History Series #1
The History of Osraighe: the Roots of County Kilkenny
Osraighe, later anglicized as Ossory
, was a kingdom in south-central Ireland which, in the 12th century, comprised most of modern County Kilkenny and part of western County Laois. In modern Co. Kilkenny the portion generally excluded from Ossory included the parishes of Grangesilvia, Kilmacahill, Powerstown, Shankill, and Ullard. In modern Co. Laois, the portion generally included in the kingdom of Ossory were the baronies of Clandonagh, Clarmallagh and Upper Woods in County Laois.
The area around Ossory were said to have been anciently occupied, according to some interpretations of Ptolemy's 2nd century map, by tribes referred to as the Brigantes, the Cauci and the Usdiae. The name Osraighe is said to originate from about this time according to the ancient genealogies. The Osraighe were claimed to be one of a group
of Munster people known as the Erainn. Some authors believe the Osraighe tribe(s) may have been pushed into the Kilkenny/Laois area by the rise of the Eoghanachta in Munster. They occupied an intermediate position between Mumu (Munster) and Laigin (Leinster) in the centuries between 500 and 800, and were essentially a buffer between these two great southern provinces.
Portions of Ossory were known by various names during its history. The portion between the Nore and Barrow was sometimes excluded from the kingdom of Ossory, and was anciently styled Hy Creoghain Gabhran. The southeastern part of
Ossory was sometimes referred to as Comor na tri uisge, "the district of the three waters." The territory of the Uí Duach comprised much of the north and the north-eastern sections of Ossory. The countries of Ely O'Carroll and Hy Carthin comprised some of the north-western portion of Ossory. The lands of the southeast were possibly the territories of the Uí Bairrche (Uí Bearchon, aka Ibercon), the Uí Dheaghaidh (O'Dea, aka Ida), and the Uí Crinn (Uí Grine, aka Igrin).
In ancient times the Kingdom of Ossory was divided under Brehon Laws into Magha, a term signifying "plains", of which seven are recorded in early documents, though not all of these are coterminous with the present county boundaries.
The names of these, now doubtful of interpretation and no longer in popular usage, included Magh Airgead Rois
, northwards from Kilkenny city; Magh Airbh
, continuing further north-westwards to the Laois border; Magh Chearbaill
, on a broad front from the Nore to the Barrow rivers, now comprising much of the barony of Gowran; Magh Ghabhar Laighean
, northwards from the Johnswell Hills into modern Co. Laois (Leix); Magh Lacha
(west of Kilkenny city to Callan?); Magh Feimhin
, west of Callan to Slievenaman (in modern Co. Tipperary); and Magh Roighne
, comprising most of Shillelogher Barony.
is also noted by A. P. Smyth in southwest County Laois. The historian Orpen describes the plain of Magh Airgead Ros
as the level district about the Noir river. Magh Cearbhall
was possibly named for the 9th century king, Cearbhall Mac Dunghall. The plain of Magh Mail
is cited to be co-extensive with the present barony of Shillelogher, the liberties of Kilkenny and the districts of Gowran, and possibly represented much of the fertile central plain of Ossory (in the heart of Co. Kilkenny?). The plain of Gabrán (Gowran) is noted in the eastern portion of modern Co. Kilkenny, east of Magh Mail
, and marking the pass between the kingdom of Osraighe and the province of Laigin (Leinster). Magh Sédna
may have been located in either northwest of modern Co.Kilkenny, or possibly in the south central portion.
With the beginnings of reliable Irish history about the sixth century A.D., Magh Agreadh Ros, according to Mac Firbisigh, was ruled over by a royal branch of people known as the Ui Bairrche, that is, the descendants of Bairrche. The Uí Bairrche, who have been shown to have been, like the Osraige, of Erainn origins, notwithstanding their later genealogies which attempted to make them Laigin (of Leinster origin), have been held to be the historical representatives of the Brigantes who were placed in the extreme southeast of Ireland by Ptolemy in his second century Geography
. By the outset of the historical period, the Ui Bairrche had already been reduced in status and driven from their homeland in southern County Wexford by the Uí Cheinnselaig (the southern Laigin) and had settled in southeastern County Laois among other places. A branch of them is said to have settled among the Osraige, and it is certainly correct to say that a branch of them ruled over Magh Argeadh Ros at the time of the arrival in Osraige in the latter half of the fifth century A.D. of the invading and usurping Corcu Laigde.
The "Kings of Osraige
" have a tradition which goes back to around the 2nd century. The ancient Kingdom of Osraige, whose first king was Aengus Osrithe, flourished in the second century of the Christian era. In the fifth century the neighbouring tribe of the Deisi (from modern Co. Waterford/Tipperary), aided by the Corca Laighde (from modern Co. Cork), conquered south Ossory, and for over a century, the Corca Laighde chiefs ruled in place of the dispossessed Ossory chiefs. Early in the seventh century the ancient chiefs recovered much of their lost possessions, the foreigners were overcome, and the descendants of Aengus ruled once more (e.g. the Dal mBirn).
What has been recorded about the very early history of Osraighe mainly occurs in short snippets from the ancient Irish Annals. Here are some examples from the 6th century onward:
About the year 571 the people of Osraighe were united with their neighbors to the northwest, the Eile, in a defeat at the battle of Tola, a battle which was apparently won by a chief of the Ulaid (northeast Ireland). Tola is the name of a plain situated between Cluain Fearta Molua (in the parish of Kyle in modern County Laois) and Saighir (Seir Kieran in modern Co. Offaly), in what was probably a key center for Osraighe at the time.
About 582 the lord of Osraighe, Fearadhach mac Duach, is noted to have been slain by his own people. As a sign of internal struggle among the ruling dynasties in various parts of ancient Ireland, the phenomena of being 'slain by his own people' is frequently recorded in the early annals. In the case of this entry, the annalists obviously saw Fearadhach as someone of importance. It would appear his son Colman would eventually reign in his place for his death notice is recorded in the annals about the year 601.
In the 7th century we see signs of a what was to become a long-standing rivalry between the Osraighe and their neighbors to the east, the men of Laigin (Leinster). At this time Osraighe is considered to a part of the province of Mumu (Munster), to the west, and in liege with them in many of the early recorded battles. About 658 the chief of Osraighe is noted to have been slain by the Leinstermen, and again about the year 690 another battle is cited in the annals between the Osraighi and the Leinstermen.
At the battle of Baelach Eile between the Munstermen and the Leinstermen in 730, among those slain 'of the Munstermen' include a chief of Osraighe, possibly Ceallach, son of Faelchair, whose death notice is also posted for that year.
About 737 the Osraighe are noted to have raided and devastated two territories to their north, Cinel Fiachach and Dealbhna [Ethra], located in the southern portion of Co. Meath and northern section of Co. Offaly. About 749 the Osraighe attacked a territory to their east known as Fotharta Fea, in the eastern portion of modern Co. Carlow. Both of these 'raids into nearby territories may have been initiated by Anmchaidh, son of Cú Cherca, who is noted as king of Osraighe about this time. We find him mentioned at the battle of Bealach Gabhrain (the pass of Gowran in east-central Osraighe) in 756 when the Osraighe and the men of Leinster were battling once more. It appears the Osraighe were the victors in this engagement under their king Anmchaid mac Cú Chercca, for it is noted that Donngal, son of Laidhgnen, lord of Ui Ceinsealaigh [south Leinster], was killed in the battle. Of the men of Leinster the Ui Ceinsealaigh are often noted in battle with the Osraighe.
After the death of Anmchaid, about the year 760, we find the Osraighe again battling among themselves, as mentioned in the annals for the years 764 and and again about 781.
About 823 the first mention of a Norse [Viking] raid into Osraighe is mentioned in the annals. This occurred on the river Barrow at St. Mullins [Tech Moling], just down the river from modern day Graiguenamanagh. The presence of the new 'foreigners' were to have a significant impact on the fortunes of the kings of Osraighe over the coming years. The first of these was the infamous Cearbhall macDúnlainge, lord of Osraighe, who about the year 845 is found as the victor in a great battle against the foreigners of Ath Cliath [Norsemen of Dublin] at Carn Brammit.
The next year we find the Osraighe defeated by the Leinstermen, perhaps in liege with the foreigners, at the battle of Uachtar Garadha. About the same year, 846, the Osraighe move on to inflict a defeat on their neighbors to the southwest, the Deisi. In 851 Cearbhall is cited for his part in the slaying of the lord of south Leinster, that is, Eachtighern, son of Guaire.
About 856 we find Cerball again, this time in alliance with the Norsemen [led by Imhar of Dublin], in a great victory over the Cinel Fiachach, the Osraighe neighbors to the north. The same year he plundered Leinster again and 'took their hostages'. The next year Cearbhall and his Norse allies (Imhar and Amhlaeibh) raid Meath, and his actions brings him in allegiance with the high-king of Ireland, Máel Sechnaill. After this the king of Munster tenders his allegiance.
About 858 Cearbhall gains a victory over the fleet of Port Larige (Waterford). The next year he leads an army into Meath to assist Máel Sechnaill (of the southern Ui Neill) against the northern Ui Neill. By 861 the northern Ui Neill claim the high kingship of Ireland and Cearbhall is again noted in 862 warring with the Leinstermen, and plundering the Eoghanacht and the Ui Aenghusa of Munster.
About 868 Cearbhall is again plundering in south Leinster, while the northern Ui Neill king plunders the north. A counter-attack on 'the fort of Cearbhall' is eventually repelled forcing the men of Leinster to retreat. In the same year Cearbhall plunders the Deisi, the next year he plunders Connacht and Munster, and in 871 he joins alliance with the Eoghancht Caisel in a raid on Connacht. As a sign of Cearbhall's relentless campaigning he again plunders Deisi in 872.
About 876 Cearbhall joins with the Deisi in a victory over the men of Munster, and later the same year wins a victory over the men of south Leinster, likely the Ui Cheinnselaig.
By this time Cearbhall had proven himself as an ambitious and successful king. His success was due in large measure to two abilities: firstly, a skill in manipulating rival bands of Vikings by a combination of diplomacy and marriage alliances, and secondly, to his military prowess -- he was able to defeat the Vikings in battle when necessary. It was also advantageous for him to have married a daughter of Máel Sechnaill, the king of Ireland. The Viking presence brought a whole new dimension to Irish waterways, so that the Nore and Barrow rivers (in Osraighe), reaching some forty miles into the interior of Ireland, became major arteries of communication. Cearbhall's success was founded on his domination of the river valleys and, during the 870's and 880's, this made him the most powerful king in Leinster.
Cearbhall's death notice is posted in the Annals about 888, leaving a void in power which resulted in a power struggle in the area. The year before, Cearbhall's eldest son, Cuilen, heir apparent to the lordship of Osraighe, was killed by the Norsemen. Another son, Braenen, is noted to have been killed by the Deisi.
About 891 the Osraighe join with the Leinstermen in an attack on the Eoghanachta of Munster. Two years later one of Cearbhall's sons, Ceallach, is noted in alliance with the Deisi and the foreigners (perhaps of Waterford) in battle within the bounds of Osraighe. Seven years after this, about 900, Ceallach overthrows his brother, Diarmaid, for the kingship of Osraighe, and almost immediately wins a battle against the Eili and the Muscraighi of Munster. Three years later Ceallach is killed in the great battle of Beal Mughna fighting on the side of the Eoghanachta, and his brother Diarmaid retakes the throne. About 914 we find Diarmaid slaying the heir apparent of the Ui Ceinnsealigh of south Leinster. Diarmaid's death notice appears about the year 927.
For the year 929 we see a curious note that Godfrey, likely with a Norse contingent, went into Osraighe to expel the grandson of Imhar from Magh Roighne (possibly located just north of Callan). Imhar was a Norse ally of the Osraighe king Cearbhall from the century previous, but this reference may be to the Norsemen of Limerick. About 938 we are told of a great slaughter of the Osraigi by the king of the Eoghanacht at Caiseal [Cashel in Co. Tipperary]. The next year the country of the Osraighe and the Deisi were "plundered and ravaged" by the Uí Neill of the North (Cenél Eóghain) and of Breagha (east Meath) and they submitted to them.
About 945 Donnchad macCellaig, a grandson of Cearbhall, gained a battle against the Leinstermen where the king of Leinster was slain. Donchad's grandson would later claim the kingship of Leinster.
About 962 we find the Osraighe winning a victory over the Norse at Inis Teoc (Inistioge).
About 965 an army led by the king of Leinster plundered Magh Raighne [in Ossory], but they were driven out by the combined forces of the men of Munster, Deisi and Osraighe. Two years later another raid from the Leinstermen was repulsed by the men of Munster, the two Eili, the Deisi and the Osraighe.
About 972 we find the Osraighe winning "another" battle over the Uí Ceinnsealaigh (Leinstermen), yet later the same year is noted a great slaughter of the Osraighi fighting in battle against Leinstermen (Ui Muirithaigh) in the territory of the Liffey river. Again in same year the Uí Ceinnsealaigh were plundered in Osraighe where the lord of Ui Ceinnsealaigh was slain. This would mark a high point for Donnchad macCellaig as king of Osraighe. After Donnchad's death in 976, his son Gilla Pátraic would assume the kingship.
About 983 we find Brian Boru plundering Osraighe on his quest to subdue the of south Ireland. Gilla Pátraic, son of Donnchadh, king of Osraige, was 'captured' by Brian.
About 985 the Leinstermen were back, this time plundering the north of Osraighe.
About 996 we find the lord of Osraighe, Gilla Pátraic macDonnchada, killed by the Norsemen and Deisi.
About 1003 the lord of Osraighe was slain by his cousin, Donnchadh, son of Gilla Pátraic macDonnchada, to take the title for himself. This is perhaps the beginning (or a continuation) of a split between two factions of the macGilla Pátraic sept.
Donnchadh macGilla Pátraic macDonnchada, a descendant the infamous king Cearbhall macDúngaile, became powerful enough to claim the kingship of the province of Leinster (a "greater part of" southeast Ireland) for a short time during 1030's. Shortly after this point, about 1041, we find a notice in the Annals of the Four Masters that Muircheartach mac Gilla Pátraic, a brother of the aforementioned Donnchadh, and a lord of half Osraighe, was slain by the Ui Caelluidhe (the O'Kealys of Magh Lacha). In Upper Ossory, in what is now part of County Laois, the Ui Caollaidhe (the O'Kealys) were able to exert an independent rule over both their own territory and that of the Ua hUrachan (the O'Horahans of Uí Foircheallain) and the Ua Dubhslaine (O'Delany's of Coill Uachtarach). Finn O'Caellaide is mentioned as a lord of Ossory on his death notice in 1098, and he is cited as marrying a grand-daughter of Gilla Pátraic macDonnchada (d. 996). After the death of Giolla Pháttraicc Ruadh, a king of Ossory, in 1103, it appears that a junior branch of the Mac Giolla Phádraigs were able to lay claim to the southern-most part of Osraige, aka Deascairt Osraighe (under Cerball macDomnaill), while the main branch appear to have maintained their hold in the large middle portion of the kingdom (possibly the northern two-thirds of modern County Kilkenny).
Mac Gilla Pátriac of Ossory
Ua Dubhsláine (O'Delany) of Coill Uachtarach (Upper Woods)
Ua hÚrachán (O'Horahan) of Uí Fairchelláin (Offerlane)
Ua Faeláin (O'Phelan, Whelan) of Magh Lacha (Clarmallagh)
Ua Bruaideadha (O'Brody, Brooder, Brother, Broderick) of Ráth Tamhnaige
Ua Caellaighe (O'Kealy, O'Kelly) of Dairmag Ua nDuach (Durrow-in-Ossory)
Ua Bróithe (O'Brophy) of Mag Sédna
Ua Caibhdheanaigh (O'Coveney, Keveny) of Mag Airbh
Ua Glóiairn (O'Gloherny, Glory, O'Gloran, Cloran, ?Glorney) of Callann
Ua Donnachadha (Dunphy, O'Donochowe, O'Dunaghy, O'Donoghue, Donohoe, Donagh) of Mag Máil
Ua Cearbhaill (O'Carroll, O'Carrowill, MacCarroll) of Mag Cearbhail
Ua Braonáin (O'Brennan) of Uí Duach (Idough)
Ua Caollaidhe (O'Kealy, O'Coely, Quealy) of Uí Bercháin (Ibercon)
Mac Braoin (MacBreen) of Na Clanna
Ua Bruadair (O'Broder, Broderick) of Uí nEirc (Iverk)
Ua nDeaghaidh (O'Dea) of Uí Dheaghaidh (Ida)
About 1103 the annals cite a slaughter of the Osraige and the death of Gilla Pátraic Ruad, and the royal family of Osraige also. It would appear the kingdom of Ossory was divided into at least three spheres of influence about this time, the O'Caellaide (O'Kealys) of Upper Osraighe, the Mac Giolla Phádraigs of central Osraighe, and the cousins of Mac Giolla Phádraig in
Deascairt Osraighe. About 1119 and in 1123 the annals make reference to infighting among the Osraighe, where first a royal heir of the Mac Giolla Phádraigs is "slain by the Osraighe", and then the lord of Osraighe, Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phádraig Ruad, is "slain by his own tribe". About 1146 the lord of Osraighe, Gilla Pátraic macDomnaill MacGilla Phádraig, was killed in the middle of Cill Cainnigh [Kilkenny] by the O'Brennains [O'Brennans] of northeast Osraighe. About 1151 the annals cite that Diarmait MacMurchadha, King of Leinster, takes the lord of half Osraighe prisoner, through treachery and guile. About 1165 the lord of Osraighe, Donnchad macGilla Pátraic, is noted to have been slain by neighbors to the north, the people of Laeighis Ui Mordha [the O'Mores of Laois]. About 1167 Diarmait MacMurchadha is ousted from his kingship in Leinster and flees to Wales for help, and in the following year the lord of Osraighe blinds Diarmait's son, the royal heir, making him ineligible to rule.
About 1169 Diarmait MacMurchadha, the ousted king of Leinster, joins forces with newly arrived foreigners, the Welsh-Normans, whom he had invited to assist him in retaking his kingship. It was at this time the combined Irish forces of Leinster, along with their Welsh-Norman allies, made an incursion into Osraighe against Diarmait's foe, Domnall macDonnchada MacGilla Pátraic, then king of [central] Osraighe. From this point the landscape in Ossory was to experience dramatic changes.
Next Article: Medieval County Kilkenny
Contents and maps compiled by Dennis Walsh (copyright 2002).
Ancient genealogy of the Osraighe
The ancient Irish genealogy of the Osraighe (chiefs of Ossory) usually begins with Óengusa Ossríthe, from which the name Osraighe is said to derive. Óengusa, being referred to as Ossríthe, appears to indicate the existence of a territorial name which may have existed in his time.
Genealogy by generation (Rawlinson B502)
Birn Buadaich (a quo Dál mBirn)
Buain mac Lóegaire
Dega mac Buain
Fergusa mac Dega
Senaich mac Fergusa
Sáráin mac Senaig
Aicclich mac Sáráin
Fiannamla mac Aicclich
Fínachta mac Fiannamla
Donngal mac Fínachta
Genealogy by generation (Keatings genealogy)
Criomthann Mór (son of Iar mac Sétnai)
Áonghus Osruighe mac Criomthaind
Láoghaire Birnghuadhach mac Àongusa
(a quo Dál mBirn)
Aingeadh mac Lóegaire
Eochaidh Lámhdóid mac Aingeadh
Gebhuan mac Echach
Niadh Corb mac Gebuain
Cairpre Cáem mac Nio Cuirp
Conall mac Cairpre Cáem
Ruamann Duach mac Conaill
Laighneach Fáoilidh mac Rumaind Duí
(and possibly Feradach mac Rumaind Duí
Eochaid Bigne Cáoch mac Laignech Fáelad
Colmán Mór mac Echach
Ceannfaoladh mac Colmáin Mór
Scannlan Mor mac Ceannfaolaidh
[died c.643, perhaps he was son of Rónán Ríoghflaith]
Rónán Ríoghflaith mac Scannlain
Cronnmháol mac Rónán Ríogfhlaith
Fáolán mac Cronnmhaíl
From Óengusa Ossríthe are said to descend the Uí Ossáin, a quo Úi Doborchon, Úi Fairchellaig, Úi Brain nó Úi Bernáin, Úi Rotáin, Úi Dímmae, Úi Dícolla, & Úi Bercháin [m. Findich], as well as the Uí Dega Tamnaich, a quo Úi Dega, Úi Niad Cilli Bleidíne, Úi Massaig, sóerchlanna Úa Máil, Úi Scelláin, Úi Fólaing, Cenél m- Báethíne, Cenél Cobthaich, Cenél M. Inill, Úi Chuinnemla, Úi Chairríni.
Other Osraighe related genealogy given in Rawlinson includes that of the Úa nEircc, the Úa Raithnen (a quo Cenél Cobráin, Úi Bernacon, Cluana M. Anfothaich), the Clann Taidc, Clann hUargusa, Clann Dungáile, Clann Sechnasaich, the Síl Daimíni (a quo Tír Úa n-Geintich, the Úi Geintich, Úi Chuirre, Úi Gobbáin), the Clann Conglaiss, Clann Eládaich, Clann Sraphán, Clann mBairche m. Niad Coirb (a quo Clann Síláin), and the Úa Fairchelláin.
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Medieval County Kilkenny
(the second in this series)
Old English Families
(the third in this series)
New English Families
(the fourth in this series)
Timeline of County Kilkenny History
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