IRISH DALRIADA by Hugh Alexander Boyd

This article first appeared in The Glynns Volume 8 and is re-presented here in it’s original format.


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Irish Dalriada has been represented in not a few histories, maps and references of various kinds as including the northern half of what is now the county of Antrim and that part of what is now the county of Londonderry, east of the Bann and referred to as the north eastern Liberties of Coleraine.  This is the generally accepted version of its extent and one that has been held consistently down the years by many learned writers such as Colgan, Reeves, Curtis and others. So frequently has it been stated that this ancient territory included the area already mentioned, and so frequently has it been copied by one writer after another that it seems well nigh futile to attempt to question it. Any questioning of the traditional viewpoint may well savour of presumption most of all, perhaps, on the part of the writer of this article. Yet, nothing daunted, that is precisely what he proposes to do !

There is the well known saying that if an incorrect, or inaccurate viewpoint, or opinion, is repeated long enough and often enough, and not least where local historical studies fall victim to the effusions of  “would be”  historians,  people will eventually come to believe that it is indeed true !    Irish Dalriada is probably the best example in our midst of a piece of history that has so fallen a victim.

This ancient territory obtained its name from Cairbre Righfada (Cairpre Riata) “the long armed.” Famine, it is said,forced him to lead his people, the Dal Riata,  out of Munster northwards to Ulster .(1). “Dalriada in Ireland” wrote O’Hanlon, “extended thirty miles from the mouth of the river Bush to the present village of Glynn in the east of Antrim county “. (2).  This territory was founded on the north and east by the sea while the adjacent territory of Dalaradia (pronounced Dalaray) formed for the most part its western, and perhaps a very small portion of its Southern limits.  Keating mentions “the Buais (Bush) between Dalaradia and Dalriada” while the late Professor Eoin Macneill wrote “The kingdom of Dalriada in the north eastern corner (of Ireland) though it was small in extent and poor in fertility had the advantage of lying nearest to the Irish settlements beyond the channel in the islands and forelands of south western Scotland. (3).

The remotely ancient fortress of Dunseverick was within its bounds and its chief centre, or “capital” was Rath-Mughia., or Armoy.(4). In area it corresponded roughly with the territory represented by the present baronies of Carey, Upper Glenarm and Lower Glenarm. From the mouth of the Bush to the valley in which the old church of Glynn is situated is, in a direct line, thirty Irish miles. (5).  In other words this ancient territory was  a comparatively narrow coastal strip which, in the words of Hill, “extended from Bush-foot to the village of  Glynn near Larne. (6).  These views on the extent of the territory are corroborated by numerous primary and secondary authorities. Randal, first Earl of Antrim, writing to Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh — one of the greatest scholars of any age — informs the Primate that the territory of Dalriada extended thirty miles, from the mouth of the river Bush to the cross of Glenfinneaght, and at the same time quotes, in confirmation thereof, the following old Irish distich called “Patrick’s Testament”


“From the Buaish, which flocks fly over

Unto the cross of Glenfinneaght

Extends Dairiada of the subdivisions

As all who know the land can tell” (7).

This defines the territory with tolerable accuracy, Doctor M. A. O’Brien, M.A., sometime Head of the Department of Celtic in the Queen’s University of Belfast, in a letter written to me on 1st March 1939 (and preserved in one of my local history files) states: — “There can hardly be any doubt about it, Dalriada, as far as I know, consisted of the extreme north-eastern portion of Antrim and, of course, has nothing to do with the Route.” Doctor John Bannerman, of the Department of Scottish History in the University of Edinburgh states: — “The Dal Riata established along the Antrim coast shared the province with two other peoples, namely the Dal Fiatach, often called the Ulaid, on the coast of Down and the Dal nAraide (Dalaray) or Cruithne in the interior.”(8).  According to the judgement delivered at the Convention of Drumcreatt in A.D. 525 concerning the rights of the kings of Ireland and of the Scottish Dalriada in the Dalriada, the limits of the territory were defined as the seven tuoghs or cantreds of the Glens, one of which cantreds was the island of Rathlin. The evidence on behalf of Randal, first Earl of Antrim, in a lawsuit brought by a Scotsman named Crawford, Laird of Lisnorris in Ayrshire, who claimed the island of Rathlin in 1617, was that Rathlin was part of the ancient territory of Dalriada. The Earl won his case by proving that Rathlin formed part of the seven tuoghs or cantreds of the Glens of Antrim — “Dalriada of the subdivisions.”


This was about co-extensive with the parish of Ramoan and Grange of Drumtullagh; in the parish of Ramoan was the castle which gave Ballycastle its name. This district is called in various documents — Munerie, Manyberry, Mowbray and Mowberry.


This territory included the parish of Armoy and the minor territory of the island of Rathlin (constituted a parish in 1722). It is curious that Armoy and Rathlin were always coupled together in the enumeration of townlands in the barony of Cary. This may have arisen from the tradition of the “Rathlin Hollow.” St. Patrick is said to have turned the devil out of Armoy and that in revenge he took up a piece of land not far from the parish church of St. Patrick in the parish, threw it into the sea and that it became the island of Rathlin!  Certainly in the Roman Catholic parochial arrangement the parishes of Armoy and Rathlin were united until about 1778. (9).


This is often used as a synonymous with the parochial name – Culfeightrin, but as a barony comprises much more than the original territory and extends coastwise from the Cushendun river to Bush-foot.


Meaning : the middle Glen; this comprises the parish of Layd and the Grange of Innispollan.


That part of the parish of Ardclinis between Nappan and Lemnalary.


This comprised Tickmacrevan, Ternpleoughter and Solar and was so-called from the demesne attached to the castle of Glenarm.


This comprised Carncastle, Killyglen, Kilwaughter and Larne. (10).

The supposition that the contracted word Reuta or Rata (Route) is derived from the word Riada or Riata and that it is an alias name for Dalriada, is probably responsible for the erroneous theory adopted by many writers concerning its derivation. The term Route, or Macquillan’s country, occurs in 1210 in a pay- roll of King John, when he paid soldiers who joined in at Carrickfergus “from Route Midloicra.” The word is French and apparently became applied to its present area from the circumstance that the Route or Slighe Miodhluachra in Ulaidh passed through it to Dunseverick in Dalriada.(11).  The supposition that the word Route was derived from Riada has been abandoned by competent modern historians. Just as Airther Muige, or Armoy, was the chief town or “centre” of the territory of Dalriada, so Ballymoney, at a somewhat later date, became — and indeed is still familiarly known as “the capital of the Route” or Macquillan’s country.

The Four Masters at A.D. 822 record that “Fochaiah, son of Bresal, lord of Dalaraidhe-an-Tuaiscart,” i.e., north Dalaradia (Dalaray), was slain by his own people.

Tuaiscart, according to the Taxation Roll of Pope Nicholas IV, 1306 certainly included the territory now represented by the following parishes — Loughguile, Kildollagh, Kilraughts, Billy, Drumtullagh Grange, Ballyrashane, Coleraine, Agherton, Ballywillan, Dunluce, Derrykeighan, Ballymoney and some others. This in itself, clearly shows that the territory roughly corresponding to the area included by, or comprehending the Portstewart, Bushmills, Ballymoney, Coleraine quadrilateral was in north Dalaradia (Dalaray) not Dalriada. (12).

Furthermore, the Four Masters at A.D. 904 record the death of Bec Ua Lethlobhair, king of Dalaradia (Dalaray). This ruler is referred to as “the renowned chief of Tuaigh Inver.” (13).  Tuaigh Inver was the name of the former outlet of the river Bann at Crossreagh, near Agherton old church. The mouth of the river Bann is called Tuaigh Inbhie in the Annals of Innisfallen at A.D. 1084 and the name is still preserved in Dooey, a suo-denomination of the townland of Crossreagh, next the former Agherton Glebe.

It is hardly likely that the lord or chieftain of North Dalaradia (Dalaray) resided at the Bann estuary in what is now the parish of Agherton, if the territory was not possessed by him, but by the lord or chieftain of Dalriada. (14). Fiachra Lonn, lord or chieftain of Dalaradia (Dalaray) received as a reward for his assistance at the battle of Ocha. A.D. 478 the territories of Lee and Cairloegh (alias Ard Eolairg), i.e. the district west of the Bann, between Camus and Magilligan Point. Thus the oft repeated assertion that Dalriada extended westward to the Bann and from there northwards to the sea coast is quite contrary to the entire district, as recorded by the annalists. “I do not think that any serious recent historical scholar would include the area west of the Bann as part of Dalriada” — so wrote the late Mr. H. C. Lawlor to me in 1939. I have the original of this statement preserved in my historical letter file. (15).

It is recorded in the Book of Armagh that on the occasion of St. Patrick’s visit to Coleraine in 432 AD. the lord or chieftain of the territory, who gave him the site for St. Patrick’s church, was a prince of the Clan Rury of the race of Ir, and not a prince or chieftain of Dalriada. Reeves states that “in a marginal gloss on the Feilire of Aengus, at the eleventh of November, is the observation ‘in the north of Dalaradia, Culraithin is’ ” (16).   This correctly locates Coleraine in the territory of north Dalaradia (Dalaray) and agrees with the general history of the district, as recorded in the Irish Annals.

Reeves, unfortunately, has greatly mixed up the limits and extent of Dalaradia (Dalaray) and Dalriada in his Ecclesiastical Antiquities and his statements concerning the location of Dalriada, as given on pp. 71, 318, etc. (together with those of many other writers who have simply copied him) when carefully studied and examined in conjunction with the records of the Irish annalists cannot possibly be accepted as correct, either historically or topographically.(17).

The apparent similarity of the names Dalriada and Dalaradia (Dalaray) has led to much confusion; it has also produced the popular delusion that the district of the Route corresponds to, and is more or less co-extensive with, the territorial limits of ancient Dalriada. This is the outcome of a lack of access to, or superficial study of, the Irish MSS and printed translations of the Annals and other reliable authorities.

Dalaradia (Dalaray) is the Latinised form of Dal-Araidhe; it signifies “the posterity of Araidhe” a king of Ulaidh who lived during the first quarter of the third century A.D. This ruler is mentioned in the Four Masters as having been associated with the Cruithne in a battle with the king of Ireland 236 A.D. Dalaradia (Delaray) at that time included the greater part of what is now the county of Antrim, except the Dalriadan coastal strip.

I have stated the facts concerning the territorial limits of Irish Dalriada from the Annals and quoted sufficient information to support the deductions I have drawn from a careful and prolonged investigation of the matter. It can be proved and corroborated beyond any doubt that the entire early history of the district of Moy Elly, between the Bann and the Bush, is the history of north Dalaradia (Dalaray) and does not agree with the assumption of certain historical writers — including Reeves — that Dalriada extended westwards to the river Bann.

Various notices of the Dalaradians, or Cruithne, occur in the Irish Annals. The burning of Dungal, son of Scannal, king or prince of the Cruithne, together with the chieftain of Keenaghta in Dun Ceithern, the Giant’s Sconce, near Coleraine 680 A.D. is recorded in the Annals of Ulster. (18).  Dungal is elsewhere called “Dungal of EiIne” or Moy Elly, i.e., the plain between the Bann and the Bush. In the list of kings or princes of Dalaradia (Dalaray), given in the Book of Leinster, p. 41, col. 5, Dungal’s son, Ailill, is called “king of the Cruithne.” From these and other notices we learn that the territory of Moy Elly was possessed by the Dalaradians, or Cruithne and not by the Dalriadans.

“It is probable,” say O’Laverty, “that for some time the territory (Dalriada) extended to the River Roe, or at least to Benevenagh, the mountain above Magilligan, for the Four Masters record a battle fought A.D. 1182 by Donal McLoughlin against the English at Dunbo (Dunboe) in Dalriada.(19).

However this may be — and it is highly probable that there was an element of confusion here on the part of the annalists between Dalriada and Daiaradia (Dalaray) , the weight of evidence is quite definitely against the repeated assertion that Dalriada included the entire northern half of the present county of Antrim and north eastern Liberties of Coleraine in county Londonderry. Indeed, with this one possible exception — and observe that O’Laverty is careful to include in his statement the phrase — “for some time” — (in other words it was not a permanent feature), it is quite contrary to the entire recorded history of the area. True, the exception sometimes proves the rule, but whether or not it does so in the context of the subject matter, as discussed and presented in the course of this exercise, I must leave readers to judge.


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1. Bannerman — Studies in the History of Dalriada (1974), p. 123.

2. Lives of the Saints, Vol. II, p. 645.

3. Keating — History of Ireland, Vol. I, p. 118 and Macneill- St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland,  p. 51.

4. For architectural descriptions (Dunseverick and Armoy) see Preliminary Survey of Ancient Monuments, N. I., (1940), pp. 3 and 15.

5. Ibid. pp. 33 and 34,

6. Macdonnells of Antrim. p. 2.

7. These limits, or delineations of the territory generally coincide with those given in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, LXIII (1933), p. 11 and are also in harmony with the map of Dalriada which appears in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, (1937), Fig. 17, p. 329.

8. Studies in the history of Dalriada (1974). p. 2. The territory of the Cruithne or Irish Picts included at least the area from the Bush to the Roe and from the sea on the north to what is now the barony of Kilconway in the south- if not even further in the last mentioned direction.

9. O’Laverty — Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p. 452 and Richardson — Guide to Ballycastle and neighbourhood, p. 114.

10. Reeves — Ecclesiastical Antiquities, p. 232 and corroborated by Dubourdieu. Statistical Survey of the County of Antrim, p. 621. O’Laverty — Down and Connor. Vol. IV, pp. 30 and 31.

11. See article entitled “An Ancient Route” by the late Mr. H. C. Lawlor in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. I, Part 1 (1938), also Dr. George A. Little — Dublin before the Vikings, (1937), p. 44. Map of roadways in Ancient Ireland — Slighe Mhidhluachra. The townland of Ballaghmore in the parish of Dunluce, near BushmiIls, means “the great road.” It was so-called because of the great road that led from Tara to Dunseverick. Portions of the ancient pavement may be seen (or certainly were to be seen) near the river Bush on the way from Bushmills to Portballintrae. Revallagh, which is a townland situated between Bushmills and Coleraine, was probably also on this road. See a reference to Revellagh ( The Castle Plantation) in Preliminary Survey of Ancient Monuments, N. I., p. 9.

12.Orpen Ireland under the Normans. Vol. III, pp. 288-290.

13. Book of Lecan, Folio 252 bb.

14. A. Moore Munn — Notes on the place names of Parishes and townlands of County Londonderry, (1925), p. 35.

15. Mr. Lawlor further adds Durlus (Dunluce) was the seat of the ruling family of the area known as Carn (or Ard) Eolairg or Tuaiscard (Tweskard or Tuscard”).

16. Ecclesiastical Antiquities, p. 71.

17. As a matter of interest this is but one of several mis-statements by Reeves in his monumental work. For instance, he states on p. 285 that “previously to 1745 Ballintoy parish formed part of Billy parish.” Reeves is palpably in error here. Ballintoy is mentioned as a separate parochial unit in Archibald Stewart’s survey of the estates of the Earl of Antrim 1734. The fact is that Ballintoy became a separate parish some time between 1662 and 1670. See item No. 373 in the Calendar (Catalogue, 150 Primate’s copy) in the Primatial Registry, Armagh: More extraordinary still is the circumstance that the entry in the Calendar is in Reeves’s own handwriting ! Yet again, on page 334 of his Ecclesiastical Antiquities he records the names of but eight of the nine Glens of Antrim — he has omitted Glentaisie— and O’Laverty in his Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p. 31 slavishly copies him in this respect !  Again, Reeves simply copies Archdall in his Monasticon Hibernicum by stating that Coleraine Dominican Priory was situated on the west bank of the Bann, (p. 248). This should read “east bank.” All this goes to show how unwise it is simply to copy what has been stated by others without proper verification, as far as may be practicable.

18. Preliminary Survey of Ancient Monuments, N. L (1940), p. 188.

19. Down and Connor, Vol. IV, p. 2.


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