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As promised my blog this week is a Christmas themed one about the Norwegian king Magnús Barelegs who spent Christmas 1102 in Munster at the court of the high-king of Ireland Muirchertach O'Brien.

Magnús berfœttr (Magnús Barefoot or Barelegs) was a famous king of Norway around the year 1100 AD. Known for leading aggressive expeditions into the Scottish islands and the Irish Sea he got his nickname because of his fondness for the Irish and Irish culture. As the saga of the Kings of Norway 'Heimskringla' put it: 'when King Magnús returned from his expedition to the west he and many of his men for the most part had the manners and wore the clothes which were customary in the British Islands [Ireland and the Hebrides are intended here]. They went barelegged in the street and had short kirtles and outer garments. Then people called him Magnús Barefoot or Barelegs'.

Magnús was by all accounts an imposing figure. Said to be very tall, he wore a red garment over his coat of mail 'with a lion sewed on front and back with yellow silk'. His shield was also painted red 'on which a lion was embossed in gold', and his sword that had a hilt 'carved of walrus-tooth' and a haft 'wound with gold' had the name 'Legbiter'. As king, Magnús' philosophy was that the Norwegians should wish for a monarch 'for glorious deeds ... not for a long life'. He was well liked by his men 'and in his days there was good peace within the land'. The ordinary people however, considered him 'stern' and believed that they had 'much labour and expense from his expeditions abroad'.

It is indeed for his western expeditions that Magnús Barelegs is best known. He conquered the jarldom of Orkney and the islands of the Hebrides, the monastery of Iona and the Isle of Man. In the year 1098 Magnús led his fleet to the island of Anglesey in north Wales where he killed the Anglo-Norman baron Hugh earl of Shrewsbury in a battle on the beach. According to the Heimskringla Magnús saw the Anglo-Norman earl 'clad in mail from head to foot' riding his horse through the surf. The Norwegian king asked one of his men to join him in firing arrows at the mail clad knight. One arrow struck the earl's visor 'and was deflected to the side'. The other unbelievably went through the viewing slot in the earl's helmet and 'hit the earl's eye and penetrated his head; and that shot was attributed to the king'. On the way home Magnús signed a treaty with the king of Scotland whereby 'King Magnús was to have possession of all the islands west of Scotland separated from the mainland by water so that a ship with fixed rudder could pass between them'. Magnús famously then put one over on the Scots by standing on one of his ships with his hand on the rudder as his men dragged the boat over the short neck of land that joined the Mull of Kintyre to the rest of Scotland!

At this time in Ireland, Muirchertach O'Brien, the great-grandson of Brian Boru was high-king of the island. Muirchertach was a very successful high-king but he could not conquer the north of Ireland from Donal McLoughlin the capable king of Aileach. On his first expedition to the west Magnús of Norway established contact with King Muirchertach and they arranged a marriage alliance, with Magnús' young son Sigurd marrying Muirchertach's young daughter Bjathmynja, who were then put ruling over the Orkneys. When Magnús returned to the Irish Sea in 1102 he 'harried' widely in Ireland and seized 'Dublin and the Shire of Dublin'. Muirchertach O'Brien however, was a wily ruler and he established a good relationship with Magnús of Norway. As a result an invitation to spend Christmas as the court of the high-king at Kincora in Munster was extended to and accepted by the Norwegian king. Heimskringla states that 'King Magnús dwelt in [Munster] with King Myrjartak, putting his men to the defence of the land he had won'. There must have been great Christmas festivities that year at the court of the high-king.

Although the Norwegians regarded the Irish as 'treacherous', Magnús and Muirchertach had a good relationship. According to the Icelandic sagas Muirchertach 'kept all the promises he made to King Magnús'. When the 1103 campaigning season began Muirchertach led a large army north in an attempt to conquer Tyrone. King Magnús 'outfitted his ships' in order to assist his friend the Irish high-king, and sailed north having 'stationed his men in Dublin to guard it'. The northern expedition did not go well for O'Brien however. After an inconclusive stand-off at Armagh, Muirchertach led part of his army further north to raid east of Lough Neagh. Donal McLoughlin took this opportunity to attack the Munster camp on 5 August 1103. In a famous victory McLoughlin defeated the Leinster princes and some men from Munster and Dublin who had been left to guard O'Brien's camp. McLoughlin even captured the high-kings 'royal tent' and standard.

After this disaster that had befallen the high-king's camp, Magnús Barelegs decided to return to Norway. However, he needed provisions for his fleet. As a result he asked his friend Muirchertach to provide the necessary supplies. Honourable in his dealings right to the end, Muirchertach O'Brien sent a supply train of horses to the Norwegian king. Although the dust cloud thrown up by the pack-horses initially frightened the Norwegians, it was O'Brien's men who arrived 'with a great amount of provisions'.

There then occurred something that neither king had foreseen. The Ulaid, the inhabitants of the lands east of Lough Neagh and the River Bann, although allies of Muirchertach O'Brien had a deep hatred of the Vikings. As a result they laid a carefully prepared ambush for Magnús and his men as they made their way back to their ships with their supplies. As the Norwegians crossed over a path through some bogs and a forest, Ulaid warriors 'rushed out upon them from every corner of the woods'. Although King Magnús made every effort to rally his men, some fled and the King was left surrounded by the Ulstermen. Magnús was first wounded by an Irish spear that passed 'through both his thighs above the knee'. He was later killed by an Ulster warrior who gave him a blow of an axe to the neck.

This therefore was the unlucky fate of one of the last Norwegians kings to play an active role in the Irish Sea area. The adventures of Magnús Barelegs in the west are not often remembered today, but he did have a substantial impact on events in Scotland, Wales and Ireland during the five years that he had an interest in the Irish Sea region. It is a pity that there are not substantial accounts of the Christmas festivities when he was at the court of the high-king in December 1102. My next blog will be about the McLoughlin family mentioned here as the adversaries of the O'Brien high-king.

Finally I would like to wish a happy Christmas and new year to my friend the lovely and hard-working Sinéad.

Friday, 10 February 2012 22:11

An Important Note from Dr Darren McGettigan

Written by Darren McGettigan

Please Note: Darren is no longer accepting genealogical commissions on this website.

However, I am keeping this website up to promote my books and the history of my McGettigan family. I also hope to have a new book published soon.

There is also a year's worth of genealogy blog entries on my website ~ feel free to explore them ~ I enjoyed writing them and they were quite popular.

Christmas Irish Genealogy Blog 2011 by Dr Darren McGettigan of Family History Ireland

When I posted earlier this week on my Facebook page that I would try and write a Christmas themed blog this week, one of my readers suggested that I write about the Christmas traditions of the Gaelic Irish around the year 1602. Unfortunately, it is sad to say that very few writers at the time recorded any cultural Christmas traditions of the ordinary people of the Gaelic lordships. Perhaps such evidence has survived and I just havn't found it yet.

Some evidence of Christmas in Gaelic Ireland for the years 1600 to 1602, which was the time of the end of the Nine Years War (1594 - 1603), has survived however, in relation to the O'Molloy chieftain, Calvagh O'Molloy, who was the Gaelic lord of the territory of Fircall, a small Gaelic lordship in the Irish midlands, which is now part of the modern Irish county of Offaly. Calvagh O'Molloy became lord of Fircall in the spring of the year 1599 when his father, Conal O'Molloy, Lord of Fircall died. The Annals of the Four Masters record that Calvagh was appointed Lord of Fircall by Queen Elizabeth I, although 'Some of the gentlemen of his tribe vied and contended with him (according to the custom of the Irish), for that name'.

Calvagh O'Molloy appears to have been a decent man, who tried to keep his lordship and family out of the major war being fought on the island of Ireland, between the English army of Queen Elizabeth and the forces of the Ulster chieftains, Hugh O'Neill, the lord of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O'Donnell, the lord of Tír Chonaill, who were determined to preserve their autonomy and perhaps drive English influence out of Ireland for good. However, try as he might, Calvagh O'Molloy could not keep the war out of Fircall. In the Spring of 1599, Hugh O'Neill sent his son Conn into the region 'to ascertain who they were that were firm in their friendship and promises to O'Neill and the Irish'. One of O'Molloy's neighbours, O'Carroll Lord of Ely treacherously killed a company of Hugh O'Neill's mercenaries in the winter of 1599, which led Hugh O'Neill himself to march through Fircall in January 1600 on his famous expedition to Munster. Hugh O'Neill spent nine nights in the Fircall region and he did not leave until he had plundered Ely O'Carroll in revenge for his murdered soldiers and until 'the people of Fircall, of Upper Leinster, and Westmeath, made full submission to him, and formed a league of friendship with him'. Later on in 1600 as the war turned against the Irish, the English army reconquered Laois and Offaly. However, war returned to Fircall in the winter of 1601 as Red Hugh O'Donnell passed through the territory on his epic march to Kinsale.

Not surprisingly all this warfare and the to-ing and fro-ing of so many opposing armies through the Fircall region had a terrible impact on the local population. One of the family, a Franciscan friar Francis O'Molloy, later wrote that 'the kingdom of Ireland was devastated with famine, fire and sword, and in the utmost dearth of provisions, in Queen Elizabeth's time'. However, Father O'Molloy also records that Calvagh O'Molloy, concerned for the welfare and possibly the very survival of his followers 'invited to his house nine hundred and sixty persons for the feast of Christmas, entertained them there for the space of twleve days'. This was a remarkably generous deed by the O'Molloy chieftain, which was probably inspired by some of the famous 'invitations' issued by a number of prominent Gaelic Irish chieftains in late medieval times. O'Molloy's Christmas feast was probably not unique in Gaelic Ireland during the Nine Years War but it is the only one that I am aware of. The feast I think illustrates the concern some Gaelic Irish chieftains had for the own family and followers and also their attitude to war and famine relief. However, Calvagh O'Molloy's Christmas feast must have been unusually generous. A stanza of bardic poetry was also written to commemorate his very generous deed. Translated from Irish it reads:

'Thrice three hundred and three score -Tale unheard by thee before - Feasted free in Calvagh's hall - Caring light what might befall'.

Hope you enjoyed my Christmas blog. Have a great Christmas and New Years everyone. Next blog 2012!

Hello Everybody. As a piece of market research I recently sent an e mail to all the subscribers to my newsletter, asking for ideas on my website and genealogical research in general.

Most people interested in Irish genealogy or the history of Irish surnames are probably aware of the process, that appears to have been strongest during the late 1700s whereby many families, all over the island of Ireland, changed their fine Gaelic Irish surnames, for whatever reason, into English surnames or even literal English translations of the Irish meaning of their names.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011 14:04

Irish Family History ~ Australia

Written by Darren McGettigan

With emigration of young Irish people to Australia becoming very popular once again due to the terrible Irish recession, I thought  I would write a very short blog on some genealogical sources for ealier Irish emigration to Australia, particularly in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion and the early 1800s.

Friday, 16 September 2011 14:04

More Irish than the Irish Themselves

Written by Darren McGettigan

As a very young undergrad student at UCD I used to love my medieval history course. Although as I remember, the classes were on very early in the morning, I used to make a special effort to turn up to learn about life in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales in the 1300s and 1400s. To this day I still have an interest in Art McMurrough Kavanagh and the O'Neills of Tyrone, led by Niall Mór, Niall Óg and Henry 'the Contentious', and their wars with King Richard II of England who campaigned in Ireland twice in an unsuccessful effort to subdue these Gaelic kings.

Another theme of these classes which I still remember was the remarkable Gaelicisation of many of the Anglo-Norman families in Ireland at this time. These families were the descendants of Anglo-Norman conquerors who had settled in Ireland in the years after 1170, as the Anglo-Normans first conquered and settled Leinster and Meath and in the ensuing decades spread out into most parts of Ireland. The course showed us how the advance of the Anglo-Normans slowed in the late 1200s, due to the success of some of the Gaelic chieftains such as Godfrey O'Donnell of Tír Chonaill, who now had the use of heavily armed battalions of Scottish gallloglass warriors who were beginning to arrive in Ireland at this time. Plagues and famine then hit the Anglo-Norman population of Ireland during the 1300s leaving some Anglo-Norman families, particularly in Connacht and east Ulster, isolated and surrounded by increasingly powerful Gaelic Irish neighbours. Under this pressure and also due to ordinary neighbourliness, the Anglo-Normans began to adopt the Irish language and many other Gaelic Irish customs such as style of dress and manner of riding horses (The Irish did not use stirrups). Intermarriage between the Anglo-Normans and the Gaelic Irish was probably the most important mode of cultural influence. If an Anglo-Norman lord married an Irish noblewoman, their children would possibly be raised speaking Irish and would have extensive contact with their Irish in-laws. This process began right from the beginning of the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland when Strongbow, the original leader of the invaders married Aoife, the daughter of King Dermot McMurrough of Leinster.

By the mid 1300s the English authorities in Ireland were horrified by the Gaelicization of a large proportion of the Anglo-Norman population and tried to halt it with laws such as the Statutes of Kilkenny which tried to forbid the adoption of Gaelic Irish customs by people of Anglo-Norman descent. However, the pull of Gaelic culture was too strong and most of these laws were widely ignored. The result of this was that by the year 1400 the English crown had lost any authority over vast areas of Ireland, especially in Connacht, where the Anglo-Norman population became almost totally Gaelicised and refused to recognize English authority any longer. As a result of this, many Anglo-Norman families in Connacht, particularly the McWilliam Burkes of County Mayo, by the 1500s were absolutely indistinguishable from their Gaelic Irish neighbours. This fact led the English to come up with the phrase 'More Irish than the Irish themselves' to describe such families. What follows is a list of the most prominent Gaelicised Anglo-Norman families and the new Gaelic surnames they often adopted to fit in with Gaelic Irish society:

Bermingham - Mac Fheorais (now often Corish), Bissett - Mac Eoin (now McKeown)de Nangle - Mac Oisdealbhaigh (now often Costello)de Burgh - de Búrca (Burke) with many sub-clans also - McWilliam, McRedmond, McGibbon and Mac Seoinín (now called Jennings), Fitzmaurice - Mac Muiris, Savage - Mac an tSábhaisigh, Fitzgerald - Mac Gerailt and Nugent - Mac Nuinseann. There are many more.

Next week I hope to add a Tuesday blog also to my website, concentrating on more technical aspects of genealogy and website development. However, the Friday series will continue as normal.


Friday, 26 August 2011 11:20

Marshal MacMahon and the Ottomans

Written by Darren McGettigan

One of the readers of my Genealogy Blog, Mr Atakan Orkun from Turkey, recently sent me a very interesting e mail. Mr Orkun told me a great story that it was tradition in his family that he was descended from a son of Marshal Patrice MacMahon the nineteenth century French war hero and President of the Third Republic. The Marshal's son was said to have worked as a doctor in Ottoman Europe and married a Bosnian girl Bosnali Gullu, before adopting the Turkish name Dr Jeyan Akif bey. This was an intriguing story so I decided to look into it for Mr Orkun.

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