Diarmait Mac Murchada

Diarmait Mac Murchada in “Expugnatio Hibernica”

On this day, 1 May 1171, Diarmait Mac Murchada passed away. He was my 27th great-grandfather through his daughter Órlaith of Leinster and my multi-times great-grandfather through many, many lines via his daughter Aoife “Eva” MacMurrough’s granddaughters: Matilda “Maud” Marshal, Isabel Marshal, and Eva Marshal. (I started getting a headache from trying to trace all these connections. What a tangled web of familial connections…)

Born circa 1110, Diarmait Mac Murchada was a son of Donnchad mac Murchada, King of Leinster and Dublin. His father’s grandmother Derbforgaill was a daughter of Donnchad, King of Munster and a granddaughter of Brian Boru.

In 1115, his father, Donnchad mac Murchada, was killed in battle by his cousin Sigtrygg “Silkbeard” Olaffson (my two-times 29th great-grandfather). To add insult to injury, Donnchad mac Murchada was buried with a dog’s carcass. (No familial love there…)

With Donnchad mac Murchada’s death, his eldest son, Énna Mac Murchada, ascended to the throne and ruled for more than a decade until his death in 1126.

With his eldest brother’s death, Diarmait Mac Murchada became Leinster’s king. However, his ascension was opposed by the High King of Ireland Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, who was concerned that Diarmait Mac Murchada might become a rival. Toirdelbach sent one of his allied kings, Tigernán Ua Ruairc, to conquer Leinster. He determined that the best way to defeat Leinster was to starve his subjects; consequently, Tigernán Ua Ruairc slaughtered Leinster’s livestock. Soon thereafter, Diarmait Mac Murchada was ousted from his throne.

However, with the help of Leinster clans, Diarmait Mac Murchada was able to regain his throne in 1132. Afterward, two decades of tenuous accord ensued between Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair and Diarmait Mac Murchada. Evidence of this peace is seen in 1152, when Diarmait Mac Murchada assisted Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair in raiding the lands of Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who had become a renegade.

As permitted under the Brehon laws, Diarmait Mac Murchada had two wives. I am descended from both women. The first wife was Sadb Ní Faeláin, mother of Órlaith of Leinster, who married Domnall Mór. The second wife was Mór Ní Tuathail, mother of Aoife “Eva” MacMurrough and son Conchobar Mac Murchada. Diarmait Mac Murchada also had two other known sons (mothers unknown): Domhnall Caomhánach Mac Murchada and Énna Cennselach Mac Murchada.

At some point, Diarmait Mac Murchada supposedly abducted Ua Ruairc’s wife Derbforgaill with the aid of Derbforgaill’s brother. Others claim that Derbforgaill might not have been an unwilling prisoner and that she remained in Ferns with Diarmait Mac Murchada for a number of years. Whatever the reality, the abduction caused discord between the two leaders.

Henry Authorizes Dermod to Levy Forces, from “A Chronicle of England” by James Doyle

Diarmait Mac Murchada commissioned Irish Romanesque churches and abbeys at Baltinglass, a Cistercian abbey; Glendalough; Ferns, St Mary’s Abbey Augustinian Order; and Killeshin.

In 1146, he also sponsored convents/nunneries in Dublin (St Mary’s) and in Aghade, County Carlow.

Circa 1151, Diarmait Mac Murchada established a nunnery at Kilculliheen near Waterford City.

In addition, he sponsored the successful career of churchman Lorcan Ua Tuathail (St. Lawrence O’Toole). In 1153, Diarmait Mac Murchada married Mor, Lorcan Ua Tuathail’s half-sister.

In 1161, Diarmait Mac Murchada presided at the synod of Clane when Lorcan Ua Tuathail was installed as archbishop of Dublin.

In 1166, a coalition led by Tigernán Ua Ruairc marched on Leinster, and Diarmait Mac Murchada was deposed. He fled to Wales, before venturing to England and France to enlist the support of Henry II of England (my multi-times great-grandfather many times over) in the recruitment of soldiers to reclaim his throne. Henry II authorized Diarmait Mac Murchada to recruit the soldiers and mercenaries, including Richard Fitz Gilbert “Strongbow” de Clare (my 25th great-grandfather) and his half-brothers Robert fitz Stephen and Maurice FitzGerald. In exchange, Richard de Clare married Diarmait Mac Murchada’s daughter Aoife. Robert Fitz-Stephen and Maurice FitzGerald were promised lands for their services. In Diarmait Mac Murchada’s absence, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (son of the High King Turlough Mór O’Connor) became the new High King of Ireland.

Upon returning to Wales, he, with the help of Robert fitz Stephen, organized an army of English and Welsh mercenaries who laid siege to Wexford in May 1169. Sometime later, they raided the Kingdom of Ossory, as well as the territories of Uí Tuathail, Uí Broin and Uí Conchobhair. Diarmait Mac Murchada’s army went after Turlough Mór O’Connor, who held Leinster hostages. In response, Tigernán Ua Ruairc killed the hostages, including Diarmait Mac Murchada’s eldest son Conchobar Mac Murchada.

Upon learning of the death of his youngest son, Conchobar, Diarmait Mac Murchada was grief-stricken. He fled to Ferns where he died a few months later circa 1 May 1171, and was buried in the cathedral graveyard.

[Diarmait Mac Murchada] was a man tall of stature and stout of frame; a soldier whose heart was in the fray and held valiant among his own nation. From often shouting his battle-cry his voice had become hoarse. A man who liked better to be feared by all than loved by any. One who would oppress his greater vassals, while he raised to high station men of lowly birth. A tyrant to his own subjects, he was hated by strangers; his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him (Gerald of Wales, 1185).

Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Famous Faces and Places, On This Day, Royal Roots, Watts-Stark Line | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Diarmait Mac Murchada

  1. Thank you, Molly. After 20+ years of constant (or as my spouse says, obsessive) research, I have been able to confirm connections generations back.


  2. Now I am even more impressed that your family lines trace back more than 29 generations! Quite a dramatic tale with plots and subplots and a geographic reach worthy of a multi-episode series.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tell me about it, Amanda! Makes my ordinary life seem downright dull! 🙂


  4. Wow, what a life he had.

    Liked by 1 person

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