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.
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.
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.