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June 24, 2015

June 24, 637: Moira, Ireland’s biggest battle

On this day in 637, rival clans met at the Battle of Moira, the largest battle in Irish history. It was notable for its mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, compiled in far-off England 250 years later, and for the establishment of a dynasty that lasted for a millennium.

For centuries, Ireland was a collection of miniature kingdoms, with borders constantly shifting with alliances.

In 629, High King of Ireland Domnall II defeated his foster son, King Congal of Ulster, at Dún Ceithirn in today’s County Londonderry. Congal repaired to Scotland and waited in exile; he had lost an eye in a beekeeping accident, and as a result, many saw him as unworthy of being the High King.

Congal returned in 637 and challenged Domnall II near Moira; despite bringing allies from across the Irish Sea, he was once again defeated, this time mortally. The scope of the fight was confirmed in the 1830s, when construction of a railway in County Down revealed a vast field of human and equine skeletons.

After the battle, Domnall II’s clan, the Uí Néill, would dominate northern Ireland until the 17th century.

Author Tim Hodkinson has an in-depth post about the battle that is well worth the read.

Image: Grianán of Aileach, a reconstruction of a Uí Néill stone fort from the sixth or seventh century. John Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons

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