26 December 2013

Quick note on O'Dugan and the Delbhna of Connacht

In the 14th century, Ui Maine chief ollamh and historian Seán Mór Ó Dubhagáin, or John O’Dugan, did Ireland and historians all over the world a great service with his topographical poems giving an account of the chiefs, most of whom were kings under early Irish law, and septs and territories of Ireland in the 11th century.  He preserved a picture Gaelic Ireland before the Conquest that would otherwise be lost.

Understandably with a work of this magnitude, he got a few details wrong and left several out, in this latter case many of his vacancies of information filled by historian John O’Hart in the 19th century.  O’Hart, however, preserved most of O’Dugan’s mistakes intact.

One of O’Dugan’s known mistakes was his placing of the O’Fahertys of Delbhna Cuile Fabhair in the territory of Muintir Fathaigh.  The territory so-named was actually that of the O’Faheys of Pobal Muintir Ui Fathaigh, a sept of Ui Maine, which, however, proved as obedient as the MacGregors to the Campbells of Argyll in Scotland.  Since O’Dugan left out the O’Faheys entirely, however, there was no conflict apparent to the less knowledgeable.  By the way, the proper name of the territory of the O’Fahertys was Muintir Faithartaigh. 

To cut O’Dugan some slack on this count, an early 12th century tract on the territory of Muintir Murchada, in whose domain the O’Fahertys were, gives the same name to their territory (Muintir Fathaigh), so O’Dugan could be forgiven that mistake had he also included the O’Faheys.  I suspect that omission was due to O’Dugan’s recognition of the contradiction and lack of desire to deal with it.  Since he was chief ollamh for the Ui Maine, he had to have been aware of their existence and the lack of their presence in his poem could only have been deliberate.

I believe O’Dugan also erred in ascribing the territories of Gno Mor (Gnomore) and Gno Beag (Gnobeg) to the MacConroys and O’Heynys.  This is probably an anachronism, and the more likely origin of the two territories lies in the division of the former territory of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha between the two sons of Brian na nOinseach O’Flaherty (Murrough and Gilleduff) in the mid-13th century. 

The poet, O’Dugan, composed his magnum opus in the mid-13th century, by which time the two territories had been defined for a century.  The lands in question lie between Loch Orbsen (Loch Corrib) and River Galway to the east and Kilkieran Bay to the west, with Loch Orbsen and the Partry Mountains to the north and Loch Lurgan (Galway Bay) to the south. 

That they were one territory under one ruler is evident from the death notice in the Annals of the Four Masters from 1142, that notes the death of the Mac Mheic Conraoi (the title of the chief of the MacConroys), who is called “lord” (or “king” in the original source) of Delbhna Tir Da Locha.  Then there is the holy well in the Rahoon parish townland of Knocknacarragh named Tobar Mac Conraoi lying midway between Barna and the town of Galway.  Since surnames were at the time of the notice only a recent innovation, the holy well probably dates from the same period, and its existence argues against the south of the afore-defined territory being split.

While the O’Heynys of O’Dugan were an influential family, they were probably not “of Gno Beag”.  Nor was their name properly “O’Heyny”, or “O’hAdhnaidh”.  That they possessed wide lands is not improbable if they were erenaghs of Ballynspiddal, where St. Enda of Aran had founded an abbey which had at least three daughter churches in the immediate area.  The name O’hAdhnaidh (“descendant of the wise one”) in that form seems to be a poetic invention of O’Dugan.  Other than in his poem and the writings of those who followed his lead, no record exists with the names O’hAdhnaidh or O’Heyny.  As erenaghs of Ballynspiddal, if so they were, the name would much more likely have been written O’hEannaidh (the Irish form of Enda is “Eanna”) and anglicized as O’Heaney.

The other major family of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha were the MacAneaves, from Mac Giolla na Naomh.  Clearly of clerical origin, these may have been erenaghs of Cloghmore, an abbey founded by St. Colmcille of Iona, or of Portnacrossan, the most likely site for the abbey founded by St. Cuimin Fada which became the chief church of the MacConroys.  The MacAneaves may have also functioned as brehons and dalaighs, though that is only speculation.

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