ermot MacMurrough (or Dermod naNGhall, meaning Dermot, king of the Foreigners) was born in 1110 AD. At an early age he was fostered out to a minor family on the border of Leinster, in the neighboring state of Ossory and here he grew to manhood. At age 16, upon the unexpected death of his older brother (the king of Leinster), he was elected king of Ui Cinnsealaigh. What followed was the turning point in Irish history.
Upon receiving the kingship, Dermot also became king of Leinster, like his brother before him. This the High King of Ireland, Turlough O'Connor of Connaught, opposed, so he sent a neighboring chieftain to subjugate Leinster--Tiernan O'Rourke, a man who loved battle. Among the three sacred laws of Ireland, the one called Daire's Law specifically forbade the killing of cattle by an enemy for by killing cattle, you were forcing the people of that land to starve because dairy products were their sole food source. O'Rourke killed the cows of Leinster.
It took years for Dermot to regain the throne of Leinster, but finally, by 1133 he had succeeded and now began to expand his power. He raided in Ossory, then sacked Waterford, like his great-grandfather, Dermot Mac Mal namBo, before him. The following two decades were mostly peaceful for Dermot, he avoided many of the wars the other four provinces were waging on one another, but in 1152, he helped Turlough O'Connor raid Tiernan O'Rourke's land.
After O'Rourke's land was destroyed and his castle burned, the armies left for their respective provinces. As Dermot was traveling through Meath to return to Leinster, the King of Meath told him that Dervorgilla, O'Rourke's wife and also the King of Meath's sister, would run away with him. Dermot turned around and picked up Dervorgilla with all her furniture and cows, then returned home. When O'Rourke discovered his wife had been taken, he was furious.
This 'abduction' made Dermot Tiernan O'Rourke's most bitter enemy. After only a year, Dermot was forced to give Dervorgilla back, but O'Rourke never forgave. In 1166, when Ireland was ablaze in war and Dermot's ally, the High King Muirchertach O'Lochlainn, had fallen, O'Rourke joined together a number of other chieftains and raided Leinster...O'Rourke for revenge, the rest for plunder. Dermot barely escaped with his life and sailed for England. Dermot was not through.
MacMurrough gathered a force of Norman and Welsh fighting men and returned to Ireland. In quick succession he defeated Ossory, Waterford, and then Dublin, so reclaiming the kingship of Leinster, but he was not satisfied. He marched on the High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor (Turlough's son), and demanded the High King's submission. Dermot gambled that Rory would not hurt the Leinster hostages he had, Dermot's son and nephew. Rory hesitated, then O'Rourke forced his hand.
The bodies of Dermot's son, Conor, and nephew were delivered to him in a sack like a bullock would be delivered to market. Dermot lost the will to fight. His army disbanded and he returned to Ferns where, a few months later, he died.
There is much written about the cruelty and savageness of Dermot, yet I have looked at the original sources. The sources that vilify Dermot were all written years after the Norman invasion, when Ireland had learned to fear and hate the foreigners. Those written while Dermot was alive portray him as a peaceful, just king (in comparison with others of his time).
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