The last scene of the Irish monarchy, before it entered on the anarchical period, was not destitute of an appropriate grandeur. It was the death-bed scene of the second Malachy, the rival, ally, and successor of the great Brian. After the eventful day of Clontarf he resumed the monarchy, without opposition, and for eight years he continued in its undisturbed enjoyment. The fruitful land of Meath again gave forth its abundance, unscourged by the spoiler, and beside its lakes and streams the hospitable Ard-Righ had erected, or restored, three hundred fortified houses, where, as his poets sung, shelter was freely given to guests from the king of the elements. His own favourite residence was at Dunnasciath ("the fort of shields"), in the north-west angle of Lough Ennel, in the present parish of Dysart. In the eighth year after Clontarf--the summer of 1022--the Dublin Danes once again ventured on a foray into East-Meath, and the aged monarch marched to meet them. At Athboy he encountered the enemy, and drove them, routed and broken, out of the ancient mensal land of the Irish kings.
Thirty days after that victory he was called on to confront the conqueror of all men, even Death. He had reached the age of seventy-three, and he prepared to meet his last hour with the zeal and humility of a true Christian. To Dunnasciath repaired Amalgaid, Archbishop of Armagh, the Abbots of Clonmacnoise and of Durrow, with a numerous train of the clergy. For greater solitude, the dying king was conveyed into an island of the lake opposite his fort--then called Inis-Cro, now Cormorant Island--and there, "after intense penance," on the fourth of the Nones of September precisely, died Malachy, son of Donald, son of Donogh, in the fond language of the bards, "the pillar of the dignity and nobility of the western world:" and "the seniors of all Ireland sung masses, hymns, psalms, and canticles for the welfare of his soul."
"This," says the old Translator of the Clonmacnoise Annals, "was the last king of Ireland of Irish blood, that had the crown; yet there were seven kings after without crown, before the coming in of the English." Of these seven subsequent kings we are to write under the general title of "the War of Succession." They are called Ard-Righ go Fresabra, that is, kings opposed, or unrecognised, by certain tribes, or Provinces. For it was essential to the completion of the title, as we have before seen, that when the claimant was of Ulster, he should have Connaught and Munster, or Leinster and Munster, in his obedience: in other words, he should be able to command the allegiance of two-thirds of his suffragans. If of Munster, he should be equally potent in the other Provinces, in order to rank among the recognised kings of Erin. Whether some of the seven kings subsequent to Malachy II., who assumed the title, were not fairly entitled to it, we do not presume to say; it is our simpler task to narrate the incidents of that brilliant war of succession, which occupies almost all the interval between the Danish and Anglo-Norman invasions. The chaunt of the funeral Mass of Malachy was hardly heard upon Lough Ennel, when Donogh O'Brien despatched his agents, claiming the crown from the Provincial Princes. He was the eldest son of Brian by his second marriage, and his mother was an O'Conor, an additional source of strength to him, in the western Province. It had fallen to the lot of Donogh, and his elder brother, Teigue or Thaddeus, to conduct the remnant of the Dalcassians from Clontarf to their home. Marching through Ossory, by the great southern road, they were attacked in their enfeebled state by the lord of that brave little border territory, on whom Brian's hand had fallen with heavy displeasure. Wounded as many of them were, they fought their way desperately towards Cashel, leaving 150 men dead in one of their skirmishes. Of all who had left the Shannon side to combat with the enemy, but 850 men lived to return to their homes.
No sooner had they reached Kinkora, than a fierce dispute arose, between the friends of Teigue and Donogh, as to which should reign over Munster. A battle ensued, with doubtful result, but by the intercession of the Clergy this unnatural feud was healed, and the brothers reigned conjointly for nine years afterwards, until Teigue fell in an engagement in Ely (Queen's County), as was charged and believed, by the machinations of his colleague and brother. Thorlogh, son of Teigue, was the foster-son, and at this time the guest or hostage of Dermid of Leinster, the founder of the McMurrogh family, which had now risen into the rank justly forfeited by the traitor Maelmurra. When he reached man's age he married the daughter of Dermid, and we shall soon hear of him again asserting in Munster the pretensions of the eldest surviving branch of the O'Brien family.
The death of his brother and of Malachy within the same year, proved favourable to the ambition of Donogh O'Brien. All Munster submitted to his sway; Connaught was among the first to recognise his title as Ard-Righ. Ossory and Leinster, though unwillingly, gave in their adhesion. But Meath refused to recognise him, and placed its government in commission, in the hands of Con O'Lochan, the arch-poet, and Corcran, the priest, already more than once mentioned. The country, north of Meath, obeyed Flaherty O'Neil, of Aileach, whose ambition, as well as that of all his house, was to restore the northern supremacy, which had continued unbroken, from the fourth to the ninth century. This Flaherty was a vigorous, able, and pious Prince, who held stoutly on to the northern half-kingdom. In the year 1030 he made the frequent but adventurous pilgrimage to Rome, from which he is called, in the pedigree of his house, an Trostain, or the cross-bearer.
The greatest obstacle, however, to the complete ascendency of Donogh, arose in the person of his nephew, now advanced to manhood. Thorlogh O'Brien possessed much of the courage and ability of his grandfather, and he had at his side, a faithful and powerful ally in his foster-father, Dermid, of Leinster. Rightly or wrongly, on proof or on suspicion, he regarded his uncle as his father's murderer, and he pursued his vengeance with a skill and constancy worthy of Hamlet. At the time of his father's death, he was a mere lad--in his fourteenth year. But, as he grew older, he accompanied his foster-father in all his expeditions, and rapidly acquired a soldier's fame. By marriage with Dervorgoil, daughter of the Lord of Ossory, he strengthened his influence at the most necessary point; and what, with so good a cause and such fast friends as he made in exile, his success against his uncle is little to be wondered at. Leinster and Ossory, which had temporarily submitted to Donogh's claim, soon found good pretexts for refusing him tribute, and a border war, marked by all the usual atrocities, raged for several successive seasons. The contest, is relieved, however, of its purely civil character, by the capture of Waterford, still Danish, in 1037, and of Dublin, in 1051. On this occasion, Dermid, of Leinster, bestowed the city on his son Morrogh (grandfather of Strongbow's ally), to whom the remnant of its inhabitants, as well as their kinsmen in Man, submitted for the time with what grace they could.
The position of Donogh O'Brien became yearly weaker. His rival had youth, energy, and fortune on his side. The Prince of Connaught finally joined him, and thus, a league was formed, which overcame all opposition. In the year 1058, Donogh received a severe defeat at the base of the Galtees; and although he went into the house of O'Conor the same year, and humbly submitted to him, it only postponed his day of reckoning. Three years after O'Conor took Kinkora, and Dermid, of Leinster, burned Limerick, and took hostages as far southward as Saint Brendan's hill (Tralee). The next year Donogh O'Brien, then fully fourscore years of age, weary of life and of the world, took the cross-staff, and departed on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he died soon after, in the monastery of St. Stephen. It is said by some writers that Donogh brought with him to Rome and presented to the Pope, Alexander II., the crown of his father--and from this tradition many theories and controversies have sprung. It is not unlikely that a deposed monarch should have carried into exile whatever portable wealth he still retained, nor that he should have presented his crown to the Sovereign Pontiff before finally quitting the world. But as to conferring with the crown, the sovereignty of which it was once an emblem, neither reason nor religion obliges us to believe any such hypothesis.
Dermid of Leinster, upon the banishment of Donogh, son of Brian (A.D. 1063), became actual ruler of the southern half-kingdom and nominal Ard-Righ, "with opposition." The two-fold antagonism to this Prince, came, as might be expected from Conor, son of Malachy, the head of the southern Hy-Nial dynasty, and from the chiefs of the elder dynasty of the North. Thorlogh O'Brien, now King of Cashel, loyally repaid, by his devoted adherence, the deep debt he owed in his struggles and his early youth to Dermid. There are few instances in our Annals of a more devoted friendship than existed between these brave and able Princes through all the changes of half a century. No one act seems to have broken the life-long intimacy of Dermid and Thorlogh; no cloud ever came between them; no mistrust, no distrust. Rare and precious felicity of human experience! How many myriads of men have sighed out their souls in vain desire for that best blessing which Heaven can bestow, a true, unchanging, unsuspecting friend!
As a picture of the manners and habits of thought in those tunes, the fate of Conor, son of Melaghlin, and its connection with the last illness and death of Thorlogh O'Brien, are worthy of mention. Conor was treacherously slain, the year after the battle of Ova, in a parley with his own nephew, though the parley was held under the protection of the Bachall-Isa, or Staff, of Christ, the most revered relic of the Irish Church. After his death, his body was buried in the great Church of Clonmacnoise, in his own patrimony. But Thorlogh O'Brien perhaps, from his friendship for Dermid, carried off his head, as the head of an enemy, to Kinkora. When it was placed in his presence in his palace, a mouse ran out from the dead man's head, and under the king's mantle, which occasioned him such a fright that he grew suddenly sick, his hair fell off, and his life was despaired of. It was on Good Friday that the buried head was carried away, and on Easter Sunday, it was tremblingly restored again, with two rings of gold as a peace offering to the Church. Thus were God and Saint Kieran vindicated. Thorlogh O'Brien slowly regained his strength, though Keating, and the authors he followed, think he was never the same man again, after the fright he received from the head of Conor O'Melaghlin. He died peaceably and full of penitence, at Kinkora, on the eve of the Ides of July,