The Kings of Aileach and the Vikings AD 800-1060
The kings of Aileach came to prominence in the north of Ireland c.AD 800, just as the first Viking fleets began to raid the coasts of Ulster. At first, Viking activity in this area followed a similar pattern to raiding activity elsewhere on the island. But it began to diverge after 866 when Áed Findliath, a high-king of Ireland from the Cenél nEógain dynasty, destroyed Scandinavian settlements in what is now Co. Antrim.
It appears to have been the intention of the Cenél nEógain to allow Viking strongholds to survive further south in Ulaid territory at Strangford Lough and Carlingford, and later on also at Ruib Mena on Lough Neagh. However, these longphuirt too were eventually destroyed by the Irish of the north of Ireland, the final ones in a spiral of violence that surrounded the death of the famous king of Aileach, Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks, who was killed by the Vikings in 943.
This book also tells the stories of other noteworthy early medieval high-kings of Ireland who sprang from the Cenél nEógain dynasty. Among those discussed is Niall Glúndub, who was killed at the battle of Dublin in 919, leading the combined armies of the Northern and Southern Uí Néill against Viking invaders known as the grandsons of Ívarr. Also included is his grandson Domnall Ua Néill, one of the first Irishmen to adopt a surname (which he took from his well-known grandfather). It was Domnall’s over-ambitious plans, caused by the expulsion of the Vikings from the north of Ireland, that led to the collapse of the traditional Uí Néill high-kingship of Ireland.
Darren McGettigan is formerly a tutor in School of History, UCD. He is the author of Richard II and the Irish Kings (2016), Red Hugh O'Donnell and the Nine Years War (2005) and The Battle of Clontarf, Good Friday 1014 (2013).