Fedelmid (Feidlimid) (p. 770?–847), son of Crimthann and king of Cashel, belonged to the dynasty of Éoganacht Chaisil. A retrospective entry in the Annals of Inisfallen places his birth at 770, which is perhaps a little early. His father, a descendant of Fíngen (a seventh-century king of Cashel and a brother of the more illustrious Fáilbe Flann (qv)), was a relatively obscure dynast and had no close kingly relatives. His mother is not mentioned, nor is it clear if he himself was married; he is described in contemporary sources as an anchorita (a religious of strict observance); a late tale of how he was refused hospitality at Clonmacnoise (a justification for his campaigns against that ecclesiastical site) implies that he had a wife and child. In any event, he left no recorded descendants. Apparently, Fedelmid acceded to the kingship against a background of political uncertainty. It can be inferred that the last significant king, Artrí (qv) (d. 821) son of Cathal, of the rival dynasty of Éoganacht Glendamnach, was deposed. Different versions of the regnal list admit the claims of Tuathal son of Artrí and of the more shadowy Tnúthgal son of Donngus (or Donngal), who belonged to a Cashel lineage. These two, if they reigned at all, were ephemeral kings, and the annals record that Fedelmid took the kingship in 820. Annals and regnal lists (he is also included in the list attached to the foundation story of Cashel) agree that he reigned for twenty-seven years.
Fedelmid was certainly a cleric, but not necessarily a bishop as is sometimes stated; he is not so styled in contemporary sources. It is not clear when he entered the clerical state or in what circumstances. He may have been in orders, albeit minor orders, before his accession to kingship; a tendency to choose clerics as ‘neutral candidates’ when the kingship of Cashel was in dispute can be discerned in the record. He assumed the headship of two major ecclesiastical settlements in the 830s – clear cases of a king as royal intruder in abbatial office. His obit, in the generally sober Annals of Ulster, however, describes him as scriba et anchorita, suggesting a learned man (as would accord with the clerical state) and one of strict religious observance. Certainly, he had a strong affinity with the cult of St Patrick (qv); he was involved in promulgating the Law of Patrick within Munster (823, 842), and he is remembered in the hagiographical work, the Tripartite Life of Patrick. He was also a major patron of the Céli Dé reform movement, being mentioned along with Óengus (qv) of Tallaght and Diarmait (qv) grandson of Áed Rón (qv) in one tract, ‘The unity of Máel-ruain’, and being himself the focus of another tract, ‘The unity of Fedelmid’. He is particularly associated with the Céli Dé sites of Daire Eidnech and Druim Abrat.
Later tradition (as reflected in the Leabhar Muimhneach) remembered Fedelmid as pious, and he is classed among the ‘saints in the Irish tradition’; his pedigree is included with the ‘genealogies of the saints’, and his feast-day is recorded in the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Martyrology of Donegal. On one level, it is difficult to reconcile his reputation for sanctity with some of his recorded deeds, such as his occupation of the headship of Clonfert (838), or his even more forceful interference in Cork two years earlier, when the abbot, Dúnlaing son of Cathusach, was allowed to die in prison without access to the sacraments. There was also his attempted intervention at Armagh (827), and the seizure of an abbot of Armagh (836). Even more to the point were his attacks on monasteries. Clonmacnoise suffered particularly, but also Durrow, Gallen, and Kildare; in each case he destroyed church buildings and property and slaughtered ecclesiastical tenants much in the manner of viking raiders, although given the early date (the first half of the ninth century) he was hardly influenced by that example.
Having secured his position within Munster, Fedelmid extended his authority into Leinster, which had earlier been subjugated by Áed Oirdnide (qv), king of Tara, who had divided the (nominal) provincial kingship between two puppet rulers. From 823 onwards Fedelmid was making border forays against Mide (Co. Westmeath). No doubt anxious to assert his claim as overking of Leth Moga (the southern half of Ireland), by the late 820s he had secured the allegiance of Cellach son of Bran Ardchenn (qv), Uí Muiredaig claimant to the Leinster kingship who became in effect his protégé.
Fedelmid was extremely ambitious in both political and military terms. He directed much of his efforts against the Uí Néill hegemony, engaging in conflict with the reigning king of Tara, Conchobar (qv) (d. 833) son of Donnchad Midi (qv) of Clann Cholmáin, and later with his successor, Niall Caille (qv) (d. 846) son of Áed Oirdnide of Cenél nÉogain. In 827 Fedelmid took part in a rígdál (royal meeting) with Conchobar. Not uncommonly, such meetings were concerned with reaching agreement on spheres of influence. As it happened, both kings campaigned separately in Connacht during 829–30, but it is not clear if this reflected any accord between them; during one of the campaigns Conchobar's brother Folloman was slain by Munstermen. In 831 Fedelmid led a raid into Brega and attacked Fennor, Co. Meath; in retaliation, Conchobar plundered the Liffey plain – presumably intended as a strike against his rival's adherent, Cellach son of Bran. It seems that Cellach continued to serve Fedelmid's interests; in 833 he attacked Kildare, the forces of which had attacked the Céli Dé centre of Tallaght nine years earlier.
Fedelmid faced a new challenge when Niall Caille succeeded to the kingship of Tara; intervening in Leth Moga (835), he ‘ordained’ Bran (qv) son of Fáelán of Uí Dúnchada as king of Leinster. Some compromise between the rivals was apparently reached in 838: the partisan Annals of Inisfallen record a rígdál at Clonfert (significantly in Leth Chuinn, the northern half), and make the extraordinary claim that Fedelmid received the submission of Niall Caille. The Annals of Ulster instead note a meeting at Cluain Conaire (Cloncurry, Co. Kildare), but do not mention any outcome. In any event, Fedelmid launched an offensive against Uí Néill in 840, carrying out extensive depredations in Brega and Mide. He devastated the border kingdoms of Delbna Bethra and Fir Chell (in Co. Westmeath) and camped at Tara, thus sending a very clear message to the Uí Néill rulers. According to the Munster annals, he added insult to injury by capturing Gormlaith, queen-consort of Niall Caille, along with her female retinue. Believing his authority within Leth Moga to be now secure, Fedelmid crossed into Leinster the following year, leading his army to Carman – presumably with the intention of celebrating the óenach, which amounted to a claim of provincial overkingship. He was, however, intercepted and defeated by Niall Caille at Mag nÓchtair (841), and fled the field leaving behind his crosier (perhaps a symbol of abbatial, rather than episcopal, authority). Having pulled back into Munster, he received a visitation of the abbot of Armagh in 842.
Fedelmid's apparently ambivalent attitude towards the church should perhaps be viewed in the context of his protracted struggle against Uí Néill hegemony. Clearly, he appreciated the potential of Armagh in regard to secular politics; with its island-wide paruchia and strong claims to primacy, it was an invaluable agency for the promotion of dynastic interests. At an early stage in his reign, he reached an agreement with Artrí (qv) son of Conchobar, bishop and would-be abbot of Armagh, probably a brother of an Airgialla king, and in 823 collaborated with him in levying the Law of Patrick in Munster. It is possible that his early border attacks on Mide (823, 826), which included strikes against ecclesiastical settlements, were made as part of a drive to promote Artrí. Certainly, in 827 he intervened directly on the latter's behalf at Armagh – but Niall Caille, then king of Ailech, who supported a rival candidate for the abbacy, Éogan Mainistrech (qv), defeated him at the battle of Leth Cam. A fresh contest for the abbacy of Armagh in 836, this time involving Forannán (qv) (d. 852) and Diarmait (qv) grandson of Tigernán, is the likely context for Fedelmid's attack on Kildare. His support for Diarmait led him to capture Forannán, who was treated disrespectfully. Eventually, he arrived at a modus vivendi with the rival abbots; both came to Munster in 842 to levy the Law of Patrick.
Similarly, it seems reasonable to accept that much of the aggression that Fedelmid directed against ecclesiastical settlements should be interpreted in political terms: in the case of Cork he was securing his dynastic interests within Munster; the attacks on Clonfert and other sites might be construed as in line with his expansionist policy. Durrow, which he attacked in 833, was an Uí Néill foundation and, especially since the mid eighth century, had close connections with Clann Cholmáin. The territory of Fir Chell, which he also pillaged, included extensive Durrow estates. Clonmacnoise, which he targeted repeatedly throughout his reign, was a focal point for the conflicting ambitions of Clann Cholmáin, Connacht and Munster. Gallen, which he attacked in 823, was a possession of Clonmacnoise, while the border territory of Delbna Bethra, which he pillaged in 826, consisted largely of Gallen's estates.
In 827, the year in which he attempted to intrude Artrí at Armagh, he intervened rather more successfully at Clonmacnoise. In a situation where the abbacy was in dispute between a candidate, who perhaps belonged to the Luigne of Ros Temrach near Navan and was supported by Clann Cholmáin, and a rival who belonged to the Uí Maine of Connacht, Fedelmid decided to impose a Munsterman, Flann son of Flaithbertach from Múscraige Tíre (near Lough Derg), as vice-abbot. He returned to raid Clonmacnoise again in 832, with the aim, perhaps, of reinforcing the position of his protégé Flann. The support of Fedelmid, however, was not sufficient to prevent the killing of Flann by the Uí Maine (834) and his replacement by two successive Clann Cholmáin appointees. Fedelmid's attempt at seeking revenge led only to his defeat by the Connachtmen in 837.
It seems from the surviving record that Fedelmid was less active in the years after his defeat at Mag nÓchtair. In 846 (the year of Niall Caille's death), however, when he was presumably already over 70 years of age, Fedelmid launched a final expedition against Clonmacnoise and carried out extensive depredation. It is not stated that he was wounded on this occasion, but a colourful story relayed in Clonmacnoise sources claims that his death, which took place a short time later, was a punishment from St Ciarán (qv), who appeared to him and thrust his crosier through his stomach. It appears that he died on 28 August, the date on which he is commemorated in the Martyrology of Tallaght. The understandable condemnation of Fedelmid in Clonmacnoise sources is balanced by his obit in the Annals of Ulster which, aside from alluding to his clerical status, describes him as optimus Scotorum (the best of the Irish). His achievement lies not solely in his having attained overkingship of Leth Moga, but in his being one of only three kings of Cashel – the others being Cathal (qv) (d. 742) son of Finguine, and Cormac (qv) (slain 908) son of Cuilennán – who mounted a serious challenge to the Uí Néill kings of Tara.
Fedelmid's immediate successor was another ecclesiastic, perhaps a ‘compromise candidate’: Ólchobar (qv) (d. 851) son of Cináed, a member of the rival dynasty of Éoganacht Locha Léin. Several distant cousins of his, who belonged to parallel lines of the Cashel dynasty, later reigned as kings, the most distinguished being the above-mentioned Cormac son of Cuilennán, and later Cellachán Caisil (qv) (d. 954).