Amlaib Ó Ruairc was born around the turn of the 13th century, following the arrival of the Anglo-Normans into Ireland. Amlaib was born into Gaelic royalty within the kingdom of Breifne, an area that had been ruled by the Ó Ruaircs for centuries. Amlaib was a son of Art mac Domhnaill, a king of Bréifne who had been slain in 1210 in continuing rivalries among the extended Ó Ruairc families at that time. His father Art was a great-grandson of Domnall the fourth and last Ó Ruairc to be called a king of Connacht. Connacht was the western Irish province that Breifne was a part of. Amlaib's ancestry is summarized in the following chart of the Ó Ruairc Kings of Bréifne.
Amlaib is first noted in the Irish Annals in the year 1228, battling a rival faction of the Ó Ruaircs - "Niall son of Congalach O Ruairc, king of Dartry and Clann Fermaige, was killed by the two sons of Art son of Domnall O Ruairc, Art and Amlaib; and Amlaib Gerr (the Short), son of Niall son of Congalach, was killed in his bath by the same Amlaib son of Art." In this case Congalach O Ruairc was a brother of Amlaib's grandfather Domnall. Amlaib's cousin Niall (son of Congalach) is mentioned at the head of the clann Mac Neill branch of the O Ruaircs (per the genealogies). The territory of the Dartry (Dartraige) was located in the northern portion of modern county Leitrim.
Amlaib is not mentioned in the annals again until his death in 1258, at which time he is called king of Brefne west of Sliab an Iarainn. Sliab an Iarainn (aka Slieve an ierin, Iron Mountains) was the name of the mountain region in the central portion of modern co. Leitrim which effectively divided Breifne Ó Ruairc between east (southeast) and west (northwest). If Amlaib was king of Brefne west, who was the king of Brefne east at that time, and why was Breifne divided? The annals suggest that Art O'Ruairc son of Cathal riabach was king of Brefne east when he was deposed in 1259. This Art shared a common lineage with Amlaib, both being descended from Domnall, the last Ó Ruairc king of Connacht who died in 1102. Among others existing at the time, members of Amlaib and Art Ó Ruaircs' families competed for the right of Breifne chieftainship. They both held claim to the title of chieftain, sharing different parts of the lordship of Breifne in the dispute. The 13th century was a tumultuous time for the Ó Ruairc lords of Bréifne, and the title changed hands in quick succession. This was also the timeframe the O'Reillys had established an independent lordship of that portion of the Breifne which included much of modern co. Cavan. In effect, Bréifne Ó Ruairc at this time included modern county Leitrim and two adjoining baronies in modern county Cavan - Tullyhaw (Teallach Eachdhach) and Tullyhunco (Teallach Dunchadha). Refer to this
map of the Irish baronies most associated with Breifne Ó Ruairc).
The following chart of Amlaib's descendants was drawn from the early Irish genealogies, with death dates taken from the Irish annals.
Amlaib Ó Ruairc (1258)
| | | | | | |
Domnall carrach Conchobar buide Máelsechlann Domnall óg Tighernán Lochlann Ruadhri
(1311) (1273) (1274) (1274) (1260) (1260)
_|_____________ _____|_________________ _|_
| | | | |
Ualgarg mór Flaithbhertach Tighernán na buanad Máelsechlann na crannog (clann Lochlainn)
(1346) (1352) | |
| (clann (clann Máelsechlainn na crannog)
(later kings of Bréifne) Tigernain na buannaide)
Following Amlaib's breif reign as king and his death in 1258, his brother Art (son of Art mac Domhnaill) was named king through the influence of the powerful Aedh O'Conchobhair, Gaelic lord of Connacht. At the same time Aedh O'Conchobhair (Ó Conor) had made a prisoner of the competing Art O'Ruairc son of Cathal riabach. However Art (son of Art) was killed by the same Aedh in 1260, and Art O'Ruairc son of Cathal riabach was again named king. When Art son of Cathal was deposed in 1266, Amlaib's son Conchobar buide O'Ruairc was named king with the support of Aedh O'Conchobhair. Aedh O'Conchobhair had killed two of Conchobar buide's brothers in 1260, Lochlann and Tighernán, in his ongoing bid to control the kings of Bréifne - a gruesome sign of the times, and a main reason the Breifne title changed in such quick succession.
Conchobar buide would hold the title of king of Bréifne Ó Ruairc over the next 7-8 years, when he was to meet his death at the hands of another branch of the O'Conchobhairs (Ó Conor) in 1273. For over the next 30 years, the chieftainship of Bréifne Ó Ruairc was held by the competing lines of the extended Ó Ruairc family. In 1274, two more of Conchobar buide's brothers, Máelsechlann and Domnall óg, were killed. The latter Máelsechlann was called king of Dartry and Clann Fermaige when he met his death at the hands of Conchobar, grandson of Niall, i.e. the clann Mac Neill branch of the O Ruaircs.
About the year 1307 the tide began to change for Amlaib's line when another of his sons was elected king of Bréifne Ó Ruairc. His name was Domnall carrach and he would serve as chieftain until his death in 1311, perhaps dying of natural causes! Domnall carrach would become the ancestor of all remaining kings and lords of Bréifne Ó Ruairc, during a span of history which lasted for nearly the next 300 years. Domnall carrach's son Ualgharg would soon take the helm and serve as king for over 30 years. His story is covered in more detail in The progeny of Ualgharg mór.
Of Amliab's descendants there were a number of different branches covered in the early genealogies. From Amlaib's son Lochlann descended clann Lochlainn, some of whom were said to have taken the surname Mac Lochlann. From Amlaibs' grandsons Tighernán and Máelsechlann were two additional branches. From Tighernán descended clann Tigernain na buannaide (of the river Bonet), some of whom went by the surname Mac Tiernan. From Máelsechlann descended clann Máelsechlainn na crannog. Yet another branch of the Ó Ruairc's was clann Muiredaigh, who were named from Muiredach ruadh, a grandson of Lochlann (of clann Lochlainn). They may have assumed the surname McMorrey or MacMurray at some point.
Other than a series of names covered in the genealogies, there is little reference to the descendants of these branches of Ó Ruairc. There are two entries in the annals which seem to relate to clann Lochlainn Ó Ruairc:
A genealogy covered in An Leabhar Donn suggests a lineage for the above "Gilla Ballach". It reads Donnchada m. in Gilla Ballaig m. Donnchada m. Lochlainn m. Amlaim m. Airt. However, since Lochlann in this lineage appears to have died in the year 1260, it would be difficult to believe that his grandson was alive in 1412 (if this is how the entries should be read).
- C1412.11 - The son of Lochlainn (called the Spotty Boy) son of Donnchad son of Lochlainn O Ruairc, a generous, splendid and prosperous noble, died this year.
- C1412.11 - Mac Lochlaind h. Ruairc, frisi raiti in Gilla Ballach, meic Dondchada meic Lochlaind, saii fial urdaircc aithesach, mortuus
est in hoc anno.
- LC1412.9 - The son of Lochlainn O'Ruairc, who was usually called the Gilla Ballach, son of Donnchadh, son of Lochlainn, a generous, illustrious, joyous, eminent man, mortuus est in hoc
- LC1412.9 - Mac Lochlaind .H. Ruairc, fris a raiti in Giolla Ballach, mic Dondchaidh mic Lochlaind, sai fíal oirdheirc aitheasach, mortuus est in hoc anno.
A good analysis on this topic was performed by John D. McLaughlin, and is available online at
McLoughlin of Leitrim. John notes that in the 1591 State Papers for County Leitrim, there is an interesting reference to what appears to be clann Lochlainn (McLoughlins), clann Muiredaigh (McMorrices), and clann Tigernain na buannaide (Clantyernene). It reads, "The chief ordinary forces and strength of men to serve O'Rourke in his wars are, the McLoughlins, the McMorrices, and the Clantyernene. These had sixteen quarters of land amoungst them as their inheritance, called Ylaugh, and the lands of Cleanlough. These had never bonnaught of O'Rourke but only their shares of preys and spoils that were taken."
In her book, "O Ruairc of Breifne", Betty Mac Dermot equates 'Cleanlough' with Loch Clean, now Loch Belhavel, which is located in the parish of Killarga, barony of Dromahaire, County Leitrim. O'Donovan in his notes on the Four Masters (iii. 322), calls it Claenloch, alias Belhavel Lough. In the 1641 Survey and Distribution of County Leitrim, 'Cleanlogh' was part of Brian Ballach O Rourke's property. The Census of 1659 lists a townland called 'Clunlogher' in the parish of Killargand & Clunelagher, i.e. in the adjoining civil parishes of Killarga and Cloonlogher. This would place the clanns right in the midst of O'Rourke country.
For continued discussion see The progeny of Ualgharg mór.
Ua Ruairc of Bréifne --
Genealogy Sources --
Lords and Kings of Bréifne --
Chart of O Ruarc Kings
"The line of Amlaib O Ruairc", written by Dennis Walsh, April 2006, all rights reserved.
Sources used for this article include the Irish Annals, and the 'middle' Irish genealogies (e.g. O'Clery).