By Patrick C. Griffin
Master’s Thesis: Trinity College, Dublin (2002)
Introduction: After the battle of Clontarf, the former high-king, Maelsechnaill of Clann Cholmain, returned to power upon the death of Brian mac Cennétig. He held the kingship without major challenge while the descendants of Brian fought amongst themselves. Despite having few powerful enemies, he was relatively elderly, and died in 1022. With his death, the last of the kings of Ireland in the first millennium, A.D., died, and an era of great change began. The monopoly which the northern and southern Uí Néill branches had held on the high-kingship for centuries was no more, and the kings of each province began to vie for the power that came with that position.
It is the experience of the author that there is not only a shortage of recent works discussing the period of time covered in the present paper, but also an unfortunate lack of interest in this period of Irish history in larger, more general works. Since John Ryan and James Hogan produced detailed works on this period over a half-century ago, there have been few studies on the subject, which has unfortunately led to difficulty in obtaining information about the period just before the Norman invasion. Gaps in many of the important annals (Ulster, Inisfallen, Loch Cé, and occasionally in Mac Carthaig’s Book) can only have inhibited research on this period, as well. The present study, therefore, has two primary goals. The first, and arguably the foremost, is to shed light on the complex political and ecclesiastical situation in Ireland and, specifically, within the Cenél nEogain during the era of Mac Lochlainn power in the region. The second is to provide a basis for later, more detailed studies of the same kind on late pre-Norman Ireland in general.
It is certainly an exaggeration to suggest that no one has yet produced scholarly works on this period. On the contrary, several recent scholars, among them Dr. Donnchad Ó Corráin, Dr. Ailbhe Séamus Mac Shamhráin, Dr. Francis J. Byrne, and the author’s own mentor, Dr. Katharine Simms, as well as those mentioned before, have produced exceptional works covering various topics of the period. Unfortunately, however, it seems that late preNorman Ireland has not recently been treated as either a topic for a broad, general history. The present paper endeavours to remedy that oversight in a fashion that will not so much collate the works of others but will instead use primary sources (annalistic and otherwise) and a broad cross-section of secondary sources to synthesize a coherent history of the Mac Lochlainn dynasty.