Ua Ruairc, Tigernán (d. 1172), son of Donnchad and king of Bréifne, who belonged to the dynasty of Uí Briúin, was one of the strongest and most colourful rulers of his line. Claimed by Gerald (qv) of Wales to have been one-eyed, he was a major figure in midland politics for fifty years and strove to extend the power of his dynasty into Mide. His father Donnchad was not especially distinguished, although Donnchad's first cousin Domnall (slain 1102), son of an earlier Tigernán Ua Ruairc, was promoted – after the overthrow of Ruaidrí na Saide Buide Ua Conchobair (qv) – to an overkingship of Connacht, one of four Uí Briúin Bréifne dynasts to claim that dignity. Tigernán's mother was Aillend, daughter of Ua Baegelláin, a local ruler of Fir Manach; she was also the mother of Donnchad Ua Cerbaill (qv), king of Airgialla. It seems that he had at least one other half-brother, Domnall son of Donnchad. Tigernán married Derbfhorgaill (qv), daughter of Murchad Ua Máelshechlainn (qv) king of Mide, but it is not stated that she was the mother of his son Áed.
During Tigernán's early childhood, his half-brother Domnall son of Donnchad reigned as king of Bréifne, but was slain in 1108. The kingship then passed to Áed in Gilla-Srónmáel, apparently a son of their father's cousin Domnall. Ironically, Tigernán's initial rise to power was facilitated by Ua Máelshechlainn, who in 1122 slew Áed in Gilla-Srónmáel. Aged scarcely more than 20, Tigernán succeeded to the kingship and secured a political alliance by his marriage to Derbfhorgaill. Two years later he supported his father-in-law and Énna Mac Murchada, overking of Leinster, in a rebellion against their suzerain, Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair (qv), overking of Connacht and claimant to the high-kingship of Ireland. In one action he slew a sub-king of the latter, but a subsequent defeat at Granard set back their initiative; when (1125) Ua Conchobair confronted them at Athlone and executed some of their hostages, the coalition collapsed. Tigernán was compelled to join with Ua Conchobair, and Ua Máelshechlainn faced expulsion and the partition of his realm.
It appears that Tigernán first gained a share of the crumbling kingdom of Mide by courtesy of Ua Conchobair. In the years that followed, he benefited from two further repartitions of that province. If his control of northern Mide was fitful, he was able on at least two occasions to make grants of land in the Boyne valley, and he witnessed other land transactions involving the Columban foundation of Kells. There are hints that he upheld the interests of his Connacht overlord in the early years: a sense of obligation presumably lay behind his move against the king of Ailech, Conchobar Mac Lochlainn, in 1128. The outcome, however, was a severe defeat and the loss of several of his sub-kings. That same year, he rashly captured the archbishop of Armagh, Cellach (qv), and several of the archiepiscopal entourage were slain. His subsequent defeat at Áth Fhir Dead (Ardee) by ‘the men of Fernmag’ – the rulers of Airgialla – was viewed by at least one annalist as just retribution. Perhaps these setbacks caused him to waver in his allegiance to Ua Conchobair; in 1130 he helped to restore his father-in-law to the kingship of Mide by defeating the latter's brother and rival Diarmait with his allies at Sliab Guaire. That same year, he repelled an assault on his own borders by the overking of Ulaid. In 1132, seeing Ua Conchobair's mounting political difficulties, he openly defected to the side of Mac Lochlainn.
Before the end of the decade, however, changes in the political realities had prompted Tigernán to return to Ua Conchobair. He joined in an invasion of Mide (1138), which foundered when Diarmait Mac Murchada (qv) intervened on the side of Ua Máelshechlainn. Yet, six years later, Tigernán and Mac Murchada both profited when Ua Conchobair, who first replaced Ua Máelshechlainn with his own son Conchobar (qv) only to find him murdered, partitioned Mide three ways. Nonetheless, by the end of that year both parties were equally frustrated when, after an agreement at Terryglass between Ua Conchobair and Tairdelbach Ua Briain (qv) (d. 1167) of Munster, his rival for the high-kingship, Ua Máelshechlainn was restored to the eastern portion of Mide. Tigernán's forces made an unsuccessful incursion into Mide in 1145 and were subsequently defeated at Dún Dubáin with the loss of some 300 men, obliging him to shelve his ambitions in Mide, at least temporarily.
The emergence of Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn (qv) of Cenél nÉogain as a serious candidate for the suzerainty of Ireland prompted a renewed crisis in Mide. Tigernán was among those who in 1149 submitted to Mac Lochlainn and so benefited from a repartition of Ua Máelshechlainn's realm the following year. He then joined a coalition formed by Ua Conchobair against the intervention of Ua Briain in Mide, and helped defeat the latter at the battle of Móin Mór (Mourneabbey, Co. Cork) in 1151. It seems that the inclusion of Kells among the diocesan centres recognised at the synod of Kells–Mellifont the following year was intended as a reward for Tigernán, as the see was held by the bishop of Uí Briúin. In the event, the year 1152 saw the disintegration of his political relationship with Ua Conchobair: the latter made a deal with Ua Máelshechlainn who, having also fought with the coalition forces at Móin Mór, was restored along with his son to a shared kingship of Mide. Tigernán's objections were quickly dealt with: Mac Lochlainn and Ua Conchobair joined forces, invaded Bréifne, and promoted a rival claimant to the kingship. In one fell stroke, he lost recent acquisitions in Mide and faced conflict within his own dynasty.
These developments provide the context for the so-called ‘abduction’ of his wife Derbfhorgaill by Mac Murchada, who probably held Tigernán responsible for the frustration of his own ambitions in Mide. The episode served to embitter relationships, on both a personal and a political level, between these two erstwhile allies. The extent of the grudge that Tigernán thereafter bore against the king of Leinster is stressed in later Anglo-Norman sources. His renewed support for Ua Conchobair was doubtless motivated in part by Mac Murchada's continued loyalty to Mac Lochlainn. He joined an Ua Conchobair coalition against Mac Lochlainn in the spring of 1156, but a planned invasion of the north was postponed due to the death of Tairdelbach. The following year he made a foray into Mac Murchada's holdings in Mide, but was repelled at Cuasán Uí Bhrain (Coosane, Co. Westmeath). In 1159 he supported an initiative led by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (qv) (d. 1198), son and successor of Tairdelbach, but their combined forces suffered a decisive defeat at Ardee. It was not till the Ulster revolt against Mac Lochlainn more than six years later that Tigernán was in a position to exact vengeance against his former overlord and his former ally.
In early summer 1166 he moved, in concert with an Ua Conchobair invasion of the north-west, to attack Cenél nÉogain with his half-brother Donnchad Ua Cerbaill, who earlier had tried unsuccessfully to mediate in the Ulster crisis. As the fall of Mac Lochlainn had left Mac Murchada without support, Tigernán invaded Leinster later that summer in alliance with Diarmait Ua Máelshechlainn; he sacked Ferns and drove his avowed enemy from his kingship. He opposed the return of Mac Murchada in August 1167; when Ua Conchobair eventually made terms, he insisted on a payment of 100 ounces of gold in compensation for the ‘loss of his honour’ arising from the Derbfhorgaill episode. Tigernán both resented and feared the re-establishment of Mac Murchada, and not without reason. When Diarmait and his English (or Anglo-Norman) allies captured Dublin in the summer of 1170, he pressed on and plundered the Ua Ruairc possessions in Mide. Tigernán's response was to prevail on the high-king to execute his Leinster hostages, including the young Conchobar Mac Murchada, son of Diarmait. That September, he supported (along with Ua Cerbaill) the ill-fated Ua Conchobair initiative to retake Dublin.
Tigernán regarded the death of Mac Murchada (May 1171) as an opportunity to assert his claims again in Mide, but by this time the English, having claimed the sovereignty of Leinster, were already engaged in conquest of the midlands. In September 1171 Tigernán's son Áed, having pressed almost as far as Dublin, was slain in a skirmish by ‘the foreigners’. Tigernán is named among the Irish rulers who submitted to King Henry II (qv) around Christmas of that year, but he apparently continued to pursue territorial claims. He contested the lordship of northern Mide with Hugh de Lacy (qv), with whom a meeting was arranged at Tlachtga (the Hill of Ward, Co. Meath), in the latter half of 1172. Following an altercation (which each side blamed on the other's bad faith), Tigernán was slain. He was then aged about 70. The extent of the hatred which the English adventurers felt for him, presumably because he had for a time blocked their expansionist ambitions, is demonstrated by the fact that in death he was decapitated – his head was fixed above the gate of the Dublin fortress and his body was hung upside-down outside the northern wall of the town. His death cleared the way for the new overlords to gain control of Mide, while the kingship of Bréifne was contested by rival factions of the Ua Ruairc line.