Munster (An Mhumhain) (Pop. 1,172,000), comprises only six counties, but is nonetheless the biggest as well as the southernmost of Ireland’s four Provinces, with an area of 24,607.52 km / 15,290.40mi.
The name An Mhumhain is derived from the Celtic goddess, Muma. The term Munster derives from a word meaning “land” or “territory” in either Old Norse (“staðr“) or Gaelic (“tír” preceded hy the Nordic S-genitive), and thus translates loosely as: “the country of Muma.”
The territory was at various times sub-divided into Uth Mumhain (Ormond / East Munster), Deas Mumhain (Desmond / West Munster), Tuadh Mumhain (Thomond / North Munster), iar Mumhain (West Munster), Deisi Mumhain (the part controlled by the Deise tribe) and Emaibh Mumhain (the part controlled by the Emai tribe); these were later subsumed into the three main areas of Ormond, Desmond and Thomond, still represented by three crowns on the provincial flag.
According to tradition, the kingdom of Mumha was established shortly after the arrival of the Milesians (Gaels), but it was not until 237 AD that Olill Ollum / Aillil Aulom established himself as king over the whole.
In 248 AD he divided his kingdom between his two sons, Eógan and Cormac Cas, stipulating that the title of king of Munster should belong in turn to their descendants. The following centuries saw a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of alliances between clans and septs that would make Byzantine politics look straightforward.
The Eóganachta / Eoghanachta, a dynastic group of related clans and septs in southern Munster, claimed to be descendants of Eógan. In c.400 AD they adopted Cashel as capital of their extensive territories in Munster. Cashel soon rivalled Tara and later Armagh as a centre of power in Gaelic Ireland. Despite the charming story of their ruler’s baptism by Saint Patrick, they were probably Christianised by the official Papal envoy Saint Palladius.
The Eoganachta were governed for five centuries by a succession of warrior bishops, several of whom were acknowledged as Ard Rí / High Kings of Ireland, at least in the Leth Cuinn (Southern half of Ireland, i.e. Mumha and Laigin). The most famous Eoganacht king was probably the legendary fighter and scholar Cormac mac Cuilennáin (d. 908). However, the dynastic network weakened and began to fragment, unable to resist the pillage and looting of the Vikings, who established ports and settled in Waterford, Cork and Limerick.
The Dál gCais / Dal Cais / Dalcassians, an obscure group of related septs in north Munster, were one of many of the subject peoples of the Éoganachta. In the late C7th and early C8th, when the overkingdom of Uí Fiachrach Aidhne fell into decline, they moved north and annexed land straddling the River Shannon, including a part of Connacht, which they renamed Tuad Mumu (Thomond). They claimed descent from Cas mac Conall Echlúath (hence the term “Dál”, meaning “portion / share” of Cas), who they conveniently identified with Cormac Cas, thus reiforcing their legitimacy as they rose to political prominence.
Brian mac Cennétig (b.c. 930 AD) built on the achievements of his father Cennétig mac Lorcain (d. 951 AD) and brother Mathgamain (murdered 976 AD) as rulers of Thomond; having defeated the Norsemen of Limerick, he avenged his brother by killing Mael Muad, the last Eoghanacht monarch, and had himself crowned King of Munster in 977 AD, As Brian Boruma (“Brian of the Tributes”) / Brian Ború, he went on to become Ard Rí / High King of all Ireland, and Emperor of the Irish, finally taming the powerful Norsemen in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf, where he was killed. According to legend, he was buried at the north end of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.
Brian Boru’s descendants lost the High Kingship, but continued as kings of Munster until 1119, and ruled a rather precariously independent Thomond until 1543.
Eóganachta surnames include MacCarthy, O’Sullivan, O’Mahony, O’Donoghue, O’Moriarty, O’Keefe, O’Callaghan and Scannell. The Uí Fidgeinti (e.g. the O’Donovans and O’Driscolls), non-subject allies of the Eóganachta, may have originally belonged to the Erainn / Fir Bolg as some claim, although it is just as likely they were a more “senior” or peripheral branch of the descendants of Ailill Aulom not involved in Cashel politics.
Deas Mumhain / Desmond was a historic southwestern territory, varying in size and status from a minor kingdom, a major earldom and a county until it was partitioned between County Cork and County Kerry in 1606.
Deas-Mumhan / Desmond was claimed by Gaelic MacCarthy Mór dynasty, founded by Tadgh MacCarthy representing the Eoganacht line, who declare himself king in 1123; his descendants were also self-styled kings of Munster. The MacCarthy Mór lordship was located to the south and west of Cork city.
Maurice FitzGerald de Windsor”s second son, Thomas, was father of John FitzThomas FitzGerald of Shanid, 1st Baron Desmond, killed in 1261at the Battle of Callan in Kerry. His son wasThomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald (1261 – 1298), known as Na Nappagh (“the Crooked Heir”), who became 1st Baron Decies.
The 4th Baron Desmond, Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald (c.1292 – 1356), granted the Earldom of Demond in 1329, was called “ruler of Munster” in his lifetime; his ever more powerful descendants made this southern Geraldine dynasty one of the mightiest in Ireland.
County Desmond was the name given to the Earldom, which stretched from the Dingle peninsula in the west to Cashel in the east, north of the MacCarthy lands. The Geraldines also controlled the Palatine County of Kerry and most of County Limerick (formerly a part of Thomond), in addition to western County Waterford.
The Fitzgeralds resisted the intrusion into their territory by English officials during the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland, who they perceived as favouring the rival Butler family. This led to the First Desmond Rebellion (1569-73) and the Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-83). The peerage ended in 1583 with Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, who was killed and his family disinherited for their role in the Rebellions.
The Earldom was unsuccessfully claimed during the Nine Years War (1594-1603) by the English backed James Fitzgerald (known as the “Tower” Earl of Desmond) and the rebel James FitzThomas Fitzgerald (referred to by his detractors as the Sugán (“Straw Rope”) Earl of Desmond). (The title was revived in 1675 for the then Earl of Denbigh, whose descendants hold it to this day).
The last credible MacCarthy Mór claimant was Florence MacCarthy (1560-1640) but after his arrest in 1601, the MacCarthy Desmond lordship was dismembered and distributed to English settlers and minor Irish landowners.
Thomond expanded and shrank over the years, but remained defiantly independent under the Ua Briain / Ó Briain / O’Brien dynasty, weathering inernecine strife, murderous assaults by Thomas de Clare and his sons (who claimed the Lordship of Thomond), and frontier incidents / war with the Geraldines, until 1543, when the last Prince of Thomond, Murrough O’Brien, submitted to King Henry VIII‘s scheme of Surender and Regrant to be made 1 Baron of Inchiquinn and Earl of Thomond, the latter with special remainder; (the notorious 6th Baron Inchiquinn, “Murrough of the Burnings”, became 1st Earl of inchiquinn in 1654, and the 5 Earl became Marquess of Thomond, but this line died out in 1855. The current Chief of the Name is Conor Myles John O’Brien (b.1943), 18 Baron of Inchiquinn).
In 1570 the Presidency of Munster was established by Queen Elizabeth I‘s Lord Lieutenant Sir Henry Sidney. The first President was Sir John Perrot, who carried out a a practically new shiring, The Presidency lasted until 1672.
The Plantation of Munster was
The shortlived Munster Republic fizzed briefly during the Civil War, when IRA militants opposed to acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty broke much of the province away from the Irish Free State for 30 days until crushed by heavily-armed government forces.