Cathal riabach Ó Ruairc was born in the latter part of 12th century. The early Irish genealogies of the Book of Ballymote, An Leabhor Donn, and O'Clery suggest he was a son of Donnchadh, son of Aedh, son of Donnchadh alias Gilla Bruide. He has been described as a king of Bréifne between the years 1231 to 1236. His obituary in the Annals of Connacht in the year 1236 reads, "Cathal Riabach mac Gillabroide O Ruairc, king of the Ui Briuin, died. His obituary in the Annals of the Four Masters is identical, however he is called "mac Gilla-Brude". The early genealogies show Cathal's descent from the line of of Domnall, the fourth and last Ó Ruairc to be called a king of Connacht.
Domnall (1102, king of Connacht) Donnchadh
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Donnchadh Gilla Bruide (1125) Ualgharg Ferghal (1157) Tighernán mór (1172) Aedh
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Aedh (1176) (Main line of later Ó Ruairc kings) Cathal liath
Donnchadh óg Ualgharg (1231)
Cathal riabach (1236) Aedh
Cathal's great-grandfather Donnchadh is noted in the same genealogies (referenced above) as Gilla Bruide (Briodi, Buide, Braide), and he may have been the one referenced in the Annals of Tigernach in the year 1125 as "Gilla Bruide h-Úa Ruairc occisus est." (i.e. died). Both the Book of Ballymote and Linea Antiqua suggest Cathal was part of clann (mac) Gillibruidi Ó Ruairc. This helps explain why Cathal was cited as "mac Gillabroide O Ruairc" in his 1236 obituary.
Cathal's grandfather Aedh was a younger contemporary of the powerful Tighernán mór, who reigned as king of Bréifne from about 1124 to 1172. Aedh was a main rival within the Ó Ruairc sept during Tighernán's long reign, and he was evidently the "son of Gillabraide Ua Ruairc" who, in 1140-1141, unsuccessfully petitioned the Ui Briuin leaders (O Conor) to remove Tighernán from his chieftainship. Aedh was likely the "son of Gillabraide Ua Ruairc" who, in 1152, was the awarded the chieftainship of Bréifne. This lasted for only a very short time as Tighernán mór quickly regained the title. Following Tighernán mór's death in 1172, Aedh was again successful in attaining the chieftainship. In his 1176 obituary in the Annals of Tigernach he was titled king of Breifne, "Aedh mac Gilla Bruite Uí Ruairc, rí Brefne, in treas Aedh as fherr do bai a n-Erinn ina aimsir féin, do ég."
Cathal riabach's father Donnchadh, referred to as 'Donogh og' in Linea Antiqua, was somewhat of a mystery. There is no direct mention of him in the annals, his name derived from the early genealogies. Certainly Cathal's eligibility to become a Ó Ruairc chieftain was in large part due to his grandfather Aedh mac Gillibruidi. Prior to Cathal's reign the chieftainship changed hands among the descendants of Ferghal (son of Domnall) who died in 1157, and among the the descendants of Tighernán mór and Aedh (both apparent sons of Donnchadh). For additional discussion on the Ó Ruairc rivalries among the descendants of Domnall and Donnchadh, see 'The descendants of Ualgharg Ó Ruairc, died circa 1085'.
Cathal succeeded Ualgharg Ó Ruairc (grandson of Aedh son of Donnchadh) when he died in 1231. Cathal riabach's brief reign of 5 years was enough to help ensure his sons remained in contention for the chieftainship. However, intra-sept rivalries were very strong among the Ó Ruaircs of Breifne during the 13th century, and this contributed to an overall decline in the family's regional power. The 13th century was also a time of great rivalry between the Ó Ruaircs and the Ó Raghaillighs (O'Reillys), the latter claiming the eastern portion of the traditional Breifne region (much of modern co. Cavan) for themselves.
Cathal riabach Ó Ruairc was noted in the genealogies with at least three sons: Amlaib, Art, and Cathal óg. Below is a lineage chart for Cathal riabach Ó Ruairc, with death dates drawn from the Irish annals.
Cathal riabach (1236)
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Amlaib (1248) Art (1275) Cathal óg
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Amlaib (1307) Tomas Seann
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Art Muircertach Matha Mathgamain Tomas
(1346) (1362) (1357) |
(Mac Cahal Reagh)
Cathals' son Amlaib met his death at the hands of the neighboring Mac Donnchadha of Connacht in 1248. Cathal riabach's son Art vied for the lordship of Breifne Ó Ruairc for 27 years following this event. Art's first opportunity came in 1258 when the reigning Ó Ruairc, i.e. Domnall (of Aedh's line, see Cathal liath), was deposed and the lordship was given to Art. With the support of the powerful Ó Conor lords of Connacht, Art son of Cathal was taken prisoner the following year and the lordship was given back to Domnall. In the continuing power struggle Domnall was killed the following year (1260), and Art son of Cathal riabach was proclaimed Ó Ruairc after his escape from Ó Conor in 1261. Art son of Cathal riabach would reign contested for about five years, and in 1266 he was again deposed by Ó Conor, and the kingship was turned over to Conchobar Buide son of Amlaib (of Ferghal's line). Conchobar would last until his death in 1273, when the lordship of Breifne was given to Tigernán son of Aedh (of Aedh's line). Tigernán would last only into the next year before his death in 1274. At the death of Art son of Cathal, about 1275, he is again noted as a king of Breifne, "Art son of Cathal Riabach O Ruairc, king of Brefne, was killed by Mag Finnbairr and the Muinter Geradain and the Galls at Granard, and his people were slaughtered." As suggested in the annals, these were very turbulent times for the lords of Breifne Ó Ruairc.
The Irish annals grow silent about the Ó Ruairc lordship for a number of years following the death of Art son of Cathal riabach, but certainly the rivalry among the Ó Ruaircs continued. The next king of Breifne O Ruairc to be mentioned in the annals was, interestingly, a son of Art (son of Cathal riabach). This was Art's son Amlaib whose obituary appears in 1307, "Amlaib son of Art son of Cathal O Ruairc, king of Brefne was killed by the son of Fergal Garb Mag Samradain". Amlaib was the last of the clann Gillabruidde Ó Ruairc to be noted as a king of Breifne. That distinction would be dominated by the line of Ferghal beginning with the reign of Domnall carrach Ó Ruairc, whose descendants would reign over Breifne Ó Ruairc for the next 300 years. For additional information on this Ó Ruairc line see, The progeny of Ualgharg mór, died 1346.
As for Cathal riabach's 3rd son, Cathal óg Ó Ruairc, his descendants are also mentioned in the annals. Cathal óg's grandson Art met his death at the hands of a Mac Tiernan in 1346. At the death of grandson Matha in 1357, he was noted in complimentary terms as "head of the prowess of Brefne". Cathal óg's grandson Muircertach died a few years after this in 1362.
Cathal óg's son Seann has been noted in the early genealogies at the head of clann Mac Cahal Reagh. In the year 1344 the annals note, "Tomas mac Cathail Riabaig O Ruairc was killed by the Clan Murtagh this year". Whether this was Cathal óg's son, or his grandson taking on a new 'surname', is an interesting question. Later reference to the clann Mac Cahal Reagh appears in the State Papers of 1542. The State Papers deal with the septs under O Rourke, i.e. under Brian ballach mór O'Rourke, and note, "These gentlemen here recited shall be in the peace and conduct of him and his heirs under the King:- the two McGranels, O'Mulmoy, McGlaugh, Kenalowhan, Colloflimme, McCahelrewe, O'Birne, McTernan, and McAnnauve."
Ua Ruairc of Bréifne --
Genealogy Sources --
Lords and Kings of Bréifne --
Chart of O Ruarc Kings
The lineage of Cathal riabach, written by Dennis Walsh, March 2006, all rights reserved.
Sources used for this article include the Irish Annals, and the 'middle' Irish genealogies (e.g. O'Clery).