papal throne. The Crescentii family usually got their nominee chosen, but the Tusculani family managed to oust them. The election of the Pope was in the hands of the clergy and people of Rome. The Pope was allowed to do little more than conduct the liturgical services

            The German emperors then tried to get their own nominees chosen, and this caused bloody battles. The Saxon emperors had used the bishops extensively to govern their dominions. But they believed, both in feudal and Byzantine practice, that the bishops should be subject to the emperor. The sign of this was the bestowal of the insignia of office by the emperor. The Saxon dynasty was replaced by the Salian dynasty in 1024 when Conrad II was elected emperor. His son Henry III had leanings towards the reform party in the Church, but he was even more concerned that the principal of the subordination of the Church to the state be maintained.

            The great period of ecclesiastical reform was marked by the election of one of the German Emperor Henry III's nominees, St Leo IX 1049-54. He was Bruno of Egisheim (also called Bruno of Toul) and he came from Alsace, and was related to the imperial family.  He summoned to Rome reforming clerics from his own part of the Empire, Humbert of Moyenmoutier (or Silva Candida, the church of which he was cardinal), Frederick of Lorraine (later Pope Stephen IX), and Hugh of Remiremont, all of whom became cardinals. Though an appointee of the emperor he insisted on the customary election by the clergy and people of Rome. He relied greatly on the advice of the ordinary parish priests of Rome that in itself speaks well for their reforming zeal. These parish priests and the six bishops of the local towns became known as cardinals. The cardinals were to play an ever-increasing role in the administration of the church. He supported the celibacy of the clergy, and opposed concubinage, and the sale of church offices (simony). He kept in close contact with ecclesiastical reformers like St Peter Damian and Abbot Hugh of Cluny. He was especially associated with a young cleric called Hildebrand. His successor, Victor II, another imperial appointee continued the reforms of his predecessor. The short-lived Stephen IX continued the reforms. The Tusculani tried to impose the next Pope but he was not recognised. Nicholas II, who was at the time bishop of Florence, was chosen at a meeting held in Siena in 1058 and soon after issued a bull on papal elections.

            In 1059 Nicholas II decreed that only the parish priests of Rome should elect the bishop of Rome, and this ruling has remained to this day. The laity of the city of Rome were excluded from the election of their bishop.   Nicholas also accepted the Normans as the lawful rulers of southern Italy when they agreed to become his vassals. He needed them as a balance to the power of the Empire as well as for protection against the Roman mobs.

            Under Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085) there was a violent conflict between the Pope and the Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106) over investiture. Gregory's name was Hildebrand before he became Pope. He was born in Tuscany and was the strongest and most effective of the Church reformers in the eleventh century, and the reform movement is often called the Gregorian or Hildebrandine reform. The Pope forbade the investiture or bestowal of spiritual authority on clerics by laymen, and the emperor refused to give up the practice of investing his vassals even if they were clerics. Henry deposed the Pope and Gregory excommunicated the emperor. Though the two were reconciled temporarily at Canossa in 1075 the dispute broke out again. Henry led an army into Italy and the Romans sided with him. Gregory fled to Salerno and the protection of the Normans and died there. Henry returned to Germany and was involved in civil wars until his death. The investiture controversy was finally brought to an end in 1122 when the Concordat of Worms was signed between Henry V and Callistus II. By it there was to be a double investiture, with ring and staff by the Church and with the sceptre by the emperor. The issue was never really solved as the murder of the archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas a Becket in 1170 proved.

             The main point in the reforms initiated by Leo IX and his advisors was to get the clergy to lead a recognisable clerical life and to show an example to the laity. This, it was felt, could not be achieved if ecclesiastical offices were bought and sold, or if rulers conferred the offices for purely political reasons. It was obvious too that the German bishops especially were becoming civil administrators. There was no objection to this so long as it was made clear that a bishop had a far more important role than a mere temporal administrator. The great object of the reformers was to reduce the influence of laymen over the appointment of clerics, for it was obvious that many of the leading laymen had not the interests of religion, but rather their families' interests at heart. One of the decrees at the time was that all cathedrals should establish schools where Latin and other subjects suitable for a cleric could be taught. These cathedral schools were to have a tremendous influence in reviving learning in Europe.

It is not clear why it was felt necessary to insist on celibacy or non-marriage of priests. By the year 300, the local Council of Elvira in Spain imposed celibacy on bishops, priests, and deacons, and Pope Siricius (386 AD) also insisted on it. It is clear however that it was not insisted on for rural parish priests, namely those not connected with the bishops' cathedrals, and that in the eleventh century there were numerous married priests in rural areas. One immediate object of reform was to exclude from conducting divine services those priests in the bishops' households who had taken wives, the so-called concubines. About the celibacy of bishops at this time there was no doubt. The issue of the enforced celibacy of parish clergy was not definitely settled until 1215. Later the code of conduct defining a lifestyle appropriate to a cleric became more detailed. The shedding of blood, hunting with hounds, menial or plebeian trades, the art of surgery, and so on were prohibited. The study of medicine was allowed and it became a university degree, but not surgery that involved shedding blood.

In the eleventh century various synods exhorted canons of cathedrals to adopt a more religious form of life, and in the course of the twelfth century many groups of canons did so, often adopting the Rule of St Augustine but brought up to date by systems of controls in the same manner as the Benedictines and Cistercians. The Council of Lateran (1059), and another council held at Rome four years later, approved for the members of the clergy the strict community life of the Apostolic Age, such as the Bishop of Hippo had caused to be practised in his episcopal house. The first communities of canons adopted these sermons as their basis of organisation (Encyc.Brit). A reformer, clerical or lay, could assist the process by transferring endowments from older institutions to their preferred reformed canons (DNB Richard de Belmeis d.1128, who introduced Augustinian canons to England). A monastery that was to have a profound influence in Ireland was that of Arrouaise in Artois, founded by the Blessed Hildemar (d.1097), who had been a chaplain to William the Conqueror. He adopted the Rule of St Augustine. His followers had eremitic tendencies but also adopted pastoral duties.

The great aim of the reformers seems to have been directed against worldly churchmen, not necessarily immoral churchmen. The worldly churchmen were priests or bishops only in name. They procured their offices through bribery for the worldly advantages especially financial advantages that would flow from them to their families. They would spend the minimum amount of time at their religious duties, and devoted their efforts to politics, warfare, enriching their families, attending lavish banquets, wearing rich and warm clothing, hunting, hawking and attending jousts, and other like entertainments.

            Reform of monasteries was not part of the agenda, nor an attempt to force parish clergy to adapt a semi-monastic form of life. But the reforming monks naturally wanted to see proper discipline in monasteries. About half of the leading reformers were monks and the other half-secular clerics. It is not clear what the level of observance was in the typical monastery of the time. Certainly the level of observance in Cluniac monasteries was high, not to say heroic. The foundation of stricter or more eremitic orders, like those of the Camoldolese, the Carthusians, and the Cistercians cannot be adduced as evidence that ordinary monastic observance was poor. It simply meant that there were many who wished for a stricter observance, more poverty, more solitude, more time for prayer. In the following century, St Malachy of Armagh, considered that the reforms could best be implemented by introducing Regular Canons, in particular, the Arrouaisian Canons, but at the end of his life he fell under the spell of St Bernard, and the strict Cistercian life. The Cistercians (1098) were the most famous of the reformed Orders of monks who were formed about this time.

Political Affairs on the Continent    

Civil affairs were marked by the concentration of power in the older Christian states, and also by the ever rapid increase in the size of Christendom as more and more states embraced Christianity, and more territory was re-conquered from the Muslim powers.

            The Saxon emperors in the course of the 10th century had produced stability and prosperity in Germany and northern Italy. In Germany the Emperor Otto had broken up the various duchies and given much of their lands to bishops and abbots appointed by himself. Everywhere in Europe in the Middle Ages, the clergy as the literate and educated class, were to a large extent in charge of administration of the various kingdoms, but because of Otto's action and the piety of his immediate successors this was more true of Germany than anywhere else. The Elbe rather than the Roman frontier on the Rhine was now the boundary of the Holy Roman Empire and of Christendom. The Danube below Vienna formed its frontier with Hungary. But beyond that were the Christian states of Hungary, Poland and Russia.

            From 1024 to 1125 the emperors came from the Salian or Franconian branch of the Saxon ruling dynasty. In 1046 Henry III (1039 to 1056) went to Rome and deposed the three claimants to the papal throne and appointed a German bishop who took the name Clement II. He also directly appointed the next three Popes, all German subjects. In Germany he was a supporter of the Cluniacs and of the reform of the lives of the clergy. He prohibited the sale of church offices (simony), or what amounted to the same, the payment of a gift or fine when a cleric took an office in the Church. He did however insist on investiture, namely the conferring of Church lands by the emperor on the bishop.

        In Scandinavia, the Danish kings had gained control over Norway and Sweden, and gained the crown of England as well, though on the death of Canute in 1035 his empire fell apart. The Norse followers of Rollo the Dane now ruled the virtually independent dukedom of Normandy, and in 1041 some of them decided to gain their fortunes in Italy. It was the beginning of the great Norman expansion, and led to their conquest of the southern tip of Italy and part of Sicily in 1060. In 1066, William of Normandy acquired the kingdom of England. (Conquest means acquisition.) In Spain the reconquista continued and the important town and emirate of Toledo in central Spain was captured in 1085. At the very end of the century the experienced and confident Christian knights, as the mounted horsemen came to be called, were confident enough to march to Jerusalem and capture it, establishing there a Christian kingdom.

            The Turkish conquest of the Holy places on the other hand were to have repercussions on the whole of Europe. Events in western Europe always affected what happened in Ireland for the relative isolation of Ireland from the rest of Europe had come to an end.

            In France, the great provincial lords were still too powerful for the Capetian kings, though the latter were steadily increasing their strength. The Capetian monarchs in France were slowly re-building the powers of the French crown, but they were in no position yet to challenge powerful vassals like the Duke of Normandy. In 1036 was begun the construction in the Romanesque style of the monastery of Jumieges in Normandy. This was to have a powerful influence in England where Romanesque was often called the Norman style. [Top]

Political Affairs in Britain 

Conditions in England had changed swiftly during the century as the throne was occupied at one point by a Danish king and another by the Duke of Normandy. England was a very valuable prize, for the unitary state that Alfred had begun to organise and which developed under his successors provided a basis for considerable taxation and a large army to whomever controlled it. There were great opportunities too for the ruler to reward his relatives and favourites with Church benefices and livings. Economically, England was not well developed, but it had internal peace and reasonable agricultural surpluses. Right up until the eighteenth century England was always economically behind her neighbours on the Continent. Commercial development did not come until the demand for wool from Flanders grew to such an extent that it required the import of vast quantities of English wool.  The export of a raw material, though it improved living standards, did not promote manufactures. That being said England was agriculturally prosperous at a local level, and this was described in the Domesday Book that William the Conqueror had recorded for taxation purposes, specifically to find what revenues were due to himself.

            Politically or administratively the big change was from the pyramid system of ruling families, each controlling its own area, to a system of shires carved out more or less logically and as occasion arose, each controlled by an appointed royal official. This change had been brought about by Alfred's successors. It did not cut down the power of the great noble families, but it ensured that the king had powerful forces under his direct command, and also offered the nobles a share in his profits. As was usual in the case of shiring, the royal official was appointed from among the members of the local ruling family, and he got his proportion of local revenues as hitherto. When Clare was shired by Queen Elizabeth Sir Donnel O’Brien was made sheriff. Shortly afterwards a tax was imposed on the county, the first tribute ever paid by the Dal Cais. The organisation of shires was to be the way forward for local government in place of the rule of local lords. It was to be applied progressively to Ireland.

            Every shire had a shiremoot to which all free males were summoned twice a year. There were also local moots in smaller divisions called hundreds which met one a month and dealt with ordinary judicial business. The king himself had a great council called the witenagemot which assisted him when he issued dooms or judgements, and which played a vital role in the selection of a new king. Later the alderman or earl was replaced as the chief administrative officer by the sheriff, or shire reeve. In Danish regions the jarl or earl was the equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon alderman, and after the Conquest both were regarded as being equivalent in rank to the count. A new aristocracy with two ranks emerged from the ranks of these royal officials who were themselves drawn from the old chiefly families, namely earls and knights. (All these had their titles of nobility or knighthood from the king.) Knights who were originally nothing more than armed and armoured horsemen were later distinguished into more important knights called barons, and ordinary knights. The rank of baron as a title of nobility conferred by royal patent did not ante-date the reign of Richard II. Later, as armed horsemen became more numerous, the title was restricted to those who were created knights by the king or his representative. The baron corresponded more or less to the ri tuaithe or chief of the tuath, and the earl to the ruiri or mesne chief, or chief of a county, and it was this rank that was always conferred on the Irish chiefs. (The conferring of the overlordship of Meath on Hugh de Lacy was the nearest any English king came to appointing a provincial governor, but even in this case, it would seem that the area envisaged was only that claimed by Clan Colmain. The title of duke, or chief of a province, or ruirech, was never conferred on an Irish chief. Neither was the dubious title of ard ri or high king of Ireland.) In terms of land-holding the knight would have corresponded with the boaire, but the latter was not an office of military rank. So perhaps the degree of nobility immediately above the boaire namely the aire desa would be a more exact equivalent. Despite the different names, the structure of society was not very different between England and Ireland, and the English organisation that evolved in this period was gradually applied to the rest of the British Isles.

            There were other aspects of the shire organisation, which were progressively applied to Ireland. One was the assessed tax and the other was the militia. Almost since societies began, chiefs had two great objectives. One was to ensure that wherever there was any gain of profit the chief got a cut from it. The other was to secure an adequate supply of reliable warriors to fight for him. The two were usually closely related. In cashless societies, and even in those where cash was common, a chief could support his troops by means of 'free quarters'.  This meant he billeted them on the non-fighting population and told them to support them. Irish chiefs relied very much on 'coshering' and 'bonnacht' for this purpose. Another method was to tax any traded good. If a merchant wanted to trade in a chief's territory or to carry goods across that territory, the chief claimed part of it as a 'gift'.  Indeed, if anyone wanted to do anything in a chief's territory, like preaching the gospel, he had to present an appropriate 'gift'. Assessed taxes were sums specified that each piece of territory, or rather the cultivated part of it, was commanded to pay. In Ireland, the unit of assessment until well into the nineteenth century was the townland, which seems to have been the original farming unit. Other assessed taxes were house taxes and poll taxes. Poll taxes were unpopular because the rich man and the poor man had to pay the same amount.  In the shire or county system the king wished no longer to depend on the local chiefs to provide soldiers, so he decreed that each shire should provide sufficient men for its own defence. This came to be called the militia.

             By the year 1010 English resistance to the Viking raids was largely overcome. The throne was taken by Canute, king of Denmark, who became king of England in 1016 and king of Norway in 1028. In 1030 he became king of Sweden. After his death in 1035 separate kings were again appointed in the three kingdoms. He had already become a Christian, and ruled wisely. With his reign the Viking raids ended forever. In 1026 he made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his death there was a struggle for the throne of England, and Edward the Confessor, the eldest son of Ethelred the Unready secured the throne, with the help of Norman troops in 1042. He had spent the years of Canute's reign in Normandy, and many Normans accompanied him to England. He built an abbey dedicated to St Peter at Westminster in the new Romanesque style. This inaugurated an extraordinary growth in the building of stone churches and monasteries at Canterbury, Lincoln, Old Sarum, etc. (Westminster was later re-built in the Gothic style.)

The Arrival of the Normans in England    

In 1066, on the death of Edward the throne was claimed by Harold, son of Godwine, earl of Wessex, and by William of Falaise, Duke of Normandy, known as William the Conqueror.  Though William was victorious, the strong English resistance to him meant that many more English earls and landowners lost their lands than would have been the case if they had accepted William more readily. Had the English nobility submitted immediately after the battle of Hastings, William would have had only the royal estates to share out among his followers, and consequently, far fewer Normans would have settled in England. As it was, a vast amount of English lands passed into the hands of William's followers, and French became the language of the court and the nobility for two hundred years. He declared that all the land in England was forfeit, but allowed the various landowners to apply to get them back as a feudal fief. Thus the feudal system was applied throughout England. He also built many castles to maintain the royal power against any insurrection.

             His chief adviser in ecclesiastical matters was Lanfranc of Pavia, a learned scholar who had come to Normandy and had entered the monastery of Bec. There he opened a school that became famous. Among his scholars was Anselm of Bec who succeeded him as archbishop of Canterbury. William made Lanfranc archbishop of Canterbury in 1070. The question of investiture was not yet raised, and it is difficult to distinguish between the royal policy and the archbishop's in religious affairs. The Norse of Dublin, who had also connections with York, were inclined to look to Lanfranc as their metropolitan and he was willing to accept them as a suffragan diocese. Queen Margaret of Scotland too sought his assistance. He wrote to two Irish chiefs urging them to carry on the work of reform. He began a policy of summoning the clergy to synods, usually when they were being summoned to attend the king's council. This led to a separation of the royal and ecclesiastical courts. William systematically appointed foreigners to English bishoprics, and Lanfranc concurred with him in this policy. Their policy was no different from that of the German emperors. Pope Gregory VII was not pleased with his apparent subservience to William. The reason seems to have been political rather than religious, for the monasteries were not in any particular need of reform. Rather the king wanted the lands of the monasteries in safe hands. The new bishops were mostly men of learning, but abbots seem to have been appointed purely for political reasons. However, the state of learning in the English church does not seem to have been high, and considerably behind the Continent where schools had revived. Lanfranc travelled to Rome in 1071 to get the pallium of an archbishop for his see. This was the symbol of the papal confirmation of his election to an archdiocese. The sees of bishops were removed from the villages or decayed towns, where they had been traditionally, to the new towns and cities which were growing up. A synod was held at Winchester in 1076 that in accordance with the continental reform movement enforced clerical celibacy. (Hildebrand, Gregory VII was Pope from 1073 to 1085.) Parish priests who had wives were allowed to keep them. No canons were allowed to have wives. No married man for the future was to be ordained priest or deacon. Marriages were to be celebrated before a priest. The archbishop rebuilt Canterbury cathedral in the Romanesque style, and introduced the monastic life to the chapter.

             He was succeeded as archbishop in 1093 by his former pupil St Anselm of Bec, another Italian. The king, William Rufus, delayed appointing an archbishop for some years so that he could enjoy the revenues of the see. Anselm became involved in a prolonged struggle with the king with regard to ecclesiastical revenues and appointments to Church offices. Anselm wished to go to Rome to receive the pallium from the Pope. There were however two claimants to the papal Throne and William reserved to himself the right to decide which was the true pope, claiming that this was also his father's custom and right. Anselm got little support from the other bishops who were royal appointees. After William was killed Anselm reached a practical accommodation with his successor Henry I (1100 –1135) which stood until the quarrel of Henry II with Thomas a Becket. 

            In Wales the struggle of the leading chiefs to unite the whole of Wales under one ruler continued as in Ireland. By 1055 Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had united the north and finally conquered the south. He was a warlike man, constantly attacking the Vikings and the English. He pushed back English along the border, and in 1052 defeated a mixed body of English and Normans. The latter were serving Edward the Confessor. Earl Harold, the future claimant to the throne gathered an army against him. In 1063 Earl Harold attacked Wales, and bribed a Welshman to murder Gruffedd, the man who had come closest to uniting Wales. In 1081 William the Conqueror received the submission of the Welsh princes. Having received their submission, it meant that if ever afterwards they rebelled against them he had the right to seize their lands. As the Normans well knew, if they did not rebel of their own accord it would be easy to provoke them into so doing.  The Welsh did not need any provocation.

             After 1066 the Normans were to spend the next two hundred years trying to conquer Wales. William, to begin with, placed powerful feudal earls along the Welsh borders, the earls of Hereford, Shrewesbury, and Chester. Shrewsbury and Chester were made palatine counties, and the earls had far more authority in their counties than ordinary sheriffs. (In Germany palatine counts had charge of the imperial palaces.) Many royal privileges were granted to the palatine counts. Among other things palatine counts could appoint their own judges, so that the king's writ did not run in the palatine county. Palatine jurisdiction was so common in Ireland that at the end of the Middle Ages, the king's writ extended only to the counties within the Pale. It did not mean of course that the king had no authority in the palatine county. The purpose was to allow the local feudal subject of the king adequate powers to deal instantly with matters like invasions. Each had its own army, court of justice, treasury, and chancery, not as a local princedom but solely with powers granted by the crown. The pattern was important because it was to be used extensively in Ireland over a century later. Also many of the great Norman lords in Ireland came from the West Country or Wales. Whenever the earls palatine conquered a piece of Wales it belonged to them, and not directly to the king, and they were able to reward their followers with grants of land. These then secured the lands by building castles on them. For the rest of the century the earls palatine nibbled away at the petty chiefdoms. One of these Bernard Newmarch (from the New Market) captured and occupied Brecknockshire, built a castle at Brecon, began a town there and endowed a priory. He then married a granddaughter of Gruffudd. Bernard was a typical Norman adventurer and was not an earl palatine. In the revolt of the lords against William Rufus he was associated with Robert of Lacy. The de Lacys had come with William from Lassy in Normandy. The held much land in the west of England. By the end of the century they had conquered most of Wales, but were not able to hold the north of Wales.

            It must always be remembered that in the Middle Ages all the nobles, and landowners, and landless gentlemen, behaved like gamblers with regard to land. They backed one side or another for personal gain. If a great noble rebelled against the king he did so because he considered he had more to gain than if he remained loyal. If the king was very strong and could crush the rebellion immediately, there was no point in rebelling.  If the king could be overthrown, or if the king could only with difficulty put down the rebellion, the chances of gain were much higher. Again, the king might put down the rebellion, declare the estates forfeit, and then grant them to another member of the same family who had not taken up arms. Similarly, the landless knights backed the side that was likely to grant them land. Land was just a source of income and it mattered little to a lord if he lost his estates in Herefordshire if he gained others in Worcestershire. The ordinary people just ploughed their land and paid their taxes to whoever owned the land. When William of Normandy was gathering an army to invade England he had to promise lands and other rewards to the knights who joined him as well as pay to the mercenaries. Those on the losing side had to fall back on the plan of last resort and give their daughters as wives to the conqueror's men to retain any position of influence in their counties. The latter were more than willing to marry into the older families to gain further position and recognition for themselves. All these factors could be seen plainly when the Norman-Welsh came to Ireland over a century later. 

            The kingdom of Scotland was relatively strong and united at this time, and its kings were trying to gain territory at the expense of Ethelred who was hard pressed by the Danes. Ethelred entrusted the defence of the north to Uchtred, son of the Earl of Northumbria, who repulsed the Scots under Malcolm II, and as a reward was given two earldoms. Malcolm then turned his attention northwards towards the Norse settlements and gave his daughter to Sigurd, the jarl (earl) of Orkney. Sigurd was killed at Clontarf in 1014, but his infant son; the grandson of Malcolm was created earl of Caithness and Sutherland. In 1018 Malcolm allied himself with Owen the chief of Strathclyde and led a successful invasion of Northumbria. Lothian, part of Northumbria then passed definitively to Scotland. Though it passed to Scotland it retained its own language, English, and laws, and these were gradually adopted in the whole of Scotland. On the death of Owen the part of Strathclyde north of the Solway Firth passed by marriage to Duncan grandson of Malcolm, and when Duncan became king was absorbed into the Scottish kingdom. The part of Strathclyde south of the Solway Firth (Cumbria) though in theory it had been ceded to Malcolm I (c954) passed to the English crown. It was in fact largely occupied by the Norse. The British and Norse languages were replaced by English, leaving only the name Cumberland. (Cumbria and Cambria, the lands of the Cymri, were originally pronounced the same.)  The language survived only in Wales (Cymru) though the earliest Welsh poets were from Strathclyde. In the Highland region the Gaelic language triumphed, driving out Norse, so that the kingdom of Scotland ended with two languages, Gaelic north of the Highland Line, and English everywhere else. By 1034, Scotland as we know it today was substantially in existence.

      Malcolm III Canmore (1053-93) came to the throne in 1057, but stayed aloof during the events south of the Border in 1066. After 1066, Edgar, grandson of Edmund Ironside, the son of Ethelred the Unready fled to Scotland with his family. He brought with him his sister Margaret, who married Malcolm

            Much more important for the course of Scottish history was his English wife Margaret. For the Anglicisation of Scotland commenced with her. She wrote to Lanfranc asking for instruction in religious matters and he sent three monks to instruct her. They advised Malcolm to call a reforming synod, and he presided over it. The then Roman use of commencing the Lenten fast on Ash Wednesday instead of the first Sunday of Lent was introduced. The first four Sundays were not fast days, so the additional days had to be added to make up the full forty. The obligation to receive communion at Easter was insisted on, and the latest Roman version for the order of the mass introduced. Working on Sundays was prohibited, and a man was forbidden to marry either his stepmother or his brother’s widow. This was not however a typical Hildebrandine reforming synod, for simony, investiture, and marriage or concubinage of the clergy were not prominent. She had a great reputation for personal holiness of life, but medieval biographers normally supplied the conventional details. She was credited however with introducing needlework and embroidery to the ladies of the court and to have introduced the use of linen to the court as well. These should been seen as attempts to bring some refinements to a rather uncouth court

            He was succeeded by his son Duncan II, who was then killed by his uncle Donald Bane, second son of Duncan and brother of Malcolm. Donald Bane was supported by those who objected to the increased English influence and he became briefly king as Donald III. He was succeeded by Edgar eldest son of Malcolm Canmore in 1097 who reigned from 1097 to 1107.Succession to the crown was still by means of election from membership of the derb fine, and by way of tanistry (rex designatus. This succession of kings supported the new influences brought in by Margaret (St Margaret of Scotland) and were at time only able to sustain themselves with English help. There was a strong Gaelic reaction against them. As usual, we can suspect that the enmity was not directed at the new customs themselves, but against those foreigners brought in to give them effect. These newcomers and the religious character of the queen were a powerful influence in bringing in the Hildebrandine reforms in Scotland. 

 Art and Architecture

            Nothing demonstrates the changes coming over Europe in the eleventh century than its architecture. Every book on the history of architecture is filled with Norman buildings. Five hundred years had elapsed since the buildings in Ravenna, the last in western Europe to deserve the name of architecture. That had been in the age of Justinian. The decision of Abbot Odilo of Cluny (around 1000 AD) to rebuild the monastery church and have it vaulted in stone marked a turning point. No longer would churches and monasteries in Western Europe be built of wood and thatched with reeds or straw. (This type of wooden church survived a long time in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia, and can be quite impressive.) The architects had visited Rome and had seen what could be done, but they had to work out the techniques for themselves. The model was imitated everywhere the local bishop, lord, or abbot could afford it. Shaping stone is a comparatively simple process and easily learned, so that when the Cistercians commenced building a hundred years later, they regarded stone work as cheap enough.

            By 1050 the Romanesque style, with its architectural shapes, its vaulting and its ornamentation had reached full maturity. The greatest influence on it was Roman remains. The various elements were not taken from any particular place, and indeed Romanesque architects in various places put them together in different ways, but all in a recognisable style. The greatest works in the style date from 1075 to 1125 after which date the emerging Gothic style based on the pointed arch was preferred. Several churches along the pilgrimage route to Compostella were built in central France. One monastery to adopt the new style at an early date was Saint Benoit-sur-Loire at Fleury.   Several other churches in eastern France were copied directly from Cluny. Another great centre in France where Romanesque architecture was swiftly adopted was Normandy, and from there it spread into England. When people in the British Isles think of Romanesque architecture, the thing of the style of Normandy. One of the greatest masterpieces of Romanesque building is Durham cathedral commenced in 1093.

            A point to be remembered about architecture in stone and brick is that it reflects more than almost any other form of art the economic development of the community. This was particularly the case in the fully developed Romanesque and Gothic styles. A writer on the study of Romanesque churches said that the observer should consider five principal points: 'the relative proportions of the three stages, main arcade, tribune and clerestory; the shape of the piers; the employment or not of engaged shafts and of string courses to provide vertical and horizontal articulation of the successive bays and stages; the method of dealing with the arch of the tribune, and the solution adopted for the ceiling' (Clifton-Taylor 32-3). Taking this as a standard there were probably only two churches in Ireland by the twelfth century, both in Dublin, which could be counted as full-blown Romanesque or Gothic. This reflects on the economic development of that city at that time. Other churches in Ireland at that time, and again in the nineteenth century took particular artistic motifs like rounded or pointed arches to give them a modern style, despite the poverty and economic backwards of the community that was doing the building. If a wooden truss roof was used the various devices mentioned above used by the Romanesque architects could be dispensed with. Apart from the curious little attempt at Romanesque design in Cormac's chapel at Cashel c. 1130, full Romanesque architecture cannot be said to have arrived in Ireland before the building of Mellifont abbey church c.1150. With the French Cistercian monks came a wholly new way of life, economic as well as religious. [Top]


Changes in Names

            Increasingly from this time onwards there is an alternative English spelling for personal and local names. This has been adopted in this book for two reasons. The first is that it normally gives a better approximation to the actual pronunciation at the time than does the dialect spelling of modern Gaelic that also has a certain forced harmonisation. The second is that it is more comprehensible and pronounceable to non-Gaelic-speakers. Something is lost however for those who know Gaelic.

            Clann Aed Buidhe (clan ay bwee) the family of Flaxen Aed, becomes Clandeboy, or the Clandeboy O’Neills. The family name Osraige became a placename Ossory without changing pronunciation. This was inevitable when the territory remained the same, but the chieftainship became restricted to a particular branch of the original ruling family. Cenel Eogain (the family of Eogan) became Tir Eogain, the land of Eogan, nowadays county Tyrone. The Laigin received a Norse termination and became Leinster. The Ulaid became Ulster. Ulster in the Middle Ages was the territory of the Ulaid, excluding Tyrone with Derry, Tyrconnell, and Oriel (Oirgialla), and the Earl of Ulster was the feudal ruler of that territory. The Umall of Mayo became The Owells of Mayo. The name of Turlough O’Connor illustrates a problem of determining when various consonants became aspirated or silent. It is commonly pronounced Turlough as the aspirated form of Toirrdelbach, but Lanfranc writing in Latin calls him Terdelvacus. Removing the termination -us we get Terdelvac which would seem to indicate that the d and the c were not aspirated but the b was.

            English pronunciation has of course shifted also, for example, the strong guttural gh in Armagh has disappeared. So also in Drogheda. Dublin, without the aspiration of the b triumphed over Duvlin or Dubhlin. Names too were often Latinised, and Anglicised. Maelmaedhoig became Malachy, but so did Mael Sechlainn. Aed became the Norman Hugh. Not all transformations are obvious or intelligible. Mide became Meath, though still locally pronounced Meed. The Lugaid became Louth, though locally pronounced Loud. Here the g became aspirated until it became silent and the three vowels became a triphthong.

            Only one Norman family was referred to in the traditional Gaelic fashion; the Fitzgeralds were called The Geraldines. Gaelic families like the Ui Neill became The O'Neills but with the same meaning or references. The O'Neills were merely a branch of the Ui Neill, though it was purely coincidental that the original family and the main branch both originated with a man called Niall. The local pronunciation of O'Neill is O’Nale that is closer to the Gaelic pronunciation, but the Anglicised pronunciation has been the common one for centuries.)

            From this period onwards I will use the words Gael and Gaelic to refer to those with the Gaelic language and culture. Irish will refer to the country in general and to the culture which was to become the dominant one and which from the later Middle Ages used the English language. Norman and Norse are used until it is clear that most of the members of those cultures were born in Ireland and regarded themselves as Irish. In the heyday of Gaelic nationalism extremists reserved the name Irish only to those of supposedly purely 'Celtic' origin, and implied that all Protestants were alien invaders with no rights in the country even after residence of several hundred years. This was pure nonsense in more than one respect. [Top]

Over-chiefs (of Tara)


Brian Boru 1002-1014 of Dal Cais

Mael Sechlainn II 1014-1022 of Clan Colmain, grandson of Donnchadh mac Flainn

Donough O'Brien 1025-1063 of the O'Briens, grandson of Brian Boru

Diarmait mac Mael na mBo 1064-1072 of the Ui Chennselaig

Turlough O'Brien 1072-1086, nephew of Donough

Murtagh (or Muircheartach) O’Brien 1086-1119, son of Turlough

Donal MacLoughlin 1083-1121, MacLoughlin branch of Cenel Eogain

(Donough O’Brien and Diarmait mac Mael na mbo were styled by the chroniclers as high kings with opposition. The distinction is fairly arbitrary for all the overchiefs from 1022 until 1171 were opposed, though many of them managed to extract universal tribute for brief periods in their reigns. The chief purpose of the lists in this book is not to imply sovereignty but to provide a chronological framework)


            In the century and a half from the death of Brian Boru in 1014 until the arrival of Henry II in 1171 Ireland was distinguished by totally inconsequential fighting. After Brian Boru upset the established order, the chiefs in the various provinces strove for the kingship of Ireland, and various contenders had more or less plausible claims for some years each. Within the provinces similar struggles were carried on for the overchieftainship of each province, and mostly one family emerged as the dominant one. There was not much to be said either for the progress of religion, art, or trade so noticeable on the Continent and in Britain.

            The eleventh century in Ireland may be regarded as the century of the Dal Cais or the O'Briens as they were now called. Between 1000 and 1100 AD there were four outstanding chiefs of the Dal Cais who claimed to be the true over-chiefs of Tara or 'high kings of Ireland,' Brian Boru (1002-1014), Donough O'Brien (1025-64), Turlough O'Brien (1072-86), and Muircheartach (Murtagh) O'Brien (1086-1114). Mael Sechlainn II resumed the overlordship after the death of Brian in 1014. The only real opposing claim came from an unexpected source, from Dermot mac Mael na mBo of south Leinster.  The Ui Neill of course ignored them and continued appointing their own chiefs as over-chiefs of Tara. The Cenel Eogain kept up their claim but could not enforce it. Some annalists regarded Flaibeartach O’Neill, chief of Aileach from 1004 to 1036, and Donal mac Lochlainn (Donal MacLoughlin) 1083-1121 as the true chiefs of Tara.  The century was really that of the O'Briens. The Gaelic word ri must still be translated as chief, for Ireland was not, and never became, what could be recognised as a kingdom, namely one in which power and authority was derived from a single source. The term ard ri or high king must be translated as paramount chief or over chief as it was in similar societies in other parts of the world.

            In the year 1001 Brian Boru felt himself strong enough to challenge Mael Sechlainn II. He defeated Sihtric Silkbeard, son of Olaf Cuaran, the Norse ruler of Dublin, took a Danish wife, and gave a Gaelic one to Sihtric. He then advanced into Meath to take symbolic possession of the deserted site of Tara. Mael Sechlainn was unable to resist him, and so he became the undisputed chief of Ireland.  He still had to enforce the payment of tribute, and this he did in Connaught and Ulster in the following years. The Cenel Eogain were at war with the Ulaid, and both their chiefs were killed in battle, which made Brian's collection of the tribute in the north easier. He went to Armagh, placed an offering of gold on the high altar of the old cathedral, and recognised the jurisdiction of the church of Armagh in Munster. All the chiefs of the north surrendered hostages to him except the Cenel Conaill.  Brian never managed to establish peace in Ireland under his rule. The new chief of the Cenel Eogain was called Flaibeartach an trostain (Flahertach of the pilgrim's staff), son of Muircheartach Midheach son of Donal Ardmacha. He constantly defied Brian who had again in 1007 and 1008 to invade Ulster and seize the tribute. In 1011 Brian attacked Cenel Conaill by land and sea and exacted a great tribute. Brian recognised the value of the Norse towns and ships. An interesting point too about these campaigns is the mention of a body of cavalry composed of Norsemen and Leinstermen.   Mael Sechlainn had to pay a tribute of twelve score steeds to Brian. This does nor imply that cavalry took part in battles, for the horsemen were likely to dismount for this. But they could be used for raiding, for spying out the land, and for pursuit.

            The events that led to the death of Brian at Clontarf in 1014 were complex. Firstly, Flaibeartach an trostain of the Cenel Eogain set about subduing his neighbours, the Ulaid and the Cenel Conaill. This led to a conflict with the deposed over-chief of Tara, Maelsechlainn II who was also quarrelling at the same time with the Norse of Dublin. Then, Brian's protege in Leinster, Mael Morda mac Murchada of the Ui Faelain (O'Phelan, a branch of the Ui Dunlainge,) in the north of Leinster, quarrelled with Brian's son Murchad. Mael Morda seems to have been supported by the Osraige, and the Norse of Dublin who were also fighting the Southern Ui Neill, for Brian in 1113 attacked the latter while his son Murchad attacked the Ui Faelain. Murchad's campaign of pillaging and looting brought him as far as the walls of Dublin. The Norse ruler of Dublin, Sihtric was a son of Olaf Cuaran and Gormlaith, the sister of Mael Morda. Sihtric was married to Brian's daughter and his sister was married to Maelsechlainn. Gormlaith typically in an age of matrimonial alliances had been married off successively to Mael Sechlainn and Brian and repudiated by both. Sihtric sent to the Norse chiefs in Scotland for reinforcements to assist Mael Morda. Among those who came were Sigurd, the Earl of Orkney, and another jarl called Brodor from the Isle of Man. Sihtric's troops did not fight at Clontarf, nor did those of Mael Sechlainn. Brian had drawn considerable forces from the south of Ireland, including from among the Norse, to defeat the Ui Faelain, who were not supported by the other chiefs of Leinster, and their Norse allies (Hayes-McCoy, O'Corrain). The ensuing war seems to have been as much a domestic dispute as a political one, but that fact would not have been untypical.

            Warfare was largely a game of chance played for gain by those who were closely related to each other by marriage, and there were numerous factors to be taken into consideration in deciding when to submit and when to fight. Hayes-McCoy thinks that each side may have had up to 2,500 warriors each. Brian may have had that number, for he had to be prepared to fight Mael Sechlainn and Flaibeartach an trostain even in combination, but it is more likely that the Ui Faelain army and the Norse booty-seekers together numbered fewer than a thousand. The battle should have been a minor one, nor is it entirely obvious why it was fought at all. There is little doubt that all the parties were in close correspondence with each other, probably by means of churchmen, right up until the battle was commenced. Mael Sechlainn and Brian were both seeking to control the town of Dublin, and by consequence to deny it to the other. The Norse could only survive by allying themselves with one or other of them. The logic of the situation was that Mael Morda and Sihtric should submit to Brian. This would allow the Norse to try to reclaim their lost lands in Meath.  Logic is not always followed and there may be something in the traditions that Gormlaith, one of Brian's repudiated wives, and sister of Mael Morda was behind the quarrel.  The battle seems to have been one of those rare events in Irish history, a full-scale, hard-fought battle between two fairly equally matched forces that lasted a considerable part of the day, the kind of battle chroniclers used to mark time           .

             The most significant thing about the battle was that both Brian and his son were killed (along with Mael Morda, Sigurd and Brodar) so the advantage passed to Mael Sechlainn who resumed the over-chieftainship of Tara. Sihtric, who like Mael Sechlainn had stood aside at Clontarf, carried on his wars against his neighbours until 1035, after which he seems to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. He died in 1042. Brian Boru was a great warrior, the most powerful yet to come from Munster.  He was also very lucky that internal disputes in the other provinces and in Munster itself facilitated his rise. The power of the Dal Cais increased but never to the extent that they could eliminate the Eoganacht of Cashel, and as the MacCarthy family, they were the equals of the O’Briens until the end of the Middle Ages.  The battle of Clontarf was built up by later writers into the most famous battle in Irish history, and Brian became Ireland's most famous king, the only one non-Irish people ever heard of.

             Mael Sechlainn resumed the overchieftainship and continued his wars until he died in 1022. Flaibeartach an trostain acquiesced and made no move against him. The death of Mael Sechlainn in 1022 was an important turning point, for the pattern of Irish politics that then developed survived until the Elizabethan conquest at the end of the sixteenth century. Though he was not the last of the over-chiefs of Tara belonging to the Ui Neill, from then onwards the Ui Neill had to contend with equal powers from the other provinces. The southern Ui Neill disintegrated, though the O'Mellaghlins survived as minor rulers until the end of the Middle Ages. The power of the northern branch, whose chiefs were now exclusively from two families of the Cenel Eogain, grew and grew until the end of the Middle Ages. The power of the ruling families in the other provinces grew to an even greater extent, so that the O'Neills of the Middle Ages, though locally dominant, were rarely influential outside their own province. It also proved unfortunate for the Cenel Eogain that just at the time when they should have been able to seize and hold exclusively the chieftainship of Tara they split into two rival families, the O'Neills and the MacLoughlins. The family that was most successful in overcoming their rivals within their own province was the Sil Muiredach branch of the Ui Briuin Ai who became the powerful O'Connor family. In the Middle Ages the dominant family in Leinster was that of the Fitzgeralds, rivalled by the MacMurroughs (Ui Chennselaig, Kinsella. The year 1022 proved to be a significant turning point in Irish history chiefly because of the failure of the northern Ui Neill to maintain their advantage. It would appear too that with Mael Sechlainn’s death Tara was completely abandoned as a symbolic royal site.

            Brian's younger son, Donough O'Brien, returned with the victorious army, but had to contest for the leadership with his half-brother. (He is usually called Donough O'Brien rather than the more correct Donough mac Brian for with him the line of the O'Brien's began. (His mother was of the Sil Muiredaig of Connaught, who was another of Brian's many wives.) With the chieftainship in dispute the supply of supporters dried up, and the Dal Cais were scarcely able to fend off the attacks of the Eoganacht Raithlind and an invasion from Connaught. In 1023 he instigated the murder of his brother Tade, a fact that Tade's son Turlough never forgot. By 1025 Donough had established his power within the Dal Cais, and was able to attack other provinces. In 1025 he took hostages in Connaught. In 1026 he took hostages from Meath, Leinster, Ossory, and the Danes.  His attempt to take hostages in Meath was frustrated by Flaibeartach an Trostain who also took hostages in Meath. The latter however, though preventing the incursion into his territory was either unable or unwilling to do more. Donough was able however to take hostages from Connacht. A greater problem for him was the rising chiefdom of Ossory that had now reached the peak of its power under a chief called Mac Gilla Patraic. (The MacGillapatricks, later Fitzpatricks, ruled Ossory in the Middle Ages.) Mac Gilla Patraic was trying to conquer Leinster, and to this end allied himself with the Eoganacht of Cashel. In the event, the chieftainship of Leinster went to a member of the Ui Chennselaig of south Leinster whose name was Dermot mac Mael na mBo. Donough O'Brien tried to limit Dermot's power and made him a bitter enemy. In 1048 Donough led an army into Meath, Leinster and to Dublin and took hostages from the Norse, from Ossory, and from Dermot. In 1052 Dermot captured Dublin and made himself ruler there. He then tried to recapture the lost Norse territories in Meath. Donough allied himself with Conchobar Ua Mael Sechlainn the Ui Neill chief, but Dermot, with the help of the Osraige was a match for them. In 1051 Donough O’Brien was challenged at home by his nephew Turlough O'Brien son of the murdered Tade. Aed O'Connor (O Conchobar) of Connaught attacked Munster, while Dermot and Ossory, attacked Donough. They renewed their attacks in subsequent years and by 1055 Donough's power was waning. About 1058 Dermot mac Mael na mBo decisively defeated Donough at Slieve Crot in Tipperary. Donough was then compelled to submit to Aed O'Connor in 1059. In 1061 Aed destroyed Brian Boru's fortress at Kincora and burned the monastery at Killaloe. In 1063 Dermot and Aed burned Limerick. Donough resigned and went on a pilgrimage to Rome where he died. His nephew Turlough was making a name for himself in the manner usual with aspirants to the chieftainship of his family. In 1031 he was banished for murder, and seems to have sought refuge in Connaught. In 1054 he ravaged parts of his native Clare with a body of Connaughtmen, and the following years defeated a rival aspirant, Donough's son Murchad, with heavy loss of life.

            Dermot mac Mael na mBo between 1058 and 1072 was undoubtedly the most powerful ruler in Ireland. He recognised Turlough O'Brien rather than Murchad, the chief of Dal Cais, as the overlord of Cashel, in return for Turlough's recognition of his claim to be overlord of Ireland. The Cenel Eogain after the death of Ardgar Mac Lochlainn in 1064 became involved in domestic disputes for the next twenty years, between the descendants of Niall Glundubh and his brother Donal. Curiously the genealogists are not clear from which of these Ardgar claimed descent. Aed O'Connor struggled to get recognition in Connaught. He was killed in 1067. In Meath Concobar ua Mael Sechlainn (Conor O’Mellaghlin (1030 to 1073) failed to impress. In 1072 Dermot invaded Meath but was defeated and killed by Conor's forces.

            Turlough O'Brien had been recognised by Dermot mac Mael na mBo as Donough's successor to the over-chieftainship of Cashel in spite of the claims of Murchad, son of Donough who was recognised as the chief of the Dal Cais. The latter challenged him but was again defeated by Turlough. However, on the death of Murchad in 1068 Turlough became chief of the Dal Cais O'Briens as well. He recognised Dermot as the true ard ri and supported by him up until 1072. Turlough O'Brien was then, and for the next twelve years, the most powerful chief left in Ireland, and fought and won battles in the other provinces. After the death of Ardgar MacLoughlin in 1064 Cenel Eogain was weak and Turlough, though he attacked the Oirgialla and the Ulaid left them alone. He was more concerned with weakening Connaught by promoting internal divisions. The O’Rourke's of Breifne (Ui Briuin Breifne) were contending now for the mastery of Connaught, and also extending their territory into Meath by swallowing the Gailenga.

            Norsemen apart, in this period came the first approaches of Continental influence into Ireland since the time of Saint Patrick, which influences were to become a flood in the following century. Lanfranc wrote to Turlough O'Brien urging him to take a lead in reforming the Irish Church. Pope Gregory VII also wrote in the same sense. As is usual in such cases it can be assumed that these interventions were requested by a native reforming party. The relationship between the see of Rome and local bishops at this period was essentially an appellate one, namely that Rome replied to appeals for guidance or instruction from a local church, or for confirmation of an archbishop.

            Turlough died after a long illness in 1086 and was succeeded by his son Murtagh O'Brien who spent the first ten years of his rule asserting his authority in Munster. In Ulster Donal MacLoughlin succeeded to the headship of the northern Ui Neill in 1083. Again the scribes were divided as to which was the real king of Ireland Both were long-lived and contemporary. Donal ruled for thirty-one years and Murtagh for twenty-six years. Donal's claim was from 1090, four years after the death of Turlough, and Murtagh's from 1093 though he had become chief of the Dal Cais on the death of his father. Donal had been chief of Aileach from 1083 when he finally and successfully defeated the claimants descended from Donal, the brother of Niall Glundubh (d. 915). (The O'Neill entry in Burke’s Peerage only claims the kingship of Ireland for Donal MacLoughlin from 1119 to 1121, thus recognising the better claim of Murtagh O’Brien.)

            Murtagh (Muirchertach) O'Brien was first mentioned in 1075 when he and his father made an unsuccessful attack on the Ulaid and Oirgialla. He became engaged in a struggle with his brother for the chieftainship, so Leinster and Connaught broke free, and Mellaghlin O'Mellaghlin of Meath tried to recover Dublin and North Leinster. An interesting facet of this struggle was the use made of fleets, and not only the Norse fleets. Connaught was able to repel Murtagh's fleets on the Shannon and along the coast. The new chief in Connaught, Rory O'Connor son of Aed O'Connor, allied himself with Donal MacLoughlin and they ravaged Munster while Murtagh O'Brien was trying to subdue Leinster and Meath. In 1089, having subdued Leinster, imposed his own chief over them, and held Dublin, he was able again to attack O’Connor of Connaught who was now assisted by O'Mellaghlin of Meath. Though he was initially successful they trapped his fleet at Athlone, so Murtagh had to agree to terms in 1090. Murtagh and O'Mellaghlin gave hostages to Donal MacLoughlin to keep him out of the war, and the Ui Neill naturally saw this as submission, and hence the claim that Donal was the true high king from 1090 onwards. With Donal MacLoughlin (1083-1121), son of Ardgar, the internal struggles of the Cenel Eogain were settled for the time being, and they again became a power in the land.

      In 1092 there came a change in his fortunes when the O'Connors and the O'Flahertys (Ui Briuin Seola) in Connaught quarrelled, Rory O'Connor being blinded by O'Flaherty. At this particular point the long dominance of the Sil Muiredaig (O'Connor) was being challenged by the revived Ui Briuin Seola (O'Flaherty) and Ui Briuin Breifne (O'Rourke). Internal quarrelling produces external weakness. Murtagh expelled the O'Connors from Connaught, gave their lands to another family, and appointed one of the latter chief of Connaught. This family had no claim to the chieftainship and was ignored by the scribes. Donal O’Mellaghlin, nephew of Conor, then submitted, but Donal MacLoughlin prepared to assert his rights. In 1093 he gathered his own forces, those of the Cenel Conaill and the Ulaid, and those of Donal O’Mellaghlin, and, as chief of Tara, invaded Munster where he defeated Murtagh. The alliance then fell apart and MacLoughlin retreated. Donal O'Mellaghlin was killed in a minor skirmish in 1094, so Murtagh partitioned Meath and installed two cousins, Donnchad and Conor O'Mellaghlin as half chiefs. With this the O'Mellaghlins fell into internecine struggles from which the family never recovered, and was quickly brushed aside by the Normans eighty years later. He took over much of south Connaught, the lands of the Ui Fiachrach and Ui Maine, and installed an O'Rourke of the Ui Briuin Breifne as vassal chief in the remainder. By 1096 O'Brien was totally dominant in Munster, Leinster, Connaught, and Meath. He was to spend the next twenty years trying to conquer Donal MacLoughlin. Finally in 1101, with his Leinster allies attacking up the east coast, he invaded Ulster from the west with his Norse fleet following along the coast. He destroyed the fortress of Aileach that was probably deserted at this time. [Top]

The Provinces

            This century in Ulster was one of very mixed fortunes for the Cenel Eogain. The problem was the ancient one, which was never to be solved, and that was that the leadership of the warband went to the person who was most successful in battle or was likely to be. There was a constant struggle for the chieftainship between two branches of the Ui Neill, the O’Neills and MacLoughlins. But the genealogists are very confused regarding the origin of the MacLoughlins. Burke's Peerage makes Lochlann the son of Muiredach the son of Donal Ardmacha though an alternative version derives his ancestry from Donal the elder brother of Niall Glundubh. In the first version Lochlann was a first cousin of Flaibeartach an Trostain who opposed Brian Boru. The struggles between the two branches weakened the Cenel Eogain and by the time Brian O’Neill eliminated the MacLoughlins in 1241 the chances of either branch controlling the whole of Ireland had disappeared. On the other hand, within Ulster the great expansion of the O’Neills and their sub-clans was now in full flow, and by the end of the Middle Ages they controlled about two thirds of Ulster.

            About this time the O’Neills, under Flaibeartach an Trostain moved their main seat from Aileach to Tullaghogue which is just west of Lough Neagh. The descendants of Conaing, a younger son of Niall Glundubh were local chiefs of Tullaghogue until 1068 after which the chieftainship passed to the descendants of Muirchertach the older son of Niall Glundubh. We can presume that Flaibeartach's family had physical possession of the lands long before the other side surrendered their claim. A fort was also built at Dungannon. The original homeland of the Cenel Eogain, Inis Owen was conquered by a branch of the Cenel Conaill, the O’Dohertys. Though unable to resist Brian Boru Flaibeartach strove to assert authority over Cenel Conaill and the Ulaid. Mael Sechlainn of Clan Colmain tried ineffectively to prevent this domination, which however was not achieved. Flaibeartach took no part at Clontarf but supported the restoration of Mael Sechlainn afterwards. In 1030 he resigned the throne to make a pilgrimage to Rome, and was succeeded as chief by his son Aed 1030-33. Aed died before his father who then resumed the chieftainship till his death in 1036.

            He was followed in succession by Aed's son Donal an tOgdamh (the young ox) slain by Ardgar MacLoughlin, Donal's son Flaibeartach, slain likewise by the MacLoughlins, then his son Concobar na Fiodhbhuidhi (of the woods) killed likewise, his son Tadgh Glinne slain likewise. His son Muirchertach was 'undeservedly slain' in 1160 by Lochlann MacLoughlin after beating him in battle (Burke). The fortunes of the O’Neill branch did not revive until 1176. In the meantime they were local chiefs at Tullaghogue after 1068, the MacLoughlins being chiefs of the now deserted Aileach.

            In 1036 after the death of Flaibeartach an Trostain the chieftainship of Cenel Eogain passed to a collateral branch of the Ui Neill descended from Donal, the elder brother of Niall Glundub. (Some genealogists attach the MacLoughlins to this branch.) This family held the chieftainship of the Ui Neill until 1241 (or at least 1196 Burke’s Peerage,).  With the revival of the fortunes of the descendants of Niall Glundub under Aed Meth O'Neill in 1176, the dispute was continued until 1241 when the MacLoughlin claimants were all eliminated in a single battle.) If we accept that Ardgal MacLoughlin was of this branch These chiefs were Niall son of Mael Sechnaill 1036-61, and three grandsons of Mael Sechnaill, Donal 1067-8, Aed 1068-83, Donnchadh 1083, and possibly Ardgar MacLoughlin 1061-64. (This particular Mael Sechnaill of the Northern Ui Neill is known only to the genealogists. This minor branch was not called O’Neill, that name being reserved to the descendants of Niall Glundubh; Moody, Martin, Byrne p 128). These four nominal chiefs were constantly at war with the descendants of Flaibeartach an Trostain and the Cenel Eogain was seriously weakened until 1083. Donal MacLoughlin, the son of Ardgar then became chief, and the family held the chieftainship until at least 1176. Donal, as we have seen, allied himself with the Ulaid and Donal O’Mellaghlin and defeated Murtagh O’Brien in 1094 but the alliance did not last. MacLoughlin then concentrated on conquering Ulster.

            The great expansion of the O’Neills (of the Cenel Mhic Earca branch of the Cenel Eogain, Chap. 5 above) was marked in 1076 when Aed Ua Mael Sechlainn (1068-83) in conjunction with Clan Conor of Magh Ithe crushed the Cianacht of Glengiven at Belat east of the River Foyle (Mullin and Mullan). Clan Conor was expanding aggressively and they seem to have been the principal beneficiaries of the victory, because the region around Dungiven was to become the centre of the O’Cahans as Clan Connor became. No doubt however the overchiefs took their share. The trouble with entries in the Annals is that they do not indicate precisely the time when the land of a tuath was expropriated and divided among the victors. Much of the expansion of Clan Connor was at the expense of another family derived from Niall Naoigiallach, Clan Binny. Clan Binny themselves were pressing on the O’Neills at Tullaghogue. The Ui Tuirtre were being pushed across the Bann into Antrim, from which they were later to be dislodged by the O’Neills of Clandeboy. Cenel Moen was expanding southwards towards Lough Erne, and became known as the O’Gormleys.  Over the next few centuries the area between the Bann/Lough Neagh/Blackwater to the east, and the Foyle/Shrule valleys to the west became occupied by the descendants of the sons of Eogan. All lands west of the Foyle/Shrule gradually came under the descendants of Conall, and this included lands like Magh Ithe and Inishowen which originally belonged to the Cenel Eogain. This latter corresponds roughly to the present counties of Tyrone and Londonderry. By the end of the Middle Ages the O’Neills had extended their land as far as southern parts of Armagh, Orior becoming compressed. The original tuatha were not abolished, their chiefs simply becoming ur-ri (subordinate chief or urragh) sub-chiefs of the O’Neills or other war lords. Many probably exist to this day as baronies or even civil parishes. The lands of the Cenel Conaill correspond roughly to present day Donegal. Probably about nine tenths of the land was mountain, bog, forest, or waste. Many of the original inhabitants of the region before its conquest by the Cenel Eogain would have been still there as artisans or cultivators of the soil

            Further expansion out of this area proved difficult though it continued until the end of the Middle Ages. The Ulaid remained strong, while to the south the Oirgialla came under the domination of one powerful family of O’Carrolls (later McMahons) who formed the chiefdom of Oriel, and the Maguires formed another powerful chiefdom on Lough Erne. It is interesting to note that the diocesan boundaries drawn in the next century still award Magh Ithe and Inishowen to Derry, while not including the lands in east Tyrone around Tullaghogue and Dungannon which were clearly occupied at the time by the O’Neills and Cenel Eogain. Nowadays Clogher, the centre of Clogher diocese is now in Tyrone indicating that that part of Ulster was conquered by the O’Neills after the 12th century. It was captured by the Cenel Ferady (McCawells), but in the sixteenth century the O’Neills had lands there. Nevertheless according to the Annals of Ulster it was Donal MacLoughlin accompanied by Clan Conor of Magh Ithe who defeated the Fir Monach in the neighbourhood of Clogher in 1080. By the next century Clogher cathedral was in O’Carroll hands.

            It would seem too that throughout the Middle Ages that the O’Neills of the Cenel Mhic Earca after they lost their ancestral lands west of the Foyle never gained a compact territory of their own. Rather the leading sub-families of the O’Neills seized patches of fertile land, which would be called manors elsewhere to support themselves. So the O’Neills of Tullaghogue were in the middle of the lands of the Cenel Fergus, (O’Mellans, O’Hagans, and O’Quinns.)

            The troubles among the O’Neills were good news for the other military ruling families in Ulster. Cenel Conaill (O’Donnells after 1200) established themselves powerfully in Donegal. The Ulaid too under the O’Donlevys became similarly established in Antrim and Down. Nonetheless, by the end of the century, Donal MacLoughlin had conquered them both and had forced them to give tribute and hostages various times. But it was a precarious domination, for as usual, they were able to get assistance from other parts of Ireland. The Oirgialla too were now being consolidated into a powerful force in the south of the province. In 1075 Turlough O'Brien marched north to attack the Oirgialla and the Ulaid. This gradual concentration of power, meant that there were four chiefdoms in Ulster who controlled the entire province, Cenel Conaill, Cenel Eogain, Ulaid, and Oirgialla.  The small local tuatha had ceased to count.

            In Meath Clan Colmain was in decline, and this decline proved permanent. They were still strong, but increasingly had to rely on allies for assistance. There was no apparent reason why they should not have pulled themselves out of the decline. They could have revived at any time up to 1175. Conor O’Mellaghlin (1030 to 1073) heavily defeated Dermot mac Mael na mBo in 1072. (He was a grandson of Mael Sechlainn, his father Donal being abbot of Clonard. All future chiefs of Clan Colmain came from the O'Mellaghlin family. The Ui Briuin Breifne (O’Rourkes of Breifne) were beginning their drive into Meath and attacked conquered the Gailenga. Aed O’Rourke imposed Cennetig O’Brien on the tuath as its chief (O’Corrain 139). The chiefs of Brega and Lagore, the descendants of Sil nAedo Slaine, had ceased to count, and their lands were partitioned by outsiders, until granted by Henry II to Hugh de Lacy, who subinfeuded them to his supporters. There were still some unsubdued tuatha of the Luigne, Galenga, and Conmaicne, who were to attract the attention of the Ui Briuin Breifne who were stepping into the void left by the collapse of Clan Colmain.

            The Norse town of Dublin under the half-Danish half-Irish Sihtric Silkbeard (d.1042) had reached the peak of its power, and thereafter declined. Under him it had become Christian. Nevertheless, it grew in importance. It claimed to be a bishopric and the first Christ Church cathedral was built by Sihtric. He apparently also made a pilgrimage to Rome, as such pilgrimages were coming into fashion even in Ireland. The first bishop was Dunan, apparently an Irishman, or Donatus who died in 1074 having apparently become bishop around 1028, and was consecrated in England while Canute was king. (A note on the diocese of Dublin in Moody, Martin, Byrne p. 311) considers it the first of the modern dioceses in the Irish Church.) A church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, by later called Christ Church was built in the centre of the little Norse town His three successors were apparently Benedictine monks. It was conquered by the Ui Chennselaig rulers of Leinster who treated it as their fief. The town was captured by Dermot mac Mael na mBo in 1052 and his family claimed to be over-chiefs of Dublin until the arrival of the Normans, though the O’Briens tried on occasion to snatch the chieftaincy. The O’Connors of Connaught also tried once. The Hiberno-Norse chiefs never gave up their own claims. A Norse chief was in place in 1162 when Dermot MacMurrough seized it back, and became the last chief of Dublin. Dublin had become an important prize but more perhaps for its fleet than its trade. It began to mint coins, the first in Ireland

            The twelfth-century Books of Rights considered that there were then only seven independent rulers (ruiri) in Leinster. Of these, only the Ui Dunlainge and the Ui Chennselaig were in a position to contend for the status of ri ruirech or provincial chief. The century for Leinster began badly for Brian Boru finally smashed through its defences and reduced it to the status of a tributary. Their respite on the death of Brian was short-lived, for the chief of Ossory immediately tried to establish his overlordship. Donough O’Brien successfully renewed his claim for tribute in 1026, but because of troubles at home was unable to exact it often. In 1037, Donnchad Mac Gilla Patraic, the chief of Ossory with the assistance of the Eoganacht of Cashel assumed the chieftaincy of Leinster, and carried on the ancient war against Brega in Meath. He died in 1039 and the chieftainship reverted to the Ui Dunlainge in the person of Murchad mac Dunlainge. Donnchad's son Gilla Patraic who at first shared the chieftaincy with his uncle Muirchertach mac Gilla Patraic, supported the obscure chief of the Ui Chennselaig whose family had not held the chieftaincy since 605. The Eoganacht again supported him. The obscure chief was called Dermot (Diarmait) mac Mael na mBo, son of Donnchad Mael na mBo. The chieftaincy remained in the family and Dermot's most famous successor was Dermot MacMurrough a century later. Donough O’Brien, in order to oppose the Eoganacht influence, tried unsuccessfully to support the Ui Dunlainge and earned Dermot's undying hostility. O’Brien then became immersed in his troubles at home, and Dermot proved to be one of the most successful warriors of his time. He assumed the chieftaincy of Leinster, and also of Dublin. From 1058 until his death in 1072 he was the most powerful chief in the south of Ireland. Not only did he rule Leinster but also Dublinshire, and its dependency the Isle of Man. In 1051, Harold Godwinson, later killed at Hastings took refuge with Dermot. When he was killed unexpectedly in 1072 the now successful Turlough O’Brien quickly moved in to take booty and hostages, taking advantage of a family dispute among the Ui Chennselaig. The fortunes of Leinster did not revive until the following century. Ossory reached the pinnacle of its power in this century. Up to this date it had occupied a defensible region among the woods, mountains and bogs between Munster and Leinster. Now, when conditions were favourable to them they tried to conquer Leinster, but with only fleeting success. They retired to their fastnesses and remained secure until the end of the Middle Ages.

            In Munster the O’Briens were dominant but never secured over-all control for long. Though they had routed their old adversaries the Eoganacht of Cashel, the latter were not easily dislodged and were always ready to make trouble. They were now re-building their power around Killarney that had been formerly under the Eoganacht of Loca Lein. They were no match for the O’Briens in this century when the O’Briens were able to bring their full power against them, but by the next century they were again their equals. Though several mesne chiefs remained only the O’Briens and MacCarthys were in a position to contend for the position of provincial chief. As in the other provinces the position of overchief was elective, and the office was separate from that of the chief who held it. So if an overchief of Cashel, a MacCarthy, was not elected provincial chief he still remained overchief of his own family. Similarly with the O’Briens. Provincial chiefs from the other provinces backed one side or the other as it suited them. It was the dispute between the two families that finally admitted the Normans. Munster was the permanent underachiever, though Brian Boru had forced his family up into the front rank. The Norse of Limerick were firmly under O’Brien control and it became their capital, but the Norse of Cork still remained independent, though subject to whoever was overlord of Munster. The Ui Fidgente of Limerick had broken up into rival factions and were no longer a power. In Kerry the Ciaraige remained independent, subject to the overlord of Cashel. The O’Driscolls in the diocese of Ross were in a similar position.

            In Connaught the O’Connor family was coming to the fore. Cathal O’Connor of the Sil Muiredaig branch of the Ui Briuin Ai who died in 1010 became overchief of Connaught in 980. He was the son of Conchobar (Connor) from whom the medieval family took its name. He is chiefly famous for building a bridge or ford over the Shannon. But this was in itself symbolic of the growing development of Ireland. Though at war with Brian Boru on more than one occasion he was no match for him and gave hostages, and was also forced to march with Munster. Connaught then descended into internecine combat between the three branches of the Ui Briuin, the O’Flahertys (Ui Briuin Seola), the O’Rourkes (Ui Briuin Breifne), and the O’Connors (Ui Briuin Ai). These were the only families in contention for the provincial chiefship. The Ui Fiachrach were no longer contenders. The struggle was mainly between the O’Connors and O’Rourkes. The chieftainship passed from one family to the other on various occasions.

                 Aed O’Connor blinded an O’Flaherty chief in 1051 to eliminate him from the struggle. Aed was able to attack the O’Briens and sack their rath at Kincora when they were in difficulties with Dermot mac Mael na mBo in 1061. In 1063 Ardgar mac Lochlainn of the Cenel Eogain invaded Connaught and exacted the submission of Aed. The Ui Briuin were not all-powerful. The Ui Maine (O’Kelly) were still strong and also the Conmaicne. Connaught had been more than any other province a patchwork of tiny tuatha tucked away on fertile patches among the mountains and bogs. Though the region was able to support an immense population after the introduction of the potato from the high wet Andes, there was no such support at this time. Oats would have been the only grain crop, and the sheep and cattle would have to survive on the heathery moors and bogs. The tribute exacted from them would have been largely services in battle. Aed was slain by Art O’Rourke who became overchief in 1067. By this time the power of the O’Briens had revived and Turlough O’Brien restored their domination in Connaught. His son, Murtagh O’Brien, had also to enforce his authority in Connaught, and his opportunity came in 1092 when Flaibeartach O’Flaherty blinded Rory O’Connor. Murtagh expelled the Sil Muiredaig who took refuge among the Cenel Eogain and installed a puppet chief, granting to him the Sil Muiredaig lands. This, it should be noted was almost a century before the Angevin king, Henry II, was to do the same with conquered lands. [Top]

The Church

            This century saw the adoption of Christianity by the Norse settlers. This was in line with what was happening all over northern Europe. The Norse of Dublin did not feel that they were part of the Irish Church and were more inclined to submit to Canterbury.

            Another phenomenon was the development of pilgrimages that were to be one of the great factors in medieval Europe. Rome, where the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul were supposed to be found, and Compostella in Spain where the tomb of the apostle Saint James was supposed to lie, were the great centres. It is difficult to estimate how many actually made these pilgrimages for nobody kept records. Only when a very important person went on pilgrimage was it noted in the annals. Among these were Flaibeartach an Trostain (of the pilgrim's staff) of the O’Neill family and Sihtric Silkbeard the Norse chief of Dublin.

            The first stirrings of the wave of reform that was spreading over western Europe reached Ireland and Pope Gregory VII wrote to Turlough O’Brien asking him to take up the matter. Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury also urged reform. Among the abuses cited was that bishops were consecrated who had no proper diocese, simony or the paying with money for ecclesiastical offices, and abuses in marriage (Corish 31). The rooting out of simony and the establishment of clerical celibacy were the two great targets of the reformers. But there is no need to suppose that Ireland was worse than the rest of Europe in these respects.

            An important ecclesiastical figure in the century was Conn na mBocht Conn of the poor (d.1059), who seems to have been a lay abbot of Clonmacnoise and also a Culdee. It seems that care of the sick was undertaken by the Culdees before this on an individual basis. It would appear that he established a refuge for poor people and a hospital for the sick at Clonmacnoise, this latter being the first in Ireland. The endowment of land for the poorhouse and hospital apparently consisted of a grant of land from the chief of Clan Colmain. The chiefs of Clann Colmain retain the right to be fed when they, with their followers, visited the hospital, It was however considered a breach of the gift when in 1072, Murchad O’Mellaghlin, son of Conor O’Mellaghlin, came with his followers to the poorhouse and forcibly took food. (Murchad became chief the following year but was soon deposed. Clann Colmain later sold the land to the monastery, an interesting example of how ideas on the ownership of land was changing. Conn had five sons some of whom succeeded him as abbot. Clonmacnoise itself seems to have been reasonably flourishing, and the cathedral was restored towards the end of the century.

            Another important figure was Flann Mainistreach of Monasterboice (d.1056) who was noted as an historian and man of learning. Though connected with the monastery it is not clear in what sense he was a monk. He had two sons one of who became the erenagh of the monastery. He wrote chiefly on the activities of the Ui Neill. It would appear that this monastery too was reasonably flourishing, though that does not mean that there were any strict monks in it.

Donat O’Haingli was recommended to Turlough O’Brien by Lanfranc as bishop of Dublin, was consecrated in Canterbury and promised obedience to Lanfranc. The first Irish bishop to seek consecration by the archbishop of Canterbury was Donat's predecessor Patrick in 1073. The object of this seems to have been to place Dublin under Canterbury and benefit from the reforms Lanfranc was introducing. The people of Dublin no doubt felt more akin to the Vikings on the opposite British shore. A more obvious place to seek consecration would have been from the Viking archdiocese of York with which the rulers of Dublin had such close connections, but Lanfranc at this stage had enforced the subjection of York to Canterbury. The initiative may have come from Turlough O’Brien who would have no particular reason to support the claims of Armagh, still less of Cashel. Donat O’Haingli died in 1095 during a great plague that was said by the Four Masters to have killed a quarter of the people of Ireland

            The most significant bishop was however Samuel O’Haingli He was a nephew of Dunan or Donat O’Haingli, He was from Roscommon, but became a Benedictine monk in Saint Albans outside London. Anselm seems to have recommended him to Murtagh O’Brien who had him elected bishop of Dublin in 1096. He was one of the first reforming bishops in Ireland, but most of his work belongs to the next century. Another Benedictine bishop consecrated by an archbishop of Canterbury was Malchus (Mael Isu O’hAinmire), bishop of Waterford, also consecrated by Anselm in 1096. He had been a monk of Winchester. Murtagh O’Brien also chose a reforming cleric of Meath to be bishop of Killaloe, O’Brien’s own diocese.

            On the whole churchmen were not very prominent in this century.   


            Metalwork, though not much of it survived was still of a high quality. There was a strong Viking influence that doubtless came through Dublin. The chief masterpieces of this style belong to the next century. The shrine enclosing St Patrick's Bell may be as early as 1095.

            Though the Dark Ages may be said to have ended elsewhere in Europe around the year 1000 it is almost another century before we see signs of revival in Ireland. The eleventh century was not distinguished by achievements in any of the arts.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.