Ualgharg mór Ó Ruairc was born in the waning years of the 13th century. In the year 1311 his father, Domnall carrach Ó Ruairc (son of Amlaib), had died after serving as the Ó Ruairc king of western Bréifne for about four years. This was a time when the Ó Ruaircs had lost their grip on the eastern portion of the traditional Bréifne region with the expanding power of the O Raghailligh (O'Reillys). It is thought the area of western Bréifne, in Ualgharg's day, included most of modern county Leitrim plus adjoining areas such as the county Cavan baronies of Tullaghagh, with the Mac Gauran chiefs, and Tullyhunco, home of the Mac Thighearnain chiefs. Ualgharg was to follow in his father's footsteps and would reign as lord of Bréifne for at least 30 years. Ualgharg is first noted in the annals of Ireland in 1316, when his ally Felim Ó Conor, king of Connacht, supported him as king of Bréifne.
C1316.4 - Feidlim [O Conchobair] plundered the officers of Ruaidri O Conchobair and seized the kingship of Connacht from Assaroe to Slieve Aughty himself, took hostages of the Ui Briuin Brefne and made Ualgarg O Ruairc king over them.
In the same year Ualgharg joined Felim Ó Conor in his effort to oppose the English at Athenry, and where Felim lost his life.
M1316.3 - A very great army was mustered by Felim O'Conor and the chiefs of the province of Connaught. Among these chiefs was Malgary O'Rourke, Lord of Breifny. They all marched to Athenry. The English of West Connaught mustered their forces, to oppose them, namely, William Burke; the Baron Mac Feorais Bermingham, Lord of Athenry; and the greater part of the English of Leath Chuinn. A fierce and spirited engagement took place between them, in which the Irish were at last defeated. Felim O'Conor, from whom the Irish had expected more than from any other Gael then living, was slain.
Ualgharg was next noted in 1318 in alliance with Maelruanaid Mac Diarmata, king of Moylurg (his father-in-law), at Fassa-Coille in modern county Sligo. Their intention was to oppose Cathal son of Domnall Ó Conor (of Clan Andrias Ó Conor) in a battle between Cathal and Turlough Ó Conor (brother of Felim) for right of be king of Connacht. A few years later it was Turlough Ó Conor who would become king.
M1318.2 - A great host was mustered by Mulrony Mac Dermot, Lord of Moylurg, with which he marched to Fassa-Coille, to attack Cathal, son of Donnell O'Conor. In this army came Turlough, son of Hugh, son of Owen O'Conor; Ualgarg O'Rourke, Lord of Breifny
In her book about Ó Ruairc of Bréifne, Betty Mac Dermot puts it well, "The life of Ualgharh Ó Ruairc was a constant succession of raids and battles, as was usual for a King in those days. His chief opponents were the Ó Conors of the Clan Murtough and the Clan Andrias." It was in battle against the English in 1330 that Ualgharg was next mentioned in the annals.
M1330.6 - An army was led by Ualgarg O'Rourke to Fiodh-an-atha, whereupon the English of that town rose up against him. O'Rourke's people were defeated; and Art O'Rourke, a materies of a chief lord of Breifny, Rory Magauran, and many others, were slain by the English.
In the genealogies and annals Ualgharg was noted with a number of sons. The names of sons included by O'Clery in his book included: Tadhg, Tigernan, Aedh, Domhnall, Giolla crist, Amhlaibh, Ruaidri, Muircertach, Slebin, and Fergal. Four of Ualgharg's sons are mentioned in a raid against the Ó Conors of Clan Murtough in 1340, one of them (Domnall) losing his life while another (Gilla Crist) was wounded and captured.
C1340.4 - The sons of Ualgarc O Ruairc, that is Domnall, Aed, Gilla Crist and Ruaidri, went a-raiding against Cathal son of Aed Brefnech [O Conchobair]. They captured vast booty and killed Conchobar son of Donnchad Riabach son of Magnus son of Muirchertach Muimnech and many others that day. This was the beginning of the enmity between the Muinter Ruairc and the posterity of Muirchertach Muimnech son of Toirrdelbach Mor Cathal son of Aed Brefnech made a gallant pursuit, by which much of the prey was recovered and Domnall O Ruairc, best of the Brefne princes, was killed, Gilla Crist O Ruairc and Mac Consnama were wounded, and many others killed.
C1340.5 - Tadc son of Ruaidri son of Cathal [Ruad] O Conchobair, who had been kept in captivity by O Ruairc, was released in exchange for Gilla Crist O Ruairc.
And it was shortly after the raid of 1340 the Clan Murtough were driven from Bréifne by Ualgharg and his allies.
M1343.13 - The Clann-Murtough O'Conor (descendants of Murtough Muimhneach O'Conor), were driven out of Breifny by Ualgarg O'Rourke, Turlough O'Conor, and Teige Mac Rannall. They passed into Tirhugh to O'Donnell; and Aengus (i.e. the O'Donnell), made them a grant of the territory of Tirhugh.
A few years later in 1346 Ualgharg was again in battle, this time against the Clan Andrias Ó Conors at Calry (i.e. Calraige, next to Lough Gill). It was in this battle he lost his life. His long reign and exploits earned him the name Ualgharg mór (the great).
M1346.1 - A war broke out between O'Rourke, i.e. Ualgarg, and Rory, the son of Cathal O'Conor; and an engagement took place between them in Calry-Lough-Gill, in which O'Rourke was routed, and all his gallowglasses slain, i.e. Mac Buirrce, and Mac Neill Cam with their people. O'Rourke was afterwards pursued by Rory O'Conor and the Clann-Donough, and was killed by Mulrony Mac Donough. This was a lamentable deed.
Ualgharg had been a strong leader and his power as "the Ó Ruairc" helped establish his progeny as the dominent Ó Ruairc sept in Bréifne. The following is a chart of the sons of Ualgharg mór Ó Ruairc as noted in the annals and genealogies, with their respective year of death.
Ualgarg mór (1346)
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Domnall (1340) Fergal (1350) Aedh bán (1352) Tadhg na gCaor (1376) Gilla Crist (1378) Tighernán mór (1418)
A year following Ualgharg's death, Clan Murtagh Ó Conor were again mentioned, "O Ruairc's gallowglasses, having been discovered in Muinter Eolais, were killed and captured by the Clan Murtagh". It was Ualgharg's son Aedh bán who was next cited in the annals, first in a 1349 victory over his uncle Flaithbhertach O'Ruairc and others.
LC1349.2 - A victory was gained by Aedh O'Ruairc over Flaithbhertach O'Ruairc, and over Donnchadh O'Domhnaill, and over the Dartraighe; and Aedh Mac Flannchaidh, chieftain of Dartraighe, was slain there, and Gilla-na-naemh Mac Flannchaidh, and Lochlainn, the son of Andiles O'Baighill, et alii multi nobiles.
A year later Aedh Ó Ruairc was noted in a significant victory over Clan Murtagh Ó Conor.
M1350.2 - Aedh (i.e. the King of Connaught), the son of Aedh Breifneach O'Conor, and who was called the O'Conor, was slain in Magh-Angaidhe by Aedh O'Rourke.
Again in 1350 Aedh's brother Fergal was killed by the son of Cathal Clerech Mac Donnchaidh. The following year Aedh Ó Ruairc went on pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick but was captured while traveling back through de Burgo (Burke) country. It was Ferghal MacDiarmada, King of Moylurg (Aedh's cousin) who took the field on account of Aedh's capture, and a general war sprang up throughout Connacht, and Moylurg was stripped bare in consequence. In 1352 Aedh Ó Ruairc was again battling Clan Murtagh Ó Conor, this time losing his life to the brother of Aedh Ó Conor who had been slain by Aedh Ó Ruairc two years before.
C1352.4 - Aed O Ruairc, king of Brefne, was killed by Cathal son of Aed Brefnech O Conchobair and the rest of the Clan Murtagh, and the gallowglasses of the Clann Suibne were slaughtered with him.
The following is a chart of the sons of Aedh Ó Ruairc as noted in the annals and genealogies, with their respective year of death.
Aedh bán (1352)
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Cathal Aedh óg (1369) Ualgarg (1384) Fergal (1402?)
Maghnus gnumach Sean
In the same year as Aedh's death (1352) Flaithbhertach O'Ruairc, Aedh's uncle, was installed as king of Bréifne with the support of the Clan Murtagh. However, Flaithbhertach died within a few short months after his inauguration.
The next king of Bréifne to be noted was Ualgharg's son Tadhg, who was known as Tadhg na gCaor (of the berries). The text in RIA MS.C.iv.1. tells the story of how Tadhg received his name, his mother eating berries the night he was born. It also notes that Tadhg was a son of Ualgharg mór. Not much is mentioned in the annals about Tadhg's exploits but it was evidently during his reign (circa 1370) that the Clan Murtagh Ó Conor "sought refuge in MacWilliam Burke's country, never to settle in Bréifne again". Tadhg and his descendants were based in an area known as Cenel Luachain which was centered in the southern portion of modern county Leitrim. His descendants included the O'Rourkes of Clooncorick, in the barony of Carrigallen. In 1376 Tadhg died and was replaced by his younger brother Tighernán mór.
M1376.1 - Teige O'Rourke, Lord of Breifny, a man full of hospitality and munificence, a man of fame and renown, the Bear of Breifny, and Lion of Leth-Chuinn, died. Tiernan assumed the lordship of Breifny after him.
The following is a chart of some of the descendants of Tadhg na gCaor Ó Ruairc as noted in the annals and genealogies, with their respective year of death. Their story is covered in more detail in O'Rourkes of Carrigallen.
Tadhg na gCaor (1376)
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Maghnus (1390) Art (c1430) Seaan (1407) Conchobar crom (1426) Lochlann (1458)
_________________|____________________ __________|_ _____________|__________
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Cathal ballagh Aedh Cobthach Maghnus Domnall (1464) Eóghan (1486)
_______|__________ _|_ _|_ _______|________ _|_
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Ualgarg (1472) Uaithne Domnall Tighernán (1496) Tadhg Maghnus Feidhlimidh
_|_ _|_ _|_
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Seann Lochlann Ualgharg
Tadhg na gCaor's younger brother Tighernán mór would serve as the Ó Ruairc for 42 years, almost as long as his namesake of the 12th century. His long reign was filled with battling other factions within the extended Ó Ruairc clan, as well as neighboring clans - Clan Murtough, O'Reilly, Mac Donough, Mac Tiernan, Cenel Conaill, etc. Many of Tighernán mór's descendants had their base of power in the northern portion of modern county Leitrim, his descendants including the O'Rourkes of Dromahair and the O'Rourkes of Carha.
C1418.4 - Tigernan Mor son of Ualgarc O Ruairc, king of Brefne, the keenest and boldest fighter of the Cath O mBriuin since the time of Tigernan son of Murchad, one who took forcible possession of his patrimony from his enemies by the prowess of his own strong hand, died at a good old age in his own stronghold about St. Bridget's day and was buried in the monastery of Sligo.
M1418.6 - Tiernan More, the son of Ualgarg O'Rourke, Lord of Breifny, the bravest and most puissant man that had come of the Hy-Briuin race, a man who had wrested his principality from his enemies by the strength of his arm, died at an advanced age, about the festival of St. Bridget, and was interred in the monastery of Sligo. Hugh Boy O'Rourke assumed his father's place.
The following is a chart of some of the descendants of Tighernán mór Ó Ruairc as noted in the annals and genealogies, with their respective year of death.
Tighernán mór (1418)
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Tighernán óg (1412) Domnall (1416) Eóghan (1418) Aedh buidhe (1424) Tadhg (c1435) Donnchadh Donnchadh
| | bacagh (1445) losc (c1468)
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Donnchad (1449) Brian (1430) Cathal Aedh (1465) Tighernán óg (1468) Domnall (147?) Tadhg óg (1476)
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Feidhlimidh (1500) Tighernán dubh (1487) Brian ruadh (1486) Eóghan (1528)
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Eóghan (1523) Feidhlimidh (1536) Brian ballach mór (1562)
(Ó Ruairc of Carha) (Ó Ruairc of Dromahair)
To help keep the next part of the story straight, note the two Tighernán ógs highlighted in blue. The annals note in the year 1412 that Tigernan Oc son of Tigernan (mor) son of Ualgarc O Ruairc, a man well qualified for the kingship of Brefne, died this year, at the end of his thirty-sixth year, between Easter and May-day.
Following the death of the prolific Tighernán mór in 1418 his son Aedh buidhe was installed as the Ó Ruairc, but his reign would only last about a year and a half. At this point a major rift between two main lines of the family occured. In 1419 Aedh buidhe's brother Tadhg, son of son of Tigernán mór, was elected king by the O'Rourkes from "Slieve-an-ierin West". However, Art, son of Tadhg na gCaor son of Ualgharg mór, was elected in opposition to Tadhg from [the men of] "Slieve-an-ierin East", i.e. by the O'Reillys, the people of Teallach Donnchadha, and the descendants of Melaghlin Mac Rannall. In effect the title was in dispute and in 1421 Art, son of Tadgh, was made Ó Ruairc in opposition to Tadhg, son of Tigernán mór. In the continuing feud Tadhg, son of Tigernán. made an incursion against Art, son of Tadgh, at Magh-Angaidhe (in or near modern Newtowngore, in Carrigallen barony, southern Co. Leitrim). Tadhg then made peace with the O'Reillys and he was given the lordship of Breifny.
Tadhg, son of son of Tigernán mór would reign as the Ó Ruairc up to his death in about 1434. The infighting continued the following year when Donnchadh bacagh attacked the O'Rourke castle and temporarily seized it from the sons of Tadhg, son of Tigernán mór. In the same year Lochlann, son of Tadgh na gCaor, was nominated the Ó Ruairc. By 1440 Lochlann was taken prisoner by the sons of Art son of Tadgh na gCaor (the former Ó Ruairc) and they turned him over to the sons of Tighernán mór. Afterward a war broke out between the sons of Tighernán mór and the sons of Tadgh na gCaor. Donnchadh bacagh would rule, albeit contested, as Ó Ruairc from 1440 to his death in 1445. In 1445 Donnchadh, (son of Tigernán óg son of Tigernán mór) was nominated Ó Ruairc in opposition to Lochlann, son of Tadgh na gCaor. Donnchadh would hold the reigns until his death in 1449, and Tigernán óg (son of Tadhg son of Tigernán mór) was elected in his place by the people of West Breifny.
Tigernán óg, son of Tadhg, would reign as the Ó Ruairc for the next nine years among continued infighting among the Ó Ruaircs. Tigernán óg would die in 1468 and again the battle for the next Ó Ruairc raged on. Aedh Ruad O'Donnell supported Domnall Ó Ruairc, brother of Tigernán óg (son of Tadhg son of Tigernán mór). The descendants of Tighernán óg (son of Tighernán mór) had their own candidate, and with the support of the people of Carbury, and the Clann-Donough, inaugurated Donncahdh losc, the son of Tighernán mór. In 1470 O'Donnell tried unsuccessfully to have Domnall (son of Tadhg son of Tigernán mór) inaugurated at the hill of Cruachan-Ua Cuproin, i.e. at the old inauguration site of the Ó Ruairc kings, now located within the influence of O'Reilly. O'Reilly, the English, and the people of Teallach-Dunchadha put a stop to this.
The feuding continued until 1476 when the descendants of Tighernán óg son of Tighernán mór (ie. the O'Rourkes of Carha) elect Feidhlimidh, son of Donnchadh (king of West Breifne who died in 1449). Feidhlimidh would reign successfully as Ó Ruairc for 24 years from his base at caislen an chartha (Carha, aka Castlecar) before his death in 1500. His story is continued at O'Rourkes of Carha.
From here the Ó Ruairc title passes back to the descendants of Tadhg, son of Tighernán mór, with the inauguration of Eóghan, son of Tighernán óg (king of Breifne who died in 1468). Eóghan was of the O'Rourke's of Dromahair, their story continued in the
Last Ó Ruairc lords of Bréifne.
Ua Ruairc of Bréifne --
Genealogy Sources --
Lords and Kings of Bréifne --
Chart of O Ruarc Kings
The progeny of Ualgharg mór, written by Dennis Walsh, March 2006, all rights reserved.
Sources used for this article include the Irish Annals, the 'middle' Irish genealogies (e.g. O'Clery), and Betty Mac Dermot's book on the Ua Ruairc of Breifne.