Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid
Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid known as Máel Sechnaill I, anglicised as Malachy MacMulrooney was High King of Ireland. The Annals of Ulster use the Old Irish title rí hÉrenn uile, "king of all Ireland", when reporting his death, distinguishing Máel Sechnaill from the usual Kings of Tara who are only called High Kings of Ireland in late sources such as the Annals of the Four Masters or Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn. Máel Sechnaill was a grandson of Donnchad Midi mac Domnaill of Clann Cholmáin, King of Tara from around 778 to 797. Clann Cholmáin was a sept of the Uí Néill. While the southern Uí Néill had been dominated by the Síl nÁedo Sláine Kings of Brega in the 7th and early 8th centuries, the Clann Cholmáin were dominant from the time of Máel Sechnaill's great-grandfather Domnall Midi; the Kingship of Tara, a symbolic title, alternated between Clann Cholmáin as representatives of the southern Uí Néill and the Cenél nEógain as representatives of the northern Uí Néill. Máel Sechnaill became king of Mide and head of Clann Cholmáin after killing his brother Flann in 845, king of Tara in 846 on the death of Niall Caille mac Áeda of the Cenél nEógain, who drowned in the Callan River close to Armagh.
He had appeared in the Irish annals some years earlier, being noticed in 839, again 841 as a result of fighting among the chiefs of Clann Cholmáin when he killed his cousin Diarmait, son of Conchobar mac Donnchada, when Diarmait had tried to depose Máel Sechnaill's father as king of Mide. Prior to Máel Sechnaill's coming to power, the southern Uí Néill had been disunited, until Niall Caille defeated Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Munster, at Mag nÓchtair in 841, the midlands had been ravaged by the Munstermen. At the same time, Ireland was a target for Viking raids, although these appear to have been of minor significance. Niall Caille inflicted a heavy defeat on the Norsemen in 845 at Mag Itha shortly before Máel Sechnaill became king of Mide. Late in 845 the Norse chieftain Thorgest or Turgesius, who had emulated Feidlimid mac Crimthainn by attacking Clonmacnoise and Clonfert, was captured by Máel Sechnaill, drowned in Lough Owel. Máel Sechnaill's reign was portrayed in sources as being a matter of war with the Vikings and Norse-Gaels, thanks to works such as the Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh, a panegyric written for Muircheartach Ua Briain, grandson of Brian Boru.
The annals tell of frequent battles between Máel Sechnaill and the Viking, both when they were acting on their own and as allies to Cináed mac Conaing or Cerball mac Dúnlainge. But he was on occasions allied to the Norse-Gaels. In 856 "reat warfare between the heathens and Máel Sechnaill with the Norse-Irish" is reported by the Annals of Ulster. Máel Sechnaill's real achievements were in Munster. Shortly after killing Cináed with the aid of Tigernach mac Fócartai, Máel Sechnaill met with the king of Ulster, Matudán mac Muiredaig, the chief cleric of Ulster, Abbot of Armagh. Here Máel Sechnaill was acknowledged as High King by the Ulstermen; this did not end strife between the Uí Néill and the kings of Ulster as Armagh was raided by Máel Sechnaill in 852. However, Ulster provided troops for Máel Sechnaill, whose army is called "the men of Ireland" in 858; the annals record expeditions to Munster to obtain tribute and hostages in 854, 856 and in 858, when his army killed several kings, wasted the land and marched south to the sea.
Máel Sechnaill's attempts to obtain the submission to the Munster kings of the Eóganachta were obstructed by the ambitious king of Osraige in Leinster, Cerball mac Dúnlainge. Cerball, known to Icelanders' sagas as Kjarvalr Írakonungr, raided Munster and obtained allies and mercenaries from among the Norse and Norse-Gaels of southern Ireland; the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, a combination of annals and history written in the 11th century for Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic king of Osraige and Leinster, say that the expedition of 854 was led by Cerball on Máel Sechnaill's orders, although Máel Sechnaill himself appears to have raided into Munster that year. It is reported that Cerball joined forces with Ivarr, a king of the "Dark foreigners": in 859, they challenged the power of Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid; the Annals of Innisfallen are alone in reporting an expedition by Cerbthe power of all with allies from Munster against Máel Sechnaill in 859, said to have reached as far north as Armagh.
The Annals of Ulster however, states that Cerball entered Mide with a great army, supported by Norse allies, Amlaíb and Ivar. A general assembly of kings and clerics in 859 at Rahugh in County Westmeath settled matters by detaching Osraige from Munster. Máel Gualae mac Donngaile of Munster and Cerball both consented to the change, little loss to the Eóganachta who had but exercised any control over Osraige. Máel Sechnaill's successes raised more opposition from his Uí Néill kinsmen than from subject kings or the Norse and Norse-Gaels, the latter part of his reign was spent in conflict with the northern Uí Neill, led by Áed Findliath, son of Niall Caille. In 860 Máel Sechnaill led an army raised from Munster and Connacht against the northern Uí Néill; the annals say that Áed Findliath and Flann mac Conaing, brother of Cináed, led a night attack on Máel Sechnaill's camp near Armagh, beaten off with heavy loss to Áed and Flann. Further fighting between Áed and Máel Sechnaill is reported in 861, again in 862.
Máel Sechnaill died peacefully on 27 November 862. His obituary in the Annals of Ulster states:Máel Sechnailll son of Máel Ruanaid, son of Donnchad, son of Domnall, son of
High King of Ireland
The High Kings of Ireland were sometimes historical and sometimes legendary figures who had, or who are claimed to have had, lordship over the whole of Ireland for centuries. Medieval and early modern Irish literature portrays an unbroken sequence of High Kings, ruling from the Hill of Tara over a hierarchy of lesser kings, stretching back thousands of years. Modern historians believe this scheme is artificial, constructed in the 8th century from the various genealogical traditions of politically powerful groups, intended to justify the current status of those groups by projecting it back into the remote past; the concept of national kingship is first articulated in the 7th century, but only became a political reality in the Viking Age, then not a consistent one. While the High Kings' degree of control varied, Ireland was never ruled by them as a politically unified state, as the High King was conceived of as an overlord exercising suzerainty over, receiving tribute from, the independent kingdoms beneath him.
Early Irish kingship was sacred in character. In the early narrative literature a king is a king because he marries the sovereignty goddess, is free from blemish, enforces symbolic buada and avoids symbolic geasa. According to 7th and 8th century law tracts, a hierarchy of kingship and clientship progressed from the rí tuaithe through the ruiri to a rí ruirech; each king ruled directly only within the bounds of his own petty kingdom and was responsible for ensuring good government by exercising fír flaithemon. His responsibilities included convening its óenach, collecting taxes, building public works, external relations, emergency legislation, law enforcement, promulgating legal judgment; the lands in a petty kingdom were held allodially by various fine of freemen. The king occupied the apex of a pyramid of clientship within the petty kingdom; this pyramid progressed from the unfree population at its base up to the heads of noble fine held in immediate clientship by the king. Thus the king was drawn from the dominant fine within the cenél.
The kings of the Ulster Cycle are kings in this sacred sense, but it is clear that the old concept of kingship coexisted alongside Christianity for several generations. Diarmait mac Cerbaill, king of Tara in the middle of the 6th century, may have been the last king to have "married" the land. Diarmait died at the hands of Áed Dub mac Suibni. Adomnán's Life tells; the same Threefold Death is said in a late poem to have befallen Diarmait's predecessor, Muirchertach macc Ercae, the reliable Annals of Ulster record Muirchertach's death by drowning in a vat of wine. A second sign that sacred kingship did not disappear with the arrival of Christianity is the supposed lawsuit between Congal Cáech, king of the Ulaid, Domnall mac Áedo. Congal was blinded in one eye by Domnall's bees, from whence his byname Cáech, this injury rendering him imperfect and unable to remain High King; the enmity between Domnall and Congal can more prosaically be laid at the door of the rivalry between the Uí Néill and the kings of Ulaid, but that a king had to be whole in body appears to have been accepted at this time.
The business of Irish succession is rather complicated because of the nature of kingship in Ireland before the Norman take-over of 1171. Ireland was divided into a multiplicity of kingdoms, with some kings owing allegiance to others from time to time, succession rules varied. Kings were succeeded by their sons, but other branches of the dynasty took a turn—whether by agreement or by force of arms is clear; the king-lists and other early sources reveal little about how and why a particular person became king. To add to the uncertainty, genealogies were edited many generations to improve an ancestor's standing within a kingdom, or to insert him into a more powerful kindred; the uncertain practices in local kingship cause similar problems when interpreting the succession to the high kingship. The High King of Ireland was a ceremonial, pseudo-federal overlord, who exercised actual power only within the realm of which he was king. In the case of the southern branch of the Uí Neill, this would have been the Kingdom of Meath.
High Kings from the northern branch ruled various kingdoms in what became the province of Ulster. In 1002, the high kingship of Ireland was wrested from Mael Sechnaill II of the southern Uí Neill by Brian "Boruma" mac Cennédig of the Kingdom of Munster; some historians have called this a "usurpation" of the throne. Others have pointed out that no one had a strict legal right to the kingship and that Brian "had as much right to the high throne as any Uí Neill and... displayed an ability sadly lacking amongst most of the Uí Neill who had preceded him."Brian was killed in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Mael Sechnaill II was restored to the High Kingship but he died in 1022. From 1022 through the Norman take-over of 1171, the High Kingship was held alongside "Kings with Opposition". At the time the law tracts were being written these petty kingdoms were being swept away by newly emerging dynasties of dynamic overkings
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