The invention of Grianán Aileach

Usually the victorious write history. On one occasion, however, this was not entirely the case. On January 22, 1632 four brothers of the Order of Francis in Donegal Town sat down and compiled for the next four years Annala Rioghachta Eireann – The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, or as they are now known, The Annals of the Four Masters. It was a most remarkable attempt to preserve a past where the present had lost. And so they gathered every manuscript and book, like squirrels nuts before the onset of a long winter, written by the former victorious.

Reading through volume I and the beginning of volume II during some research I noticed something rather strange. There is no Grianán in Aileach until 1101. What is quite puzzling about the entry, mentioning Grianan-Oiligh for the first time,  is the date of its destruction by Muircheartach Ua Briain in1101. As a result I re-read everything plus reading new material. So far the manuscripts the Annals of the Four Masters are based on, do not mention any Grianán Aileach at all. This will be an ongoing process but a poem, written at the end of the 16th century by Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn (1550–1591), still has no Grianán in it. It does call, intriguingly, Sean Óg O Dochartaigh – ‘O’Doherty of the castle of Oileach‘.

At this stage, with not having read absolutely everything available and manuscripts lost, it is impossible to say for certain when, why and by whom the addition of Grianán was first made. Only with no appearance of it in the older manuscripts used to compile the Annals of the Four Masters, the finger, for the time being, points at them for the invention of Grianán Aileach.

Below the fateful entry for 1101 from different annals.

Annals Of Tigernach

 A great hosting of the men of Ireland, led by Muircheartach Ó Briain, king of Ireland, into Inishowen and he demolished Ailech, and marched round Ireland and gave neither hostages nor pledges.
An expedition was made by Muirchertach ua Briain and by Leth Moga into Connacht, and over Eas Ruaidh into Tír Eógain, and they razed Ailech and burned and outraged many churches also, including Fathain of Muru and Ard Sratha. They went thereafter over Fertas Camsa and burned Cúl Rathain and committed slaughter there. They afterwards took the hostages of the Ulaid. They went home over Slige Midluachra.
A great hosting around Ireland by Muirchertach, son of Tairdelbach, and he destroyed Ailech and Cúil Rathain at Tuag Inbir, took the hostages of the Ulaid, and proceeded along Slige Midluachra. It was then a naval force came round … from(?) the north, and they destroyed Inis Cathaig, taking many valuables from it, and committed many other evil deeds.
Annal CS1101.

An army of the men of Ireland was led by Muirchertach ua Briain around Ireland i.e. by Eas Ruad and into Cenél Conaill and Inis Eoghain, and he destroyed Ailech, and over the narrows of the Camus into Ulaid and over Sliab Fuait home.

Annals of Loch Cé


A hosting by Muirchertach Ua
24] Briain, and by Leth-Mogha, into Connacht, and across Eas-Ruaidh
25] into Tir-Conaill, and from thence into Tir-Eoghain;
26] and they demolished Oilech, and burned and profaned
27] many churches, including Fathan-mor-Mura and Ard-Sratha.
28] They proceeded thence across Fersat-Camsa,
29] and they burned Cúil-Rathain, and committed a massacre
30] there. They took the hostages of Uladh afterwards, and he
31] Muirchertach proceeded by Slighe-Midhluachra to his
32] house, after the triumph of that hosting.

Annals of the Four Masters


A great army was led by Muircheartach Ua Briain, King of Munster, with the men of Munster, Leinster, Osraighe, Meath, and Connaught, across Eas-Ruaidh, into Inis-Eoghain; and he plundered Inis-Eoghain, and burned many churches and many forts about Fathan-Mura, and about Ard-sratha; and he demolished Grianan-Oiligh, in revenge of Ceann-coradh, which had been razed and demolished by Domhnall Ua Lochlainn some time before; and Muircheartach commanded his army to carry with them, from Oileach to Luimneach, a stone of the demolished building for every sack of provisions which they had. In commemoration of which was said:

I never heard of the billeting of grit stones,
Though I heard of the billeting of companies,
Until the stones of Oileach were billeted
On the horses of the king of the West.

Muircheartach after this went over Feartas-Camsa into Ulidia, and carried off the hostages of Ulidia; and he went the round of all Ireland in the space of a fortnight and a month, without battle, without attack, and he returned to his house by Slighe-Midhluachra. The expedition was called “The circuitous hosting.”


It also seems somehow suspicious that the size of this entry grew remarkably in the Annals of the Four Masters despite being the furthest away, at the time of its compilation, from the actual event. No surprise then, that there is no Greenan Hill to be found on Inishowen anywhere in the old manuscripts. For if there was no Grianán at the time of the kingdom of Aileach, then there would be no hill with its paraphernalia called Grianán either.


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