Kingdom of Breifne

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Kingdom of Breifne

Bréifne  (Irish)
Kingdom of Breifne-900.svg
Breifne c.900
Capital Dromahair
Common languagesIrish
Government Elective monarchy
 Split from Connacht
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Connacht.svg Connacht
East Breifne O'Reilly.png
West Breifne O'Rourke Arms.svg
Today part ofFlag of Ireland.svg  Republic of Ireland Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Ireland in 1014 showing the patchwork of kingdoms
Ireland in 1014 showing the patchwork of kingdoms

The Kingdom of Breifne or Bréifne ( [ˈbrʲeːfnʲe] ; anglicized Breffny) was a medieval overkingdom in Gaelic Ireland. It comprised what is now County Leitrim, County Cavan and parts of neighbouring counties, and corresponds roughly to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kilmore. It had emerged by the 10th century, as a confederation of túatha headed by an overking drawn from the Uí Briúin Bréifne.


By the 11th century, Bréifne was ruled by the Ua Ruairc (O'Rourke) dynasty. The kingdom reached the height of its power in the 12th century, under Tigernán Ua Ruairc. During the latter part of his reign, Bréifne took part in campaigns against the Norman invasion of Ireland. His assassination by the Anglo-Normans in 1172 was followed by a succession dispute, and a conflict between the Ua Ruairc and Ua Raghallaigh (O'Reilly) dynasties.

Following the Battle of Magh Slecht in 1256, Bréifne split into West Breifne (ruled by the Ua Ruairc) and East Breifne (ruled by the Ua Raghallaigh).

Bréifne was part of the province of Connacht until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In that time it was shired into the modern counties Cavan and Leitrim, Leitrim remaining a part of the province of Connacht while Cavan became part of Ulster.


Septs of Breifne c. AD 700 Breifne700AD.png
Septs of Breifne c. AD 700

Breifne is said [1] to derive from an obsolete Irish word meaning "hilly", a description which describes the topography of this part of Ireland. [2] But this derivation is opposed by the likes of O'Connell [3] and MacEoin. [4] It was referred to as the rough third of Connacht. Alternatively, the Metrical Dindshenchas states the name is derived from Brefne, daughter of Beoan mac Bethaig, the grandson of Nemed, a brave soldier-woman. She was slain by Regan after whom Tomregan is supposedly named. [5] [6]

In ancient times the area that became to be known as Bréifne was said to be occupied by the Erdini, called in Irish 'Ernaigh', who possessed the entire country bordering Lough Erne.

At the time of the Christianization of Ireland (c. 5th–6th century) groups believed to be in or near Breifne included the Glasraighe, Masraige, Dartraige, Armhaighe, Gallraighe, the Fir Manach, and the Gailenga.

Around the 6th century a people known as the Conmaicne Rein are thought to have moved north from around the present Dunmore in County Galway and settled in Magh Rein (the area around Fenagh). From here they peopled what is now South Leitrim, which became known as Magh Rein, and its inhabitants as the Conmaicne Magh Rein. They consisted of different family groupings – Muintir Eolais, Muintir Cearbhallain (O Mulvey), and Cinel Luachain, among others.

About the 8th century, the area since known as Breifne was conquered and settled by the Uí Briúin who were a branch of the royal family of Connacht. The Uí Briúin established themselves first in modern county Leitrim and then into what is now County Cavan. It can be argued that there is no contemporary evidence to support these speculations.[ citation needed ]

By the 9th century the Ó Ruaircs had established themselves as kings of Breifne.

In the 10th and 11th centuries the Ó Ruairc kings of Breifne fought some battles for the title of king of Connacht, four different kings of Breifne gaining the title.

During the 12th century the reign of Tighearnán Ua Ruairc, the kingdom of Breifne was said to comprise most of the modern counties of Leitrim and Cavan, and parts of Longford, Meath, Fermanagh and Sligo.

In the 16th century Breifne O'Rourke eventually became County Leitrim and Breifne O'Reilly became County Cavan.


The following territories were at one stage part of Breifne.

Duncarbry (Dun Chairbre) marks the border of Cairbre's territory on the Drowes, while the Barony of Carbury in North Sligo still reminds us also today.

Noted chiefs of Cenél Cairpre included Ó Maolchloiche (O'Mulclohy).

According to the Annals of the Four Masters , about 476 AD, the Battle of Granard was fought by Eochaidh, son of Cairbre, son of Oilioll, son of Dunlaing, son of Enda Niadh against the Ui Dunlainge, Ui Briúin Cualann and Ui Fergusa of North Leinster.

Kings of Breifne

Note: Where mentioned spelling used in the document is used here.

Early kings

Ó Ruairc dynasty, Kings of Bréifne, c. 964–1257

Lords of Bréifne Ó Ruairc, 1257–1605

Lords of Bréifne Ó Raghallaigh (Muintir Maelmordha)

Modern Breifne

The Prince of Breifne is a courtesy title given to the Chieftain O'Rourke in 1994 by the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland. In 2003, however, the Chief Herald stopped giving out courtesy titles due to a scandal over the MacCarthy Mór.

Princes of Breifne

Royal Court of Breifne

The Royal Court of Breifne is only as good as the members that make up the Court. The nobles, especially the higher ranking nobles under the leadership of the Royal Family, support by their actions and their efforts the aims of Their Highnesses Prince Martin and Princess Ingrid. The Court support the good works all around, especially where people are in need and seek to interact with other indigenous peoples of the world and to establish diplomatic relationships where possible. The function of the Royal Court of Bréifne is to demonstrate that not only has the ancient family survived but that there is much to offer society. The ancient legal system (Brehon Law) that governed the Celtic world prior to Christianity provided a magnificent system of true democracy. While Lord Martin has no ambition for working to reinstate this ancient system, he does believe that much can be learned from days past.

See also


  1. page 4
  2. Tristram, Hildegard L.C., ed. (26–27 July 2007). "The Celtic Languages in Contact" (PDF). Potsdam University Press. Retrieved 10 December 2012.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Part 71 of The Metrical Dindshenchas

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