The Kingdom of Airghialla (Oriel)




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According to Murray[1], based on his study of the Mac Fhirbhisigh Genealogies, the territory of Airghialla, at its greatest extent, was divided among the following tribal groups:


Cladach (Truagh, Co. Monaghan)

Clann Ceallaigh (Clankelly, Co. Monaghan)

Dartrey (Co. Monaghan)

Farney (Co. Monaghan)

Feara Monach (Fermanagh)

Feara Rois (Fir Rois)

Little Modarn (Mughdhorna Bregh = North Meath and South Monaghan)

Magh Leamhna (around Blackwater, Co. Tyrone)

Mughdorns (Cremorne)

Muintir Pheodachain (in Co. Fermanagh)

Oirthera (Oriors, Co. Armagh)

Tuathratha (Tourah, Co. Fermanagh)

Ui Breasail of Macha (Clanbrassil)

Ui Eathach (Barony of Armagh)

Ui Fiachrach Finn (Along River Derg)

Ui Leighaire (Barony of Lurg, Co. Tyrone)

Ui Meith Macha (between Ballybay and Monaghan)

Ui Seghain (in Co. Meath)

Ui Tuirtre (in Tyrone)


John O'Donovan is credited with the view that County Louth originally formed part of Airghialla[2]. Murray concluded that the present County Louth did not form part of the territory, an argument that was quickly rebutted[3]. Connellan says, referring to the area circa the year 1596, that the kingdom comprised the counties of Louth, Armagh and Monaghan.[4]



The final word on the borders are found in a modern study[5] of the ancient kingdom that places the eastern limit of Airghialla west of the river Bann, the western boundaries are placed east of the river Foyle as far as the river Finn with a line to the northern point of Lower Lough Erne, and the southern boundary following the present border between Monaghan and Cavan into County Louth with a small part of the northern tip of County Meath. Based on the O’Fiach boundaries, it is possible to provide a representation of the territory at it would have been around the 5th century:


It is worth pointing out that owing to the very fluid nature of the borders of the territory, brought on by wars with their powerful neighbours and constant internecine strife among the petty-kingdoms of Airghialla at various stages throughout its history, it is seldom that any two maps of the kingdom agree. The above map[6], admittedly quite primitive, is used as it also shows the considerable encroachments later made by the O’Neill into Airghialla. Because of the cartographic distortion of the regions of Tír Connell and the Inishowen peninsula, the map fails to show the considerable coastline between the mouths of the Foyle and Bann rivers. The earliest Anno Domini reference to the kingdom in the Four Masters occurs in the year 111, relating to the burial of Baine, mother of the King at Tara, Feidhlimidh Reachtmhar. It would be another two centuries before Airghialla would become a powerful confederation.


If the boundaries of the ancient kingdom throughout the centuries are quite vague, so also has there been some ambiguity concerning the name of the kingdom. Other names include Oirghiall, Oriel, Airgéill and Uriel. The oldest and more correct form is Airghialla[7] denoting both the territory and the name used to describe the inhabitants of the territory.


The kings of Airghialla appear to have been selected by means of tanistry (although in the Annals it is clear that the decision was sometimes that of the High King at Tara) until the middle of the 12th century, at which time the surnames of O Carroll and Mag Mathghamhna (the Mac Mahons, who ousted the O Carrolls) predominate.


There is a break in the line of kingships from 695 AD until the accession of Cumascach (d.825 AD) in the early 9th century, during which time, according to Murray (quoting other sources) the tribes of Airghialla acknowledged the suzerainty of the Cinel n Eogain (of Aileach). Dillon suggests[8] that the overlordship of Airghialla did not commence until 827 AD after the battle of Leth Cam[9] but this does not explain the lacuna in the succession list. There was famine and pestilence in Ireland from 698 to 700 and a period of dynastic strife among the Airghialla commencing in 698[10]. The Aileach may have taken this opportunity to seize the overlordship.  Even at a later stage it is clear that a single ruler in Airghialla was not always easily achieved, for at the end of the 11th century there were two kings in opposition, Ruaidhri Ua Ruadhagain (d.1099), king of the east of the federation, and Flann Ua hAinbhidh (d.1096), king of south Airghialla.


The Book of Rights gives some indication as to the authority and power of the kings of Airghialla over the chiefs of the various tribes within the kingdom and to the degree of subjection of the king to the High King. The kings of Airghialla were not bound to attend a hosting of the High King except for three fortnights every two years (and then not in spring or autumn). They were granted seven cumhals (bond women) for every man of them lost on that hosting, etc., but the most important advantage granted to the king of Airghialla over all other kings, and probably the most significant in terms of status was that '… the seat of the king of Airghialla is beside the seat of the king of Tailtu (Tara, Co. Meath), and the distance of it is so that the sword of the king of Airghialla may reach the tip of the cup-bearer’s hand.[11]' In other words, at the great gatherings or during the various festivals, the king of Airghialla (and also his queen) was entitled to sit beside the High King at Tara, and his sword was allowed to touch the kings hand - a sign of trust. It would appear that in order of precedence, if such existed, the king of Airghialla ranked highly after the High King. The Book of Fenagh[12] says:


To the Majestic king of Oirghiall is due,

From the fair-browed king of Ireland,

Free companionship, freedom of contracts,

Stipend and presents.


The advance of the northern O’Neill into Airghialla from the 6th century onwards meant that the borders of the territory had considerably diminished by the time of the Norman invasion. Eventually the name Airghialla itself came to refer to the County of Monaghan, ruled by the Ua Cerbaill and later the Mag Mathghamhna, whereas County Louth, within the Pale, was known to its Norman overlords as Uriel.

© J.B. Hall 2006

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[1] Laurence P. Murray, 'The Ancient Territories of Airghialla, Uladh and Conaille Muirthemhne',  County Louth Archaeological and Historical Journal, 1912.

[2] John O'Donovan, Editor, The banquet of Dun na n-Gedh: and The battle of Magh Rath, Dublin 1842 p.9.

[3] Rev. Nicholas Lawlor, ‘Muirtheimhne’, CLAHJ, 1913, p.156-166.

[4] Owen Connellan, Editor, The Annals of the Four Masters, Dublin 1846, p.602.

[5] Tomás O'Fiach., The kingdom of Airgialla and its sub-kingdoms, UCD thesis no. 820, 1959, pp.41-46.

[6] William Camden, Britannia, 1607 edition (facsimile edition, USA 1970).

[7] Meaning hostage-giver (and certainly not eastern/gold hostages or gold, a direct translation of oirthear/ór and giall). See T. O'Fiach., The kingdom of Airgialla and its sub-kingdoms, UCD thesis no. 820, 1959, p.38.

[8] Miles Dillon, Editor, Lebor Na Cert: The Book of Rights, Dublin 1962, p.81.

[9] See William M. Hennessy and B. MacCarthy,Editors, The Annals of Ulster, Dublin 1887: 'The battle of Leth Cam won by Niall son of Aed  … in which fell Cumuscach and Congalach, two sons of Cathal, and many other kings of the Airgialla'.

[10] Moody, Martin & Byrne, A New History of Ireland, Vol. VIII, Oxford 1982, p.27.

[11] Lebor Na Cert, p.73

[12] W.M. Hennessy, The Book of Fenagh, Dublin 1875







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The following history of Oriel, Uriel, Orgialla, or Ergallia etc. is taken from a foot-note in The Annals of Ireland Translated from the Original Irish of The Four Masters by Owen Connellan, 1846:

Orgialla - The ancient kingdom or principality of Orgiall, comprised an extensive territory in Ulster, and was called by Ware, Usher, Colgan, and other Latin writers, Oryallia and Ergallia; and by the English Oriel and Uriel. In the beginning of the fourth century three warlike princes, called the three Collas, sons of Eochy Doimhlein, son of Cairbre Lifeachar, monarch of Ireland, of the race of Heremon, made a conquest of a great part of Ulster, which they wrested from the old possessors, princes of the race of Ir, called the Clanna Rory, or Rudericians. The three Collas in the great battle of Achalethderg in Fearmuighe, in Dalaradia, on the borders of Down and Antrim, A.D. 332, defeated the forces of Fergus, king of Ulster, who was slain; and the victors burned to the ground Eamhain Macha or Emania, (near the present city of Armagh,) the famous palace of the Ultonian kings, which had stood for six centuries, and had been long celebrated by the Irish bards. The place where this battle was fought is called also Carn Achy-Leth-Derg, and is now known as the parish of Aghaderg, in the barony of Iveagh, county of Down, where there still remains a huge Carn of loose stones near Loughbrickland. The sovereignty of Ulster thus passed from the race of Ir to the race of Heremon. The names of the three chiefs were Colla Uais, or Colla the noble, Colla Meann, or Colla the famous, and Colla-da-Chrich, or Colla of the two territories. Colla Uais became monarch of Ireland A.D. 327, and died A.D. 332. The territory conquered by the three Collas comprised according to Usher, O'Flaherty, and others, the present countries of Louth, Monaghan, and Armagh, and obtained the name of Oirgiall, as stated by O'Halloran, from the circumstance of the Collas having stipulated with the monarch of Ireland, for themselves and their posterity, that if any chiefs of the clan Colla should be at any time demanded as hostages, and if shackled, their fetters should be of gold: thus, from the Irish, or, gold, and giall, a hostage, came the name orgialla. The term, Oriel, or Uriel, was in general confined by the English to the present county of Louth, which in former times was part of Ulster; that province extending to the Boyne at Drogheda. We find in Colgan and MacGeoghegan that the O'Carrolls, a noble clan of the race of the Dal Fiatachs, were at the time of St. Patrick, kings of Orgiall, or that part of it comprising the county of Louth. The Dal Fiatachs or Dalfiatacians, who founded many powerful families in Ulster, particularly in Dalaradia or Down, were descended from Fiatach Fionn, monarch of Ireland at the commencement of the second century, of the race of Heremon. The O'Carrolls continued kings of Orgiall, down to the twelfth century, when they were dispossessed by the Anglo-Normans under John de Courcy. Donogh O'Carroll, prince of Orgiall, the last celebrated head of this race, founded the great Abbey of Mellifont in Louth, in the twelfth century. The territory of Louth is mentioned in the earliest times under the names of Magh Muirtheimhne, or the Plain of Muirthemimhne, so called from Muirtheimhne, son of Breogan, uncle of Milesius, who possessed it. Part of the territory of Louth and Armagh was called Cuailgne, from Cuailgne, another son of Breogan, who, according to our old Annalists, was killed there in a battle between the Milesians and the Tuatha-De-Danans, about a thousand years before the Christian era. Sliabh Cuailgne, now Slieve Gullion mountain in Armagh, acquired its name from the same person. Louth was in ancient times also called Machaire Chonaill, or the Plain of Conall, from Conall Cearnach, or Conall the Victorious, the renowned warrior, who was chief of the Red Branch knights of Ulster, about the commencement of the Christian era, and whose descendants possessed this territory. (It may be here remarked that the celebrated hero of Ossian's poems, Cuchulin, the relative and cotemporary of Conall Cearnach, had his residence at Dun-Dealgan, now Dundalk.) The descendants of Conall Cearnach were the Magennises, lords of Iveagh, in Dalaradia, or county of Down, the O'Moras, or O'Moores princes of Leix, in Kildare and Queen's county, and others. Amongst the other chief clans who possessed Louth were the MacCanns, MacCartans, O'Kellys, O'Moores, O'Callaghans, O'Carraghars, MacColmans, MacCampbells, MacArdells, MacKennys, O'Devins, O'Markys, O'Branagans, Mac-Scanlons, and others.

In the reign of King John, A.D. 1210, Louth was formed into a county, and acquired its name from the town of Louth, in Irish Lugh Mhagh. In the Inquisitions the county is called Lovidia. The chief Anglo-Norman or British families settled in Louth were the De Lacys, De Verdons, De Gernons, De Pepards, De Flemmings, barons of Slane; the Bellews of Barmeath, who had formerly the title of barons of Duleek; the De Berminghams, earls of Louth, a title afterwards possessed by the Plunkets, a great family of Danish descent; the Taaffes, earls of Carlingford; the Balls, Brabazons, Darcys, Dowdals, and Clintons, the Dromgools of Danish descent, &c.; the Fortescues now earls of Claremont, and in more modern times, the family of Gorges, barons of Dundalk; and the Fosters, viscounts Ferard, and barons of Oriel.

The posterity of the three Collas, called clan Colla, founded many powerful clans and noble families in Ulster and other parts of Ireland. From Colla Uais were descended the MacDonnells, earls of Antrim in Ireland, and lords of the Isles in Scotland; also the MacRorys, a great clan in the Hebrides, and also many families of that name in Ulster, anglicised to Rogers.

From Colla da Chrich, were descended the MacMahons, princes of Monaghan, lords of Ferney, and barons of Dartree, at Conagh, where they had their chief seat. The MacMahons were sometimes styled princes of Orgiall. An interesting account of the MacMahons, of Monaghan, is given by Sir John Davis, who wrote in the reign of James the First. It may be observed that several of the MacMahons in former times changed the name to Mathews. The other chief clans of Monaghan were the MacKennas, chiefs of Truagh; the MacCabes; the MacNeneys, anglicised to Bird; the MacArdells; MacCassidys; O'Duffys, and O'Corrys; the O'Cosgras, MacCuskers or MacOscars, changed to Cosgraves, who possessed, according to O'Dugan, a territory called Fearra Rois, which comprised the district about Carrickmacross in Monaghan, with the parish of Clonkeen, adjoining, in the county of Louth; the Boylans of Dartree; the MacGil Michaels, changed to Mitchell; the MacDonnells; the O'Connellys, and others.

This part of Orgiall was overrun by the forces of John de Courcy in the reign of King John, but the MacMahons maintained their national independence to the reign of Elizabeth, when Monaghan was formed into a county, so called from its chief town Muineachan, that is, the Town of Monks. The noble families now in Monaghan, are the Dawsons, barons of Cremorne; the Westenras, lords Rossmore; and the Blayneys, lords Blayney. The other chief landed proprietors are the families of Shirly, Lesley, Coote, Corry, and Hamilton.

From Colla-da-Chrich were also descended the MacGuires, lords of Fermanagh, and barons of Enniskillen; the O'Flanagans of Fermanagh; the O'Hanlons, chiefs of Hy-Meith-Tire, now the barony of Orior in Armagh, who held the office of hereditary regal standard-bearers of Ulster; the MacCathans or MacCanns of Clan Breasail, in Armagh; the O'Kellys, princes of Hy Maine, in the counties of Galway and Roscommon; and the O'Madagans or O'Maddens, chiefs of Siol Anmchadha or Silanchia, now the barony of Longford, in the county of Galway.

Colla Meann's posterity possessed the territory of Modhorn, that is, the districts about the mountains of Mourne.

That part of Orgiall, afterwards forming the county of Armagh, was possessed, as already stated, partly by the O'Hanlons and MacCanns, and partly by the O'Neills, O'Larkins, O'Duvanys, and O'Garveys of the Clanna Rory, who according to O'Brien, possessed the Craobh Ruadh, or territory of the famous Red Branch knights of Ulster; O'Hanrathys of Hy-Meith Macha; O'Donegans of Breasal Magha; and others.

The native chiefs held their independence down to the reign of Elizabeth, when Armagh was formed into a county A.D. 1586, by the lord deputy, Sir John Perrott. In Pynnar's Survey of Ulster, in the reign of James the First, the following are given as the chief families of British settlers, viz:- the Atchesons, Brownlows, Powells, St. Johns, Hamiltons, Copes, Rowllstons, &c. The noble families now in Armagh, are the Atchesons, earls of Gosford; the Caulfields, earls of Charlemont; and the Brownlows, barons of Lurgan.


The Hamiltons in former times had the title of earls of Clanbrassil.

In the ancient ecclesiastical divisions the territory of Orgiall was comprised within the diocese of Clogher; but in the 13th century the county of Louth was separated from Clogher and added to the diocese of Armagh. In early times there were bishops' sees at Clones and, Louth, which sees were afterwards annexed to Clogher. In the early writers we find the bishops of Clogher frequently styled bishops of Orgiall and Ergallia. At present the diocese of Clogher comprises the whole of Monaghan, the greater part of Fermanagh, parts of Donegal and Tyrone, and a small portion of Louth.

The see of Armagh, founded by St. Patrick in the 5th century, became the seat of an archdiocese, and the metropolitan see of all Ireland. The diocese of Armagh comprehends the greater part of that county, with parts of Louth, Meath, Tyrone, and Londonderry, and has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the sees of Meath, Ardagh, Kilmore, Clogher, Raphoe, Derry, Down and Conor, and Dromore.


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I will not claim that the following list is comprehensive, but it is based on the sources indicated and is as near as I can get to providing a full list. Any updates/corrections would be appreciated. 

Mac Fhirbhisigh notes the following as the high-kings of Airghialla[2] from the early 4th to the 6th century. These names connect with the list below, from Colga onwards: Colla Uais (d. 327); Cairbre; Conall; Cumacsach; Eochaidh; Daimhín; Maol Foghartaigh; Conghal; Oilill; Tuathal; Giolla Coluim; Ceann Gamhna; Donnagán; Mac Ruadhrach; Béac; Mac Cuanach; Giolla Críost; Colga; Béag; Leathloghar; Maol Odhar; Donnchadh; Maol Con Caisil.


There are various differences in dates between the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster. There is very often a difference of three years between dates in the Four Masters and the Annals of Loch Cé. Depending on the source, some of the dates below have been modified to agree with those in the Four Masters.





Died AD




Cairpre Daimhin Airgit








Beg, son of Cuanach




Aedh, son of  Colgan 




Maelodhar Macha




Donnchadh, son of Ultan








Cumascach son of Cathail


Killed at Leath an Chaim


Congalach son of Cathail




Godfraigh, son of Fearghus




Fogartach, son of Maelbreasail




Maelcaurarda, son of Maelbreasail




Conghalach, son of Finnachta




Maelpadraig, son of Maelcuararda




(Mael Muire son of Flannacán


heir designate of Airgialla)


Maelcraeibhe Ua Duibhsinaich




Fogartach, son of Donnagan




Egneach, son of Dalach




Donnacán son of Mael Muire 




Mac-Egnigh, son of Dalach




Macleighinn, son of Coireall 




Cathalan Ua Crichan


Lord of Fearnmagh[3] & Airghialla


Gillacoluim Ua hEignigh


Overking of Airghialla


Leathlobhar Ua Laidhgnen 




Ua Baigheallain




Aedh Ua Baigheallain 




Flann Ua hAinbhidh 


King of South Airghialla


Ruaidhri Ua Ruadhagain


Lord of the East of Airghialla


Cucaisill Ua Cearbhaill


Lord of Fearnmhagh & Airghialla


Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill  




Gillachrist Ua hEignigh[4]


Lord of Fearnmhagh & Airghialla


Cú Midhe Ó Críochain 


King of Fearnmhagh & Airghialla


Murchadh Ua Maeleachlainn[5]    




Donough Ua Cearbhaill  


Last pre-Norman king of Airghialla




Queen of Airghialla]


Murchadh Ua Cearbhaill


Last over-king of Airghialla


O’Carroll, lord of Airghialla 


Hanged by the English


Flaherty Ó Muldery[7] 




Niall O’Hegny, lord of Airghialla




Aedh Ua Neill[8]




Domnall Mor Ua Domnaill[9] 




Gilla-Patraig Ua Anluain


Also king of Airthir


Murchadh Ua hAnluain




Aedh Ua Neill the Tawny[10]




Nicholas Verdon 




Eochaidh Mac Mathghamhna


Killed by Eachmharcach O’Hanlon


Eachmharcach Ua hAnluain 


king of Airthir


Brian Mac Mathghamhna




Rory Mac Mahon




Aedh Mag Mathgamna




Hugh Mac Mathghamhna




Murchadh Mag Mathgamna junior


Died after one week as king


Maghnus Mag Mathgamna




Philip Mag Mathgamna




Brian Mag Mathghamhna




Niall Mag Mathghamhna


Floruit – joint-king with Brian


Mael-Sechlainn Mag Mathgamna




Brian Mór Mag Mathgamna




Philip Mac Mathgamna




Ardghal Mac Mathghamna




Brian Mag Mathgamna




Maghnus Mag Mathgamna




Rughraidhe Mag Mathgamna




Hugh Roe Mac Mahon, (Aodh Rua)




Feidhlimidh Mag Mathgamna




Eoghan Mag Mathgamna




Redmund Mag Mathgamna


Died in captivity at Drogheda


Aedh Mag Mathgamna[11]


Son of Aedh the Red


Brian Mag Mathghamhna




Rossa Mac Mathghamhna




Redmond Mag Mathghamhna




Glaisne Mag Mathghamhna




Art son of Brian-na-mocherghi




Aedh Ruadh, the son of Art Mael




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[1] The list is based on: William M. Hennessy and B. MacCarthy, Editors, The Annals of Ulster, Dublin 1887,  John O’Donovan, Editor, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Dublin 1998 & Sé Ó hInnse, Editor, Miscellaneous Irish Annals (A.D. 1114-1437), Dublin 1947 at Accessed 15-29/11/2005 and later dates, Whitley Stokes, ‘The Annals of Tigernach’ in Revue Celtique 1896/7 (Reprinted Wales 1993), William M. Hennessy, Editor, The Annals of Loch Cé (LC), London 1871.

[2] Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, The Great Book of Irish Genealogies, Nollaig Ó Muraíle, Editor, Dublin 2002-03, Vol. II, p.75.

[3] Farney in County Monaghan.

[4] In LC he is referred to as ‘Chief King’.

[5] In Four Masters he is referred to as ‘King of Teamhair and Meath, with its dependent districts, of Airgialla, and, for a time, of the greater part of Leinster’.

[6] Wife of Murchadh Ua Cearbhaill, daughter of Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha].

[7] Lord of Kinel-Conaill, Kinel-Owen and Oriel.

[8] King of Cenal-Conaill and of Cenel-Eogain and of the Airghialla.

[9] King of Tir Conaill and For Manach and Cairpre and Airghialla from the Plain downwards.

[10] King of Tyrone, he took the lordship of Airghialla.

[11] Aedh lost the title of the Mag Mathghamhna in 1496 after being blinded. The title went to Brian Mag Mathghamhna, son of Redmond, son of Rughraidhe.


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