The Irish names for the town and parish of Thurles – Durlas Éile , the fortress of Éile, or Durlas O’Fogarty, scarcely require any explanation.
The ancient territory of Éile obtained its name from pre-historic inhabitants called the Eli, about whom little is known beyond what may be gathered from legends and traditions. The extent of Éile varied throughout the centuries with the rise and fall of the tribes in occupation. Before the 5th century A.D. the details of its history which can be gleaned from surviving records and literature are exceedingly meagre, obscure and confusing. During this century however Éile appears to have reached its greatest extent, stretching from Croghan Bri Eli (Croghan Hill in Offaly) to just south of Cashel (in Corca Eathrach Eli). The southern part of this territory embraced the baronies of Eliogarty and Ikerrin, a great part of the modern barony of Middlethird, the territory of Ileagh, and portion of the present barony of Kilnamanagh Upper.
OCCUPATION BY THE SOUTHERN UÃ NÃ‰ILL
In the 5th century A.D., the Southern Uí Néill, the kindred of Niall of the Nine Hostages,(Niall NoÃgÃallach) were penetrating southwards from Tara and extending their sway over all the Territory of Éile . In fact, various genealogical tracts describe a son of Niall of Nine Hostages, as King of Éile (An Leabhar Muimhneach, p.137), King of South Éile (Keating’s History of Ireland, II-384), and King of Muscraighe, presumably Muscraighe TÃre which was substantially the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond (The Book of Lecan, quoted in O’Rahilly, Genealogical Tracts, I-163). Furthermore, in one pedigree of the ruling race in South Éile , Conall, King of Éile , is stated to be a grandson of Fiacha Mac Niaill. (op. cit. p.177).
This Conall figures in an ancient tale about the discovery of the Rock of Cashel in a dense forest by the swineherds of the kings of Éile and Muscraighe. Corc, king of Munster, (who resided at Knockgraffon), heard of the discovery, and came and took possession of the Rock, and built his palace on it. When Conall, King of Éile , heard this, he was angry, claiming that the Rock was in his territory. He assembled his forces and marched southwards over the plain of Mossadh (the plain in which was Rathbreasail where the celebrated synod was held, 1111-1118). Before reaching Cashel, however, his martial ardour had evaporated, and instead of warfare, he dismissed his army, and sat down to a great banquet on the Rock with “his friend”, Corc, who was left in possession of the Rock. (O’Curry, MSS materials, p.485, note 40). This tale indicates the southern boundary of the territory occupied by the Uí Néill in Éile.
The tenure of the UÃ NÃ©ill in Éile was hotly contested, especially by the Leinster men, and the annals record numerous battles, among them, the Battle of Rathbreasail on Magh Mossaidh in the 5th century, at which Criomhthann, King of Leinster, was victorious (O’Curry, MSS materials, p.485); battles at Lochmaigh (Loughmore) in the years 496 and 500, in both of which the Leinster men triumphed (Annals of the Four Masters). O’Donovan places Lochmaigh in Co. Louth and Keating locates it in Connaught, but the weight of probability is that Lochmaigh, north of Thurles, was the site of these conflicts.
By the 8th century, the Néill power in Éile had vanished, but some remembrance of their occupation lingered on in place names. The former name of a large area around Templemore was Corca Tene, i.e., the race of Tene, which Tene was a son of Brian, King of Connaught, and a brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The Book of Leinster states that the chief families of the Corca Tene were the Ó h-Erc and the Ó Macluidhir. The name Ó h-Erc is still preserved in the townlands of Ballyerk in Moyne, and Ballyerk in Two-Mile-Borris. As surname, Ó h-Erc is now very rare, but in the 15th century, it seems to have been quite common, and four persons of that name are found as Vicars of the Parish of Drom. Ó Macluidhir as a surname appears to be extinct; but Kilvalure near Drombane probably means O’Macluidhirs Church.
By the 8th century, the territory of Ancient Éile had broken up into a number of petty kingdoms: the O’Carroll occupied the northern portion, the O’Spillanes held Ileagh, the Eoghanacht of Cashel had annexed Middlethird, the O’Fogartys held what is now the barony of Eliogarty, while to the north of them, at least some time later, were O’Meaghers of Ikerrin.