Southern Anthology

Families on the Frontiers of the Old South

Diarmait MacMurchada, King of Leinster

Male 1110 - 1171  (60 years)


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  • Name Diarmait MacMurchada 
    Suffix King of Leinster 
    Born 26 Jun 1110  Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 1 May 1171  Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Notes 
    • MACMURCHADA, DIARMAID (Dermod MacMurrough) (1110?-1171), king of Leinster, was doubtless son of ENNA, king of Leinster, who, dying in 1126, is said to have been murdered by the citizens of Dublin, and to have been contemptuously buried with a dog. The best authority, the 'Book of Leinster,' says that Enna died at Lough Carman, Wexford, in the eighth year of his reign. He was son of DONNCHADH, son of MURCHADH, and descended from ENNA CEINNSELACH, king of Leinster in the fourth century. The statements as to the date of MacMurchada's birth are conflicting. According to information supplied by the 'Book of Leinster,' he was only fifteen years old when, in 1126, on his father's death, he became king of Leinster. Giraldus Cambrensis notes that 'his youth and inexperience in government led him to become the oppressor of the nobility.' His education was entrusted to Aedh mac Crimthainn, abbot of Terryglass, co. Tipperary, termed 'the chief historian of Leinster,' for whom the 'Book of Leinster' is said to have been compiled by Bishop Finn of Kildare, who was previously abbot of Newry. Dermod appears to have profited little by his instruction. Cruelty and profligacy characterised his youth. He is described by Giraldus as of giant stature, his voice hoarse from shouting his war-cry in battle, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him. According to the 'Chronicon Scotorum,' at the age of twenty-two he forcibly abducted the Abbess of Kildare, and when the community endeavoured to prevent the crime he slew 140 of them and set fire to the monastery.

      In the confusion which prevailed in the government of Ireland at this period, Dermod asserted a claim to the whole south of Ireland, called Leth Mogha. Accordingly he invaded Ossory in 1134, and though repulsed at first he returned to the attack and defeated the people of Ossory and their allies the Danes of Waterford. In 1137 he besieged Waterford, which was within the territory he claimed. In 1149 he plundered the stone-church of St. Cianan of Meath with the assistance of the Danes. Laurence O'Toole, then a boy of ten, was delivered into his hands, and was treated by him with such cruelty that O'Toole's father threatened to execute twelve of Dermod's followers unless the boy was restored to him. He is further charged in the 'Annals of the Four Masters' with putting to death or depriving of sight seventeen of his subordinate chieftains, though Leland attributes this offence to his father. The crime for which he is chiefly notorious was the abduction of Dervorgill, wife of Tiernan O'Ruark, lord of Breifne, a territory comprising the counties of Leitrim, Longford, and Cavan. The Anglo-Norman writers and the native annals supply different versions of the affair. The former, of whom Giraldus Cambrensis is the principal, describe Dervorgill as taking advantage of her husband's absence to invite Dermod to carry her off, and as feigning reluctance. Keating, who follows Giraldus, adds that her husband was at the time on a pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Purgatory at Lough Derg, and both writers agree that Dermod was expelled from his kingdom for this act, and that his journey to England and the Anglo-Norman invasion were the immediate consequences of it. But according to the more probable account in 'Annals of the Four Masters' under the year 1152 it was when the combined armies of O'Connor, Dermod, and others had invaded O'Ruark's territory, defeated him and deprived him of the district of Conmaicne, that Dermod took the opportunity of 'carrying off Dervorgill with her cattle and furniture,' whether with or without her consent is not stated. In the following year O'Connor, who had previously been Dermod's ally, marched against him, retook Dervorgill, and delivered her to her kinsmen the people of Meath. In the course of the same year she, according to the 'Four Masters,' 'came to her husband again.' In 1157 she was present with her husband at the consecration of the church of Mellifont, co. Louth. She survived her husband twenty-one years, and died in the monastery of Mellifont in her eighty-fifth year, in 1193.
      Meanwhile political changes were going forward; O'Loughlin, who had been Dermod's ally, was killed in the battle of Litterluin in 1166, whereupon Roderick O'Connor his enemy became king of Ireland, and Dermod, anticipating an attack, burnt his town of Ferns. Soon after another of Dermod's enemies, O'Ruark, marched against him, defeated him, burnt the castle of Ferns, and 'banished him over sea.' This took place, according to the 'Four Masters,' in 1166, and as this was fourteen years after the carrying off of Dervorgill it is evident that there is little direct connection between the two events. It was probably the fact of his evil life that led to his liberality in founding monasteries; among these was the convent of St. Mary de Hogges for Augustinian nuns, established in 1146. To this he subjected Kilclehin in the county of Kilkenny, and Aghade in the county of Carlow. In the same year convents at Baltinglass and Ferns were founded by him, and lastly the priory of All Saints, Hoggin Green, Dublin, where Trinity College now stands, in 1166. This liberality gained him the favour of the clergy.
      When banished over sea Dermod sought the aid of Henry II to recover his kingdom, imploring his protection and promising, if successful, to hold his kingdom as Henry's vassal. The application was highly acceptable to Henry, who in 1154 or 1155 had in view an expedition to Ireland, and according to many authors, obtained a bull from Adrian IV authorising the invasion, the pope sending him at the same time a valuable ring as a token of investiture. But the queen-mother being opposed to the enterprise, and matters not being ripe for action, the bull was kept secret for some years. Attempts are made from time to time to question the authenticity of this bull, but without sufficient reason. It is attested by abundant contem- porary evidence (Ussher, Sylloge), and it was confirmed by a subsequent bull of Alexander III in 1172, and consistently acted on by the papal authorities. Cardinal Vivian at the synod of Dublin in 1177 'set forth Henry's right by virtue of the pope's authority.' Its authenticity has always been maintained by the best authorities, as Ussher, Bellarmine, Lanigan, Bossuet, Fleury, and recently by Döllinger. Henry, unable to afford direct help to Dermod, gave him letters patent authorising any of his subjects who might be willing to render him assistance. Armed with this document Dermod, after much negotiation, prevailed on RICHARD DE CLARE, called Strongbow, to undertake the enterprise, promising him his daughter EVA in marriage, and the succession to the kingdom of Leinster [see Clare, Richard de, (d. 1176)]. With the assistance of David [q. v.], bishop of St. Davids, he induced several others to join him. Returning to Ireland in the following year (1167) with a few of his new allies, to whom thenceforth the 'Four Masters' apply the term Galls, formerly used of the Danes, he remained in the monastery of Ferns during the winter. In 1168 he sent Morice Regan, his faithful adherent, to hasten the promised expedition. Meantime he was hard pressed by King Turlough O'Connor and O'Ruark, and compelled to give seven hostages to the former for permission to retain ten cantreds of his native territory. He had also to pay one hundred ounces of gold as einech, or compensation, to O'Ruark for the wrong formerly done him. Dermod's object was to gain time, but it was not until May 1169 that Robert Fitzstephen [q. v.] entered the bay of Bannow (Cuan an bainb), in the county of Wexford, with a force of about 390 men, and landed at Bagganbun, a name which represents the Beannán bo[i]nn of Keating's 'History.' On the following day Maurice de Prendergast arrived from Milford with another force, chiefly consisting, it appears, of Flemings. Dermod having joined the allies, Wexford was assaulted and soon after surrendered by the advice of the bishops. A great expedition was now (1169, Annals of the Four Masters) organised by King Roderick to attack Dermod at Ferns, where he was strongly entrenched, but after much delay the king entered into a treaty with him, 'yielding to the weak counsels of some of the principal ecclesiastics' (O'Conor). Dermod gave his son and grandson as hostages, and entered into a secret agreement not to bring any more foreigners into Ireland and to send away those who were already with him as soon as Leinster was subdued. Dermod then marched to attack Dublin, but the citizens, terrified at his approach, returned to their allegiance. Emboldened by his success he now aimed at the sovereignty of Ireland, and messengers were sent to Earl Richard urging him to hasten to his aid. The earl first despatched Raymond, who landed at Dundonnell, co. Waterford, in May 1170, and immediately fortified himself. In the following August Richard himself landed in the same neighbourhood with two hundred knights and twelve hundred infantry. The men of Waterford had attempted to overpower Raymond before Earl Richard's arrival, but were defeated with great slaughter and seventy prisoners taken. These, according to Regan, were beheaded, a woman being employed as executioner, and their bodies then thrown over the cliff. Earl Richard now joined his forces to those of Raymond Fitzgerald [q. v.], the city was quickly taken, and immediately afterwards the marriage of Eva to Earl Richard took place as previously arranged. Dermod, before the close of the year, having now a considerable force at his command, set out again to attack Dublin, the citizens of which had incurred his mortal hatred by their brutal treatment of his father. Unable to withstand the force brought against them, they engaged St. Laurence O'Toole, archbishop of Dublin, to treat with Strongbow on their behalf, but while negotiations were going on Raymond and Miles de Cogan, with their followers, scaled the walls and captured the city. Hasculf, the Danish king, and the greater number of the inhabitants escaped with their valuables and took refuge on board their ships. Miles de Cogan was appointed governor of the city, and Dermod proceeded with Strongbow to overrun Meath, a territory to which he had no claim. On this Roderick sent him word that as long as he confined himself to the recovery of his own territories he had not opposed him, but as he was now making aggressions on others he must interfere, and he reminded him that his son was in his power as a hostage. Dermod returned an insolent reply, declared that he claimed not Leinster but all Ireland, and expressed himself utterly indifferent to the fate of his son. Roderick immediately put the unhappy youth to death, an act which the chroniclers greatly lament.

      The successes of the Normans having excited the jealousy of Henry II, he issued early in 1171 an edict forbidding any one to aid them, and commanding all of every degree to return to England on pain of being regarded as traitors. It was at this crisis that Dermod's death took place, and they were left without an ally. The event is thus described by the 'Four Masters' under the year 1171: Diar- maid MacMurchada, king of Leinster, by whom a trembling sod was made of all Ireland 'died of an insufferable and unknown disease, for he became putrid while living through the miracle of God and the saints of Ireland whose churches he had profaned and burnt. He died at Ferns without making a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as his evil deeds deserved.' The 'Book of Leinster,' on the other hand, states that 'he died after the victory of unction and penance,' adding, 'thenceforward is the miserable reign of the Saxons, amen, amen.' His son-in-law, Earl Richard, at once attempted to exercise all Dermod's powers as king of Leinster, but he found a powerful rival in Roderick O'Connor [q. v.] Henry II, on his arrival in person at the close of 1171, received the submission of natives and invaders alike, and set on a permanent basis that subjection of Ireland to England which was the inevitable outcome of Dermod's appeal to the English king.

      [Annals of the Four Masters, 1166-71; the Works of Giraldus Cambrensis (Rolls Series), vol. v.; the Song of Dermot and the Earl, translated by Goddard H. Orpen, Oxford, 1892; Dissertations on the History of Ireland by C. O'Connor of Balenagar; the History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II, by T. Leland, D.D., i. 1-52; the Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, by the Rev. J. H. Todd, Introd. pp. ix?xi; Book of Leinster (Facsimile), p. 39 a, and Introd. pp. 7, 8; Ussher's Works, iv. 546-9.] [2]
    Person ID I11106  Dickinson
    Last Modified 6 Jul 2014 

    Family Mór Ní Tuathail, Queen-consort of Leinster,   b. Abt 1114, Castledermot, Kildare, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1191, Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 77 years) 
    Married Abt 1140  Loch Garman, County Wexford, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
    +1. Aoife MacMurrough,   b. Abt 1145, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1188, Wales Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 43 years)  [Birth]
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2014 
    Family ID F3127  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsMarried - Abt 1140 - Loch Garman, County Wexford, Ireland Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 1 May 1171 - Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland Link to Google Earth
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  • Sources 
    1. [S23] The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, Dan Jones, (New York: Viking, 2012), 74.

    2. [S336351] Dictionary of National Biography, 63 volumes, Sir Sidney Lee, ed., (New York: McMillan and Company, 1885-1900), Public Domain., vol. 35, 233-36.