Ua Máelshechlainn, Murchad (d. 1153), son of Domnall and king of Mide, belonged to the Clann Cholmáin dynasty of Uí Néill. He survived as king for forty-seven years, in itself no mean achievement. Although his political fortunes fluctuated greatly (he was temporarily displaced on five occasions by other claimants), in the course of his reign Mide assumed a key strategic importance in the struggle for the high-kingship of Ireland. His father Domnall, in turn a son of Flann who was blinded (1037) by Conchobar Ua Máelshechlainn (qv), reigned as king of Mide from 1087 to 1094 when, despite having tendered submission the previous spring, he rebelled against his overlord, Muirchertach Ua Briain (qv). Domnall was slain by (or on the orders of) Ua Briain and the kingdom was partitioned between two second-cousins; these reigned over a divided realm till 1105, when one was slain and the other banished.
About a year later Murchad, aged probably in his mid twenties, secured the kingship by displacing his brother Muirchertach, who had emerged to lay claim to that dignity for a brief period. Murchad married Mór (d. 1137), daughter of the powerful Munster overking and claimant to the high-kingship of Ireland, Muirchertach Ua Briain; she was the mother of his sons Domnall and Máel-Sechlainn, and of his daughter Derbfhorgaill (qv), who married Tigernán Ua Ruairc (qv), king of Bréifne. Murchad had at least three other sons: Conchobar (d. 1133), Art (d. 1141), and Donnchad (fl. c.1144), and a daughter, Tailtiu (d. 1127), who became the wife of the illustrious Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair (qv). He was also an uncle of Agnetha Ní Máelshechlainn (qv), known as An Caillech Mór (the great nun), abbess of Clonard.
In his early years, Murchad acknowledged Ua Briain (his father-in-law) as overlord. He had the latter's support when (1109) he launched an offensive against the kingdom of Bréifne on his northern border, although retaliation from that quarter undid any gains that were made. More serious problems emerged for Murchad when Ua Briain fell ill in 1114. He was one of a number of provincial kings obliged to submit to Domnall Ua Lochlainn (qv), overking of the Uí Néill, who made a circuit that year encompassing most of the country. Shortly afterwards (1115), he faced the first of several challenges to his kingship; he succeeded in crushing this effort, led by his brother Máel-Sechlainn, whom he put to death. Two years later he submitted to his future son-in-law, Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair, who was already emerging to challenge Domnall Ua Lochlainn for political supremacy throughout the country. In 1118 he accompanied his new overlord on hostings to Munster and Leinster, in the process rescuing his own young son Domnall who had been held hostage in Dublin.
Meanwhile, Murchad continued to press neighbouring Bréifne; in 1114 he intervened in a power struggle there and killed an Ua Ruairc dynast. In 1122 his forces slew the reigning king of Bréifne, clearing the way for the emergence of the young Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who subsequently became his son-in-law. Gaining in confidence, and having survived a revolt by the Gailenga against his rule, he sought to shake off the lordship of Ua Conchobair: in 1124 he took the lead in a rebellion in which he was supported by Ua Ruairc and by Énna Mac Murchada, overking of Leinster. Their combined forces were defeated near Granard. With additional support from the king of Desmond, Cormac Mac Carthaig (qv), the allies again moved against Connacht the following year, but Ua Conchobair confronted them at Athlone and executed some of the hostages that he held. The coalition collapsed, leaving Murchad in a rather vulnerable position.
It appears that he suppressed another challenge to his rule about this time, slaying Máel-Sechlainn, son of his cousin Donnchad; however, he was expelled from Mide by Ua Conchobair, and the province was partitioned between four rivals. Amongst the claimants to the kingship of Mide around this time were his son Domnall and his brother Diarmait. It seems that in 1130 Murchad re-established himself; that year, his brother and rival Diarmait was defeated and slain by Ua Ruairc. In the years that followed he achieved several long-standing ambitions: he struck at Dublin, his son Donnchad sacking Lusk in 1133; he also capitalised on a sequence of Munster victories over Ua Conchobair, making some successful forays against Connacht. In 1136 he allied himself with the rising overking of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada (qv), but his fortunes changed with the defection of Ua Ruairc to Ua Conchobair.
For many years Murchad strove vigorously to maintain his position, but was gradually worn down by superior odds. When his kingdom was invaded by Ua Conchobair and Ua Ruairc (1138), he obtained a reprieve when Mac Murchada, with the forces of Leinster and the Dublin Norsemen, came to his rescue. His position, however, was to some degree destabilized – perhaps this is the context for his slaying (1139) of Donnchad Mac Maíl-muaid, sub-king of Fir Chell (Co. Meath). The following year he again fell victim to a Connacht offensive; Mide was ravaged and, for a second time, he was driven from his kingship. As support was not forthcoming from his erstwhile allies, he submitted to Ua Conchobair and yielded hostages. He supported the latter in campaigns against Leinster and Munster in 1142, but was banished by his overlord again the following year, while the kingship of Mide was awarded to the latter's son Conchobar Ua Conchobair (qv) (d. 1144). The imposition of an external candidate, however, proved unacceptable to the dynasts of Mide, who murdered Conchobar six months later. As a result, Mide was devastated by the Connachtmen and the kingdom partitioned: Donnchad, nephew of Murchad, was appointed ruler of the western section while the east was shared between Ua Ruairc and Mac Murchada.
Murchad was restored to the eastern part of his realm before the end of 1144, following an agreement at Terryglass between Ua Conchobair and Tairdelbach Ua Briain (qv) (d. 1167) of Munster, rival contenders for the high-kingship of Ireland. A levy of 400 cattle was paid in compensation for the murder of Conchobar Ua Conchobair. Within a year, this agreement collapsed as the return of Murchad prompted action on the part of Ua Ruairc and Mac Murchada for the restoration of what they viewed as their rights in eastern Mide. Murchad managed to defeat the men of Bréifne at Dún Dubáin, slaying some 300 of them, but he was saved from the vengeance of the Leinstermen only by the intervention of Ua Briain, to whom he duly tendered submission as the ‘rightful’ high-king. Nonetheless, by 1149 he was forced to realign his position and oppose Ua Briain, as the Cenél nÉogain king Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn (qv), by now a serious candidate for the suzerainty of Ireland, continued his progression southwards taking submissions from regional rulers.
A further partition of Murchad's realm (1150), notwithstanding his submission to Mac Lochlainn, was the cue for Ua Briain to invade Mide, presumably in an effort to block the southward expansion of Cenél nÉogain. Whatever the precise aim of this intervention by the Munstermen, Murchad joined an Ua Conchobair alliance against them the following year and fought at the battle of Móin Mór (Mourneabbey, Co. Cork), which effectively destroyed Ua Briain's power. Perhaps it was his support in this venture that motivated Ua Conchobair and Mac Lochlainn, after a new agreement at Belleek (1152), to restore him to half of Mide with his son Máel-Sechlainn as king of the other half. This last restoration of Murchad clearly provides the context for the so-called ‘abduction’ of his daughter Derbfhorgaill, wife of Ua Ruairc, by Mac Murchada. Rival political ambitions in respect of Mide were almost certainly involved, and complicity on the part of Murchad might be suspected.
Murchad died in 1153, aged probably in his early 70s; his son and successor, Máel-Sechlainn, survived him by only two years. Two grandsons, Donnchad (d. 1160) and Diarmait (d. 1169), and a nephew, Domnall Bregach (d. 1173), maintained a fitful kingship over an unstable province till the Anglo-Norman conquest reduced the dynasty to the level of local rulers in the southern regions of the present Co. Westmeath.