Long ago in Ireland, there was a King in called Conn Cead Cathach, Conn of the Hundred Battles. Conn’s reign was long, and many great sagas were told during his time. He was King at the time of Finn McCool, at the height of Fianna’s fame and glory. He meddled with the Otherworld, and was not just king of a hundred battles but the King of One Hundred Treaties.

However, it’s not these stories I’m going to tell you today. For Conn’s most famous enemy was Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat. A king of Munster, and a would be High-King of Ireland. The story of their enmity is a long one, spanning decades, and great tragedy befell both of them because of it. Conn’s origins match the beginning of most of Ireland’s great kings. In that he received both the blessing of the land, the people, and the gods.

Firstly, on the night he was born it was said that great fruit trees sprang from the ground, standing for the length of his reign. Also, three great lakes filled from basins barren, and the five roads to Tara were revealed, though they never said how the roads were missed in the first place. One day, when he was a child, Conn stood on the ramparts of Tara with his father’s druid, as it was their tradition to take turns guarding the walls against the return of the Tuath de Danann, whose world was driven underground by Conn’s ancestors hundreds of years before. By chance, he happened to step upon a relic that was thought lost since the time of Cú Chulain, it was the Lia Fáil, the Speaking Stone. In ages past it was used to determine the High-king, as it would cry out whenever the rightful leader sat upon it.

But being lost, it was mistakenly used to built at Tara, and so, Conn ended up stepping on it. It called out, with a piercing cry somewhere between ecstasy and terror. Hearing the sound, his father’s druid explained the stone’s worth. But even as he did a magical mist arose, and a horseman emereged from it. He threw spears at Conn, three times the horseman threw, and three times the young prince deflected with his shield. At this the horseman paused, then invited Conn and the druid to Otherworld. They followed the horseman through the mist until they came across a house on a plain beside a golden tree. Inside they were welcomed by a woman in a gold crown. She was Eriu, the sovereign god of Ireland. She was stirring a golden vat, of full of red ale, while lilting a sweet melody, Eriu served Conn a drink in a marvellous chalice. Then the horseman threw off his disguise and revealed himself to be Lugh, the greatest of the Tuath de Dannan. Then he made a solemn prophecy, and this was it: “You will reign for seven years of plenty, and seven years without. Nine years of peace, and fifteen of truce. And many generations of kings will follow after you.” Lugh then went on to list the mighty names that would follow Conn’s, going all the way up to Niall of the Nine Hostages and beyond. Having received this blessing and foretelling, Conn and his druid were returned to Tara, where Conn would eventually become king.

Now, Conn soon to be rival, Eoghan, had a different story towards his kingship. He was called Mogh Naudhat because, when he was fostered with Chief Nuada of Munster, the chief was having a great rath built. One day, Eoghan came across two poor slaves attempting to lift a heavy rock into place, they failed over and over until Eoghan, pitied them, and came and lifted the stone all by himself. Nuada’s druid witnessed this and saw him to be stronger than any slave or servant, and so they called him Mogh Nuadhat, Nuada’s slave. Which, in the way of the Irish, had a dual meaning, which is Noble slave. You see, Eoghan was the son of another chief in Munster called Mogh Nuid. He was wiley man, who in his heart sought more dominion that he already possessed. One night, his wife, Sioda, had a dream, in it, she saw seven cows stand upon a wide plain, and their milk filled the land with plenty, but then seven other cows came, and they were gaunt and terrible to look upon, and they consumed all the milk and grass, leaving the land barren. Upon waking she told her husband this and he summoned their druid. The druid’s interpretation echoed the prediction made by Lugh when Conn was a child. Their would be seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine. With this knowledge, Mogh Nuid concocted a plan. For the seven years of plenty he hoarded all the food he could, and so when the time of famine arrived he had enough stored to feed his people, and more, if necessary. When Conn did take the kingship, the land was blessed, and, as Lugh predicted, there were seven years of plenty. It was time without sickness, there was abundance of crops, and the rivers were so full of fish you only had to put your hand into the river to pull one out. But, upon the end of these years a curse was put upon the land, and there was soon to come another seven years of blight and famine.

At this point in the history of Ireland there were in fact two Munsters. Led by two kings who were brothers, one named Connaire and the other called MacNid-MacLug. They were not well liked, in fact, when the chiefs of Munster called a great council to decide what might be done to coutner the famine, they neglected to even invite the kings. Just as Connaire and Mag-Nig Mac-Lug had neglected to call a council at all. At this meeting, Mogh Nuid offered to allow them access to his stores in exchange for a gift: That they make his son Eoghan, king of Munster, and that they exile the two current kings. Eoghan resisted, thinking that it be wrong for him to made king over his father. but Mogh Nuid insisted, as he knew that he could control Eoghan anyway. And besides that Eoghan was better loved by the people than either himself, or Munster’s current kings. So it was that Connaire and MacNid-MacLug were driven from Munster and Eoghan was made the sole king the united province.

By this time, Conn was now High-King and consider the arbiter of the land, knowing this the two brothers went to Conn protesting injustice. Conn was sympathetic towards them, but more so was outraged at Mogh Nuid’s treachery in abusing the famine in the land for his own gain. So, Conn vowed to help them reclaim their thrones. Mogh Nuid was enraged that the High-king would interfere in the matters of Munster. And immediately declared war upon Conn. Eoghan was reluctant to take the field as he foresaw great woe befalling them if they fought the High-king. But Mogh Nuid and the other chiefs called him a coward, and he was shamed into taking part.

The Fianna, the greatest warriors in Ireland, swore fealty to no king, and were free to live as they chose along the borders of the realms. But they chose to side with Conn. For they and their leader, Goll Mac Morna, were bound to Conn through an close friendship.  With their help, despite still having less troops, Conn succeeded in driving Mogh Nuid back. And so it was that Goll Mac Morna, the greatest warrior in all Ireland at that time, ended up meeting Mogh Nuid in combat. The two fought fiercely spear meeting shield in at devastating speeds, but Mogh Nuid couldn’t hold a torch to the Leader of the Fianna, and in short order; Goll slew him. Eoghan witnessed this and was grieved by his father’s death, but kept his cool. He gathered himself and then requested a day of truce with Conn to bury his father. Conn honourably agreed, and then, when Eoghan that requested two more days of mourning, he granted that as well.

Eoghan used the time to retreat to a great pass that lay on Conn’s route south, in order to set up an ambush. But Conn was not fooled, instead he took a long detour, and reached Munster’s undefended lands. There Connaire and MacNid-MacLug began pillaging the lands that were stolen from them, and causing great harm to the people there. Realising his mistake, and trying his best to alleviate the burden on the common folk, Eoghan ordered the soldiers of Munster to leave him and seek a truce with Conn. Keeping only his father’s forces as their lands were now forfeit to Conn anyway. With great reluctance his allies did this, for they knew their people’s safety were worth more than their loyalty to Eoghan. But in their hearts, they loved him all the more for his decision. They made peace with Conn, and they took once again the kingship of Connaire and MacNid-MacLug. Having secured peace Conn dismissed his armies. And made camp with only his warriors from Connaught and the Fianna. Eoghan however, blamed Conn for his father’s death. For if he hadn’t interfered in the Succession of Munster, the war would have never come. And so, Eoghan began to feel the desire for revenge. He attacked Conn when the king’s forces were weakened. The battle was brutal and Eoghan’s soldiers were killed one by one, until only he and his strongest survived. Yet still he fought on until he came upon Goll mac Morna. Their combat was terrible to witness, and Eoghan knew that he could not beat the leader of the Fianna.

However, he was a man of many attributes, admired by many. And he was even the lover of a member of the Tuath de Dannan, a woman called Eadoinn. And so, she received a premonition that Eoghan would be defeated, and not willing to let the man she loved die, she used her magic to rescue him before Goll could kill him. Eoghan was greatly displeased, as to die honourably in battle as his right, but he loved Eadoinn and forgave her immediately. She took him to her magic island, where he rested for nine days. When fully recovered he made to leave and seek his revenge on Conn, but Eadoinn lamented that because the island was magic, for each day Eoghan dwelt with her a year had passed in Ireland. Eoghan told her he was glad to even have nine days with her but he now knew he could never return.

As a farewell, Eadoinn gave Eoghan three blessings. First, Eadoinn told Eoghan where to seek allies in order to defeat Conn, then she gave him a magic sword, and told him that with it he could defat any foe, but it also was the only that sword could slay him. And her third blessing, she would give at a later date, the last time they would meet.

Meanwhile, Conn spent nine years in peace. But as the nine year anniversary of Eoghan’s flight came upon him, he was restless. He remembered well Lugh’s words that he would have nine years of peace, then fifteen of truce. And he feared that to have truce, first there must be war. So, even as Eoghan set foot on Ireland’s shores once more, Conn was summoning his armies from Connaught and his few allies of Ulster. On Eadoinn’s advice, Eoghan sought out Daire of Leinster, who had grown tired of paying the boruma, a levy of cattle, that Conn’s grandfather forced upon Leinster follwing conflict during his reign. Eoghan also reached out to Conn’s enemies in Ulster, of which for a man called of the Hundred battles, you can guess, were many. Now Ulster had not had one sole king since the time of the Red Branch, but King Eochaid managed to call enough allies under his banner, and joined Eoghan’s side.

Eoghan then called upon the chiefs if Munster who he’d allowed truce with Conn and they immediately flocked back to the King they loved so well. Under his leadership they subjugated Connaire and MacNid-MacLug, holding their families hostage and forcing their warriors to fight for Eoghan. Then Eoghan marched north to make himself High-king. Conn feared this tactic, and as the Munster and Leinster armies marched north he sent out scouts to give warning of their attack so he would have time to retreat to the more defensible mountains in Connaught.

But, as promised, Eadoinn gave Eoghan her final blessing. She came to him, and of their goodbye I will not tell, for it is for them alone. But after she shrouded Eoghan’s armies in a mist, and confounded Conn’s watch, until, one day, Conn awoke in Tara to find himself besieged Knowing that this place of meeting could not hold out, Conn broke forth, losing many warriors, but succeeding in fleeing to Connaught. However, Eochaid of Ulster were ready for him, and had secretly moved south, blocking Conn’s retreat.

Conn found himself trapped, and as his tired soldiers made camp for the night, he was despondent, knowing their defeat waited in the morning. He ordered the camp light three times the amount of fires, so that when Eoghan made his camp on the opposite hill, in the darkness, he perceived Conn’s forces to be thrice what they were, and near equal to his own.

Seeing this, Connaire and MacNid-MacLug suggested than Eoghan seek truce, instead of battle, and came up with the idea that Ireland should be divided in half. Despite Eoghan’s ever increasing desire to see Conn dead, he agreed to this, as a vestige of sense still was within him, and Conn was sent the offer. Conn remembered well the pillages the Kings of Munster had wrought on their own lands nine years previous, and wished to see no more death and suffering brought to the people of Ireland. He realised that it was selfish of him to insist on battle just so he could try and win all of Ireland for himself and so he accepted Eoghan’s treaty. And so Ireland was partitioned, divided in a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay. With Conn’s Half in the north and to the south, Mogh’s half, because Eoghan was called Mogh Nuadhat by the people.

Then followed fifteen years of truce… When we left Conn and Eoghan they had come to a truce. And Ireland had been partitioned into halves, along a line running from Dublin to Galway Bay.

Mounds were constructed to mark the edges of this boundary. One stands at the Peninsula of Marey, south of Galway City. And the other, if the legend is to be believed, stood where Dublin Castle would eventually be built. This division meant that both Galway and Dublin’s port fell under Conn’s rule. And this would prove vital. For fifteen years they had an uneasy truce, but Eoghan grew bitter, and the lust for revenge always gnawed at his mind. So it was that he spent less time ruling with wisdom, and more and more time seeking just cause to break his truce with Conn. His people would come looking for judgement or aid, but Eoghan would dismiss them, not bothered with providing fair judgement and so his lands grew poor and barren. And even at the king’s table, the fare was meagre.

One day, he did a tour of his holdings, seeking to find where the majority of his wealth lay, and to try and increase their taxes so he himself could benefit more. He arrived at Dublin, only to be met with an enraging sight. The port that lay to the north of the border was bustling. Trade was good, and he knew then that Conn benefited from this trade most. So, he made straight for Tara and demanded an audience. When Conn came to him, Eoghan informed his rival that their deal was unfair, and that Conn should give the port, and its trade, to Eoghan. Conn refuted this, stating that goods couldn’t not be divided as land was. Eoghan responded by calling an end to the truce, and declaring war once more. He finally had the reason he was looking for.

Conn didn’t hesitate this time and retreated to Connaught where he was safe in his fortresses while Eoghan gathered his forces. However, Conn still had enemies in Ulster and once again Eochaid thwarted him. He led a great army south, pillaging Meath and attempting to hold Tara against him. Conn had no choice but to leave his forts and face the Ulstermen on the field. He defeated them soundly and many fled north once more. Though Eochaid led his surviving warriors south to Eoghan’s gathering army.

Meanwhile, Eoghan’s passivity had led to the release of Connaire’s and MacNid-MacLug’s families. And, as soon as they had gathered information on Eoghan’s plans, the two former kings fled to Conn, with their warriors. They betrayed the route Eoghan would take north, so Conn would be able to cut Eoghan off and meet his forces in a place of his choosing. The two armies met on the hills of Magh Leana, and here, their fates would be decided. The two kings set up their camps on opposing hills, and once more prepared to do battle in the morning. Conn had no tricks up his sleeve this time, and as he looked at Eoghan’s superior forces, he knew that he would not win in the morning. Eoghan knew this as well, and so, driven more by a sense of irony than the desire to save lives, he sent Conn an offer.

And this was it:

He was going to massacre all Conn’s warriors down to last, no matter the cost. Then, he said, he would find their families and do the same to them. After, he would hunt down every last friend Conn ever had and bring them to ruin. Finally he would raise Tara to the ground and build it new again so no one would know what had stood there before. Or Conn and all his kin could leave Ireland, and swear to never return for all of time, or be cursed if they did. Reluctantly, Conn agreed. But the point was raised that he would have to give proof of his honest intentions, as Eoghan had grown paranoid since their truce was declared and increasingly hateful.  So, as show of good faith, Conn sent his two foster brothers, his best friends, to carry the message to Eoghan.

Upon receiving Conn’s capitulation Eoghan became overjoyed. He declared that his time of suffering was at an end, and that he would now relish in the excess of being High-king of all Ireland. He said that no food would go untasted, and no wine undrank. You see, the long years of hardship, the loss of his father, and Eadoinn, meant his hatred for Conn had festered to a point nearing on madness. And as Conn’s brothers looked at their would-be High-king, they knew that doom was upon them all.

In his arrogance, Eoghan ordered them to swear fealty to him, but they refused. They said that even if Conn couldn’t king, they would never see a man such as Eoghan rule Ireland. Eoghan flew into a rage, and ordered Conn’s brothers seized. Eochaid and the Ulstermen objected to this, insisting that it was dishonourable to attack ambassadors in truce. But Eoghan overruled him, reminding him that he was now High-king, and if they refused to swear allegiance, then it was treason. He dragged them up to the top of the highest hill and lit a fire to so that Conn could see what was going on from the opposite side. When he could be sure he had Conn’s attention Eoghan drew the great sword of Eadoinn and he beheaded Conn’s brothers, the men Conn loved best in the world. Conn was struck by grief, and declared that they would fight in the morning. There could be no peace between them now.

Eoghan was confident in his victory at set his camp to merriment. But even as he arrived at his own fire, three women appeared to him. They were Eriu, Foitla and Banbha, the three sister goddesses of Ireland. They sang to him, outlining the punishments the land suffers under a bad King. Then they declared that Eoghan was cursed for breaking the laws of the Kingdom, and that he would be killed for them. Despite his fear, Eoghan rebuked them. Reminding them that he could only die by his own hand, and showed them the blade given him by Eadoinn. But the Ulstermen heard the goddess’  prediction, and were quiet.

Conn meanwhile, was also approached by the three goddess. They sang to Conn of the blessings that the land received under good Kingship, then, Eriu urged him to attack Eoghan at first light, when his forces were still hungover and sleeping. Conn refused, calling the deed dishonourable, but Eriu was insulted that Conn would allow the people of Ireland to suffer under the yoke of Eoghan’s rule, all to protect his precious personal honour.

While Conn debated, Eochaid of Ulster approached him, he was outraged at Eoghan’s actions in executing the messengers, who were protected by law. And encouraged Conn to follow the Tuath de Dannan’s advice. And the Ulstermen switched sides, and though their force was small, this combined with the surprise attack, just might win Conn the day. Conn was torn, but eventually decided it was indeed better to attack and be considered dishonourable, than allow Eoghan kingship of Ireland. But the Fianna, the warriors of the greatest strength, wisdom, and honour, disagreed. And so refused to fight until the sun was fully up and all Eoghan’s troops raised.

Goll Mac Morna, however, knew that Eoghan mustn’t be made king. He was no longer the leader of the Fianna but he still possessed great influence over the warriors of Ireland. So he persuaded Conn’s men to protect their lord, and keep him from the front-lines until Goll felt it right for the Fianna to join and for him to fight Eoghan in Conn’s stead. As the Sun rose the Fianna stayed camping while Conn and Ulstermen led the charge into Eoghan’s sleeping camp.

Eoghan had slept poorly that night and was soon woke by the sound of battle, but by the time he got up and put on his gear, over a third of his forces were killed. Never the less, he rallied his men, and they began the battle in earnest, though he knew the two sides were now painfully evenly matched. The battle that raged at Magh Leana was bloody and the bodies littered the ground in huge piles of mangled human flesh. Many great warriors lost their lives that day, and their like would never be seen in Ireland again. The conflict left many children without parents, and many parents without children.

The Fianna observed this until all of Eoghan’s remaining soldiers were armed and awake. And then joined the fray. Goll sought Eoghan, so that he might end this brutal war. And so it was that once more, the King of Munster met the once leader of the Fianna in single combat. Goll Mac Morna and Eoghan Mor fought as if nothing else mattered. But it had been many years since their last battle, and Goll was aged, while Eoghan was still in his prime. Besides that he had the sword of Eadoinn, and Goll found himself sorely matched. Eoghan landed a strike on Goll’s shield arm, and the great warrior called out in shock and pain. Hearing his cries, Conn recognised them and went to help. But he was held back by others of the Fianna who instead went to Goll’s aid. Each one landed a hit on Eoghan, but each one received a cut from Eoghan in return.

Goll recovered and again he and Eoghan were matched blow for blow. But, again Goll faltered and Eoghan landed a slice across his leg. Goll called out, and Conn heard his cries. He tried to run ahead, but his personal guard held him back and they went instead to Goll’s aid. They struck at Eoghan injuring him, however, Eoghan managed to place a hit on   each of them, driving them back. Once more, Goll Mac Morna recovered and charged Eoghan, but he was much weakened, and Eoghan landed a nasty cut across Goll’s chest. As Goll collapsed he let loose a last mournful shout. He was not slain, but he could not rise. Upon hearing the Fianna’s cry Conn charged. Eluding those who would hold him back and finally, Conn Cead Cathach faced Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat and the victor would be High-king of Ireland. Eoghan’s fury was unchecked, and blinding. His enemy of years was at last within reach of his blade and he made devastating strike after devastating strike upon Conn’s shield.

Conn’s anger was quieter, though still present. He took each blow with patience, stepping back with each hit. As the distance between them grew, Eoghan over extended himself. Conn side stepped, allowing Eoghan’s swing to glance across his shield, then he jabbed, taking the other King in his shoulder. Eoghan fell back, as blood drenched his arm, making his hands slippery. Now, Conn was on the attack. He swung his sword high, driving Eoghan backwards. All around the battle was lessening, and though the two didn’t know it, Conn’s troops was slowly winning the field. Then, Eoghan’s sword slipped in his hand, and he dropped it. But as Eoghan stepped back his foot hit off a fallen spear. Using his foot kicked the spear up into his waiting hands, and in one swift motion he rammed it into Conn’s gut.

Conn pulled back, yanking the spear out of Eoghan’s hands. He dropped his weapon and fell to his knees. The High-king felt silence come over him as battlefield became distant. The fighting died down, and all turned to watch, some in horror, some in exultation. In that moment, Conn knew he was to die, and that Eoghan had won. Eoghan knew it too, and made to gloat, but as he did, Conn noticed Eoghan’s own sword at his finger tips. He grasped it, and rising with the spear still stuck in him, he used the blade to hack off the shaft. He started swinging at Eoghan’s now raised shield. Three times he struck and three times Eoghan blocked, barely. But on the next strike, the shield shattered, sending a jolt down Conn’s arm and breaking Eoghan’s.

Eoghan Mogh Nuadhat fell to his knees, and in a furious slash, Eadoinn’s magic sword cut off his head. And so the battle ended. Conn was wounded, but the tenacious Goll mac Morna kept him conscious until they could both be healed. Upon the death of their king, Eoghan’s army surrendered. A new treaty was drawn between the provinces, and Conn became High-king of all Ireland once more.

But, the people of Ireland were split over Conn’s actions that day. The argument ran; that if he had not done this shameful dawn-attack, then Ireland would have suffered greatly under the terrible yoke of Eoghan’s reign. Yet, the people would speak behind the King’s back, words like dishonour, and distrust, would haunt him for the remainder of his days. So, even though Ireland was united once more under Conn. There was still a division within their hearts and minds that would not be healed in Conn’s lifetime…   Conn’s Half and Mogh’s Half remained in spirit. And perhaps it should be considered that Ireland; was never whole again…