The origins of Airgialla stem from the battle of Achadh Leithdheirg fought around the year 331, when the forces of the Three Collas and the men of Connacht wrested vast territories of the Province of Ulster from the native tribe of the Ulaid.
A large volume of distinguished sources exist which attribute a 4th-century emergence for this federation: Others believe it was first formed around the 7th century. However the list of Kings of Airgíalla notes the year 513 for the death of Colga mac loite mac Cruinn.
This federation of tribes, depending on timeframe, occupied portions of the provinces of Leinster and Ulster equating with parts of the modern-day counties of Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry. In early manuscripts the Bishop of Clogher was styled Bishop of Oirialla. Clogher is a village and civil parish in County Tyrone.
In the beginning of the 4th century, three warlike princes, called the Three Collas, sons of Eochy Doimhlein, son of Cairbre Lifeachar, legendary High King of Ireland, of the race of Érimón, made a conquest of a great part of Ulster, which they wrested from the old possessors, princes of the race of Ir, called the Clanna Rory, or Rudericians.
The origins of Airgialla stem from the Battle of Achadh Leithdheirg fought c331 in "Fearnmhagh" - old Farney, a disputed battle site between: Dartree, Monaghan, Farney, Monaghan and Aghaderg Parish, County Down.
In this battle the forces of the Three Collas defeated the forces of Fergus Foga, king of Ulster, of the Ulaid who was slain; and the victors burned to the ground Emain Macha or Emania, (near the present city of Armagh,) the famous palace of the Ulaid kings, which had stood for six centuries, and had been long celebrated by the Irish bards. The sovereignty of Ulster thus passed from the race of Ir to the race of Heremon.
A site claimed for this battle is - Achadh Dearg - ‘red field’ the territory near carn "Achy-Leth-Derg", Loughbrickland, parish of Aghaderg, barony of Iveagh Upper, Upper Half, county Down, where there still remains a huge Cairn of loose stones.
The other claimed battle site is located in the territory of Fearnmagh "the Alder Plain" or old Farney, Monaghan.
The names of the three chiefs were Colla Uais, or Colla the noble, Colla Meann, or Colla the famous, and Colla da Chroich, or Colla of the two territories. Colla Uais became monarch of Ireland 327, and died in 332. The territory conquered by the three Collas comprised the present counties of Louth, Monaghan, and Armagh.
The name of Airgialla was thought to derive from the circumstance of the Collas having stipulated with the king of Ireland, for themselves and their posterity, that if any chiefs of the clan Colla should be at any time demanded as hostages, and if shackled, their fetters should be of gold: thus, from the Irish, ór, gold, and giall, a hostage, came the name orgialla.
The name 'Airgialla' may be cognate with the Scottish Argyll, archaically Argyle (Earra-Ghàidheal in modern Gaelic), the name for a region of western Scotland corresponding with the ancient Dál Riata kingdom. The early thirteenth century author of De Situ Albanie explains that "the name Arregathel means margin of the Scots or Irish, because all Scots and Irish are generally called Gattheli [=Gaels], from their ancient warleader known as Gaithelglas." However, it is often understood to derive from Earra-Ghàidheal, "East Gaels". The term Airgíalla was believed to be derived from the Irish orgialla meaning "hostage of gold", but recent research suggests that it is derived from *Airgíallne, meaning "additional clientship."
In the 4th century, aggressive war was initiated by the Three Collas, princely sons of Eochy Doimhlein, himself son of Cairbre Lifeachar, High King of Ireland, of the race of Érimón. The territory conquered by the three Collas comprised the present countries of Louth, Monaghan, and Armagh. Colla Uais became monarch of Ireland 327, and died in 332.
They conquered a large part of Ulster from the princes of the race of Ir (aka Clanna Rory; also Rudericians). The original legend was composed in the second quarter of the 8th century (725–750) to seal an alliance with the Uí Néill.[attribution needed]
The victors burned Eamhain Mhacha (English Navan Fort), near Armagh City, capital of the Ulaid which had stood for six centuries, and had been long celebrated by the Irish bards. The sovereignty of Ulster thus passed from the race of Ir to the race of Heremon.
The earliest reference to the Airgíalla occurs in the Annals of Tigernach under the year 677, where the death of Dunchad mac Ultan, "Rí Oigriall", is noted. However, it is suspected of being a retrospective interpolation. On the other hand, the entry in the Annals of Ulster under the year 697 which lists Mael Fothataig mac Mael Dub as "Rex na nAirgialla" may indeed be genuine. Both Mael Fothatag and his son, Eochu Lemnae (died 704) is listed as one of the guarantors of the "Cáin Adomnáin" in 697. Thus it is believed that the Airgíalla were probably in existence as an entity by then, or certainly by the opening years of the 8th century.
The Nine Kingdoms of Airgíalla
The over-kingdom of Airgíalla was itself composed of nine sub-kingdoms, named after their ruling dynasties. They were: Uí Thuirtri, Uí Meic Cairthinn, Uí Fhiachrach Arda Sratha, Uí Moccu Uais, Uí Chremthainn, Uí Méith, Ind Airthir, Mugdorna, and Uí Cruinn.
The most powerful among them was the Ui Moccu Uais; one of the lesser Airgíalla was its offshoot, the Ui Meic Cairthinn.
Note: In its history the area originally referred to as Mughdorna was eventually sub-divided into the smaller kingdoms of Ui Meith, Dartraige (now Dartry, Co. Monaghan), Fir Fearnmhaigh (now Farney, Co. Monaghan), Conailli (now part of co. Louth), Fir Ros (now the area about Carrickmacross), and Mugdorna [now Cremorne, Co. Monaghan]. The early chiefs of Mugdorna are stated to be descendants of one of the Three Collas, i.e. Colla Menn.
However, in general it can be shown that the origin legend (The Three Collas), was written (or composed) in the second quarter of the 8th century to seal their alliance with the Northern Uí Néill.[attribution needed]
It has since been shown that the Airgíalla were not a kindred but a federation, whose members were of diverse origins, resulting in the kingship of the kingdom passing from one unrelated dynasty to another.
The Old Irish Airgialla may derive from orgialla (Irish: ór, gold; giall, hostage, i.e. hostage of gold) based on the following legend.
The Collas stipulated to the king of Ireland that if any chiefs of the clan Colla were at any time demanded as hostages, their shackles should be of gold.
Recent research suggests Airgíallne (additional clientship).
The following have also been applied to this dynasty: Airgialla, Uriel, Orial, Orgialla, Orgiall, Oryallia, and Ergallia.
The similarly named Argyll, Scotland, has a different etymology.
- Ulster Irish to English Dictionary
- cf. Airgialla, Uriel, Orial, Orgialla, Orgiall, Oryallia, Ergallia, srl.
- Roderic O'Flaherty (1793). Ogygia, or, A chronological account of Irish events, tr. by J. Hely. pp. 274–.
- Geoffrey Keating; John O'Mahony (1857). The History of Ireland: From the Earliest Period to the English Invasion. P. M. Haverty. pp. 364–.
- George Hill (1 January 2004). The Fall of Irish Chiefs and Clans and the Plantation of Ulster: Including the Names of Irish Catholics, and Protestant Settlers. Irish Roots Cafe. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-0-940134-42-3.
- Cleary, etc...,; Michael O'Clery (1 January 2003). Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters as translated into English by Owen Connellan: Volume 2 of the 2 volume set, with large folding family location Map. Irish Roots Cafe. pp. 414–. ISBN 978-0-940134-14-0.
- Brendan Smith (22 April 1999). Colonisation and Conquest in Medieval Ireland: The English in Louth, 1170-1330. Cambridge University Press. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-0-521-57320-7.
- John O'Donovan (1856). Annala Rioghachta Éireann: Introductory remarks. Annals, to A.D. 902. Hodges, Smith, and Company. pp. 124–.
- Michael O'Cleary (1 March 2003). The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters Translated Into English by Owen Connellan. Irish Roots Cafe. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-0-940134-77-5.
- David E. Thornton (2003). Kings, Chronologies, and Genealogies: Studies in the Political History of Early Medieval Ireland and Wales. Occasional Publications UPR. pp. 211–. ISBN 978-1-900934-09-1.
- Coloniation and Conquest in Medieval Ireland:The English in Louth, 1170–1330, Brendan Smith, Cambridge, 1999
- The Kingship and Landscape of Tara, ed. Edel Bhreathnach, 2005; ISBN 1-85182-954-7
- "A Hidden Ulster" by Pádraigín Ní Ullacháin, 2003, Four Courts Press 1-85182-685-8 & 1-85182-738-2.
- "Songs From A Hidden Ulster", broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1 in 2006, presented by Pádraigín Ní Ullacháin.
- Early Modern Ireland
- The Three Collas