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Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill

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Cause of death  Battle (?)
Name  Ruaidhri Raghnaill
Spouse(s)  Unknown
Term  fl. 1214-?1247
Successor  Dubhghall mac Ruaidhri
Parents  Ragnall mac Somairle

Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill
Title  Lord of Kintyre Ruler of Garmoran (?)
Died  1247, Ballyshannon, Republic of Ireland
Children  Dubhghall mac Ruaidhri, Ailean mac Ruaidhri
People also search for  Dubhghall mac Ruaidhri

Great-grandparents  Olafr Godredsson
Other names  Ruairi, son of Ranald
Grandparents  Somerled, Ragnhildis

Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill (died 1247?) was a leading figure in the Kingdom of the Isles and a member of Clann Somhairle. He was a son of Raghnall mac Somhairle, and was the eponymous ancestor of Clann Ruaidhrí. Ruaidhrí may have become the principal member of Clann Somhairle following the annihilation of Aonghus mac Somhairle in 1210. At about this time, Ruaidhrí seems to have overseen a marital alliance with the reigning representative of the Crovan dynasty, Rǫgnvaldr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles, and to have contributed to a reunification of the Kingdom of the Isles between Clann Somhairle and the Crovan dynasty.


Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill

In the first third of thirteenth century, the Scottish Crown faced a series of uprisings from the Meic Uilleim, a discontented branch of the Scottish royal family. Ruaidhrí is recorded to have campaigned with Thomas fitz Roland, Earl of Atholl against the Irish in the second decade of the century. One possibility is that these maritime attacks were conducted in the context of suppressing Irish supporters of Scottish malcontents. In 1221/1222, Alexander II, King of Scotland oversaw a series of invasions into Argyll in which Scottish royal authority penetrated into Kintyre. As a result, Ruaidhrí appears to have been ejected from the peninsula and replaced by his younger brother, Domhnall. Whilst Alexander's campaign appears to have been directed at Ruaidhrí, the precise reasons behind it are uncertain. On one hand, the threat of a unified Kingdom of the Isles may have triggered the invasion. On the other hand, if Ruaidhrí had indeed supported the Meic Uilleim, such support to Alexander's rivals could account for royal retaliation directed at Ruaidhrí.

According to several mediaeval chronicles, a certain Roderick took part in the last Meic Uilleim revolt against Alexander. One possibility is that Ruaidhrí and this Roderick are identical. If correct, Ruaidhrí's alliance with the Meic Uilleim may have originated as a consequence of his expulsion from Kintyre by the Scottish Crown. Whilst Ruaidhrí's later descendants certainly held power in the Hebrides and Garmoran, it is uncertain how and when these territories passed into their possession. In 1230, following Scottish interference in the Isles, Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway sent Óspakr-Hákon to restore authority in the region as King of the Isles. The fact that Ruaidhrí is not recorded in the subsequent Norwegian campaign could be evidence that he had occupied himself in supporting the near-concurrent Meic Uilleim rebellion, or that he resented the prospect of Óspakr-Hákon's overlordship.

Ruaidhrí seems to be identical to a certain Mac Somhairle who was slain in battle assisting Maol Seachlainn Ó Domhnaill, King of Tír Chonaill resist an English invasion. The following year, Ruaidhrí's son, Dubhghall, and another Clann Somhairle dynast sought the kingship of the Isles from Hákon. There is reason to suspect that Mac Somhairle had previously been recognised by Hákon as King of the Isles, and that the two Clann Somhairle kinsmen sought to succeed Mac Somhairle as king after his death. Whatever the case, Ruaidhrí's sons were certainly active in Ireland afterwards, with his younger son, Ailéan, being one of the earliest gallowglass commanders on record.

Familial background

Ruaidhrí seems to have been the senior son of Raghnall mac Somhairle (died 1191/1192–c.1210/1227). Raghnall was in turn a son of Somhairle mac Giolla Brighde, King of the Isles (died 1164), the common ancestor of Clann Somhairle. Another son of Somhairle was Dubhghall (died 1175×), eponymous ancestor of Clann Dubhghaill. Ruaidhrí was in turn the eponymous ancestor of Clann Ruaidhrí, whilst his brother, Domhnall, was the eponym of Clann Domhnaill.

There is uncertainty regarding the succession of the Clann Somhairle leadership following Somhairle's death in 1164. Although Dubhghall is stated to have been the senior dynast in the 1150s, his next and last attestation is preserved by the Durham Liber vitae which fails to accord him a royal title. One possibility is that Dubhghall had been succeeded or supplanted by Raghnall, whose recorded title of rex insularum, dominus de Ergile et Kyntyre ("king of the Isles, lord of Argyll and Kintyre") could indicate that Raghnall claimed control over the Clann Somhairle territories. Like Dubhghall, the year and circumstances of Raghnall's death are uncertain as surviving contemporary sources fail to mark his demise.

Clann Somhairle and the Crovan dynasty

The first specific record of Ruaidhrí dates to 1213/1214. About five years beforehand, however, the sons of Raghnall are recorded by the fifteenth–sixteenth-century Annals of Ulster to have attacked the men of Skye, in an entry that may be evidence that Raghnall's sons were attempting to extend their authority over the island. The following year, the thirteenth–fourteenth-century Chronicle of Mann reports that the three sons of Aonghus mac Somhairle (died 1210), as well as Aonghus himself, were slain in battle on Skye. The record of this bloody encounter seems to indicate that Aonghus had succeeded Raghnall as the representative of Clann Somhairle by this date, and that the latter's sons responded by eliminating both Aonghus and his line. If so, it is possible that Ruaidhrí seized the succession of Clann Somhairle in the aftermath of the annihilation of this branch of the kindred.

Although the context of the conflict of 1209 is uncertain, one possibility is that it related to friction between Clann Somhairle and the Crovan dynasty. The Clann Somhairle claim to the kingship of the Isles seems to have stemmed from its descent from Somhairle's wife, Ragnhildr Óláfsdóttir, granddaughter of the common ancestor of the Crovan dynasty. In the mid twelfth century, Somhairle confronted Ragnhildr's brother, Guðrøðr Óláfsson, King of the Isles (died 1187), and wrested the kingship from him. Somhairle's coup resulted in the division of the Kingdom of the Isles between his descendants and Guðrøðr's.

In the second decade of the century, the Chronicle of Mann reveals that the wife of the reigning representative of the Crovan dynasty, Rǫgnvaldr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles (died 1229), was the sister of the bride of Rǫgnvaldr's rival half-brother, Óláfr Guðrøðarson (died 1237). Although the precise identity of the half-brothers' shared father-in-law is uncertain, the chronicle describes him as a nobleman from Kintyre, which suggests that he was a member of Clann Somhairle, as sources concerning this kindred associate it with Kintyre more than any other region. The half-brother's father-in-law, therefore, may well have been either Raghnall, or Ruaidhrí—both of whom appear to have been styled "Lord of Kintyre" in contemporary sources—or possibly even Domhnall.

It is conceivable that Rǫgnvaldr's union dates before 1210, perhaps not long after 1200 considering the age of his son, Guðrøðr Dond (died 1231), who was active in about 1223. The marital alliance appears to have been orchestrated in an effort to patch up relations between Clann Somhairle and the Crovan dynasty. It is possible that Rǫgnvaldr's kingship was formally recognised by Ruaidhrí as the principal member of Clann Somhairle, and that Ruaidhrí thereby established himself as a leading magnate within a reunified Kingdom of the Isles. Such a development may have taken place at about the time of Aonghus' elimination.

Ruaidhrí is likely one of the unnamed sons of Raghnall who is recorded by various Irish annals to have campaigned with Thomas fitz Roland, Earl of Atholl (died 1231) in a fleet of over seventy ships against the Irish in 1211/1212. Ruaidhrí is certainly reported by the same sources to have assisted Thomas in ravaging Derry and the surrounding countryside again in 1213/1214. On one hand, these seaborne operations may have been undertaken in the context of supporting the Irish interests of Rǫgnvaldr, who seems to have been under pressure at about this period. The attacks could indicate that Thomas and his Clann Somhairle allies were supporting the cause of the English Crown in Ireland, and were coordinated with the campaigning of the English justiciar, John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich (died 1214). Like his kinsman Rǫgnvaldr, Thomas was the recipient of an English grant of Irish lands at about this time. It is also possible that the raids were conducted in specific regard to the interests of both the Scottish and English Crowns, and particularly aimed at limiting Irish support of the Meic Uilleim, a disaffected rival branch of the Scottish royal family.

Expulsion from Kintyre

In early 1221/1222 Alexander II seems to have overseen a series of invasions into Argyll, as evidenced by sources such as the thirteenth-century Gesta Annalia I, the fifteenth-century Scotichronicon, and the fifteenth-century Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland. According to the former source, the king personally led the first of two incursions in 1221. Although this operation is stated to have been curtailed by adverse weather, it is said to have been followed by a resoundingly successful offensive the year after. The campaign itself marks the earliest point at which the region was drawn into the Scottish realm. In fact, there is reason to suspect that the inhabitants of Argyll were unlikely to have regarded themselves as Scots until the mid point of the century. As a result of this aggressive projection of royal authority, Alexander seems to have gained the pacification of Kintyre, Cowal, and the islands of the Firth of Clyde. Such success may account for the commencement of the royal castle of Tarbert, the conferment of burghal status on Dumbarton shortly afterwards, and the notice of a royal constable at Dunoon—a record that appears to reveal the construction of a castle onsite and the transfer of Cowal to Alan fitz Walter, Steward of Scotland (died 1241). It is evident that the amicable cooperation between Ruaidhrí and Thomas had ended by the early 1220s. As the king's principal adherents in the maritime west, Thomas and his brother, Alan fitz Roland, Lord of Galloway (died 1234), likely played a leading role in the king's operations. The former was certainly active in naval operations between the Hebrides and Ireland in 1222, when he defeated a Hebridean fleet en route to Ireland. One possibility is that this particular action concerned the disruption of Clann Somhairle assistance to Irish kindreds opposed to English interests in Ireland.

There is reason to suspect that Alexander's campaign resulted in a local regime change, with Ruaidhrí being replaced by Domhnall in Kintyre. For example, whilst Ruaidhrí is recorded to have held lands in Kintyre during the thirteenth century, a later charter of Domhnall's son, Aonghus Mór (died c.1293), specifically locates one of the latter's ecclesiastical possessions "in my land which is called Kintyre". Although Clann Domhnall is well attested in Kintyre later in the century, there is no further evidence of Ruaidhrí or his Clann Ruaidhrí descendants on the peninsula. If Domhnall indeed replaced Ruaidhrí in the region it does not necessarily mean that he sided with the Scots against his brother: for example, although submission to the Scottish Crown seems to have been unpalatable to Ruaidhrí, Domhnall may have been more willing to endure Scottish overlordship.

Another beneficiary of Ruaidhrí's apparent ousting may have been Donnchadh mac Dubhghaill (died 1244×1248), who seems to have become the principal member of Clann Somhairle at about this time. Donnchadh may have capitalised on the resulting power vacuum in Argyll, and seems to have been entrusted with the Lordship of Argyll as a vassal of Alexander. Ruaidhrí's expulsion may have also been connected to the apparent marriage alliance between his kindred and the Crovan dynasty. Since the majority of Ruaidhrí's territories appear to have been mainland possessions, it is very likely that Alexander regarded this alliance and apparent reunification of the Isles as a threat to his own claims of overlordship of Argyll. Apprehension of this rejuvenated island realm may have been one of the factors that led to the Scots' invasion and Ruaidhrí's expulsion. In fact, the Chronicle of Mann reveals that, also in about 1221/1222, Óláfr was freed from his marriage by his apparent adherent, Reginaldus, Bishop of the Isles (died c.1226), after which Óláfr married a daughter of Fearchar mac an tSagairt, Earl of Ross (died c.1251). The latter was an emerging magnate closely linked to the Scottish Crown, and it is likely that Óláfr's realignment with such a figure was influenced by the concurrent campaign against Ruaidhrí, and was perhaps intended by the Scots to further destabilise the Isles.

Adherant of the Meic Uilleim insurgency

According to Gesta Annalia I, at some point in the 1220s the Meic Uilleim again rose in revolt, with the source identifying the participating Meic Uilleim faction members as: Giolla Easpaig, his unnamed sons, and a certain Roderick. Whilst this source is echoed by Scotichronicon, the wording of the version of events preserved by the fourteenth-century Chronicle of Lanercost seems to isolate Roderick from being a member of the Meic Uilleim.

The fact that Gesta Annalia I is a more contemporary source suggests that it+s identification of Roderick as a member of the Meic Uilleim may be more accurate than the less than unambiguous wording of the Chronicle of Lanercost. Nevertheless, if the latter source is to be believed, it could be evidence that this man is identical to Ruaidhrí himself. Although the sources that note Roderick's participation in the last Meic Uilleim revolt reveal that the kindred was utterly overcome and apparently extirpated, the fate of Roderick is not recorded. If Ruaidhrí is indeed identifical to Roderick, it is uncertain when he may have initiated such assistance to the insurgency. One possibility is that Ruaidhrí had supported the uprisings of the Meic Uilleim in the 1210s, which in turn could account for his dispossession from Kintyre. Evidence against such an early alliance may be the annalistic evidence of Ruaidhrí's attacks in Ireland in 1211/1212 and 1213/1214, if these operations were indeed conducted on behalf of the Scottish Crown against Irish associates of the Meic Uilleim. In fact, it may have only been after his expulsion that Ruaidhrí was compelled to align himself with Alexander's Meic Uilleim enemies.

Although it is possible that Ruaidhrí controlled the lordship of Garmoran and various islands in the Hebrides, there is uncertainty as to how and when these territories entered into the possession of his family. Later leading members of Clann Ruaidhrí certainly possessed these lands, but evidence of custody before the mid thirteenth century is lacking. Seemingly as a consequence of the Comyn family's part in the suppression of the Meic Uilleim revolt, Walter Comyn (died 1258) acquired the Highland lordships of Badenoch and Lochaber in 1229×1234. If Ruaidhrí and Roderick are indeed one and the same—and Ruaidhrí indeed possessed Garmoran—the proximity between this province to Badenoch and Lochaber could indicate that these territories had been centres of the Meic Uilleim insurrection. Ruaidhrí's possession of Garmoran would also mean that the king's grant to the Comyn kindred placed Walter Comyn upon the borders of both Donnchadh and Ruaidhrí. Alexander, therefore, may have intended for the Comyns to exert pressure upon their Clann Somhairle neighbours. The fact that no disturbances are recorded in the region after 1230 could be evidence that the king was successful in such machinations.

Óspakr-Hákon's invasion of the Isles

Meanwhile, in the Isles, the struggle between Rǫgnvaldr and Óláfr for the kingship continued on. Although Rǫgnvaldr had enlisted Alan fitz Roland's support by way of a marital alliance, Óláfr seized the kingship of the Isles in 1226, and slew Rǫgnvaldr three years later. The death of Alan fitz Roland's ally did not deter Gallovidian interests in the Isles. In fact, it is apparent that Alan fitz Roland and members of Clann Dubhghaill upheld pressure upon the recently inaugurated Óláfr. Reports of open warfare in the Isles reached the royal court of Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway (died 1263) in the summer of 1229. Although Óláfr arrived at the Norwegian court early the next year, having been forced from the Isles by Alan fitz Roland and his allies, it is evident that Hákon had already decided upon a course of action. As a matter of fact, the Norwegian king is recorded to have handed over the kingship of the Isles to an apparent member of Clann Dubhghaill named Óspakr (died 1230), and further bestowed upon this man the royal name Hákon, giving him command of the Norwegian fleet tasked with restoring peace in the Isles.

Having arrived in the Isles not long afterwards, the thirteenth-century Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar reports that Óspakr-Hákon's fleet linked forces with other leading members of Clann Dubhghaill at Islay. The reason why Ruaidhrí and Domhnall are unrecorded in the context of the campaign is uncertain. Not only had Ruaidhrí suffered from Alexander's encroachment, but his maternal kinsman, Guðrøðr Dond, played a prominent part in the campaign. If Ruaidhrí indeed partook in the final Meic Uilleim rebellion, his apparent absence from Óspakr-Hákon's campaign could be evidence that his desire for requital against the Scots was temporarily sated, or that he had perished with the Meic Uilleim.

The fact that Óláfr's previous struggle against Alan fitz Roland and Clann Somhairle is acclaimed by Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar suggests that Hákon did not intend to replace Óláfr with Óspakr-Hákon. Instead, Hákon seems to have planned for Óspakr-Hákon to reign over the sprawling domain of Clann Somhairle in an attempt to ensure this kindred's obedience. Óspakr-Hákon's prospective realm, therefore, may have comprised Argyll, Kintyre, and the Inner Hebrides. If correct, Ruaidhrí's nonappearance in the campaign may have been due to resentment of Óspakr-Hákon's prospective overlordship. Domhnall's absence, on the other hand, could relate to the fact that he seems to have come to an accommodation with the Scottish Crown in the wake of Ruaidhrí's expulsion, and to have owed his lordship in Kintyre to Alexander. If correct, the Norwegian muster off Islay may be indicative of an attempt by Óspakr-Hákon to overawe Domhnall. Whatever the case, Óspakr-Hákon's fleet afterwards entered the Firth of Clyde, and made landfall on Bute, where his forces successfully stormed and captured the island's fortress, a stronghold that is almost certainly identical to Rothesay Castle. The castle itself was a holding of Walter fitz Alan, Steward of Scotland (died 1241), and the attack upon it seems to evince the anxiety felt by Clann Somhairle in the face of the steward's steadily increasing regional influence.

Mac Somhairle

Despite the ambiguous evidence concerning Roderick, the last record of Ruaidhrí is the undated record of his lordship in Kintyre. It may be that the creation of the Comyn lordship of Badenoch and Lochaber, together with the establishment of various lordships throughout Great Glen, and the foundation of Fearchar's Earldom of Ross, successfully served to neutralise Ruaidhrí—if he indeed possessed the lordship Garmoran.

In 1248, both Ruaidhrí's succeeding son, Dubhghall (died 1268), and Donnchadh's succeeding son, Eóghan (died c.1268×1275), are stated by Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar to have arrived in Norway, with both men seeking the kingship of the northern Suðreyjar from Hákon. The entirety of the Suðreyjar—an Old Norse term meaning "Southern Islands"—roughly equates to the Hebrides and Mann. The precise jurisdiction that Dubhghall and Eóghan competed for is uncertain. For example, the northern Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris and Skye appear to have been held by the Crovan dynasty, then represented by Óláfr's succeeding son, Haraldr Óláfsson, King of the Isles (died 1248). One possibility is that Eóghan and Dubhghall sought kingship of the same jurisdiction that Hákon had awarded to Óspakr-Hákon about a decade before.

Although 1247 was also the year of Hákon's royal coronation, and it is possible that the arrival of the Clann Somhairle dynasts was a result of the reimposition of Norwegian overlordship in the Isles, another reason for their arrival may relate to the death of a certain Mac Somhairle—an apparent member of Clann Somhairle—slain whilst resisting an English invasion of Tír Chonaill in 1247. Merely a year before, Haraldr seems to have submitted to Henry III, King of England (died 1272), and it is possible that Hákon had consequently recognised Mac Somhairle's kingship in the Isles in retaliation to Haraldr's acceptance of English overtures. If correct, the voyage of Dubhghall and Eóghan to Norway may reveal that both men sought to succeed their fallen kinsman in the Isles. Although the identity of Mac Somhairle uncertain, he may well be indentitical to Ruaidhrí himself. Certainly, Dubhghall's presence in Norway suggests that he was indeed dead by this date.

An alliance with a ruler of the Isles would have certainly benefited Henry's ongoing military operations in Ireland, and it is possible that it was Haraldr's pact with him that had prompted Mac Somhairle's involvement against the English in Ireland. In fact, Clann Somhairle may have faced immediate repercussions for their alignment with the Norwegian Crown. For example, English financial records for 1248 reveal that Walter Bisset (died 1251) was tasked to fortify a castle along the Scottish coast. This castle appears to be that of Dunaverty, seated upon the southern coast of Kintyre. This could indicate that Walter's Ulster-based actions in Kintyre were undertaken as a means to divide the Isles, isolating Mann from the Hebrides. If Ruaidhrí is indeed identical to Mac Somhairle, and therefore died in 1247, Walter's activity at Dunaverty could be evidence of him capitalising upon a fortress that had formerly been held by Ruaidhrí. Apparently in about the same year that the Bissets seized Dunaverty, Thomas' illegitimate son, Alan (died c.1284), stormed the castle in a devastating attack that may have culminated in the capture Walter Bisset himself. Alan's attack upon the Bissets may have been partly connected to the activities of Clann Somhairle in Ireland.

The fall of Mac Somhairle is noted by numerous sources, such as the fifteenth–sixteenth-century Annals of Connacht, the Annals of Ulster, the seventeenth-century Annals of the Four Masters, and the sixteenth-century Annals of Loch Cé. At the time of his demise, Mac Somhairle was supporting the cause of Maol Seachlainn Ó Domhnaill, King of Tír Chonaill (died 1247), who was attempting to halt to expansion of the English when his forces were crushed by Maurice fitz Gerald, Lord of Offaly (died 1257) at Ballyshannon. Not only did Mac Somhairle lose his life in the affair, so too did Maol Seachlainn and the latter's principal underking, An Giolla Muinealach Ó Baoighill. At the time of his fall, Mac Somhairle would have undoubtedly commanded a force of fighting men—known later in the century as gallowglasses—and could have either lent military assistance to the Uí Domhnaill voluntarily, or else marketed such services to the kindred as a mercenary. About a decade after Mac Somhairle's death, Ruaidhrí's son, Dubhghall—also named Mac Somhairle by various Irish annals—is recorded to have fought the English in Connacht, and to have contracted a marital alliance with Aodh na nGall Ó Conchobhair (died 1274), who thereby received a tocher that included one hundred and sixty gallowglass warriors commanded by Ruaidhrí's younger son, Ailéan (died ×1296). Ruaidhrí's Clann Ruaidhrí descendants are recorded to have acted in Ireland as gallowglass commanders as late as the mid fourteenth century.


Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill Wikipedia

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