O'Donnell - Encyclopedia

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O'DONNELL, the name of an ancient and powerful Irish family, lords of Tyrconnel in early times, and the chief rivals of the O'Neills in Ulster. Like the family of O'Neill, that of O'Donnell was descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, king of Ireland at the beginning of the 5th century; the O'Neills, or Cinel l Owen, tracing their pedigree to Owen (Eoghan), and the O'Donnells, or Cinel Connell, to Conall Gulban, both sons of Niall. Tyrconnel, the district named after the Cinel Connell, where the O'Donnells held sway, comprised the greater part of the modern county of Donegal except the peninsula of Inishowen; and since it lay conterminous with the territory ruled by the O'Neills of Tyrone, who were continually attempting to assert their supremacy over it, the history of the O'Donnells is for the most part a record of tribal warfare with their powerful neighbours, and of their own efforts to make good their claims to the overlordship of northern Connaught.

The first chieftain of mark in the family was Goffraidh (Godfrey), son of Donnell Mor O'Donnell (d. 1241). Goffraidh, who was " inaugurated " as " The O'Donnell," i.e. chief of the clan, in 1248, made a successful inroad into Tyrone against Brian O'Neill in 1252. In 1257 he drove the English out of northern Connaught, after a single combat with Maurice Fitzgerald in which both warriors were wounded. O'Donnell while still incapacitated by his wound was summoned by Brian O'Neill to give hostages in token of submission. Carried on a litter at the head of his clan he gave battle to O'Neill, whom he defeated with severe loss in prisoners and cattle; but he died of his wound immediately afterwards near Letterkenny, and was succeeded in the chieftainship by his brother Donnell Oge, who returned from Scotland in time to withstand successfully the demands of O'Neill.

In the 16th century, when the English began to make determined efforts to bring the whole of Ireland under subjection to the crown, the O'Donnells of Tyrconnel played a leading part; co-operating at times with the English, especially when such co-operation appeared to promise triumph over their ancient enemies the O'Neills, at other times joining with the latter against the English authorities.

1 The Cinel, or Kinel, was a group of related clans occupying an extensive district. See P. W. Joyce, A Social History of Ireland (London, 1903), i. 166.

Manus O'Donnell (d. 1564), son of Hugh Dubh O'Donnell, was left by his father to rule Tyrconnel, though still a mere youth, when Hugh Dubh went on a pilgrimage to Rome about 1511. Hugh Dubh had been chief of the O'Donnells during one of the bitterest and most protracted of the feuds between his clan and the O'Neills, which in 1491 led to a war lasting more than ten years. On his return from Rome in broken health after two years' absence, his son Manus, who had proved himself a capable leader in defending his country against the O'Neills, retained the chief authority. A family quarrel ensued, and when Hugh Dubh appealed for aid against his son to the Maguires, Manus made an alliance with the O'Neills, by whose assistance he established his hold over Tyrconnel. But in 1522 the two great northern clans were again at war. Conn Bacach O'Neill, ist earl of Tyrone, determined to bring the O'Donnells under thorough subjection. Supported by several septs of Munster and Connaught, and assisted also by English contingents and by the MacDonnells of Antrim, O'Neill took the castle of Ballyshannon, and after devastating a large part of Tyrconnel he encamped at Knockavoe, near Strabane. Here he was surprised at night by Hugh Dubh and Manus O'Donnell, and routed with the loss of goo men and an immense quantity of booty. Although this was one of the bloodiest fights that ever took place between the O'Neills and the O'Donnells, it did not bring the war to an end; and in 1531 O'Donnell applied to the English government for protection, giving assurances of allegiance to Henry VIII. In 1537 Lord Thomas Fitzgerald and his five uncles were executed for rebellion in Munster, and the English government made every effort to lay hands also on Gerald, the youthful heir to the earldom of Kildare, a boy of twelve years of age who was in the secret custody of his aunt Lady Eleanor McCarthy. This lady, in order to secure a powerful protector for the boy, accepted an offer of marriage by Manus O'Donnell, who on the death of Hugh Dubh in July 1537 was inaugurated The O'Donnell. Conn O'Neill was a relative of Gerald Fitzgerald, and this event accordingly led to the formation of the Geraldine League, a federation which combined the O'Neills, the O'Donnells, the O'Briens of Thomond, and other powerful clans; the primary object of which was to restore Gerald to the earldom of Kildare, but which afterwards aimed at the complete overthrow of English rule in Ireland. In August 1539 Manus O'Donnell and Conn O'Neill were defeated with heavy loss by the lord deputy at Lake Bellahoe, in Monaghan, which crippled their power for many years. In the west Manus made unceasing efforts to assert the supremacy of the O'Donnells in north Connaught, where he compelled O'Conor Sligo to acknowledge his overlordship in 1539. In 1542 he went to England and presented himself, together with Conn O'Neill and other Irish chiefs, before Henry VIII., who promised to make him earl of Tyrconnel, though he refused O'Donnell's request to be made earl of Sligo. In his later years Manus was troubled by quarrels between his sons Calvagh and Hugh MacManus; in 1555 he was made prisoner by Calvagh, who deposed him from all authority in Tyrconnel, and he died in 1564. Manus O'Donnell, though a fierce warrior, was hospitable and generous to the poor and the Church. He is described by the Four Masters as " a learned man, skilled in many arts, gifted with a profound intellect, and the knowledge of every science." At his castle of Portnatrynod near Strabane he supervised if he did not actually dictate the writing of the Life of Saint Columbkille in Irish, which is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Manus was several times married. His first wife, Joan O'Reilly, was the mother of Calvagh, and two daughters, both of whom married O'Neills; the younger, Margaret, was wife of the famous rebel Shane O'Neill. His second wife, Hugh's mother, by whom he was ancestor of the earls of Tyrconnel (see below), was Judith, sister of Conn Bacach O'Neill, ist earl of Tyrone, and aunt of Shane O'Neill.

Calvagh O'Donnell (d. 1566), eldest son of Manus O'Donnell, in the course of his above-mentioned quarrel with his father and his half-brother Hugh, sought aid in Scotland from the MacDonnells, who assisted him in deposing Manus and securing the lordship of Tyrconnel for himself. Hugh then appealed to Shane O'Neill, who invaded Tyrconnel at the head of a large army in 1557, desiring to make himself supreme throughout Ulster, and encamped on the shore of Lough Swilly. Calvagh, acting apparently on the advice of his father, who was his prisoner and who remembered the successful night attack on Conn O'Neill at Knockavoe in 1522, surprised the O'Neills in their camp at night and routed them with the loss of all their spoils. Calvagh was then recognized by the English government as lord of Tyrconnel; but in 1561 he and his wife were captured by Shane O'Neill in the monastery of Kildonnell. His wife, Catherine Maclean, who had previously been the wife of the earl of Argyll, was kept by Shane O'Neill as his mistress and bore him several children, though grossly ill-treated by her savage captor; Calvagh himself was subjected to atrocious torture"during the three years that he remained O'Neill's prisoner. He was released in 1564 on conditions which he had no intention of fulfilling; and crossing to England he threw himself on the mercy of Queen Elizabeth. In 1566 Sir Henry Sidney by the queen's orders marched to Tyrconnel and restored Calvagh to his rights. Calvagh, however, died in the same year, and as his son Conn was a prisoner in the hands of Shane O'Neill, his half-brother Hugh MacManus was inaugurated The O'Donnell in his place. Hugh, who in the family feud with Calvagh had allied himself with O'Neill, now turned round and combined with the English to crush the hereditary enemy of his family; and in 1567 he utterly routed Shane at Letterkenny with the loss of 1300 men, compelling him to seek refuge with the MacDonnells of Antrim, by whom he was treacherously put to death. In 1592 Hugh abdicated in favour of his son Hugh Roe O'Donnell (see below); but there was a member of the elder branch of the family who resented the passing of the chieftainship to the descendants of Manus O'Donnell's second marriage. This was Niall Garve, second son of Calvagh's son Conn. His elder brother was Hugh of Ramelton, whose son John, an officer in the Spanish army, was father of Hugh Baldearg O'Donnell (d. 1704), known in Spain as Count O'Donnell, who commanded an Irish regiment as brigadier in the Spanish service. This officer came to Ireland in 1690 and raised an army in Ulster for the service of James II., afterwards deserting to the side of William III., from whom he accepted a pension.

Niall Garve O'Donnell (1569-1626), who was incensed at the elevation of his cousin Hugh Roe to the chieftainship in 1592, was further alienated when the latter deprived him of his castle of Lifford, and a bitter feud between the two O'Donnells was the result. Niall Garve made terms with the English government, to whom he rendered valuable service both against the O'Neills and against his cousin. But in 1601 he quarrelled with the lord deputy, who, though willing to establish Niall Garve in the lordship of Tyrconnel, would not permit him to enforce his supremacy over Cahir O'Dogherty in Inishowen. After the departure of Hugh Roe from Ireland in 1602, Niall Garve and Hugh Roe's brother Rory went to London, where the privy council endeavoured to arrange the family quarrel, but failed to satisfy Niall. Charged with complicity in Cahir O'Dogherty's rebellion in 1608, Niall Garve was sent to the Tower of London, where he remained till his death in 1626. He married his cousin Nuala, sister of Hugh Roe and Rory O'Donnell. When Rory fled with the earl of Tyrone to Rome in 1607, Nuala, who had deserted her husband when he joined the English against her brother, accompanied him, taking with her her daughter Grania. She was the subject of an Irish poem, of which an English version was written by James Mangan from a prose translation by Eugene O'Curry.

Hugh Roe O'Donnell (1572-1602), eldest son of Hugh MacManus O'Donnell, and grandson of Manus O'Donnell by his second marriage with Judith O'Neill, was the most celebrated member of his clan. His mother was Ineen Dubh, daughter of James MacDonnell of Kintyre; his sister was the second wife of Hugh O'Neill, 2nd earl of Tyrone. These family connexions with the Hebridean Scots and with the O'Neills made the lord deputy, Sir John Perrot, afraid of a powerful combination against the English government, and induced him to establish garrisons in Tyrconnel and to demand hostages from Hugh MacManus O'Donnell, which the latter refused to hand over. In 1587 Perrot conceived a plan for kidnapping Hugh Roe (Hugh the Red), now a youth of fifteen, who had already given proof of exceptional manliness and sagacity. A merchant vessel laden with Spanish wines was sent to Lough Swilly, and anchoring off Rathmullan, where the boy was residing in the castle of MacSweeny his foster parent, Hugh Roe with some youthful companions was enticed on board, when the ship immediately set sail and conveyed the party to Dublin. The boys were kept in prison for more than three years. In 1591 young O'Donnell made two attempts to escape, the second of which proved successful; and after enduring terrible privations from exposure in the mountains he made his way to Tyrconnel, where in the following year his father handed the chieftainship over to him. Red Hugh lost no time in leading an expedition against Turlough Luineach O'Neill, then at war with his kinsman Hugh, earl of Tyrone, with whom O'Donnell was in alliance. At the same time he sent assurances of loyalty to the lord deputy, whom he met in person at Dundalk in the summer of 1592. But being determined to vindicate the traditional claims of his family in north Connaught, he aided Hugh Maguire against the English, though on the advice of Tyrone he abstained for a time from committing himself too far. When, however. in 1594 Enniskillen castle was taken and the women and children flung into the river from its walls by order of Sir Richard Bingham, the English governor of Connaught, O'Donnell sent urgent messages to Tyrone for help; and while he himself hurried to Derry to withstand an invasion of Scots from the isles, Maguire defeated the English with heavy loss at Bellanabriska (The Ford of the Biscuits). In 1595 Red Hugh again invaded Connaught, putting to the sword every soul above fifteen years of age unable to speak Irish; he captured Longford and soon afterwards gained possession of Sligo, which placed north Connaught at his mercy. In 1596 he agreed in conjunction with Tyrone to a cessation of hostilities with the English, and consented to meet commissioners from the government near Dundalk. The terms he demanded were, however, refused; and his determination to continue the struggle was strengthened by the prospect of help from Philip II. of Spain, with whom he and Tyrone had been in correspondence. In the beginning of 1597 he made another inroad into Connaught, where O'Conor Sligo had been set up by the English as a counterpoise to O'Donnell. He devastated the country and returned to Tyrconnel with rich spoils; in the following year he shared in Tyrone's victory over the English at the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater; and in 1599 he defeated an attempt by the English under Sir Conyers Clifford, governor of Connaught, to succour O'Conor Sligo in Collooney castle, which O'Donnell captured, forcing Sligo to submission. The government now sent Sir Henry Docwra to Derry, and O'Donnell entrusted to his cousin Niall Garve the task of opposing him. Niall Garve, however, went over to the English, making himself master of O'Donnell's fortresses of Lifford and Donegal. While Hugh Roe was attempting to retake the latter place in 1601, he heard that a Spanish force had landed in Munster. He marched rapidly to the south, and was joined by Tyrone at Bandon; but a nightattack on the English besieging the Spaniards in Kinsale having utterly failed, O'Donnell, who attributed the disaster to the incapacity of the Spanish commander, took ship to Spain on the 6th of January 1602 to lay his complaint before Philip III. He was favourably received by the Spanish king, but he died at Simancas on the 10th of September in the same year.

Rory O'Donnell, 1st earl of Tyrconnel (1575-1608), second son of Hugh MacManus O'Donnell, and younger brother of Hugh Roe, accompanied the latter in the above-mentioned expedition to Kinsale; and when his brother sailed for Spain he transferred his authority as chief to Rory, who led the O'Donnell contingent back to the north. In 1602 Rory gave in his allegiance to Lord Mountjoy, the lord deputy; and in the following summer he went to London with the earl of Tyrone, where he was received with favour by James I., who created him earl of Tyrconnel. In 1605 he was invested with authority as lieutenant of the king in Donegal. But the arrangement between Rory and Niall Garve insisted upon by the government was displeasing to both O'Donnells, and Rory, like Hugh Roe before him, entered into negotiations with Spain. His country had been reduced to a desert by famine and war, and his own reckless extravagance had plunged him deeply in debt. These circumstances as much as the fear that his designs were known to the government may have persuaded him to leave Ireland. In September 1607 " the flight of the earls " (see O'Neill) took place, Tyrconnel and Tyrone reaching Rome in April 1608, where Tyrconnel died on the 28th of July. His wife, the beautiful daughter of the earl of Kildare, was left behind in the haste of Tyrconnel's flight, and lived to marry Nicholas Barnewell, Lord Kingsland. By Tyrconnel she had a son Hugh; and among other children a daughter Mary Stuart O'Donnell, who, born after her father's flight from Ireland, was so named by James I. after his mother. This lady, after many romantic adventures disguised in male attire, married a man called O'Gallagher and died in poverty on the continent.

Rory O'Donnell was attainted by the Irish parliament in 1614, but his son Hugh, who lived at the Spanish Court, assumed the title of earl; and the last titular earl of Tyrconnel was this Hugh's son Hugh Albert, who died without heirs in 1642, and who by his will appointed Hugh Balldearg O'Donnell (see above) his heir, thus restoring the chieftainship to the elder branch of the family. To a still elder branch belonged Daniel O'Donnell (1666-1735), a general of the famous Irish brigade in the French service, whose father, Turlough, was a son of Hugh Dubh O'Donnell, elder brother of Manus, son of an earlier Hugh Dubh mentioned above. Daniel served in the French army in the wars of the period, fighting against Marlborough at Oudenarde and Malplaquet at the head of an O'Donnell regiment. He died in 1735.

The famous Cathach, or Battle-Book of the O'Donnells, was in the possession of General Daniel O'Donnell, from whom it passed to more modern representatives of the family, who presented it to the Royal Irish Academy, where it is preserved. This relic, of which a curious legend is told (see P. W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland, vol. i. p. 501), is a Psalter said to have belonged to Saint Columba, a kinsman of the O'Donnells, which was carried by them in battle as a charm or talisman to secure victory. Two other circumstances connecting the O'Donnells with ancient Irish literature may be mentioned. The family of O'Clery, to which three of the celebrated " Four Masters " belonged, were hereditary 011aves (doctors of history, music, law, &c.) attached to the family of O'Donnell; while the " Book of the Dun Cow " (Lebor-na-h Uidhre), one of the most ancient Irish MSS., was in the possession of the O'Donnells in the 14th century; and the estimation in which it was held at that time is proved by the fact that it was given to the O'Conors of Connaught as ransom for an important prisoner, and was forcibly recovered some years later.

See O'NEILL, and the authorities there cited. (R. J. M.)

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