Return to "The Last King" Index

This is part of the booklet "The Last King, Donal IX MacCarthy Mór, King of Desmond and the Two Munsters, 1558-1596". The Descent of the Crown of Desmond, 1118-1596
The MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond
(Terence Francis McCarthy)
The booklet is web published here by permission of The MacCarthy Clan Society, Kanturk, Co. Cork.

There have been several previous attempts at compiling a 'king list' of Desmond but none of these has been entirely accurate.  In the 'king list' which follows I have attempted to correct previous errors.  The following 'king list' is an accurate account of the Crown of Desmond, as it descended from the first King of Desmond, Tadgh I MacCarthy (1118-1123), to the last King of Desmond, Donal IX MacCarthy Mór (died 1596).  In this list the individual kings are enumerated in sequence, e.g. Donal I, Donal II, etc.  This enumeration commences with King Conall Corc (died 379), who established the Rock of Cashel as the seat of the Eóghanacht kings of Munster.  However, the Eóghanacht kings of Munster from Conall Corc (obit. 379) to Donogh II (obit. 963) are not included in the 'king list' below, which refers to the kings of Desmond only.  This compilation takes into account the effect of the law of tanistry on the succession to the Crown.  From the accession of Tadgh I MacCarthy as King of Desmond in 1118, until the dissolution of the kingdom in 1596, the crown was vested in the hereditary possession of the MacCarthy dynasty.  However the Crown of Desmond devolved in this dynasty through the law of tanistry and not by primogeniture.

The Kings of Desmond (1118-1596):

Tadgh I, 1118-1123
He was the eldest son of Muiredach, King of Eóghanacht Chaisil, and the great-great-grandson of the last Eóghanacht King of Munster, Donogh II (obit. 963; Donogh was the son of King Ceallacháin of Munster who died in 954).  In 1123, seriously ill, Tadgh abdicated the throne in favour of his brother Cormac.  This was in accord with Brehon Law which demanded the physical perfection of a king.

Cormac III, First Reign 1123-1127
He was the brother of Tadgh I.  In 1125 he besieged and captured Limerick, the capital of Dál gCais Thomond.  This was equated with the "taking of the Kingship of Limerick", and thus Cormac became King of Munster which had been reunited by the fall of Limerick.  In 1127, Cormac was deposed by the nobles of Munster.

Donogh III, First Reign 1127
Cormac II was succeeded, briefly, by his younger brother Donogh.  On the restoration of Cormac III, Donogh III was banished to Connacht.

Cormac III, Second Reign, 1127-1138
Within months of his deposition Cormac was restored to both the kingship of Desmond and Munster.  In 1138 Cormac III was murdered as the instigation of the O'Briens.  For that year MacCarthaigh's Book reports that:
"Cormac, son of Muireadach MacCarthaigh, King of the two provinces of Munster (Desmond and Thomond), and defender of all Leath Mogha, the most pious and valorous of men, the best for bestowing food and clothes (on the poor), was, after building the church of Cormac at Cashel and twelve churches at Lismore, treacherously killed by Diarmaid Súgach son of Mathghamhain Ó'Conchobhair Ciarraigh (O'Connor Kerry) and Ó'Tailcín, at the instigation of Toirdhealbhach, son of Diarmaid Ó'Briain, in his own house at Magh Tamhnach."

Donogh III, Second Reign, 1138-1143
Cormac was again succeeded as King of Desmond by his brother, Donogh.  He had been exiled into Connacht by Cormac III in 1127 by was received back into favour following the Treaty of Abhall Ceithearnaigh between Munster and Connacht in 1138.  Following the collapse of Desmond in 1139 he fled to the Décies establishing his principal seat at Lismore.  In 1142 he challenged the Dál gCais for the crown of a reunited Munster.  He became ill, and was taken captive by Toirdhealbhach, son of Diarmaid Ó'Briain.  He subsequently died in 1143-44.

Dermod I (na Cill Baghain), 1144-1185
Donogh III was succeeded as King of Desmond by his nephew Dermod, the eldest surviving son of Cormac III.  Dermod I succeeded to the throne of Desmond in 1144, but also adopted the title 'King of Munster'.  At his accession Desmond was in ruins and on the point of collapse.  Dermod MacCarthy quickly restored the position by entering into an alliance with the O'Connors of Connacht.  Dermod was murdered at Cill Baghain on April 25, 1185.

Donal I (Donal Mór na Corra), 1185-1206
Donal I was the eldest surviving son of Dermod I.  He succeeded to the throne of Desmond in 1185 and he died in 1206.  Although he reigned only in Desmond, he also claimed to be King of Munster.  According to the Annals of Inisfallen "it was he, of all the contemporary kings of Ireland, who was most feared by the foreigners."

Fingen IV, 1206-1207
King Donal I was succeeded, according to the law of tanistry, not by his son, but by his brother Fingen.  His accession, though perfectly legal, was contested by the sons of his predecessor.  Fingen reigned for a mear two months.  He died in 1209.

Dermod II (Diarmait Duna Droignein MacCarthy), 1207-1229
Dermod II was the eldest son of King Donal I.  He succeeded to the throne of Desmond in 1207 following the removal of his uncle, Fingen IV.  Dermod II died in 1229 having been struck by lightening "through the vengeance of God and because of his own misdeeds."

Cormac IV (Cormac Fionn), 1229-1247
Although survived by two sons, Dermod II was succeeded, according to the law of tanistry, by his younger brother Cormac Fionn.  Cormac IV died in 1247.

Donall II (Domnall Got Cairprech), 1247-1252
Donal II was the son of Donal I, and the younger brother of Dermod II and Cormac IV.  Donal II succeeded to the throne of Desmond by tanistry.  In 1252 Donal II was murdered by "John son of Thomas Gitzgerald."  The MacCarthy Reaghs, Lords of Carbery, were descended from him.

Fingen V, 1252-1261
Fingen V was the eldest son of Donal II.  His right of succession was challenged by his first cousin, Domnall Ruad, eldest surviving son of Cormac IV.  Strictly speaking, according to the law of tanistry, Donal (Domnall Ruad) had a prior right to the succession.  Fearing the permanent exclusion of his branch of the royal family from the throne he joined forces with the Anglo-Normans and fought on their side at the Battle of Callan.  Fingen's army routed his opponents at Callan and seriously weakened the Anglo-Norman colony in Kerry and southwest Cork.  Fingen died in 1261.

Cormac V, 1261-1262
Cormac V was the younger brother of Fingen V.  His assession was also disputed by his cousin Donal (Domnall Ruad).  His reign was brief, but witnessed the crushing defeat of the Anglo-Normans at the Battle of Mangerton in 1262.  Cormac V was slain during this battle.

Donal III (Domnall Ruad), 1262-1302
Donal III was first cousin of both Fingen V and Cormac V, and the eldest surviving son of Cormac IV.  Having acceded to the crown, he appears to have entered into a 'dynastic pact' with his first cousin Donal Oge MacCarthy, the only surviving son of Donal II, and brother of Fingen V and Cormac V.  Donal III granted his rivals large appanages or lordships in return for their recognition of his kingship.  Thus Donal Oge renounced all claim to the kingship for his posterity.  Donal III died in 1302.  The Annals of Connacht state that: "Domnal Ruad Mag Carthaigh, King of Desmond, the most generous and valorous, the most terrible and triumphant of the Gaels of all Ireland in fights and forays, died after a victory of repentance this year (1302)."

Donal IV (Donal Oge), 1302-1306
Donal IV was the eldest son of Donal III.  Donal IV was murdered in 1306 by his cousin Donal Cairpreach MacCarthy Reagh, Prince of Carbery.

Donogh IV (Donogh Carrthain), 1306-1310
Donogh IV was the elderly uncle of Donal IV.  He was the son of Cormac IV and brother of Donal III.  In 1310 Donogh IV was deposed by the nobels of Desmond and the kingship was given to his grandnephew Dermot, son of Donal IV.  Donogh was restored as a king-emeritus and his grandnephew, Dermod III, continued to reign as king.  Donogh IV died in 1315.

Dermod III (Diarmait Oge), 1310-1326
Dermod, son of Donal IV, ascended the throne of Desmond in 1310 following the deposition of Donogh IV by the nobility of the kingdom.  He was murdered in 1326 by his first cousin, Maurice Fitzmaurice, the fourth Lord Kerry.

Cormac VI, 1326-1359
Cormac was the son of Donal IV and brother of Dermod III.  On the death of Dermod III in 1326, Cormac VI was proclaimed king by the nobles of Desmond.  He succeeded to the throne by tanistry and not primogeniture for his brother (Dermod III) was survived by at least one son, Fingin, ancestor of the the MacFinnian MacCarthys of Ardtully.  Cormac provided for his younger sons during his own lifetime, by bestowing upon them the great lordships of Muskerry, Coshmang, and Ardconaghty.  It is probable that in granting them these appanages he hoped to discourage them from contesting the accession of his eldest son Donal Oge.  Cormac died in 1359 and was buried "in the monastery of the Friars at Cork."

Donal V (Donal Oge), 1359-1390
Donal V succeeded his father Cormac VI in 1359.  He died in 1390.

Tadgh II (Tadg na Mainstreach MacCarthy Mór), 1390-1428
He was the only son of Donal V and came to the throne of Desmond in 1390.  None of the other members of the royal derbhfine challenged his title.  As Tadgh had no brothers, and his immediate cousins, the lords of Muskerry, Coshmang, Ardconaghty, and Ardtully, had already been provided with great appanages, none of the princes of the dynasty desputed his claims.  Tadgh II had three sons.  The eldest, Donal VI succeeded him and was ancestor of that branch of the royal house which was extinguished for want of legitimate heirs on the death of Donal IX MacCarthy Mór in 1596.  Tadgh's second son, Cormac received the lordship of Kerslawny and was ancestor of that branch of the dynasty which eventually succeeded to the chieftainship of the royal house.  The third son, Dermod, died without issue.  Tadgh II died in 1428.  The Annals of Inisfallen state that: "Tadc MacCarthaigh .... reigned thirty-eight years, and of the foreigners and the Gaedil of his time he was the best, the greatest, .... and the most reputed for drinking wine.  He died in his castle of Baile UÍ Chairpri and was buried in the same monastery."

Donal VI (Domhnall an Dana), 1428-1469
He was the eldest son of Tadgh II.  Donal's accession to the throne of Desmond was not disputed by his brothers who had been granted lordships in their own right by Tadgh II.  He died in 1469.

Tadgh III (Tadgh Liath), 1469-1503
Tadgh III was the second son of Donal VI.  He ascended the throne without challenge.  He died in 1503.

Donal VII, 1503-1508
Donal VII succeeded his father, Tadgh III, in 1503.  He died in 1508.  The Annals of the Four Masters report: MacCarthaigh Mór, Domnall (Donal VII), the son of Tadgh, the son of Domnall Óg, a comely and affable man, who had a knowledge of the sciences, died."

Cormac VII (Cormac Ladhrach), 1508-1516, and Tadgh IV (Tadgh na Leamhna), 1508-1514.
Cormac VII was the brother of Donal VII.  Tadgh IV was the nephew of Cormac VII, and son of Donall VII.  The early death of Donal VII precipitated a vicious successional dispute between Cormac (the heir by tanistry), and Tadgh, who claimed the crown by primogeniture.  As neither prince would abandon his claim, the kingdom was divided between them.  This dispute continued until the demise of Tadgh IV in 1514.  Cormac VII died in 1516.

Donal VIII (Domhnall an Druiminin), 1516-ante 1558
Donal VII, was the son of Cormac VII, and ascended the throne of Desmond in 1516.  In 1552 he obtained a grant of 'English Liberty' for himself, his son (the future Donal IX), and his daughter, the Countess of Desmond.  Donal VIII wished to avoid any further division of the kingdom such as occurred during his father's reign.  The year of Donal's death is uncertain, but must have occurred before 1558 when his son, Donal IX, was already MacCarthy Mór.

Donal IX, ante 1558-1596
The last de facto King of Desmond, Donal IX MacCarthy Mór ascended the throne of his ancestors between 1552 and 1558.  His elder brother, Tadgh, had died without sons.  Donal also had an illegitimate brother, Donogh.  Donal IX was married to Honora Fitzgerald.  He was predeceased in in 1588 by his only legitimate son, Tadgh, Lord of Valentia, who died without issue.  Donal's only legitimate daughter, Ellen, married her distant kinsman Florence MacCarthy Reagh.  In addition to these two legitimate children, Donal IX fathered several illigitimate offspring including three sons, Donal, Dermod, and Eoghan.  Donal IX MacCarthy Mór died in 1596 thereby extinguishing the legitimate male line of descent from Donal VI, eldest son of Tadgh II.

In conclusion, there is no logical reason why Irish kings should not be enumerated in the same manner commonly used in the case of other dynasties.  In many cases, the MacCarthy Mór kings of Desmond are designated by posthumous nicknames.  For example, Dermod I is usually known as Diarmait na Cill Baghain because he was murdered there in 1185.  The practice of enumerating Irish kings was commonplace in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century was adhered to by Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms.

'The Descent of the Crown of Desmond' is abstracted from Historical Essays on the Kingdom of Munster by The MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond, with his kind permission.  Historical Essays on the Kingdom of Munster is published by The Irish Genealogical Foundation, Kansas City, USA.

16th Century Irish Soldiers
16th Century Irish Soldiers (by Dürer)



  1. Annals of Connacht, ed: A. Martin, Dublin, 1993.
  2. Annals of Clonmacnoise, ed: D. Murphy, Dublin, 1896.
  3. Annals of Inisfallen, ed: S. MacAirt, Dublin, 1951.
  4. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, ed: J. O'Donovan.  Published by De Burca Books, 1991.
  5. Annals of Lech Cé, ed: W. M. Hennessy, London, 1871.
  6. Butler, W. F., Gleanings From Irish History, London, 1925.
  7. Cal. State Papers of Ireland.
  8. 'MacCarthaigh's Book'.  In: Miscellaneous Irish Annals, ed: A. O'hInnse, Dublin 1947.

Return to "The Last King" Index