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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.

Published in Donegal

Christmas Irish Genealogy Blog 2011 by Dr Darren McGettigan of Family History Ireland

When I posted earlier this week on my Facebook page that I would try and write a Christmas themed blog this week, one of my readers suggested that I write about the Christmas traditions of the Gaelic Irish around the year 1602. Unfortunately, it is sad to say that very few writers at the time recorded any cultural Christmas traditions of the ordinary people of the Gaelic lordships. Perhaps such evidence has survived and I just havn't found it yet.


Some evidence of Christmas in Gaelic Ireland for the years 1600 to 1602, which was the time of the end of the Nine Years War (1594 - 1603), has survived however, in relation to the O'Molloy chieftain, Calvagh O'Molloy, who was the Gaelic lord of the territory of Fircall, a small Gaelic lordship in the Irish midlands, which is now part of the modern Irish county of Offaly. Calvagh O'Molloy became lord of Fircall in the spring of the year 1599 when his father, Conal O'Molloy, Lord of Fircall died. The Annals of the Four Masters record that Calvagh was appointed Lord of Fircall by Queen Elizabeth I, although 'Some of the gentlemen of his tribe vied and contended with him (according to the custom of the Irish), for that name'.

Calvagh O'Molloy appears to have been a decent man, who tried to keep his lordship and family out of the major war being fought on the island of Ireland, between the English army of Queen Elizabeth and the forces of the Ulster chieftains, Hugh O'Neill, the lord of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O'Donnell, the lord of Tír Chonaill, who were determined to preserve their autonomy and perhaps drive English influence out of Ireland for good. However, try as he might, Calvagh O'Molloy could not keep the war out of Fircall. In the Spring of 1599, Hugh O'Neill sent his son Conn into the region 'to ascertain who they were that were firm in their friendship and promises to O'Neill and the Irish'. One of O'Molloy's neighbours, O'Carroll Lord of Ely treacherously killed a company of Hugh O'Neill's mercenaries in the winter of 1599, which led Hugh O'Neill himself to march through Fircall in January 1600 on his famous expedition to Munster. Hugh O'Neill spent nine nights in the Fircall region and he did not leave until he had plundered Ely O'Carroll in revenge for his murdered soldiers and until 'the people of Fircall, of Upper Leinster, and Westmeath, made full submission to him, and formed a league of friendship with him'. Later on in 1600 as the war turned against the Irish, the English army reconquered Laois and Offaly. However, war returned to Fircall in the winter of 1601 as Red Hugh O'Donnell passed through the territory on his epic march to Kinsale.

Not surprisingly all this warfare and the to-ing and fro-ing of so many opposing armies through the Fircall region had a terrible impact on the local population. One of the family, a Franciscan friar Francis O'Molloy, later wrote that 'the kingdom of Ireland was devastated with famine, fire and sword, and in the utmost dearth of provisions, in Queen Elizabeth's time'. However, Father O'Molloy also records that Calvagh O'Molloy, concerned for the welfare and possibly the very survival of his followers 'invited to his house nine hundred and sixty persons for the feast of Christmas, entertained them there for the space of twleve days'. This was a remarkably generous deed by the O'Molloy chieftain, which was probably inspired by some of the famous 'invitations' issued by a number of prominent Gaelic Irish chieftains in late medieval times. O'Molloy's Christmas feast was probably not unique in Gaelic Ireland during the Nine Years War but it is the only one that I am aware of. The feast I think illustrates the concern some Gaelic Irish chieftains had for the own family and followers and also their attitude to war and famine relief. However, Calvagh O'Molloy's Christmas feast must have been unusually generous. A stanza of bardic poetry was also written to commemorate his very generous deed. Translated from Irish it reads:

'Thrice three hundred and three score -Tale unheard by thee before - Feasted free in Calvagh's hall - Caring light what might befall'.

Hope you enjoyed my Christmas blog. Have a great Christmas and New Years everyone. Next blog 2012!

Published in Genealogy

Close to my granduncle's farm near Kilmacrennan in Co. Donegal is a ruined farmhouse in the townland of Skreen.

Published in Donegal

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