Ireland By Boundaries

Connacht / Connaught

In Irish mythology, Connacht was also known as Cóiced Ol nEchmacht.

It is said that the Fir Bolg people ruled all of Ireland (which they called Ériu) before the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived and demanded land; the Fir Bolg king’s refusal led to war, in which the victorious Tuatha Dé Danann were so impressed by the courage of their enemy that they offered the survivors a quarter of Ireland. The remaining Fir Bolg chose the land west of the River Shannon.

Ptolemy‘s map of c. 150 AD. does in fact list a people called the Nagnatae as living in the west of Ireland. Some are of the opinion that Ptolemy’s Map of Ireland may be based on cartography carried out as much as five hundred years before his time.

The modern name only became applied to it in the early medieval era, after the Connachta, a group of dynasties who claimed descent from Conn Cétchathach and from the three eldest sons of Eochaid MugmedonBrion, Ailill and Fiachrae, whose younger brother, Niall Noigiallach, was ancestor to the Uí Néill.

Connacht held the primacy of Ireland’s five Cuigí (Provinces) under its C12th ruler Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair / Rory O’Connor, who was acknowledged Ard Rí / High King. After the Normans invasion, he had little option but to submit to King Henry II, retaining the title king of Connacht under the Treaty of Windsor 1175.

Bréifne / Breffny

Bréifne / Breifne / Breffny / Brefnie / Brenny, was a historical territory that at its C12th height included virtually all of modern Counties Leitrim and Cavan and parts of modern Counties Longford, Meath, Fermanagh and Sligo.

In ancient times much of the area that later came to be known as Bréifne is said to have been occupied by the Ernaigh / Erdini, who controlled all the  country bordering Lough Erne.

C5th–C6th AD tribal groupings believed to have dwelt in or near Breifne included the Glasraighe, Masraige, Dartraige, Armhaighe, Gallraighe, the Fir Manach, and the Gailenga.

Around the late C6th AD a tribe known as the Conmaicne Rein are thought to have moved north from around the present Dunmore in County Galway and settled in Magh Rein (the area around Fenagh). From here they peopled what is now South Leitrim, which became known as Magh Rein, and its inhabitants as the Conmaicne Magh Rein. They consisted of different family groupings –among others, the  Muintir Eolais, Muintir Cearbhallain (O Mulvey), and a Cinel Lu group later known as the Uí Briúin Bréifne, a branch of the royal family of Connacht. About the C8th, the Uí Briúin established themselves first in the area corresponding to modern County Leitrim and then moved into what is now County Cavan.

By the C9th the O’Ruairc / O’Rourke clan had established themselves as kings / chieftains of Breifne. They fought some battles in the C10th and C11th for the title of king of Connacht,  with four different kings of Breifne gaining that  title.

The kingdom of Breifne varied in size, but always covered most of modern Counties Leitrim and Cavan, along with parts of County Sligo, and was roughly coextensive with the old Church of Ireland diocese (now amalgamated) and the modern Roman Catholic diocese of Kilmore.  At its zenith during the reign of Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc / Tiernan O’Rourke (1124- 1172) the kingdom was said to extend from Kells in modern County Meath to Drumcliffe in the current County Sligo.

Breifne is said to derive from an obsolete Irish word meaning ‘hilly’, an accurate description of the topography of this region of dolmens and lakes. An alternative derivation provided by the Metrical Dindshenchas lore was Brefne, the brave warrior daughter of Beoan mac Bethaig.

In 1211 Walter de Lacy erected the castle on Turbet Island in the abortive Anglo-Norman attempt to gain control of the area.

In 1256, the Ó Ruairc / O’Rourke and the Uí Raghallaigh / O’Reilly clans fought a great battle near Ballinamore. This led to the division of the territory, with the  Ó Ruairc chieftains remaining in control of West Bréifne / Breifne O’Rourke and the Ui Raghallaighs ruling East Bréifne / Breifne O’Reilly/ Ó Raghallaigh / Muintir Maoilmhordha.

The Bréifne region was part of Connacht until the time of Queen Elizabeth I. West Breifne, shired as Co. Letrim in 1583 , remained in the province, but East Breifne had already been shired under the name Co. Cavan and incorporated into Ulster in 1579 . The last O’Rourke king, Tadhg mac Briain na Murtha. Lord of Breffny, died in 1605, while the last of the O’Reilly dynasty, Maolmhordha mac Aodha Connallaigh, died in 1607.

County Cavan was settled  in the early C17th by colonists from England and Scotland who laid the foundations for towns such as Belturbet, Killeshandra and Virginia.


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