As an ancient country, the Emerald Isle has had its fair share of Irish kings and queens throughout its storied and fascinating history.
There have been many Irish kings and queens throughout Ireland’s history that have held the title of ruler of Ireland.
Some were loved and admired, while others were reviled and despised. What those in our list all have in common, however, is that they were all memorable and made a mark on Irish history, whether for better or worse.
This article will list what we believe to be the top five most famous Irish kings and queens of all time.
Top facts about Gaelic Ireland at the time of the kings and queens
- Gaelic Ireland was made up of many petty kingdoms, tribal territories, and kinship-based clans, with local kings and chieftains holding authority over their own regions.
- The Irish engaged in maritime trade, exporting goods such as livestock, textiles, and metalwork. They also had contacts with other Celtic regions and even traded with Mediterranean civilizations.
- The kings and queens of Ireland often faced challenges from Viking invasions and invasions from other Irish rivals.
- The last traditional King of Ireland is often considered to be Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, or Rory O’Connor, who reigned from 1166 to 1198.
- The history and legends surrounding the High Kings of Ireland are preserved in medieval Irish literature, such as the Annals of the Four Masters and the Lebor Gabála Érenn.
5. Máel Sechnaill – the king who ended slavery of the Irish in England
Máel Sechnaill, who succeeded Brian Boru as the High King of Ireland in 976, successfully secured his kingship during a battle in which he emerged victorious against the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin, Hamlaib Tara.
Sechnaill was a member of the Clann Cholmain Dynasty, a branch of Uá Néill which had dominated Ireland for generations and controlled the kingship of Tara – undoubtedly the most prestigious kingship in Ireland at the time.
For a long time, Sechnaill opposed Brian Boru, but after Boru gained the trust of the other Irish kings, Sechnaill was left with no option but to bow to his will.
Sechnaill shared the kingship of Ireland with Boru as he led the North. After Boru’s death, Sechnaill retained complete control of Ireland until he died in 1022. He is credited with ending the slavery of the Irish in England.
4. Dermot MacMurrough – one of Irish history’s most despised figures
If you ever happen to be reading a list of the most hated figures in Irish history, there is a significant probability that the name Dermot MacMurrough will be on it.
MacMurrough was the King of Leinster during the 12th century and was known for using force and brutality on his opponents, blinding and killing 17 of them!
In an attempt to hold on to his power, MacMurrough approached Henry II of England and offered to be his vassal if he would help him to reclaim Ireland.
MacMurrough became forever known afterwards as the man who invited England to Ireland, and many blame him for the following 800 years of conflict that occurred between the two nations.
3. Queen Maeve – a leader who inspired loyalty
Queen Maeve is one of the most well-known, well-liked, and written-about queens in Irish history and folklore.
Famous for being a passionate leader who inspired great loyalty in her followers who fought valiantly for her, Queen Maeve ruled over the province of Connacht in the West of Ireland with an iron fist.
Queen Maeve insisted on amassing equal wealth with her husband, Ailill mac Máta, so that they could rule the land equally together.
However, there was one aspect they were not equal in, as her husband possessed a prize bull that was more impressive than any in Maeve’s herd. Maeve was so power-hungry that she embarked on one of the most infamous tales in Irish mythology.
In what became known as ‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’, Maeve successfully obtained Ulster’s prize bull and became a victorious queen of Ireland. However, many had to pay the ultimate price for her success.
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2. Grace O’Malley – the infamous pirate queen
Grace O’Malley was a powerful female leader from Connacht who became famous as the Pirate Queen.
Born the daughter of a Gaelic chieftain, O’Malley became a chieftain herself in later life and controlled an army of 200 men and a fleet of fearsome galleys. Grace became renowned for being a fierce leader at sea and a shrewd politician on land.
She successfully defended the independence of her territories at a time when much of Ireland began to fall under English rule. She is still considered ‘the Pirate Queen of Ireland.’
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1. Brian Boru – the greatest of the Irish high kings
In first place on our list of what we believe to be the top five most famous Irish kings and queens of all time is Brian Boru, who is undoubtedly Ireland’s most famous and successful king.
After his coronation in Cashel, Boru became the High King of Ireland and successfully masterminded the defeat of the Leinster kings and the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, effectively driving the Vikings out of Ireland.
While Brian’s side successfully won the battle, he, unfortunately, died from wounds he sustained on Good Friday, 23 April 1014.
He is remembered as the founder of the O’Brien dynasty and is still widely regarded as one of Ireland’s most successful and unifying monarchs.
That concludes our article on what we believe to be the top five most famous Irish kings and queens of all time. Are there other famous Irish kings and queens you think deserve a place on our list?
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Your questions answered about Irish kings and queens
If you want to know more about the famous Kings and Queens of Ireland, we’ve got you covered! In the section below, we’ve put together some of our readers’ most popular questions that have been asked online about the topic.
Who was the first king of Ireland?
Ireland was made up of many smaller kingdoms with regional kings and queens however, the first High King of Ireland was Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid.
Who is the most famous Irish queen?
Grace O’Malley was the most famous Irish queen.
Who was the last High King of all Ireland?
Ruaidhri Ua Conchubair was the last High King of Ireland. He failed to stop and reverse the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, which led to his defeat.