Ireland History - Before there were Counties
"Before there were Counties"
An Irish Territorial History

Background: The Roman geographer Ptolemy lived about the year 140. His chart of Hibernia (Ireland) is the basis for what little is known about the early inhabitants of the island. The information on this page includes extracts from Samuel Lewis' publication in 1837 called "A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland," which includes references to the early tribes and settlements mentioned in Ptolemy's original work.
Page Index:
Antrim - Armagh - Carlow - Cavan - Clare - Cork - Donegal - Down - Dublin - Fermanagh - Galway - Kerry - Kildare - Kilkenny - Laois - Leitrim - Limerick - Londonderry - Longford - Louth - Mayo - Meath - Monaghan - Offaly - Roscommon - Sligo - Tipperary - Tyrone - Waterford - Westmeath - Wexford - Wicklow -
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The earliest inhabitants of this part of Ireland on record were a race of its ancient Celtic possessors, designated by Ptolemy Darnii or Darini; and it deserves notice that Nennius mentions the "regions of Dalrieda" as the ultimate settlement of the Scythian colony in Ireland. In the ancient division of the island the southern and south-western parts of this county were included in the territory called Dalaradiae, or Ulidia, the western and north-western were designated Dalrieda, and the name of the whole was Endrium or Andrium, signifying the "habitation of the waters," and strikingly descriptive of its situation. It was afterwards divided into the three districts of North or Lower Clan Hugh Boy, Claneboy, or Clandeboy; the Glynnes; and the Reuta, Route, or Rowte. North or Lower Clandeboy, now included in the adjacent county of Down, extended from Carrickfergus bay and the river Lagan to Lough Neagh, and consisted of the tract now forming the baronies of Belfast, Massareene, and Antrim. The Glynnes, so called from the intersection of its surface by many rock dells, extended from Larne, northward along the coast, to Ballycastle, being backed by the mountains on the west, and containing the present baronies of Glenarm and part of that of Carey. The Route included nearly all the rest of the county to the west and north, forming the more ancient Dalrieda. A right of supremacy over the lords of this territory was claimed by the powerful family of the northern O'Nials (now written O'Neill), who were at length deprived of the southern part of this county, at the time of the arrival of the English, by the family of Savage and other English adventurers.

This tract is supposed to have been part of that name by Ptolemy as the territories of the Vinderii and Voluntii: it afterwards formed part of the district called Orgial, which also comprised the counties of Louth and Monaghan. The formation of this part of Ireland into separate dominion is said to have taken place so early as the year 332, after the battle of Achaighleth-derg, in Fermoy, in which, as recorded by Tigernach, abbot of Clonmacnois, who died in 1068, Fergus Feagha, son of Froechair the Brave, the last of the Ultonian kings who resided in Eamania, was killed by the three Collas, who then expelled the Ultonians from that part of the province to the south of Lough Neagh, and formed it into an independent state, to which they gave the name Orgial, afterwards corrupted into Oriel or Uriel, names by which it was distinguished to the beginning of the 17th century. The chief part of the county prior to the arrival of the English had centered in the families of the O'Nials, the Mac Cahans, and the O'Hanlons.

This district, so far as can be collected from Ptolemy, was the habitation of the Brigantes and Cauci; or, according to Whitaker, of the Coriundi. Afterwards it formed the northern part of the principality of Hy Kinselagh, and was distinguished by the name Hy Cabanagh and Hy Drone: in later times it was called Catherlough. It is noticed in the earliest period of Irish history as the scene of contention between Conmal, son of Heber, and grandson of Milesius, and a descendant of Heremon, the latter of whom was defeated at Leighlin. When Con of the Hundred Battles, who reigned about the middle of the 2nd century, divided the island into two jurisdictions, Dinrigh or Dewa Slaney, between Carlow and Leighlin, and Naas in Kildare, were made the sites of the royal palaces of the Kingdom of Leinster. Septs included Mac Murrough of Hy Kinselagh, O'Ryan of Hy Drone, and Kavanagh of Hy Cabanagh who were descendants of the Mac Murroughs.

According to Ptolemy, this tract, with the districts included in the adjacent counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh, was occupied by the Erdini, designated in the Irish language Ernaigh, traces of which name are yet preserved in that of Lough Erne and the river Erne, upon which and their tributaries these districts border. This district, exclusively of the greater part of the present county of Fermanagh, formed also the ancient principality of Breghne, Brefine, Breifne, Breffny, or Brenny, as it has been variously spelt, which had recognized limits from time immemorial, and was divided into the two principalities of Upper or East Breifne and Lower or West Breifne, the former composed almost entirely of the present county of Cavan, and the latter that of Leitrim. East Breifne was often called Breifne O'Reilly, from its princes or chiefs having from remote ages borne that name: they were tributary to the O'Nial of Tiroen long before the arrival of the English, although Camden says that in his time they represented themselves as descended from the English family of Ridley, but were entirely Irish in manners. The county is celebrated in the history of the wars in Ireland for the fastnesses formed by its woods, lakes, and bogs, which long secured the independence of its native possessors. When the county was partitioned into its seven baronies, five went to members of the O'Reilly sept, and the other two, more remotely situated in the mountains and on the border of O'Rorke's country (Leitrim), were possessed by the septs of Mac Kernon and Mac Gauran.

The inhabitants of this tract, in the time of Ptolemy, are designated by him Gangani, and represented as inhabiting also some of the southern parts of the present county of Galway: in the Irish language their appellation was Siol Gangain, and they are stated, both by Camden and Dr. Charles O'Conor, to have been descended from the Concani of Spain. The present county formed from a very early period a native principality, designated Tuath-Mumhan, or Thomond, signifying "North Munster;" and contained the six cantreds of Hy Lochlean, Corcumruadh, Ibh Caisin, Hy Garman, Clan Cuilean, and Dal Gaes. In Hy Lochlean, or Bhurrin, the barony of Burren, the O'Loghlins or O'Laghlins were chiefs; in Corcumruadh, the modern Corcomroe, the O'Garbhs (although that portion is stated by Ware to have been occupied by the septs of O'Connor and O'Loghlin); in Ibh Caisin, the present Ibricklane, the Cumhead-mor O'Briens, this being the hereditary patrimony of the O'Briens or O'Bricheans; in Hy Garman, the modern Moyarta, the O'Briens Arta; and in Clan Cuilean, the present Cloberlaw, the Mac Namaras; Dal Gaes comprised the more extensive districts included in the baronies of Inchiquin, Bunratty, and Tulla, forming the entire eastern half of the present county, and was ruled by the O'Briens, who exercised a supreme authority over the whole, and who preserved their ascendancy here from the date of the earliest records to a late period. Few have more honorably distinguished themselves in the annals of their country than these chiefs and their brave Dalcassian followers, especially in the wars against the Danes, who long oppressed this country with their devastations, and formed permanent stations on the Shannon, at Limerick and Inniscattery. From these and from the entire district they were, however, finally expelled, early in the 11th century, by the well-directed efforts of the great Brien Boroihme, the head of the sept, and monarch of all Ireland, whose residence, and that of his immediate successors, was at Kinkora, near Killaloe.

The earliest inhabitants of the south-western part of this extensive territory are designated by Ptolemy Uterni or Uterini, and by other writers Iberni, Iberi, and Juerni. They occupied most of the southern part of the country subsequently called Desmond: their name and situation prove them to have been of Spanish Iberian origin, and the former, as well as the tribes from which they sprung, and the designation Ibernia or Hibernia, applied to the whole island even by Ptolemy, was derived from the western situation of the country which they inhabited. From Ptolemy's map it appears that the most eastern maritime part of the county in the south of Cork was, in the same age, inhabited by a people whom he called Vodiae or Vodii, but who are unnoticed both by Sir James Ware and Dr. Charles O'Conor. The Coriondi, whose name still bears some affinity to the Irish appellation of this tract, were, according to Smith, the inhabitants of the middle and northern parts, particularly near the present city of Cork, and are said to have sprung from the Coritani, a British tribe occupying a tract of the eastern part of England. Desmond, signifying "South Munster," was more properly the name of only the south-western part of this principality, which was divided into three portions, of which the whole of that called Ivelagh or Evaugh, and also that called Bear, are included in the modern county of Cork. Bear still retains its ancient name, being divided into the baronies of Bear and Bantry; but Evaugh is included in the barony of West Carberry, which, with East Carberry, Kinalmeaky, and Ibawn or Ibane and Barrymore, anciently formed an extensive territory, deriving its name from its chieftain, Carbry Riada, and in which are said to have been settled four of the eight families of royal extraction of Munster, the head of one of which was McCarty Reagh, sometimes styled prince of Carberry. Kerrycurrihy was anciently called Muskerry Ilane, and comprised also the barony of Imokilly, on the north side of Cork harbour: the only maritime territory remaining unnoticed, viz. Kinnalea, was formerly called Insovenagh. Besides Kerrycurrihy and Imokilly, the entire central part of the county, between the rivers Lee and Blackwater, formed a portion of the ancient territory of Muskerry, which name the western portion of it still retains. The north-western extremity of the county, forming the present barony of Duhallow, is in some old writings called Alla and Dubh Alla; and its chief, who, to a very late period, enjoyed almost regal authority, was sometimes styled prince of Duhallow. The remainder, to the north of the Blackwater, formed, before the English conquests, a principality of the O'Keefes, called Fearmuigh.

In the time of Ptolemy it was inhabited by the Vennicnii and the Rhobogdii, the latter of whom also occupied part of the county of Londonderry. The Promontorium Vennicnium of this geographer appears to have been Ram's Head or Horn Head, near Dunfanaghy; and the Promontorium Rhobogdium, Malin Head, the most northern point of the peninsula of Innisoen or Ennishowen. The county afterwards formed the northern part of the district of Eircael or Eargal, which extended into the county of Fermanagh, and was known for several centuries as the country of the ancient and powerful sept of the O'Donells, descended, according to the Irish writers, from Conall Golban, son of Neil of the Nine Hostages, monarch of Ireland, who granted to his son the region now forming the county of Donegal. Hence it acquired the name of Tyr Conall, modernized into Tyrconnel or Tirconnel, "the land of Conall," which it retained till the reign of James I. The family was afterwards called Kinel Conall, or the descendants or tribe of Conall. Descendants of this family also include the O'Dohertys, lords of Innisoen. Other septs included the O'Boyles and Mac Sweeney and several others subordinate to the O'Donells of Tyrconnel.

This county, together with a small part of that of Antrim, was anciently known by the name Ulagh or Ullagh, in Latin Ulidia (said to be derived from a Norwegian of that name who flourished here long before the Christian era), which was finally extended to the refer to the whole province of Ulster. Ptolemy, the geographer, mentions the Voluntii or Uluntii as inhabiting this region; and the name, by some etymologists, is traced from them. At what period this tribe settled in Ireland is unknown: the name is not found in any other author who treats of the country, whence it may be inferred that the colony was soon incorporated with the natives, the principal families of whom were the O'Nials, the Mac Gennises, the Macartanes, the Slut-Kellys, and the Mac Gilmores. The county continued chiefly in the possession of the same families at the period of the settlement of the North of Ireland in the reign of King James, at the commencement of the seventeenth century, with the addition of the English families of Savage and White.

The earliest inhabitants of this tract of whom we have any authentic notice were a native people designated by Ptolemy Blanii or Eblani, who occupied also the territory forming the present county of Meath, and whose capital city was Eblana, presumed on good authority to have been on the site of the present city of Dublin. By some writers it is stated that in subsequent remote ages the part of the county lying south and east of the river Liffey formed part of the principality of Croigh Cuolan; while that to the north was included in the principality of Midhe, or Meath. The Eblani, whatever may have been their origin, probably enjoyed peaceable possession of the soil until the commencement of the Danish ravages, and the seizure and occupation of Dublin by these fierce invaders. At this era, the tract now described experienced its full share of calamities, until the celebrated battle of Clontarf, which terminated in the overthrow of the military power of the Ostmen in Ireland. However, at the time of the English invasion, a considerable part of the county to the north of the Liffey was wholly in the possession of the Ostmen, and from this circumstance was designated by the Irish Fingall, a name signifying either the "white foreigners," or "a progeny of foreigners;" the word "fine" importing, in one sense, a tribe or family. The country to the south of Dublin is stated, but only on traditional authority, to have been called, at the same period, Dubhgall, denoting the territory of the "black foreigners," from its occupation by another body of Danes. The county once comprised the territories of the O'Birnes and O'Tooles in the south, which were separated from it and formed into the present county of Wicklow, so lately as the year 1603.

The Erdini, according to some authorities, were the inhabitants of this district in the time of Ptolemy; but Whitaker considers it to have been part of the Nagnatae. By the ancient Irish it was called Feor Magh Eanagh, or "the Country of the Lakes," and Magh Uire, or "the Country of the Waters:" it was also called Ernai or Ernagh, and the inhabitants who lived around Logh Erne, Ernains and Erenochs. a name supposed to be derived from the Erdini. It was divided into two great portions, one called Targoll, the ancient seat of the Facmonii, and of the Macmanii, or the Mac Manuses; the other named Rosgoll, occupied by the Guarii or Guirii, from whom the Mac Guires, or Maguires, derive their origin. This family was so powerful that the greater part of the county was for several centuries known by the name of Mac Guires country.

In the time of Ptolemy, this region was inhabited by the Auteri, who spread themselves also into the adjoining counties of Mayo and Roscommon. At a later, though still very remote date, it was thus parceled out among tribes or families; Clanconow, or Clonmacnoon, among the Burkes; Clanfirgail, among the O'Hallorans; Hymaine, among the O'Dalys and O'Kellys; Maghullen, now Moycullen, among the O'Flahertys; Silnamchia, now Longford; and Hy Fiacra Aidne, afterwards Clanricarde, possessed by the Burkes, Burghs, or De Bourgos. Other septs in the west included the O'Malleys, and in the east the O'Naghtens, O'Fallons and O'Mullalys, and in Hy Fiacra Aidne the O'Heynes, O'Maddens and O'Shaughnessys, and bordering Lough Corrib the O'Hallorans.

The inhabitants of this tract, according to Ptolemy's chart, were in his time designated Velabri or Vellibori; "Hibernice," says Dr. O'Connor, "Siol Ebir, obviously meaning Illiberi Iberiae." They are supposed to have been descended from the Iberi of Spain, to which their country lies opposite; but Camden derives their name from the British Aber, signifying an estuary, thus making it descriptive of the nature of the country. The Lucanij, or "people of the maritime country," were placed by Richard of Cirencester in this county, near Dingle Bay. Ptolemy calls them Luceni, and they appear to be the Lugadii of Irish writers, which in a general sense comprehended all the inhabitants on the southern coast, from the harbor of Waterford to the mouth of the Shannon, though sometimes confined to those of the county of Waterford. The present name of the county is variously derived. Some trace it from Ciar, the eldest son of Fergus, King of Ulster, from whom it was called Carruidhe, or Cair Reeght, that is, "the kingdom of Ciar." According to Ledwich, it was called Cerrigia, or "the rocky country," from Cerrig, or Carric, "a rock." Ciaruidhe, or "the rocky district on the water," from ciar or cer, "a rock," and uidhe, or ui dha, "a district on the water," was the present barony of Iraghticonnor, on the south bank of the Shannon, and from which may be derived Cerrigia and Kerry. The chiefs of this country were called Hy Cain air Ciaruidhe, by contraction O'Connor Kerry. This district was sometimes denominated Ciaruidhe Luachra, or "the rocky district on the great lake or water." The great portion of the county lying to the south of the river Mang formed, with the whole county of Cork, the old native sovereignty of Desmond, or South Munster. On the arrival of the English, the O'Connors were in possession of the northern part of Kerry; the middle parts were in possession of the Moriartys: the southern portion was occupied by the O'Sullivans, from whom the district named Dunkerron barony was called O'Sullivan's country; also by the O'Donoghoes, distinguished into the septs of O'Donoghoe More and O'Donoghoe Ross, and by the O'Mahonies.

This county, in the time of Ptolemy, was inhabited by the Coriundi, whose territory lay to the west of the rivers Liffey and Slaney, being bounded on the north and west by the Boyne and Barrow, and having the tribes of the Cauci and Menapii on the east, the Eblani on the north, and the Brigantes on the south. It formed part of the district of Caellan, or Galen, which included the greater part of the present county, together with part of those of Wicklow and Carlow; the county of Kildare portion being bounded on the east by the Wicklow mountains, on the south and west by the Barrow, and on the north by the Liffey and the bog of Allen. This latter name also signifies the woody country, by much the greater part having been an extensive forest, many traces of which are still discernible in the bogs. The native chieftains of the district were the heads of the family of Hy Caellan, or McKelly, whose principal residence was at Rath-Ardscull, near Athy. The last aboriginal owner of this fortress, Gicrode Crone McKelly, defended it against the English during his life. After his decease the country was possessed by the Fitzgeralds, FitzHenrys and Keatings. The territory of the O'Tothils or O'Tooles, who ruled over the southern part of the county of Wicklow, extended into this county, Tristledermot, or Castledermot, being one of their places of residence.

According to Ptolemy, this county was originally inhabited by the Brigantes and the Caucoi, and it afterwards formed part of the kingdom of Ossory. The name Uisraigagh, modernized into Ossory, is supposed to be expressive of its local situation, being compounded of the Gaelic words uisge, "water," and rioghachd, "kingdom," as lying between the rivers. The portion between the Nore and Barrow is sometimes excluded from the kingdom of Ossory, and was anciently styled Hy Creoghain Gabhran; the southern part of the county was sometimes called Comor na tri uisge, "the high district of the three waters." The countries of Ely O'Carroll and Hy Carthin comprised some of the north-western portion of this county. This kingdom was sometimes tributary to Leinster, and sometimes to Munster. After the arrival of the English, it formed one of the counties into which King John divided the portion of the island that acknowledged his sovereignty. At the commencement of the reign of King James I., it was chiefly occupied by the Graces, the O'Brenans, the Wandefords, the Butlers, the O'Sheas, the Rooths, the Harpurs, the Walshes of the mountains, and the Shortals.

Laois, or Leix, county was long known as Queen's county. The slight notices by Ptolemy respecting the interior of Ireland lead to the inference that this county was inhabited by the Brigantes; but Whitaker asserts that the Scoti were the first settlers in it. Afterwards it was divided into Leix, which comprehended all of that part of the county contained within the river Barrow to the north and east, the Nore to the south, and the Slieve Bloom mountains to the west; and Ossory, which included the remainder. So early in the middle of the 3rd century the latter of these divisions, with parts of the adjoining counties, was ranked as a kingdom, and annexed by Conary, King of Ireland, to his native dominion of Munster, instead of being, as formerly, attached to Leinster. Subsequent passages of history prove it to have been a district of considerable importance. When Malachy was forming a confederacy of all the native princes against the Danes, the king of Ossory was specially required to conclude a peace with the people of the northern half of the island, in order that all should be at liberty to act against the common enemy; and in the time of Cormac Mac Culinan he had the command of the first division of that monarch's army in his unjust and unfortunate invasion of Leinster, and fell in the battle of Maghailbe, in which Cormac himself was slain. His dominions were afterwards disposed of by Flan, King of Ireland. Both Leix and Ossory were visited by St. Patrick. In the war waged by Roderic O'Conor, King of Ireland, against Dermod Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, which led to the invasion of Ireland under Strongbow, the king of Ossory was one of the princes who were specially summoned by the former of those potentates. The O'More were the principal dynast of the territory of Leix, and the Mac Gillypatricks or Fitzpatricks were the kings of Ossory at that time.

According to Ptolemy, this tract, together with that comprised in the counties of Fermanagh and Cavan, was occupied by the Erdini, called in Irish Ernaigh, who possessed the entire county bordering on Lough Erne. Leitrim, together with that of Cavan and part of Fermanaghm afterwards formed the territory of Breffny, or Brenny, which was divided into two principalities, of which the present county of Leitrim formed the western, under the name of Lower or West Breffny, and Hy Briuin Breffny, from Brian, son of Eachod, and grandson of Muredach, first king of Connaught of the Scottish race. Sometimes this county was designated Breffny O'Ruark, O'Rorke, O'Roirk, or O'Rourk, from the name of the family that ruled over it from a very early period. Its subordinate divisions were Dromahaire, the present barony of the same name; Lietdrumnai or Liathdromen, the modern Leitrim; Munster Eolus, or Hy Colluing, the present baronies of Carrigallen and Mohill, the principal families of which were the Maghrannals, or Mac Granells,; and Hy Murragh, the modern barony of Rossclogher, of which the chiefs were the O'Murroghs or O'Murreys. For some time after the arrival of the English, the whole was considered to form the ill-defined county of Roscommon: but the O'Rourks maintained an independent authority in their territory until the middle of the 16th century.

Of the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy, the Coriondi appear to have inhabited this portion of Ireland; and although from a very early period it was included in the native kingdom or principality of Thomond, it is said to have had at one time a separate political existence, under the name of Aine-Cliach, or Eoganach-Aine-Cliach, and to have been divided into five cantreds, governed by subordinate chieftains. That of Carrigoginniol belonged to the O'Kiarwicks, and afterwards to the O'Briens, whence the name Pubblebrien was given to the barony; Uaithney, now the barony of Owneybeg, belonged to the O'Ryans; Cairbre Aobhdha, or Kenry, to the O'Donovans; Hy Cnocnuil Gabhra, now the barony of Upper Connello and Coshma, to the McEneirys and O'Sheehans; and Connalla, now Lower Connello, to the O'Kinealys and O'Thyans. At the time of the English invasion, the O'Hurleys, MacSheehys, O'Gormans, O'Collins, O'Coins, O'Scanlans, and O'Hallinans, were among the principal families. About the middle of the ninth century, the Ostmen made themselves masters of the city of Limerick and of the island of Inniscattery, in the Shannon; and maintained their power until the commencement of the eleventh century, when Brien Boroimhe, King of Thomond, compelled them to become his tributaries. The city subsequently became the chief seat of the rulers of Thomond, of the O'Brien family, whence their country was often called the Kingdom of Limerick.

According to Ptolemy, the present county of Londonderry formed part of the country of the Darnii or Darini, whose name appears to be perpetuated in the more modern designation of "Derry." The earliest internal evidence represents it as being chiefly the territory of the O'Cathans, O'Catrans or O'Kanes, under the name Tir Cahan or Cathan-aght, signifying "O'Kane's country:" they were a branch and tributary to the O'Nials, and their chief seat was at a place now called the Deer Park, in the vale of the Roe. At the time of Elizabeth's reign, and the flight of the Earls, the southern side of the county appears to have been possessed by the O'Donnels, O'Conors, and O'Murrys. The O'Cahans were not among the attainted septs, and consequently, in the ensuing schemes of plantation, many of them were settled among the native freeholders by James I, though they afterwards forfeited their estates in the subsequent civil war.

It appears uncertain from Ptolemy's statement what tribe inhabited this portion of the island in his time. It was afterwards known by the name Anale or Annaly, and was the principality of the O'Farrels, or O'Ferrals, which family was afterwards divided into two main branches, O'Farrel Buy or the Yellow, which held the southern part of the county, and O'Farrel Ban or the White, which possessed the northern portion. The family of O'Cuin also had a small territory here, of which Rathcline castle of the head quarters and chief fortress. Feargal, chief of this country, was defeated in 960 by Mahon, prince of Thomond, on the banks of the Inny, near its influx into Lough Ree, to which place the latter had ascended by the Shannon with a number of small vessel; but this event produced no territorial changes. Previously to the arrival of the English, Annaly was included in the province of Meath and as such formed the grant made by Henry II to Hugh de Lacy.

It appears from Ptolemy that Louth formed, in his time, part of the territory of the Voluntii, which extended southward to that of the Eblani. It was subsequently included in the independent sovereignty of Orgial, or Argial, called by the English Oriel or Uriel, forming a large part of the province of Meath, including also the counties of Armagh and Monaghan. This principality is stated to have formed the subordinate territory of Conal Muirthemne, called also Hy Conal and Machuire-Conal, in which were the smaller districts if Fera Arda, or Fatharta, the present barony of Ferrard; Hy Segan, or Hy Seanghain, that of Ardee; Fera Lorg, Lorgan, or Lurgin, that of Lower Dundalk; Hy Mac Uais, the country of the Mac Scanlans, that of Upper Dundalk; and Ludha, or Lugha, that of Louth, which last was the country of the O'Carrols, chiefs of Argial. Argial was conquered by John de Courcy in 1183, after which it was divided into Irish Argial and English Uriel.

At the period when Ptolemy wrote, the Nagnatae were the inhabitants of the whole of the county, with the exception of a small portion of its southern extremity, into which the Auterii, who were settled in the northwest of Galway, had penetrated. The ancient chronicles state that at the commencement of the 4th century the whole of Connaught was taken from the Firdomnians, a branch of the Firbolgs, who had held it till that time under the Milesians. Later, M. Vaugondy's map of ancient Connaught furnishes the following name of the territories which composed it, and their respective baronies; Irrosdomnion, being the barony of Erris; Calrigiamuighemurisk-in-Amalgaid, and Hy Fiachra Aidhne, the barony of Tyrawley; Coranne, the barony of Gallen; Con-macne-Quiltola, the baronies of Clanmorris and Kilmain; Kierrige de Lough Nairn, the barony of Costello; Hymalia or Umaille, the barony of Murrisk.

The Eblani, whose territory also extended over Dublin and Kildare, are mentioned by Ptolemy as being settled in this county. According to the native divisions it formed part of one of the five kingdoms into which Ireland was partitioned, and was known by the name of Mithe, Methe, Media or Midia, perhaps from its central situation. It was afterwards divided into two parts, Oireamhoin, or "the eastern country," which comprehended the portion now known as by the name of Meath; and Eireamhoin, or "the western country," comprehending the present counties of Westmeath and Longford, with parts of Cavan, Kildare, and the King's county. The prince of East Meath was O'Nial, hereditary chieftain of Caelman or Clancolman, who is distinguished in the native annals by the name of the southern O'Nial. The district surrounding the hill of Taragh was originally called Magh Breagh. On this hill, called also Teamor, from Teaghmor, "the great house," was held the general assembly of the states of the kingdom, which met triennially, from a very early period to the end of the sixth century. Here was preserved the Labheireg, or "stone of destiny," on which the monarchs of Ireland were placed at their inauguration, and which, after having been removed to Scotland, was carried away by Edward I, among other trophies of his victory, to Westminster, where it still remains. This part of Ireland suffered severely by the invasions of the Danes.

According to Whitaker, this county was inhabited in the time of Ptolemy by the Scoti, who then possessed all the inland parts of Ireland; it afterwards formed part of the district of Uriel, Oriel, or Orgial, which also comprehended Louth and part of Armagh; but it was more generally known by the name of Mac Mahon's country, from the powerful sept of the same name. Its present name is derived from its chief town, Monaghan or Miunechan, "the Town of the Monks," although no trace of an ecclesiastical establishment can now be discovered there. Immediately after the English invasion, when De Courcy entered Ulster, he was joined by a chieftain named Mac Mahon, who ingratiated himself so much with him that he was entrusted with the command of two forts, which, on the first change of fortune, Mac Mahon utterly destroyed; and when questioned on his breach of faith, answered, "that he had not engaged to keep stone walls; and that he scorned to confine himself within such cold and dreary enclosures, while his native woods were open for his reception and security."

Although there is no mention by Ptolemy, it has been concluded that this county formed part of the territory denominated Hy Falgia, which also included Meath, Westmeath, Dublin and Kildare. It was also included, together with the Queen's county, Dublin and Kildare, under the denomination of Hy Laighois, the chieftain of which territory resided at Dunamase, in the Queen's county. Afterwards, this territory, or as some say, the southern part of it only, was included in the district of Eile, or Hy Leigh, comprehending also the western part of the Queen's county, and the northern part of Tipperary. That district was afterwards divided into three principalities, each under its own chieftain; one of which , forming the southern portion of the King's county [aka Offaly], and lying westward of the Slieve Bloom mountains, obtained the name of Eile in Chearbhuil, or "the plain near the rock," afterwards corrupted into Ely O'Carroll, the chiefs of which were called O'Carroll, and under them was a subordinate dynast, named O'Delany, who ruled over a district in the south, denominated Dal leagh nui, or "the district of the flat country." These principalities, with more northern parts of the present Offaly county, occupied by the Mac Coghlans, O'Molys, and O'Conors, were afterwards united into one kingdom, under the ancient title of the kingdom of Hy Falgis, or Offalia, which comprehended also part of the county of Kildare, and the lands of the O'Dempsies and O'Duins, in the Queen's county. It retained this title for several centuries after the landing of the English, and included a smaller territory, called Hy Bressail.

According to Ptolemy, this region was inhabited by the Auteri, who occupied also the present county of Galway. Among the native septs by whom it was afterwards occupied, the O'Conors enjoyed the supreme authority in the central districts, the Mac Dermots in the northern, and the O'Ceilys or O'Kellys in the southern. Later the O'Conors of Roscommon were divided into the families of O'Conor Raudh or Roe, "the Red," and O'Conor Dhunne, or Don, "the dark or brown," from two rival chieftains thus distinguished by the colour of their hair, who were generally at war with one another; the chief seat of one was Ballynafad castle, and of the other that of Ballintobber. The country of the Mac Dermots was named the barony of Boyle; that of O'Conor Don forms the barony of Ballintobber; tat of O'Conor Roe, the barony of Roscommon; and that of the O'Kellys, the barony of Athlone and the half barony of Moycarnon.

This county was included in the territory of the Nagnatae in the time of Ptolemy, the chief city of which tribe, Nagnata, is supposed by some to have been somewhere near the site of the town of Sligo. It was afterwards possessed by a branch of the O'Conors, called for the sake of distinction O'Conor Sligo. The families of O'Hara, O'Dowd, Mac Donagh, and Mac Ferbis, were also heads of septs in different districts. After the landing of the English under Henry II, it gradually fell, together with the rest of Connaught, into the hands of the great English leaders, of whom the Burghs or De Burgos were the most powerful in these parts. The county was regarded as part of Connaught which, with the exception of Roscommon, was then considered by the English as a single county, until the 11th of Elizabeth, when the province was divided into seven counties, of which Sligo was made one.

The inhabitants of this portion of the island are designated by Ptolemy the Coriondi. Aengus McNafrach, King of Munster in the fifth century, is said to have enlarged the territory of the powerful tribe of the Desii, occupying the present count of Waterford, by the addition of the southern part of Tipperary, then forming a district called Magh Femin, but afterwards designated Desie Thuasgeart or North Desie, to distinguish it from the more southern lands of the same sept. According to Vallancey, the chiefs of Magh Femin, whose principal residence was on the rock of Cashel, obtained the name Hy dun na mio, or "the chiefs of the hill of the plain," rendered by corruption O'Donnohue, and from them descended the Mac Carthies. The Desii maintained a separate sovereignty until overpowered by the first English invaders, against whom, however, they carried on a sanguinary and protracted struggle. The families then holding superior rank were those of O'Fogarty, occupying the territory about Thurles, anciently called Hy Fogarta; O'Brien possessing the tract bordering on the Shannon, below Lough Derg, called Aradh Cliach, and forming the present barony of Owney and Arra; and O'Kennedy, who held Muscraighe Thire, now the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond. The names of several other smaller districts have also been preserved, such as Corca Eathrach, including the country around Holy Cross and Cashel, forming a considerable part of Goulin, or the Golden Vale; Eoganacht, a territory and sept to the north of this, around Thurles; and Hy Kerrin still further north. Ormond, the name of the northern part of the county, signifies East Munster.

In the time of Ptolemy it was inhabited by the Scoti, which tribe extended itself over most of the inland regions; though some writers place the Erdini here, as well as in the neighboring maritime county of Donegal. It was afterwards known as the district or kingdom of Cineal Eoghain, frequently called Tyr-Oen, whence its present name of Tyrone is derived. A portion of its southern border embraces the northern parts of the ancient district of Orgial or Uriel. According to Camden it was divided into Lower and Upper, or North and South Tyrone by the Slieve Gallion mountain; but as this range is now wholly included within Londonderry, it is probable that the name of Tyrone was then extended to the greater part of that county also. This district was from the earliest period of the Irish annals the chief seat of the power of the O'Nials, the princes or kings of the country, who traced their origin from Nial of the nine hostages, and several of whom obtained sovereignty over the whole island. In the tenth century, Hugh O'Nial, lord or chief of Tyr-Oenm was solicited by Malachy, King of Ireland, to assist him against Brian Boroimhe, then claiming the rank of King of Ireland, and was offered a large portion of Meath as the reard for his acquiescence. O'Nial of Tyrone was one of the chiefs in Roderic O'Conor's army in his unsuccessful attempt to drive the English out of Dublin.

The earliest inhabitants of this portion of the island were a tribe designated by Ptolemy Menapii, who occupied also the present county of Wexford. Prior to the seventh century, mention is made of two small tracts, one called Coscradia, and the other Hy-Lyathain, on the south, about Ardmore; but these designations appear to have merged at an early period in that of Decies, given by the preponderating power of a tribe called the Desii, or Decii, who occupied the central and larger portions of the county at the time of the English invasion. They are said to have been originally planted in Meath, and gave name to the barony of Deece. In a contest for the chieftaincy of that tribe in the middle third century, a large number was compelled to abandon that territory, and to remove southwards, and they ultimately settled themselves in a tract of country extending from Carrick-on-Suir to Dungarvan, and thence eastward to Waterford harbor. From this point Decie in Meath, and Decie in Munster, were called respectively North and South Decie; the latter also bore the Irish name Nan-Decie. But Aengus Mac Nafrach, King of Munster, in the fifth century, enlarged the territories of the Decii by annexing to them the lands of Magh Femin, comprising the present barony of Middlethird, and the large extended plains near Cashel, called Gowlin, together with the country about Clonmel: and from this period the designation of Decie-Thuasgeart, or North Decie, became applied only to his grant; the former territories in Waterford still retaining the distinctive appellation of Decie-Deisgeart, or South Decie. In the ninth century, the population of this territory was augmented by the Danes, who, under a leader named Sitric, conquered and retained the maritime district bordering on the harbour of Waterford, then nearly insulated, and forming the present barony of Gaultier, "the land of the Gauls, or Foreigners." The Danes founded the city of Waterford, and made it their chief station. In the twelfth century, the chieftains of the Decii assumed the surname O'Feolain.

This county formed part of the kingdom of Meath when the island was divided into five provincial dynasties, and was then known by the name Eircamhoin, or "the Western Division." Its provincial assemblies were held at the hill of Usneagh, supposed by some to be the Laberus noticed by Ptolemy as one of the ' inland cities of Ireland. In 1153, the northern part of the county became a scene of contention between two sons of Dermod O'Brien. The principal families during this period were those of Mac Geoghegan (chieftains of Moycashel), O'Mulbrenan or Brenan, O'Coffy, O'Mullady, O'Malone, O'Daly, O'Higgins, Magawly, Magan, O'Shannagh (afterwards changed to Fox), O'Finilan, and O'Cuishin. The annals of the religious houses prove that this county suffered much during the period in which the island was exposed to the predatory incursions of the Danes; the town and abbey of Fore alone having been burnt nine times in the 10th and 11th centuries, either by the Danes of by bordering Irish chieftains.

The whole or the greater portion of the county was inhabited in the time of Ptolemy by the Menapii, whose territory bordered on the Modonus, now called the river Slaney, on the bank of which stood their chief town, Menapia, supposed to have occupied the site of the present town of Wexford. They are considered to have derived their origin from the Menapii of Belgic Gaul, perhaps through the Belgae of Britain, and to have been the race styled by Irish annalists Fir-bolgs, i.e. Viri Belgici, or Belgians. Before the arrival of the Danes or English, the county was distinguished by the name Corteigh, Moragh, and Laighion, all signifying the maritime county. The first of these appears to be preserved in the designation of Enniscorthy; the second, it is thought, gave the family name to its chief, Mac Murrough or Mac Murchad; and from the third came the denomination of Leinster, which, in the productions of the Irish, Danish, and Latin writers towards the close of the middle ages, is mostly confined to Wexford. Weisford, from which its present name is formed, was given to its chief town by the Danes, who, after devastating the country by predatory incursions, made the town of Wexford the centre of a permanent settlement. In later times, a popular designation of this district was, according to Camden, County Reogh, or "the rough county;" and the northern part was included in Hy Kinselagh, the peculiar territory of the Mac Murroughs, afterwards known by the name Kavanagh.

According to Ptolemy, the inhabitants of this part of the island, and also the present county of Kildare, were the Cauci, supposed to have been of Belgic-Gaulish extraction. But it is chiefly celebrated as the country of the Byrnes and the O'Tooles, the former of whom occupied the northern and eastern parts, and the latter the south-western. The country of the Byrnes on the western side of the mountains was called Ranelagh, or Kilconnell, and in Queen Eizabeth's time, Pheagh Mac Hugh's country, from the name of the chief of the Byrnes. Another sept of the Byrnes inhabited the eastern side, bordering on the sea; while the country of the O'Tooles was called Imale, and comprised the mountain regions surrounding the glen of Imale. The O'Cullans possessed a tract along the northern confines, but they are scarcely mentioned after the Anglo-Norman invasion; and the Danes appear to have had some settlements on the coast.

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