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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Mesgegra's Story

Clane (the ‘Field of the Ford’ in Co Kildare) was a strategic crossing of the River Liffey between the High King’s Tara and the King of Leinster’s Naas.

A famous battle was fought there in the first century AD when King Mesgegra of Leinster was slain and beheaded there by the Ulster champion Conall Carnach.

The story behind the war would outshine any TV drama and what happened after Mesgegra’s death is equally grim. Conall Cernach preserved Mesgegra's brain in lime as a trophy but the brain-ball was stolen by the Connacht warrior Cet Mac Magach who shot it at the Ulster king Conchobar MacNessa ten years later. It lodged in the king’s head, killing him and thus fulfilling the prophecy that Mesgegra would somehow avenge his own death.

When Buan, Mesgegra’s wife who was part of the earlier story, was shown the headless corpse of her husband she collapsed on the spot. The tumulus under which Mesgegra and his wife were buried can still be seen in the town.

I heard that the bullaun stone on which Mesgegra’s head was lain can also be seen but is hard to find despite being located on the side of a stream. Undergrowth has covered the area and I had to rely on a photo from a local historian to eventually uncover it.

The town, as often happened in Ireland, developed from a monastic settlement. Clane’s founder was Ailbhe who settled on an elevated site where the old COI church now stands. He is hailed as one of the ‘Four Patrons of Ireland’ probably because he came earlier than Patrick and was a major figure in Munster.

Ailbhe is also honoured in Wales, where his name was anglicised as Elvis!

Clane has more history than any one town can expect. The substantive ruins of Clane Friary, built by the Normans in 1259, may catch the eye but the town’s origins, and claim to fame, are in the pre-Christian tumulus and bullaun of Mesgegra and the site of Ailbhe’s monastery.


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