1st Millennium O’Hanlons

The early history of Ulster reminds us that the settled Ultonians were defeated in 332 by the three Colla brothers who subsequently divided their conquered territories between them.

It was the descendant of one of these, Colla-Da-crich, by name Daire, son of Finnchad who was in occupation of the much-desired hill (upon which the old Cathedral now stands) when Patrick eyed the same with the intention of establishing his first Church there. 

A little outside Armagh is Navan Rath, the ancient capital of Ulster, the crowning place of kings of the provinces from about 350 BC, and though the site remains, the conquering Collas saw fit to set up their own settlement elsewhere. By their victory the three princes became possessed of those territories now encompassed by the counties of Armagh, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Louth and ascribed to them the collective name of Airghilla (or Oriel). Their progeny ramified into the potent clans of O’Hanlon, MacMahon, Maguire and MaCan. The O’Hanlon line had the closest relation to Armagh and was descended through Niallan – whose name is celebrated in the surname O’Neill.

When Patrick reached Armagh, it is said, he found Emania deserted and Daire, as stated, resident on the central hill. Daire offered the saint a site on the lower slope of the hill but outside the ramparts of his own habitation, which is where Patrick’s first Church was built.

Later relations between the two improved and eventually the saint was given the hill-top site. Soon a second church arose around which grew the many schools and religious establishments which made Armagh a seat of learning famous throughout the civilised world. Armagh became what it still is – the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and Daire endowed the Christian settlement with lands surrounding the town.

A group of twenty townlands, it is said, were gifted to the church at a very early date including the historic Navan.

… O’Hanlon: Boru to Bruce …

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