King of Dal Riada (629-642)
Born c595 Died 642
His father was Eochaid Buide, himself king between 608 and 629 and he succeeded to the throne after the death of his brother Conrad Cerr at the battle of Fid Eoin in Ulster1. Described by AT Koch as an "erratically aggressive king"2 Domnall Brecc spent most of his reign attacking his neighbours in a vain bid emulate his illustrious grandfather Aedan mac Gabhrain.
The tale of Domnall Brecc's reign can be simply told through the battles he lost.
1. The Annals of Tigernach records that he was defeated at the battle of Calathros very probably by the Picts in the year 634.3
2. In 637 Domnall Brecc, together with his nephew Congal, king of the Dal nAraide and Ulster, and therefore sub-king of what one might call Irish Dal Riada, challenged the Irish high-king Domnall mac Aed at the battle of Magh Rath. Domnall Brecc suffered a heavy defeat and as a result Dal Riada lost control of its northern Irish territories, and was from that date onwards a kingdom confined to the British mainland.
3. In 638 he was defeated by the Picts (again) at the battle of Glenn Murresson.
4. The year 642 was marked by the deaths of both the Irish king Domnall mac Aed and the Northumbrian king Oswald, both powerful and influential rulers who had impinged on Dal Riada during their reigns. Perhaps Domnall now thought the opportunity to redeem himself had come, as in the December of that year he decided to attack Strathclyde4. This proved to be the final disaster, as the Annals of Ulster put it;
Postea Domnall Brecc in bello Sraith Cairun in fine anniin Decembri interfectus est ab Hoan rege Britonum annis
Or in English
Afterwards Domnall Brecc was slain at the end of the year, in December, in the battle of Strathcarron by Owen, king of the Britons.
Domnall Brecc's kingship is important because the defeat at Magh Rath signalled a turning point in the history of Dal Riada when it ceased to be a kingdom that spanned the Irish Sea and became focused entirely on the British mainland.
According to the Abbot Cummene Find, this was the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Saint Columba to Aedan; in that his descendents would only prosper if they respected both Iona and Columba's kindred. Since the Domnall mac Aed who Domnall Brecc so unsucessfully attacked in 637 was a relation of Columba's this effectively sealed Domnall Brecc's fate and condemned Dal Riada to suffer under the domination of 'strangers' for the next thirty years. Unfortunately the Abboy was unspecific as to who the strangers where; it may well have been Brythonic Strathclyde, the Picts, English Northumbria or even all three at different times.
Without any doubt Domnall Brecc was the most singularly unsuccessful king that the kingdom of Dal Riada ever saw. What his grandfather built, and his father maintained, he lost. His epitaph was written by the poet Aneirin;
‘And crows gnawed at the head of Domnall Brecc.’
1 Koch, J. T. The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark Age North Britain University of Wales Press 1997.
2 Conrad Cerr only ruled for a few months.
3 The Annals of Tigernach records The battle in Calathros and in it Domnall Brecc was conquered.
Unfortunately it doesn't mention who conquered Domnall Brecc. This has led some to argue that Calathros was located somewhere in Stirlingshire and that his opponent was therefore Oswald of Northumbria; this is however extremely unlikely.
4 It has also been suggested that Domnall's objective was to secure a landbridge to Northumbrian Lothian in pursuance of a suggested alliance formed by his grandfather Aedan mac Gabhrain (who had been fairly instrumental in enabling Oswald and therefore Oswiu to rule Northumbriain the first place); from which presumably he was hoping to derive some military assistance.