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Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an established Author and Genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.

Website URL: http://www.familyhistoryireland.com E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

In an earlier blog I wrote about some of the Inishowen families who were from the Cenél nEógain dynasty, the original inhabitants of the peninsula before its conquest by the O'Doherty family from Tír Chonaill in the late 1300s and early 1400s. In this blog, the first in almost a year(!) I would like to take a closer look at one of these Cenél nEógain families, Ó Maolfhábhail, who were kings of Carrickabraghy in north-west Inishowen in early medieval times.

The Ó Maolfhábhail family were a distinguished branch of the Cenél nEógain dynasty and were the head of a related group of families called the Cenél Fergusa. The family ruled the north western section of the Inishowen peninsula and the chieftain of the Ó Maolfhábhails is actually given the title 'King of Carraic Brachaidhe' (Carrickabraghy) in the Annals of Ulster from the late eleventh-century (1082 AD) to the end of the twelfth-century (1199 AD). Not many leaders of a branch of the Cenél nEógain were called kings in the Irish annals so the Ó Maolfhábhail family must have been very high-up in the noble hierarchy of the kingdom of Tyrone during these years. The annals record the deaths of Ó Maolfhábhail kings of Carrickabraghy in the years 1053 (Flaithbertach Ua Maolfhábhail), 1066 (Muirchertach Ua Maolfhábhail), 1082 (Gillachrist Ua Maolfhábhail) and 1103 (Sitric Ua Maolfhábhail). The first two kings have fine typical Cenél nEógain dynasty personal names but Sitric is a Hiberno-Norse or Scandinavian personal name suggesting that north-west Inishowen had trading links with Dublin or the Hebrides during this period.

The year 1166 was a year of crisis for the Cenél nEógain when the high-kingship of Ireland, held by the king of Tyrone Muirchertach McLoughlin collapsed. The Annals of Ulster record that early in this year Muirchertach killed Hugh Ó Maolfhábhail, the king of Carrickabraghy 'in treachery'. Muirchertach McLoughlin had blinded the King of the Ulaid in defiance of powerful guarantees of safety and as a result the nobles and people of Tyrone refused to support their McLoughlin King anymore. Muirchertach may have killed Hugh Ó Maolfhábhail in a failed effort to re-assert his authority in the kingdom of Tyrone. McLoughlin was killed soon-after in east Tyrone when attended by less than twenty followers, an ignominious end to his high-kingship of the island of Ireland.

The last Ó Maolfhábhail king of Carrickabraghy, Cathalan Ua Maolfhábhail, is recorded in the annals as being killed in the year 1199 AD. There continued to be Ó Maolfhábhail chieftains in Inishowen in the early thirteenth-century but they were no longer regarded as kings. The head of the family now bore the title 'Chief of Cenél Fergusa', meaning he was now regarded as the leader of this branch of the Cenél nEógain but no longer as a petty-king among the nobles of the kingdom of Tyrone.

The power of the Ó Maolfhábhail chieftains had a bloody and very violent end in the year 1216 when Trad Ua Maolfhábhail 'chief of Cenél Fergusa, along with his kinsmen' were massacred 'with great havoc' by some Scots that King John I had introduced to the Lough Foyle and Coleraine region. This massacre of the Ó Maolfhábhail in 1216 was so extensive that the power of the family was permanently broken and the family are never mentioned in the Irish annals again.

According to Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh, the modern authority on the O'Doherty conquest and settlement of Inishowen some of the descendants of Toimilin O'Doherty later took control of the north-west Inishowen region where they built a fortress called Carrickabraghy Castle, which obviously took its name from the small kingdom of the Ó Maolfhábhail family. The Ó Maolfhábhail family continued to live on the lands of their former petty-kingdom because some of their descendants continue to live in Inishowen to this day. In the nineteenth century the surname in Inishowen was often anglicized as Mulfaal or even Fall. Sometimes the surname was even anglicized as Lavelle, although this tended to happen more among holders of the surname whose ancestors may have migrated into the province of Connacht over the years. The continuing effects of the massacre of 1216 continued into the early 1600s however, with not one person with the surname being of substantial enough status to be pardoned with Sir Cahir O'Doherty, the overlord of Inishowen in 1602 although many McLoughlins and some O'Dubhdiormas also are recorded.

Nevertheless the history of the Ó Maolfhábhail family is an interesting one and not many families among the Cenél nEógain dynasty could say that their chieftains were kings in their own right for over a century.

A few weeks ago a reader of my blog contacted me about his McDaid ancestors and as promised here is my blog that I have researched on this prominent Co. Donegal family.

The McDaids were an important family on the Inishowen peninsula, then the Gaelic lordship of the related O'Doherty family, in the late sixteenth century. A group of McDaid brothers, Hugh Boy, Phelim Reagh, Eamonn Gruama and Shane Crone, led by Hugh Boy, served the powerful chieftain Seán Óg O'Doherty, the lord of Inishowen throughout the 1590s. In particular the McDaids appear to have had responsibility for the rearing of Seán Óg's son and heir the famous Cahir O'Doherty.

The McDaid's appear to have originally been a branch of the O'Doherty family, who separated from the main line in the early thirteenth century. According to the O'Clery Book of Genealogies the McDaids were descended from Eachmarcach Óg O'Doherty, who was the son of Eachmarcach O'Doherty, who became lord of Tír Chonaill in the year 1197 but was killed two weeks later by the Anglo-Norman baron John de Courcey. A Gaelic noble called David O'Doherty was killed in Inishowen by the O'Neills in 1208 and the nineteenth-century historian John O'Donovan believed that this David was 'the ancestor of the family of MacDevitt, now so numerous in the barony of Inishowen'.

The McDaids are not mentioned again in the Irish annals until the year 1595 but it is likely that they served the O'Doherty chieftains in various capacities over the intervening centuries. In the year 1595 at the outbreak of the Nine Years War the Annals of the Four Masters record the exploits of Phelim Reagh McDaid. Phelim participated in an ambush laid by Red Hugh O'Donnell for some English soldiers outside Sligo Town. The annals record that as the Tír Chonaill troops led the English towards O'Donnell's ambush position McDaid's horse became very slow and Phelim believed he was about to be killed. In desperation McDaid turned around and fired his spear at the closest English soldier, the commander of the pursuit, Captain Martin. McDaid's spear killed the English officer by entering his armpit, probably as he raised his arm to strike at Phelim with his sword. The rest of the English soldiers were disheartened by their commander's death and abandoned the pursuit. Unbelievably Phelim Reagh McDaid escaped but he still had to face the wrath of Red Hugh O'Donnell for ruining his carefully prepared ambush. The Annals record that an 'enraged' O'Donnell was placated when told the full story.

The McDaids fell out with Red Hugh O'Donnell in 1601 when Seán Óg O'Doherty died and Red Hugh chose his own first cousin, Seán Óg's half-brother Phelim O'Doherty as lord of Inishowen. The McDaid's were outraged that their foster-son Cahir O'Doherty had been passed over so they joined the English garrison at Derry. As a result they were in a lucky position when the English eventually won the Nine Years War.

Hugh Boy McDaid, who had served in the Spanish army in Flanders before 1595, was killed on 10th August 1602 by some bandits as he travelled to Omagh in Tyrone. Phelim Reagh was later prominent in the revolt of Cahir O'Doherty, which took place in 1608. McDaid was the young O'Doherty's main advisor but was captured after O'Doherty's death in a wood in eastern Tír Chonaill. The English who captured Phelim Reagh McDaid stated that he 'made such resistance with his sword, as it seems he would gladly have been slain, & in effect was sore wounded with a pike' and captured. The great warrior Phelim Reagh McDaid was later executed at Lifford. In the nineteenth century John O'Donovan recorded that folklore concerning the famous Phelim Reagh was still popular in the county and that he was 'vividly remembered in the tradition of the barony of Inishowen'.

Of the other brothers Shane Crone McDaid appears to have participated in the Flight of the Earls in 1607. In 1611 Shane Crone was living in Rome, and in 1614 was still there. By 1615 however, he had moved to Madrid in Spain.

The McDaid/McDevitt family continued to be prominent in Co. Donegal, really down to the present day. Philip McDevitt was Bishop of Derry from 1766-98 and James McDevitt was bishop of Raphoe from 1871-79. Dr Jim McDaid was a prominent Fianna Fáil member of the Irish parliament for north-Donegal and was a government minister throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Those interested in the history of medieval Gaelic Ireland will be aware of the remarkable resilience of the main ruling Gaelic Irish families. At the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 1170s the ruling royal Gaelic families were McMurrough in Leinster, O'Brien and McCarthy in Munster, O'Connor in Connacht and the O'Neills and McLoughlins in Ulster. By the end of the period of the Gaelic chieftains after the Battle of Kinsale fought in 1601/02 the McMurrough (Kavanaghs), McCarthys, O'Briens, O'Connors and O'Neills were still the dominant families in their home regions. By 1603 however, the McLoughlins, although they still were a recognised noble family and had a chieftain and two castles, had been reduced to a very minor territory stretching along the eastern shore of the Inishowen peninsula from White Castle to Red Castle (their two fortifications). How did this remarkable decline come about?

Basically it was due to an unfavourable location and very bad luck indeed. Before the Anglo-Norman invasion the McLoughlins were based in fertile western Tyrone, with estates in the good lands of Inishowen lying along the shores of Loughs Swilly and Foyle. The McLoughlins also had strong authority over the many families based in the region such as the O'Carolans and McGettigans of Clann Diarmada, the Ó Duibhdhíormas and O'Mulfalls of eastern and western Inishowen and the McGarveys, O'Lappins, O'Donnellys, O'Petans and O'Lavertys of the further fertile lands stretching towards Raphoe and Lifford. Very importantly the McLoughlin kings also had control of the famous monastery at Derry which was a great centre of Irish civilisation in the twelfth-century with famous reforming clerics and major building programmes.

As a result it is no surprise that the family produced two highly successful kings during the twelfth century. The first Donal McLoughlin, who died in the year 1121 was a great warrior. He successfully avoided the attempts made by Muirchertach O'Brien, the king of Munster and great-grandson of Brian Boru, to become effective king of all Ireland. In 1103 McLoughlin even succeeded in humiliating O'Brien by capturing his camp, campaign tent and standard during a surprise attack near Armagh while O'Brien was off campaigning elsewhere.

Donal's grandson Muirchertach McLoughlin was actually high-king of Ireland (with opposition) for the years 1156 to 1166. I had thought that Muirchertach McLoughlin was an evil and needlessly violent high-king but I have revised my opinion of him into a great and highly energetic warrior. Something happened in the year 1166 however and Muirchertach was abandoned by most of his people. He was then killed by forces from Oriel and Breifne who had marched into Tyrone to bring McLoughlin to justice for the crime of having blinded McDunlevy the king of the Ulaid. I think however that Rory O'Connor the king of Connacht and soon to be all powerful high-king of the entire island engineered this revolt against McLoughlin in early 1166 and Muirchertach's violent actions (that were really out of character) were a desperate attempt on his part to save his high-kingship.

Rory O'Connor soon attempted to weaken the Cenél nEógain kingdom by dividing Tyrone in two between the McLoughlin and O'Neill families. The McLoughlins were to have Inishowen and Derry and any other Cenél nEógain lands north of the Sperrin Mountains. The O'Neills were to have Tullaghoge and Armagh and all the Cenél nEógain land to the east. O'Connor's great power was not to last. He proved incapable of dealing with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland and lost the high-kingship of Ireland to King Henry II of England and the Anegevin empire, although he did manage to keep the invaders out of Connacht and the town of Limerick during his lifetime.

The leadership of the Cenél nEógain at this time was taken by an able McLoughlin king called Melaghlin, who was a son of Muirchertach the deceased high-king. In 1176 Melaghlin led the army of Tyrone and their allies to Slane in Meath where his soldiers stormed the castle built by the Anglo-Norman invader Richard Fleming. Fleming and over one hundred of his knights and followers were killed. Indeed the Annals of the Four Masters state 'not one individual escaped with his life from the castle'. Three further Anglo-Norman castles in the region 'were left desolate in Meath on the following day, through fear of the Cenél nEógain'. Melaghlin's army met disaster at the hands of the Anglo-Normans in 1177/78 when the famous John de Courcey inflicted a major defeat on the army of Tyrone at Downpatrick in east Ulster. The Cenél nEógain had put their faith in the holy relics of the north of Ireland when seven major treasures were carried before the northern army. The holy relics were no match for de Courcey's archers however and the Tyrone men were put to flight 'without even striking a blow'. [The Irish were cut down by the Anglo-Norman archers before they even reached the Anglo-Norman battle line]. Melaghlin McLoughlin lost the O'Carolan, O'Laverty, O'Donnelly, O'Hamill and McCartan chieftains in this battle as well as all the 'young keepers' of the relics who 'were killed'. McLoughlin was soon after challenged  by Hugh 'an Macaemh Toinleasc' O'Neill for the kingship of Tyrone but managed to kill O'Neill soon afterwards in a battle near Armagh although Melaghlin's own son Ardgal McLoughlin also fell in the fighting. King Melaghlin McLoughlin of Tyrone was 'slain by the foreigners' in 1185 AD.

It was after Melaghlin McLoughlin's death that the unfortunate geographical location of the McLoughlin power-base ultimately led to their decline. Derry and the fertile lowlands around Inishowen while they may have been the jewel in the crown of Tyrone in pre-Anglo-Norman times became an exposed target afterwards. John de Courcey once firmly established east of the Bann in the earldom of Ulster launched a number of destructive raids on the Derry region in the years after 1177. In 1182 the Anglo-Normans of Ulster defeated the Cenél nEógain in a pitched battle at Dunbo and in another fought near Armagh in 1188 where Donal son of Hugh McLoughlin the king of Tyrone was killed.

The series of defeats of the McLoughlin kings by the Anglo-Normans led to turmoil in Tyrone. In 1186 Rory O'Laverty 'was elected by some of the Cenél nEogain' as king of Tyrone, although he was killed soon after in 1187 while raiding in Donegal. This turmoil also led to the rise to major prominence of the O'Neills of eastern Tyrone. The O'Neills were much better placed than the McLoughlins in that they could easily retreat into the forested mountain fastnesses of the Sperrin Mountains to avoid invading Anglo-Norman armies. The family also produced one of the greatest native kings of the era, another Hugh O'Neill, who seems to have invented Irish guerilla warfare against the up-till-then all conquering Anglo-Norman invaders. When an Anglo-Norman army invaded eastern Tyrone O'Neill and his soldiers simply disappeared into the mountains and forests, to emerge and harass the invaders when they had marched far into Tyrone and set up camps that were easy to isolate and attack. As a result O'Neill's power began to grow and spread north of the Sperrins. It seems clear that during this period the important O'Gormley and O'Cahan families began to back the O'Neill family in the struggle with the McLoughlins for supremacy in Tyrone. Indeed in 1196 Muirchertach McLoughlin, the king of Tyrone and another son of the late high-king was assassinated at a meeting of the council of the Cenél nEógain in Armagh by Blosky O'Cahan, a follower of the O'Cahan chieftain and Hugh O'Neill.

Some of the McLoughlins appear to have fled to the Anglo-Normans following this assassination to escape the power of Hugh O'Neill. In 1197 the son of Argal McLoughlin was killed in Clann Diarmada while accompanying one of John de Courcey's raids on Derry. In 1197-98 de Courcey spent extended periods in Derry and may have been seizing up the suitability of the great monastery as the site for an Anglo-Norman town. Hugh O'Neill was by now the dominant power in the region and he saw off the threat from de Courcey who was eventually destroyed by King John of England. By the time of John's campaign in Ireland in 1210 Hugh O'Neill was so powerful that he was able to tell the English king to get lost and to stop asking for hostages from Tyrone. Hugh O'Neill continued to rule as king of Tyrone until his death in the year 1230. In recording this the Annals of the Four Masters made a very complimentary comment that O'Neill died a natural death 'although it was never supposed that he would die in any other way than to fall by the foreigners'.

To lessen O'Neill's power King John granted Derry and the surrounding coastal lands to some Scottish earls who were allied to him. This only served to make Hugh O'Neill even more secure as these lands belonged to his McLoughlin rivals. In 1221 Hugh O'Neill drove out the Scots when he destroyed the castle they had built at Coleraine. With the death of Hugh O'Neill in 1230 the McLoughlins made what was to prove to be their last attempt to secure the kingship of Tyrone and to be fair they gave it a very good go. The family was now led by Donal McLoughlin and he appears to have had the support of the Anglo-Normans of the earldom of Ulster. By 1232 McLoughlin was recognised as king of Tyrone and he began to raid northern Tír Chonaill. In 1234 McLoughlin succeeded in killing Hugh O'Neill's son Donal and in 1239 he defeated a force of O'Neills, O'Gormleys and McMahons at a battle fought at Carnteel near Aughnacloy in Co. Tyrone.

Disaster struck in the year 1241. Readers of my blog and family history are by now familiar with the Battle of Caimeirge, fought near Maghera in Co. Derry this year. What seems to have happened is that McLoughlin made a major effort to finally defeat the O'Neills, now led by Hugh O'Neill's nephew Brian. All went well and the McLoughlins cornered the O'Neills at Maghera. However, possibly unknown to Donal McLoughlin Brian O'Neill had sought assistance from Melaghlin O'Donnell the king of Tír Chonaill who turned up at Caimeirge with the army of Tír Chonaill. This left the McLoughlins and their army hopelessly outnumbered. If the O'Donnells attacked from cover after first letting the McLoughlins and O'Neills fight it out for a while this would explain the catastrophic end result whereby 'Donal McLoughlin, Lord of Cenél nEógain, and ten of his derbhfine (close family), together with all the chieftains of the Cenél nEógain' were slain.

This massive defeat must have killed most of the McLoughlin nobles of fighting age and it was left to their womenfolk to salvage something for the family. This they ably did by marrying Donal McLoughlin's daughter Cecilia to Brian O'Neill. The marriage alliance preserved the power of the McLoughlin family in the Inishowen peninsula at least but their time as contenders for the kingship of Tyrone was over. In 1260 the chieftain Dermot McLoughlin was killed along with Brian O'Neill by the Anglo-Normans at the Battle of Downpatrick. The building of a major Anglo-Norman castle at Newcastle in Inishowen in the year 1305 by the Red Earl of Ulster may have weakened the hold of the McLoughlins over Inishowen but in the 1320s Michael McLoughlin was bishop of Derry and the earldom of Ulster collapsed in 1333 with the murder of the Brown Earl and Newcastle subsequently fell into Irish hands. In the year 1375 the Annals of the Four Masters record the death of John McLoughlin 'Chief of his own tribe' and I believe that up to this time the McLoughlins were still lords of Inishowen. However, from 1380 to the early 1420s there was a powerful Lord of Tír Chonaill, Turlough an Fhiona 'of the wine' O'Donnell. The Annals of the Four Masters record that in 1380 he won 'a great victory' over his O'Donnell rivals, and the O'Doherty and McSweeney families and I believe that during his long reign Turlough an Fhiona forced the O'Dohertys to exchange their Glenswilly homeland for new and greater estates in Inishowen. The McLoughlins were not totally dispossessed and were left in possession of the small area of Lough Foyle coastline that I have previously mentioned.

I hope readers have enjoyed this blog. It is a bit long but it is something that was puzzling me for a long time but now I believe that I have managed to sort the order of events out! This may be my last blog for a while as I now have to think up a new series of interesting topics.

As promised my blog this week is a Christmas themed one about the Norwegian king Magnús Barelegs who spent Christmas 1102 in Munster at the court of the high-king of Ireland Muirchertach O'Brien.

Magnús berfœttr (Magnús Barefoot or Barelegs) was a famous king of Norway around the year 1100 AD. Known for leading aggressive expeditions into the Scottish islands and the Irish Sea he got his nickname because of his fondness for the Irish and Irish culture. As the saga of the Kings of Norway 'Heimskringla' put it: 'when King Magnús returned from his expedition to the west he and many of his men for the most part had the manners and wore the clothes which were customary in the British Islands [Ireland and the Hebrides are intended here]. They went barelegged in the street and had short kirtles and outer garments. Then people called him Magnús Barefoot or Barelegs'.

Magnús was by all accounts an imposing figure. Said to be very tall, he wore a red garment over his coat of mail 'with a lion sewed on front and back with yellow silk'. His shield was also painted red 'on which a lion was embossed in gold', and his sword that had a hilt 'carved of walrus-tooth' and a haft 'wound with gold' had the name 'Legbiter'. As king, Magnús' philosophy was that the Norwegians should wish for a monarch 'for glorious deeds ... not for a long life'. He was well liked by his men 'and in his days there was good peace within the land'. The ordinary people however, considered him 'stern' and believed that they had 'much labour and expense from his expeditions abroad'.

It is indeed for his western expeditions that Magnús Barelegs is best known. He conquered the jarldom of Orkney and the islands of the Hebrides, the monastery of Iona and the Isle of Man. In the year 1098 Magnús led his fleet to the island of Anglesey in north Wales where he killed the Anglo-Norman baron Hugh earl of Shrewsbury in a battle on the beach. According to the Heimskringla Magnús saw the Anglo-Norman earl 'clad in mail from head to foot' riding his horse through the surf. The Norwegian king asked one of his men to join him in firing arrows at the mail clad knight. One arrow struck the earl's visor 'and was deflected to the side'. The other unbelievably went through the viewing slot in the earl's helmet and 'hit the earl's eye and penetrated his head; and that shot was attributed to the king'. On the way home Magnús signed a treaty with the king of Scotland whereby 'King Magnús was to have possession of all the islands west of Scotland separated from the mainland by water so that a ship with fixed rudder could pass between them'. Magnús famously then put one over on the Scots by standing on one of his ships with his hand on the rudder as his men dragged the boat over the short neck of land that joined the Mull of Kintyre to the rest of Scotland!

At this time in Ireland, Muirchertach O'Brien, the great-grandson of Brian Boru was high-king of the island. Muirchertach was a very successful high-king but he could not conquer the north of Ireland from Donal McLoughlin the capable king of Aileach. On his first expedition to the west Magnús of Norway established contact with King Muirchertach and they arranged a marriage alliance, with Magnús' young son Sigurd marrying Muirchertach's young daughter Bjathmynja, who were then put ruling over the Orkneys. When Magnús returned to the Irish Sea in 1102 he 'harried' widely in Ireland and seized 'Dublin and the Shire of Dublin'. Muirchertach O'Brien however, was a wily ruler and he established a good relationship with Magnús of Norway. As a result an invitation to spend Christmas as the court of the high-king at Kincora in Munster was extended to and accepted by the Norwegian king. Heimskringla states that 'King Magnús dwelt in [Munster] with King Myrjartak, putting his men to the defence of the land he had won'. There must have been great Christmas festivities that year at the court of the high-king.

Although the Norwegians regarded the Irish as 'treacherous', Magnús and Muirchertach had a good relationship. According to the Icelandic sagas Muirchertach 'kept all the promises he made to King Magnús'. When the 1103 campaigning season began Muirchertach led a large army north in an attempt to conquer Tyrone. King Magnús 'outfitted his ships' in order to assist his friend the Irish high-king, and sailed north having 'stationed his men in Dublin to guard it'. The northern expedition did not go well for O'Brien however. After an inconclusive stand-off at Armagh, Muirchertach led part of his army further north to raid east of Lough Neagh. Donal McLoughlin took this opportunity to attack the Munster camp on 5 August 1103. In a famous victory McLoughlin defeated the Leinster princes and some men from Munster and Dublin who had been left to guard O'Brien's camp. McLoughlin even captured the high-kings 'royal tent' and standard.

After this disaster that had befallen the high-king's camp, Magnús Barelegs decided to return to Norway. However, he needed provisions for his fleet. As a result he asked his friend Muirchertach to provide the necessary supplies. Honourable in his dealings right to the end, Muirchertach O'Brien sent a supply train of horses to the Norwegian king. Although the dust cloud thrown up by the pack-horses initially frightened the Norwegians, it was O'Brien's men who arrived 'with a great amount of provisions'.

There then occurred something that neither king had foreseen. The Ulaid, the inhabitants of the lands east of Lough Neagh and the River Bann, although allies of Muirchertach O'Brien had a deep hatred of the Vikings. As a result they laid a carefully prepared ambush for Magnús and his men as they made their way back to their ships with their supplies. As the Norwegians crossed over a path through some bogs and a forest, Ulaid warriors 'rushed out upon them from every corner of the woods'. Although King Magnús made every effort to rally his men, some fled and the King was left surrounded by the Ulstermen. Magnús was first wounded by an Irish spear that passed 'through both his thighs above the knee'. He was later killed by an Ulster warrior who gave him a blow of an axe to the neck.

This therefore was the unlucky fate of one of the last Norwegians kings to play an active role in the Irish Sea area. The adventures of Magnús Barelegs in the west are not often remembered today, but he did have a substantial impact on events in Scotland, Wales and Ireland during the five years that he had an interest in the Irish Sea region. It is a pity that there are not substantial accounts of the Christmas festivities when he was at the court of the high-king in December 1102. My next blog will be about the McLoughlin family mentioned here as the adversaries of the O'Brien high-king.

Finally I would like to wish a happy Christmas and new year to my friend the lovely and hard-working Sinéad.

Many of my blogs have been concerned with the rise and fall of Gaelic Irish families in medieval west Tyrone and the north of the medieval lordship of Tír Chonaill. In this blog I would like to talk about the mysterious total disappearance of the O'Taircheirts, a prominent family in the Glen Swilly region from the late eleventh century to their last record in the Irish annals in the year 1232. As followers of my blogs know by now, the total disappearance of a once prominent Gaelic Irish family in this region is highly unusual as most families that disappear from the annals in the 1200s were often still present in their native localities (if in a much reduced condition) by the time of the Plantation of Ulster in 1610.

The O'Taircheirts were a branch of the people of Tír Chonaill called the Clann Snedhgile, descended from a man called Snedhgil who in turn was a descendant of Conall Gulban the ancestor figure of many of the inhabitants of medieval Tír Chonaill. The O'Strain family which is still numerous in north Donegal were closely related to the O'Taircheirts. The O'Taircheirts were the lords of the territory called Clanelly in medieval Tír Chonaill. This sub-lordship lay between the Leannan and Swilly Rivers and can be best seen today by following the coastal road from Letterkenny to Ramelton.

The family are first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1098 when Eigceartach O'Taircheirt was killed in a battle fought between the armies of Tyrone and Tír Chonaill at the famous ford over the River Swilly the Fearsat-Suilighe. In 1113 Donnchadh O'Taircheirt the Chief of Clanelly was killed by the McLoughlins of Tyrone and in 1129 the O'Taircheirts burnt 'the house of Columcille at Kilmacrennan' over the head of a local noble called Hugh O'Donnell. The O'Taircheirts appear to have backed the O'Dohertys rather than the O'Donnells to become lords of Tír Chonaill. In the year 1197 Eachmarcach O'Doherty became the only lord of Tír Chonaill from that family. He was supported in his chieftain-ship by Donough O'Taircheirt the Chief of Clanelly. O'Doherty had only been lord of Tír Chonaill for two weeks when he was attacked by the Anglo-Norman Baron John De Courcy who invaded northern Tír Chonaill and killed both Eachmarcach O'Doherty and Donough O'Taircheirt at the battle of Cnoc Nascain. The Annals of the Four Masters refer to Donough O'Taircheirt as 'the prop of the hospitality, valour, wisdom and counsel of all the Cinel Conaill'. He was obviously a very important figure.

The death of Donough O'Taircheirt in 1197 is not the last time the family is referred to in the annals. In 1212 Gillareagh O'Taircheirt the lord of Clanelly was killed by the O'Boyles and in the year 1232 Donal McLoughlin the king of Tyrone took hostages from the O'Boyle and O'Taircheirt families after he plundered the Fanad peninsula. The family are never mentioned in the annals again.

Nevertheless one would have expected the family to survive as a local erenagh family or to have migrated further west into Tír Chonaill where the surname would probably have been recorded as O'Taggart. However the family simply disappear. Any of the pardon lists from the early 1600s that I have examined and that provide such good evidence for many other Donegal families have no record of any O'Taircheirts or O'Taggarts. Perhaps the family died out like one of the ruling families of Tír Chonaill before the O'Donnells - the Ó Maoldoraidh dynasty. Fergus Gillespie an authority on Donegal families could only find evidence of one O'Mulderry farmer recorded in Inver parish in the early 1800s. I had thought that the other pre-O'Donnell Tír Chonaill ruling dynasty Ó Cananáin had also died out but there are a few O'Cannon nobles (as the surname became) recorded as supporters of Red Hugh and Rory O'Donnell in 1603. (Eneas Gruama O'Cannon and Donal and Conor O'Cannon. Donal and Eneas Gruama O'Cannon were pardoned again in 1611 along with a Hugh O'Cannon - all in north Donegal).

So what became of the O'Taircheirts? Again I think that the answer lies with the arrival of the McSweeney mercenaries in northern Tír Chonaill in the late 1200s and early 1300s. As I have previously written the traditional sixteenth century history of the McSweeneys of Fanad 'The Craobhsgaoileadh Chlainne Suibhne' preserves memories of violent conflict with local native families such as the O'Breslin lords of Fanad. The Craobhsgaoileadh also states that the McSweeneys seized 'O'Maolgaoithe's tuath' another family that I talked about last week. The Craobhsgaoileadh Chlainne Suibhne also records conflict between the first McSweeneys to land in Fanad and the O'Taircheirts of Clanelly. According to this source the McSweeneys took Ray and Clanelly from the O'Taircheirts as 'éiric for Turlough of Béal Atha Daire'. Turlough of Béal Atha Daire was one of the first McSweeneys to land in Tír Chonaill. However, he is probably a legendary figure as he was among the first group of McSweeneys who came to Tír Chonaill that were expelled by the native inhabitants before the 'second' settlement of McSweeneys landed that eventually took hold. Turlough McSweeney was reputedly killed by the natives of Tír Chonaill at a battle fought at Béal Atha Daire, a site possibly on the River Swilly. The O'Taircheirts are not mentioned, only the O'Donnells and the O'Dohertys. An éiric however, was a compensatory payment for death or more usually murder, important in Gaelic Irish law. The entire legend suggests a confused memory of the killing of one of the early McSweeney settlers by the O'Taircheirts and the subsequent dispossession of the family by the McSweeneys of Fanad. Clanelly did not remain with the McSweeneys. It was later taken by the O'Donnells for the tánaiste of Tír Chonaill.

There is no actual record of a massacre of the O'Taircheirts by the McSweeneys. However, the Craobhsgaoileadh states that when the second invasion of McSweeneys reached 'the calm beautiful haven of Swilly. They sent out scouting parties in all the districts on every side of them, and they slew their kings and princes and lords, so that their nobles all perished and their hostages were taken'.

The only other reference to the O'Taircheirt family in the Craobhsgaoileadh Chlainne Suibhne is to a placename called 'Léim I Thirchirt - O'Taircheirt's Leap' that was 'on the borders of Fanad and the termon [of Kilmacrennan]'. I am not sure what the placename refers to but the place may have been the site of the fortress of the O'Taircheirt chieftain.

If anyone has any information on the later survival of this family I would be very glad to hear from them.

Post Script (July 2013):

While reading through some O'Donnell genealogies recently I came across a record that may solve the mystery. This note states that an O'Donnell noble called Domhnall who was the grandson of Domhnall Óg O'Donnell, the powerful lord of Tír Chonaill who was killed in battle by the O'Neills in 1281 (his father was called Niall Beag), 'had one famous son, Gofraidh son of a daughter of Ó Terchirt'. This genealogical note indicates that Domhnall O'Donnell, who must have lived during the early 1300s married the daughter of the O'Taircheirt chieftain. The note suggests that the O'Taircheirts were still prominent in Tír Chonaill a century after they are last mentioned in the annals, although they were probably not as powerful as they were around 1232. These O'Donnell genealogies also record that quite a few branches of the O'Donnell dynasty died out in late medieval times, which is probably what eventually happened to the O'Taircheirts. It is possible that Gofraidh O'Donnell took over the leadership of the O'Taircheirt territory, perhaps by agreement as the son of  O'Taircheirt's daughter and his branch of the O'Donnells may have remained prominent in the Clanelly area (especially its more western districts) until the end of the fifteenth century or even longer.

 

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