Ireland’s kings and queens

Tales of glory, fearless warriors and curious ceremonies – these are stories of Ireland's kings and queens

Curious what the Irish President’s house looks like? Just take a stroll through Phoenix Park. Ever wanted to know where the all-powerful meet in Belfast and Dublin? Swing over Stormont or kick on to Kildare Street.

Keen to rub shoulders with Ireland’s royalty? We might have a problem.

Let’s put it this way: a paparazzo would need a time machine or a book of myths to hunt Ireland’s kings and queens on the Hill of Tara, the Rock of Cashel or the Cooley Peninsula. With two Gaeltacht exceptions, the majesties of Ireland have been and gone.

But boy do they make some great bedtime stories.

Queen Maeve (Medb)

Mythical but malevolent, Queen Maeve’s iron fist ruled over the province of Connacht in the west Ireland. Feared (and rightly so if you read her legends) by her subjects, enemies and allies, Maeve insisted on amassing equal wealth to her husband, Ailill mac Máta. So hungry for power was the fearsome queen that she embarked on the most infamous tales in Irish mythology: ‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’. Her aim? To steal Ulster’s prize bull. Today, we like to think she’d be content with some Fermanagh Black Bacon, but that’s just us. 

Brian Boru

Boru is possibly Ireland’s most famous and successful king. Crowned in Cashel, like so many of Ireland and Munster’s kings, Boru’s official title was ‘High King of Ireland’ and it was he who masterminded the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Unfortunately he was also killed that night but the castle that survives in the seaside Dublin town still hints at historic happenings.

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Grace O’Malley – Pirate Queen

Connacht didn’t have just one powerful female leader. It had a second: Grace O’Malley. For a clue into just how feisty and fearsome this 16th century queen was just check out her nickname: The Pirate Queen. Born the daughter of a Gaelic chieftain, O’Malley became a chieftain herself, amassing an army of 200 men and a fleet of galleys. The queen’s ancestral home can be found at Westport House in County Mayo where her legacy lives on to this day. Westport House is fiercely proud of its connection to O’Malley and commemorates her with a dedicated exhibition and a Pirate Adventure Park.

King of Tory Island

Despite having a population of less than 200 people, Tory Island has retained its royalty. The King of Tory is an ambassadorial role continuing a long-standing tradition and if you see a dapper gent waving to your ferry from the pier, you can bet it’s Tory’s current king. And while Tory’s king has no formal powers he does act as spokesperson for the community as well as their unofficial one-man welcoming party. The prime time of year to visit the Gaeltacht island of Tory is the summer months when a ferry will whisk you there from Donegal’s mainland. But Tory Island isn’t alone in having the last king of Ireland: Claddagh, in Connemara boasts royalty, too, in the shape of king Mike Linskey. Is the west coast big enough for two kings? We think so.

King Puck

Naturally we saved the best for last. King Puck is not only a currently reigning king, he’s a goat, too. His annual festival, Puck Fair, has been rated a must see by CNN Traveller and is likely to be the least formal crowning of royalty to be seen anywhere on earth. Kerry’s Killorglin is Puck’s place of regal residence and should you run into this festival on your Ring of Kerry drive, remember to stop and dive into the festivities. And maybe bring a few carrots – Puck is a fan.

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