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Saturday, 22 October 2011 14:38

Maolmhuire an Bhata Bhuí ~ Sir Mulmurry McSweeney Doe

Written by  Darren McGettigan
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As someone who has tried to access the earliest volumes of the Donegal Annual and often been told, even in our largest national libraries, that many of the earliest volumes are missing, the publication by the County Donegal Historical Society this year, of the first seven volumes of their journal, the Donegal Annual, covering the years 1947 - 1953, is very welcome indeed.

The volumes are newly printed and very handsomely bound in hardback and I believe a paperback edition is also available. This new book makes available a very wide collection of the earliest articles written for the Donegal Annual, many of which were written by well-known names in Irish historical study in the 1940s and 50s. Even today many of these articles are still of a very high quality.


From my own delving into the pages there are wonderful articles on early modern and medieval Donegal, with very interesting pieces on the fords of Donegal, the stone ringforts of the county, and many articles on well-known Donegal families also such as the O'Hegertys, McSweeneys and of course the O'Donnells.

Readers of my blog may remember a blog I wrote a few months ago that was about my O'Ferry ancestors and a pardon list which I discovered, dating from the early seventeenth century that appeared to suggest that the O'Ferry clan were close supporters of the McSweeney chieftain, Mulmurry McSweeney Doe. I did not expect to find confirmation of this find in the new Donegal Annual but there it was on page 383, in the middle of an article on Doe Castle. This article recounts local folklore that McSweeney, when he captured his enemies 'brained with his club' those who particularly annoyed him. The others 'he transferred to the tender mercies of the ... tribe of 'the Ferries', who acted as Jack Ketches for him; and these offenders were forthwith hung in gads from the parapet of the castle'. Jack Ketch was a notorious English hangman who served King James II.

In my previous blog I wrote that I was concerned with how Sir Mulmurry McSweeney may have treated my Ferry ancestors This legend suggests that they were his willing accomplices! My own Ferry ancestors were quiet, law abiding people, so whatever badness got into the O'Ferrys in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century had thankfully by then long died out.

Mulmurry McSweeney Doe must have been a remarkable local figure given the later folklore which grew up around him. He was known in legend as Maolmhuire an Bhata Bhuí - Myles of the Yellow Stick, from a staff which he carried which was reputed to contain the devil in the form of a beetle. McSweeney was said to grease the staff every day with butter to feed his evil companion!

As a historian I know from my research that Mulmurry McSweeney fell out with his overlord Red Hugh O'Donnell around 1598. He did not last long as an ally of the English either, his having to swim for his life from an English prison ship in 1600. I don't think he liked Niall Garbh O'Donnell much as well. He still managed however, to receive a large estate in the Plantation of Ulster in 1610 as the head of the McSweeneys of Doe. This achievement, coupled with the fact that he later drank out and lost his estate probably led to his larger than life role in later local folklore. However, if these later legends are anything to go by he must have got up to a lot, along with his O'Ferry adherents, that was never recorded in the Irish annals.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 December 2012 19:11
Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an historian, author and genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.


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