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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Clooney [Bunratty Upper] (b)

In this Townland of Toonagh is situated the Field of Magh Adhair, where the Dal-Cassian Princes were inaugurated. Of this venerable locality Dr. O’Brien has written the following notice in his Irish Dictionary:-

Magh Adhair, a plain or field of adoration or worship where an open temple, consisting of a circle of tall straight stone pillars with a very large flat stone called Cromleac serving for an altar, was constructed by the Druids for religious worship. Those Druidical temples, whereof many are still existing in Ireland, were built in the same manner with that which was built by Moses, as it is described Exod. 24. 4, consisting of twelve stone pillars and an altar; but the object of the Druidish worship, at least in ages much later than the primitive times, was not, without doubt, the true God. Several plains of this name, Magh Adhair, were known in Ireland, particularly one in the country now called the Co. of Clare, where the kings of the O’Brien race were inaugurated; another, about four miles northward of Cork, now called Beal-Atha-Magh-Adhoir, from which the valley called Gleann-Magh-Adhair derives its name.

Inauguration mound at Moy-ar
Inauguration mound at Moy-ar

If this had been put in the shape of conjecture it would not appear so objectionable; but it is too bad to see any investigator put a shadowy speculation in the shape of demonstrated and undeniable truth. Now it is a curious fact that almost every assertion in this notice of Magh Adhair is false! (fallacious).

  1. Magh Adhair does not mean a field of adoration or worship.
  2. There is no place called Magh Adhair at which such an altar as the one described is to be found.
  3. “Several Plains of the name Magh Adhair” were not known in Ireland, for throughout the entire circle of Irish Literature only one plain of the name, to wit, the one in Thomomd, is mentioned.

The name of Gleann Maghair, now Glanmire near Cork, has not the slightest analogy with that of the place in question.

What are we then to think of etymological investigators? They can take words asunder as they please, and give to each component part whatever meaning will best answer the historical theory to be established! Nothing amuses me more than the barefaced effrontery with which they urge their silly conjectures as valuable truths, and there is no class of men I hold in greater contempt than those who attempt to build a false system of history on their own etymological speculations. I respect O’Brien’s learning, but I laugh at his knowledge of Irish history and topography; I despise Vallancey as having no definite knowledge at all, for having published in his own name the MS., productions of others, and for having forged originals and given garbled and false translations of genuine historical documents; I pity O’Brien, the Budhist, as being a talented madman; but I hate Betham, as he pretends to understand a language of which he does not know one sentence, that is, any one sentence which contains a nominative, a verb, a proposition, a relative clause and an Irish idiom. A pretender in literature is as base as a Quack who administers wrong medicine.

The etymological antiquists of the last century have attempted to erect a visionary fabric of history with materials derived from false derivations of words, and I think it my duty to do my utmost to pull down their foolish systems, convinced that no nation ever derived honor from any history but that which is demonstratively true.

The Field of Magh Adhair, now anglicised the Moy-ar Park, is situated in the Townland of Toonagh in this Parish, about four miles westwards of Tulla. The place where the Dalcassian Princes were inaugurated is a moat of irregular shape which is surrounded with a fossé adapted to its outline, and about twenty feet in its greatest height.

About one hundred and forty one feet to the west of the stream called the Hell River is a liagaun or standing stone, measuring six feet four inches in height from the level of the surface of the field, three feet two inches in width and ten inches in thickness.

According to the Lecan Records and all the ancient tracts which treat of the Firbolgic Colony, the Plain of Magh Adhair in Thomond was inhabited by, and received its name from Adhar (Eyre) the son of Huamor and brother of Aengus of Dun Aengus in Aran, whose tribe came into Ireland in the first century, when Oilioll and Maeve reigned in Connaught. If this be not true, there is no truth in the account of the Bolgic tribes, but if it be true what truth can there be in O’Brien’s “Field of Adoration”?

The resemblance which this place bears to Carn Amhalgada, on which the O’Dowd was made, and to Carn Fraeich at Dumha Sealga in Magh Aei, appears to me to be remarkably striking. The Lecan Records state that Amhalghaidh Mac Fiachrach raised the carn that it might serve as a tomb for himself (and there is no doubt that he is entombed in the conical chamber in its interior) as a place of fairs and meetings of the people, and that his heir might be inaugurated on its summit, that is, standing over his own urn. This was a sure way to hand down his own name to immortality and to establish a veneration for his own tomb. The carn at Carn Fraeich, on which the O’Conor was inaugurated was also, according to the Dinnseanchus, a monument raised over the remains of a Bolgic Chieftan, but I do not know why it was adopted by the Kings of Connaught as their place of inauguration. That the Bolgic Chieftain Eyre (Ire) the brother of Aengus of Aran, was buried in this mound appears highly probable, though a similar difficulty presents itself as to why it should have been adopted by the Dalcassian family as their place of inauguration. That the O’Dowd should have been “made” on the tomb of his great ancestor Awley, appears sufficiently reasonable, but it looks strange enough that Chieftains of Milesian blood should adopt the monumental mounds of Bolgic Chiefs as their places of inauguration. Perhaps these mounds were first used as places of inauguration by the Bolgic people of Magh Aei and Thomond, and that when these were conquered by the Scoti in the interval between the first and beginning of the fourth century, they took a pride in being inaugurated on the mounds on which antiquity had impressed its veneration. Let this, however, remain for future consideration.
The following references to Mágh Adhair occur in the Annals of the Four Masters:-

A.D. 981. Maelseachlainn, the son of Domhnall plundered Dal gCais and prostrated the Bile (aged tree) of Magh Adhair, having dug it with its roots out of the ground.
A.D. 1051. The Tree (Bilé) of Magh Adhair was prostrated by Hugh O’Conor.

Magh Adhair was not the name of a small field as is now generally supposed by the natives, but of a plain of very considerable extent, and the lordship of the Belgic Chieftan Eyre, which in the eleventh century became the Principality of O’Hehir. The O’Brien was sometimes called Lord of Magh Adhair, as being the place at which he was inaugurated, and his territory, the Land of Magh Adhair (Mo-Ire). See extracts from Maoilin Oge Mac Bruodin’s address to Red Hugh O’Donnell given by the Four Masters at the year 1599. See also a reference to this Plain in the Book of Lismore; also the Annals of Inishfallen (I mean the modern interpolated compilation usually so called) at the years 982 and 1051.

The work called the Caithreim Thoirdhealbhaigh or Wars of Torlogh, has the following references to Magh Adhair:-

A.D. 1242. After Donogh Cairbeach O’Brien had exchanged this mortal life for the happiness of angels with the victory of Unction and Penance, a Chieftan of (from) every tribe, a leader of every people, and a commander from every sept assembled around his son Conor at Moy-Eyre (Eire, Ire) to inaugurate him King in the place of his good father. It was the noble pillar of numerous hosts Sioda (Sheedy Mac Namara) who first proclaimed him (Chief or King of his people) and the rest of the Chiefs expressed their consent immediately after.

A.D. 1267. After the death of Conor, the broad eyed Brien Roe, his puissant stately son, summoned all the nobles of his people from every quarter to Moy-Eyre (Ire) to ordain (i.e., inaugurate) him King over the tribes in the place of his father. When they had met together, the cheerful sharp-eyed Sheedy (Mac Namara) proclaimed aloud his regal title, and none of the other Chiefs opposed him.

A.D. 1277. After the execution of Brian Roe, De Clare sent messengers to Turlogh to communicate to him that he would make peace with him for giving up (i.e., if he would cease from) his hostilities and dreadful incursions; and as a confirmation of the peace, the messengers told him how the King, Brian Roe, his mortal enemy, had been hanged. But without regarding De Clare’s deceitful treaty the expeditious Torlogh, crowned with conquest, proceeded with all his numerous forces to Moy-Eyre (Ire) where he was inaugurated supreme King of North Munster by Sheedy Mac Namara in the year of our Lord 1277, and the numerous hosts of North Munster rejoiced at seeing the true branch in chief command over them.

A.D. 1311. His chiefs assembled around Dermot, the son of Donogh, who was son of Brian Roe O’Brien at Moy Eyre to invest him with the chieftanship, and the tower-like hero was solemnly inaugurated. It was Loughlin, the son of Cumee, who first installed him and the states (tribes) unanimously consented. As the Bard of Dermot said on the occasion:-

Let us give the title of King,
(which will be of much fame
To the land which has chosen him)
To the valorous griffin (i.e., warrior)
The son of the fair-formed Donogh
Of the sealed secrets
Generous heir of generous Blood (Blód)
The puissant Dermot of fortresses.
He is kind to the Church,
He is head over all,
The heart (centre) of the territories,
A tree under blossom.
Dermot of Dun Mor
The mild, lively, fierce,
Received the hostages
Through his wisdom and sword
His gracious smile and pomp (pride)
He exhibits with grace
And since he has commenced his career
His fame has spread afar
Momonia of Bards
Is his principality
Proclaim we him King
Of his tribes with great joy.

A.D. 1311. Murtagh O’Brien, the son of Turlogh, was inaugurated at Magh-Adhair by Loughlin Mac Namara, in opposition to Dermot O’Brien.