In the fourth century the major provinces in Ireland were said to include
Uladh in the north, with Eamhain Macha as its royal site; Cruachain in the
west, with its capitol at Cruachu; Breagh (or Brega)
in the east, with its royal site at Teamhair (Tara); Laigin in the
southeast with its royal site at Dun Ailinne; and Caisil in the southwest,
centered on the royal site of Caiseal (Cashel). Another area, known
as Mide or Midhe, in the center of Ireland is also referred to in Irish
folklore. The "province" of Mide (or Meath) is later connected with the later
rise of the Southern Ui Niaill (Neill), and eventually includes Breagh
within its borders.
One of the significant events in the folklore of Ireland to occur around
the 4th century was the ousting, and return, of the Three Collas,
grandsons of King Cairbre Liffeachair. One of these, Colla Uais, was
king of Ireland for four years before being deposed by Muireadhach Tireach.
Upon the return of the Three Collas, they carved a large new territory
called Airgialla from the northern territory of the Uladh.
Another legendary event to have occured during this century was the migration of
the Deisi Brega (or Deisi Mide) into what is now Waterford County, and
possibly as well into County Clare (In Deis Tuascirt). The kings of
Deisi tribe(s) had apparently committed crimes against the kings of Tara
who were normally considered over-kings of the other territorial kings.
Perhaps it bears repeating, the events of the 3rd and 4th centuries are a part of Ireland's pre-history. They are largely viewed as part of Irish tradition rather than historical fact. However, the events mentioned here do help set the tone for the Irish 'historical period', a period which has its early beginnings in the 5th and 6th centuries. The origin stories of the many Irish kingdoms take shape during this pre-historic period. An example reflected in the Annals for this timeframe includes the formation of the Arghiallan territories (three Collas), in the midland region of Ulster, at the expense of the Ulaid. Prior to this time the Ulaid are given as the dominant power across northern Ireland, with their center at Emain Macha. Not as well publicized in the Annals was a subsequent take-over of western Ulaid territory by the Northern Connachta, i.e. by three sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages, i.e. Eógan, Conall, and Énda.
Many of the names found in the Annals for this period (below) may also be found connected in a complex set of early Irish genealogies, which for this 'pre-Christian' period are viewed with a skeptical eye. At this period it is common to read of the 'sovereignty of Ireland', a tradition that permeates much of Irish pre-history and which is often equated to the kingship of Tara. Whether there were effective Kings of Ireland at this early period, ruling at Tara, is another matter of debate.
Ogham is said to be the first known form of Irish (Celtic) writing, basically a series of lines and notches which are scored on a straight line and are most often found on large standing stones. The markings make up an alphabet which is described in the Book of Ballymote. Inscriptions generally take the form of an individual's name and the name of a place, and were possibly used as boundary and/or burial markers. The earliest ogham stones are thought to have originated about the 4th-5th century. About 500 Ogham inscriptions have been found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, with a majority found in southern Ireland from Kerry to Waterford.
Excerpts from the Annals
262 AD -
The battle of Crionna Fregabhail was fought by Cormac against the
Ulstermen, where fell Aenghus Finn, son of Fearghus Duibhdeadach i.e.
the Black Toothed, King of Ulster, with the slaughter of the Ulstermen
265 AD -
Ceallach, son of Cormac, and Cormac's lawgiver, were mortally
wounded, and the eye of Cormac himself was destroyed with one thrust
of a lance by Aenghus Gaibhuaibhtheach, son of Fiacha Suighdhe, son
of Feidhlimidh the Lawgiver. Cormac afterwards fought and gained
seven battles over the Déisi, in revenge of that deed, and he expelled
them from their territory, so that they are now in Munster.
266 AD -
Forty years was Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn, in the sovereignty of
Ireland, when he died at Cleiteach, the bone of a salmon sticking in his
throat, on account of the siabhradh genii which Maelgenn, the Druid,
incited at him, after Cormac had turned against the Druids, on account
of his adoration of God in preference to them.
267 AD -
Eochaidh Gonnat in the sovereignty of Ireland, when he fell by Lughaidh
Meann, son of Aenghus, one of the Ulstermen.
268 Ad -
The first year of Cairbre Liffeachair, son of Cormac, son of Art, in the
sovereignty of Ireland.
276 AD -
Aenghus Gaibuaibhtheach was killed this year by the sons of Cairbre
Liffechair, namely, Fiacha Sraibhtine and Eochaidh Doimhlen.
283 AD -
Finn, grandson of Baisgne, fell by Aichleach, son of Duibhdreann, and
the sons of Uirgreann of the Luaighni Teamhrach, at Ath Brea, upon the
284 AD -
After Cairbre Liffeachair had been seventeen years in the sovereignty of
Ireland, he fell in the battle of Gabhra Aichle, by the hand of Semeon,
son of Cearb, one of the Fotharta; Fearcorb, the son of Cormac Cas,
having brought the Fiana with him, against the king, to defend Leath
Mhogha against him.
285 AD -
Fothadh was one year over Ireland, when Fothadh Cairptheach was
slain by Fothadh Airgtheach. Fothadh Airgtheach was afterwards slain in
the battle of Ollarba, in Magh Line, by Caeilte.
286 AD -
The first year of the reign of Fiacha Sraibhtine over Ireland.
322 AD -
Fiacha Sraibhtine, after having been thirty seven years as king over
Ireland, was slain by the Collas, in the battle of Dubhchomar, in Crioch
Rois, in Breagh.
323 AD -
The first year of Colla Uais, son of Eochaidh Doimhlen, as king over
326 AD -
The fourth year of Colla Uais, in the sovereignty of Ireland, when
Muireadhach Tireach expelled him and his brothers into Alba Scotland
with three hundred along with them.
327 AD -
The first year of Muireadhach Tireach in the sovereignty of Ireland.
At the end of this year the three Collas came to Ireland; and there lived
not of their forces but thrice nine persons only. They then went to
Muireadhach, having been instructed by a druid. And they scolded at
him, and expressed evil words, that he might kill them, and that it might
be on him the curse of the finghal should alight. As he did not oppose
them, they tarried with him, and were faithful to him.
331 AD -
The battle of Achadh Leithdheirg, in Fearnmhagh, was fought by the
three Collas against the Ulstermen, in which fell Fearghus Fogha, son of
Fraechar Foirtriun, the last king of Ulster, who resided at Eamhain. They
afterwards burned Eamhain, and the Ulstermen did not dwell therein
since. They also took from the Ulstermen that part of the province
extending from the Righe and Loch nEathach westwards. Colla Meann
fell in this battle.
356 AD -
After Muireadhach Tireach had been thirty years in the sovereignty of
Ireland, he was slain by Caelbhadh, son of Crunn, King of Uladh, at
Portrigh, over Dabhall.