Ireland's History - Early Irish Tribes, Septs and Clans
Old Irish Kingdoms and Clans
A supplement to Ireland's History in Maps
Also see People, Place and Province

Page Index: Fomorians | Fomhóire | Partholonians | Nemedians | Fir Bholg | Firbolgs | Tuatha De Danann | Laigain | Milesians | Irish Celts | Picts | Glasraighe | Laigin (Leinster) | Osraige (Ossory) | Ui Bairrche | Ui Chennselaig | Ui Maile | Ui Laoighis | Ua bhFailghe | Hy-Regan | Fotharta | Seven Septs of Laois | Connacht | Luigne | Gailenga | Ui Maine | Ui Briuin | Ui Fiachrach | Siol Murray | Breifne | Conmaicne Rein | Conmaicne Mara | Tribes of Galway | Go to Page Two

The Myth:
"The tribe of the Fomorians was on the scene long before any other races came to Ireland. However, the Fomors lived mainly in the sea. The first outside race to invade Ireland was the race of the Partholon; very little is known of them. After 300 years of struggle against the Fomors, the Partholons died of an epidemic.
Next came the race of Nemed who also suffered from an epidemic. This time, though, some of them survived, only to be oppressed by the Fomors.
Later came colonizers from Spain or Greece called the Fir Bolgs. They were actually three tribes; men of Domnu, men of Gaillion, and men of Bolg. They inter-married with the Fomors and held the country until the arrival of the "Tuatha De Danann".
Source: (from Ancient and Shining Ones - by DJ Conway)

Fomhóire means 'from the sea' and is the name of the gods of night and death and cold. According to myth, the Fomhóire (or Fomorians) were mis-shapen and had now the heads of goats and bulls, and now but one leg, and one arm that came out from the middle of their breasts. They were the ancestors of the evil faeries and, according to one gaelic writer, of all misshapen persons. The giants and leprecauns are expressely mentioned as of the Fomhóire.

The Partholonians were said to have landed in Ireland at Beltaine, where they lived for three hundred years. According to myth, they battled with the Fomhóire, a race of mis-shapen beings, probably representing the aboriginal gods of the land as there is no mention of when the Fomhóire arrived. The whole race of the Partholonians were mysteriously wiped out by a plague.

The Nemedians were the next race of people to arrive in Ireland after the Partholonians were mysteriously wiped out by a plague, according to the Lebor Gabála, the Book of Invasion. 2,000 Nemedians were said to have died from plague and the rest were forced to leave after the Fomhóire had inflicted a great defeat on them.

Fir Bholg
Fir Bholg, the 'Men of the Bags', were also known as the men of the Goddess Domnu. Their gods were the Fomhóire and they were defeated by the Tuatha Dé Danann in the first battle of Magh Tuireadh or Moytura.

Firbolgs - Ui Failge, Ui Bairrche, Ui Enachglais, etc. -
The Euerni and later called Erainn (also known as Menapii, Bolgi, Belgae and Firbolgs) by annalists and historians, arrived after ???? BC. They called their new home Eueriio, which would later evolve through the old Irish Eriu to Eire, and from Eire to Ireland.
The early annalists tell us that Firbolg people survived as distinct tribes well into early historical times. In Leinster, they were the Ui Failge, Ui Bairrche and Ui Enechglaiss to mention but a few.

Tuatha De Danann The De Danann people arrived after the Firbolgs, and were to force the Firbolgs into partial serfdom. The Tuatha De Danann established Tara on the Boyne Valley, the ritual inaugaration and burial place for the ancient Kings of Ireland.
Source: various
In a famed battle at Southern Moytura (on the Mayo-Galway border) it was that the Tuatha De Danann met and overthrew the Firbolgs. The Firbolgs noted King, Eochaid was slain in this great battle, but the De Danann King, Nuada, had his hand cut off by a great warrior of the Firbolgs named Sreng. The battle raged for four days. So bravely had the Firbolgs fought, and so sorely exhausted the De Dannann, that the latter, to end the battle, gladly left to the Firbolgs, that quarter of the Island wherein they fought, the province now called Connaught. And the bloody contest was over.

The Laiginian colonization is believed to have taken place sometime about 300 B.C., and are believed to have come from the northwestern region of Gaul, later Normandy. They are mythologically referred to as the Tuatha De Danann. Their name association with Laighi, the ancient name for Leinster, suggests that this was where they first settled. Eventually, they extended their power to Connacht, and in the process forced the Firbolg tribes into the remoter parts of the province. The remains of many great stone forts built by the Firbolgs in their defense against the Laigain tribes can still be seen in remote areas of western Ireland. Within a few generations the Laigain tribes had established themselves in Connacht, where in County Sligo their descendants include the O'Haras, O'Garas, and others.
The ancient Laigin or Dumnonii group moved from the western region of Normandy as the Roman built up pressure on Gaul about 100 B.C. The Laigin settled first in southern Britain and then in Ireland. The Ui Neachtain (Naughton) are said to belong to the Laigain group, later living in the territory of the Ui Maine.

The Milesians
King Milesius' sons, Eremon and Eber, are said to have come from either Spain or France to the island of Ireland, and were ancestors of the Gaels. Of the Milesians, who invaded the Tuatha De Danann lands, Eber and Eremon divided the land between them - Eremon getting the Northern half of the Island, and Eber the Southern. The Northeastern corner was accorded to the children of their lost brother, Ir, and the Southwestern corner to their cousin Lughaid, the son of Ith.
The descendants of Milesius are said to be the monarchs and leading families of early Ireland.

Irish Celts
The tribes of Celtic speech came to the British Isles in two distinct waves. The earlier invasion of the Goidels arrived in England with a culture of bronze about 800 B.C., and in Ireland two centuries later, and was part of the same movement which brought the Gauls into France. The later conquest was by the Cymric-speaking Belgae who were equipped with iron weapons. It began in the third century B.C., and was still going on in Caesar's time. These Cymric Brythons reached Ireland in small numbers only in the second century B.C.
Source: various

The Romans called this pre-Celtic people Pictii, or "Painted," who (as claimed by many historians), actually tattooed their bodies with designs. To the non-Roman Celtic world of Scots and Irish and the many tribes of Belgic England and Wales they were known as "Cruithni" and for many centuries they represented the unbridled fury of a people who refused to be brought under the yoke of Rome or any foreign invader.

Ballymachugh is one of the three parishes of the diocese situated in County Cavan. It lies along Lough Sheelin and in it the Diocese (Ardagh and Clonmacnoise) reaches its most easterly point about half a mile from Mountnugent. After the definite establishment of the Diocese of the Ui Briuin, or Kilmore, this parish remained attached to Ardagh because it was part of the old principality of Cairbre Gabhra centred at Granard. This ancient authorities generally speak of Lough Sheelin as in Cairbre; so the book of Lecan, Leobor Gabhala, Book of Leinster. Earlier than the time of Cairbre, son of Niall, these lands bordering Lough Sheelin on the north were inhabited by the pre-Celtic Glasraighe, who were subdued by him; and for whom long afterwards, the genealogists traced a royal descent from Cairbre himself.

Laigin (Leinster)
The ancient province of Laigin derives its name from the Laigain people who were among the earlier inhabitants of the area. Included among the early peoples were the Cauci, Manapii, Coriondi, Brigantes, Domninii and Usdiae. By the 5th century the Southern Ui Naill encroached on the Northern borders of the province decreasing its area. The Ui Chennselaig and Ui Dunlainge tribes were the dominent septs during this period. Others included the Ui Faelain, Cuala, Ui Garrchon, Ui Drona, Ui Biarrche and Ui Enachglais, with the sacred capital at Naas.
As its borders expanded in later centuries the territories of the Fine Gall (Dublin), Ui Dunchada, Ui Failge, Loiges, Osraige, Eile, Fothairt, Ui Mail and Ui Muiredaig were included. Later the more prominent clans included the MacMurroughs, O'Tooles, Phelans, O'Connors, Kilpatricks, O'Byrnes, O'Moores and O'Dempseys.
The arrival of the Anglo-Normans occured in Leinster in 1169/70, at the invitation of the ousted King of Leinster, Dermat MacMurrough. Earldoms were established in Kildare (Fitzgeralds) and Ormond (Butlers). The area of English control around Dublin, referred to as the Pale, expanded into the province of Leinster next with settlements and fortifications by the new Anglo-Normans lords. By the 17th century, the Cromwellian campaigns supplanted these with English rule and land ownership.
Source: various

Osraige (Ossory)
The ancient Kingdom of the Osraige, an early Erainn tribe whose first king was Aengus Osrithe, flourished in the second century of the Christian era. In the fifth century the neighbouring tribe of the Deisi, aided by the Corca Laighde, conquered South Ossory, and for over a century, the Corca Laighde chiefs ruled in place of the dispossessed Ossory chiefs. Early in the seventh century the ancient chiefs recovered much of their lost possessions, the foreigners were overcome, and the descendants of Aengus ruled once more. One of the greatest was Carroll, prominent in the ninth century and distinguished in the Danish wars.
Kilkenny County forms much of what was known as the kingdom of Ossory. Kilkenny became one of the counties of Leinster in 1210, and also became the residence of Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, Strongbow's heir and descendent, by whom Kilkenny Castle was built. Before the fourteenth century Marshall's inheritance passed to the Butlers.
Source: various

Ui Bairrche
The Ui Bairrche (Hy Bairrche) was the generic name for the O'Gormans and related families. The Ui Bairrche ruled the tuath or territory of now known as the barony of Slievmargy in Southeast Queens County (Southeast County Leix) adjoining Carlow. An early king of Leinster (Laigin) was Móenach macMuiredach Sníthe O'Bairrche, King of Leinster.

Ui Chennselaig, Ui Dunlainge, Ui Garrchon, Ui Mail, Ui Faelain
Early kings of Laigin (Leinster) from these tribes included:
Year bef. 400 - Chennselaig, Crimthann macÉndae, King of Leinster. The Chennselaig clans became MacMurroughs, Kavanaghs and Kinsellas.
Year bef. 460 - O'Dúnlainge, Coirpre macCormac, King of Leinster.
Year bef. 485 - MacGarrchon, Findchad, King of Leinster.
Year 624 A.D. - O'Máil, Aed Díbchíne macSenaig Díbig, King of Leinster.
Year 808 A.D. - O'Fáeláin, Muiredach macRuaidrí, King of Leinster. The O'Fáeláin clans became Phelans or Whelans.
Source: various

Ui Mail (Hy Maile) and Cualu (Cualan)
According to MacFirbis, Main Mal, a younger brother of Cathal Mor, Monarch of Ireland in the second century, was ancestor of O'Ceallaigh of Cualan. These Kellys were also referred to as Chiefs of Hy Maile. Their territory was believed to occupy north west Wicklow lying south of Tallagh along the northern slopes of the hills and stretching across the northern slopes of Glenasmole. It included Killininny, Ballycullen and Kilmacheth. They were neighbours of the O'Byrnes and the O'Tooles. This territory was wrenched from their control early in the Anglo-Norman invasion.

Ui Laoighis
In ancient times the O'Moore tribe-name of Ui Laoighis was applied to their territory, this name being derived from a famous Ulster ancestor named Lughaidh Laoigheseach, descendant of the renowned Conall Cearnach, Chief of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster. The territory consisted of the present Baronies of East and West Maryborough, Stradbally and Cullenagh, to which in after years were annexed the Baronies of Ballyadams and Slievemargy.
After the arrival of the Anglo-Normas, the territory of the County of Laois divided among seven Septs or Clans:- O'Moore, O'Kelly, O'Deevy, O'Doran, O'Lalor, O'Dowling and McEvoy.

Ua bhFailghe
Daingean was the chief stronghold of a tuath, whose territory was more or less co-terminous with the modern barony of Lower Philipstown. The dynastic family of this tuath was O'Connor, surnamed Failghe (anglicised Failey or Faly) to distinguish it from other O'Connor families in different parts of Ireland. At an early stage six of the neighbouring tuatha formed a federation with that of the O'Connors ; and as the head of the federation was nearly always an O'Connor, the territory of the federation or big tuath came to be known as Ua bhfailghe -- a name which English-speaking writers tried to reproduce phonetically by writing Ofaily or Offaley. Ua bhFailghe was a sub-kingdom of the provincial kingdom of Leinster. Only about a third of the county of Offaly was part of the Irish Offaley.

Hy-Regan was the tribe name, of the O'Dunnes of Offaly. Their country, which was formed into the barony of Tinahinch, and made a part of the Queen's County in the reign of Philip and Mary, is still popularly called Dooregan, (in Irish tuath Riagain).

The O'Nuallains were princes of the Fotharta (Foherta), now the Barony of Forth in County Carlow, Ireland. In pre-Norman days their chiefs held high office under the Kings of Leinster. In Irish the name O'Nuallain means descendant of Nuallan; the word Nuallan means a shout or cry. The name was anglicised O'Nowlan, Nowlan, and Nolan.

Seven Septs of Laois
After the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, the Leix (Laois) County was divided among seven Septs or Clans: O'Moore, O'Kelly, O'Deevy, O'Doran, O'Lalor, O'Dowling and McEvoy.
This confederation began after the 3rd century CE, when the family group that would become the O'Mores came from Ulster to Leinster under the leadership of Laoighseach Cean More, son of Connall Cearnach of the Red Branch, and helped to defend Leinster under the kingship of Cuchorb, and expelled the Munster forces from the region. They continued to hold principality over what became Leix (Laois), so named after Laoighseach, and this confederation continued through the Elizabethian wars of the 1500's, when the military and political power of the families were broken and the clans dispossessed and relocated. Of these seven clans, the O'Mores were the leading family, holding the position and title of Kings, and then Princes of Leix, as well as the Marshell's and treasurers of Leinster since the 3rd century.

In the 4th century AD the ancient line of Connacht kings was displaced by the midland rulers, whose centre was at Tara. Two members of this Tara dynasty, Brion and Fiachra, founded septs, or clans, the Uí Briúin and the Uí Fiachrach, to which all the rulers of Connaught from the 5th to the 12th century belonged. Turloch (Toirdelbach) O'Connor (d. 1156) and his son Rory (Ruadri; d. 1198) were strong enough to be recognized as kings of Ireland, but the Anglo-Norman settlement of the mid-12th century disrupted their power. Rory's brother, Cathal Crovderg, was king of Connaught until his death in 1224, but in 1227 the English king Henry III granted Connaught to the Norman baron Richard de Burgh (or de Burgo). His descendants held the lordship of Connaught with the earldom of Ulster until the titles fell to the crown in 1461. The land of Connaught was thereafter controlled by two junior branches of the de Burghs, who ultimately became the Clanricarde and Mayo Burkes.
Source: various

Gailenga and Luigne
Among the pre-Milesian tribes of Connacht were the Gregraige, a Firbolg tribe, that inhabited much of the western part of present day County Sligo between Loch Gara and the Ox mountains. Other tribes sharing the same area were the Gailenga and the Luigne, tribes of the Tuatha de Danann Celts from which O'Hara and O'Gara are descended. The Ciarrage tribes or "black people" populated much of northwestern County Roscommon and are believed to have been the early lords of Airtech, an area corresponding to the present-day barony of Frenchpark. Their seat was believed to be at Baslic near Castlerea. The Calraige, another important tribe, had lands in Sligo and Mayo and north Roscommon. They may have been the rulers of Moylurg who were in later centuries absorbed by the expanding Sil Murray (later the MacDermots).

Ui Maine (Hy Many)
Another powerful federation of tribes was the Ui Maine (O'Kelly) whose extensive territory embraced large areas of what is now south Roscommon, Galway and north Clare. According to O'Rahilly, the Ui Maine were pre-Milesian Celts who were later given a fictitious Milesian pedigree showing them descended from Maine Mor, son of Eochu, etc. Notwithstanding their importance, O'Rahilly points out that they were vassals who paid tribute to the Milesian kings of Connacht. Among the Ui Maine dwelt the Sogain, a Cruthin (Pict) tribe, and the Dal naDruithne believed to be Tuatha De Danann Celts.
Source: The Ui Maine was reportedly founded by the brother of Fiacha Straivetine, King of Ireland, A.D. 285, whose original territory comprised parts of what are now the counties of Galway, Roscommon, Clare, and Offaly. Irish annals tell us that the Ui Maine kingdom gained its name when its 4th century leader, Maine Mor, conquered a territory of southeastern Connaught from the Firbolgs and settled there in 357 A.D.

Ui Briuin and Ui Fiachrach
Eochaidh Mugmedon was king of Connacht at the end of the fourth century. In early historical times his offspring: Brioin, Fiachra and Ailill separated into three dynasties -- the Ui Briuin, ancestors to the Sil Murray (O Conors and MacDermots); the Ui Fiachra, ancestors to the O Dowds and O Heynes; and the Ui Aillela, whose descendants left little mark in history, except their name is perpetuated in the barony of Tir-Errill in County Sligo. In the seventh century the Ui Briuin began separating into three branches -- Ui Briuin Seola (O Flahertys), Ui Briuin Breffney (O Rourkes and O Reillys) and Ui Briuin Ai (O Conors, MacDermots and others). The Ui Fiachrach formed a Northern sept, known as the Ui Fiachrach Muaide in County Sligo, and a southern sept known as the Ui Fiachrach Aidne in south Galway.

Siol Murray
Siol Muireadhaigh (Siol Murray), a branch of the Ui Briuin Ai, so called after progenitor, Indrechtaigh MacMuireadhaigh, occupied lands in North Roscommon. They comprised O'Conors, MacDermots, O'Beirnes, O'Flanagans, MacManuses, O'Brenans, O'Monahans, MacGeraghtys, O'Flynns and others.

Counties Leitrim and Cavan formed part of the kingdom of Bréifne, also known as Ui Briuin Breifne, whose septs were descendants of the great Ui Briun clans of Connacht. Following the overthrow of the Conmaicne (Rein) and other ancient tribes about the 8th century, the Ui Ruairc and the Ui Ragallaig were dominant in this region. In later times County Leitrim, or West Bréifne, became known as Bréifne O'Rourke, and Cavan, or East Bréifne, became distinctively Bréifne O'Reilly.
Bréifne long resisted colonization by the Anglo-Normans, and the O'Reilly's of Cavan were not brought under permanent English rule until the late 16th century. Cavan, previously part of Connacht, was designated a part of Ulster in the early 17th century and included in the Ulster plantation from 1608 onward, when it was settled by Scots and English colonists.
Source: various

Conmaicne Rein
The territory of the Conmaicne Rein was located in the southern section of County Leitrim centered in the modern barony of Mohill. The territory included parts of the baronies of Leitrim, Mohill and Carrigallen in Co. Leitrim and well as a section of northern Co. Longford. The Mag Raghnaill (MacRannall) clan were chiefs in this territory which later became known as Muintir Eolais. The O'Ruairc (O'Rourke) clan were kings and lords over the Conmaicne tribes in early medieval times.

Conmaicne Mara
The name Connemara comes from the tribe of Conmac, or Conmaicne, a warrior tribe which was sent to the area by the ancient Gaelic Kings of Connacht to ensure their hegemony. The branch of the tribe which went to the coastal area became known as Conmaicnemara, or 'the tribe of Cormac by the sea'.
In medieval times Connemara was ruled by the O'Cadhlas and later by the 'ferocious' O'Flaherty's who built a series of castles along the coast.
Conmaicne Mara is bordered on the west by Lough Corrib (Loch Oirbsen). The ancient territories along the Loch were Iar-Chonnacht, comprising Gnó Mor and Gnó Beag -- with Conmaicne-Mara, now Conamara, on the west, and Uí Briúin Seóla on the east border, and towards the north-west, Dútha Seóigheach, the Joyce Country, between it and Loch Measca; and more to the north-east, Conmaicne Cúile Tola, the barony of Kilmaine, where the first great battle of Moytura was fought.

Tribes of Galway an expression, first invented by Cromwell's forces, as a term of reproach against the natives of the town of Galway. These families were thirteen in number, i.e. Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D'Arcy, Ffont (or De Fuente), Ffrench, Joyes (or Joyce), Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerrett.

Go to Page Two

Take a geographic stroll through Irish History -- Celtic Ireland

Further Reference:
Ireland's History in Maps - Home Page.
Before there were Counties - an Irish Territorial History.
Early Irish History - People, Place and Province.
The Tuath and Barony of Ireland - the baronies of Ireland and the clans associated with them.
Old Irish Gaelic Surnames - a supplement to the maps above.
Norman Surnames of Ireland - including Cambro-Norman, Welsh and Flemish.
Castles of Ireland - A compilation of What, Where, Who and When
Cambro-Norman Invasion of Ireland - A summary of events and people.

      This site maintained by
D Walsh
      Ireland's History in Maps Home Page            

You are the [an error occurred while processing this directive] visitor, since February 2007