Dál Fiatach

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Dál Fiatach
Country Ireland
Parent house Ulaid-Dáirine
Founded 1st century AD
Founder Fiatach Finn
Final ruler Rory MacDonlevy
Current head none
Dissolution 13th century AD

The Dál Fiatach were a group of related dynasties located in eastern Ulster in the Early Christian and Early Medieval periods of the history of Ireland.


The Dál Fiatach were descended from Fiatach Finn mac Dáire, a King of Ulster and High King of Ireland, and are thought to be related to both the Voluntii and Darini of Ptolemy's Geographia, and, perhaps more directly, to the pre-historic Dáirine, and the later Corcu Loígde of Munster. Kinship with the Osraige is also supported, and more distantly with the Dál Riata.

The Ulaid, of which the Dál Fiatach were the ruling dynasty, are further associated with the so-called Érainn Red Branch by genealogists and linguists, and all appear to have at one point formed a single population group in the not-so-remote prehistoric past, which was still vaguely recalled in the Early Medieval period. They're also known as being descendants of the so-called "Red God" or known as the Red Nation, probably referring to their red hair or ruddy or sunburnt pale skin. The Dál Fiatach claimed kinship with the legendary Cú Roí mac Dáire and the Clanna Dedad.[1][2]

Although Francis John Byrne describes the few La Tène artefacts discovered in Ireland as 'rather scanty',[3] most of the artefacts (mostly weapons and harness pieces) have been found in the North of Ireland, suggesting 'small bands of settlers (warriors and metalworkers) arrived' from Britain in the 3rd century BC, and may have been absorbed into the Ulaid population.[4]

The Dál Fiatach are considered by scholars to be the true historical Ulaid (< *Uluti), but after the fortunes of the dynasty declined in the 7th century, the legendary heroes of the Ulster Cycle were in fact claimed as ancestors by the rival and unrelated Dál nAraidi or Cruthin, claiming for political reasons to be the "true Ulaid" themselves and descendants of Rudraige mac Sithrigi through Conall Cernach. The legendary Ulaid, a people presumably related in some way to the ancestors of the Dál Fiatach, although this is not clearly preserved in the later genealogical traditions, are sometimes called the Clanna Rudraige. However, rather than contesting the quite false claims of the Cruthin to their ancient glory, the Dál Fiatach appear to have chosen to stress their kinship with the Clanna Dedad of Munster, fearsome rivals of the Clanna Rudraige. Thus with their own ancestors appropriated by the Dál nAraidi, the Dál Fiatach apparently had no choice but to transform themselves into descendants of their nearest kin they could remember.[5] While kinship with the Dáirine and/or Clanna Dedad (Érainn) is not contested by scholars, it can be assumed the early generations of the Dál Fiatach pedigree are quite corrupt. This is also true for the pedigree of the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde. Their natural kinship with the Munster dynasties can only be reconstructed in studies of Ptolemy's Ireland and by linguistics.

Every known king of Dál Fiatach became King of Ulster (Ulaid), but they did not monopolise the kingship as the Dál nAraidi supplied a number of powerful kings. Among the more influential Dál Fiatach kings were:

A junior branch of the Dál Fiatach ruled Lecale (Leth Cathail "Cathal's half"), the peninsula beyond Downpatrick. Downpatrick itself, a prestigious monastic site, remained under the control of the main line of Dál Fiatach kings.

The Dál Fiatach were displaced as rulers of all Ulster by the Uí Néill kindred, invading from north-eastern Connacht in the 5th century to settle in north-western Ulster or Donegal and gain the allegiance of the Airgialla of central Ulster. As a result, the Ulaid were left in control only of Counties Antrim and Down and the title King of Ulster came to mean ruler only of the east of the province.

County Down was the centre of the Dál Fiatach lands, and the chief royal site and religious centre of the Dál Fiatach was at Downpatrick. In later times, from the 9th century, Bangor, originally controlled by the neighbouring Dál nAraidi, became the main religious site patronised by the kings.

The descendants of this royal line of the Ulaid (Dal Fiatach) include the clans MacDonlevy/MacDunleavy (McKinley/MacNulty), and their parent house O'Haughey/O'Hoey (sometimes alternatively prefixed MacCaughey). The last kings of the MacDonlevy line were defeated by the Normans under John de Courcy. They rallied and counterattacked but were unable to retake their kingdom from the better armed Normans. Most of the MacDonlevys eventually went west to Donegal, where they became hereditary physicians to the ruling O'Donnell dynasty of Tyrconnell, and many would later go by the name Mac an Ulltaigh (Son of the Ulstermen), anglicised MacNulty.[7] The O'Haughey/O'Hoeys are still mainly found in County Down.

Pedigree variations

Further alternatives

A third (fourth) pedigree is given in Rawlinson B 502 at ¶689: Fiatach Find m. Dáre m. Forgo a quo Dál Fiatach rí h-Érenn .iii. co torchair la Fiachaich Fidfholaid m. Feradaich.

Dáire mac Forgo is listed as an early king of Emain Macha at ¶1481: Dáre m. Forgo m. Feideilmid (m. h-Uamunchinn) (m. Corráin m. Caiss m. Argatmáir). As Feideilmid is also the father of Fachtna Fáthach according to this particular scheme, Forgo is thus an uncle of Conchobar mac Nessa. Elsewhere Fachtna is a son of Cas, son of Rudraige mac Sithrigi (a quo Clanna Rudraige), (son of Sithrig), son of Dub, son of Fomor, son of Airgetmar.

However, Forgo (Forggo) also appears as an ancestor of Deda mac Sin at ¶1696: Dedad m. Sin m. Roshin m. Triir m. Rothriir m. Airnnil m. Maine m. Forggo m. Feradaig m. Ailella Érann m. Fiachach Fir Mara m. Óengusa Turbich Temra.

A Forgo later appears in the line of the historical kings of Dál Fiatach as the father of Muiredach Muinderg:[11] Eochu m. Ardgair m. Matudáin m. Áeda m. Eochucain m. Áeda m. Echdach (qui habuit filios .xii.) m. Fíachnai m. Áeda Roín m. Béce Bairche m. Blaithmeic m. Máile Coba m. Fíachnai Duib Tuile m. Demmáin m. Cairill (qui credit Patricio) m. Muiredaigh Mundeirg m. Forgo m. Dallaín m. Dubthaig m. Miennaig m. Ludgach m. Óengusa Find m. Fergusa Dubdhétaig (Móen ingen Chuind Chétchthaig máthair na trí Fergus a ndochersat i cath Crinna) m. Imchado m. Findchado m. Fíatach Find (a quo Dál Fíatach) m. Fir furmi m. Dáiri m. Dlúthaig m. Deitsini m. Echach m. Sín m. Rosin m. Treín m. Rothrein m. Rogein m. Arndil m. Mane Mair m. Forgo.

See also


  1. Rawlinson B 502 ¶937: ... Dál Fiatach insin de clainn Con Ruí m. Dáire m. Dedaed a cóiciud Con Ruí la Mumain is ass bunad in Dáil Fhiatach-so.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dobbs 1921, pp. 330–1
  3. Byrne, pp.50
  4. Connolly, pp.357
  5. With variations, the preceding scenario has been the mainstream view in Irish scholarship for a century. It is discussed by MacNeill in 1911 and 1921, and then most fully by O'Rahilly in 1946, devoting a chapter to it in his famous EIHM, pp. 341–52. It is further elaborated by Byrne (1973/2001) and accepted by Charles-Edwards (2000).
  6. Benjamin T. Hudson, 'Niall mac Eochada (d. 1063)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 18 April 2008
  7. Byrne, pp. 128–9
  8. Rawlinson, Laud
  9. 9.0 9.1 Laud
  10. Rawlinson
  11. from Laud, ed. Meyer, pp. 336–7