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, or very commonly ríg (genitive), is an ancient Gaelic word meaning "king".[1] It is used in historical texts referring to the Irish and Scottish kings, and those of similar rank. While the Modern Irish word is exactly the same,[2] in modern Scottish Gaelic it is rìgh,[3] apparently derived from the genitive. Cognates include Gaulish Rix, Latin rex/regis, Sanskrit raja, and German Reich.

Three traditional grades

There were three traditional grades of in Gaelic Ireland, whose grading was largely symbolic. As time went on, the real power of many lesser kings could equal or even eclipse those of higher grade.

Rí benn

A rí benn (king of peaks), or ri tuaithe (king of a single tribe) was most commonly a local petty king of a single túath, although "one" túath might be many times the size of another. There are generally estimated to have been between 100 and 150 in Ireland, depending on who really qualified.[citation needed]

Importantly, in theory every king of a superior grade was also a ri benn himself, and exercised no direct compulsory legal authority outside his own ancestral túath.[4] Kings were bound to others by military allegiance and the payment of tribute.


Ri buiden

A ri buiden (king of bands), also ri tuath (king of [many] tribes) or ruiri (overking), was a regional king to whom several rí benn were subordinate, and often other territories. He was in some sense still a petty king, but could also achieve provincial-level prominence, including, although rarely, the provincial kingship, and was often fully sovereign in any case. Depending on who was counted, there may have been as many as 20 genuine ruiri in Ireland at any time.


Rí ruirech

A "king of over-kings", a rí ruirech was often a provincial (rí cóicid) or semi-provincial king to whom several ruiri were subordinate. They were also referred to as ri bunaid cach cinn ("ultimate king of every individual"). Several kingdoms belonging to the 1st and 2nd millennia are listed below, but do not all belong to the same periods. No more than six genuine rí ruirech were ever contemporary, with the average being three or four. Originally, there were only five provinces, at least according to legend (see the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the actual text thereof).


Ard Rí


Scotland appears to have had a variety of as well. In addition to the monarch or "high king" there were others, although these are conventionally styled only "lords" in the English language.

There were also a number of Kings of Moray, who are commonly styled mormaers in later Scottish tradition, but properly styled in contemporary Irish sources. The famous Macbeth of Scotland is argued to have begun his career as Ruiri of Moray.[5]

See also


  1. Dictionary of the Irish Language. Royal Irish Academy. 1990. ISBN 0-901714-29-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Niall Ó Dónaill: "Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla"
  3. "an Stòr-dàta Briathrachais Gàidhlig". Retrieved 2007-06-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Byrne, p. 41
  5. [1] (Cowan, p. 119)


  • Bhreathnach, Edel (ed.), The Kingship and Landscape of Tara. Dublin: Four Courts Press for The Discovery Programme. 2005.
  • Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 2nd edition, 2001.
  • Charles-Edwards, T. M., Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge University Press. 2000.
  • Cowan, Edward J., "The Historical Macbeth", in Moray: Province and People. ed. W. H. D. Sellar. Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies. 1993. 117–142.
  • Dillon, Myles, "The consecration of Irish kings", in Celtica 10 (1973): 1–8.
  • Dillon, Myles, The Cycles of the Kings. Oxford. 1946.
  • FitzPatrick, Elizabeth, Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland c. 1100–1600: A Cultural Landscape Study. Boydell Press. 2004.
  • Hamp, Eric P., "Scottish Gaelic morair", in Scottish Gaelic Studies XIV Part II (1986): 138–141.
  • Jaski, Bart, Early Irish Kingship and Succession. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 2000.
  • MacCotter, Paul, Medieval Ireland: Territorial, Political and Economic Divisions. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 2008.
  • MacNeill, Eoin, Celtic Ireland. Dublin: The Academy Press. 1981. Reissue with new intro. and notes by Donnchadh Ó Corráin of original Martin Lester Ltd edition, 1921.
  • Nicholls, K. W., Gaelic and Gaelicized Ireland in the Middle Ages. Dublin: Lilliput Press. 2nd edition, 2003.
  • Ó Corráin, Donnchadh, "Nationality and Kingship in Pre-Norman Ireland". 1975.
  • Richter, Michael, Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. 1988.
  • Watkins, Calvert, "Italo-Celtic Revisited", in Birnbaum, Henrik and Jaan Puhvel (eds.), Ancient Indo-European Dialects. University of California Press. pp. 29–50.