Map of the O'Neill expansion into Ulster
"The study of the people known as Dál Fiatach, or Uliad, is not a history of Ulster as a whole. They and the Dál nAraide were the two leading population groups in Northeast Ireland from the third to the 12th centuries. The ancient name of Ulster was Uliad, and it included the whole country north of the Boyne and across to the Shannon. Is subsequently shrank to the limits of the present counties of Antrim and Down. The Dál Fiatach were predominant in Down. The records were kept in the monasteries of Saul and Downpatrick and have survived in the compilation of history, tradition and genealogies, known as Senchus Sil hIr. There are other sources for the history, the annals, the Bann Senchus, the Lives of the Saints. They hold an important place in the life of St. Patrick, for when he landed at Strangford Lough, he landed in Dál Fiatach territory. His first convert in Ulster were people of this stock. Saint Dichu was a chieftain of the Dál Fiatach. His brother, Ross, helped Patrick to revise the Senchus Mor.
The early monasteries and schools of Bangor, Moville, Nendrum, Saul, grew up in their midst. St. Finnian of Moville, St. Domongort and St. Tuan of Boirche, St. Mael Cethir of Kerry, Iarlathi, third bishop of Armagh after Patrick, St. Samthann, all traced their descent from Dál Fiatach. Members of the race have left their names on the map to this day in Slieve Donard, Ben Madigan, Glengormly, Rademan, Dunsy Island. In the Annals and the Book of Rights they are the leading people in east Ulster from 600 a.d. down to the Norman invasion, "The Irish have twelve kindreds of noble birth : six in Leth Cuinn = Northern Eire, Dál Cuinn, Dál Céin, Dál nAraidi who are the Picts, Dál Fiatach who are the Ulaid, etc." Professor McNeill considers this statement to be of great antiquity . . . much earlier than the tenth century account in the Book of Rights."
--From 'The Dál Fiatach': Margaret E. Dobbs – Tthe Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 8 (1945), pp. 66-79
The story of the Dál Fiatach begins when the old Celtic world was dying and the new Catholic one beginning. The story ends when the Gaelic world was ending and the Norman one beginning. Between these epic events, which span 700 years, Ireland was a shining light in the Age of Darkness and when this age was beginning, the brightest light of all was Ulidia and its Royal tribe the Dál Faitach.
Ireland has the oldest literature in Europe except for Latin and Greek. Much of this has been lost due to Viking and English barbarity, but enough has survived to show us our path through this story. Before Saint Patrick brought the Catholic religion to Ireland, and with it, writing, the ancient poets were charged with keeping the stories and genealogies alive for their people. The monks were voracious consumers of any knowledge that they could acquire. They saved Latin and Greek treasures from being lost as The Dark Ages fell upon Europe and they also recorded the old oral tales of the Irish poets. All of the oldest of the stories from our ancient past are about the Ulidians. Modern archeology and DNA studies have added to our story, as well as modern historical analysis of these ancient works.
The Dál Fiatach were one of the oldest, if not the oldest tribes in Ireland. The other main tribe in the area, the Dál nAraide whom they came to dominate, are of a very different haplogroup than M222. They are haplogroup I which is much older in Europe than R1b from which M222 descends. They are believed to have been in Ireland long before the La Tène Dál Fiatach arrived between 300 and 100 BC.
The journey of the Dal Fiatach after Emain Macha fell
The "Book of Invasions", from which most people get their Irish history, is now known to be a work of fiction created by the O'Neill's after 700 AD to justify their right to rule all of Ireland. The office of High King of Ireland was invented by them so that they could fill it. There was a king of Tara, but this was a sacral kingship, not a political one.
The capital of ancient Ulster was Emain Macha in county Armagh (Ard Macha - the heights of the goddess Macha). Modern scholarship believes that Emain fell about 450 AD to the Airgíalla who were a confederation of peoples from the southwest of Emain. It is believed that they were sponsored by the rising O'Neill dynasties who moved into Donegal and Meath at the same time. Saint Patrick was with the Ualidh at this time and he probably fled from Emain with his patrons which is why he was buried in the Dál Fiatach capital of Downpatrick in eastern County Down.
Expelled from Emain and with the dangerous Dál nAraidi in western Down cutting them off from Downpatrick, the Dál Fiatach went south into the plain of County Louth until they found the first defensible hills at the Ridges of Brega in south Louth. The Annals and Histories that Margaret Dobbs mentioned pick up the story in Collon, Louth. Their plan for the next three centuries was to retake their land in east Down and re-establish themselves as the dominant force among the Ulaidh. They especially needed the sacred place where the Ulaidh kings were enthroned at Cráeb Tulcha west of Belfast (Bel Féirste on the map below) and far from Collon. By taking Cráeb Tulcha, they split the Dál nAraidi into a northern and southern part with the now seperate group in west Down called the Uí Echach Coba.
Map of Craeb Tulcha showing the forts at Lios Aedha and Dun Echdach
This list of kings of the Dál Fiatach and their residences traces the path north from Collon in Louth about 500 AD to the area west of Belfast about 800 AD. The Eochaid mac Ardgail (Eochaidh the son of Ardgail) in the list is the Eochaidh who gave his name to the Ó hEochaidh/Hoy surname.
These passages identify Collon (Cholland), Louth as their residence around 500 AD.
The ninth century king Matudán son of Muiredach, appears to have had his capital at or near the Cave Hill, in the mountains north of Belfast (Ard Sléibe on the map), which is also known as Benn Madighan (the 'Peak of Matudán')"Ochtar Cuillche no Cholland i nDruimnib. Breg - Ochtari was their fort on the ridges of Breagh."
Dobbs says that "This is equated with the famous battle of Cell Osnad fought in 489".