Corleck Hill, Drumeague. Courtesy of Tom Barron Collection

Eochaid Mugmedón: A King of Tara, killed by his grandsons at Knockbride

This week's Times Past column by historian Jonathan Smyth looks at a King of Tara killed on Corleck Hill, Drumeague in the parish of Knockbride...

The story of Eochaid Mugmedón and his grandsons, the ‘Three Collas’ may be well known in folklore circles, but not for having a happy ending. Eochaid was a ‘slave lord’ and a local king who died in what is present day East Cavan, and as stated, being no angel himself, led raids against Roman Britain, capturing slaves to work the land back in Ireland. St Patrick as a boy was captured and uprooted from across the sea and brought to Ireland by slave lords like Mugmedón and according to tradition, this erstwhile slave master was killed at the hands of his grandsons, the Three Collas, at Dub Commair, alias Drumeague (Corleck Hill), Knockbride, Co. Cavan. Eochaid Mugmedón had five sons, one of whom was the famous Niall Nóigiallach, who is better known as, ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’.

Cairenn ‘of the black hair’

In Darragh Smyth’s ‘A Guide Irish Mythology’, there is an account of how Eochaid first met Cairenn, a Saxon princess, who became one of his mistresses, and possibly his second wife, after he had ‘carried her off’ on one of his raids to Britain. She was known as Cairenn Chasdub, meaning Cairenn of ‘the black hair’ and was a daughter of a man called Saxall Balb (Balb, meaning one who stutters). There are two accounts relating to Cairenn’s time in Ireland and the first states that she stayed at Tara, living out her days with the slaves ‘drawing and carrying’ water from a well, and the second account, maintains that she went to live near ‘Sliabh Guaire’, in Co. Cavan.

Eochaid was married to Mongfhind and when she heard that Cairenn became pregnant by her husband, it infuriated her. As retribution, Mongfhind made Cairenn work hard until the time of the birth in the hope of making her lose the child. In due course the baby was born one day while Cairenn on Tara’s green and being afraid of Mongfhind, she dared not hold the baby boy. Instead, a poet named Torna took the child and brought him up. When the boy later known as Niall Nóigiallach was fully grown, he returned to Tara to find his mother still drawing water. Enraged, he told her to stop, but she was afraid because of the queen. Niall insisted that she stop working, telling her that she would no longer be a slave and he a king’s son. After that, he and Cairenn went to Tara, where he had her dressed in ‘purple raiment’.


In 379 AD, Niall Nóigiallach was crowned king of Ireland and like his father he went on far-reaching raids across Europe. On one such raid, he was killed along the banks of the River Loire in the twenty-fourth year of his reign. He had fourteen sons, and eight of them remained in Meath, and another four re-located to Ulster, but as for the remaining there is little information .

For eight years, in the late fourth century AD, Eochaid Mugmedón ruled as king of Tara, overseeing a principality that is believed to have ‘stretched’ from Meath into parts of Cavan. It is said, that the historic Uí Néill clan can trace their family line back to Eochaid, through his son Niall Nóigiallach. At the time, of Eochaid’s reign, Christianity was overtaking the teachings of the druids and their sites were being transferred to the new order under St. Patrick. Drumeague alias Dub Commair, in Co. Cavan, was a Celtic religious centre of old Ireland, and Eochaid was its protector.

Eochaid had three grandsons, Colla Vais, Colla Da Chrioch, and Colla Meann, who together were known as the Three Collas who infamously conspired against and murdered their grandfather on the very site he was protecting. According to Darragh Smyth, the killing of Mugmedón hastened the end of the Celtic belief system and assisted the spread of Christianity. Smyth’s book mentions historian Thomas Barron’s view, that a curse was placed on the hill at Dub Commair as a result of some ‘vile crime’ that took place, which could be interpreted to be the murder of Mugmedón.


There is a colourful tale telling of the last time that the triangle was used as a tool of punishment in Cavan Town. In Bridge Street, near to River Street, lay a piece of ground on which the town stocks and a triangle were situated. The triangle was where whippings took place for punishable offences, such as the use of profane cursing and swearing. Adult offenders were fined and placed in the stocks. The children were placed in the triangle and given several lashes of the whip, to be administered by a parent, or the local constable.

In ‘The Civic History of the Town of Cavan’, local historian T.S. Smyth, tells a story about the last ‘keeper’ of the stocks, a man named Rutherford who lived in Bridge Street. Strangely enough, the story relates that he was also the last person to suffer the effects of the old triangle before it was discontinued in the early part of the nineteenth century. The keeper’s punishment took place when a young man called Brady from the Ballinagh area was in town and thought that he would make ‘an example’ of the man who had ‘inflicted pain’ on so many. Putting on an air of curiosity, he asked the keeper how the system worked. Rutherford enthusiastically began demonstrating the workings of the triangle, even finding himself persuaded to place his hands in the metal clips. Without warning, Brady tightened the screws on the clips before administering him an unmerciful lashing. The triangle was soon dismantled after this unfortunate event and taken away.


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