Ireland By Boundaries

Mumhain (Munster)

According to tradition, the kingdom of Mumha was established shortly after the arrival of the Milesians (Gaels), but it was not until 237 AD that Olill Ollum / Aillil Aulom established himself as king over the whole.

In 248 AD he divided his kingdom between his two sons, Eógan and Cormac Cas, stipulating that the title of king of Munster should belong in turn to their descendants. The following centuries saw a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of alliances between clans and septs that would make Byzantine politics look straightforward.

The Eóganachta / Eoghanachta, a dynastic group of related clans and septs in southern Munster, claimed to be descendants of Eógan. In c.400 AD they adopted Cashel as capital of their extensive territories in Munster. Cashel soon rivalled Tara and later Armagh as a centre of power in Gaelic Ireland.

The Eoganachta were governed for five centuries by a succession of warrior bishops, several of whom were acknowledged as Ard Rí / High Kings of Ireland, at least in the Leth Cuinn (Southern half of Ireland, i.e. Mumha and Laigin). The most famous Eoganacht king was probably the legendary fighter and scholar Cormac mac Cuilennáin (d. 908).

The territory was at various times sub-divided into Uth Mumhain (Ormond / East Munster), Deas Mumhain (Desmond / West Munster), Tuadh Mumhain (Thomond / North Munster), iar Mumhain (West Munster), Deisi Mumhain (the part controlled by the Deise tribe) and Emaibh Mumhain (the part controlled by the Emai tribe).

Deis Mumhain / Desmond

Deas-Mhumhain – South Munster – became a kingdom in 1118, at the same time based on the Treaty of Glanmire, when the major parts of the former Kingdom of Munster fractured into the Kingdom of Desmond and the Kingdom of Thomond (Irish: Tuadh-Mhumhain, meaning North Munster).he Kingdom of Desmond was a historic kingdom located on the southwestern coast of Ireland. The name is Irish in origin –  – which means . The Kingdom of Desmond originated

From its inception in 1118, through 1596, the Kingdom of Desmond was ruled by the family of the MacCarthy Mór, (i.e., the “Great MacCarthy”). For centuries, reigning as Kings of Desmond, the MacCarthy Mórs maintained significant demesne lands (manors) throughout the kingdom. Principal seats were at Pallis Castle (near present-day Killarney), Castle Lough (on Killarney’s Lough Leane), and Ballycarbery Castle (near Caherciveen on the Ring of Kerry).[1]

After the death of King Donal IX MacCarthy Mór in 1596, and following the effective end of the Gaelic Order after the Battle of Kinsale (1602), the former Kingdom of Desmond was partitioned between County Cork and County Kerry (in 1606).

Subsequent to the end of the MacCarthy Mór sovereignty in Desmond, descendants entitled to the highest Gaelic designation of “Chief of the Name” of the MacCarthy Mór family, are also properly styled as Princes of Desmond. A secondary title of the MacCarthy Mór would derive from the lordship designation of his sept. For example, the current holder of the MacCarthy Mór Chief of the Name position, Liam Trant McCarthy, is also titled as Lord of Kerslawny, by virtue of his position as senior-most in descent through the line of Sliocht Cormac of Dunguile (the Lordship of Kerslawny). Present-day Gaelic nobles might be styled as either flaith (prince), ard tiarna ((high) lord, count/earl), or tiarna (lord, baron).

Map adapted from: W.F. Butler; Pedigree and Succession of the House of MacCarthy Mór, With a Map; Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland; Vol. 51, May 1920; p.33.

Generational offshoots (cadet family lines) of the Royal House of Desmond received their own territories and titles – known as appanages of the royal house. Those MacCarthy Mór cadet branches which did not evolve to the MacCarthy Mór chief-of-the-name status, became chiefs-of-the-name of their own princely septs, i.e. MacCarthy Reagh of Carbery, MacCarthy of Muskerry, and MacDonough MacCarthy of Duhallow.

Because of their location, it was the MacCarthys of Muskerry and Carbery who ended up fighting the majority of the battles against the Normans – mainly the FitzGerald Earls of Desmond – while defending and expanding the Gaelic realms. By the mid-sixteenth century, the main line of the MacCarthys Mor had largely withdrawn to Kerry, so any modern claims that they are still entitled to the nominal overlordship of Carbery and Muskerry might be rejected by any extant descendants of these branches.


One of three principalities within the original Kingdom of Desmond, Carbery, under the MacCarthy Reagh dynasty founded by Donal Gott MacCarthy in the mid-13th century, achieved independence from the overlordship of the MacCarthy Mórs of Desmond. Thus, the MacCarthy territories were actually over a fourth again greater outside of Desmond proper, due to the independent and considerable principality of Carbery, directly to the south/southeast of Desmond.

Principal seats of the Lords/Princes of Carbery were at Kilbrittain Castle (near Kinsale in County Cork), as well as Timoleague Castle (west of Kinsale). Possession of the latter was frequently in dispute with the Norman family of Barry, who were also prominent in West Cork. Some of the more notable sub-lordships under the MacCarthy Reagh dynasty of Carbery included castles at Ballydehob, Benduff, Downeen, Kilcoe, and Kilgobbin, to name but a few.




Blarney Castle

The MacCarthys of Muskerry, on the other hand, derived more recently from the MacCarthys Mór, and so were (and still are) considered a sept of the main dynasty. This principality of the Kingdom of Desmond began in the 14th century as an appanage of King Cormac Mór MacCarthy Mór (d. 1359) for his second son, Dermod. At various times, because of their adeptness at playing the political game with England, the Lords/Princes of Muskerry also bore various British titles, such as Earl of Clancarty, Viscount Mountcashel, and Baron (Lord) of Blarney.

From its rebuilding in the late 15th century by Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, Blarney Castle, near to Cork city, was the principal seat of the MacCarthys of Muskerry. It was from alleged dialogue between Cormac Teige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, and Queen Elizabeth I of England, that the term “blarney” was coined to mean “empty flattery” or “beguiling talk.” It is also from Blarney Castle that the legend of “kissing the Blarney Stone” derives.

Among the numerous sub-infeudations/sub-lordships within the overlordship of the Princes of Muskerry, some of the major ones were: Ballea, Carrignamuck, Carrignavar, Castlecormac, Cloghroe, Cloghphillip, and Downyne.


The third of the princely lines that began as appanages of the MacCarthy Mór dynasty was that of the MacCarthys of Duhallow (Irish: Dúiche Ealla), known as the MacDonough MacCarthys. The Duhallow sept began in the 13th century as an appanage from the then-King of Desmond, Cormac Fionn MacCarthy Mór (r. 1244-1248), to his son Diarmuid (Dermond). It was the Gaelic lordship(s) of Duhallow (and Coshmaing) that occupied the northern frontier of the MacCarthys of Desmond in their sometime struggles with the Norman family of the FitzGeralds, the Earls of Desmond. The principal seat of the Lords of Duhallow was at Kanturk. The family of the MacDonough MacCarthy Lords/Princes of Duhallow became extinct in the 18th century.

As in the other princely appanages of Carbery and Muskerry, Duhallow held overlordship of a number of septs of both comital (ard tiarna) rank – Clanawly, Clonmeen, and Dromagh – as well as baronial (tiarna) rank – e.g., Cappagh, Dromiscane, Kanturk, Kilbolane, Knocktemple, and Lohort, among others.

[edit]Other Septs


The sept (clan) of Sliocht Eoghan of Coshmaing (“beside the River Maine”) was established in the 14th century by King Cormac Mór MacCarthy Mór (d. 1359) for his third son, Eoghan, as an appanage of the royal house of Desmond. According to Butler, “Of the MacCarthy septs in the Barony of Magunihy, by far the most (88 to 105 ploughlands) was the Sliocht Eoghain Mhoir of Cois Mainge…. The lands of this sept stretched along the whole northern frontier of Magunihy from a point near Castlemaine to the border of Cork.”[2]

The head of Sliocht Eoghan of Coshmaing was styled as Lord (Ard Tiarna) of Coshmaing (English: Cosmaigne). The principal seat of the Coshmaing lordship was at Molahiffe, with other castles (sub-lordships) at Fieries and Clonmeallane.[3]

[edit]Non-MacCarthy Septs

Both inside and outside the territories of the Kingdom of Desmond in southwestern Ireland, there were many families other than the various septs of the MacCarthys. Most prominent of the Norman families in the area were the FitzGeralds (Earls of Desmond), FitzMaurices, Barrys, Barretts, and Roches.

The chief non-MacCarthy Gaelic princes under the MacCarthy Mórs in Desmond were the O’Sullivans. After the them were the O’Donoghues, and these two were the only septs who took part in the performance of the MacCarthy inauguration ceremonies – i.e., the bestowal of the White Wand. Also prominent were the O’Callaghans, O’Keeffes, McAuliffes, and others.

Within Carbery, aside from the MacCarthy Reaghs, the most prominent Gaelic families were the princely sept of the O’Donovans, the O’Mahonys, O’Driscolls, O’Dalys, and O’Crowleys. Within Muskerry, prominent non-MacCarthy Gaelic families included the MacSweeneys, O’Learys, O’Healys, and O’Riordans.

 Éile / ElyÉile / Éle  / Éli / Ely was an ancient and medieval kingdom of northern Munster.

The dynastic founders  claimed descent from Céin /Cian, a possibly mythical or spurious younger son of Ailill Aulom and brother of Éogan Mór, and thus kinship with the Eóganachta. It has been suggested that the Éile were actually of Laigin origin, and that they may in fact have been the rulers of the Cashel area before the rise of the Eóganachta, as suggested by their role in Eóganachta origin tales, such as the Senchas Fagbála Caisil.
Éile was in later times divided into two principal regions or lordships:

Éile Uí Chearbhaill / Ely O’Carroll, the northern territory, was ruled from ancient times by the Uí Chearbhaill / O’Carroll family.

Ely O’Carroll originally belonged to Munster, but is now located in County Offaly in the baronies of Clonlisk and Ballybritt. The boundary between Ely O’Carroll and the ancient Kingdom of Mide is co-terminous with the present boundary between the diocese of Killaloe and the diocese of Meath. That portion of County Offaly which belongs to the diocese of Killaloe was Ely O’Carroll and originally belonged to Munster.

Éile Uí Fhogartaigh / Ely O’Fogarty, the southern lordship, was ruled by the Uí Fhogartaigh / O’Fogarty family, who may have been of a separate lineage from the O’Carrolls, possibly Dalcassian. Alternatively they were actually kindred but regional politics influenced later genealogists to associate them with different provincial dynasties at different periods.

Ely O’Fogarty included the baronies of Ikerrin and Eliogarty, now in County Tipperary, Munster. After the Norman invasion of Ireland, these baronies were added the Earl of Ormond‘s County Palatine of Tipperary. The native chieftains, O’Meagher and O’Fogarty, were left in possession of their lands, but were obliged to pay tribute to the Earls of Ormond.


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