[Ir., high king].
In many Irish narratives the ard rí of Ireland was portrayed as ruling all of the island from Tara, where he was crowned. Countless legends and pseudo-histories claim that the title of ard rí existed from the earliest times, an assertion not supported in the early corpus of Irish laws known as the Brehon Laws. Some informed modern commentators, including Francis J. Byrne (1973), have argued that the ard rí was pure fiction, created as political propaganda to support the claims of the Tara Dynasty of Co. Meath. The first claimant to the title of ard rí appears to be Máel Sechnaill (d. 862), known romantically as ‘Malachy I’. Other commentators have suggested that some kind of sacral kingship might have existed at Tara in early times, even if it was not quite what later narratives imply. The term should not be understood to denote a national sovereign or over-king; it appears to have been an honorific title given to powerful local leaders. Among the figures known as ard rí are Diarmait mac Cerbaill (d.565), perhaps the last pre-Christian monarch of Ireland; Máel Sechnaill (d. 1022), the last to rule without unbroken opposition by powerful local princes; and Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair [Rory O'Connor] of Connacht, the last ard rí at the time of the Anglo-Norman Conquest (1169). See also BANAIS RÍGHE; TARA, FEAST OF.