Ferghal Ó Ruairc was born in Ireland perhaps around the turn of the 10th century. In "A Poem on the Kings of Connaught", he was referred to as 'Fergal son of Ruarc from the Rige, who seized all the country round through battle-rage'. Although he is cited as a son of Ruarc in the translated poem, Ferghal is noted as a son of Art son of Ruarc in most of the early Irish genealogies. He was the first Ó Ruairc who earned the title 'king of Connaught' and among the first of any king entitled to be called Ua Ruaric, that is 'descendant of Ruarc'. As a king of Connaught, Ferghal was the strongest chieftain in the western quarter of Ireland and one of the more powerful leaders in all of Ireland.
At least part of Ferghal's story has been related in a series of entries in the Irish annals, beginning perhaps in the year 952 and ending with his death about the year 966-967. At the time of his death Ferghal is believed to have been an elder man, thus he is referred to as Sean Fearghal, or Sen Fergal, roughly 'old Ferghal, or 'Ferghal the elder'. The following are entries in the Irish annals that appear to relate to Ferghal, his battles and his rivals:
- M.952.8 - A great slaughter was made of the people of Cairbre and Teathbha by Ua Ruairc, on which occasion Ua Ciardha, lord of Cairbre was slain.
- M953.7 - A hosting by Domhnall, son of Muircheartach, with the boats of Tuaign-inbhir, which he convened on Loch Eathach, over the Dabhall, over the Airghialla, upon Loch-Eirne, and afterwards upon Loch-Uachtair; and he plundered and devastated Breifne, and carried off the hostages of O'Ruairc.
- U954.5 - Ua Ruairc inflicted a great slaughter on the Cairpre [Gabra] and Tethba, and ua Ciardai, king of Cairpri, fell.
- U955.3 - An expedition by Domnall son of Muirchertach, with ships from Tuagh-Inbher upon Loch-nEchach, on the Dabhall, across the Airghialla upon Loch-Erne, afterwards on Loch-Uachtair, when he devasted the Breifne, and took O'Ruairc's hostages.
- U956.2 - Tadc son of Cathal, king of Connacht, died.
- M957.6 - A plundering army was led to Inis-Eanaigh by Fearghal Ua Ruairc; and the battle of Magh-Itha was gained, wherein Aedh, son of Flaithbheartach, heir apparent of Cinel-Eoghain, was slain.
- M960.11 - Fearghal Ua Ruairc devastated Meath.
- M961.8 - A slaughter was made against Mathghamain, son of Ceinneidigh, by Fearghal Ua Ruairc, where fell the three grandsons of Lorcan, and seven score along with them. Donnchadh, son of Ceallachan, King of Caiseal, was mortally wounded by his own kingsman.
- M962.11 - The victory of Bealach was gained by Fearghal Ua Ruairc, where Domhnall, son of Muireagan, was slain.
- CS963 - Fergal grandson of Ruarc was in the kingship of Connacht, and inflicted the defeat of Catinnche on the Munstermen, and
Dál Cais was plundered by him.
- M963.4 - A hosting by Domhnall Ua Neill, so that he plundered Connaught, and carried off the hostages of O'Ruairc.
- CS964 - An army was led by Domnall son of Muirchertach, king of Temair, and he brought away the hostages of ua Ruairc, i.e. Fergal, king of Connacht.
- M964.7 - A victory was gained by Comhaltan Ua Cleirigh, i.e. lord of Ui-Fiachrach-Aidhne, and by Maelseachlainn, son of Arcda, over Fearghal Ua Ruairc, where seven hundred were lost, together with Toichleach Ua Gadhra, lord of South Luighne.
- M964.9 - Fearghal Ua Ruairc, King of Connaught, was slain by Domhnall, son of Conghalach, lord of Breagha and Cnoghbha.
- U965.6 - A hosting by Domnall Ua Neill, King of Temhair, when he devasted Connaught and took hostages from O'Ruairc.
- CS966 - A defeat was inflicted on ua Ruairc in Boirenn of Corcu Mruad by Comaltán grandson of Cléirech and by Mael Sechnaill son of Argda, in which 4000 fell, including Taichlech ua Gadra, i.e. king of Luigne.
- CS966 - Fergal ua Ruairc, the Nebuchadnezzar of the Irish, i.e. the king of Connacht, after committing countless evil deeds, fell by Domnall son of Congalach, king of Cnogba.
- U966.4 - Fergal ua Ruairc was killed by Domnall son of Congalach, king of Brega.
- AI967.1 - Death of Ferga Ua Ruairc, king of Connachta.
From the above entries it is apparent that Ferghal Ó Ruairc battled far afield, outside of his base in the kingdom of Bréifne. About 952-954, he was waging war on Cairbre and Teathbha, territory immediately south of Bréifne. The following year Domnall the 'High King' of Ireland, of the Cenél Eoghain, raided his territory and Ferghal was forced to give hostages, a common method in those days of showing homage to a a more powerful king. About the year 957 Ferghal made a daring raid into the north of Ireland and won a victory against the Cenél Eoghain of the northern Ui Neill. A few years later he raided Meath, in the territory of the powerful southern Ui Neill. In the early 960s Ferghal was raiding the men of north Munster, the province south of Connacht, the territory the famous king Brian Boru would eventually emerge. About 964 Domnall, the 'High King' of Ireland, had again returned to Bréifne to obtain homage from Ferghal. Fergal ua Ruairc, king of Connachta, finally met his death in battle against Domnall, the southern Ui Neill king of Brega (east Meath).
Through all of Ferghal's 'battle-rage' he would make the Ó Ruaircs a powerful sept in the province of Connacht. Following his death he was succeeded as king of Connacht by another branch of the Ui Briuin, the branch that would give rise to the powerful Ua Conchobair (Ó Conor) of Connacht. Ferghal is noted in the genealogies with at least two sons: Aedh, and Art an caileach, who were both noted as kings of Bréifne. Ferghal's son Aedh is cited in the annals about the year 1014-1015 in league with the northern Ui Neill, i.e. Ua Maeldoraidh of the Cenél Conaill. They attacked Magh-Aei and killed Domnall son of Cathal, brother of the king of Connacht. Shortly after Aedh was slain by Tadhg son of Cathal, the king of Connacht. About the year 1019-1020 Ferghal's son Art, king of Bréifne, is noted giving hostages to the powerful southern Ui Neill king, Mael Sechlainn.
Ferghal's son Aedh in turn had a son who was also named Art. This Art was cited in the genealogies as Art oirdnighe, king of Connacht. Since they lived in the same timeframe, confusion arises in the annals between this Art oirdnide grandson of Ferghal, and Art an caileach son of Ferghal. In the year 1030 it was the caileach who is given credit for slaying Aed ua Maíldoraidh of the powerful northern Ui Neill tribe of Cenél Conaill. And in the following year it was the caileach who was noted plundering Cluana Ferta Brenaind (Clonfert). However in the year 1046 it was Art Uallach h-Úa Ruairc, king of Connacht, who is noted to have been slain by the Cenél Conaill after raiding Cluana Mac Nois (Clonmacnois). Because of this reference to Art uallach as king of Connacht, he is believed to be the same person as Art oirdnighe, king of Connacht as noted in the genealogies of the Book of Ballymote, An Leabhor Donn, O'Clery's book of genealogies, and others. "A Poem on the Kings of Connaught" calls him 'Art grandson of Ruarc of the royal seat; Art the Fair of the land of Codal', although in the original text it cites the more generic Artt húa Rúairc (Art, descendant of Ruairc).
According to the genealogies, Art oirdnighe Ó Ruairc was the second Ó Ruairc to be called king of Connacht, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Ferghal. The chart below includes some of Ferghal's descendants, as interpreted from the early genealogies. Estimated years of death are included, based on entries in the annals. The Ó Ruaircs who were noted as kings of Connacht are highlighted in blue text.
Sean Ferghal Ó Ruairc (c.966)
Aedh (1014) Art an caileach (aft 1030?)
Art oirdnighe (1046) Donnchad cael (1084)
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Donnchad dearg (1039) Annodh (1043) Niall (1047) Aedh (1087)
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(mac na h-aídhche?) Ualgarg (1085?) Domnall
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Tighernán Domnall Aedh
_|_ _|_ (from Rawlinson B502)
Domnall (1102) Donnchad
(ancestors of later Ó Ruairc kings of Bréifne)
From the chart above, there were four Ó Ruaircs cited as kings of Connacht. "A Poem on the Kings of Connaught" mentions Aedh (died 1087) as Aed son of Art, seized on Sart of lasting valour, and later mentions Domnall (died 1102) as Domnall son of Tigernan the Silent. The obituaries of the last three Ó Ruairc kings of Connacht appear in the Annals of Tigernach as follows:
T1046.3 - Art Uallach h-Úa Ruairc, ri Condacht, do marbadh do Cenel Chonaill in dara bliadain iar n-argain Cluana Mac Nois.
(Translated this reads), Art Uallach Ua Ruairc, King of Connaught, was slain by the Cinel-Conaill, in the second year after his having plundered Clonmacnois.
T1087.2 - Cath Conachla a Corand iter Ruaidhri na Saighe Buidhe, mac Aedha in Ga Bernaigh, h-Úi Concobair & Aedh mac Airt Uallaig h-Úi Ruairc, rí Connacht co torchair and Aedh h-Ua Ruairc & Muiredhach h-Úa h-Eolais & Sitriuc mac Con Sleibe h-Úi Fergail, & mac Gofraidh h-Úi Siriden, et ailii multi. Ruaidri h-Úa Concobair as leis tucadh.
(Translated this roughly reads), The battle of Conachail, in the territory of Corann, between Ruaidhri 'of the yellow hound,' son of Aedh 'of the gapped spear' Úi Concobair and Aedh, son of Art Uallach Ua Ruairc, king of Connacht, and slain were Aedh Ua Ruairc & Muiredhach Ua Eolais & Sitriuc mac Con Sleibe Úi Fergail, & the son of Gofraidh h-Úi Siridenm, and many others...
T1102.1 - Domnall mac Tigernain Uí Ruairc, rí Connacht & h-Ua Bríuin & Conmaicne a tempus, occisus est o Muintir Eolais.
(Translated this roughly reads), Domnall son of Tigernain Uí Ruairc, king of Connacht and Ua Briuin and Conmaicne for a time, was killed by Muintir Eolais.
It is interesting to note that the third Ó Ruairc called a 'king of Connaught', Aedh son of Art oirdnighe, is not mentioned as an ancestor of the later kings of Breifne. Aedh's descendants are only apparent in reference to the genealogies published in Rawlinson B502, a medieval text believed to have been recorded sometime in the first part of the 12th century (if not earlier). In that text it provides a son of Aedh who was named Domnall, and a grandson who was also named Aedh. The latter Aedh would most likely have been a king of Breifne in the first part of the 12th century, as implied by the timeframe Rawlinson B502 was produced. Consulting the early Irish annals, there is a possibility he may have been Aedh an Gilla Srónmaol Ó Ruairc.
- M1101.8 - Donchad, son of Art Ua Ruairc, lord of Conmaicne [Rein], and heir-apparent to the kingship of Connacht, was slain by Gilla Sronmael O'Rourke.
- LC1109.4 - Aedh Ua Ruairc came twice into the camp of Murchadh Ua Maelsechlainn, and committed a slaughter, through the curse of the congregation of Patrick.
- AI1111.3 - A predatory hosting by Muirchertach Ua Briain against the men of Breifne and he plundered them and brought their womenfolk and cows to Mumu, after they had been shunned by In Gilla Maelshron Ua Ruairc.
- CS1111 - Aodh mac Domnaill h. Ruairc .i. an Gilla Srónmaol do coinnmedh egne a cClúin M Nois.
Translated this says, 'Aed son of Domnall ua Ruairc, i.e. 'the bald-nosed lad', inflicted a forced billetting on Cluain moccu Nóis'.
- T1114.1 - Maidm ar in Gilla Sronmael h-Úa Ruaircc ria Murchadh h-Úa Mael Sechlainn uibi cecidderunt.
- U1114.3 - A hosting by Domnall Ua Lochlainn to Rath-Cennaigh, so that there came into his house Eochaidh Ua Mathgamna with the Ulidians and Donnchadh Ua Loingsigh with the Dal-Araidhe and Aedh Ua Ruairc with the men of Breifne and Murchadh Ua Mael-Sechlainn with the men of Meath.
- U1117.3 - Mael Brigte son of Ronan, coarb of Cenannas (Kells), was killed by Aed ua Ruairc and the Ui Briuin, with a slaughter of the community of Cenannas, on the vigil of Domnach Crom Duban.
- M1118.6 - An army was led by Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, King of Connaught, who was joined by Murchadh Ua Maeleachlainn, King of Teamhair, and by Aedh Ua Ruairc, as far as Gleann-Maghair in Munster...
- CS1121 - Aed son of Domnall ua Ruaírc, king of East Connacht, dies.
- T1121.1 - Aed, son of Domnal O'Rourke, lord of east Connacht, was slain by the men of Meath.
- CS1122 - Aed son of Domnall ua Ruaírc, king of East Connacht, dies.
- U1122.1 - Aed ua Ruiarc, king of Conmaicne, fell by the men of Mide when taking spoil from them.
- M1122.7 - Aedh Ua Ruairc, i.e. the son of Domhnall, lord of Conmhaicne, fell by the men of Meath, as he was carrying off a prey from them.
- AI1122.4 - In Gilla Sronmael Ua Ruairc was slain by Murchad Ua Mael Shechnaill at the instigation of the saints.
- MCB1123.3 - Aodh son of Donnchadh Ó Ruairc, king of Bréifne and Conmhaicne, was killed by the men of Midhe
According to these entries, if in fact they all relate to Aedh an Gilla Srónmaol Ó Ruairc, Aedh was a prominent player in the early 12th century political scene in Ireland. Early in his career he slew one of his Ó Ruairc rivals, perhaps to help make way for himself. He was a key participant in raids into the provinces of Munster, Midhe (Meath) and Leinster, in league with the more powerful Irish kings of the time. His own personal raids into Midhe (Meath) eventually cost him his life, falling in battle against its king, Murchad Ua Mael Shechnaill.
Interestingly, it was Murchad Ua Mael Shechnaill who supported a younger cousin of the Gilla Srónmaol as the next king of Breifne. This was the great Tighernán mór Ó Ruairc himself, and Tighernán would serve as king of Breifne for almost 50 years. These events may help explain why the descendants Aedh, the 3rd Ó Ruairc king of Connacht, were no longer contenders for the kingship of Breifne. Instead that distinction went to the descendants of Aedh's elder brother Niall. The middle genealogies note that Domnall, the 4th Ó Ruairc king of Connacht, as well as Tighernán mór, were both descended through Niall (died 1047). Niall's descendants are covered in more detail in The descendants of Ualgharg Ó Ruairc, died circa 1085.
Ua Ruairc of Bréifne --
Genealogy Sources --
Lords and Kings of Bréifne --
Chart of O Ruarc Kings
"Sean Ferghal, the 1st Ó Ruairc", written by Dennis Walsh, April 2006, all rights reserved.
Sources used for this article include the Irish Annals; the 'middle' Irish genealogies (e.g. O'Clery); and A poem on the Kings of Connaught appearing in in Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie.: Halle an der Saale, Max Niemeyer; volume 9 (1913) pages 461-469.