Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair

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Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair
Rory O'Connor Stone Carving.jpg
Stone carving, Cong Abbey
High King of Ireland
Reign1166 – 1198
PredecessorMuirchertach Mac Lochlainn
SuccessorBrian Ua Néill (Disputed)
Bornc. 1116
Kingdom of Connacht
Died2 December 1198
Clonmacnois, County Offaly
SpouseSix (including Dubhchobhlaigh Ní Ruairc)
FatherToirdelbach Ua Conchobair
MotherCaillech De Ní hEidhin

Ruaidrí mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (Modern Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchúir; anglicized as Rogers or Rory O'Conor)[1][2][3][4] (c. 1116 – 2 December 1198) was King of Connacht from 1156 to 1186, and High King of Ireland from 1166 to 1198.[5] He was the last High King of Ireland. Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland (Brian Ua Néill and Edward Bruce both claimed the title with opposition in later years but their claims were considered illegitimate). Ruaidrí was the last native and Gaelic King of Ireland.

Ruaidrí was one of over twenty sons of King Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (1088–1156). He and his sister Mór were Tairrdelbach's only children from his third wife, Cailech Dé Ní hEidin of Aidhne.

Rig Damna Connachta[edit]

Ruaidrí was not a favourite of his father, his brother Conchobar Ua Conchobair being Tairrdelbach's tánaiste and designated heir. In 1136, he and his brother Aedh (died 1195) took advantage of a low in Tairrdelbach's fortunes to stage a rebellion. Aedh was blinded by Conchobar on Tairrdelbach's orders but Ruaidrí was protected by the Archbishop of Connacht, Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh. In 1143, he staged another rebellion. He was arrested by Conchobar and Tighearnán Ua Ruairc.

Ruaidhri, was taken by Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, in violation of laity and clergy, relics and protection. These were the sureties: Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, with the clergy and laity of Connacht; Tadhg Ua Briain, lord of Thomond; Tighearnan Ua Ruairc, lord of Breifne; and Murchadh, son of Gilla-na-naemh Ua Fearghail, lord of Muintir-Anghaile. The clergy of Connacht, with Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, fasted at Rath-Brenainn, to get their guarantee, but it was not observed for them.[6]

After a year's imprisonment, Archbishop of Armagh Gilla Meic Liac mac Diarmata sought his release by April 1144, along with his confederates Domnall Ua Flaithbertaig and Cathal Ua Conchobair. However, Tairrdelbach only acquiesced upon the assassination of Conchobar in Mide, later that year.[citation needed]


Tairrdelbach now chose another son, Donnell Mor Mideach Ua Conchobair, as tánaiste, but Ruaidrí improved his status with raids against Tighearnán Ua Ruairc in 1146 and capturing and killing Tairrdelbach's nephew and opponent, Domnall Ua Conchobar, in 1150. Donnell Mór Mideach began to lose favour in 1147 and his fate was sealed when he was arrested in 1151, making solid Ruadrí's claim as his father's heir. In that year Ruadrí successfully raided Thomond, where Tairrdelbach won a great victory at the Battle of Móin Mór.

Dearbhforgaill's alleged abduction[edit]

In 1152, Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn travelled into Mide, compelling hostages of Tairrdelbach. "They divided Meath into two parts on this occasion; ... On this occasion Dearbhforgaill, daughter of Murchadh Ua Maeleachlainn, and wife of Tighearnan Ua Ruairc, was brought away by the King of Leinster"[7] (Dermot MacMurrough). This account was written more than 500 years after the events took place. More contemporary accounts suggest that the 'abduction' may have been closer to an elopement where Dearbhforgaill abandoned her aging husband for someone closer to her own age.[citation needed]

Activity to 1156[edit]

Ruaidrí remained active in suppressing the Ua Briain's of Munster, burning Croome, dividing Munster in half (Thomond to Tadhg Ua Briain, Desmond to Diarmaid MacCartaigh), expelling Toirrdelbach mac Diarmata into Ailech. This gave reason for Mac Lochlainn to travel south with an army in 1153. Tairrdelbach was beaten off by Mac Lochlainn, leaving Ruaidhri and his men exposed at Fordruim, (now in County Westmeath):

Ruaidhri, son of Toirdhealbhach, and the battalion of West Connacht, and the recruits of Sil-Muireadhaigh, came to Fordruim; but as they were pitching their camp there, the heroes of the North poured upon them without previous notice, and numbers of the Connachtmen were slain by them, and among the rest Gillacheallaigh Ua hEidhin, lord of Aidhne, and his son, Aedh; Brian Ua Dubhda, lord of Ui-Fiachrach of the North; Muircheartach, son of Conchobhar (who was son of Toirdhealbhach) Ua Conchobhair; Domhnall Ua Birn; Domhnall, son of Cathal Ua Conchobhair; and Sitric Mac Dubhghaill.[8]

The Ua Conchobair's brought "the fleets of Dun-Gaillmhe, of Conmhaicne-mara, of the men of Umhall, of Ui-Amhalghadha, and Ui-Fiachrach" north and defeated Mac Lochlainn at Inis Eoghain, but the latter was strong on land, forcing them to respond to incursions in east Connacht and Breifne, along with attempted settlements in Mide in 1155. The latter led to "The castle of Cuileanntrach [being] burned and demolished by Ruaidhri."[9]

King of Connacht[edit]

Tairrdelbach died at his capital of Dunmore, County Galway. Ruaidri became king of Connacht "without any opposition".[quote citation needed] As a precaution, he arrested three of his twenty-two brothers, "Brian Breifneach, Brian Luighneach, and Muircheartach Muimhneach" to prevent them from usurping him;[quote citation needed] Brian Breifneach was blinded.

On learning of Tairrdelbach's death, Mac Lochlainn assumed the High-Kingship and began a war of attrition in Leinster and Osraige, using their regional allies against one another.

Over the winter of 1156–57 he positioned a fleet on the River Shannon in anticipation of an attack from Aileach. Yet Mac Lochlinn successfully imposed his own client king in Mide, took hostages from Dermot MacMurrough, evicted the kings of Loígis, Uí Failghe and Osraige, all of whom fled to Connacht. He then subdued all Munster and captured Luimneach. Forced to attack or lose face, Ruaidrí responded by plundering and burning areas around Strabane and Derry. Then, while Mac Lochlinn was returning home to counter him, Ruaidrí entered Munster and overturned Mac Lochlinn's political settlement.[citation needed]

High King of Ireland[edit]

After the death of Mac Lochlainn in 1166 Ruadhrí rode to Dublin where he was inaugurated as High King of Ireland, arguably the first without opposition. He then celebrated Oneach Tailltann, a recognised prerogative of the High Kings, in which he made a number of charitable donations and gifts.[10]

One of Ruadhrí's first acts as King was to invade Leinster and expel its king, Dermot Mac Morrough. He then received hostages from all the major lordships and kings of Ireland to show their submission. However, his power base was still in his home Province of Connacht. Dublin was under the rule of Ascaill mac Ragnaill who had submitted to Ruadhrí.[10]

Ruadhrí's position in Ireland remained strong until the Norman invasion of Ireland, who had come to aid Dermot mac Morrough regain his throne as king of Leinster. Ruadhrí experienced mixed success fighting the Norman and their rebellious Irish allies, losing much of Leinster, along with the Norse-Gael cities of Waterford and Wexford.[10]

He was, however, able to unite much of the Irish military forces, something not seen since the days of Brian Boru. He allegedly led a massive army of sixty-thousand men and a fleet of 30 ships during a campaign to retake the land they had lost to the Normans, in particular Dublin.[11] He drove the Normans out of Kildare and Meath, burning Norman castles at Trim and Kells. This led to the siege of Dublin in 1171. However, the King was defeated after the Normans sallied out to Ruadhrí's camp and killed many of the Irish soldiers as they were resting and bathing. After this defeat, Ruadhrí's army withdrew.[10]

This army was a part of a massive counter-offensive led by the High King which pushed the Normans out of the Midlands and towards Dublin and the east coast. Despite the defeat at Dublin, Ruadhrí managed to keep control of the Midlands.[10]

The Normans managed to conquer northern and southern Leinster, and parts of eastern Munster. However, this was arguably the limit of their expansion during Ruadhrís reign. A Norman expedition into Munster was wiped out by Ruadhrí at the Battle of Thurles, while the northern kings of Oriel and Northern Uí Néill repelled attacks on their kingdoms and raided and plundered much of northern Leinster.[10]

He signed the Treaty of Windsor with King Henry II of England. Whether he was unable or unwilling to, Henry did not or could not control the Norman barons, who continued conquering Irish territory, while Ruadhrí could not control the lesser Irish kings. This led to further conflict which would continue for centuries. Ruadhrí abdicated in 1183, but returned to rule briefly twice after that. Ruadhrí died in the year 1198. He would be the last Gaelic king of Ireland, except for perhaps Brian Ua Néill (died 1260).[12][10]

Children and descendants[edit]

The last of Ruaidrí's descendants to hold the kingship of Connacht, Aedh mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, died in 1233. The Annals of Connacht give the following reason for this:

Aed mac Ruaidri had been five years King of Connacht, as the poet said: 'Aed mac Ruaidri of the swift onslaught, five years his rule over the province, till he fell— a loss on every frontier— by the hand of Fedlimid.' Here ends the rule of the children of Ruaidri O Conchobair, King of Ireland. For the Pope offered him the title to [the kingship of] Ireland for himself and his seed for ever, and likewise six wives, if he would renounce the sin of adultery henceforth; and since he would not accept these terms God took the rule and sovranty from his seed for ever, in punishment for his sin.[13]

The annals and genealogies list thirteen children fathered by Ruaidrí. There may have been more.

All of Ruaidrí's large male progeny faded into obscurity in the first half of the 13th century. The last to be mentioned in the Gaelic-Irish annals was his grandson, Niall son of Domnall Mór, who was killed in 1242.

The result is that there are no demonstratable male-line descendants of Ireland's last high-king recorded after the 1240s. All kings of Connacht from 1233 descended from Ruaidrí's much younger brother, Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair. The Ó Conchubhair Donn, the senior member of the entire Síol Muireadaigh dynasty, likewise descends from Cathal Crobhdearg.

Only two of Ruaidrí's descendants have ever attempted to claim the Irish High Kingship:


  1. ^ Dunleavy, Janet; Dunleavy, Gareth (Autumn–Winter 1973). "The Catalogue of the O'Conor Papers". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. 62 (247/248): 205–219. JSTOR 30088045.
  2. ^ O'Donovan, John (1891). The O'Conors of Connaught: An Historical Memoir. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, and Co.
  3. ^ Walford, Edward (1892). The County Families of the United Kingdom; or, Royal Manual of the Titled and Untitled Aristocracy of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. London: Chatto & Windus. p. 776. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  4. ^ Burke, John (1836). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry. London: Henry Colburn. p. 540. Retrieved 12 March 2021. the ancient race of O'Conor . . .
  5. ^ Aibhm O Croinin (2013), Early Medieval Ireland, 400–1200, London: Routledge, p. 6, 1175: Treaty of Windsor between Ruaidri Ua Conchobhair, high-king, and Henry II. 1183: Ruaidri Ua Conchobhair deposed.
  6. ^ O'Donovan, John (1856). Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Company. p. 2:1071.
  7. ^ O'Donovan, John (1856). Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Company. p. 2:1103.
  8. ^ O'Donovan, John (1856). Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Company. p. 2:1107–1108.
  9. ^ O'Donovan. Annals. p. 2:1117.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g M. (1901). "Annals of the Four Masters". All Ireland Review. 2 (10): 72. doi:10.2307/20545251. ISSN 2009-2415. JSTOR 20545251.
  11. ^ Heath, Ian (1989). Armies of feudal Europe, 1066-1300 : organisation, tactics, dress, and weapons. Wargames Research Group. OCLC 28927648.
  12. ^ Benham, Jenny (3 May 2018), "Treaty of Windsor (1175)", The Encyclopedia of Diplomacy, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 1–4, doi:10.1002/9781118885154.dipl0496, ISBN 978-1-118-88791-2
  13. ^ "17th-Century Manuscript by Bard Niall MacMhuirich" (PDF). Iona Abbey and Clan Donald. Retrieved 10 April 2017.


External links[edit]

Preceded by King of Connacht
1156–1183; 1186
Succeeded by
Preceded by High King of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by
new creation
King of Ireland
Succeeded by
title vacant until succeeded by Henry VIII in 1542