“Ard ri Érenn” is a term referring to the kings who ruled over the whole of the Kingdom of Ireland during the Irish Middle Ages. Described as “supreme kings”, these rulers reigned over the entire island, and governed the 4 provincial kings…
Mythological texts were the first to state the status of Ard ri Erenn.
The latter sits in the province of Meath, and sees to it that its provincial kings (living in Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster), apply its orders, and pay each year the “boroma“, a tax to be paid to Ard ri Érenn in the form of livestock donations.
According to the texts, the Ard ri Erenn aims to distribute the wealth equitably throughout the Kingdom, but also to go on punitive expeditions to punish any opponent of its authority.
The Ard ri Erenn ruled Ireland until the 12th century. Tradition had it that they were enthroned on the famous hill of Tara, a place located in County Meath, and reputed to have always been the Kingdom of the Supreme Kings of Ireland.
The first historical Ard ri Erenn to ascend the throne was Niall Noigiallach (405). Numerous accounts attest to his authority and exemplary courage… His descendants occupied the throne of Ard ri Erenn until 1022, and continued to do so until the throne became the object of much covetousness… Many Irish dynasties then fought in the name of supreme power… and this, for several decades….
Thus, the Ua Briain, descendants of Brian Boru, faced the MacLochlainn (descendants of the O’Neill), the Ua Conchobair (descendants of Niall Noigiallach), or the Diarmait mac Mail na mBo Uí Cheinnselaigh (descendants of Ris du Leinster).
After several years of incessant warfare, the last Ard ri Érenn to ascend the throne was Ruaidri mac Toirdhealbach Ua Conchobair who immediately renounced his title by ceding it to Henry II of England in the Treaty of Windsor of 1175.
Over the years, the title of Ard ri Érenn fell into disuse, despite the efforts of some Irish clans wishing to reinstate it during the Anglo-Norman Invasions…