Ui Neill and Dal Riata


Early Cenéls amongst the Dal Cuinn and Dal Riata



The following extracts from the Annals of Ulster, Annals of Tigernach, and Chronicon Scotorum record the earliest examples of the Gaelic word Cenél found primarily amongst the Dal Cuinn in Ireland and the Dal Riata in Scotland. Cenél can mean 'race', ‘kindred’ or 'descendants' and was generally applied to a larger group of septs with aristocratic families of royal blood who were careful to preserve their genealogies and had extensive territorial power. In the Irish annals, it makes its first appearance in the west of Ulster, where the annals record a battle fought in AD 563 between the Cruithin at Moin Daire Lothair, where Cenél Eógain and Cenél Conaill were hired by the Cruithin King Baetán son of Cenn. In the Gaelic text, both the Annals of Tigernach and Chronicon Scotorum employ the word Cenél to describe the kindred of Eogan and of Conall, whilst the Latin word ‘Genus’ is used in the Annals of Ulster. The phrase “n-Uib Neill in Tuaisceirt” is thought to have been added later to the text, as the battle is clearly said to have been fought the between Cruithin themselves.

AT 562

Cath Mona Daire Lothair for Cruithnib ria n-Uib Neill in tuaiscirt,a n-dorcratar .uii. righ Cruithnech im Aed m-Brecc. Baedan mac Cuind co n-dib Chruithnib nod-fig fri Cruithniu, & Cenel n-Eoghain & Conaill nod-fichset conducti mercede na Lea & Arda Eolairg.

[T] The battle of Móin Daire Laothair gained over the Picts by the Uí Néill of the north, wherein fell seven Pictish kings, including Aodh Brecc. Baetán son of Conn, with two Picts fought it against the Picts, and the Kindred of Eogan and of Conall fought.it, hired by the recompense of the Lea and Ard Eolairg.

CS 563

Cath Mona Daire Lothair for Cruithnechaibh re hUibh Néll an tuaisgirt dú a ttorcrattar .uii. righ Cruithne um Aedh m-Brec. Baetan mac Cuind co ndibh Cruitnibh no fig fri Cruithne et Cinel nEoghain et Conaill no figset, conducti mercede na Lea & Ard Eolairg.

[T] The battle of Móin Daire Lothair won over the Cruithin by the Uí Néill of the North, in which fell seven kings of the Cruithin including Aed Brec. Baetán son of Cenn with two branches of the Cruithin fight it against the Cruithin, and Cenél nEógain and Cenél Conaill fought it for hire, for the Lee and Ard Eolarg.

AU 563

Bellum Mona Daire Lothair for Cruithniu re n-Uib Neill in Tuaisceirt. Baetan m. Cinn co n-dib Cruithnibh nod-fich fri Cruithniu. Genus Eugain & Conaill mercede conducti inna Lee & Airde Eolargg.

[T] The battle of Móin Daire Lothair won over the Cruithin by the Uí Néill of the North. Baetán son of Cenn with two branches of the Cruithin(?) fight it against the Cruithin. Cenél nEógain and Cenél Conaill were hired, being given the Lee and Ard Eolarg as recompense.

1] Weapons press forward, men press forward
2] In the great bog of Daire Lothair,
3] A cause of strife discomfited
4] Around the king of the Cruithin, Aed Brecc.

1] The battle of all the Cruithin is fought,
2] They burn Eilne;
3] The battle of Gabar Liphi is fought,
4] And the battle of Cúil Dreimne.

1] Hostages are taken away after conflict,
2] Away west, with a human harvest(?)
3] By Forgus, Domnall. Ainmire,
4] And Nainnid son of Daui.

1] Mac Erca's two sons returned
2] In the same manner;
3] The king Ainmire came back
4] With the possessions of Sétna.

1] Splendidly moves
2] Baetán's steed upon the host;
3] Well satisfied is Baetán of the yellow hair,
4] It will carry its little load(?) upon it.


From about 600 onwards, we find the Gaelic cenél applied to other kindred groups with even greater frequency, e.g. the Cenél Cairpri, Maine and Loegaire of the Ui Neill, and amongst the Cenél Eógain and Cenél Conaill, we find further divisions emerging, namely, the Cenél Feradaigh and Meic Erca in the Cenél Eógain and the Cenél Bógaine in the Cenél Conaill. These seem to have included all individuals who were legally akin to one another, particularly, all male descendants of a given person or ancestor down to at least the sixth generation. The following is a list of nearly all the entries that refer to the word cenél down until 750, and includes those found amongst the Scots of Dal Riata: the Cenél Loairn, Cenél Comgaill and Cenél Gabráin. There is no mention of the Cenél Angus.

AU 602: CS 602

Bellum Slenne in quo Colman Rimidh, rex Generis Eugain, uictor erat, & Conall Cuu m. Aedho m. Ainmirech fugitiuus alias fugitiuus euasit.

The battle of Slemain in which Colmán Rímid, king of Cenél nÉogain, was victor, and Conall Cú, son of Aed son of Ainmire, took flight or escaped by flight.

AU 603

Bellum Echrois i m-Muiruisc inter Genus Coirpri & Nepotes Fiachrach Muirsce. Mael Cothaid, rex Nepotum Fiachrach, in fugam euersus est.

The battle of Echros in Muiresc between Cenél Cairpri and Uí Fhiachrach Muirsce. Mael Cothaid, king of Uí Fhiachrach, was put to flight.

AU 604

Aed Buidi, rí Ceniul Maeni.

Aed Buide, king of Cenél Maine, died.

CS 608

Occisio Shechnasaigh meic Garbhain rí Cineoil Bogaine ó Domnall mac Aedha.

The killing of Sechnusach son of Garbán, king of Cenél Bógaine, by Domnall son of Aed.

AU 630

Bellum Leithirbhe inter Genus Eugain inuicem, in quo Mael Fithrich cecidit, & bellum Mitani.

The battle of Leitheirbe between the Cenél nEógain themselves, in which Mael Fithrich fell; and the battle of Mitaine.

CS 630

Uel sic in Libro Duibh Da Lethe narratur: bellum Lethirbe eter Cenel Mc. Erca & Cenel Feradaig in quo Mael Fithrich cecidit. Ernaine m. Fiachna uictor erat.

The battle of Leitheirbe between the Cenél Feradaigh and the Cenél Meic Erca, in which Mael Fithrich fell. Ernaine son of Fiachna was victor.

AU 637: CS 637

The battle of Mag Roth and the battle of Sailtír were fought on the same day. Conall Cael son of Mael Cobo of the Cenél nEógain, and adherent of Domnall, was victor in the battle of Sailtír; and the death of Failbe Flann of Feimen, king of Mumu.

AU 642: CS 642

The killing of Ailill son of Colmán, king of Cenél Loegaire.

AU 649

Death of Aengus Bronbachall, king of Cenél Cairpri.

CS 656

The battle of Flescach in which fell Cumuscach son of Ailill, king of Uí Crimthann, in which Crunnmael son of Suibne, king of Cenél nEógain was victor.

AU 666: CS 666

Mael Caích son of Scannal, of the Cruithin, and Mael Dúin son of Scannal, king of Cenél Cairpri, died.

CS 671

The killing of Sechnusach son of Blamac, king of Temair, at the beginning of winter.

Full of bridles, full of horse-switches
Was the house in which Sechnasach used to be;
There was much surplus to the (yard-measure)
In the house in which Blamac's son used to be.

Dub Dúin, king of Cenél Cairpri, killed him.

AU 678

Slaughter of the Cenél Loairn in Tíriu.

AU 683: CS 683

The battle of Corann in which fell Colgu son of Blamac and Fergus son of Mael Dúin, king of Cenél Cairpri.

AU 698

Death of Muirgius son of Mael Dúin, king of Cenél Cairpri.

AU 700: CS 700

Flann the Fair of the Cenél Eogain, son of Mael Tuile grandson of Crunnmael i.e. son of Suibne Menn, dies.

AU 703

The battle was fought at Claenfhinn in Óenach Loga situate between Cenél Conaill and Connachta. Cellach of Loch Cime son of Ragallach son of Uata, king of Connacht, and . . .

AU 704

Feradach son of Mael Dúin, king of Cenél Laegaire, fell.

AU 706: CS 706

Conchobor son of Mael Dúin, king of Cenél Cairpri, was killed
.
AU 707

The slaying of Indrechtach son of Dúnchad of Muirisc. Fergal son of Mael Dúin and Fergal son of Loingsech and Conall Menn, king of Cenél Cairpri, slew him.

CS 707

The slaying of Indrechtach son of Dúnchad i.e. of Muirisc, king of the three Connachta. Fergal son of Mael Dúin, king of Cenél Eógain, and Fergal son of Loingsech, king of Cenél Conaill, slew him.

AU 710

A conflict among the Cenél Comgaill in which two sons of Nechtan son of Dar Garta were killed.

AU 712

Two sons of Feradach son of Mael Dúin perished in a slaughter of the Cenél Laegaire.

AU 719

The sea-battle of Ard Nesbi between Dúnchad Bec with the Cenél Gabráin and Selbach with the Cenél Loairn, and Selbach was repulsed, on Friday, the day before the Nones 6th of September or October, and a number of nobles fell therein.

AT 719

The sea-fight of Ard Anesbi between Dunchadh the Little with the Kindred of Gabrán and Selbach with the Kindred of Loarn, and it was turned against Selbach on the second of the nones of October, the seventh day, in which certain counts fell.

AU 722

The battle of Almain on the third of the Ides 11th of December, the sixth feria, in which fell Fergal son of Mael Dúin, son of Mael Fithrich son of Aed Uairidnach, i.e. by Murchadh son of Bran; and Conall Menn king of Cenél Cairpri.

AU 727

The battle of Druim Fornocht between Cenél Conall and Cenél Eógain, in which Flann son of Aurthuile and Snédgus Derg, descendant of Mrachide, were killed.

AU 727

The battle of Druim Fornocht between Cenél Conall and Cenél Eógain, in which Flann son of Aurthuile and Snédgus Derg, descendant of Mrachide, were killed.

AU 733

Muiredach son of Ainfcellach assumed the kingship of Cenél Loairn.

AU 733

Another encounter between Aed son of Fergal and the Cenél Conaill in Mag Itha in which Conaing son of Congal son of Fergus and many others fell.

AU 734

An encounter in Mag Itha between Flaithbertach son of Loingsech and Fergal's son—Aed Allán—in which the Uí Echdach of Cenél Eógain and others fell.

AU 740

The killing of Ailill's grandson, lord of Cenél Fiachach.

AU 742

The devastation of Cenél Fiachach and of Delbna by the Osraige.

AU 742

The killing of the Cenél Cairpri in Gránairet.

AU 747

Death of Dúnlang son of Dúnchú, king of Cenél Ardgail.


The relationship between the Gaelic speaking kindred groups of old Dal Riata in modern Argyllshire and the Dal Cuinn cenéls of Ireland during the sixth and seventh centuries, requires further research to better understand the potential genetic origins of the M222+ in both areas and their probable ancestral origins. In the Cethri primchenéla Dail Riata, the ‘four chief principal cenéls of Dal Riata’, a genealogical tract dating from the eight century, the word cenél was already in common use amongst the Scots of Dal Riata, whose kingdom seems to have disappeared by the ninth century. This old kingdom comprised four major cenéls, the Cenél Gabráin, Comgaill, Loairn and Oengus, a political unity of sea-faring peoples with an identity that might not have been much older than the end of seventh century. Both the annals and the genealogies demonstrate it had strong ties with the north of Ireland and modern historians have argued there was probably a long and established pattern of movement between the peoples of Argyllshire and the north of Ireland.



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