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By the 10th century the once mighty Eoghanacht dynasty was beginning to crumble.  Beneath the Eoghanacht confederation and under its hegemony lay a patchwork quilt of sub-kingdoms and minor local kingdoms in various degrees of subordination to each other and to the Eoghanacht.  Most of them were ruled by dynastic stocks totally different in origin from their overlords.


One of the most important of these sub-kingdoms was that of the Ui Fidgente who claimed dynastic kinship with the western Eoghanachts.  Their territory, like most Munster kingdoms, was far from homogenous and they ruled over a number of subject peoples.  Until about 900 the Ui Fidgente remained a united kingdom and shortly thereafter it broke into two separate kingdoms:  Ui Conaill Gabra and Ui Cairbre.  Subsequently it further dissolved into several weak and petty kingdoms.


It was in this context and at this time that the first mention of a “Ciarṁac” enters into the history books.  According to the “Annals of Ireland” by the Four Masters (year 901): “an army was led by Flann, son of Maelseachlainn and by Cearbhall, son of Muireagan and they plundered from Gabra to Limerick.”  And “Cairmac King of Figentes of Gabra and of great renown died.”  And “Ciarmhacan, son of Flannabuhra Ui Dun-Adhaigh, lord of Ui Conaill Gabra died.”


The above entries from the “Annals of Ireland” needs some explanation here.  First it seems evident that both “Ciarmac” and “Ciarmhacan” are most probably a father and son relation of Eoghanacht Ainy stock.  How did Ciarmac of Eoghanacht Ainy  stock come to be called “King of Figente?”  And how is it that Ciarmhacan is described as a son of Flannabhra Ua Dunadhaigh, lord of Ui Conaill Gabra?


To answer the question of how Ciarmac became “King of Figente (Ui Conaill Gabra branch) I must mention the Irish terms “rig budein” and “rig nechtrann.”  “Rig budein” means “his own king” and “rig nechtrann” means “external king.”  Or in other words one, is a “local king” whereas the other was “encroaching from outside.”  Ciarmac, of Eoghanacht Ainy stock, was obviously “encroaching from outside.”   It was oftentimes the case at this time that if a senior branch of a family came to dominate the chieftaincy “back home” that the cadet branch would have to split off and make their fortunes away from the original base of the kindred.  And in the year 901 this was probably Ciarmac’s situation.


As far as Ciarmhacan was concerned Ciarmhac(an) indicates a son of Ciarmac.  And so the literal entry in the Annals of Ireland, “Ciarmhacan son of Flannabhra Ua Dunadhaigh” probably really means “Ciarmac’s son the foster son of Flannabhra Ua Dundhaigh.”  Fosterage was one of the leading features of Irish social life at this time.  It was practiced most especially by those of the higher ranks and it was not unusual for a chieftain to send his child to be fostered by other chieftains and noble families.  It was said that Ochy Beg, King of Aine Cliach (Knockainy), had “forty foster boys in his charge, sons of Munster nobles.”  The relation was regarded as sacred and the principal function of fosterage was alliance building between royal families.  Wide and effective networks of fosterage relations enhanced the king’s/chieftains chances of successful succession to kingship/chieftaincy.


In any event Ciarmac’s “kingship” in Gabra and Ciarmhacan’s fosterage to Flannabhra Ua Dunadhaigh “lord of Ui Conaill Gabra” ended in death for both of them in 901 as Flann’s and Cearbhall’s army, plundered its way from Gabra to Limerick.


Before the close of the 10th century the once mighty Eoghanacht dynasty would loose the kingship to another aspiring dynasty.



The Munster Kingdoms

This map shows the various kingdoms and sub-kingdoms throughout Munster in the 8th century. It is notable that throughout the province the Eoghanacht or their allies formed barriers between the pre-Gaelic peoples. On the map the Eoghanacht Aine (underlined in red) were strategically located helping to form a barrier between the Ui Fidgente in the west and the Araid (Aradha) and other “outsider lineages” to the east.

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