The Struggle for Supremacy

It has been said that only 20 or so Vikings escaped the Battle of Clontarf alive. Although the High King Brian Boru lost his life in the battle, the Carroll, or Cianachts, displayed great bravery under his leadership.

After the death of Brian Boru, there was a great deal of strife, as various minor kings and their supporters sought to gain the position he had held. He was succeeded by his main rival, Mael Sechnaill, king of Tara, who ruled until 1022.

In the period that followed his death, eight kings claimed the supremacy, including three belonging to the house of Brian Boru, two of the Ui Neills and two of the O’Connors of Connacht. This shows that initially no single dynasty was strong enough to become dominant. The two O’Connors, Turlough and his son Rory, appeared to be on the point of forming a feudal-style hereditary kingship, similar to that found in neighbouring counties at that time. Dermot (Diarmaid) MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, however, had other plans.

Around this time, the church was going through a process of renewal and regeneration. The supremacy of the Bishop of Armagh had been acknowledged by Brian Boru during his lifetime and after the king’s death his body was brought to Armagh and buried there – an act which acknowledged both the importance of the king and of Armagh itself. In 1111, the Bishop of Armagh presided over a national synod held near Cashel, another important ecclesiastical seat. At this synod, the first attempt was made to divide Ireland up into diocese.

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Photo: Armagh Cathedral, Photography by Barry McQueen

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