Kingdom of Ossory

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Kingdom of Ossory
(Irish) Osraige or Osraighe

c. 150 AD[2]–1185[1]


Ireland c. 900
Capital Kilkenny
Languages Irish
Religion Celtic polytheism
Celtic Christianity
(c. 432-1152),
Roman Catholicism
(c. 1152-present)
Government Monarchy
 -  c. 150 AD Óengus Osrithe
 -  d. 1176 or 1185 Domnall Mac Giolla Phádraig[3]
 -  Kingdom of Ossory c. 150 AD[2]
 -  Disestablished 1185[1]
Dál Birn / Mac Giolla Phádraig
Country Ireland
Parent house Ulaid / Érainn

Kingdom of Ireland titles:

The kingdom of Ossory (Old Irish: Osraige, or Osraighe, modern Irish: Osraí; sometimes misspelled as Ossary) was an ancient tribal kingdom of Ireland inhabited by the Osraige people from the 1st or 2nd century, occupying nearly all the territory of present-day County Kilkenny and the western half of County Laois under the hereditary rule of the Dál Birn dynasts whose medieval descendants assumed the name Mac Giolla Phádraig. Politically, Osraige was the easternmost kingdom within the province or over-kingdom (Irish: Rí ruirech) of Munster from the 5th century until the middle of the 9th century, when it formally seceded and later unofficially merged into greater Leinster through conquest and historical revision. While seen as a buffer state between these two provinces, Osraige rose to semi-provincial status in its own right, although its kings never vied for the high kingship. The kingdom of Osraige continued to be a major player in medieval Irish politics through the beginning of the Norman Invasion of Ireland, by which time it fragmented over disputes of royal succession. As a consequence, the portion of Osraige comprising County Kilkenny became allotted to Strongbow and inherited by his eldest daughter, Isabel de Clare, who then married William Marshal in 1189. Although the kingdom collapsed as a result of the invasion, the northern third of the territory, known to history as Upper Ossory, and its hereditary lordship survived intact and remained independent until the reign of Henry VIII when it was formally incorporated into a barony by the same name in 1539 under the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland.


The ancient Osraige inhabited the fertile land around the River Nore valley, occupying nearly all of what is modern County Kilkenny and the western half of neighbouring County Laois. To the west and south, Osraige was bounded by the River Suir and what is now Waterford Harbour; to the east, the watershed of the River Barrow marked the boundary with Leinster (including Gowran); to the north, it extended into and beyond the Slieve Bloom Mountains. These three principal rivers- the Nore, the Barrow, and the Suir- which unite just north of Waterford City were collectively known as "Three Sisters", or also in Irish "Cumar na dTrí Uisce".[5] Like many other Irish kingdoms, the tribal name of Osraighe also came to be applied to the territory they occupied; thus, wherever the Osraige dwelt became known as Osraige. The kingdom's most significant neighbours were the Loígsi, Uí Ceinnselaig and Uí Bairrche of Leinster to the north and east and the Déisi, Eóganacht Chaisil and Éile of Munster to the south and west.[6] Some of the highest points of land are Brandon Hill (County Kilkenny) and Arderin (on the Laois-Offaly border). Historically, the ancient Slige Dala road ran southwest through Osraige from the Hill of Tara towards Munster.[7][8]


Origins & Pre-history[edit]

The tribal name Osraige means "people of the deer", and is traditionally claimed to be taken from the name of the ruling dynasty's semi-legendary pre-Christian founder, Óengus Osrithe.[9][10] The Osraige were probably either a southern branch of the Ulaid or Dál Fiatach of Ulster,[11] or close kin to their former Corcu Loígde allies.[12] In either case it would appear they should properly be counted among the Érainn. Some scholars believe that the Laigin pedigree of the Osraige is a fabrication, invented to help them achieve their goals in Leinster. Francis John Byrne suggests that it may date from the time of Cearbhaill mac Dúnlainge.[13] The Osraighe themselves claimed to be descended from the Érainn people, although scholars propose that the Ivernic groups included the Osraige. Prior to the coming of Christianity to Ireland, the Osraige and their relatives the Corcu Loígde appear to have been the dominant political groups in Munster, before the rise of the Eóganachta marginalized them both.[14]

Ptolemy's 2nd-century map of Ireland places a tribe he called the "Usdaie" roughly in the same area that the Osraige occupied.[15] The territory indicated by Ptolemy likely included the major late Iron Age hill-fort at Freestone Hill and a 1st-century Roman burial site at Stonyford, both in County Kilkenny.[16] Due to inland water access via the Nore, Barrow and Suir rivers, the Osraige may have experienced greater intercourse with Britain and the continent, and there appears to have been some heightened Roman trading activity in and around the region.[17] Such contact with the Roman world may have precipitated wider exposure and later conversion to Early Christianity.

From the fifth century, the name Dál Birn ("the people of Birn"; sometimes spelled dál mBirn) appears to have emerged as the name for the ruling lineage of Osraige, and this name remained in use through to the twelfth century. From this period, Osraige was originally within the sphere of the province of Leinster.

The Déisi, the Corcu Loígde Usurpation & Christianization (c.450-625)[edit]

Several sources indicate that towards the end of the fifth century the Osraige ceded a swath of southern territory to the displaced and incoming Déisi sometime before 489.[18] The traditional accounts states that the landless, wandering Déisi tribe were seeking a home in Munster, through the marriage of their princess Ethne the Dread to Óengus mac Nad Froích, king of Munster. As part of her dowry, Ethne asked for the Osraige to be cleared off their land, but were repulsed several times by the Osraige in open battle before finally overcoming them through magic, trickery and guile.[19] The account mentions that at this defeat, the Ossorians fled like wild deer ("ossa" in Irish), a pun on their tribal name.

It appears that soon thereafter following this defeat, the hereditary Dál Birn kings were displaced for a period by the Corcu Loígde of south Munster. The Dál Birn remained in control of their northern territory while Corcu Loígde kings ruled the greater portion of southern Osraige around the fertile Nore valley until the latter part of the sixth century and the rise of Eóganachta dominating Munster. The new political configuration, probably the result of an Uí Néill-Eóganachta alliance against the Corcu Loígde,[20] caused a reduction in Osraige's relative status. In 582 Fergus Scandal mac Crimthainn, the king of Munster was slain by Leinstermen and Osraige was therefore ceded from Leinster as blood-fine payment and attached the kingdom to the province of Munster.[21][22] Around that time (in either 581 or 583) the Ossorians (also referred to in the Fragmentary Annals as Clann Connla) had slain one of the last usurping Corcu Loígde kings Feradach Finn mac Duach and reclaimed most of their old patrimony.[23] The Dál Birn returned to full power by the first quarter of the seventh century.

Throughout this period, Ireland and Irish culture was thoroughly Christianized by the arrival of missionaries from the Britain and continent. Osraige appears to have seen a flourish of early Christian activity. Surviving hagiographic works, especially those relating to St. Ciaran of Saighir, attest that Osraige was the first Irish kingdom to receive a Christian episcopacy even before the arrival of St. Patrick; however some modern scholars dispute this.[24] St. Patrick is believed to have traversed through Osraige, preaching and establishing Christianity there on his way to Munster. St. Cainnech of Aghaboe and a host of others laboured to preach the gospel, making a lasting impact on the region which still exists down to the present.

Dál Birn Resurgence (c.625-800)[edit]

There is confusion among scholars as to the correct enumeration of the Corcu Loígde kings over Osraige, but by the reign of Scandlán Mór (d. 643 ca.) the Dál Birn dynasts were again in full control of their own territory.[25] The late seventh century witnessed an increase in hostilities between the men of Osraige and their neighbors to the south-east in Leinster, especially with the Uí Ceinnselaig.[26] In the middle years of the eighth century, Anmchad mac Con Cherca was the most militarily active king in Munster, and was the first Ossorain king to gain island-wide notice by the chroniclers. During this time the churches of Osraige witnessed a flourishing of growth and activity, with notable clerics from Osraige being recorded in the annals and at least one, St. Fergal, gaining fame as an early astronomer and was ordained bishop of Salzburg.

Osraige in the Viking Age (c.800-1015)[edit]

The south-east of Ireland c. 900. Dotted line denotes Osraige's borders.

Osraige survived much tumult and warfare during this period but emerged politically dominant, becoming a major force in southern Ireland and even the most militarily powerful kingdom on the island during the latter ninth century. Originally granted semi-independent status within the province of Munster, the war-like and victorious rule of king Cerball mac Dúnlainge birthed a dramatic rise in Osraige's power and prestige, and despite a heavy influx of Viking marauders to Ireland's shores, he defended the river-bound kingdom ably. He successfully forced his brother-in-law the High King Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid and Máel Gualae, king of Munster to recognize Osraige's independence from Munster, thereby officially severing into a semi-province in 859.[27][28] The Icelandic Landnámabók names Cerball king of Osraige as king of Dublin and the Orkney islands during his reign, indicating the far-flung influence of Osraige at that time. This period witnessed the first successful permanent settlement of foreign Norse vikings at Waterford, right on Osraige's southern border with the Suir in 914. King Giolla Phádraig mac Donnchada (976-996) proved an able ruler, and by the late 10th century the hereditary ruling descendants of Osraige after Cerball had adopted the surname Mac Giolla Phádraig. Osraige was brought into conflict with the ambitious Dalcassian king Brian Boruma, who died in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which the Ossorians did not partake. The Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib relates a story that victorious but wounded Dalcassian troops were challenged to battle by the Ossorians as they were returning home through Osraige after the battle of Clontarf, but some authors doubt the validity of this story, as the source is widely considered a later Dalcassian propaganda.[29]

Osraige after Clontarf (c.1015-1165)[edit]

During this period, many of Ireland's smaller kingdoms became dominated by larger ones, in a natural yet bloody evolution towards centralized monarchy. Allegiance with Osraige could make or break a king's bid for the high kingship, although the kings of Osraige never attempted the position themselves. One king, Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phádraig, successfully conquered neighboring Leinster in 1033 and ruled it until his death in 1039. By the mid-12th century, fighting had erupted within the dynasty and temporarily split the kingdom into warring territories. This occurred just prior to the Norman Invasion of Ireland which commenced in 1169.

Additionally, major changes to the structure and practices of the Irish Church, brought it away from its historic orthodox practices and more in line with the massive Gregorian Reform movement which was already taking place on the continent. Significantly, the Synod of Rath Breasail was part of this movement, likely held in the northernmost territory of Osraige in 1111.[30]

Decline during the Norman Invasion (1165-1200)[edit]

The Marriage of Aoife and Strongbow; a romanticized depiction of the union outside the ruins of Waterford by Daniel Maclise. Much of the initial Norman Invasion of Ireland occurred within and around Osraige's borders.

Much of the background drama and initial action of the Norman advance played out on the battlefields and highways of Osraige. The kingdoms of Osraige and Leinster had witnessed increased hostility prior to the Normans. Significantly, Diarmaid Mac Murchadha, the man who would one day become king of Leinster and invite the Normans into Ireland, was himself fostered as a youth in Osraige, in the territory of the Ua Caellaighes of Dairmag Ua nDuach who sought to undermine their Mac Giolla Phádraig overlords. In 1103, Gilla Pátraic Ruad, king of Osraige and much of the Ossorian royal family were killed on campaign in the north of Ireland.[31] Three new claimants to the throne then emerged: one from the Ua Caellaighe clan in north Osraige, and two scions of the Mac Giolla Phádraig clan in the centre and south of Osraige; thus fracturing the kingdom. Diarmaid Mac Murchadha intervened several times into the disputes of succession. Later while absent in exile, tension was heightened by the blinding of his son and heir, Éanna mac Diarmat by the leading claimant of Osraige, king Domnall Mac Giolla Phádraig in 1167.[32] Later that year Mac Murchadha's initial mercenary force under Robert FitzStephen landed close to the border of Osraige at Bannow, took Wexford and immediately turned west to invade Osraige, acquiring hostages as a nominal token of submission.[33] Later still, another auxiliary force under Raymond FitzGerald landed just opposite Osraige's border at Waterford, and won a skirmish with its inhabitants.[34] By 1169, Strongbow had also landed with a major force outside of Waterford, married Mac Murchadha's daughter Aoife and sacked the city.[35] Later that year, a major conflict was fought in the woods of Osraige near Freshford when Mac Murchadha and his Norman allies under Robert FitzStephen, Meiler FitzHenry, Maurice de Prendergast, Miles FitzDavid, and Hervey de Montmaurice defeated a numerically superior force under Domnall Mac Giolla Phádraig king of greater-Osraige at the pass of Achadh Úr following a feigned retreat in a three-day battle.[36] Shortly thereafter de Prendergast and his contingent of Flemish soldiers defected from Mac Murchada's camp and joined king Domnall's forces in Osraige before quitting Ireland for a time.[37] At Threecastles, Strongbow and Mac Giolla Phádraig agreed to the Treaty of Odogh (Ui Duach) in 1170.[38] In 1171, King Henry II of England landed in nearby Waterford Harbour with one of the largest injections of English military strength into Ireland. On the banks of the Suir, Henry secured the submission of many of the kings and chiefs of southern Ireland; including Osraige's main claimant to the throne Domnall Mac Giolla Phádraig.[39] After the Norman Invasion of Ireland, the famous and formidable William Marshal arrived in Osraige by 1192 and acquired claims to the land through his marriage to Isabel de Clare. He began the construction the large fortification at Kilkenny Castle which was completed by 1195 and was largely responsible for forcing the Mac Giolla Phádraigs from their southern power base around the River Nore; leaving them entrenched in the remaining northern third of their patrimony, thereafter known as "Upper Ossory". The Butler dynasty later inherited most of southern Osraige and administered it from Kilkenny city as part of the Earls of Ossory, from which County Kilkenny was shired. The last recorded king of Osraige was Domnall Mac Gilla Patráic, who died in either 1176 or 1185.[40]

Legacy (post-1200)[edit]

Main article: Upper Ossory

The Mac Giolla Phádraigs continued to struggle to regain the fertile Nore valley in later centuries, though unsuccessfully. They retained the northern portion of the kingdom independently and suppressed all rival clans in the region, which caused a short period of havoc and from there launched attacks against their traditional enemies. During the reign of Henry VIII of England, Brian Mac Giolla Phádraig became the first Irish noble to acquiesce under the Tudor policy of surrender and regrant, and his clan's name was anglicised as Fitzpatrick upon his formal submission to the Crown in 1537. This ironically had the effect of preserving Gaelic culture in Upper Ossory long into the future, since the Crown no longer dealt harshly with the territory.[41] In 1541 The Mac Giolla Phádraig was ennobled as Baron Upper Ossory.[42] Other members of the family were later created Earl of Upper Ossory and Baron Castletown, the last of whom, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, died in 1927. Because they clung to the last fragments of the kingdom, that Ossorian lineage is marked as one of the oldest known or most continuously settled dynasties in Western Europe.

Ossorian clans[edit]

The people of Osraige were sometimes collectively referred to as Clann Connla.[43] Over time as lineages multiplied, surnames were eventually adopted. The following clans were the native land-holders before the arrival of the Normans:[44]

  • Mac Giolla Phádraig (Fitzpatrick, Gilpatrick, McIllpatrick, MacSeartha) hereditary Dál Birn kings of Osraige
  • Ua Dubhsláine (O'Delany) of Coill Uachtarach (Upper Woods)
  • Ua hÚrachán (O'Horahan) of Uí Fairchelláin (Offerlane)
  • Ua Bruaideadha (O'Brody, Brooder, Brother, Broderick) of Ráth Tamhnaige
  • Ua Caellaighe (O'Kealy, O'Kelly) of Dairmag Ua nDuach (Durrow-in-Ossory), who as asserted by Carrigan, changed their name to Ua Faeláin (O'Phelan, Whelan) below
  • Ua Faeláin (O'Phelan, Whelan) of Magh Lacha (Clarmallagh) (formerly Ua Caellaighe, above)
  • Ua Bróithe (O'Brophy) of Mag Sédna
  • Ua Caibhdheanaigh (O'Coveney, Keveny) of Mag Airbh
  • Ua Glóiairn (O'Gloherny, Glory, O'Gloran, Cloran, Glorney) of Callann
  • Ua Donnachadha (Dunphy, O'Donochowe, O'Dunaghy, O'Donoghue, Donohoe, Donagh) of Mag Máil
  • Ua Cearbhaill (O'Carroll, O'Carrowill, MacCarroll) of Mag Cearbhail
  • Ua Braonáin (O'Brennan) of Uí Duach (Idough)
  • Ua Caollaidhe (O'Kealy, O'Coely, Quealy) of Uí Bercháin (Ibercon)
  • Mac Braoin (MacBreen) of Na Clanna
  • Ua Bruadair (O'Broder, Broderick) of Uí nEirc (Iverk)
  • Ua nDeaghaidh (O'Dea) of Uí Dheaghaidh (Ida)

Notable nobility[edit]

Main article: Kings of Osraige

An important Ossorian genealogy for Domnall mac Donnchada mac Gilla Patric is preserved in the Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 502, tracing the medieval Mac Giolla Phádraig dynasty back to Óengus Osrithe, who supposedly flourished in the first or second century.[45][46]

  • Óengus Osrithe the first recorded king and namesake of the kingdom is the semi-legendary Óengus Osrithe, who lived in either the first or second century.

A celebrated king of Osraige (and likely Osraige's most powerful ruler) was Cerball mac Dúnlainge, who ruled Osraige vigorously from c. 846 to his death in 888 and was the direct male progenitor of the late medieval Mac Giolla Phádraig dynasts of Ossory. The Icelandic Landnámabók describes Cearbhall (Kjarvalur) as ruler of Dublin and Earl of Orkney and opens with a list of the most prominent rulers in Viking-age Europe, listing this Ossorian king alongside Popes Adrian II and John VIII; Byzantine Emperors Leo VI the Wise and his son Alexander; Harald Fairhair, king of Norway; Eric Anundsson and his son Björn Eriksson rulers of Sweden; Gorm the Old king of Denmark; and Alfred the Great, king of England.[51] Cerbhall features prominently in the annals and other historical texts, especially in The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland as an archetype of a Christian king who consistently vanquishes his enemies, especially pagan Vikings. In this chronicle, Cerbhall is recorded allying with rival bands of Vikings to defeat them during his early career as king. He was also close enough to the Norse–Gaels that he features under the name "Kjarvalr Írakonungr" in several medieval Icelandic pedigrees through his daughters. Cearbhall was likely the most powerful king of his day in Ireland, even plundering the lands of his brother-in-law the high king, which resulted in the kingdom of Osraige being officially dis-joined from the province of Munster. During his lifetime he is recorded to have even ruled over Dublin (from 872 to 888) and as far as the Orkneys due to his interconnections with his Viking neighbors.

Princess Land (sometimes spelled Lann) was a noteworthy figure in Irish politics during a critical time in Osraige's history, witnessing its dramatic rise to power under the rule of her brother Cerball mac Dúnlainge, in which she had a hand. She was married to the famous High King of all Ireland, Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid (who reigned from 846 to 862) and gave birth to his formidable son Flann Sinna who was also High King from 879 to 916. (She is thus also the grandmother of High King Donnchadh Donn mac Flainn.)

King Cearbhall's descendant, Gilla Pátraic mac Donnchada, was king of Osraige from 976 to 996, and was the source of the patronymic Mac Giolla Phádraig. His wife was Máel Muire ingen Arailt, likely an Uí Ímair bride. He was an implacable opponent of Brian Boruma in his expansion over southern Ireland, being captured by him in 983 and released the following year.[52] Later in his reign he devastated Mide, and was killed in battle against Donnduban mac Imair, prince of Limerick and Domnall mac Fáelán, king of Déisi.

In 1003, he killed his cousin, king Cellach. In 1016, he killed Donn Cuan mac Dúnlaing, king of Leinster, and Tadc ua Riain, king of Uí Drona.[53] In 1022, he killed Sitriuc mac Ímair, king of Port Lairge (Waterford).[54] In 1026, Donnchad spent Easter with the coarb of Patrick and Donnchad mac Briain.[55] In 1027, he blinded his relative Tadc mac Gilla Pátraic.[56] In 1033, Donnchad also took the kingship of Leinster and held the Fair of Carman to celebrate his over-kingship.[57] In 1039, he led a hosting as far as Knowth and Drogeda.,[58] and he died the same year.[59] Gofraid mac Arailt, King of the Isles, through his daughter Mael Muire, appears to have been the maternal grandfather of Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic, the Osraige king of Leinster. Thus the Mac Giolla Phádraigs or Fitzpatricks of Ossory are probably matrilineal descendants of the Uí Ímair. King Cerball was an ally of their (probable) founder Ívar the Boneless, the Viking king of Waterford. It is also possible that Donnchad's father, Gilla Pátraic mac Donnchada, was somehow a relation of Ívar the Boneless, who had a son named Gilla Pátraic.

Saints with Ossory connections[edit]

A public bust of St. Cainneach in Kilkenny City, whose 6th-century church was founded there.
St. Feargal, left Ossory to become bishop of Salzburg, Austria.

The monastic settlements of Saighir, Aghaboe and Kilkenny were planted by Christian saints. The activity of Christian religious leaders under the patronage of the kings did much to increase the learning, literacy and culture within the kingdom.[60] According to his vitae, Saint Patrick traversed Osraige on his route to Munster, preaching, converting, founding churches and leaving behind holy relics and a disciple named Martin.[61] A number of other saints had connections to Ossory, working both within Ireland and abroad in Britain and Europe:

  • St. Ciarán of Saighir "The Elder", himself a scion of the Ossorian ruling Dál Birn lineage is reputed to have evangelized the kingdom before the arrival of St Patrick who also preached there.[62] He founded the church of Saighir from which he evangelized the kingdom. It eventually became the episcopal see of Ossory, and the burial place of its Christian kings. St Ciarán was succeeded by his disciple, St Carthage the Elder. St Ciarán's feastday is 5 March, along with St. Carthage and St. Piran. St. Kieran's College in Kilkenny (Ireland's oldest Roman Catholic secondary school) is named after him.[63] (In Cornwall St. Ciarán is identified as one and the same person with Saint Piran, the patron saint of tin miners and all Cornwalll.)[64][65]
  • St. Modomnoc of Ossory traveled there from Wales as a disciple of St. David, and is reputed to have brought Ireland's first colonies of domesticated honeybees.[66] His feast is 13 February.
  • St. Nem Moccu Birn, successor to St. Enda of Aran is recorded as having been also of the Dál Birn of Ossory and a kinsmen of St. Ciarán of Saighir.[67] His feast is 14 June.
  • St. Gobhan, who was also known for his founding and abbacy of the monastery of Oldleighlin, was also active at a later date in Ossory at Killamery. It would appear that sometime before 633 AD he left his monastery at Oldleighlin, and along with numerous monks journeyed west into the kingdom of Ossory and settled at Killamery. Whether he founded Killamery or merely enhanced it, is disputed; however during his abbacy its fame and importance flourished. The 9th-century book Félire Óengusso, (The Feastology of Oengus), states about him: "of Gobban of Cell Lamraide in Hui Cathrenn in the west of Ossory, a thousand monks it had, as experts say and of them was Gobban."[69]
  • St. Muicin, bishop and confessor, whose feast is celebrated on 4 March. His name appears under the Irish forms Muicin, Muccin, Mucinne, and, in Latin, as Moginus and Mochinus. According to his pedigree in the Book of Leinster he was of the royal race of Ossory, the Dal Birn ; thus: "Muccin, son of Mocha, son of Barind, son of Findchadli, son of Dega, son of Droida, son of Buan, son of Loegaire birn buadhach, son of Aengus Osrithe. Decnait, daughter of Gabrin, [and] sister of Fintan of Cluain-Eidhnech, was Muccin's mother." He was venerated as patron of Mayne, Kylermugh, Kilderry and Sheepstown. He lived in the same period as his uncle, St. Fintan the great founder of Clonenagh, and died in the year 630. He is also commemorated in the Martyrology of Tallaght.

Media related to Virgilius of Salzburg at Wikimedia Commons

  • The relics of Saint Nicholas are also reputed to have been stolen from Myra by crusading knights, and buried in the south of Osraige near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny; a stone slab marks this site. This would date from the period immediately following the disestablishment of southern Osraige as a kingdom, while the northern third still remained.
Reputed grave slab of St. Nicholas.

The Mac Giolla Phádraig rulers of Osraige adopted their surname in honour of St. Patrick from their 10th-century ancestor, king Giolla Phádraig, and appear to be one of the few Irish dynasties to bear a name of saintly derivation. (Another example includes the Ua Mael Sechlainn (O Melaghlin) dynasts who were kings of Mide.)

Historic sites[edit]

View of Seirkieran (Saighir).
"St. Ciarán's Chair"; the ancient stone seat in St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny City. The stone under the seat is reputed to have been part of the original bishop's throne at Saighir (c. 400) and later Abbey of Aghaboe (c. 950), brought here when the church (or its predecessor) became the cathedral of the diocese.[71]

A long and well-attested sculptural tradition of stone carving, especially the creation of Irish high crosses developed under the Dál Birn / Mac Giolla Phádraig kings of Osraige.[72][73] Great examples of this tradition include the fine crosses still preserved at Ahenny and Killamery, amongst other sites. Some historians have asserted that a pre-Norman fortification existed at the site upon which Kilkenny Castle is built; likely the ancient capital of the kingdom. St. Ciarán is said to have founded the influential monastery of Seirkieran, in present-day Clareen.[74] Saighir was the first episcopal seat within the kingdom and was the burial site of the Kings of Osraige. There, the ruins of a monastic site, earthworks, a holy well, the ruined base of an Irish round tower, a medieval defensive motte, numerous early Christian cross-slabs, bases and gravestones can be found, next to a 19th-century Church of Ireland parish.[75][76][77][78] St. Canice founded two important churches in the kingdom, at Aghaboe and Kilkenny, each in turn becoming the capital of the diocese after Saighir. Aghaboe Abbey served as Osraige's second ecclesiastical seat, before it was again later relocated to Kilkenny some time in the twelfth century. St Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny city exhibits well-preserved ninth-century round tower which can be climbed to the top.[79] In April 2004, a geophysical survey using ground-penetrating radar discovered what were likely the original foundations of the twelfth century cathedral of the diocese of Ossory and another very large structure which was possibly a royal Mac Giolla Phádraig palace; noting that the site bears a strong resemblance to contemporaneous structures at the Rock of Cashel.[80] Jerpoint Abbey, was founded near present-day Thomastown in 1160 by king Domnall Mac Goilla Phádraig.[81] There is some debate as to whether Jerpoint was either Benedictine or Cistercian during its first twenty years, however by 1180 king Domnall Mac Goilla Phádraig brought Cistercian monks from nearby Baltinglass Abbey and it remained such thereafter.[82][83] A well-preserved 30-meter, capless round tower can be seen at Grangefertagh.

In 1984, a series of commemorative cast stone panels sculpted by Joan Smith were installed as a facade on the buttress walls of Ossory Bridge which forms part of the Ring Road over the River Nore connecting the N10 from Carlow to Waterford.[84] The facade symbolically depicts the history of the south Kilkenny area from the time of the mythological figure of Oengus Osrithe to the late twentieth century.[85]

Overlap with the Diocese of Ossory[edit]

The Diocese of Ossory (red) as described at the Synod of Ráth Breasail held on Ossory's northern border in 1111 AD.[86]

The medieval Diocese of Ossory covered much the same region and still to this day provides a very close outline of the kingdom's borders.[87] In the earliest times, the chief church in Osraige was undoubtedly Seir Kieran (County Offaly), the chief church of St Ciarán, but at some time in history it had been eclipsed by Aghaboe (County Laois), chief church of Saint Cainnech, and later moved to Kilkenny, which was also founded by the same saint. The record of the Irish annals also points to Freshford, County Kilkenny being of some importance, while archaeological evidence suggests that Kilkieran, Killamery and Kilree (all County Kilkenny) and Domnach Mór Roigni (now Donaghmore, County Laois) were also significant ecclesiastical sites.[88]

In literature and culture[edit]

The Osraige appear as the final opponents of their southern neighbours the Déisi in the cycle The Expulsion of the Déisi.[89][90] While portrayed as unconquerable in battle, the Osraige are eventually overcome by the Déisi in the end by magic and treachery and thus cede to them the southern territory between the River Suir and the sea which the Déisi ever-after occupied.

The politics and history of the kingdom are well-attested to in the various Irish Annals in which Osraige is often presented as a major kingdom. Strongly associated with the eleventh-century rule of Donnchad Mac Giolla Phádraig (who reigned as king over Leinster until his death in 1039 AD) are the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland which are famous for their heroic portrayal of the ninth-century Ossorian king Cerball mac Dúnlainge in his many victorious struggles against pagan Vikings in Ireland.[91] The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland were believed to be commissioned by Donnchad Mac Giolla Phádraig as historical propaganda for Osraige's eleventh-century rise to power, and likely influenced the creation of other later pseudo-chronicles such as Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib.[92] Within the Fragmentary Annals, editor and translator Joan Radner has detected a strong focus on Ossorian tradition, especially relating to king Cerbhall mac Dunglange, suggesting the hypothetical Osraige Chronicle as a possible source.[93]

The men from two fleets of Norsemen came into Cerball son of Dúnlang's territory for plunder. When messengers came to tell that to Cerball, he was drunk. The noblemen of Osraige were saying to him kindly and calmly, to strengthen him: ‘What the Norwegians are doing now, that is, destroying the whole country, is no reason for a man in Osraige to be drunk. But may God protect you all the same, and may you win victory and triumph over your enemies as you often have done, and as you still shall. Shake off your drunkenness now, for drunkenness is the enemy of valor.’

When Cerball heard that, his drunkenness left him and he seized his arms. A third of the night had passed at that time. This is how Cerball came out of his chamber: with a huge royal candle before him, and the light of that candle shone far in every direction. Great terror seized the Norwegians, and they fled to the nearby mountains and to the woods. Those who stayed behind out of valor, moreover, were all killed.

When daybreak came the next morning, Cerball attacked all of them with his troops, and he did not give up after they had been slaughtered until they had been routed, and they had scattered in all directions. Cerball himself fought hard in this battle, and the amount he had drunk the night before hampered him greatly, and he vomited much, and that gave him immense strength; and he urged his people loudly and harshly against the Norwegians, and more than half of the army was killed there, and those who escaped fled to their ships. This defeat took place at Achad mic Erclaige. Cerball turned back afterwards with triumph and great spoils.

Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, FA277[94]

The early twelfth century Irish epic Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib portrays the Dalcassian struggle against Osraige and its brief subjugation by Brian Boru. It records some early Viking activity in and around Osraige[95] and ends with the embarrassing account of the Ossorians seeking to attack the victorious and wounded Dalcassian troops returning after the Battle of Clontarf. The Ossorians are recorded as intimidated when they see the wounded Dalcassian troops tying themselves upright to stakes, and withdraw from outright combat, giving harassing pursuit instead.[96] Ironically, Radner suggests this chronicle may have been influenced by the earlier eleventh century Osraige Chronicle which lionized king Ceabhall mac Dúnlainge and survives with the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland.[97]

The kingdom is mentioned in countless surviving poems, songs and other medieval Irish texts. Lebor na gCeart ("The Book of Rights") aims to list the stipends paid to and by the kings of Osraige. Interestingly, the work Cóir Anmann ("The Fitness of Names") claims to give the etymology of the name Osraige, along with one its kings, Cú Cherca mac Fáeláin.[98] The kingdom of Osraige with some of its noteworthy characteristics and clans gains some mention in the Dindsenchas, a composite collection of prose and metrical verse which aided in the rote memory of the topography and place-named of Ireland- some of it preserving Irish pre-literary oral tradition. Regarding Osraige, the names of its topographic features and roads are explained, as well as a reference to horse fighting.[99][100] The twelfth-century Banshenchas (literally "women-lore") composed by Gilla Mo Dutu Úa Caiside of Ard Brecáin, recites a number of key Ossorian kings and queens, and others who descend from them.[101] Additionally, Osraige is mentioned in a poem attributed to king Aldfrith of Northumbria during his exile in Ireland, describing the various things he saw there about the year 685.[102]

I found from Ara to Gle, In the rich country of Ossory, Sweet fruit, strict jurisdiction, Men of truth, chess-playing.

King Aldfrith of Northumbria, Ro dheat an inis Finn Faíl.[103]

Nordic literary history records several members of the Ossorian ruling lineage in the sagas. King Cerball mac Dúnlainge himself is listed as "Kjarval, king of the Irish" (Kjarvals Írakonungs) in the Icelandic genealogies recorded within Njal's Saga, and through his daughters is reckoned as an ancestor of several important Icelandic families.[104] His reign is directly referenced in the Icelandic Landnámabók where he is listed as one of the principle rulers of Europe. His daughter, Eithne appears as a type of sorceress in the Orkneyinga saga, as the mother of Earl Sigurd the Stout and the creator of the famed raven banner.[105][106][107] This would make Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys a possessor of Ossorian maternal lineage. Sigurd also appears briefly in St Olaf's Saga as incorporated into the Heimskringla and in the Eyrbyggja Saga. There are various tales about his exploits in the more fanciful Njal's Saga as well as the Saga of Gunnlaugr Serpent-Tongue, Thorstein Sidu-Hallsson's Saga, the Vatnsdæla Saga and in the tale of Helgi and Wolf in the Flateyjarbók.[108][109] He also appears in the Irish propagandistic work Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib as an opponent of Brian Boruma at the Battle of Clontarf, and his death there is recorded in the Annals of Ulster.

The kingdom of Ossory also features prominently in twelfth-century Norman literature. Two works by Gerald of Wales on Ireland, Topographia Hibernica[110] and Expugnatio Hibernica[111] pay special attention to some kings of Ossory, its geography and the Norman battles fought therein. Gerald Cambrensis also writes about a fabulous tale involving the werewolves of Ossory. This legend was repeated in Fynes Moryson's 17th-century writing, Description of Ireland[112] and in a much later book, The Wonders of Ireland, by P. W. Joyce, published in 1911.[113] In addition, Ossory features prominently as a setting for scenes in the Norman-French lay The Song of Dermot and the Earl.[114]

An illustration from Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hibernica depicting the story of a traveling priest who meets and communes a pair of good werewolves from the kingdom of Ossory. From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

Geoffrey Keating also records much information and tradition about Ossory in his major work, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (literally "Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland", more usually translated "History of Ireland").[115] After Cogadh Gáedel re Gallaib, his work is a secondary source for Ossory's opposition to the victorious Dalcassian forces returning from the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, as well as the only known source for information about the important Synod of Ráth Breasail which may have occurred on the northern borders of Ossory, near present-day Mountrath in 1111.

The name of the kingdom survives in The Red Book of Ossory; a fourteenth-century register of the Roman Catholic diocese of Ossory, and which is associated with Richard Ledred[116] who was bishop of Ossory, from 1317 to 1360.[117] The book contains copies of documents which would have been important for the administration of the diocese: constitutions, taxations, memoranda relating to rights and privileges, deeds and royal letters, as well as the texts of songs composed by Bishop Ledred.[118] The book now resides at the Church of Ireland RCB Library in Dublin, and has been digitized.[119] The kingdom of Ossory and some of its primary saints are mentioned by the Welsh clergyman Meredith Hanmer in his Chronicle of Ireland, which was posthumously published by Sir James Ware in 1633.[120][121] Hanmer himself was briefly active in the Diocese of Ossory in 1598.

The name of the former kingdom survives in the present-day town names of Borris-in-Ossory and Durrow-in-Ossory, as well as in the now defunct Ossory UK Parliament constituency. The name also survives in the title of the annual Ossory Agricultural Show, a livestock, produce and crafts competition founded in 1898 and patronized by Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown and now held in western Coolfin County Laois.[122]

The famous artist Ronald Ossory Dunlop bore the kingdom's name personally, perhaps in part because his mother's maiden name was Fitzpatrick.

Three ships of the British Royal Navy bore the name Ossory.

A thoroughbred racehorse named Ossory (1885-1889) was owned by the 1st Duke of Westminster.

In 1905, William Carrigan published his authoritative history of the kingdom in The History And Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory in four volumes.

The kingdom of Ossory features as a part of the kingdom of Ireland in the computer strategy-games Crusader Kings and Crusader Kings II, both published by Paradox Interactive.[123][124] Ossory also appears as a kingdom in a map of medieval Ireland from Conquer Club.[125]

Ossory features prominently in several works of historical fiction, by various authors. The politics of the kingdom at the time of the Norman Invasion have been written about in Diarmait King of Leinster (2006) by Nicholas Furlong. Ossory plays a role in some of the Sister Fidelma mysteries, most notably Suffer Little Children (1995) and The Seventh Trumpet (2012) written by Peter Tremayne (the pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis).[126] Author Morgan Llywelyn, who has written extensively in the genre of medieval Irish historical fiction, often mentions Ossory in her books; especially in Lion of Ireland (1980) and its sequel Pride of Lions (1996).

Some battles which took place in the kingdom of Ossory during the Norman Invasion of Ireland, as well as the arrival of William Marshal are commemorated in pictorial form in the modern Ros Tapestry.[127][128]

A black metal band from the US has adopted the name Osraige.[129] They released a split album in 2013 along with Indentured Cervix, and in 2014 released a three-song self-titled demo reel.[130]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Annals of Loch Cé 1185.15
  2. ^ Genealogies from Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 502 and the Book of Leinster
  3. ^ Annals of Loch Cé 1185.15, Four Masters 1185
  4. ^ Annals of Ulster 1033.4, Annals of Loch Cé 1033.3, Annals of Tigernach 1033.5
  5. ^ Collectanea de rebus hibernicis. 1790. pp. 331–. 
  6. ^ Byrne, Irish kings and high-kings, maps on pp. 133 & 172–173; Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, p. 236, map 9 & p. 532, map 13.
  7. ^ The Metrical Dindshenchas, Poem 52. Found online through UCC, CELT, here:
  8. ^ An Analysis of Pre-Christian Ireland Using Mythology and A GIS:
  9. ^ Genealogies from Rawlinson B 502, at CELT, pg 15-16
  10. ^ Cóir Anmann ("The Fitness of Names"), stanza 213. Celtic Literature Collective:
  11. ^ Byrne, p. 201
  12. ^ Ó Néill, 'Osraige'; Doherty, 'Érainn'
  13. ^ Byrne, p. 163
  14. ^ Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, p. 541
  15. ^ Ptolemy's map of Ireland: a modern decoding. R. Darcy, William Flynn. Irish Geography Vol. 41, Iss. 1, 2008. Figure 1.
  16. ^
  17. ^ 'The Tri-River Region: The geographic key to lasting change in Ireland'. p. 9-12
  18. ^ The Expulsion of the Déssi Kuno Meyer, in Ériu; volume 3, Dublin, Royal Irish Academy (1907) page 135–142. Found online through UCC, CELT:
  19. ^ Expulsion of the Déisi synopsis, from Mac Cana, P. The Mabinogi (second edition) Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992.
  20. ^ Charles-Edwards 2000
  21. ^ CS583
  22. ^ Lebor na gCeart ("The Book of Rights", Dillon 1962; pg 44:
  23. ^ Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, FA4
  24. ^ Sharpe, O' Riain, and Sperber
  25. ^ Baldwin, The Corcu Loígde kings of Osraige:
  26. ^ Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, p. 576
  27. ^ Annals of Ulster 859.3
  28. ^ Fragmentary Annals of Ireland 265, and 268
  29. ^ Lyng, p.260-1
  30. ^ Robert King. A memoir introductory to the early history of the primacy of Armagh; pg.83.
  31. ^ U1103.5
  32. ^ MCB1167.4
  33. ^ MCB1167.6
  34. ^ MCB1167.9
  35. ^ MCB1169.2
  36. ^ Strongbow's Conquest of Ireland (ed. by Powell; 1910.) p. 16-23.
  37. ^ Strongbow's Conquest of Ireland (ed. by Powell; 1910.) p. 22-23.
  38. ^ Lyng. The Fitzpatricks of Ossory, p. 260.
  39. ^ MCB1172.2
  40. ^ Baldwin:
  41. ^ Edwards, David. "Collaboration without Anglicization: The Macgiollapadraig Lordship and Tudor Reform." Gaelic Ireland: c.1250-c.1650: Land, Lordship & Settlement.(2001) p.77-97.
  42. ^[unreliable source]
  43. ^ See: The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (FA4) found online through UCC CELT, here:
  44. ^ For map referencing approximate locations within Ossory for each clan, see:
  45. ^ Genealogies from Rawlinson B 502; CELT:
  46. ^ Digital images of Rawlinson B502 folios from Oxford Bodleian Library (Ossorian Genealogy is found on folio 70v):
  47. ^ Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, Annals of Ulster, Annals of the Four Masters
  48. ^ Landnámabók
  49. ^ Cogadh Gaedhel Re Gallaibh (trans. by Todd) pg 297
  50. ^ Landnámabók
  51. ^
  52. ^ AI 983.4 and AI 984.2
  53. ^ AU 1016.6; ALC 1016.4; CS, s.a. 1014; AFM, s.a. 1015
  54. ^ AT 1022.2; CS, s.a. 1020; AFM, s.a. 1022
  55. ^ AI 1026.3
  56. ^ AU 1027.2; ALC 1027.2; AT 1027.2; AFM, s.a. 1027; Ann. Clon., s.a. 1027
  57. ^ AU 1033.4; ALC 1033.3; AFM, s.a. 1033
  58. ^ AT 1039.6; AFM, s.a. 1039
  59. ^ AU 1039.2; ALC 1039.2; AT 1039.7; AI 1039.7 only calls Donnchad king of Osraige; after a long illness, AFM, s.a. 1039; Ann. Clon., s.a. 1039
  60. ^
  61. ^ On the Life of Patrick, in Three Middle-Irish Homilies on the Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba. Whitley Stokes (ed), First edition [45 pp.] (100 copies privately printed)Calcutta (1877), pg. 33. Found online through UCC CELT, here:
  62. ^ (This wikisource is partially out-dated.)
  63. ^ St. Kieran's College website:
  64. ^
  65. ^ St. Piran Trust
  66. ^ Giraldus Cambrensis, Topographia Hibernica
  67. ^ Óengus mac Óengobann, The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee
  68. ^
  69. ^ Óengus mac Óengobann, The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^ Dr. Eamonn Kelly (NMI) lecture, (17 Aug 2014; Kilkenny Castle):
  73. ^ Lyng, T., The FitzPatricks of Ossory, Old Kilkenny Review, Vol. 2, no. 3, 1981; pg. 261.
  74. ^
  75. ^
  76. ^ National Monuments Service
  77. ^
  78. ^ Early Christian Sites In Ireland Database
  79. ^
  80. ^ Cóilín Ó Drisceoil. "Probing the past: a geophysical survey at St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny." Old Kilkenny Review No. 58 (2004) p. 80-106. Print.
  81. ^ Brenda Lynch. Jerpoint Abbey: an historical perspective." Old Kilkenny Review No. 58 (2004) p. 125-138. Print.
  82. ^ Brenda Lynch. Jerpoint Abbey: an historical perspective." Old Kilkenny Review No. 58 (2004) p. 125-138. Print.
  83. ^ Cistercian Abbeys: JERPOINT
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^ (Keating mistakenly records 1100 as the year of the Synod of Rath Breasaill.)
  87. ^ Downham, "Career", p. 7; Mac Niocaill, Ireland before the Vikings, pp. 3–4.
  88. ^ Downham, "Career", p. 7; Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, pp. 292–294; Byrne, Irish kings and high-kings, pp. 180–181.
  89. ^
  90. ^
  91. ^
  92. ^ Joan N. Radner (ed. & trans.) Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin 1978)
  93. ^ Joan N. Radner (ed. & trans.) Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin 1978)
  94. ^
  95. ^
  96. ^
  97. ^ Joan N. Radner (ed. & trans.) Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin 1978)
  98. ^ The Fitness of Names, stanza 213, 214:
  99. ^
  100. ^ "Carmun", Line 72:
  101. ^ English translation of the Banshenchas by Maighreád ni C. Dobbs (originally published in: Revue Celtique. vol. 47-49) online at:
  102. ^ Hariman, James. Irish Minstrelsy or Bardic Remains of Ireland; with English Poetical Translations. Vol. II. London: Joseph Robins, Bride Court, Bridge Street. (1831) p. 372-375.
  103. ^ Translation:
  104. ^
  105. ^ See English translation of Orkneyinga Saga online:
  106. ^ Juxtaposing Cogadh Gáedel re Gallaib with Orkneyinga saga, by Thomas A. DuBois. In Oral Tradition Vol. 26, Number 2 (October 2011) p. 286. PDF available here:
  107. ^ Earl Sigurd and the Raven Banner
  108. ^ Muir (2005) p. 28
  109. ^ Thomson (2008) p. 66
  110. ^ Digitized view of Topographia Hibernica is available from the British Library, here:
  111. ^ Digitized view of Expugnatio Hibernica is available from the British Library, here:
  112. ^
  113. ^ Chapt. 15, online here: (accessed 1 April 2014)
  114. ^
  115. ^ The History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating, D.D. . David Comyn (ed), Patrick S. Dinneen (ed), First edition [The first three of four volumes in the series.] David Nutt, for the Irish Texts SocietyLondon (1902–1914) . Irish Texts Society [Comann na Sgríbheann Gaedhilge]. , No. 4; 8 and 9. English translation found online through UCC CLET, here:
  116. ^,_Richard_de_(DNB00)
  117. ^ (accessed 12 March 2014)
  118. ^
  119. ^
  120. ^ Hanmer's Chronicle of Ireland on Google Books:
  121. ^ Hanmer's Chronicle of Ireland on
  122. ^
  123. ^
  124. ^
  125. ^
  126. ^
  127. ^
  128. ^
  129. ^
  130. ^


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  • —. Annals of the Four Masters, volume 2. CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts.
  • —. Annals of the Four Masters, volume 3. CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts.
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  • Mac Niocaill, Gearóid (1972), Ireland before the Vikings, The Gill History of Ireland 1, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, ISBN 0-7171-0558-X 
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External links[edit]