Thomas Leland

Thomas Leland was a church of Ireland clergyman, Trinity lecturer and historian who was living and writing in Dublin the 1770s. Although he was deeply loyal to the kings of England, like his nationalist counterparts, he glorified Brian Boru and his son Mortagh as heroic leaders in his three volume History of Ireland.

‘Brian was now preparing to crown all the glorious actions of his reign, by building and fitting out a formidable navy, to strike terror into all future invaders of the island, when the Danes still left in free possession of the maritime cities invited their countrymen to their assistance. The neighbouring Irish, impatient of the ancient tribute still exacted by the monarch, readily concurred with them; and even encouraged the foreigners to assist in their insurrection.  The whole province of Leinster suddenly caught the flame of war, and called Brian to the field at the age of eighty-eight. He lived to be a witness of the valour of his son Mortagh in the desperate engagement of Clontarffe and the victory of his troops. The son fell in the field; the venerable monarch, we are told, was slain by some fugitives, as he lay unguarded in his pavilion’.

Thomas Leland, The history of Ireland from the invasion of Henry II with a preliminary discourse on the ancient state of that kingdom, (Dublin, 1774) vol. 1, p liii-liv. (Leland's history was reprinted in 1814)



Treachery on the Battlefield

Leland gives a positive description of Mortagh, and explained his death on the battlefield through the treachery of an 'insidious Dane':

This prince’s name was Morogh; he commanded the Irish that day, but was treacherously slain by one of the Danish princes, that lying wounded in the field of battle, intreated his assistance, which when the generous warrior dismounted to grant, the insidious Dane suddenly stabbed him to the heart"

Leland was a preacher as well as a historian, and gave a sermon in St Anne's Church on Dawson Street in 1782 encouraging friendship and cooperation between the Protestant and Catholic communities of later eighteenth-century Ireland:

For consider, I beseech you, that at this day we enjoy a full measure of religious liberty. While our Governors are free to chuse that mode of Christian doctrine and discipline, to which they are to give a public support, every member of our society is also free to pursue any other mode his conscience shall direct; serving God in the way that he approves, without reproach or molestation and all joining, as I trust we do, as faithful and affectionate fellow-citizens, without envying or unreasonable prejudice, without jealousy, censure, or uncharitableness, in mutual forbearance and indulgence, in the spirit of charity and loving kindness, as servants of the same Master, and children of the same Family, whose head and father is Christ Jesus. Alas! This was not the state of our fore-fathers. Oppression and persecution disgraced their dreary periods; and every sect and every faction, in their turn, experienced and inflicted the severity of rancorous intolerance. But let us cast a shade over the errors of old time…"

'The love of our country: a sermon, preached in the parish church of Saint Anne's, Dublin, on Sunday, June 23, 1782'. Sold by Mr. Longman, London, and Mr. Wilson, Dublin, 1782.

© Jebb, Wikicommons



Joseph Liechty, ‘Testing the depth of Catholic/Protestant conflict: The case of Thomas Leland’s ‘History of Ireland’, 1773’ in Archivium Hibernicum, vol. 42 (1987), pp 13-28.

Walter D. Love, ‘Charles O’Conor of Belanagare and Thomas Leland’s ‘Philosophical’ history of Ireland’ in Irish Historical Studies, vol. 13, no. 49 (1962), pp 1-25.

Thomas Leland was vicar of St Anne's Church on Dawson Street in Dublin in the late 1700s.