"Kennedi Cas revere the law!"
which induced him to abandon his pretensions. This Prince, usually spoken of by the Bards as "the chaste Kennedy," died in the year 950, leaving behind him four or five out of twelve sons, with whom he had been blessed. Most of the others had fallen in Danish battles--three in the same campaign (943), and probably in the same field. There appear in after scenes, Mahon, who became King of Cashel; Echtierna, who was chief of Thomond, under Mahon; Marcan, an ecclesiastic, and Brian, born in 941, the Benjamin of the household. Mahon proved himself, as Prince and Captain, every way worthy of his inheritance. He advanced from victory to victory over his enemies, foreign and domestic. In 960 he claimed the throne of Munster, which claim he enforced by royal visitation five years later. In the latter year, he rescued Clonmacnoise from the Danes, and in 968 defeated the same enemy, with a loss of several thousand men at Sulchoid. This great blow he followed up by the sack of Limerick, from which "he bore off a large quantity of gold, and silver, and jewels." In these, and all his expeditions, from a very early age, he was attended by Brian, to whom he acted not only as a brother and prince, but as a tutor in arms. Fortune had accompanied him in all his undertakings. He had expelled his most intractable rival--Molloy, son of Bran, lord of Desmond; his rule was acknowledged by the Northmen of Dublin and Cork, who opened their fortresses to him, and served under his banner; he carried "all the hostages of Munster to his house," which had never before worn so triumphant an aspect. But family greatness begets family pride, and pride begets envy and hatred. The Eugenian families who now found themselves overshadowed by the brilliant career of the sons of Kennedy, conspired against the life of Mahon, who, from his too confiding nature, fell easily into their trap. Molloy, son of Bran, by the advice of Ivar, the Danish lord of Limerick, proposed to meet Mahon in friendly conference at the house of Donovan, an Eugenian chief, whose rath was at Bruree, on the river Maigue. The safety of each person was guaranteed by the Bishop of Cork, the mediator on the occasion. Mahon proceeded unsuspiciously to the conference, where he was suddenly seized by order of his treacherous host, and carried into the neighbouring mountains of Knocinreorin. Here a small force, placed for the purpose by the conspirators, had orders promptly to despatch their victim. But the foul deed was not done unwitnessed. Two priests of the Bishop of Cork followed the Prince, who, when arrested, snatched up "the Gospel of St. Barry," on which Molloy was to have sworn his fealty. As the swords of the assassins were aimed at his heart, he held up the Gospel for a protection, and his blood spouting out, stained the Sacred Scriptures. The priests, taking up the blood-stained volume, fled to their Bishop, spreading the horrid story as they went. The venerable successor of St. Barry "wept bitterly, and uttered a prophecy concerning the future fate of the murderers;" a prophecy which was very speedily fulfilled.
This was in the year 976, three or four years before the battle of Tara and the accession of Malachy. When the news of his noble-hearted brother's murder was brought to Brian, at Kinkora, he was seized with the most violent grief. His favourite harp was taken down, and he sang the death-song of Mahon, recounting all the glorious actions of his life. His anger flashed out through his tears, as he wildly chanted
"My heart shall burst within my breast, Unless I avenge this great king; They shall forfeit life for this foul deed Or I must perish by a violent death."
But the climax of his lament was, that Mahon "had not fallen in battle behind the shelter of his shield, rather than trust in the treacherous words of Donovan." Brian was now in his thirty-fifth year, was married, and had several children. Morrogh, his eldest, was able to bear arms, and shared in his ardour and ambition. "His first effort," says an old Chronicle, "was directed against Donovan's allies, the Danes of Limerick, and he slew Ivar their king, and two of his sons." These conspirators, foreseeing their fate, had retired into the holy isle of Scattery, but Brian slew them between "the horns of the altar." For this violation of the sanctuary, considering his provocation, he was little blamed. He next turned his rage against Donovan, who had called to his aid the Danish townsmen of Desmond. "Brian," says the Annalist of Innisfallen, "gave them battle where Auliffe and his Danes, and Donovan and his Irish forces, were all cut off." After that battle, Brian sent a challenge to Molloy, of Desmond, according to the custom of that age, to meet him in arms near Macroom, where the usual coalition, Danes and Irish, were against him. He completely routed the enemy, and his son Morrogh, then but a lad, "killed the murderer of his uncle Mahon with his own hand." Molloy was buried on the north side of the mountain where Mahon was murdered and interred; on Mahon the southward sun shone full and fair; but on the grave of his assassin, the black shadow of the northern sky rested always. Such was the tradition which all Munster piously believed. After this victory over Molloy, son of Bran (A.D. 978), Brian was universally acknowledged King of Munster, and until Malachy had won the battle of Tara, was justly considered the first Irish captain of his age.
Malachy, in the first year of his reign, having received the hostages of the Danes of Dublin, having liberated the Irish prisoners and secured the unity of his own territory, had his attention drawn, naturally enough, towards Brian's movements. Whether Brian had refused him homage, or that his revival of the old claim to the half-kingdom was his offence, or from whatever immediate cause, Malachy marched southwards, enforcing homage as he went. Entering Thomond he plundered the Dalcassians, and marching to the mound at Adair, where, under an old oak, the kings of Thomond had long been inaugurated, he caused it to be "dug from the earth with its roots," and cut into pieces. This act of Malachy's certainly bespeaks an embittered and aggressive spirit, and the provocation must, indeed, have been grievous to palliate so barbarous an action. But we are not informed what the provocation was. At the time Brian was in Ossory enforcing his tribute; the next year we find him seizing the person of Gilla-Patrick, Lord of Ossory, and soon after he burst into Meath, avenging with fire and sword the wanton destruction of his ancestral oak.
Thus were these two powerful Princes openly embroiled with each other. We have no desire to dwell on all the details of their struggle, which continued for fully twenty years. About the year 987, Brian was practically king of half Ireland, and having the power, (though not the title,) he did not suffer any part of it to lie waste. His activity was incapable of exhaustion; in Ossory, in Leinster, in Connaught, his voice and his arm were felt everywhere. But a divided authority was of necessity so favourable to invasion, that the Danish power began to loom up to its old proportions. Sitrick, "with the silken beard," one of the ablest of Danish leaders, was then at Dublin, and his occasional incursions were so formidable, that they produced (what probably nothing else could have done) an alliance between Brian and Malachy, which lasted for three years, and was productive of the best consequences. Thus, in 997, they imposed their yoke on Dublin, taking "hostages and jewels" from the foreigners. Reinforcements arriving from the North, the indomitable Danes proceeded to plunder Leinster, but were routed by Brian and Malachy at Glen-Mama, in Wicklow, with the loss of 6,000 men and all their chief captains. Immediately after this victory the two kings, according to the Annals, "entered into Dublin, and the fort thereof, and there remained seven nights, and at their departure took all the gold, silver, hangings, and other precious things that were there with them, burnt the town, broke down the fort, and banished Sitrick from thence" (A.D. 999).
The next three years of Brian's life are the most complex in his career. After resting a night in Meath, with Malachy, he proceeded with his forces towards Armagh, nominally on a pilgrimage, but really, as it would seem, to extend his party. He remained in the sacred city a week, and presented ten ounces of gold, at the Cathedral altar. The Archbishop Marian received him with the distinction due to so eminent a guest, and a record of his visit, in which he is styled "Imperator of the Irish," was entered in the book of St. Patrick. He, however, got no hostages in the North, but on his march southward, he learned that the Danes had returned to Dublin, were rebuilding the City and Fort, and were ready to offer submission and hostages to him, while refusing both to Malachy. Here Brian's eagerness for supremacy misled him. He accepted the hostages, joined the foreign forces to his own, and even gave his daughter in marriage to Sitrick of "the silken beard." Immediately he broke with Malachy, and with his new allies and son-in-law, marched into Meath in hostile array. Malachy, however, stood to his defence; attacked and defeated Brian's advance guard of Danish horse, and the latter, unwilling apparently to push matters to extremities, retired as he came, without "battle, or hostage, or spoil of any kind."
But his design of securing the monarchy was not for an instant abandoned, and, by combined diplomacy and force, he effected his end. His whole career would have been incomplete without that last and highest conquest over every rival. Patiently but surely he had gathered influence and authority, by arms, by gifts, by connections on all sides. He had propitiated the chief families of Connaught by his first marriage with More, daughter of O'Heyne, and his second marriage with Duvchalvay, daughter of O'Conor. He had obtained one of the daughters of Godwin, the powerful Earl of Kent, for his second son; had given a daughter to the Prince of Scots, and another to the Danish King of Dublin.
Malachy, in diplomatic skill, in foresight, and in tenacity of purpose, was greatly inferior to Brian, though in personal gallantry and other princely qualities, every way his equal. He was of a hospitable, out-spoken, enjoying disposition, as we gather from many characteristic anecdotes. He is spoken of as "being generally computed the best horseman in those parts of Europe;" and as one who "delighted to ride a horse that was never broken, handled, or ridden, until the age of seven years." From an ancient story, which represents him as giving his revenues for a year to one of the Court Poets and then fighting him with a "headless staff" to compel the Poet to return them, it would appear that his good humour and profusion were equal to his horsemanship. Finding Brian's influence still on the increase west of the Shannon, Malachy, in the year of our Lord 1000, threw two bridges across the Shannon, one at Athlone, the other at the present Lanesborough. This he did with the consent and assistance of O'Conor, but the issue was as usual--he made the bridges, and Brian profited by them. While Malachy was at Athlone superintending the work, Brian arrived with a great force recruited from all quarters (except Ulster), including Danish men-in-armour. At Athlone was held the conference so memorable in our annals, in which Brian gave his rival the alternative of a pitched battle, within a stated time, or abdication. According to the Southern Annalists, first a month, and afterwards a year, were allowed the Monarch to make his choice. At the expiration of the time Brian marched into Meath, and encamped at Tara, where Malachy, having vainly endeavoured to secure the alliance of the Northern Hy-Nial in the interval, came and submitted to Brian without safeguard or surety. The unmade monarch was accompanied by a guard "of twelve score horsemen," and on his arrival, proceeded straight to the tent of his successor. Here the rivals contended in courtesy, as they had often done in arms, and when they separated, Brian, as Lord Paramount, presented Malachy as many horses as he had horsemen in his train when he came to visit him. This event happened in the year 1001, when Brian was in his 60th and Malachy in his 53rd year. There were present at the Assembly all the princes and chiefs of the Irish, except the Prince of Aileach, and the Lords of Oriel, Ulidia, Tyrowen and Tyrconnell, who were equally unwilling to assist Malachy or to acknowledge Brian. What is still more remarkable is, the presence in this national assembly of the Danish Lords of Dublin, Carmen (Wexford), Waterford and Cork, whom Brian, at this time, was trying hard to conciliate by gifts and alliances.