Many of the stories of Ireland’s High Kings were passed down via the Bards, who created ballads and epic poems detailing the exploits and adventures of these royal men.
Often, these “oral” histories were told to the common people, who learned about the history of their country through the efforts of these poet-minstrel courtiers.
Since there are few written accounts of history during the early medieval period in Ireland, historians continue to argue about exactly how much power the High Kings really held.
From the first recorded High King, Niall Noígillach of the Nine Hostages (379 – 405), who ran his kingdom from Tara, to the last Irish High King, Ruaidrí macToirrdelbaig (1166 – 1175), there were a total of 60 High Kings in Ireland’s history.
Duties Of The Irish High Kings
These noblemen were responsible for setting up and administering the government, through the ancient power of “ruler’s truth”.
The High Kings also oversaw taxation, public works, diplomacy with other countries, the upholding of laws, punishment of criminals (including judgment in cases), and gatherings of staff (popular assemblies).
Today, many citizens of Ireland (and foreign men and women with Irish heritage) may be able to trace their ancestral origins back to one of Ireland’s regents.
Brian Boru Was Ireland’s Most Heroic High King
The daring deeds of Irish High King Brian Boru are recorded for posterity and bestowed with an entertaining blend of myth, legend, and fact.
Since record-keeping was scarce in early medieval Ireland, the achievements of this famous High King may have been subject to a fair degree of embellishment throughout the centuries.
Nonetheless, this esteemed regent was surely a legend in his own time. His victories in battle against the Norse are central facets in his legend…
This ancient Irish ruler began life in the year 940, as one of the two sons of a regal tribe in Munster. Young Brian was raised during a time of great political oppression and violence.
During his early days, he watched helplessly as his Dalcassion tribe were forced off their land and into neighboring Clare, Ireland.
Also known as the Dal Cais, this tribe was subject to the tyranny of a harsh ruler known as Ivar of Limerick. Ivar was a Norsemen who came to the Emerald Isle and ruled with an iron fist.
Personal Tragedy Gave Boru His Higher Purpose: Saving The Irish From Norse Oppression
At this time, Brian lost his own mother in a Norse raid. For this reason, he later resisted any peace treaties between his royal tribe and the Norse invaders.
In order to rebel against an impending truce between Ivar and the Del Cais, he fled and formed his own branch of a few good Delcassion men – these would form a new and tentative army…
In time, Brian Boru and his men would end the ongoing cycle of oppression by defeating the Norse rulers of Munster, killing Ivar in combat, and (in time) taking the throne.
As High King, Boru rebuilt Ireland after the destruction of the Norse Age; he spend his time making sure that Irish ruins (such as churches) were rebuilt out of the ashes of this dark era.
Then, he tried to recover or replace all the important manuscripts and treasures that had been carried away, as plunder, by the Norse army.
The bravery of this Irish High King changed the course of Irish history forever; while there will always be exaggerated tales about the heroism of Brian Boru, they are based on his true courage and singular sense of duty to his country.
Today, the late regent remains a powerful figure in Celtic history and lore…
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