In the years 664-666 there was a great cattle plague throughout Ireland causing great political unrest. Many people concluded that the horrors of the plague, with its accompanying side effects, could only have been visited upon the land because of the ruling “strangers in sovereignty” who were not in harmony with the local territorial deities. Throughout Ireland a number of battles were fought and a number of political realignments took place.
At Knockainy in the year 667, at Samhain time, the Battle of Ainy was fought and a new political realignment took place there in its aftermath. Before the Battle of Ainy the Tuatha De Aine territory was ruled over by two competing polities: The Ui Fidgente and the Aradha. Present day Knockainy was located in Aradha Cliach (Aradha’s Territory). The aggressive Ui Fidgente was a western Limerick (Eoghanacht) lineage and the Aradha claimed kinship to Leinster dynasts to the east of Limerick. As such both the Ui Fidgente and the Aradha were “outsider lineages” as far as Knockainy was concerned. After the Battle of Ainy the Ui Fidgente’s “aggressions” were halted from expanding eastward beyond the river Maigue and the Morning Star Stream. The Aradha relocated northward into Tipperary.
The Aradha Cliach territory thereafter was called Eoghanacht Ainy which was a name reflecting the new political alliance between the Tuatha De Aine and the Gaelic Eoghanacht dynasty. The newly established chieftain, in subordination to the Eoghanachts, would call himself “The Ciarṁac.” His Tuatha (Tuatha De Aine) would, in Gaelic fashion, come to be called the “Ui Ainy” (descendants of Ainy).
This change in tribal naming reflected the change from a land bonded to a territorial deity to a land bonded politically by ties of blood and kinship.
Samhain was not only a time when the human population was able to interact with the dead one but it was also a time of great political unrest. It was the time when creditors and debtors (lords and clients) settled their accounts. Lords expected their winter tribute from their clients at Samhain and partly consumed it in lavish feasts as they made “circuits” around the homes of their clients. The political tension at these feasts is shown by the number of banquet brawls described in the old Irish narratives. Though this was oftentimes drunken violence it was also structured competitive and socially purposeful violence serving, in the end, to established the rank order of prestige between peers and to demarcate relationships that had deteriorated to the point of enmity. Although Samhain did not mean that all lords suffered a political decline but only that there was a pause in the flow of political interaction and that it might be necessary to renegotiate with their clients. If clients were to defect to other lords it was generally the assumption that Samhain was the time to do it. And so it came to pass that the Battle of Ainy (667) took place at Samhain and the Ui Ainy came to become subordinated to and in alliance with the Eoghanacht dynasty.
Strangers in Sovereignty
In Ireland, by the 7th century, the old concept of kingship had changed. The days of the “sacred king” (Ri) had passed. Prior to the 7th century boundaries between individual tuatha (tribes) had been fixed by time honored custom. Neighboring kings might steal each other’s cattle but rarely each other’s thrones. Each tuatha had its own particular ruling family; members of the family might struggle for power but for an outsider to participate was almost unthinkable. Ambitious kings no longer respected the status quo. Individual rulers jockeyed for power aiming at controlling their neighbors kingdoms. When an outsider did gain control of a neighboring tuatha he was called a “stranger in sovereignty” by the Brehons (lawyers). Ruthless behaviour became the order of the day in the 7th century and the country abounded with “strangers in sovereignty.” It was in this context, following the Battle of Ainy, that the Ui Ainy, for mutual protection, allied themselves with the Eoghanacht. No longer would they, as their ancestors had been, be “sacred kings” (Ri). Henceforth, until Norman times, they would hold the semi-sacred office of chieftains in subordination to the Eoghanacht.