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As recounted in the historic work Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh (The
War of the Gaedhils with the Gaill), among those who fought and died at the
Battle of Clontarf in 1014 were the sons of Echtigern or Ui hEachthighearna
as they are called in Irish. King Brian had proven to be a farsighted
administrator and courageous military leader, a "hero and patriot". His
eldest son Murrough was also killed in the battle, and he was succeeded as
king of Thomond by his second oldest son Tadhg, while Malachy II regained the
title of Ardri. Tadhg was killed 1023, and his brother Donnchadh became king
of Munster and married Driella, the daughter of Godwin, Earl of Kent, and
sister of Harold II, the last Saxon king of England.
After Donnchad became a monk on a pilgrimage to Rome, Tadhgs son
Turlough Mor, who was married to Mor, daughter of OHyne in County
Galway, became king of North Munster in 1058, and later retired to a
monastery at Lismore in the south of Ireland. His son Murtagh Mor OBrien
was Ardri from 1086, the year Turlough died, to 1119. Murtagh is known
for granting the royal residence of Cashel to the Church, and he was
presented with a relic of the true cross of Christ by Pope Paschal II, later
kept at Holy Cross Abbey on the river Suir near Thurles in Tipperary.
Murtaghs son Mahon, who died c.1129, is ancestor of the MacMahons
of Corcu Baiscinn in West Clare.
From another son Domnhall descend the MacDonnells of Clare. Murtagh Mor
retired to the monastery of Lismore in 1116, and was succeeded by his brother
Dermod as King of North Munster who reigned from 1116 to 1120. Then Dermods
sons Turlough and Tadhg reigned.
In the 11th and early 12th Centuries, Gilcrist Ua hEachthighern was
Abbot of Clonmacnois, a school for the sons of the Irish nobility, and also
of Ardagh in County Limerick. In 1868 the beautifully decorated Ardagh
Chalice was found buried in a potato field near the Carrigkerry road, and it
is believed that this priceless treasure was brought from Clonmacnois at the
time of the Viking raids, perhaps even at the time Gilcrist, who died in
1104, was abbot. During this time and for almost three centuries the Ua
hEchtigern families were dynasts of Hy Cearnaigh (victorious) near the town
of Sixmilebridge, at one time the site of a Dominican chapel, just north of
the River Shannon and the city of Limerick. Possibly the name originates
with the sept of OKearney, believed to have originally arrived in North
Munster from Connaught perhaps with ecclesiastical ties, before eventually
settling near Cashel in Tipperary.
Not long after, in the year 1152 was fought the Battle of Moin Mor
near Emly in County Tipperary, between Turlough OBrien and his supporters in
Kerry on the one side, and the high-king Turlough OConnor, Tadhg OBrien,
and the Desmond forces led by Cormac MacCarthy on the other. As recorded in
the Book of Lecan, Murtagh, son of Connor OBrien, and Lughaidh (Lewy), son
of Domnhall OBrien, were both killed, and among the fighting men who fell in
this battle were five chieftains of the Ua hEchtigern sept. OConnor assumed
chief sway over Munster, and Turlough OBrien was banished for a time. This
battle settled the fate of the Dal gCais who were thereafter confined to the area
north of the Galtees ruled by the OBriens, Tadhg and Turlough, whereas the
area of South Munster or Desmond remained under the sway of the Eoganachta
whose most powerful sept was that of MacCarthy until the Normans arrived. In
the Annals of Ireland, there is also mention of Lorcan Ua hEchthighern who was
slain by the sons of MacConmara and the Ui Caisin in 1170, the fateful year in
which the English arrived.
The Normans were originally Vikings from Scandinavia who settled in Normandy,
France around the year 800 AD, coming to England in 1066 AD with William the
Conqueror and a contingent of knights from all over Europe. Their arrival in
Ireland in 1170, led by the Earl of Pembroke and Strigul, Richard Fitzgilbert de
Clare, called Strongbow, was sanctioned by Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear)
the only English Pope. The Papal Bull Laudabiliter in the year 1156 had authorized
Henry II, who was granted "hereditary possession" and himself went to Ireland
in 1171, to establish order in Ireland with a view toward safeguarding the
Christian faith. The English liturgical usages were also accepted by St. Laurence
OToole, Archbishop of Dublin, who encouraged cooperation by the Irish chiefs.
The King of Munster Domnall Mor OBrien (or Donald, son of Turlough and grandson
of Dermod) succeeded to the throne about 1167, turned against the Ardri Rory OConnor
in 1170, and was one of the first to pay homage to Henry II. However, he vacillated in
support of OConnor and against Strongbow who was defeated in battle at Thurles, and
even going so far as to burn the bridge going into Limerick to prevent the return of the
foreigners. His sons were the ancestors of the MacConsidine and MacLysaght
families. He built Holy Cross Abbey to house the relic of the true cross mentioned
above, and died in 1194. During the 13th Century, the Welsh-Norman presence
began to take shape in Munster, including a grant to Thomas Fitzmaurice in 1199,
and the settlements of de Braosa (or de Bruce), and others.
At this time the toisch or chief of the Ua hEchtigern sept provided fosterage to the
young OBrien sons who were to succeed to the kingship of North Munster. In those
days fosterage was a system of education in which the children could learn the arts
of horsemanship, war, and good government while living for several years with the
foster parents. The Ua hEchtigerns were thus probably of the class of bo-airigh, lords
who owned a large amount of cattle which they provided to others as an early form of
Regarding the equestrian element of the name, "Of all beasts, the most noble and most
useful to man, either in peace or war." According to Heraldic Artists Ltd., "It signifies
readiness for all employments for king and country, and is one of the principal bearings
in armory. A white horse was the ensign of the Saxons when they first invaded
England." And also, "We read of the White Horse of Wodin, borne by Hengist
when he invaded Britain -- which the shield of Hanover still bears."
There were also English families of Hearne or Hearn who settled in
southern Leinster in the 13th Century. Their name is apparently derived from
the nautical bird heron, and it is therefore not surprising that the coat of
arms and motto for the Ua hEchtigern family, adopted probably
sometime around 1150 AD, is apparently patterned after an English version.
As listed in Burkes General Armory for OHeron of County Kerry; viz., on
the shield, "Vert three herons argent," and the crest, "A pelican in her
piety proper." Heraldic Artists, Ltd., formerly of Dublin, states that the
Heron and the Stork may have been used in place of the extinct Ibis, which
was a similar but smaller bird held sacred in ancient Egypt.
Guillim states that the Stork is the emblem of filial duty, inasmuch as it renders
obedience and nourishment to its parents. The color Argent [white or silver] signifies
Peace and Sincerity. The color Vert [green] signifies Hope, Joy, and
sometimes Loyalty in Love. "The Pelican feeding her young adorned the altars
of many of the temples of the Egyptians, and was emblematical of the duties
of a parent. She is represented as either vulning or wounding her breast
with her beak; or in her Piety, when surrounded by her young who are being
fed by the parent. This symbol has often been used by the Church as the
emblem of devoted and self-sacrificing charity, with the motto Sic Christus
dilixit nos." (Thus Christ has loved us). The pelican is "proper"
indicating the natural color thought to be brown for the birds and the nest.
The family motto is Per Ardua Surgo, translated "I rise through
Toward the end of the 13th Century, a dispute began to grow between
two rival factions of the OBrien sept, descendants of Domnall Mor OBrien,
each claiming the right to succeed as chief. These battles are commemorated
by John MacRory Magrath in Caithreim Thoirdealbaigh (The Wars of Turlough).
Brian Ruad (or Roe), the brother of Tadhg OBrien who was the last reigning
chief of the Dalcassians in Thomond, became chief and opposed Tadhgs eldest
son Turlough, who, though still in minority, was also claiming right to
succession. To strengthen his hand, Brian Ruad enlisted the support of
Thomas de Clare of Cork who had been granted a claim to land north of the
Shannon by King Edward I of England in 1277. He was a distant relative of
Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, after whom the County Clare is named,
Strongbow who had led the Norman invasion of Ireland back in 1170.
Thomas de Clare immediately built Bunratty Castle, later to become the stronghold
of the powerful MacNamaras, just north of the Shannon River. At first Brian
Ruads forces were utterly routed, and he fled across the Shannon River to
Ara in Tipperary, where his descendants came to be known as OBrien Arra.
Thomas de Clare had Brian Ruad killed in 1277 because of a military defeat at
Moygressan, and at the instigation of his wife, whose brother Patrick
Fitzmaurice of Kerry was killed in battle. Brians sons however remained
loyal to de Clare.
The Ua Echtigerns (OAhiarns in the translation) and other Irish families
entered the conflict on the side of de Clare and the faction of Brian
Ruad, as did the Norman Geraldines and Butlers. On Turloghs side the
Normans were led by de Burgo, ancestor of the Burkes of Ireland. The
MacNamaras and ODeas were the chief Irish supporters of Turloghs faction,
along with the OConnors of Corcomrua in North Clare, and the OKellys and
OMaddens from Connaught. ODea also provided fosterage for Turlogh
During this time, Edward , brother of Robert, Bruce, King of Scotland,
was crowned King of Ireland, and although resisting English rule,
brought his forces to bear on the side of de Clare and the faction of
Brian Ruad. However, the victory was won by Turloghs son Murtagh OBrien at
the Battle of Dysart ODea on 10 May, 1318, wherein Thomas de Clare
was slain along with his son and chief knights. His wife had the castle
burned to the ground before fleeing. The usurper Edward Bruce was
later killed at the Battle of Faughart in 1318. As a result, the MacNamaras,
who supported Turloghs faction, acquired new territory and took over
Bunratty which was to become their ancestral stronghold.
The Ua hEchtigerns, after the death of their chief William, and other
families, were displaced and began to be dispersed throughout Munster.
Murtagh OBrien became undisputed chief, and his descendants ruled without
English interference until the year 1543, when Murrogh OBrien submitted to
Henry VIII and obtained the English title Earl of Thomond.
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Last Updated: 06/25/02