CHAPTER VI. KINGS OF THE SEVENTH CENTURY.
THE five years of the sixth century, which remained after the death of Hugh II., were filled by Hugh III., son of Dermid, the semi-Pagan. Hugh IV. succeeded (A.D. 599) and reigned for several years; two other kings, of small account, reigned seven years; Donald II. (A.D. 624) reigned sixteen years; Connall and Kellach, brothers, (A.D. 640) reigned jointly sixteen years; they were succeeded (A.D. 656) by Dermid and Blathmac, brothers, who reigned jointly seven years; Shanasagh, son of the former, reigned six years; Kenfala, four; Finnacta, "the hospitable," twenty years, and Loingsech (A.D. 693) eight years.
Throughout this century the power of the Church was constantly on the increase, and is visible in many important changes. The last armed struggle of Druidism, and the only invasion of Ireland by the Anglo-Saxons, are also events of the civil history of the seventh century.
The reign, of Donald II. is notable for the passing away of most of those saintly men, the second generation of Irish abbots and bishops; for the foundation of the celebrated school of Lismore on the Munster Blackwater; and the battle of Moira, in the present county of Down. Of the school and the saints we shall speak hereafter; the battle deserves more immediate mention.
The cause of the battle was the pretension of the petty Prince of Ulidia, which comprised little more than the present county of Down, to be recognised as Prince of all Ulster. Now the Hy-Nial family, not only had long given monarchs to all Ireland, but had also the lion's share of their own Province, and King Donald as their head could not permit their ascendency to be disputed. The ancestors of the present pretender, Congal, surnamed "the squint-eyed," had twice received and cherished the licentious Bards when under the ban of Tara, and his popularity with that still powerful order was one prop of his ambition. It is pretty clear also that the last rally of Druidism against Christianity took place behind his banner, on the plain of Moira. It was the year 637, and preparations had long gone on on both sides for a final trial of strength. Congal had recruited numerous bands of Saxons, Britons, Picts and Argyle Scots, who poured into the Larbours of Down for months, and were marshalled on the banks of the Lagan, to sustain his cause. The Poets of succeeding ages have dwelt much in detail on the occurrences of this memorable day. It was what might strictly be called a pitched battle, time and place being fixed by mutual agreement. King Donald was accompanied by his Bard, who described to him, as they came in sight, the several standards of Congal's host, and who served under them. Conspicuous above all, the ancient banner of the Red Branch Knights-"a yellow lion wrought on green satin" - floated over Congal's host. On the other side the monarch commanded in person, accompanied by his kinsmen, the sons of Hugh III. The red hand of Tirowen, the cross of Tirconnell, the eagle and lion of Innishowen, the axes of Fanad, were in his ranks, ranged closely round his own standard. The cause of the Constitution and the Church prevailed, and Druidism mourned its last hope extinguished on the plains of Moira, in the death of Congal, and the defeat of his vast army. King Donald returned in triumph to celebrate his victory at Emania and to receive the benediction of the Church at Armagh.
The sons of Hugh III., Dermid and Blathmac, zealous and pious Christian princes, survived the field of Moira and other days of danger, and finally attained the supreme power - A.D. 656. Like the two kings of Sparta they reigned jointly, dividing between them the labours and cares of State. In their reign, that terrible scourge, called in Irish, "the yellow plague," after ravaging great part of Britain, broke out with undiminished virulence in Erin (A.D. 664). To heighten the awful sense of inevitable doom, an eclipse of the sun occurred concurrently with the appearance of the pestilence on the first Sunday in May. It was the season when the ancient sun-god had been accustomed to receive his annual oblations, and we can well believe that those whose hearts still trembled at the name of Bel, must have connected the eclipse and the plague with the revolution in the national worship, and the overthrow of the ancient gods on that "plain of prostration," where they had so long received the homage of an entire people. Among the victims of this fearful visitation - which, like the modern cholera, swept through all ranks and classes of society, and returned in the same track for several successive seasons - were very many of those venerated men, the third and fourth generation of the Abbots and Bishops. The Munster King, and many of the chieftain class shared the common lot. Lastly, the royal brothers fell themselves victims to the epidemic, which so sadly signalizes their reign.
The only conflicts that occurred on Irish soil with a Pictish or an Anglo-Saxon force - if we except those who formed a contingent of Congal's army at Moira - occurred in the time of the hospitable Finnacta. The Pictish force, with their leaders, were totally defeated at Rathmore, in Antrim (A.D. 680), but the Anglo-Saxon expedition (A.D. 684) seems not to have been either expected or guarded against. As leading to the mention of other interesting events, we must set this inroad clearly before the reader.