During the early Mediaeval period Ireland was ruled by many different kings...each had land and serfs and a well-maintained home. The ancient Irish expected a good deal from their respective kings...they needed to be great and good and have learning and dignity and valour in fighting.
They had a throne of course...usually a shaped stone which was elevated above the assembly of people so he could see them and they had a clear view of him...the stone throne was called righshuidhe pro. ree-hee and there are still a couple about, though now removed from the original sites and kept on private lands.
Each king was required to have at least ten people in his immediate service...a judge, a Druid...who was replaced by a Bishop once Christianity took hold...a doctor, a poet, an historian and the all important musician...there would also have been three servants whose duty was to attend on the retinue. These people came from the surrounding areas where they had their own tracts of land and their own servants and homes...
And there were guards of course who stood either side of the king at banquets and during meetings...armed to the teeth with swords and battleaxes...the galloglasses were particularly fearsome, armed as they were with huge broad swords and ready and willing to fight to the death.
Fighting was part and parcel of life...being an expert in using the sword was essential...the kings also had a ‘strong man’ who would answer challenges to single combat with another kings strong man. Concobar Mac Nessa’s champion fighter was named Triscatal, who had thighs as thick as the average man’s body and frightened the bejesus out of his opponents.
St Patrick managed to worm his way into the act and had his own strongman who eventually became a Bishop...he used to carry Patrick on his back when they had to cross a ford...couldn’t have the Saint getting wet feet.
No king’s court would have been complete without jugglers, fools and jesters. Not only did they provide entertainment for the household but were an important part of the banquets given for guests...and the entertainment they gave must have helped in part to stop the guests killing each other or their hosts.
It was the resident story teller and the harpist who came top of the list of essential members of the king’s household...the storyteller not only told the old tales but he kept up to date with news of battles fought and won or lost and the minutiae of daily life in the surrounding countryside...
We live just a few miles from the site of the palaces of the old Irish kings...there isn’t much to see to the untrained eye...great mounds surrounded by deep ditches mostly. This was the meeting place for all the kings and their queens to feast and hold sacrifices and buy and sell...very much like the Fair days of the present day...without the sacrifices.
It is a haunting landscape true enough...sheep graze there now and a few stalwarts read the information boards carefully and plod up to the tops of the mounds and then plod down again. Probably none the wiser. It is here that Morrigan lived in her cave...only emerging on certain nights of the year accompanied by a herd of flying pigs with long fangs and red eyes...
Queen Maeve is said to have visited the palaces of the kings bringing with her gifts of fat suckler cows and pure white bulls...but Queen Maeve might have been a figment of some early Irish story tellers’ imagination...
The last king of Ireland was Brian Buru who died at Clontarf on Good Friday in 1014...a quite desperately boring man...another three hundred or so years later we begin to see the insidious British influence which was to remain until the War of Independence in the 1920’s.