Kingship In Early Ireland

Kingship In Early Ireland

Doherty, Charles

The Kingship and Landscape of Tara, ed. Edel Bhreathnach, Four Courts Press, Dublin, (2005)


The earliest reference to the presence of kings in Ireland is in the geography of the known world compiled by Claudius Ptolemaeus c.AD 150 (generally referred to as Ptolemy’s Map). He derived his information from earlier works – particularly that of Marinus of Tyre (fl. AD 90–110) following the Roman conquest of the north of Britain. Earlier information on the southern areas had been gathered at the time of the Claudian invasion of Britain in AD 43. T.F. O’Rahilly provides the starting-point for analysing Ptolemy’s geography of Ireland. His identification of Irish placenames has recently been reassessed by Alan Mac an Bhaird and Gregory Toner. Of these names, seven identify ‘cities’ in the interior. Two are the Greek transliteration of the Latin regia ‘king’s court’, while it is likely that the recurring reconstruction Dunon ‘represents the proto-Irish for more or less the same thing’. Isamnion probably represents Emain Macha, Navan Fort, about one mile west of Armagh city, the site of the palace of the Ulster kings as recounted in the Ulster Cycle of tales. Interestingly, there is no mention of Tara in Ptolemy’s Map.

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