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.
Irish Genealogy blog by Dr Darren McGettigan of Family History Ireland
My last blog was written about the decline in fortunes of some Cenél nEógain families, left behind in the Inishowen peninsula as the power of the O'Neill Kings of Tyrone contracted to east of the Foyle River. This week, as promised, the distribution of power in Inishowen in the year 1602, as the period of autonomy in Gaelic Ulster was just about to end.
In the Elizabethan Fiants, under the year 1602, there is recorded a 'Pardon to the following persons of Inishowen in the province of Ulster'. The pardon contains a list of many hundreds of names, headed by Cahir O'Doherty, the young Gaelic lord of the peninsula, and dates from 5 June 1602. This list is of great interest to genealogists and also to early modern historians, as it records how political power was then distributed in 1602 among the inhabitants of Inishowen.
Readers of my last blog may remember that I disucssed the history of two prominent Cenél nEógain families who inhabited the north-west and north-east of the Inishowen peninsula in late medieval times ~ the Ó Maolfhábhail and Ó Duibhdhíorma families. So how did these two families fare in 1602? The 1602 list records prominent and powerful Gaelic nobles. A number of Ó Duibhdhíormas are listed, including an Eoghan Ó Duibhdhíorma and a Tuathal and Tuathal Óg Ó Duibhdhíorma, probably a father and son. However, these men are recorded as individuals, not as members of a powerful Gaelic family with a clan territory and castles. However, I was not able to find any members of the Ó Maolfhábhail family at all listed in the pardon, which indicates to me that the family had declined in power by 1602 to such an extent that no members of the family were regarded as any longer noble, although people with the Ó Maolfhábhail surname did continue to live in Inishowen in 1602. However, they must all have been tenant farmers, subject to some other Gaelic lord.
The 1602 pardon list does record however, that the McLoughlin family, which had previously in earlier medieval times ruled as kings of Tyrone, was still recognised as a Gaelic Clan, being referred to as the Clan Loughlin in the pardon list. This list contains a substantial number of McLoughlin nobles, headed by Hugh Carragh McLoughlin, who in other contemporary sources is referred to as the McLoughlin chieftain. The family retained two castles on the shore of Lough Foyle, Red Castle and White Castle, and was obviously regarded as still a powerful family in Inishowen in 1602. The retention of power by the McLoughlin family in part of Inishowen was a substantial achievement, given that the family had been in eclipse ever since the year 1241 AD, when the McLoughlins had suffered a crushing defeat in battle at the hands of the O'Neills of east Tyrone and as a result had lost the kingship of Tyrone for ever. The survival of some McLoughlin power has been overlooked by historians of the early modern period and I think that its survival should be more recognised.
However, the 1602 pardon list also demonstrates that most power and control of almost all of the peninsula rested with the dominant O'Doherty family, which as I indicated in my last blog was of Cenél Conaill origin. As I have already stated the first name on the list is that of Cahir O'Doherty, in 1602 the Gaelic lord of Inishowen. In the list of hundreds of names which follow, most appear to be people with the O'Doherty surname. The pardon list breaks the O'Doherty family up into numerous distinct sub-family units. The 1602 list refers to 'the race of Brian O'Doherty', 'the race of the O'Dohertys called Bressalie', 'the race of Felim O'Doherty' and 'the race of Donal of the O'Dohertys'. The local historian and talented artist Seoirse Ó Dochartaign has produced a beautifully illustrated book called 'Seacht Sliocht Uí Dhochartaigh Inis Eoghain ~ The Seven Races of Inishowen O'Doherty',which attempts to make sense of the tangled O'Doherty family tree. There is certainly a thesis or book there for someone who has the few months needed I think to familiarise oneself with the many O'Doherty sub-families that held most of the land in Inishowen in June 1602.
The 1602 list also records some other families which had some power in Inishowen at the time, including the 'Clan David' ~ the McDaids, a prominent family descended from a medieval chieftain called David O'Doherty, which had branched off from the O'Dohertys at an early stage, and the 'Clan M'Gillachomhaill', and the O'Morrison families who were probably of Cénel nEógain origin, and many members of the O'Shiel family who probably were not.
I hope my readers have enjoyed this week's blog, as I think it shows how not only could the vast majority of land-onwership in one small part of Gaelic Ireland, totally change over the course of two and half centuries, but hand in hand with this process, a still substantial element of the original pre-existing population could retain its land and some of its political power. Very little of this process is recorded in the annals. A lot does appear to have been recorded in this type of genealogocial material. The difficulty is in finding and then interpreting it.
Donegal people sometimes have heated debates about officially changing the name of their county to Tír Chonaill. Many inhabitants of the county who are very proud of their local history wonder why the name is not easily changed while others, probably a minority (but a sizeable one), point out that the peninsula of Inishowen and the flat lands around Lifford were not part of historical Tír Chonaill and so the county name should remain Donegal. The answer to this question is that both arguments are correct, depending on what period of history people are interested in. In medieval times up until around the year 1350 AD Inishowen and the plains to the south were actually part of the lordship of Tyrone. Inishowen (from Irish Inis Eógain or Eoghan's Island), was actually the original territory of the Cenél nEógain people before they struck out across Lough Foyle in medieval times to gradually conquer the modern counties of Derry, Tyrone and Armagh from the original Ulster people who were dispossessed and corralled east of Lough Neagh and the river Bann. However, after the year 1350 the Cenél Conaill family of O'Doherty conquered the Inishowen peninsula and as sub-chieftains of the O'Donnell lords of Tír Chonaill, the Inishowen peninsula did indeed become an integral part of the early modern lordship of Tír Chonaill. As an early modern historian I would naturally enough like the county name to be changed to Tír Chonaill, but can understand why others prefer things to stay as they were, although I do think these people like to conveniently ignore the O'Doherty conquest of Inishowen for the Cenél Conaill.