Little Bits of History

Battle of Magh Rath

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 24, 2015
Canal bridge at Moira

Canal bridge at Moira

June 24, 637: The Battle of Magh Rath is fought. Known today as the Battle of Moira, it was fought between the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II (aka Domnall mac Áedo) and his foster son, King Congal of Ulster and Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dalariada. The battle was fought near the Woods of Killultagh which is outside the village of Moira in what is today known as County Down. It was allegedly the largest battle ever fought in Ireland. The strength of either army is unknown as are the number of casualties suffered on each side.

At the time, Ireland was subdivided into several fiefdoms with lots of tribal loyalties shifting with time as kings allied themselves or fought with neighboring kings. There was some involvement from Great Britain, mostly from Scotland. Dalariada was a Gaelic kingdom encompassing western Scotland and Ulster around this time. Kings would shift alliances and allies as their needs changed with time. Congal first came to power in Dalaradia before being declared King of Ulster. Domnall II came into conflict with Congal, even though Domnall’s rise to power came because of Congal’s defeat of the previous High King, Suibne Menn.

It was Domnall’s raid into Leinster in 628 which brought him to the position of High King, which may have been possible only because of Congal’s prior success on the battlefield. The two powerhouses met in battle in 629 with Congal losing the engagement. Domnall continued to engage rivals throughout the 630s until near the end of the decade, Congal along with his ally from Dalariada were brought to face the High King. There is not much known of the actual battle. Tales exist which stated the enormity of the armies. Domnall II’s armies were local Irishmen while Domnall I was able to bring in Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Briton (Welshmen). At least one side had a cavalry of substantial size. A 19th century historian claimed the fighting may have lasted a week.

Also in the 19th century, a railway line was constructed in the area. As excavation was underway, the remains of thousands of men and horses were unearthed. The numbers found speak to the size of the armies brought into battle on this day. It is known that Congal was killed during the engagement and Domnall II’s position of power was secured. Domnall I’s plans for conquest were shattered and the Uí Néill clan of Domnell II became the de facto dominant power in northern Ireland. This was something they would hold on to, at last in some form, until the Flight of the Earls in 1607. The clan and their descendants ruled for nearly a thousand years.

A field commander never has the information he needs. He has to go with his best hunch. The more information he has, the easier it is for him to win the battle. – Tom Clancy

No battle is worth fighting except the last one. – Enoch Powell

Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don’t ever apologize for anything. – Harry S Truman

The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug. – Chris Hedges

Also on this day: The Cynic – In 1842, Ambrose Bierce was born.
UFO – In 1947, Kenneth Arnold saw something strange in the sky.
Victory Parade – In 1945, a parade was held in Moscow.
Dance Fever – In 1374, St. John’s Dance broke out in Germany.
All Four Engines Cut Out – In 1982, a plane lost all four engines and managed to not crash.

* “Canal bridge (road) at Moira – – 360218” by Albert Bridge. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –