The High Kings of Ireland

Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien

Witch Queen, © by Brian Babendererde

Untitled, © by Vebjorn Strommen

The High Kings of Irelandhe fragmentary nature of politics in ancient Ireland, wherein every village, tribal, or clan chief could call himself a king, necessitated that they establish a hierarchy, in which the authority of the Irish kings was determined by how much they ruled. Village chiefs were at the bottom, followed by clan chiefs, tribal chiefs, rulers of minor kingdoms, kings of the five provinces, and finally the High King over all Ireland.

The concept of High Kingship is not unique to Ireland, but as with everything else, the Irish put their own interpretation on it. The High Kings of ancient Ireland were figureheads; they didn't rule in the sense of being able to command the provincial kings, because among the warrior elite, the power of command was measured in the forces a king could array, and the provincial kings had larger armies than the High King. The High King ruled Tara, the nominal capital of Ireland and its single most important religious site, and the surrounding lands that were granted to him to support himself. Sometimes this included the whole of the province of Meath, and sometimes the province had its own king who followed his own counsel [1]. Regardless, even with the whole resources of a province behind him, the High King could never match the power of even Leinester, the smallest of the other four provinces, much less the combined strength of all four. The only High King who could rightly claim to be ruler of a united Ireland was Brian Boru, and even his power was based more alliances and agreements than naked force. But in the end, his power died with him, and no other High King was able to retrieve it.

So, the High King ruled by example and suggestion. He also commanded a certain amount of religious power, making him a kind of supreme pontiff. And theoretically, during times of national crisis, he could call upon resources and levies of troops from the provincial kings to protect the island. However, the provincial kings were never under any obligation to answer any such calls, nor were they obligated to follow any suggestion the High King made [2]. It wasn't until the invasion by the Anglo-Normans in the late twelfth century that European-style monarchy was introduced to Ireland.

Like other social concepts in Ireland, the High Kingship has its origins in Irish mythological history. The first rulers of Ireland were the Fomóraigh, and their High Kings ruled as overlords of the island until their defeat at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh in 1447 B.C.E. Cíocal Gricenchos led the Fomóraigh to Ireland, but was killed by the Partholónians at the Battle of Magh Ithe. He was succeeded by Sengann and Gann, who ruled jointly, until Sengann was killed by the Nemedians at the Battle of Ros Fraechain. Gann survived him by only three years, when he was killed by the Nemedians at the Battle of Murbolg. They were succeeded by Conand and Morc, who ruled alternately — the former in summer, the latter in winter — until Conand was killed by the Nemedians when they razed his tower stronghold. Morc then ruled alone until his passing in the same year that the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived in Ireland. He was succeeded by Corb, who ruled only 60 years before he was deposed by Balor. In 1514 B.C.E., he allowed the Fir Bholg to set up their own High King, but he remained overlord of Ireland until his death at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. He was succeeded by Cromcruac, but he was forced to relinquish his overlordship of Ireland and ruled as king of the Fomóraigh only. He was later driven into exile when his chamberlain, Elatha, tried to unleash the Archons on Earth. At that point, Fomóraigh hegemony over Ireland was broken forever.

Reign Begins Reign Ends Duration Name
2751 B.C.E. 2211 B.C.E. 540 years Cíocal Gricenchos
2211 B.C.E. 2030 B.C.E. 181 years Sengann
2211 B.C.E. 2027 B.C.E. 184 years Gann
2027 B.C.E. 1815 B.C.E. 212 years Conand
2027 B.C.E. 1585 B.C.E. 442 years Morc
1585 B.C.E. 1525 B.C.E. 60 years Corb
1525 B.C.E. 1447 B.C.E. 78 years Balor
1447 B.C.E. 1286 B.C.E. 161 years Cromcruac

In the year 1514 B.C.E., the king of the Fir Bholg, Dela, convinced Balor to let him declare himself High King of Ireland, so as to better serve Fomóraigh interests. Before he could be officially confirmed, however, he died and was succeeded by his son, Sláinge Mac Dela. He only ruled for a year, however, when he died. He was then succeeded by his brother, Rudraige Mac Dela, who only ruled for two years before he, too, died. He was succeeded by two other brothers, Gann Mac Dela and Genann Mac Dela, but they both died in a plague after only four years. They were succeeded by their last brother, Sengann Mac Dela, but after only five years he was usurped and killed by Fiacha Cennfinnán Mac Starn, the grandson of Rudraige. His name meant "little white head", because he was born with white hair, and he also ruled for five years before he was usurped and killed by Rinnal Mac Genann. He was named for the fact that he was the first High King to fight with a spear instead of a sword, and he in turn ruled for six years before he was usurped and killed by Foidbgen Mac Sengann. His name meant "the Despoiler", because to prevent himself from being usurped, he tried to kill all his male relatives, but he was instead killed by Eochaid Mac Eirc, the grandson of Rinnal Mac Genann, after only four years. He put an end to the dynastic intrigue of his family, and ruled justly and wisely for ten years, before he was killed by his daughter Medb at the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh in 1477 B.C.E. For more information, see the Genealogy of the Fir Bholg High Kings.

Reign Begins Reign Ends Duration Name
1514 B.C.E. 1513 B.C.E. 1 year Sláinge Mac Dela
1513 B.C.E. 1511 B.C.E. 2 years Rudraige Mac Dela
1511 B.C.E. 1507 B.C.E. 4 years Gann Mac Dela
Genann Mac Dela
1507 B.C.E. 1502 B.C.E. 5 years Sengann Mac Dela
1502 B.C.E. 1497 B.C.E. 5 years Fiacha Cennfinnán Mac Starn
1497 B.C.E. 1491 B.C.E. 6 years Rinnal Mac Genann
1491 B.C.E. 1487 B.C.E. 4 years Foidbgen Mac Sengann
1487 B.C.E. 1477 B.C.E. 10 years Eochaid Mac Eirc

As the only surviving child of Eochaid Mac Eirc, Medb could have claimed the High Kingship for herself, but she relinquished it instead to Eochaid Bres Mac Elatha. When he proved to be a despot, however, Medb replaced Nuada's severed arm with one of silver (hence his surname Airgetlám, "silver arm") and he led a revolt against Bres, eventually defeating him and usurping him after a seven-year rule. Bres escaped, however, and returned with a Fomóraigh army. Nuada surrendered, so he was allowed to retain the High Kingship, but Bres served as Overlord for the Fomóraigh. In the twenty-third year of his reign, however, Nuada led a second revolt against Bres. This time the Fomóraigh were defeated at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh, but Nuada was killed by Balor. Lugh succeeded him and ruled for forty years, before he killed a son of the Daghda in a fit of jealous rage, and was himself killed by the Daghda's remaining sons. The Daghda then succeeded him as High King, and he ruled for seventy years, until he died of a wound received at the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh. He was succeeded by his grandson, Delbáeth Mac Aengus, who ruled for ten years, until killed by his son, Fiacha Mac Delbáeth. He in turn ruled for another ten years, until he was killed in battle. Afterwards, three brothers — Éthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cuill; Téthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cecht; and Céthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Gréine — grandsons of the Daghda, were elected to the High Kingship. They ruled alternatively, for a year each, beginning with Mac Gréine, for a total of thirty years, until they were killed at the Battle of Tailtiu in 1287 B.C.E.

For more information, read the page on the early years of Medb hErenn's life.

Reign Begins Reign Ends Duration Name
1477 B.C.E. 1470 B.C.E. 7 years Eochaid Bres Mac Elatha
1470 B.C.E. 1447 B.C.E. 23 years Nuada Airgetlám
1447 B.C.E. 1407 B.C.E. 40 years Lugh Mac Cian
1407 B.C.E. 1337 B.C.E. 70 years Eochaid Ollathair (Daghda)
1337 B.C.E. 1327 B.C.E. 10 years Delbáeth Mac Aengus
1327 B.C.E. 1317 B.C.E. 10 years Fiacha Mac Delbáeth
1317 B.C.E. 1287 B.C.E. 30 years Céthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Gréine
Éthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cuill
Téthur Mac Cermait, called Mac Cecht

After the deaths of Mac Gréine, Mac Cuill, and Mac Cecht, Medb assumed the High Kingship, but she chose two Mileadh brothers, Eibhear Finn and Eremon, to rule with her. A year later, however, Eibhear Finn was dead and Medb exiled, so Eremon assumed the High Kingship for his own.

Reign Begins Reign Ends Duration Name
1287 B.C.E. 1286 B.C.E. 1 year Eibhear Finn
Eremon
1286 B.C.E. 1272 B.C.E. 14 years Eremon
1272 B.C.E. 1269 B.C.E. 3 years Muimne Mac Eremon
Luigne Mac Eremon
Laigne Mac Eremon
1269 B.C.E. 1269 B.C.E. 6 mo. Ir Mac Eibhear
Orba Mac Eibhear
Fearon Mac Eibhear
Ferga Mac Eibhear
1269 B.C.E. 1259 B.C.E. 10 years Irial Fáith Mac Eremon
1259 B.C.E. 1239 B.C.E. 20 years Eithrial Mac Irial
1239 B.C.E. 1209 B.C.E. 30 years Conmael Mac Eibhear
1209 B.C.E. 1159 B.C.E. 50 years Tigernmas Mac Faelad
1159 B.C.E. 1155 B.C.E. 4 years Eochaid Étgudach
1155 B.C.E. 1115 B.C.E. 40 years Cearmna Finn
Sobhairce
1115 B.C.E. 1095 B.C.E. 20 years Eochaid Faebar Glas
1095 B.C.E. 1071 B.C.E. 24 years Fiacha Labhrainne
1071 B.C.E. 1050 B.C.E. 21 years Eochaid Mumho
1050 B.C.E. 1032 B.C.E. 18 years Aengus Olmucada
1032 B.C.E. 1005 B.C.E. 27 years Enna Airgtheach
1005 B.C.E. 980 B.C.E. 25 years Roitheachtaigh Mac Maen
980 B.C.E. 975 B.C.E. 5 years Sedna Mac Airtri
975 B.C.E. 955 B.C.E. 20 years Fiacha Finscothach
955 B.C.E. 950 B.C.E. 5 years Muineamhón
950 B.C.E. 943 B.C.E. 7 years Faildeargdoid Mac Muineamhón
943 B.C.E. 913 B.C.E. 30 years Ollamh Fodhla
913 B.C.E. 895 B.C.E. 18 years Finnachta Mac Eochaid
895 B.C.E. 880 B.C.E. 15 years Slanoll Mac Eochaid
880 B.C.E. 863 B.C.E. 17 years Gedhe Ollghothach
863 B.C.E. 833 B.C.E. 30 years Fiacha Finnailches
833 B.C.E. 831 B.C.E. 2 years Bearnghal Mac Gedhe
831 B.C.E. 815 B.C.E. 16 years Ailill Mac Slanuill
815 B.C.E. 794 B.C.E. 21 years Sírna Mac Dian
794 B.C.E. 787 B.C.E. 7 years Roitheachtaigh Mac Roan
787 B.C.E. 786 B.C.E. 1 year Elim Oillfinshneachta
786 B.C.E. 777 B.C.E. 9 years Giallchaidh Mac Sírna
777 B.C.E. 755 B.C.E. 22 years Art Imleach
755 B.C.E. 735 B.C.E. 20 years Nuadat Finnfail
735 B.C.E. 726 B.C.E. 9 years Breisrigh Mac Art
726 B.C.E. 725 B.C.E. 1 year Eochaid Apthach
725 B.C.E. 705 B.C.E. 20 years Fionn Mac Brátha
705 B.C.E. 685 B.C.E. 20 years Sedna Mac Innaraigh
685 B.C.E. 679 B.C.E. 6 years Simeon Breac
679 B.C.E. 674 B.C.E. 5 years Duach Finn
674 B.C.E. 670 B.C.E. 4 years Muireadach Bolgrach
670 B.C.E. 658 B.C.E. 12 years Enda Dearg
658 B.C.E. 649 B.C.E. 9 years Lugaid Iardonn
649 B.C.E. 633 B.C.E. 16 years Sirlám Mac Fionn
633 B.C.E. 621 B.C.E. 12 years Eochaid Uaircheas
621 B.C.E. 616 B.C.E. 5 years Eochaid Fiadmuine
Conaing Begeaglach
616 B.C.E. 609 B.C.E. 7 years Lugaid Lamdearg
609 B.C.E. 599 B.C.E. 10 years Conaing Begeaglach
599 B.C.E. 593 B.C.E. 6 years Art Mac Lugdach
593 B.C.E. 586 B.C.E. 7 years Fiacha Tolgrach
586 B.C.E. 577 B.C.E. 9 years Ailill Finn
577 B.C.E. 570 B.C.E. 7 years Eochaid Mac Ailella
570 B.C.E. 547 B.C.E. 23 years Airgeatmhar Mac Sirlám
547 B.C.E. 537 B.C.E. 10 years Duach Ladhgrach
537 B.C.E. 530 B.C.E. 7 years Lugaid Laigde
530 B.C.E. 509 B.C.E. 21 years Áed Ruad
509 B.C.E. 488 B.C.E. 21 years Díthorba
488 B.C.E. 468 B.C.E. 20 years Cimbáeth
468 B.C.E. 461 B.C.E. 7 years Macha Ní Áed
461 B.C.E. 441 B.C.E. 20 years Rechtaid Rígderg
441 B.C.E. 411 B.C.E. 30 years Úgaine Mor
411 B.C.E. 411 B.C.E. 3 mo. Badbchaid
411 B.C.E. 409 B.C.E. 2 years Lóegaire Lorc
409 B.C.E. 379 B.C.E. 30 years Cobthach Cóel Breg
379 B.C.E. 369 B.C.E. 10 years Labraid Loingsech
369 B.C.E. 362 B.C.E. 7 years Meilge Molbthach
362 B.C.E. 355 B.C.E. 7 years Mog Corb
355 B.C.E. 337 B.C.E. 18 years Aengus Ollamh
337 B.C.E. 330 B.C.E. 7 years Irereo Mac Meilge
330 B.C.E. 319 B.C.E. 11 years Fer Corb
319 B.C.E. 315 B.C.E. 4 years Connla Cáem
315 B.C.E. 290 B.C.E. 25 years Ailill Caisfhiaclach
290 B.C.E. 285 B.C.E. 5 years Adamair Mac Foltchain
285 B.C.E. 274 B.C.E. 11 years Eochaid Ailtleathan
274 B.C.E. 262 B.C.E. 12 years Fergus Fortamail
262 B.C.E. 232 B.C.E. 30 years Aengus Tuirmech Temrach
232 B.C.E. 226 B.C.E. 6 years Conall Collamrach
226 B.C.E. 219 B.C.E. 7 years Nia Segamain
219 B.C.E. 191 B.C.E. 28 years Enna Aignech
191 B.C.E. 184 B.C.E. 7 years Crimmthann Coscrach
184 B.C.E. 154 B.C.E. 30 years Rudraige Mac Sithrige
154 B.C.E. 151 B.C.E. 3 years Innatmar Mac Nia
151 B.C.E. 140 B.C.E. 11 years Breasal Boidhiobhadh
140 B.C.E. 135 B.C.E. 5 years Lugaid Luaigne
135 B.C.E. 120 B.C.E. 15 years Congal Clairinech
120 B.C.E. 110 B.C.E. 10 years Duach Dallta Dedad
110 B.C.E. 94 B.C.E. 16 years Fachtna Fáthach

Medb had no contact with the successive High Kings of Ireland after Eremon until her return in 93 B.C.E. The then current High King, Eochaid Feidlech, made her ruler of Tara, and after that, until her "death" in 125 C.E., no man could rule as High King of Ireland without her consent, or without mating with her as part of a yearly ritual.

For more information, read the page on Medb's career as queen of Ireland.

Reign Begins Reign Ends Duration Name
94 B.C.E. 82 B.C.E. 12 years Eochaid Feidlech
82 B.C.E. 70 B.C.E. 12 years Eochaid Airem
70 B.C.E. 64 B.C.E. 6 years Ederscel
64 B.C.E. 63 B.C.E. 1 year Nuada Necht
63 B.C.E. 33 B.C.E. 30 years Conaire Mor
33 B.C.E. 13 B.C.E. 20 years Lugaid Riab nDerg
13 B.C.E. 12 B.C.E. 1 year Conchobar Abradruad
12 B.C.E. 5 C.E. 16 years Crimmthann Nia Náir
5 C.E. 25 C.E. 20 years Feradach Finnfechtnach
25 C.E. 28 C.E. 3 years Fiatach Finn
28 C.E. 55 C.E. 27 years Fiacha Finnfolaidh
55 C.E. 60 C.E. 5 years Cairbre Cinnchait
60 C.E. 80 C.E. 20 years Éllim
80 C.E. 100 C.E. 20 years Tuathal Teachtmhar
100 C.E. 104 C.E. 4 years Mal
104 C.E. 113 C.E. 9 years Fedlimid Rechtmar
113 C.E. 116 C.E. 3 years Cathair Mór
116 C.E. 136 C.E. 20 years Conn Cétchathach

Though Medb eventually returned from the Dreamlands, she chose not to involve herself with Irish politics, with the exception of the career of Brian Boru. Go here for a complete list of the pseudohistorical and historical High Kings of Ireland.

[1] The Gaeilge word for province is coiced, which literally means "fifths". This has led to the tradition that there were five provinces in ancient Ireland. Yet only four are referred to in the sagas. This has led some scholars to speculate that Meath (Mide prior to 1300 C.E.) did not exist until the rise of the southern branch of the O'Neill family (Uí Néill in Gaeilge) around 500 C.E. Some have even speculated that, while Tara was a prehistoric site of some prominence, it did not achieve its legendary status until the sixth century, and that there were no High Kings until the southern O'Neills instituted the office a century later. However, there are others who speculate that Mide was originally formed during the Iron Age to prevent Tara being ruled by any of the other provinces. At first, it had its own king, and so was counted among the five provinces of ancient Ireland, but eventually the High King came to rule over it, at which point it ceased to be considered a true independent province.
[2] In point of fact, this was also true of the provincial kings; in fact, every ruler, down to the lowliest village chieftain, ruled at the sufferance of his subordinate chiefs and warrior leaders, and ultimately the people. Unlike in Europe, no chief or king in Ireland owned the land he ruled, nor did he have the power of lawmaker and judge, and he wasn't above the law. He merely represented and protected the people's interests, and led them in time of war. So while the provincial kings could thumb their noses at the High King as much as they liked, they knew that their own tribal and clan chiefs could do the same to them, and what's worse, the people of the province could literally vote them out of office if they didn't like them.

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