Breifne is said[by whom?] to derive from an obsolete Irish word meaning "hilly", a description which describes the topography of this part of Ireland. 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, a brave soldier-woman.
In 1256, a great battle was fought between the O'Rourkes and the O'Reillys near Ballinamore. This led to the division of Breifne between the Ó Ruaircs and O'Reillys. The Bréifne region was split into East Bréifne and West Bréifne.
The Ó Ruairc kings (O'Rourke) maintained lordship over West Bréifne (mainly County Leitrim), while the Ó Raghallaigh kings (O'Reilly) retained lordship over East Bréifne (County Cavan).
The Kingdom of Bréifne region was part of the kingdom of Connacht up until the time 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.
The Ó Ruaircs were effectively lords of Breifne Ó Ruairc through the turbulent 16th century.
History of Breifne
Septs of Breifne c. AD 700
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.
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.
Cenél Laegaire – County Fermanagh. The Fir Manach, the Cinéal Eanna and the Cenél Laegaire were early indigenous tribes in the County Fermanagh area. The Cenél Laegairi mic Neill were noted west of Loch Erne (Book of Lecan). The Cenél Laegairi mic Neill were also noted in central Ireland (Mide, Meath).
List of the Kings of Breifne
Note: Where mentioned spelling used in the document is used here.
Echu Mugmedón, father to Brión, Fiachra, and Niall (of the Nine Hostages).
Brión: son of Echu Mugmedón and the ancestor of the O'Briuin Kings of Connacht.
Aodh Fionn mac Fergna: king of Breifne
Maenach mac Báithin: king of Ui Briuin Breifne – c.653–
Dub Dothra: king of the Ui Briuin & Conmaicne & Breifne – c.743–
Cormacc mac Duibh Dá Críoch: king of Breifni – c.790
Muircheartach mac Donnghal, king of Breifne: c.800–806
Mael Dúin mac Échtgal, king of Breifne: died822
Ceallach son of Cearnach, son of Dubh Dothra, king of Breithfne
Tighearnán mac Seallachan, king of Breifne: c.888 – father of Ruarc
Ruarc mac Tighearnáin, lord of Ui Briuin Breifne: c. 893 – grandfather of Sean Fergal
Flann mac Tighearnáin, lord of Breifne: c.910
Cernachan mac Tighearnáin, king of Breifne: died 931
Conghalach mac Cathaláin, lord of Breifne: c.935
Cléircén son of Tigernán, king of Bréifne: C. 937
Fergal? ua Ruairc, king of Bréifne
Ó Ruairc dynasty, Kings of Bréifne, c. 964 - 1257
(Sean) Fergal Ó Ruairc king of Connacht & Breifne: c.964–67
Niall Ó Ruairc, heir of Breifne: 1000–1001
Aedh Ó Ruairc, king of Breifne: died 1014–1015 – son of Fergal
Art an caileach Ó Ruairc, king of Breifne: c.1020–1030? – son of Fergal
Aedh Ó Ruairc, lord of Dartraige: 1029
Art uallach (oirdnidhe) Ó Ruairc, king of Connacht & Breifne: c.1030–1046 – son of Aedh mac Fergal
Niall Ó Ruairc, king of Breifne Connacht: 1047 – son of Art uallach
Domnall Ó Ruairc, lord of Breifne: c.1057 – son of Niall
Cathal Ó Ruairc, lord of Breifne: c.1051–1059 – son of Tighernan
Aedh in Gilla Braite Ó Ruairc, king of Breifne: 1066 – son of Niall son of Art Uallach
Aed Ó Ruairc, king of Connacht & Breifne: c.1067–1087 – son of Art Uallach
Donnchadh cael Ó Ruairc, king of Breifne: c.1084 – son of Art an caileach
Ualgharg Ó Ruairc, royal heir of Connacht: 1085 – son of Niall son of Art uallach
Donnchadh Ó Ruairc, lord of Ui Briuin and Conmaicne: 1101 – son of Art Uí Ruairc
Domnall Ó Ruairc, king of Connacht & Breifne: c.1095–1102 – son of Tigernán son of Ualgharg
Cathal Ó Ruairc, lord of Ui Briuin Breifne and Gailenga: 1105 – son of Gilla Braite son of Tigernán
Domnall Ó Ruairc, lord of Ui Briúin: c.1108 – son of Donnchadh
Aedh an Gilla Sronmaol Ó Ruairc king of Conmaicne: c.1117–1122 – son of Domnall (or Donnchadh).
O'Reillys of East Breifne: O Raghalliagh, Kings of Muintir Maoilmhordha, c.1161–1607
Cathal mac Gofraid 1161–1162
Cathal mac Annaid c. 1220–c. 3 May 1256
Conchobar mac Cathail 1256–1257
Domnall mac Annaid 1257–1283
Matha mac Domnaill 1285–1285
Fergal mac Domnaill 1285–1293
Gilla Isu Ruad mac Domnaill 1293–1330
Risdeard mac Giolla Iosa Ruaidh 1330–1349
Cu Chonnacht mac Giolla Iosa Ruaidh 1349–1365
Pilib mac Giolla Iosa Ruaidh 1365–1384
Maghnus mac Con Connacht 1369–1369
Tomas mor mac Mathghamhna 1384–1392
Seoan mac Pilib 1392–1400
Giolla Iosa mac Pilib? 1400–1400
Maolmhordha mac Con Connacht 1403–1411
Risdeard mac Tomais Mhoir 1411–1418
Eoghan mac Seoain 1418–1449
Sean an Einigh mac Eoghain 1449–3 September 1460
Fearghal mac Tomais Mhoir 1449–1450
Cathal mac Eoghain 1460–1467
Toirdhealbhach mac Seaain an Einigh 1467–1 September 1487
Seaan mac Toirdhealbhaigh 1487–after 25 November 1491
Seaan mac Cathail 1491–1510
Aodh mac Cathail 1510–1514
Eoghan Ruadh mac Cathail 1514–1526
Fearghal mac Seaain 1526–1534
Maolmhordha mac Seaain 1534–1565
Aodh Connallach mac Maolmhordha 1565–1583
Sir Seaan Ruadh mac Aodha Connallaigh 1583–1596
Pilib Dubh mac Aodha Connallaigh 1596–1596
Eamonn mac Maolmhordha 1596–1601
Eoghan mac Aodha Connalaigh 1601–1603
Maolmhordha mac Aodha Connallaigh 1603–1607
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. Since 2017, the O'Rourke and O'Reilly clans still struggle to gain the title "Prince of Breifne."
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