01 July 2012

Magh Adhair : Dál gCais Inauguration site

By Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain

     Throughout the Emerald Isle one can find sites that were once sacred to the various clans of the Gaels to this day. These sites were where the various tribes would gather for assemblies or inauguration of a king or chief.
     These sites were different than those of continental Europe for they were all held outside instead of in buildings, chapels, or cathedrals. Most of these gathering sites were usually had some type of mound that had a view of the surrounding area such as the Mount of Cashel in Munster where the kings of Munster Province were inaugurated.  Others such as where the chiefs of the Ó Dowd where held at Carn inghine Bhriain , was on a cairn-mound of an ancestral chief. Some inaugurations took place under a sacred tree, or standing on a sacred stone. Some stones had a carved footprint, or a stone chair as at Leac-na-Righ where The Ó Neill was inaugurated.
     The sacred gathering place for the Dál gCais of Thomond was at the ancient cairn mound called Magh Adhair (phonetically Moy Eir), a well preserved place of ancient ceremonial rites. Legend mentions Adhar son of Huamor and brother of Aengus of Dun Aengus in Aran, whose tribe came into Ireland in the first century. Here Adhar is said to have been buried. [1]  
     The mound stands in a small plain, in a natural amphitheatre, formed by a low crag called 'the Beetle's Crag' or Cragnakeeroge, beside the strangely named 'Hell Bridge' and 'Hell River', where not too far away is a singular standing stone about 6’ 4” tall, and some 3’ wide. There are traces of a semi-circular fence, between which and the mound lies a large block of conglomerate of dull purple, with red and pink pebbles of porphyry and quartz; two basins are ground in it. [2]

Magh Adhair is a rising mound, once with a large tree.
Magh Adhair on road that leads from Quin to Tulla.
     To tamper with an inauguration or assembly site was a great insult, pure sacrilege. At least three such events are recorded to have happened at Magh Adhair.  The first insult was committed by  the High-King, Flann Sionna in 877, when he marched into Thomond 'to the green of Magh Adhair and played chess to insult the l gCais, at the very place of inauguration.'  So offensive was this act that the surrounding inhabitants and the local chiefs were on him before he'd even finished his game. They were too polite to kill him though, and in a Celtic fashion just stole his best bard. [3]
      Another insult to the Dál gCais especially directed at the new Munster Province king Brian Boru: [4]
  •           A.D. 981. - Maelseachlainn, the son of Domhnall plundered l gCais and prostrated the Bilé (tree in Gaelic) of Magh Adhair, having dug it with its roots out of the ground.
  •           A.D. 1051. - The Tree (Bilé) of Magh Adhair was prostrated by Hugh O’Conor. (Hoping for a similar result for another O’Brien king.)
     An inauguration ceremony took place at Magh Adhair around 1200 which was (it seems) documented: The cairn or mound had a palisade, with a gate, guarded by three chiefs; a fourth alone ascended the cairn with Cathal Craoibhdhearg and gave him the white rod. The other chiefs and the comharbs (stewards) stood below, holding the Prince's arms, clothes and horse. He faced the north, and on stepping down from the inauguration stone on the mound, turned round thrice (to view all that he ruled), as is still the custom in County Clare on seeing a new moon. He then descended from the mound and was helped to robe and remount.
Layout of Magh Adhair.
     The work called the Caithreim Thoirdhealbhaigh or Wars of Torlogh (Thomond king Turlogh O’Brien), has the following references to Magh Adhair (Moy-Eyre): 
  •      A.D. 1242. After Donogh Cairbeach O’Brien had exchanged this mortal life for the happiness of angels with the victory of Unction and Penance, a chieftain of (from) every tribe, a leader of every people, and a commander from every sept assembled around his son Conor at Moy-Eyre to inaugurate him King in the place of his good father. It was the noble pillar of numerous hosts Sioda (Sheedy Mac Namara) who first proclaimed him (Chief or King of his people) and the rest of the Chiefs expressed their consent immediately after.

  •          A.D. 1267. After the death of Conor, the broad eyed Brien Roe, his puissant stately son, summoned all the nobles of his people from every quarter to Moy-Eyre to ordain (i.e., inaugurate) him King over the tribes in the place of his father. When they had met together, the cheerful sharp-eyed Sheedy (Mac Namara) proclaimed aloud his regal title, and none of the other Chiefs opposed him.
  •           A.D. 1277. After the execution of Brian Roe, De Clare sent messengers to Turlogh to communicate to him that he would make peace with him for giving up (i.e., if he would cease from) his hostilities and dreadful incursions; and as a confirmation of the peace, the messengers told him how the King, Brian Roe, his mortal enemy, had been hanged. But without regarding De Clare’s deceitful treaty the expeditious Torlogh, crowned with conquest, proceeded with all his numerous forces to Moy-Eyre where he was inaugurated supreme King of North Munster by Sheedy Mac Namara in the year of our Lord 1277, and the numerous hosts of North Munster rejoiced at seeing the true branch in chief command over them.
  •           A.D. 1311. His chiefs assembled around Dermot, the son of Donogh, who was son of Brian Roe O’Brien at Moy-Eyre to invest him with the chieftainship, and the tower-like hero was solemnly inaugurated. It was Loughlin, the son of Cumee, who first installed him and the states (tribes) unanimously consented. As the Bard of Dermot said on the occasion: 

Coronation Stone of Munster on Mount Cashel.
      Let us give the title of King, 
Stone & St. Patrick's Cross mounted on top moved inside.
(     Which will be of much fame
To the land which has chosen him)
To the valorous griffin (i.e., warrior)
The son of the fair-formed Donogh
Of the sealed secrets
Generous heir of generous Blood (Blód)  
The puissant Dermot of fortresses.
He is kind to the Church,
He is head over all,
The heart (centre) of the territories,
A tree under blossom.
Dermot of Dun M
The mild, lively, fierce,
Received the hostages
Through his wisdom and sword
His gracious smile and pomp (pride)
He exhibits with grace
And since he has commenced his career 
His fame has spread afar
Momonia of Bards
Is his principality
Proclaim we him King
           Of his tribes with great joy. .D. 1311. Murtagh O’Brien, the son of Turlogh, was inaugurated at Magh-Adhair by Loughlin Mac Namara, in opposition to Dermot O’Brien.
     Notices of the inaugurations are numerous in various annals from 1275 to 1311, and occur sporadically from 877 onwards. Other and less famous gatherings were at Creganenagh (‘Fair or Assembly Crag’ on the bare hill over Termon in the Burren, and at a field in Caherminaun near Kilfenora. The latter probably gave the name Ballykinvarga, (Baile-cinn-mharghaidh in 1380), i.e. ‘head of the market,’ to the adjacent townland, and may have been connected with the remarkable ring wall, girt with a wide abattis of pillar stones, not far distant. Some forgotten assembly is commemorated at Eanty (‘Fairs’ or ‘gatherings’) in the east of Burren. [5]
     A long succession of Kings of Thomond were inaugurated at Magh Adhair down to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and 'Iraghts'  (gatherings or assemblies) of considerable local importance were held, down to 1838 just before the great famine, and were remembered even about 1890.

Following is the ceremony described in the ancient annals for the installation of a chief or king.[6]
  1.      Be of the blood of the original acquirer of the territory; free from all personal defects or deformities. Of the age able to lead the clan into battle.
  2.           Majority of the sub-chiefs and freeholders must declare in his favor.
  3.          Inauguration must be celebrated at a designated place in the clan territory appointed for this purpose; the Brehons and Bards must attend and explain duties of a chief to his clan and give the oath to uphold the rights of the clan duly taken. [Some inauguration sites were on hills; under certain tree; at a certain Cairn or rath; a footmarked stone/rock; or a stone seat.]
  4.         Upon taking the oath of chief, the new chief must put aside his weapons, and a straight white wand must be handed to him as a sceptre and emblem of a symbol of authority, and also an emblem of what his conduct and judicial decisions should be--straight and without stain, thus indicating to his subjects that as long as they are obedient to him he requires no other weapon to command them.
  5.          After the Chief receives the wand, the principal sub-chief must tie the chiefs brogues, or sandals, on his feet in token of obedience, and throw another over his head in token of good luck and prosperity.
  6. Known inauguration places.
  7.      Lastly, the proper official must call aloud his surname, which must be repeated in turn by the sub-chiefs and freeholders, after which the Chieftain must turn round thrice forwards and thrice backwards in honor of the Holy Trinity, so as to view his people and territory; which being done, he became the legitimate Chief of his name. Then one of the sub-chiefs appointed for this purpose pronounced in a loud voice his surname--the surname only, without the Christian name--which was afterwards pronounced aloud by each of the clergy, one after another, according to dignity, and then by the sub-chiefs. He was then the lawful chief; and ever after, when spoken to, he was addressed "Obrien” &c.; and when spoken of in English, he was designated "The O’Brien" &c., a custom existing to this day.[At this same time a “tanist” (Gaelic - meaning second) was chosen, who must be of the derbhfine (true family) of the chiefly line. The tanist could be a son of the chief, or a cousin. The tanist was the chosen person to succeed the chief upon his death. In actual practice this rarely was peaceful. Usually any rebellious rival, be it brother or cousin, was not put to death but blinded, making him ineligible to be chosen as tanist or chief/king because of deformity.] [7]
Book of Lecan; TJ Westropp's 1916 'Antiquities of Limerick and its neighbourhood.'
4   Annals of the Four Masters.
6  Lord Walter Fitzgerald, “The Ancient Territories Out Of Which The Present County Kildare Was Formed, And Their Septs,” Journal of the County Kildare Archæological Society, Volume I, #3 (1893), p. 161. (FHL-BRITISH 941.85 H25j)]
7P. W. Joyce, A SMALLER SOCIAL HISTORY OF ANCIENT IRELAND, 1906; http://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/Contents.php.

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