Cathal liath appears in the early Ó Ruairc (O'Rourke, O'Rorke,...) lineage as the patriarch of a branch of the Ó Ruaircs who vied with other branches of the family for the kingship of Breifne during the 13th century. As such he seems to have been born sometime in the 12th century. Since there is no direct mention of Cathal liath in the Irish Annals he is a bit of a mystery.
In O'Clery's genealogy about the Ó Ruaircs, listed under Clainne Tigernain na Corradh, his lineage is given as Cathail leith m. Aodha m. Donnchadha m. Domhnaill m. Ualghairg m. Nell mic Aedha m. Airt oirdnidhe. In this context 'm.' is an abbreviation meaning 'son of'. For a visual reference of Cathal's descent see Ó Ruairc Kings.
The earlier Irish genealogies of both the Book of Ballymote and An Leabhar Donn suggest the same lineage as O'Clery. The Book of Ballymote and An Leabhar Donn seem to imply that Cathal was a brother of Tigernan ingen Murchada, otherwise the infamous Tighernán mór who died in 1172. Depending on other interpretations Cathal liath is thought to be either a nephew of Tighernán mór, or perhaps his son.
Whatever the exact ancestry of Cathal liath may be this article explores some of his descendants. Most genealogy sources mention the sons of Cathal as: Ualgarg, Concobur, Lughaidh, Donncadh, and Domnall. The following chart is based on available genealogies, with death years drawn from entries in the Irish annals.
Cathal liath Ó Ruairc
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Donnchadh Domnall mhatail Lugaidh Ruaidri Ualgharg (1231) Conchobar na glaisfheine (1201)
_|_ _|_ ________|________________________________
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Tighernán na corradh (1201) Donnchadh Aedh Niall Art Sitriuc (1257)
_____|_____ _______|________ _|_
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Niall Conchobar (1257) Tighernán (1274) Muircertach Domnall
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Domnall (1260) Fergal Cathal (1258) Muirchertach (1260) Tighernán (1273)
Ualgharg, son of Cathal liath
Cathal liath's son Ualgharg is first mentioned in the Irish Annals in the year 1196, with two references. First it cites "A great number of Muinter-Eolais were slain by Ualgharg O'Ruairc, king of Breifne." For the same year it mentions, "The chiefs of Muintir-Eolais were treacherously slain by the son of Cathal O'Rourke". The Muintir-Eolais were part of the tribal group known as the Conmaicne Rein, centered in the southern portion of modern co. Leitrim. Ualgharg is next mentioned in the year 1200 on a bold raid into Tirconnell to the north of Breifne, "A battle was fought between O'Donnell on the one side, and O'Rourke (Ualgarg) and Conor na-Glaisfene O'Rourke on the other. The Hy-Briuin (O'Rourkes) were defeated, and their men dreadfully cut off, both by drowning and killing. Conor himself was drowned on this occasion. This battle was fought at Leckymuldory. In this defeat it would appear that it was Ualgharg's brother Conchobar (Conor) who was drowned. Conchobar's name 'na-Glaisfene' is an unusual one, and in the year 1204 there is mention of a Mant na Mulchán Ua Ruairc, king of the Glaisfhéine.
About the year 1208 Ualgharg is mentioned in a coup to dethrone him, Ualgarg O'Rourke was deprived of the lordship of Breifny; and Art, son of Donnell, who was son of Farrell, assumed his place through the influence of the English. In this case Art Ó Ruairc was of a rival branch of the family descending from Domnall, the fourth Ó Ruairc to be called a king of Connacht. In 1209 this Art was slain by Ua Maoil Sechlainn (of Meath), and Ualgharg regained the kingship. Ualgharg would reign as king of Breifne over the next twenty years, overall his was one of the longer stays in the chieftainship. His obituary appeared in 1231, Ualgarc O Ruairc, king of Brefne, died on pilgrimage on the journey to the Jordan. Unfortunately, no additional information is known about the interesting journey that Ualgharg may have taken.
The line of Domnall, son of Cathal liath
Cathal liath's son Domnall is called Domnall mhatail in the Book of Ballymote. Nothing is clearly known about Domnall but his son Tighernán na corradh was slain in 1201 by Mag-Fiachrach and the Clann-Cahill. This Tighernán is noted in the genealogies as an ancestor of clainne Tigernain na Corradh, a quo McTiernan of Corry (Linea Antiqua). Through his grandson Tighernán na gruaidhe, some of the family is believed to have taken on the surname Mac Tiernan, separately from the well-known MacTiernan chiefs of neighboring Tullyhunco (in modern co. Cavan).
Tighernán na corradh Ó Ruairc had a son named Conchobar who had attained the chieftainship of Breifne, by the mid-13th century. Conchobar is noted in the year 1250 in alliance with Fedlimid Ó Conchobair (Ó Conor), a powerful chieftain in the province of Connacht. Conchobar Ó Ruairc is mentioned as king of Brefne when he was wounded in 1256 in a large battle against Walter mac Richard Burke, of English extraction. Shortly after this Conchobar made a peace with the English, and as a result, is found defending himself against Aedh son of Fedlimid Ó Conchobair. In 1257 a peace was made between the Conchobar and Aedh, with Conchobar yielding the fortress of Cloch-inse-na-dtorc, in Lough Finvoy, to Ó Conor. This uneasy peace led to another Ó Ruairc being elected in Conchobar's place. This was his cousin Sitric son of Ualgharg Ó Ruairc (mentioned above), the annals noting that "Sitrecc son of Ualgarg O Ruairc was made king by Aed Ó Conchobair in opposition to Conchobar son of Tigernan O Ruairc. The said Sitrecc was killed by Domnall, son of the said Conchobar, to avenge that king-making." It was following this event that Conchobar burned his fortress at Cloch-inse-na-dtorc (the stronghold of Cherry Island on Garradice), and this was soon followed by Conchobar's own death in 1257.
Following Conchobar's death his son Domnall Ó Ruairc, who had been held prisoner by Fedlimid Ó Conchobair, was released and made king of Brefne in his father's stead in 1258. That same year Domnall slew Mac Raith Mag Thigernain, chieftain of Tellach Dunchada (Tullyhunco), and as a result the lordship of Hy-Briuin, from the mountain eastwards, was conferred upon Art, son of Cathal Reagh O'Rourke. This Art was a distant cousin in the line of Cathal riabach, and a descendant of Domnall, 4th Ó Ruairc king of Connacht. Interestingly, also in the year 1258, the annals note the death of the Lord of Breifny, from the mountain westwards. This was Amlaib, son of Art O'Rourke (i.e. Art, son of Donnell, who was son of Farrell, mentioned above), another descendant of Domnall, 4th Ó Ruairc king of Connacht.
The fact the lordship of Breifne (O'Rourke) had been divided between east and west at this early date was a sign of times, and a forerunner to an east-west division of Breifne Ó Ruairc in later times. This was the timeframe the Ó Raghallaighs had successfully become independent lords of that portion of the Breifne (called Breifne O'Reilly) which included much of modern co. Cavan.
In 1259 Aed Ó Conchobair was again playing politics in Breifne Ó Ruairc. He made a prisoner of Art, son of Cathal Reagh, and gave the place seat of Amlaib son of Art, to Art Beg son of Art O'Rourke (i.e. Art Beg, Amlaib's apparent brother). Following a peace between Aed Ó Conchobair and Domnall Ó Ruairc (son of Conchobar), Aed saw that the the lordship of Breifny was given back to Domnall. This was however short-lived, for in the following year the annals cite, Domnall, son of Conchobar, son of Tighernán Ó Ruairc, was treacherously slain by the inhabitants of Tealach-Dunchadha (Tullyhunco); and Muirchertach, his brother, was afterwards slain by Aed Ó Conchobair. Art Beg, son of Art Ó Ruairc, was also slain by Aed Ó Conchobair. What trying times for the Ó Ruaircs under the yoke of the Ó Conchobair lord of Connacht ! Following these events the descendants of Tighernán na corradh are no longer mentioned in contention for the lordship of Breifne.
The last of the line of Cathal liath to be named in the chieftainship appears to have been his great-grandson Tighernán son of Aedh son of Ualgharg, who is noted in 1274 as a king of Bréifne after serving only about a year. From this point the lordship of Bréifne would be dominated by the descendants of Domnall, 4th Ó Ruairc king of Connacht (died 1102). This included the descendants of Amlaib son of Art O'Ruairc and, for a time, those of Art, son of Cathal reagh (riabach) O'Ruairc.
Ruaidri, son of Cathal liath
Another son of Cathal liath noted in the genealogies was Ruaidri. Ruaidri's grandson Simon was a cleric and later a Bishop of Breifne. O'Clery gives his lineage as Simon epscop m Donnchada m Ruaidri m Cathal leith. Simon's obituary appears in 1285, Simon O Ruairc, Bishop of Brefne, rested. Simon's nephew Muirchertach Ó Ruairc was apparently also a cleric, his name given as Muirchertach cleirech in the genealogies.
Ua Ruairc of Bréifne --
Genealogy Sources --
Lords and Kings of Bréifne --
Chart of O Ruarc Kings
"The mysterious Cathal liath", written by Dennis Walsh, April 2006, all rights reserved.
Sources used for this article include the Irish Annals, and the 'middle' Irish genealogies (e.g. O'Clery).