Map of Ireland's over-kingdoms circa 900 AD.
|•||–465||Forga mac Dallán|
|•||1172–1177||Ruaidrí Mac Duinn Sléibe|
The Ulaid (Old Irish, pronounced [ˈʊləðʲ]) or Ulaidh (modern Irish, pronounced [ˈʊləɣʲ]) were a people and dynastic group of early Ireland who gave their name to the province of Ulster. Ulaid was also the name of their over-kingdom, which consisted of a federation of minor-kingdoms ruled by an over-king.
Anciently Ulaid spanned across the whole of the modern province of Ulster, excluding County Cavan, but including County Louth stretching as far south as the River Boyne. From the mid 5th-century onwards, the territory of Ulaid was largely confined to east of the River Bann due to encroachment by the Northern Uí Néill and Airgíalla. Ulaid ceased to exist after its conquest in the late 12th-century by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy, and was replaced with the Earldom of Ulster.
An individual from Ulaid was known in Irish as an Ultach, variant spellings being Ultagh and Ultaigh.
Ulaid is a plural noun, indicating an ethnonym rather than a geographic term. The Ulaid are likely the Ούολουντοι (Uolunti or Volunti) mentioned in Ptolemy's 2nd century Geographia. This may be a corruption of Ούλουτοι (Uluti). The name is likely derived from the Gaelic ul, "beard". The late 7th-century writer, Muirchú, spells Ulaid as Ulothi in his work the "Life of Patrick".
In medieval texts the Ulaid are also referred to as the Clanna Rudraige (modern spelling: Clanna Rudhraighe), which has been englished as Clanna Rury. This may mean "descendants of Rudraige" (a personal name) or "descendants of the Rudraige" (a population name, like Dartraige or Osraige). It is suggested that rud is related to ruad (red), and that the Rudraige were named after, and traced their descent to, the so-called "red god". The Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology is called An Rúraíocht in Irish.
Ulaid has historically been anglicised as Ulagh or Ullagh and Latinized as Ulidia or Ultonia. The latter two have yielded the terms Ulidian and Ultonian. The Irish word for someone from Ulaid is Ultach (also spelt as Ultaigh and Ultagh), which in Latin became Ultonii and Ultoniensis.
The Ulaid gave their name to the province of Ulster, though the exact composition of it is disputed: it may be from the Norse name "Uladztir", which is an adaptation of Ulaidh and tir, the Irish for "land"; similarly it may be derived from Ulaidh plus the Norse genitive s followed by the Irish tir. It has also been suggested to have derived from Uladh plus the Norse suffix ster (meaning place), which was common in the Shetland Islands and Norway.
Towards the end of the 5th century, the Ulaid sub-kingdom of Dál Riata, located in the Glens of Antrim, had started colonising modern-day Scotland forming a cross-channel kingdom. Their first settlements were made in the region of Argyll, which means "eastern province of the Gael". By the mid 6th-century, the Dál Riata possessions in Scotland came under serious threat from Bridei I, king of the Picts, resulting in them seeking the Northern Uí Néill's aid. The king of Dál Riata, Áedán mac Gabráin, had already granted the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland to the Cenél Conaill prince and saint, Columba, who in turn negotiated an alliance between the Northern Uí Néill and Dál Riata in 575 at Druim Ceit near Derry. The result of this pact was the removal of Dál Riata from Ulaid's overlordship allowing it to concentrate on extending its Scottish domain.
The Dál nAraidi king Congal Cáech took possession of the overlordship of Ulaid in 626, and in 628 killed the High King of Ireland, Suibne Menn of the Northern Uí Néill in battle. In an attempt to have himself installed as High King of Ireland, Congal made alliances with Dál Riata and Strathclyde, which resulted in the disastrous Battle of Moira, in modern-day County Antrim, which saw Congal slain by High King Domnall mac Áedo of the Northern Uí Néill and resulted in Dál Riata losing possession of its Scottish lands.
By the 8th century, under pressure firstly from the Airgíalla who at their greatest extent had conquered central Ulster west of the River Bann, and then from the Northern Uí Néill who advanced from the north-west, the territory of the Ulaid shrunk to east of the Bann into what is now the modern-day counties Antrim, Down and Louth. The taking over of the Ulaid's ancestral lands by the Northern Uí Néill and the end of their glory led to a constant antagonism between them. It was in the 8th century that the kingdom of Dál Riata was overrun by the Dál nAraidi.
The Dál Fiatach held sway until the battle of Leth Cam in 827, when they attempted to remove Airgíalla from Northern Uí Néill dominance. The Ulaid may have been distracted by the presence of at least one Viking base along Strangford Lough, and by the end of the century, the Dál nAraidi had rose to dominence over them, however this only lasted until 972 when Eochaid mac Ardgail restored Dál Fiatach's fortunes.
During the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings had founded several bases in Ulaid, primarily at Annagassan, Carlingford Lough, Lough Neagh, and Strangford Lough. There was also a significant port at Ulfreksfjord, located at Latharna, present-day Larne, County Antrim. All but Ulfreksfjord were destroyed by the combined efforts of the Ulaid and the Northern Uí Néill, however as a result they deprived themselves of the economic advantages provided by prosperous Viking settlements.
In 1000 the Viking king of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, was expelled by Brian Boru the High King of Ireland, and was refused sanctuary by the Ulaid. Eventually Sigtrygg was forced to return to Dublin and submitted to Brian. Sigtrygg didn't forget the Ulaid's refusal, and in 1001 his fleet plundered Inis Cumhscraigh and Cill Cleithe in Dál Fiatach, taking many prisoners. Sigtrygg's forces also served in Brian's campaigns against the Ulaid in 1002 and 1005.
At Craeb Telcha in 1003 the Northern Uí Néill and Ulaid fought a major battle, the Ulaid inauguration site. Here Eochaid mac Ardgail, and most of Ulaid's nobility were slaughtered, along with the Northern Uí Néill king. The result was a bloody succession war amongst the princes of the Dál Fiatach, who also had to war with the Dál nAraidi who eyed the kingship.
In 1005, Brian Boru, marched north to accept submissions from the Ulaid, and set-up camp at Emain Macha possibly with the intention of exploiting the symbolism it held for the Ulaid. From here, Boru marched to the Dál nAraidi capital, Ráith Mór, where he received only the submissions of their king and that of the Dál Fiatach. This however appears to have been the catalyst for a series of attacks by Flaithbertach Ua Néill, king of the Cenél nEógain, to punish the Ulaid. In 1006, an army led by Flaithbertach marched into Leth Cathail and killed its king, followed by the slaying of the heir of Uí Echach Cobo at Loughbrickland.
The battle of Craeb Telcha resulted in the inability of the Ulaid to provide any useful aid to Boru, when in 1006 he led an army made up of men from all over Ireland in an attempt to force the submission of the Northern Uí Néill. Having marched through the lands of the Cenél Conaill and Cenél nEógain, Boru led his army across the River Bann at Fersat Camsa (Macosquin) and into Ulaid, where he accepted submissions from the Ulaid at Craeb Telcha, before marching south and through the traditional assembly place of the Conaille Muirtheimne at i n-oenach Conaille.
Flaithbertach Ua Néill continued his attacks on Ulaid in 1007, attacking the Conaille Muirtheimne. In 1011, the same year Boru finally achieved hegemony over the entire of Ireland, Flaithbertach launched an invasion of Ulaid, and after destroying Dún Echdach (Duneight, south of Lisburn) and the surrounding settlement, took the submission of the Dál Fiatach, who had the Ulaid kingship, thus removing them from Boru's over-lordship. The next year, Flaithbertach raided the Ards peninsula and took an uncountable number of spoils.
At Ulfreksfjord in 1018, a combined force of native Irish, led by a king called Conchobar, and their Norse allies, led by Eyvind Urarhorn, defeated a major Viking expedition launched by the Earl of Orkney, Einar Sigurdsson, who was aiming to re-assert his father's lordship over the seaways between Ireland and Scotland. In 1022, Niall mac Eochaid, the king of Ulaid, inflicted a major defeat on Sigtrygg's Dublin fleet, decimating it and taking its crew captive. In revenge, Niall followed up this victory in 1026 attacking Finn Gall, a Viking settlement just north of Dublin itself.
Sigtrygg's nephew, Ivar Haraldsson, plundered Rathlin Island just off the north coast of Ulaid in 1038, and again in 1045. The latter attack saw Ivar kill Ragnall Ua Eochada, the heir-apparent of Ulaid and brother of Niall mac Eochaid, along with 300 Ulaid nobles. In retribution Niall again attacked Finn Gall. In 1087, a son of the king of Ulaid, allied with two grandsons Ragnall, attacked the Isle of Man in a failed attempt to oust Godred Crovan, king of Dublin and the Isles.
At the end of the 11th century, the Ulaid had a final revival under Donn Sléibe mac Echdacha, from whom descended the Mac Dúinn Shléibe—anglicised MacDonlevy—kings that ruled Ulaid in the 12th century, and developed close ties with the kingdom of the Isles. The Mac Dúinn Shléibe kings desperately maintained the independence of Ulaid from the Mac Lochlainn rulers of the Northern Uí Néill.
By the beginning of the 12th century the Dál nAraidi, ruled by the Ó Loingsigh (O'Lynch), had lost control of most of Antrim to the Ua Flainn (O'Lynn) and became restricted to a stretch of land in south Antrim with their base at Mag Line (Moylinny). The Ua Flainn were the ruling sept of the Airgíallan Uí Thuirtre as well as rulers of Fir Lí, both of which lay west of the River Bann. In a process of gradual infiltration by marital and military alliances as well as growing pressure from the encroaching Cenél nEógain, they moved their power east of the Bann. Once they had come to prominence in Antrim the Ua Flainn styled themselves as king of Dál nAraidi, Dál Riata, and Fir Lí, alongside their own Uí Thuirtre.
By 1130, the most southerly part of Ulaid, Conaille Muirtheimne, had been conquered by Donnchad Ua Cerbaill, king of Airgíalla. The part of Muirtheimne called Cualigne was subsequently settled by the Airgíallan Uí Méith (from which Omeath derives its name).
The earliest Irish land charter to survive is that of the grant in 1157 of land to the Cistercians in Newry, which lay in Uí Echach, by the High King Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn. This grant was made with the consent of the king of Ulaid, Cú Ulad Mac Dúinn Sléibe, and the king of Uí Echach, Domnall Ua hÁeda.
The Annals of Ulster record that in April 1165, the Ulaid, ruled by Eochaidh Mac Dúinn Sléibe, turned against Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, and attacked the Uí Méith as well as the Uí Breasail in modern barony Oneilland East, County Armagh (which was also formerly part of Ulaid), and the Dál Riata. In retaliation Mac Lochlainn led a force consisting of the Northern Uí Néill and Airgíalla into Ulaid killing many and expelling Eochaid from the kingship. In September Eochaid tried to reclaim the kingship, however was expelled by his own people who feared reprisals from Mac Lochlainn, upon whose command had Eochaid confined by Ua Cerbaill. The next month Mac Lochlainn led another raid into Ulaid, receiving their hostages along with a large amount of their treasure. Later that same month Ua Cerbaill along with Eochaid held a meeting with Mac Lochlainn where Eochaid requested the kingship of Ulaid in return for the hostages of all Ulaid, which included the son of every chief along with his own daughter. Eochaid also gave Mac Lochlainn a considerable amount of treasure along with the territory of Bairrche, and the townland of Saul. In turn, Mac Lochlainn swore an oath to the Bishop of Armagh amongst other nobles for his good behaviour. Mac Lochlainn then give Bairrche to Ua Cerbaill for his part in mediating what turned out to be short-lived reconciliation. Over the following century, the Airgíallan Mughdorna would settle Bairrche, and from them derives its present-day name of Mourne. Despite his oath, Muirchertach had Eochaid seized and blinded, after which his allies abandoned him, and he was reduced to a handful of followers. With sixteen of these closest associates, he was killed in 1166.
In 1170 Eochaid's brother Magnus who had become king of Ulaid expelled the Augustinian canons from Saul.
Ulaid and the Normans
Despite the turmoil amongst the Ulaid, they continued to survive but not for much longer. In 1177 Ulaid was invaded by the Normans led by John de Courcy, who in a surprise attack captured and held the Dál Fiatach capital, Dún Lethglaise, forcing the Ulaid over-king, Ruaidrí Mac Duinn Sléibe (Rory MacDonleavy), to flee. A week later, Mac Duinn Sléibe returned with a great host from across Ulaid, and despite heavily outnumbering de Courcy's forces, were defeated. In another attempt to retake Dún Lethglaise, Mac Duinn Sléibe followed up with an even greater force made up a coalition of Ulster's powers that included the king of the Cenél nEógain, Máel Sechnaill Mac Lochlainn, and the chief prelates in the province such as the archbishop of Armagh and the bishop of Down. Once again however the Normans won, capturing the clergy and many of their relics.
In 1178, after John de Courcy had retired to Glenree in Machaire Conaille (another name for Conaille Muirtheimne), Mac Duinn Sléibe, along with the king of Airgialla, Murchard Ua Cerbaill (Murrough O'Carroll), attacked the Normans, killing around 450, and suffering 100 fatalities themselves.
Despite forming alliances, constant inter-warring amongst the Ulaid and against their Irish neighbours continued oblivious to the threat of the Normans. De Courcy would take advantage of this instability and over the following years, despite some setbacks, set about conquering the neighbouring districts in Ulaid shifting the focus of power.
By 1181, Mac Duinn Sléibe and Cú Mide Ua Flainn, the king of Uí Thuirtre and Fir Lí in County Antrim, had come around and served loyally as sub-kings of de Courcy. Mac Duinn Sléibe, possibly inspired by the chance to restore Ulaid to its ancient extent, may have encouraged de Courcy to campaign westwards, which saw attacks on Armagh in 1189 and then Derry and the Inishowen peninsula in 1197.
De Courcy would style himself as princeps Ultoniae, "master of Ulster", and ruled his conquests like an independent king. The Uíbh Eachach Cobha in central and western Down however escaped conquest.
In 1199 King John I of England sent Hugh de Lacy to arrest de Courcy and take his possessions. In 1205, de Lacy was made the first Earl of Ulster, founding the Earldom of Ulster, with which he continued the conquest of the Ulaid. The earldom would expand along the northern coast of Ulster all the way to the Cenél nEógain's old power-base of Inishowen.
Until the end of the 13th-century, the Dál Fiatach, still lead by the Mac Dúinnshléibe, retained a fraction of their power being given the title of rex Hibernicorum Ulidiae, meaning "king of the Irish of Ulidia". The Gaelic title of rí Ulad, meaning "king of Ulster", upon the extinction of Dál Fiatach was usurped by the encroaching Ó Néills of the Cenél nEógain.
Although Francis John Byrne describes the few La Tène artefacts discovered in Ireland as 'rather scanty', most of the artefacts (mostly weapons and harness pieces) have been found in the north of Ireland, suggesting 'small bands of settlers (warriors and metalworkers) arrived' from Britain in the 3rd century BC, and may have been absorbed into the Ulaid population.[page needed]
Territory and relations
The general scholarly consensus since as early as the time of Eoin MacNeill has been that the Ulaid were apparently kin to the so-called Érainn, or at least to their royal families, sometimes called the Clanna Dedad, and perhaps not their nebulous subject populations. T. F. O'Rahilly notably believed the Ulaid were an actual branch of the Érainn. In any case, certainly related to the Ulaid are the less widely known Dáirine, also another name for the Érainn royalty, and both were related to or derived from the Darini of Ptolemy.
The principle tribes in Ulaid included:
- Dál Fiatach, an Ulaid people based at Dún Lethglaise (present-day Downpatrick, County Down), who dominated the over-kingship of Ulaid and had interests in the Isle of Man;
- Dál nAraidi, a Cruithin people, based at Ráith Mór (near present-day Antrim town, County Antrim). They were the Dál Fiatach's main challengers for the over-kingship;
- Uíbh Eachach Cobha, a Cruithin sept, kin with the Dál nAraidi, who also challenged for the over-kingship of Ulaid. They were based in modern-day County Down, possibly at Cnoc Uíbh Eachach (Knock Iveagh).
- Dál Riata, based in the Glens of Antrim, who since the 6th century were expanding throughout the Scottish Isles and south-western mainland, founding the kingdom of the Scots.
- Leth Cathail, an off-shoot of the Dál Fiatach, located in and around the modern barony of Lecale, County Down.
- Conaille Muirtheimne, close kin of the Uíbh Eachach Cobha, located in and around the modern barony of Dundalk, County Louth.
- Cuailgne, located in the area of Carlingford Lough and Dundalk, County Louth. Their name is preserved in the name of the parish of Cooley, as well as the Cooley Peninsula. Cooley is the location of the Táin Bó Cúailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley.
- Uí Eachach Arda, based in the Ards peninsula.
- Cineál Fhaghartaigh, an off-shoot of the Uíbh Eachach Cobha, who at one time held the modern baronies of Kinelarty, Dufferin, and part of Castlereagh.
- Dál mBuinne, also known as the Muintir Branáin located around Moylinny, County Antrim. An Ulaid tribe, their name is preserved in the medieval deanery of Dalboyn.
- Monaig, a people whose locale is disputed. The annals and historians make mention of several different Monaigs: the Monaigh Uladh, in the area of Downpatrick; Monaich Ulad of Rusat; Monaigh at Lough Erne, County Fermanagh; Monaigh Aird, in County Down; the Cenél Maelche/Mailche in Antrim, County Antrim, "alias Monach"; Magh Monaigh; Monach-an-Dúin in Cath Monaigh, possibly in Iveagh, County Down. The ancient Manaigh/Monaigh who settled near Lough Erne, are associated with the Menapii, a Belgae tribe from northern Gaul.
- Uí Blathmaic, whose territory was located in the northern part of the barony of Ards and part of Castlereagh. Their name was preserved in the medieval deanery and county of Blathewyc.
Craebh Ruad, the Red Branch
Craebh Ruad, which is anglicised as Creeveroe, meaning the "Red Branch", is described in O'Dugans Topographical—a medieval poem—to refer to the central area of County Down and a few adjoining parts of County Armagh. In it he lists the principal chiefs of the area:
- "O'Dunnslebi". Properly Mac Duinnshléibhe, meaning "brown mountain". Anglicised as MacDonlevy, Dunleavy, MacAleavey amongst other variations. Kings of Ulaid. Migrated to present-day Donegal after de Courcy's conquest of Ulaid. After the Battle of Kinsale in 1602, the sept migrated to the province of Connacht, where their name is now most common. Some MacDonlevy's in Donegal adopted the surname Mac an Ultaigh, meaning "son of the Ulsterman", which was anglicised as MacAnulty and MacNulty.
- "O'Heochadha". Properly Ó hEachaidh, meaning "son of Aghy". Anglicised variants include Haughey, MacGaughey, MacGahey, Hoey and Hoy. Also recorded as a Mac name. A branch of the Mac Duinnshléibhe, the name as Haughey is most common in counties Armagh and Donegal, as Hoey and Hoy in County Antrim, and as Haffey and Mehaffy in the Keady district of County Armagh.
- "MacAengusa". Properly Mag Aonghusa or Mag Aonghuis, meaning "son of Angus". There are over 20 anglicised variants, which include Magennis, Maginnis, MacGuinness, Ennis, MacCreesh, MacNiece, and Neeson. A Cruthin tribe of the Dál nAraidi descending from Sárán, they were originally chiefs of Clann Aodha (Clan Hugh), under the dominion of the Ó hEachaidh. By the 12th century they had become lords of Uí Eachach Coba, and controlled most of County Down for the following four centuries. They are called the head of the Clanna Rory.
- "MacArtain". Properly Mac Artáin, meaning "son of Artán". Generally anglicised as MacCartan, it was interchangeable in the Newry and Clough area with MacCartney, and in the Moira area with MacCarten. They were chiefs of Cineál Fhaghartaigh (now the baronies of Kinelarty and Dufferin), however they became lords of Uí Eachach Coba for a short while in the mid-fourteenth century. They descend from Artán, who was the great-grandson of Mongán Mag Aonghusa, and were subordinate to the Mag Aonghusa, however eventually became tributaries of the Ó Néill.
- "O'Haidith". Properly Ó hAidith, meaning "descendant of Aidith" (humility). Anglicised as Haidy, Haidee, Heady, and Head. They were chiefs of Uí Eachach Coba from the mid-10th to mid-12th centuries, after which the Mag Aonghusa superseded them. The name is now incredibly rare, however still exists in County Mayo, Connacht.
- "O'Eochagain". Properly Ó Eochagáin, meaning "descendant of Eochagáin", though was originally a Mac name. Anglicised as Geoghegan and Geoghagan. Some members of the sept became chiefs of Ulaid between the late-9th century and mid-10th century.
- "O'Labhradha". Properly Ó Labhradha, meaning "descendant of Labhradh" (spokesman). Anglicised as Lavery and Lowry. In the mid-10th century they were located around the Moira area of County Down where their name is still most common. They descend from Labhradh who was the father of Etru, chief of the Monagh.
- "O'Lethlobhra". Properly Ó Leathlobhair, meaning "descendant of Leathlobhar" (half-leper). Anglicised as O'Lalour, O'Lalor, Lawlor and Lawler amongst other variations. Descending from Leathlobhar who died in 871, the Ó Leathlobhair are mentioned in the Annals of Ulster as early-10th century kings of Dál nAraidi before disappearing from the records.
- "O'Luingsigh". Properly Ó Loingsigh, meaning "descendant of Loingseach" (mariner). Anglicised as Lynch, Lynchey, and Lindsey amongst other variations. The chiefs of the Ó Loingsigh were lords of Dál Riata during the 11th century.
- "O'Mathghamhna". Properly Ó Mathghamhna/Mathúna, meaning "descendant of Mathghamhain" (bear). Anglicised as Mahon and MacMahon. Once a very powerful family in what is now County Down in the 11th and 12th centuries. Not to be confused with the different Airgíallan, Fermanagh or Connacht septs anglicised as Mahon/MacMahon.
- "O'Gairbhith". Properly Ó Gairbhith, meaning "descendant of Gairbhith" (rough peace). Anglicised as O'Garvey and Garvey. Kin of the Mac Aonghusa, they where located in County Down.
- "O'Ainbith". Properly Ó hAinbheith/hAinbhith, meaning "descendant of Ainbhioth" (storm). Other Irish spellings include: Ó hAinfeith, Ó hAinfidh, Ó hAinfith. Anglicsed as O'Hanvey, Hanvy, Hanvey, Hanafy, and Hanway amongst other variations. They were once chiefs of Uí Eachach Coba. Not to be confused with the different Airgíallan, Meath, or Connacht septs of the same name.
- "O'Duibhenaigh". Properly Mac Duibheamhna, meaning "son of Dubheamhna", Dubheamhna itself according to Woulfe meaning "black-man of Emain (Macha)". Anglicised by O'Donovan as Devany. According to O'Dugan they where chiefs of Clanawley/Kinelawley, also known as Amhalgaidh Uí Morna and Uí Mughroin, in present-day County Down.
Other clans and septs
- The Clann Aodha (O'Hughes), whose chiefs ruled in the area of modern County Down near its border with modern County Antrim.
- The Ui Duibhleachain (O'Doolan), chiefs of the Clan Breasail in an area near modern Kinelarty, County Down
- The Ui Coltarain (Coulter), whose chiefs ruled Dal Coirbin, which lay within the barony of Castlereagh
- The Ui Fhloinn (O'Lynn), chiefs of the Ui Tuirtre, an Airgiallan people seated on the east side of the River Bann and Lough Neagh in County Antrim.
- The Mac Aodh (McGee), who ruled what is now known as Islandmagee, County Antrim.
- The Mac Gobhann (McGowan) of the Clanna Rory, who produced several of the over-kings of the Ulaid and who were expelled to Donegal by the English in the late 12th century.
- The O'Kelly of the Clan Brasil, Mac Coolechan in County Down.
In medieval literature
Medieval Irish genealogists traced the Ulaid's descent from the legendary High King Rudraige mac Sithrigi. The Ulaid feature in Irish legends and historical traditions of prehistoric times, most notably in the group of sagas known as the Ulster Cycle. These stories are set during the reign of the Ulaid king Conchobar mac Nessa at Emain Macha (Navan Fort, near Armagh) and tell of his conflicts with the Connachta, led by queen Medb and her husband Ailill mac Máta. The chief hero is Conchobar's nephew Cú Chulainn, and the central story is the proto-epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, "The Cattle Raid of Cooley".
In this period Ireland is said to have been divided into five independent over-kingdoms—or cuigeadh, literally meaning "a fifth"—of which Ulaid was one, with its capital at Emain Macha. Medieval pseudo-historians called this era Aimser na Coicedach, which has been translated as: "Time of the Pentarchs"; "Time of the Five Fifths"; and "Time of the provincial kings". It was also described as "the Pentarchy".
In some stories Conchobar's birth and death are synchronised with those of Christ, which creates an apparent anachronism in the presence of the Connachta. The historical Connachta were a group of dynasties who traced their descent to the legendary king Conn Cétchathach, whose reign is traditionally dated to the 2nd century. However, the chronology of early Irish historical tradition is inconsistent and highly artificial. One early saga makes Fergus mac Léti, one of Conchobar's predecessors as king of the Ulaid, a contemporary of Conn, and Tírechán's 7th century memoir of Saint Patrick says that Cairbre Nia Fer, Conchobar's son-in-law in the sagas, lived only 100 years before the saint, i.e. in the 4th century.
Kenneth Jackson, based on his estimates on the survival of oral tradition, also suggested that the Ulster Cycle originated in the 4th century. Other scholars, following T. F. O'Rahilly, propose that the sagas of the Ulster Cycle derive from the wars between the Ulaid and the midland dynasties of the Connachta and the nascent Uí Néill in the 4th and 5th centuries, at the end of which the Ulaid lost much of their territory, and their capital, to the new kingdoms of the Airgíalla. Traditional history credits this to the Three Collas, three great-great-great-grandsons of Conn, who defeated the Ulaid king Fergus Foga at Achad Lethderg in County Monaghan, seized all Ulaid territory west of the Newry River and Lough Neagh, and burned Emain Macha. Fergus Foga is said to have been the last king of the Ulaid to reign there. The Annals of the Four Masters dates this to AD 331. O'Rahilly and his followers believe the Collas are literary doublets of the sons of Niall Noígiallach, eponymous founder of the Uí Néill, who they propose were the true conquerors of Emain in the 5th century.
It should be noted that the Kings of Tara in the Ulster Cycle are the kindred of the Ulaid, the Érainn, and are generally portrayed sympathetically, especially Conaire Mór. It was remembered that the Connachta and Uí Néill had not yet taken the kingship. Tara was later occupied by the Laigin, who are to some extent strangely integrated with the Connachta in the Ulster Cycle. The latter later took the midlands from the Laigin and their historical antagonism is legendary. The Érainn, led by Cú Roí, also rule in distant Munster and, while presented as deadly rivals of the Ulaid, are again portrayed with unusual interest and sympathy.
- Kings of Ulster
- Ulidia (kingdom)
- Kingdom of Osraige
- Early history of Ireland
- Early Medieval Ireland 800–1166
- Ulaid (in diaspora) (This article notes in text, reference notes and links the influence of descended of the Ulaid into modern times.)
- Connolly (2007), p. 589.
- Hack (1901), p. 38.
- Byrne (2001), p. 46.
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- Karl Horst Schmidt, "Insular P- and Q-Celtic", in Martin J. Ball and James Fife (eds.), The Celtic Languages, Routledge, 1993, p. 67
- Duffy (2005), p. 493.
- Price, Glanville. The Celtic Connection. Rowman & Littlefield, 1992. p.73
- Lewis, Samuel (1837). "County Down". A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. Retrieved September 2015.
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- Robert Bell; The book of Ulster Surnames, page 180. The Blackstaff Press, 2003. ISBN 0-85640-602-3
- Bardon (2005), p. 27.
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