by Garry Bryant/Garaidh Ó Briain
Throughout the Emerald Isle, the land is speckled with sites where the inauguration of Irish chiefs and kings took place.
First off one needs to understand that inauguration places and assembly places are separate events.
In early medieval Ireland royal assembly took different forms:
(a) assembly for royal inauguration ceremony,
(b) an óenach or tribal assembly presided over by a king,
(c) a rígdál or conference of kings in which relations between peoples were discussed. The rígdál and óenach as understood and practiced in early medieval Ireland became obsolete with the decline of kingship and the development of lordship in Ireland.
In late medieval Ireland types of assemblies of ruling dynasties included:
(a) gathering for inauguration of a new lord or chief,
(b) oireachtas or parliament,
(c) to parley or negotiate,
(d) mustering for battle or raiding.
It would seem attested inauguration-sites had multiple functions as seen at County Clare's Magh Adhair. Its first notice as the tribal gathering place or óenach of the Dál gCais in the tenth century [Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland, c.1100–1600: a cultural landscape study. (Woodbridge:The Boydell Press, 2004) Pp. 57–8], but it is unambiguously recorded as the inauguration place of the Uí Briain descendants of the Dál gCais from at least as early as the thirteenth century. [Fitzpatrick, p. 59.] To conclude this argument then, it may be said that an inauguration site is a place of assembly and that the evidence for some inauguration sites suggests that they served at least one additional assembly function either consecutively or simultaneously.
Two sites that were especially used from very ancient times for inauguration purposes are Emain Macha (aka Navan), which is located in Ulster, and the other was at Tara, located in County Meath. Tara was the home where the king of Ireland was proclaimed and lived at for over 600 years. Here the would-be king stood on the “Lia Fáil” stone (aka the "Stone of Destiny"), of which tradition states roared when the true king of Ireland stood upon it. (The Lia Fáil Stone was originally located on the side of the mound called “Duma n Gall,” within the enclosure of “Rath n Righ,” but removed after 1898 to the center of the ancient earth work called “Forradh” to mark the grave of the 37 Croppies.) [Lord Walter Fitzgerald, “The Ancient Territories Out Of Which The Present County Kildare Was Formed, And Their Septs,” Journal of the County Kildare Archæological Society, Volume I, #3 (1893) Pp. 162-163. (FHL-BRITISH 941.85 H25j)]
Tradition also tells that this coronation stone known as Lia Fáil was brought to Ireland around 586 B.C. by a man known as “The Prophet,” [aka Irabanel, Ollam Fodla] (some traditions state that “The Prophet” was the infamous Hebrew prophet Jeremiah who brought with him a young girl named Tamar Tafie, from whom Tara was named after) by the annalists, and is supposed to be the rock that served as 'Jacobs Pillow' (aka 'Jacobs Pillar'), on which one night Jacob dreamed of a ladder that ascended to heaven on which angels were descending and ascending on (BIBLE, Genesis 28: 11-28). [http://jahtruth.net/jere.htm]
However this is a debatable issue if the story is true or myth among academics and historians.
Lia Fáil stone
Another tradition states that from this same stone was broken off the "Blarney Stone," said to give the gift of speech to one who kisses it. The other stone to be broken off it is the “Stone of Scone,” which was brought to Scotland from Ireland in the 6th century, which would serve as the inauguration stone for the future kings of Scotland. The first king of Dalriada to be inaugurated on the 'Stone of Destiny' was Aedán mac Gabráin in 574 by St. Columcille of the Isle of Iona. King Aedán ruled from 574 to 608 A.D..
[Adomnán, Richard Sharpe, ed., Life of St Columba. (London: Penguin, 1995 ; Dauvit Broun, "Aedán mac Gabráin", in Michael Lynch, The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) ; Francis John Byrne, Irish Kings and High-Kings. (London: Batsford, 1973.]
The stone, weighed 336 pounds (152 kg), is a rectangular block of pale yellow sandstone measuring 26 inches (66 cm) by 16 inches (41 cm) by 11 inches (28 cm). A Latin cross is its only decoration.
The "Stone of Scone" was captured by the English king Edward I in 1296, and taken to Westminster Abbey and placed under the "Coronation Chair" for the future kings and queens of England. This stone was returned to Scotland in the late 1990s by British Prime Minister John Majors (or was the real stone ever taken by England since the Scots throughout history never demanded for its return?).
An ancient prophecy: that into whatsoever land the Lia Fail was brought, there a prince of the Scotic or Irish race should reign. This prophecy is given by the Scottish writer, Hector Boece, in a Latin couplet:--
Ni fallat fatum, Scoti quoteunque locatum
Invenient lapidem regnare tenenter ibidem;
The sense of which is conveyed well enough in the following translation:--
If fate tells truth, where'er this stone is found,
A prince of Scotic race shall there be crowned.
[From The Wonders of Ireland by P. W. Joyce, 1911]
In the late 6th century Scotia Minor (emerging Scotland) asked Tara's king for the inauguration stone for their first king to be crowned on in 572 AD. The stone was never returned. The stone that stands on the mound at the Hill of Tara is stated to be the Lia Fáil stone, but it is actually an ancient phallic stone symbol placed there in the late 19th century dug up from nearby. Imagine this stone being carted from the Holy Land. Much too big to be used as a pillow.
Several books have been written on the subject of inauguration-sites and ceremonies of the ancient Irish. One book was recently written by Dr. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, PhD, in 2004 titled Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland, c.1100–1600: a cultural landscape study. The entire paraphernalia of king- making, were chosen to reinforce the legitimacy and credibility of the candidate wrote Fitrzpatrick. In the medieval Gaelic world, both Ireland and Scotland, the concern to express royal status was expressed in many texts, especially ætiologies, genealogies and king-lists, composed or modified in the interests of the ruling elites to bolster their legitimacy. Fitzpatrick argues that the common regalia of throne and crown were not adopted by Irish kings and chiefs, and indeed they are largely absent from the limited number of medieval visual portrayals of kingship which survive. Jackson is keen to stress that the apparent simplicity of imagery and ritual was not a sign of archaism, and that inauguration-practice did move with the times, even if it was different of European practice. Yet Michael Enright has argued and indeed suggested the origins of European royal anointing lie in Ireland, an idea which has not been popular with historians. [M. J. Enright, Iona, Tara and Soissons: the Origin of the Royal Anointing Ritual. (Berlin, 1985). (New York, 1985).]
Hills & mounds
Inauguration-sites do tend to share certain features, principally some degree of elevation, but with convenient access (generally they are not of very great elevations), and commanding views of the landscape around, especially of prominent features with their own historical/mythological associations such as Tara in County Meath, Cnoc Buadha located in Leinster, and no better example can be found then that of Cashel in County Tipperary. But the actual nature of the sites which have been definitely located on the ground varies considerably: some were artificial mounds (which could be re-used prehistoric monuments), some rocky knolls, others natural terraces. There is no one set of features definitely diagnostic of assembly-functions. Fitzpatrick concludes that the mound (enclosed or not) was the most common type. The chiefs of the Ó Dowd where held at Carn inghine Bhriain on a cairn-mound of an ancestral chief.
Fitzpatrick's broader argument is that Irish kings were interested in ancient monuments in what she terms 'ceremonial' landscapes because by possessing them royal dynasties gained the aura of antiquity which we know from other sources (principally genealogies) to have been a requisite of royal status. [Fitzpatrick, p. 52]
County Clare's site called Magh Adhair (Moy Eor), inauguration-site of the Dál gCais and Uí Briain, and Carn Fraoich (Co. Roscommon), inauguration-site of Síol Muireadhaigh and Uí Chonchobhair. In both cases landscapes with existing historical or mythological/heroic associations were appropriated by Irish royal dynasties. The argument is convincing, though the suggested dates in each case must be considered conjectural; though the rise in political fortunes of Dál gCais provides a good context for the production of their genealogy and the adoption of Magh Adhair.
At some of the inauguration sites are standing stones and stone chairs. 'The O'Neill of Clannaboy' used a stone chair which is on display today at the Belfast Museum. There was also the practice of the 'rite of the single shoe' which is definitely attested in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries among the Uí Chonchobhair and Méig Uidhir. The importance of inauguration leaca (stone) is incontestable such as the Stone of Destiny and Tara. [Fitzpatrick, chapters 3 & 4.]
A sacred tree, usually an oak tree (bilé) or trees were on top of the hill/mound, under which ceremonies took place. These sites were very sacred to the local Irish tribes. A great insult could be given by one tribe descending down upon another tribe’s sacred site and destroy it, often by cutting down the sacred tree. This is mentioned twice in the ancient annals concerning Moy Eor (Magh Adhair), the inauguration site of the Dál gCais in County Clare.
The greatest level of ecclesiastical influence on inauguration practice is to be found first during the twelfth century, when the Gregorian reform movement arrived in Ireland, sponsored initially by the Uí Bhriain kings of Munster. [Fitzpatrick, p. 178.]
Transfer of inauguration to church sites occurred in 1258 at Raphoe Cathedral, inauguration venue of the ruling Ó Domhnaill [O'Donnell] king. Carraig an Dúin as the traditional inauguration-site, no further records of Ó Domhnaill inaugurations for over two centuries and when they reappear in 1461 the venue is another church.
An important vassal lord, or an ollamh (chief poet) held the office of inaugurating the king, rather than a churchman. Fitzpatrick subscribes to Francis John Byrne's view that ecclesiastical influence on Irish kingship amounted to "little more than enamelling"' as Byrne puts it, at least in terms of inauguration ceremonies. [F. J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High-kings. (2nd edn, Dublin: 2001) P. 255.]
The Árd-R í
Anciently the term Árd-Rí does not appear in the Brehon Laws, which only mention three grades of kingship: [Kyle J. Betit, “Irish Medieval Lineages,” Irish Roots, 1994, #4. P. 17.]
• tribal kingdom or tuath
• larger territory and overlord of the tuath
• king of a province
It was the provincial kings that held the power in Ireland. These provinces were:i
In truth the high-kingship of Ireland didn’t become an actual title for 500 hundred years. Although the title is referred to as early as the late 4th century with Niall na naoi ngiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), it wasn’t until Brian Boru (1002-1014 A.D.) that the high-kingship became a reality. The position switched from the O’Connors of Connacht, and the O’Neills of Ulster. Later the O’Neill clan of the north alternated the high-kingship with the O’Neill clan of the south, for over 600 hundred years. Brian Boru is the only Ard-Ri to have undisputed authority over the whole island, not to mention that he was the first high-king who wasn’t of the O’Connor and O’Neill clans. The only exception to this was Ulaid located in northeast Ireland, who didn’t challenge Brian on his circuit ride of the island, but they didn’t recognize him either. Had Brian had their support he would have been the only high-king to have no opposition, but Brian came the closest as king of all Ireland.
To nominate a canidate to become chief/king the account is recorded in the work by P.W. Joyce in his book titled A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. Joyce states that a freeman of the rank of aire [arra] or chief had a vote, and gathered at the chief brewer's abode; if for a king the chiefs of clans of the area assembled at the palace, each with his full retinue: and there they remained in council for three days and three nights, at the end of which time the successful candidate was declared elected. [P.W. Joyce, A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. (1906), http://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/Contents.php]
Of the mode of inaugurating the pagan kings we know hardly anything, further than this, that the "kings of Ireland" [High-King] had to stand on an inauguration stone at Tara called Lia Fáil, which "uttered a roar," as was believed, when a king of the old Milesian race stood on it, writes Joyce. But full information of the ceremonies used in Christian times are better recorded. The mode of inaugurating was much the same in its general features all over the country, and was strongly marked by a religious character. But there were differences in detail; for some tribes had traditional customs not practiced by others. There was a definite formula, every portion of which should be scrupulously carried out in order to render the ceremony legal. Some of the observances that have come within the scope of history, as described below, descended from pagan times. Each tribe, or aggregation of tribes, had a special place of inauguration, which was held in much respect--invested indeed with a half sacred character. It was on the top of a hill, or on an ancestral carn (the sepulchre of the founder of the race), or on a large lis or fort, and sometimes under a venerable tree, called in Irish a bilé. Each tribe used an inauguration stone--a custom common also among the Celts of Scotland. Some of the inauguration stones had the impression of two feet, popularly believed to be the exact size of the feet of the first chief of the tribe who took possession of the territory. Sometimes there was a stone chair, on which the king sat during part of the ceremony. On the day of the inauguration the sub-chiefs of the territory, and all the great officers of state, with the brehons, poets, and seannachies [historians], were present, as also the bishops, abbots, and other leading ecclesiastics.
The main parts of the inauguration ceremony were performed by one or more sub-chiefs: this office was highly honorable, and was hereditary. The inaugurator had a tract of land and a residence free, which remained in the family. [Joyce]
The hereditary seannachie of the tribe read for the elected chief the laws that were to regulate his conduct; after which the chief swore to observe them, to maintain the ancient customs of the tribe, and to rule his people with strict justice. Then, while he stood on the stone, an officer---whose special duty it was--handed him a straight white wand, a symbol of authority, and also an emblem of what his conduct and judicial decisions should be--straight and without stain. Having put aside his sword and other weapons, and holding the rod in his hand, he turned thrice round from left to right, and thrice from right to left, in honor of the Holy Trinity, and to view his territory in every direction. Then one of the sub-chiefs appointed for this purpose pronounced in a loud voice his surname--the surname only as "Briain," without the Christian name--which was afterwards pronounced aloud by each of the clergy, one after another, according to dignity, and then by the sub-chiefs. He was then the lawful chief/king. [Joyce]
After the official acknowledgment each of the sub-chiefs, and those of clan/tribal offices before the new chief/king and placed their folded hands between the chief/king's hands and swore fealty.
Taniste Not only was a new chief/king chosen, but his replacement in the Gaelic system was called " tánaiste," or anglicized as tanistery. The Gaelic system was very different from the Anglo-Norman primogeniture or hereditary descent. A candidate to be chosen as chief came from what is called
the “deirbhfhine/derbfine,” which was four male generations in descent from a common ancestor. Anyone with in this derbfine was illegible. Only the most qualified was to be elected, and the chief chose who his successor would be, or taniste, Gaelic for “second,” i.e. second in authority, from the derbfine. The hope would be that on the chief’s death the taniste took over in an easy change in power. In reality this rarely happened.
Decline in inaugerations
After the invasion of the Normans in 1169, the high-kingship of Ireland came to an end with Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair (Rory O’Connor) who died in 1189. At this same time English king Henry II called himself “Lord of Ireland,” and many of the Irish kings went along in accepting this title, for to them it meant nothing, just as Ard-Ri was really of no consequence, they just continued their rule as before. [Edward MacLysaght, Irish Families: Their Names, Arms and Origins. (New York: Crown Publishers, 1972) P.18.] For the next 200 years the use of many of these inauguration sites declined. Yet the inauguration sites went on the rise in use in the later 14th century as more and more Anglo-Normans became assimilated by the Irish, often becoming more Irish then the Irish. The last bastion of English power and influence was to be found in the English Pale where Dublin was located almost in the middle of the Pale. When the “Black Death” (plague) raised its head in Ireland from 1348-50 it killed 40% of the urbanized English settlers, but the rural Irish experienced far less death.
The English crown tried for centuries to keep control of power over the Irish. The English crown passed the “Statues of Kilkenny” in 1366, which outlawed anything of Irish culture. The English were banned from intermarriage with the Gaels, or keep Irish minstrels and play Irish sports. Above all the English were never to speak Gaelic or wear Irish style clothing. By the 15th century the English crown changed their strategy and began issuing large land patents to great families such as the Fitzgeralds and Butlers. These magnates enjoyed self-government at the king’s command, and in the Irish parliament of 1460, which was dominated by the English families.
Inauguration site of the O'Neills was listed on the 1602 map of Ulster by Richard Bartlett.
By early 17th century the inauguration sites were abandoned due to the changes in politics of England with Ireland.
The end of the Gaelic order in the Tudor and Jacobean periods was the important break in use and awareness of the location of inauguration-sites. the Tudor administration attempted to ban the practice of open-air assembly early on.
Surrender & re-grant
The final blow to the Gaelic culture came with English king Henry VIII in 1543, and the English crown’s new strategy of “Surrender and re-grant.” King Henry VIII didn’t want to be called 'Lord of Ireland,' he was the king of England and Wales, and wanted to be king of Ireland too. This new strategy had the same stipulations as the "Statue of Kilkenny" with two other clauses; change one’s surname to whatever the English crown decided upon, and the second condition was convert to Protestantism. The first of the Gaelic/Irish chiefs or kings, was Murrough Ua Briain, the King of Thomond. With a sword at the throat of “Silken” Thomas Fitzgerald, husband to the Ua Briain’s sister (of whom he was quite fond of), Murrough accepted the offer of surrendering his title of King of Thomond to King Henry VIII, and the clan lands of the Uí Briain was re-granted back along with a new English title as Earl of Thomond to Murrough O’Brien for life, and Baron Inchiquin to his descendants.
What the English did not understand was that the clan lands did not belong to the chief, but to the members of the clan. It was the duty of the chief/king to distribute the lands among the members of the clan. Sadly Murrough Ua Briain was the first to hand over his “captaincy (kingship) and principality,” [MacLysaght, p. 18.] but like dominoes the other Irish chiefs/kings folded with the same results among their clan members. Outrage! The result was inter-clan turmoil for decades.
Chief of the Name
The Gaelic past with its own titles made way for the forming of the English Peerage in Ireland, or Irish Peerage, which was split between those created by King William of Orange (and his descendants) in 1689, and King James II (and his descendants). For 500 years this would continue until the establishment of the Irish Republic which did away with all titles except the ancient Gaelic title of “Chief of the Name.” Basically this title recognized the bearer as the senior most member of the said surname. The problem with this title or designation is that the method of primogeniture was the only means to determine who the Chief of the Name should be. A total of seventeen “Chiefs of Name” have been recognized, and of those three have been discredited having fraudulent records.
Use of the prefix “The” is of modern creation and not an ancient one. The Right Hon. Charles Owen O’Conor Don who wrote, The O’Conors of Connaught never liked it and did not care to use it. He stated: “This title (i.e. O’Conor Don) was borne by the head of one branch of the O’Conors since the close of the fourteenth century, and up to a late period, without any prefix. The use of the definite article “The” as a prefix is therefore incorrect, and of modern introduction. It does not date back earlier than the present century.” [ Rev. Patrick K. O’Horan, “The Ancient Gaelic Titles,” The Irish Genealogist, Vol. 1, #2, October 1937. P. 41.] ["Irish Chiefs," http://homepage.eircom.net/~seanjmurphy/dir/chiefs.htm, accessed 27 Apr 2015.]
This rightful address to a chief of a clan is confirmed by author P.W, Joyce. who wrote " when spoken to, he (the chief) was addressed "O'Neill"--"MacCarthy Mór"--"O'Conor," &c.; and when spoken of in English, he was designated "The O'Neill," &c., a custom existing to this day, as we see in "The O'Conor Don," "The Mac Dermot," and in Scotland "The MacCallum Mór."
Use of the apostrophe after the Gaelic “O” is also of late invention and not Gaelic at all, but an English invention. [O'Horan, p. 43.] In Gaelic times the correct spelling was Ua (or Hy, I), not the letter O. The prefix of Ua meant one individual of that name, and Uí meant all of that name. Today the old Ua and Uí is replaced with Ó. Loosely translated the O means “descendant of.” The prefix of Mac (Mc or M’) is Gaelic for “son of.”[ Fitzgerald, Journal of the County Kildare Archæological Society, Volume I, #3 (1893), p. 160. (FHL-BRITISH 941.85 H25j).]
Little list Article in Irish Roots in 1993, titled “Gaelic Chiefship and the Irish Republic: I’ve got a little list . . .”, states that the newly created Chief Herald of Ireland, Edward MacLysaght, created a list called, “Clar na dTaoiseach,” which listed the 13 Gaelic Chiefs still extant in Ireland in 1943. What is sad in this that there really were dozens of chiefly titles still existent that were not included in the list, and one, MacDermot Roe, in abeyance since 1917, was on the list. Why weren’t the many other vacant chief-ships listed too? The author went on to write, “MacLysaght’s ‘little list’ caused more damage to Gaelic chief-ship than Oliver Cromwell!” The biggest problem with MacLysaght’s list is that it was considered to be accurate, and that if a chief-ship didn’t appear on the list it must be bogus, resulting in many chiefs ceasing to use their legal titles of over a thousand years. Once the little list was created, it was not updated for over 40 years until the establishment of the 'Clans of Ireland, Ltd.,' and a new Chief Herald decided to update the list adding more chiefs for the clan movement to gather clansmen for tourism. [ Eóghan McNarey, MA, “Gaelic Chiefship and the Irish Republic: I’ve got a little list . . .”, Irish Roots, 1993, #4. P. 14.] Unfortunately this opened the door for fraudulent claims to chief-ships.
During the mid 1990s, an investigation was privately done into the pedigree of 'The MacCarthy Mór.' This investigation found that fraudulent papers had been used to determine the 'Chief of Name.' Around the turn of the 21st century the Irish government decided that when the current 'Chiefs of Name' pass away, the Irish government would no longer issue courtesy recognition of the ancient Gaelic titles.
A total of fifteen "Chiefs of Name" were recognized by the Chief Herald of Ireland by 1945. During the years 1989-95 seven more chiefs were listed, but several were found to be bogus.
What MacLysaght’s list did was discourage valid claims and abandoning of legitimate titles. The result was the preventing of any development of a clan spirit in Ireland. This spirit was championed by the 'Board Fáilte' of the Irish government and the private institution 'Clans of Ireland Ltd.,' but both are trying to improve tourism to and in Ireland. Both support the creation of honorary chiefs and clans. What they are concerned with is the accumulating of funds, not preserving or resurrection of a Gaelic Ireland.
Current Irish Chiefs
1 Mac Dermott, Prince of Coolavin, registered 1944, current holder Nial McDermot of Kildare.
2 Mac Gillycuddy of the Reeks, registered 1944, current holder Richard McGillycuddy of Paris.
3 O Callaghan, registered 1944, current holder Juan O'Callaghan of Barcelona.
4 O Conor Don, registered 1944, current holder Desmond O'Conor of Sussex.
5 O Donoghue of the Glen or Glens, registered 1944, current holder Geoffrey O'Donoghue of Offaly.
6 O Donovan, registered 1944, current holder Morgan G D O'Donovan of Cork.
7 O Morchoe, registered 1944, current holder David N C O'Morchoe of Wexford.
8 O Neill of Clannaboy, registered 1944, current holder Hugo O'Neill of Portugal.
9 The Fox, registered 1944, current holder John W Fox of Australia.
10 O Toole of Fer Tire, registered 1944, currently dormant.
11 O Grady of Kilballyowen, registered 1944, Henry Thomas Standish O'Grady of Paris.
12 O Kelly of Gallagh and Tycooly, registered 1944, current holder Walter L O'Kelly of Dublin.
13 O Brien of Thomond, registered 1945, current holder Conor O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin, of Clare.
14 Mac Morrough Kavanagh, registered 1945, formerly declared to be dormant, current holder William Butler Kavanagh of Wales.
15 O Donnell of Tirconnell, registered 1945, current holder Fr Ambrose O'Donnell OFM of Africa.
16 Ó Dochartaigh of Inishowen, registered c1990, current holder Ramon O'Dogherty of Spain, documentation to validate right to title being sought.
17 O Long of Garranelongy, registered 1989, current holder Denis C Long of Cork, but pedigree shown to be defective.
18 Maguire of Fermanagh, registered 1990, current holder Terence J Maguire of Dublin, but pedigree shown to be defective, and a rival claimant has emerged.
19 Mac Carthy Mor, registered 1992, recognition withdrawn from Terence F MacCarthy of Morocco in July 1999, and case of claimant Barry Trant MacCarthy of Wiltshire under investigation.
20 O Carroll of Eile O Carroll, registered 1993, current holder Frederick J O'Carroll of California; documentation to validate right to title being sought.
21 Ó Ruairc of Breifne, registered 1993, current holder Geoffrey P C O'Rorke of London; documentation to validate right to title being sought.
22 Mac Donnell of the Glens, registered 1995, current holder Randal McDonnell of Dublin; documentation to validate right to title being sought.
["Irish Chiefs," http://homepage.eircom.net/~seanjmurphy/dir/chiefs.htm, accessed 27 Apr 2015.]
Magh Adhair : Dál gCais Inauguration site
by Garry Bryant/Garaidh Ó Briain
Legend mentions Adhar "the Firbolg" son of Huamor and brother of Aengus "the architect of Dun Aengus in Aran Island, whose tribe came into Ireland in the first century. Here Adhar is said to have been buried. [Book of Lecan; TJ Westropp's 1916 'Antiquities of Limerick and its neighbourhood.'] [Westropp, Thomas J. "Magh Adhair, Co. Clare. The Place of Inauguration of the Dalcassian Kings." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1889-1901, vol. 4,1896 - 1898 (1896): Pp. 55-60.]
The mound stands in a small plain, in a natural amphitheater, formed by a low crag called 'the Beetle's Crag' or Cragnakeeroge, beside the strangely named 'Hell Bridge' and 'Hell River', where not too far away is a singular standing stone about 6’ 4” tall, and some 3’ wide. There are traces of a semi-circular fence, between which and the mound lies a large block of conglomerate of dull purple, with red and pink pebbles of porphyry and quartz; two basins are ground in it. [Westropp]
To tamper with an inauguration or assembly site was a great insult, pure sacrilege. At least three such events are recorded to have happened at Magh Adhair. The first insult was committed by the High-King, Flann Sionna in 877, when he marched into Thomond 'to the green of Magh Adhair and played chess to insult the Dál gCais, at the very place of inauguration.' So offensive was this act that the surrounding inhabitants and the local chief Lorcain [grandfather of Brian Boru] were on him before he'd even finished his game. They were too polite to kill him though, and in a Celtic fashion just stole his best bard. ["Proceedings: Fourth Excursion: Magh Adhair." Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 10 (1900): P. 440. NOTE - According to Professor Duffy, the Flan Sunagh chessboard story is likely a later romantic invention with no basis in fact. (Duffy, Seán. "Beal Boru and Magh Adhair on Voices from the Dawn." Message to the author. 1 May 2014. E-mail.] Another insult to the Dál gCais especially directed at the new king of Munster Province, Brian Boru:
An inauguration ceremony taking place at Magh Adhair around 1200 was much like the kingship ceremony of Cathal Crovder O'Connor (d: 1224) which was documented: The cairn or mound had a palisade, with a gate, guarded by three chiefs; a fourth alone ascended the cairn with Cathal Craoibhdhearg and gave him the white rod, slat na rige, having been cut from the sacred tree. The other chiefs and the comharbs (stewards) stood below, holding the Prince's arms, clothes and horse. He faced the north, and on stepping down from the inauguration stone on the mound, turned round thrice (to view all that he ruled), as is still the custom in County Clare on seeing a new moon. He then descended from the mound and was helped to robe and remount. [Westropp.]
The work called the Caithreim Thoirdhealbhaigh or Wars of Torlogh (Thomond king Turlogh O’Brien), has the following references to Magh Adhair (Moy-Eyre):
A.D. 1311. His chiefs assembled around Dermot, the son of Donogh, who was son of Brian Roe O’Brien at Moy-Eyre to invest him with the chieftainship, and the tower-like hero was solemnly inaugurated. It was Loughlin, the son of Cumee, who first installed him and the states (tribes) unanimously consented. As the Bard of Dermot said on the occasion.
Let us give the title of King
(Which will be of much fame)
To the land which has chosen him
To the valorous griffin (i.e., warrior)
The son of the fair-formed Donogh
Of the sealed secrets
Generous heir of generous Blood (Blód)
The puissant Dermot of fortresses.
He is kind to the Church,
He is head over all,
The heart (centre) of the territories,
A tree under blossom.
Dermot of Dun Mor
The mild, lively, fierce,
Received the hostages
Through his wisdom and sword
His gracious smile and pomp (pride)
He exhibits with grace
And since he has commenced his career
His fame has spread afar
Momonia of Bards
Is his principality
Proclaim we him King
[from Caithreim Thoirdhealbhaigh / Triumphs of Turlough.]
Of his tribes with great joy. .D. 1311. Murtagh O’Brien, the son of Turlogh, was inaugurated at Magh-Adhair by Loughlin Mac Namara, in opposition to Dermot O’Brien.
Notices of the inaugurations are numerous in various annals from 1275 to 1311, and occur sporadically from 877 on wards. Other and less famous gatherings were at Creganenagh (‘Fair or Assembly Crag’ on the bare hill over Termon in the Burren, and at a field in Caherminaun near Kilfenora. The latter probably gave the name Ballykinvarga, (Baile-cinn-mharghaidh in 1380), i.e. ‘head of the market,’ to the adjacent townland, and may have been connected with the remarkable ring wall, girt with a wide abattis of pillar stones, not far distant. Some forgotten assembly is commemorated at Eanty (‘Fairs’ or ‘gatherings’) in the east of Burren.
A long succession of Kings of Thomond were inaugurated at Magh Adhair down to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and 'Iraghts' (gatherings or assemblies) of considerable local importance were held, down to 1838 just before the great famine, and were remembered even about 1890.
The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, ed. L. Bieler (Dublin, 1979), p. 162.
Appearing in Regions and Rulers in Ireland, 1100–1650: Essays for Kenneth Nicholls, ed. D. Edwards, (Dublin, 2004), pp. 201–216.
Assembly Places and Practices in Medieval Europe, ed. A. Pantos and S. Semple, pp. 44–72 (Dublin, 2004).
K. W. Nicholls, Gaelic and Gaelicized Ireland in the Middle Ages. (2nd edn, Dublin, 2003); K. Simms, From Kings to Warlords (Woodbridge, 2003).
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.