Of the Annals of the Four Masters--Assaroe and Ballyshannon
"The kindly spot, the friendly town" (Ballyshannon), the Falls of Assaroe, the island of
Inis Saimer, Abbey Assaroe, the River Erne, five place names rich in history and tradition,
were part and parcel of my youth. They shaped me, they formed me, for good and for ill.
In the foregoing pages I have attempted to recreate the town of my boyhood years and tell
something of its people and their way of life, in some cases sixty, in some cases fifty
Partition, the artificial sundering of six counties from the thirty-two counties of
Ireland, was less than fifteen years in existence when Daniel Quinn and old man Connolly
made their indelible impressions on my childhood memory. A multitude of others remain as
yet unchronicled, unsung.
The field is fertile and will yield a rich harvest, for that little town on the banks of
the Erne, its Abbey, its Falls, its island and its river exist for all time in words
extending back through the earliest annals, diaries, letters, and newspaper records, of
which latter "The "Ballyshannon Herald", established in 1831, was the earliest, and whose
bound files lie in the National Library in Dublin, thanks to their preservation by the
Stubbs family of Danby, from whom they were acquired at auction by my uncle, John McAdam.
This was the same Stubbs family to whom William Allingham sent a packet of flower seeds
from Convent Garden on March 8, 1854. (see Number 13.)
It is to the Annals of the Four Masters that the reader must turn to savour the richness of
the area's history, that wonderful work which preserved a vast bulk of the written and oral
records of Ireland. Begun in 1632 with the encouragement of the Franciscans, Father Hugh
Ward and Father Patrick Fleming of Louvain, and compiled over four years by the
indefatigueable Teige of the Mountain, i.e. Brother Michael O'Clery, Conary O'Clery,
Cucogry O'Clery, and Fearfasa O'Mulcrony, these Annals contain 34 entries relating to
Assaroe, 17 to Ballyshannon, 7 to Inis Saimer, and uncounted references to the Erne, its
crossings and recrossings, throughout the centuries and the millennia.
Tales of murder, tales of piety, tales of piracy, of battles, of drownings, of burials and
re-burials, of drunkenness and destruction, of march and counter-march are all within their
pages, some laconic, some verbose. The description of the successful defence of the Castle
of Ballyshannon by Red Hugh O'Donnell in 1597 surpasses anything in the Anabasis of
Xenophon and ranks with the best in Caesar's De Bello Gallico. Space constraints will not
permit their reproduction in toto. The entries reproduced in this work are from O'Donovan's
translation, and the format follows the original.
To the Annals, and may the reader find in these extracts enough to promote that further
perusal they so richly deserve! Previous readers of "The Hawk of the Erne" , written to
support the Internet-led campaign to restore the Falls of Assaroe, will be familiar with
some of the entries.
Commencing at page 5:
The age of the world when Partholan came into Ireland, 2520 years.
The Age of the World, 2545.
Rudhruidhe, son of Partholan, was drowned in Loch Rudhruidhe, the lake having flowed over
him; and from him the lake is called.
(O'Donovan's note: Loch Rudhruidhe; i.e. Rury's Lake. This was the mouth of the River Erne
in the south-west of the county Donegal..... The Annals of Clonmacnoise synchronize the
arrival of Partholan with the twenty-first of the age of the Patriarch Abraham, and the
twelfth year of the reign of Semiramis, Empress of Assyria, A.M. 1969, or 313 years after
The Age of the World, 3266.
The Firbolgs took possession of Ireland at the end of this year. Slainghe, Gann, Genann,
Seangann, and Rudhraighe, were their five chieftains. These were the five sons of Deala,
son of Loich. The other four and the Firbolgs in general elected Slainghe as king over them.
(In a footnote O'Donovan describes the division of Ireland among the five chieftains as
given in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, and in them Assaroe is twice mentioned as border
"4. Geanann. the fourth brother, had the province of Connaught from Limericke to Easroe.
5. Rorye, the fifth brother, and youngest, had from Easroe aforesaid to Inver Colpe, which
is the province of Ulster."
Moving rapidly, at page 51:
The Age of the World, 4518.
Aedh Ruadh, son of Badhran, after he had been (the third time that he had assumed the
government) seven years in the sovereignty of Ireland, was drowned in Eas Ruaidh, and
buried in the mound over the margin of the cataract; so that from him Sith-Aedha and
Eas-Aedha are called.
(O'Donovan notes: Sith-Aedha: i.e. hill or tumulus of Aedh, now Mullaghnashee at
Ballyshannon...Aedh Ruadh's cataract or waterfall, now Assaroe, or the Salmon Leap,
on the River Erne, at Ballyshannon.
Next appears mention in the Christian era, pp 455-456:
The Age of Christ, 836.
A fleet of sixty ships of Norsemen on the Boyne. Another fleet of sixty ships on the
Abhainn Liphthe (the River Liffey)....The churches of Loch-Eirne (Loch Erne) were destroyed
by the foreigners....The churches of Laichtene, Inis-Cealtra, and Cill-Finuch were burned
by the foreigners....A slaughter was made of the foreigners at Eas-Ruaidh.
The Age of Christ, 899.
The twenty-third year of Flann...Fogartach, son of Maeldoraidh, lord of Cinel-Conail,
(Tirconnell, i.e. Donegal), fell upon his own javelin, and died of it (the wound); of
whom it was said:
The great-dreaded chieftain of Eas-Ruaidh, about whom great hosts used to assemble,
He took a Leithiferous drink dangerous truly, after persecuting the descendant of
Jesse (i.e. Christ).
The Age of Christ, 1100.
An army was led by Muircheartach Ua Briain, with the choice part of the men of Ireland
about him, until they arrived at Eas Ruaidh. The Cinel-Conaill assembled to defend their
country against them; and they compelled Muircheartach and his forces to return back
without boody (sic), without hostages, without pledges....The first King Henry assumed the
kingdom of England in August.
The Age of Christ, 1101.
A great army was led my Muirchertach Ua Briain, King of Munster, with the men of Munster,
Leinster, Osraighe, Meath and Connaught, across Eas-Ruaidh, into Inis-Eoghain; and he
plundered Inis-Eoghain, and burned many churches and many forts about Fathan-Mura, and
about Ard-sratha; and he demolished Grianan-Oiligh, in revenge of Ceann-coradh, which
had been razed and demolished by Domhnall Ua Lochlainn some time before; and Muirchertach
commanded his army to carry with them, from Oileach to Luimneach, a stone (of the
demolished building) for every sack of provisions which they had. In commemoration of which
I never heard of the billeting of grit stones,
(O'Donovan notes that Fathan-Mura is "now Fahan, near Lough Swilly, in the barony of
Inishowen, county of Donegal, where St. Mura, the patron saint of the Cinel-Eoghain,
was held in the highest veneration. On a personal note, my cousins, the Burns and the
Shanaghers, lived in Fahan for many years during my childhood, and were very good to me
during family visits.
Though I heard of the billeting of companies,
Until the stones of Oileach were billeted
On the horses of the king of the West.
The Age of Christ, 1151.
An army was led by the son of Niall Ua Lochlainn, with the Cinel-Conaill, Cinel-Eoghain,
and Airghialla, across Eas-Ruaidh, until they reached Coirrsliabh na Seaghsa, in Corann.
Thither hostages were brought to them by Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, and they returned
to their houses. The hostages of Leinster were sent to his house, to the son of Niall,
grandson of Lochlainn, i.e. King of Aileach and Teamhair.
The Age of Christ, 1160.
There was a pacific meeting at Eas-Ruaidh, between Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair and
Muircheartach Ua Lochlainn; and they separated from each other without concluding a peace or
The Age of Christ, 1166.
An army was led by Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair to Eas-Ruaidh, and he took the hostages of
The Age of Christ, 1184.
The monastery of Assaroe was granted to God and St. Bernard by Flaherty O'Muldory, Lord of
Kinnel-Connell, for the good of his soul.
The Age of Christ, 1194.
Gilbert Mac Costello marched, with an army, to Assaroe, but was compelled to return without
being able to gain any advantage by his expedition.
(O'Donovan notes: Assaroe, eas ruadh, i.e., the Red Cataract, but the name is more
correctly Eas Aodha Ruaidh, the cataract of Aodh Ruadh, the son of Badhran, who was
drowned here in the year of the world 4518, according to the chronology of these annals,
but in the year 3603, according to O'Flaherty's corrected Irish Chronology.--See Ogygia,
part iii, c. 36. This name is now pronounced Assaroe, but the cataract is more generally
known by the appellation of the Salmon Leap. It is on the River Samhaoir, now more usually
called the Erne, in the town of Ballyshannon.
The Age of Christ, 1197
Flaherty O'Muldory, Lord of Kinel-Connell, Kinel-Owen, and Oriel, defender of Tara, heir
presumptive to the sovereignty of all Ireland, a Connell in heroism, a Cuchullin in valour,
a Guaire in hospitality, and a Mac Lughach in feats of arms, died on Inis Saimer, on the
second day of February, after long and patient suffering, in the thirteenth year of his
reign, and fifty-ninth of his age, and was interred at Drumhome with due honour.
(O'Donovan notes that Muldory had a house on Inis Saimer).
The Age of Christ, 1211
An army was led by the Connacians, at the summons of the English bishop and Gilbert Mac
Costello, to Assaroe; and they erected a castle at Cael-uisge.
(O'Donovan identifies Caol-usige as "that narrow part of Lough Erne near Castle Caldwell",
and the annals record that in the following year, 1212, "Gilbert Mac Costello was slain in
the castle of Cael-Uisge; and the castle itself was burned by O'Hegny.")
The Age of Christ, 1241
Donnell More, the son of Egnaghan O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, Fermanagh, and Lower
Connaught, as far as the Curlieu Mountains, and of Oriel from the plain northwards, died in
the monastic habit, victorious over the world and the devil, and was interred with honour
and respect in the monastery of Assaroe, in the harvest time.
The Age of Christ, 1246
Melaghlin O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, Kinel-Moen, Inishown, and Fermanagh, was slain by
Maurice Fitzgerald. He was enabled to accomplish this in the following manner: A great army
was led by Maurice Fitzgerald, and the other English chiefs, first to Sligo, and thence to
the Cataract of Aedh Roe, the son of Badhran. Cormac, the son of Dermot, who was son of
Roderic O'Connor, joined his muster. This was on the Wednesday after the festival of
SS.Peter and Paul. O'Donnell assembled the Kinel-Connell and Kinel-Owen against them, so
that they did not allow a single man, either English or Irish, to cross the ford of
Ath-Seanaigh for a whole week. The English then bethought themselves of sending Cormac
O'Conor with a large body of cavalry westwards along the plain, who was to turn southwards
through the plain, and then eastwards along the borders of the bog, unperceived by anyone,
until he should arrive at Bel-atha-Culain (a ford) on the Erne. (This was accordingly done),
and the Kinel-Connell knew nothing of the movement until they saw a body of cavalry
advancing on their rear, on their side of the river; they then turned around to them.
When the English saw the attention of the Kinel-Connell was directed towards the cavalry
who had advanced on their rear, they rushed across the ford against them, being confident
that they (the Kinel-Connell) would not be able to attend to the attacks of both. The
Kinel-Connell were now in the very centre of their enemies, who had surrounded them on
every side. O'Donnell was slain on the spot, as well as the Cammhuinealach (Wry-necked)
O'Boyle, the head Chieftain of the Three Tuathas, Mac Sorley, Lord of Argyle, and other
chiefs of the Kinel-Connell. A great number of Fitzpatrick's forces were slain and drowned
here...The country was then plundered by them (the English), and they left the
chieftainship of the Kinel-Connell to Rory O'Canannan on this occasion.
(O'Donovan notes: O'Canannan.--There is not one of this name at present in Tirconnell,
though they were the ancient chiefs of it, preceding the O'Donnells).
The annals, in their final entry for this year, 1248, record:
A great army was led by the son of Maurice Fitzgerald and the English to Assaroe
(at Ballyshannon), at the desire of Godfrey O'Donnell. Rory O'Canannan, with the
Kinel-Connell, came against them, and the English were unable to do him any injury, or
proceed further on that occasion.
The Age of Christ, 1262
A very great army was led by the English of Ireland against Felim, son of Cathal Crovderg
O'Conor, and his son Hugh na ngall; upon which O'Conor sent off the greater number of the
cows of Connaught into Tirconnell, away from the English, and remained himself on Inis
Saimer to protect his cows and his people....
The Age of Christ, 1298.
Thomas O'Heraghty, Abbot of Assaroe, died.
The Age of Christ, 1319.
Henry Mac-an-Chrosain, Bishop of Raphoe, died; and Thomas, son of Cormac O'Donnell,
Abbot of Assaroe, was then elected to the bishopric of Raphoe.
The Age of Christ, 1333.
Hugh, the son of Donnell Oge O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, Kinel-Moen, Inishowen,
Fermanagh, and Breifny, and a materies of a king of Ulster; of all the Irish the most
successful, and the most dreaded by his enemies; he who had slain the largest number
both of the English and the Irish who were opposed to him; the most eminent man of his
time for jurisdiction, laws, and regulations, and the chief patron of the hospitality and
munificence of the West of Europe, died, victorious over the world and the devil, in the
habit of a monk, on the island of Inis-Saimer, and was interred with great honour and
solemnity in the monastery of Assaroe. Conor O'Donnell (his son) assumed his place. A
dispute afterwards arose between this Conor and Art, his brother, concerning the
leadership; and Art was soon killed by Conor in combat.
The Age of Christ, 1348.
Niall Garv O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, after having experienced much contention, before
and during the term of his lordship, was treacherously and murderously slain by Manus
Meabhlach O'Donnell, his kinsman, at the port of Inis-Saimer. Niall was a brave, puissant,
and defensive hero till then, and it was a sorrowful thing that he should have died in such
a way. Aengus, the son of Conor O'Donnell, who had been in contention with Niall, assumed
(O'Donovan equates the correct translation of "murderously" as "the murder of a kinsman",
and also translates Manus Meabhlach as "Manus, the deceitful", one of the earliest
nicknames accorded by former generations of Erne dwellers to one of their times.)
The Age of Christ, 1359.
A great victory was gained at Ballyshannon by Cathal Oge, the son of Cathal O'Conor, over
John, the son of Conor O'Donnell, and the Kinel-Connell. John O'Doherty, Chief of Ardmire,
Owen Connaghtagh, and Turlough Mac Sweeny, were taken prisoners on this occasion by the
son of O'Conor, and many prisoners were slain by him. Matthew Magauran, materies of a lord
of Teallach Eachdach was wounded on that day, and died of his wounds after his return to
his own house. During the same war Cathal Bodhar, the son of Cathal O'Rourke, and
Melaghlin O'Gormly, fell by each other's hand in the same war. This occurred when Cathal
O'Conor marched with a second army into Tirconnell, and a party of his people arrived in
O'Gormly's territory under the command of Cathal Bohar O'Rourke.
(O'Donovan here levels a charge, and a rare one at that, against the Four Masters. Let him
speak for himself: "Cathal Oge, the son of O'Conor Sligo, made great efforts to conquer
Tirconnell at this period; and it is stated in the Dublin copy of the Annals of Ulster,
under the year 1365 (recte 1359), that he became prince of Tirconnell: 'Rigi tiri conaill
do gabail do mac i Concobuir.' The Four Masters, however, who had the Annals of Ulster
before them, have suppressed the passage, thinking it would derogate from the glory of
the O'Donnells!") How O'Donovan could claim with certitude to know the thoughts of
O'Clery and his colleagues is also to be questioned.
The Age of Christ, 1377.
The monastery of Assaroe (near Ballyshannon) was burned.
The Age of Christ, 1380
John, the son of Conor, son of Hugh, son of O'Donnell Oge (O'Donnell), Lord of Tirconnell
and the adjacent territories, and Roydamna of all Ulster, and his son, Melaghlin Duv, were
slain at the monastery of Assaroe by Turlough, the son of Niall O'Donnell, the sons of
Cathal Oge O'Conor, and Muintir Duirnin (the O'Durnins), in a nocturnal attack on his camp.
The Age of Christ, 1388.
Murtough, the son of Donnell, son of Murtough O'Conor, attacked O'Donnell's camp in the
vicinity of Eas-ruadh, and, in the course of his incursion, slew many persons, among whom
were the sons of O'Boyle and O'Gallagher, and their kinsmen. Mac Sweeny and his son were
taken prisoners, and carried away by him; together with a (considerable) spoil of horses,
arms, and armour. The Clann-Murtough turned against O'Donnell on this occasion.
The Age of Christ, 1398.
A great army was led by Niall Oge O'Neill, King of Kinel-Owen, and the sons of Henry
O'Neill, against O'Donnell, and arrived at Assaroe; and they plundered the monastery of
all its riches, and all Tirhugh. A part of O'Donnell's people gave them battle; and Hugh,
son of Farrell O'Rourke, was taken prisoner on this occasion. O'Neill returned (in safety)
to Tyrone... Murtough O'Conor (of Sligo) went into Tirhugh, and returned to Assaroe,
without gaining much booty by his incursion. Hugh O'Duirnin came up with him there, and
routed him (and his people) at Ballyshannon; Hugh's horse was wounded, and he himself
thrown off, and afterwards killed.
The Age of Christ, 1409.
The plundering of Belleek (was accomplished) by Tiernan O'Rourke against O'Donnell, Cathal
O'Rourke, and Owen O'Rourke. The O'Donnell and the Kinel-Connell were encamped on one side
of the Cataract, and Cathal and Owen on the other; and he carried off prey from both
The Age of Christ, 1412.
An army was led by Brian O'Conor into Tirhugh; and he burned the country as far as Murvagh,
and slew Coilin Mac Coilin at Ballyshannon.
The Age of Christ, 1419.
A great war arose between O'Neill (Donnell, son of Henry Aimhraeidh) and Owen, the son of
Niall Oge, Roydamna of Tyrone. Owen repaired to O'Donnell (Turlough), and formed a league
of friendship with him; and they mustered a great army to march into Tyrone. Brian Mac
Mahon, Lord of Oriel, and Thomas Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh, came to join this army; and
when they had come to one place, to meet Turlough (O'Donnell), they all marched into
Tyrone, totally plundered the country, and drove him over across the Bann, to the English;
and Mac-I-Neill Boy committed depradations upon him in the Glynns.
A great army was led by Brian O'Conor and all (the people) of Lower Connaught, with many
of the English, at the request and solicitation of O'Neill; and they spoiled all Tirhugh,
from Ath na-n-Gall to Ballyshannon, including its grass, corn, and buildings; and burned
Murvagh, O'Donnell's fortress, while O'Donnell was with his forces in Tyrone. Brian, the
son of Donnell, son of Murtough, and his forces, then returned to their homes.
The Age of Christ, 1420.
The castle of Bun-Drobhaoise was commenced by Brian, the son of Donnell, son of Murtough
O'Conor; but the Kinel-Connell, with their forces, came to prevent the work. Brian
assembled another army to resist them, namely, his own kinsmen, O'Rourke, i.e. Teige, and
Mac Donough, with their forces; so that the Kinel-Connell did not dare to proceed eastwards
across the Urscatha on that occasion, but remained encamped by the Bay of Assaroe. The sons
of O'Donnell, Niall Garv, Donnell, and Naghten, proceeded with a troop of cavalry to the
Moy; and the sons of Brian O'Conor set out at the same time with another troop of cavalry
to reconnoitre Ballyshannon, so that both parties met face to face. The Kinel-Connell
charged and routed the Carbery men, and killed John, the son of Brian O'Conor; Hugh Boy Mac
Donough; Cathal, son of Dermot, son of Cormac, son of Rory (O'Conor), and Owen O'Dowda.
Brian O'Conor (on hearing of this ill news) advanced with his troops to Magh-Eni; and on
the fifth night afterwards, crossed the ford of Assaroe with a large body of cavalry, on a
nocturnal excursion. The sons of O'Donnell were at this time stationed with a squadron of
cavalry at Port-na-Long, at the yonder side of the Cataract, and they had been drinking
wine. After Owen received information of this he made an attack upon them, and killed
Donnell, the son of Turlough O'Donnell, heir to the lordship of Tirconnell, and others not
enumerated. Niall O'Donnell went to the harbour, and swam to one of the merchant vessels
lying in it. After that victory Brian O'Conor returned home.
(O'Donovan identifies Magh-Eni as "the Moy", the plain from the mouth of the River Erne to
Bundrowes, and from Belleek to Lough Melvin. The name Port-na-Long (the harbour of the
ships, i.e. Allingham's "green hill'd harbour", he notes had fallen into desuetude, and
Urscatha, he writes, "was the ancient name of a stream which fell into the sea at the
little town of Bundoran, from which to Bundrowes the road runs nearly due west...")
Mayhap, if not already done, Bundoran Urban Council will consider its redesignation, with
an appropriate plaque. Thousands upon thousands of tourists cross it annually.
The Age of Christ, 1421.
A war arose between the O'Rourkes and the Clann-Donough. O'Rourke mustered and collected a
great army to one place; and O'Donnell (Turlough) came with his forces to aid and support
him, as did Hugh Maguire and his muster. O'Rourke himself, with his people, and all of
these (his allies), proceeded into Tirerril, and burned the country, and slew Cathal,
the son of Mac Donough, and many others besides, on that occasion.
Niall O'Donnell and his army, and O'Rourke with his creaghts*, went to the harbour of
Assaroe; and the Clann-Donough, and Cathal, the son of Rory O'Conor, went in their absence
to the fortress of O'Rourke, and burned the town, and pulled down and demolished the
castle, and destroyed all that side of the country. The army of the Kinel-Connell were
(at this time) encamped at Ardfearna; and the people of Carbury were under the castle of
Bundrowes; and many men and horses were daily killed and wounded (in the conflicts)
between them. Murtough Boy, the son of Cosnamach O'Dowda, O'Maonaigh, and the son of
Donough Caemhanach, were slain by the Kinel-Connell on this occasion; and Hugh, son of
Murray Roe Mac Loughlin, was drowned in the ford of Ballyshannon. They afterwards
concluded a peace.
(* shepherds and cattle drovers)
The Age of Christ, 1422.
Turlough, the son of Niall Garv O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, took the habit of a monk in
the monastery of Assaroe, after gaining victory over this present world, and his son, Niall
Garv, was inaugurated in his place.
The Age of Christ, 1423.
Turlough, the son of Niall Garv O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, Kinel-Moen, and Inishowen, a
peaceable, affluent, and graceful man, died in the habit of a monk, in the monastery of
Assaroe, after the victory of Unction and Penance.
The castle of Ath-Seanaigh was erected by Nial, son of Turough O'Donnell.
The Age of Christ, 1435.
Naghtan O'Donnell had given the castle of Ballyshannon to Brian Oge O'Neill, on his having
consented to assist him in his war with O'Neill. Brian afterwards acted traitorously
towards Naghtan, for he went to O'Neill without Naghtan's permission, and left his warders
in the castle of Ballyshannon. As soon as Brian made his appearance before O'Neill, he was
taken prisoner by him, and one of his feet and one of his hands were cut off; his two sons
were also maimed in the same manner, and one of them immediately died.
The Age of Christ, 1450.
Edmond, Abbot of Assaroe, died.
The Age of Christ, 1464.
A plundering army was led by O'Neill and the sons of Naghtan O'Donnell into Tirconnell,
after the killing of Con O'Donnell; and they burned the country as far as Ballyshannon,
and seized upon many horses and cows. This, however, did not pass unrevenged, and for what
they carried off they left a dear price behind them, for Brian, the son of Conor Oge, son
of Conor Roe Maguire, one eminent for hospitality and prowess, and who kept a house of
general hospitality, was slain, together with twenty-eight of the army.
The Age of Christ, 1478.
A great plague was brought by a ship into the harbour of Assaroe. This plague spread
through Fermanagh, Tirconnell, and the province in general. Mac Ward (Godfrey) of
Tirconnell died of it, and great injury was done by it all through the province...A great
tempest arose on the night of Epiphany, which was a night of general destruction to all,
by reason of the number of persons and cattle destroyed, and trees and houses, both on
water and land prostrated throughout Ireland.
The Age of Christ, 1490.
Great depradations and spoilations were committed by Hugh Oge, the son of Hugh Roe
O'Donnell, upon the sons of Donough, the son of Hugh Magure; and he carried the preys,
consisting of four hundred cows, to Ballyshannon, where he slaughtered them all, for the
warders of the town (i.e. the sons of Hugh Gallda O'Donnell) had given up the castle of
Ballyshannon to Hugh Oge, without consulting O'Donnell.
The Age of Christ, 1496.
The castle of Ballyshannon was taken from O'Donnell's warders by Hugh, the son of
Con, the son of Donnell, laid siege to the castle of Ballyshannon. Maguire, i.e. John,
the son of Philip, son of Thomas, came at the instance of Hugh, the son of O'Donnell, to
drive Con from the town and forcibly drive him from it. Hugh and Maguire afterwards
pursued him to Donegal; and they burned a part of the town in the early part of the day.
Con, with the forces of Tirconnell, Inishowen, and Dartry-Mac Clancy, turned in pursuit of
Hugh and Maguire, and followed them to Termon-Daevog. Magrath, i.e. Rory, the son of
Dermot, son of Marcus, Coarb of that Termon, came to them, and warned Con and the
Kinel-Connell not to violate his protection, or the protection of the Termon, by
attacking Maguire; they regarded not (his warning), but pursued Maguire who was
endeavouring to effect his escape by strength of arms. Con and his army, however,
gained the common pass on them, so that they were obliged to take to a bog and morass
which lay before them, where (an engagement taking place) they left one hundred and ten
horses behind; and Maguire's people were defeated, himself taken prisoner, and twelve of
the chiefs of his people slain, with many others, about Brian Maguire (the son of Brian,
son of Philip).
The Age of Christ, 1502.
Art O'Gallagher and John O'Loiste, two abbots who contended with each other for the
abbacy of Assaroe, died on the one day.
The Age of Christ, 1519.
Edmond Duv O'Dwyer, Abbot of Assaroe, died on the first day of November, and was buried at
Donegal, in the Franciscan habit, which habit he chose rather than that of a monk.
(O'Donovan's footnote is worth recording as follows: "Donegal, Dun na ngall, i.e. the fort
of the strangers. The first mention of this place in the Annals of the Four Masters occurs
at the year 1159. The monastery was not built till 1474.--See first entry under that year.
There seems to have been an earthen fort erected there by the Danes at an early period.
See note o, on Ath-na-nGall, under the year 1419, p.838, supra, and the article on Donegal,
in the Irish P. Journal, written by Mr. Petrie.)
The Age of Christ, 1522.
A great war arose between O'Donnell and O'Neill. MacWilliam of Clanrickard, the English and
Irish of Connaught, the O'Briens, the Kennedys, and the O'Carrolls, joined and leagued with
O'Neill against O'Donnell in that war...
O'Donnell (on the other hand) assembled his own small, but truly faithful forces in
Kinel-Connell, namely, O'Boyle, O'Doherty, the three MacSweenys, and the O'Gallaghers,
with his son Manus...The son of Mac Sweeny of Tir-Boghaine (Brian of the Fleet), whom
O'Donnell had left to guard the castle of Ballyshannon, defended the town against O'Neill
as well as he was able; it was, however, at length taken by O'Neill, and the son of Mac
Sweeny, with a great number of his people, was slain by him. There were also slain there
two of O'Donnell's ollaves, namely, Dermot, the son of Teige Cam O'Clery, a learned
historian and poet, a man who kept an open house of general hospitality for the mighty
and the indigent, and the son of Mac Ward (Hugh, the son of Hugh), with several others
besides these. This was on the 11th day of June. Bundrowes and Beal-lice were also taken,
and burned by O'Neill on this occasion...
(Note: The account of this war in the Annals extends over five and a half pages. The
smaller force of O'Donnell, "choosing rather to be slain on the field rather than to
become slaves to anyone in the world," and being commanded by O'Donnell "to abandon their
horses, for they had no desire to escape from the field of battle unless they should be
victors", in a night attack on O'Neill's camp at Knockavoe, a hill overlooking the town
of Strabane, won a fierce encounter in which "nine hundred of O'Neill's army fell",
whereupon the Kinel-Connell seized much booty, "and though O'Donnell's people were without
horses on going into the engagement, they had many horses from the warriors whom they had
cut off in that slaughter."
O'Donnell's tactic of engaging O'Neill's forces before the latter were augmented by the
forces of Connaught was decisive..... The "Connacian army", which had been besieging Sligo,
sent ambassadors to O'Donnell to sue for peace, and while negotiations were in progress,
"came to the resolution of raising the siege and retreating privately...These troops did
not halt or wait for...the report of their embassy as to peace and tranquillity, until
they reached the Curlieu mountains, where the lords and chieftains separated from one
The annalists concluded: "Scarcely did the defeat of Conoc-buidhbh, in which many men had
been slaughtered and vast spoils obtained, procure greater renown or victory for O'Donnell
throughout Ireland than this bloodless defeat, although no one among them had lost a drop of
blood or received a single wound.")
(O'Donovan's footnote on Beal-lice states: "The name is now anglicised Belleek...The name
signifies ford-mouth of the flag-stone, and the place was so called from the flat-surfaced
rock in the ford, which, when the water decreases in summer, appears as level as a marble
Another account of the deaths of O'Clery and Ward is given in "The Annals of Ulster" which
record as follows:
"There was slain there also a good learned person, namely, Diarmait, son of Teige
O'Cleirigh, one eminent in history and a good poet....And there was slain there also
on the same occasion (the 11th day of June) the son of Mac-an-baird (Ward), namely Aodh,
son of Aodh Mac-an-baird, one likely to be a good poet."
The Age of Christ, 1546
Donnell, the son of Hugh Duv, son of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, was treacherously slain, on the
20th April, by O'Gallagher (Owen, the son of Edmond) and his wife Honora, daughter of
Tuathal Balbh O'Gallagher, after they had invited him to Inis-Saimer, under the protection
of God, of Mac Ward (Godfrey), and Cucogry, the son of Dermot, son of Teige Cam O'Clery.
The death of this man was the cause of great sorow, for of all the descendants of Connell,
the son of Niall, there was not one of his years from whom more was expected by the
The Age of Christ, 1584.
Cosnamhach, son of Cucogry, son of Dermot, son of Teige Cam O'Clery, a respectable and
affluent man, who at one time had kept a house of hospitality in Thomond, and at another
time in Tirconnell, died at Fuar-Chosach, in Tirconnell, in the Lent of this year, and was
buried under the asylum of God and St. Bernard, in the monastery of Assaroe.
The Age of Christ, 1590.
The son of O'Donnell, i.e. Donnell, the son of Hugh, son of Manus, son of Hugh Duv, son of
Hugh Roe, son of Niall Garv, son of Turlough of the Wine, attempted to depose his father,
after he had grown weak and feeble (from age), and after his other son had been imprisoned
in Dublin, so that Donnell brought under his jurisdiction that part of Tirconnell from the
mountain westwards, i.e. from Bearnas to (the River) Drowes; and also the people of Boylagh
("Turlough of the Wine"! As previously noted, the bestowal of sobriquets or nicknames by
our Donegal ancestors has a long history.)
The Age of Christ, 1592.
Note: Here is given at length the story of Red Hugh O'Donnell's escape from captivity in
Dublin Castle, in the depths of a snowy winter, and of his safe, but not sound, arrival
at the castle of Ballyshannon, built by Niall, the son of Turlough-an-Fhiona O'Donnell, in
the year 1423. At the time the neighbourhood was being ravaged by "two famous captains,
Captain Willis and Captain Conwell", who had established headquarters in the monastery of
Donegal, whence the friars had fled. Hugh rallied the country to him and ejected the famous
captains, who "went back into the province of Connaught.
The annalists contine:
Hugh O'Donnell returned to Ballyshannon and sent for physicians to cure his feet; but they
were not able to effect a cure until they had cut off both his big toes; and he was not
perfectly well till the end of a year (afterwards).
Severe frostbite during his escape was the cause of amputation. For the next eleven years
O'Donnell waged war on the English, with repeated crossings and recrossings of the River Erne faithfully recorded by the Four Masters. Readers are invited to consult the annals for a complete account.
The Battle for Ballyshannon Castle, "that long desired place", is reproduced in full, as
The Age of Christ, 1597.
At the time that the Lord Justice was engaged in the foregoing expedition, (Ed. note:
against O'Neill) he sent a written dispatch to the Governor of Connaught, ordering him to
proceed, with all the forces he could possibly muster, to the western extremity of Ulster,
against O'Donnell, while he himself should remain in Tyrone. This order was promptly
responded to by the Governor; for he sent for the Earl of Thomond (Donough, the son of
Conor), for the Baron of Inchiquin (Murrough, the son of Murrough), for the Earl of
Clanrickard (Ulick, the son of Rickard Saxonagh), and his son, Richard, Baron of Dunkellin;
and also dispatched orders to the gentlemen of the counties of Mayo and Roscommon,
requiring them to collect and muster their forces. He ordered all the chieftains to meet
him at the monastery of Boyle, on the twenty-fourth day of the month of July, precisely
when he himself, with all his bands (of soldiers), would be at that place. They all
(accordingly) came on that day to the aforesaid place. When assembled, they amounted to
twenty-two standards of foot, and ten standards of cavalry. They marched from thence to
Sligo, and from thence to the Erne, and pitched their extensive camp on the banks of the
limpid Samhaoir. The high spirit of the army was such, that they thought all Ulster would
be incapable of coping with them in battle.
On the following day, by break of day, the Governor's army rose up to cross the river; (but)
O'Donnell had posted guards upon all the fords of the Erne. However, they got an advantage
at one difficult ford, namely, Ath-Cul-Uain, and to this they vigorously and resolutely
advanced. The guards of the ford proceeded to shoot against them without mercy, and to
defend the ford against them as well as they were able; but they were not able to defend
it long against the numerous force and army opposed to them; so that the Governor and his
army crossed it, and gained the other side. On this day, however, a lamentable death took
place, namely, (that of) Murrough, the son of Murrough, son of Dermot, son of Murrough
O'Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, as he was on horseback, in the depth of the river, outside
the soldiers, saving them from drowning, and encouraging them to get across past him. But
destiny permitted that he was aimed at by one of O'Donnell's people with a ball exactly in
the arm-pit, in an opening of his plate armour, so that it passed through him, and out at
the opposite arm-pit. No assistance could be given him; and he fell from his horse into the
depth of the current, in which he was immediately drowned. The person who there perished
was much lamented by the English and the Irish, on account of the greatness of his wealth,
and the nobility of his blood, though young as to age; and although it would have been
meet that his body should have been taken up and honourably interred, the army did not
stop to do so, but proceeded directly to the monastery of Assaroe, which they reached the
31st day of July, the day of the week being Saturday. They encamped around the monastery,
and also within it, and thus remained from the forenoon of Saturday, when they crossed the
Erne, until Monday morning. On the Sunday on which they were in the monastery the ships
arrived which were promised to be sent after them from Galway, with ordnance and great
guns, and other stores for their support, whilst they should remain in this strange
territory. This fleet put in at Inis-Saimer, close to Assaroe, and landed their stores on
the island, leaving a sufficient number to guard them. On Monday the ordnance was landed
and placed against the castle of Ballyshannon.
(O'Donovan notes as follows: "P. O'Sullivan Beare states that they planted four cannon
against the castle of Ballyshannon, which was defended by Hugh Craphaurd (Crawford), a
Scotchman, with eighty soldiers, of whom some were Spaniards and the rest Irish".)
The Four Masters continue:
The troops were then removed from the monastery to Mullach-Sithe-Aedha, opposite the
fortress, and about the ordnance.
(Again a note by O'Donovan warrants insertion at this point:
"Mullach-Sithe-Aedha: i.e. the hill or summit of Aedh's tumulus, so called for Aedh Ruadh
mac Badhairn, king of Ireland, who was drowned in the River Erne or Samhaoir, A.M. 3603,
according to O'Flaherty's Chronology, and buried at this place...This hill is now called
Mullaghnashee, and the parish church of Ballyshannon stands upon it. According to the
tradition at Ballyshannon, an ancient earthen fort, and the mound of Aedh Ruadh, or Red
Hugh, were destroyed in 1798, to form a modern English star-fort which now crowns the
summit of Mullaghnashee.)"
The Four Masters:
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, they continued to fire on the castle with heavy balls,
emitted with loud report and flashing flames from the loud-sounding, red, shot-vomitting
guns of that heavy and immense ordnance which they had planted opposite the fortress, so
that their reports and loud thunderings in the regions of the air were heard far and
distant from them. They sent large parties of their choicest soldiers to the base of the
castle with wall-razing machines, and with thick and strong iron armour about their
bodies, and bright-shining helmets on their heads, and with a bright testudo of round,
broad, hard iron shields around them, to protect them from the shots of their enemies.
The resolute attack they made upon the fortress, however, was of no avail to them; and it
had been better for them had they not come upon this journey against it; for from the
castle were poured down upon them showers of brilliant fire from well-planted, straight
(aimed) guns, and from costly muskets, and some rough-headed rocks and massive solid
stones, and beams and blocks of timber, which were (kept) on the battlements of the
fortress, in readiness to be hurled down (when occasion required); so that the coverings
of the razing party were of no shelter or protection to them, and great numbers of them
were destroyed, and others who were so severely wounded became so exhausted that they
delayed not to be further slaughtered, and, turning their backs on their enemies, they
were routed to the camp. The people of the fortress kept up a constant fire on them, and
killed an unascertained number of them.
A party of O'Donnell's cavalry made a routing attack upon the English cavalry; and there
is no record or remembrance of the number that were (mortally) wounded between them; but,
among the rest, O'Conor Sligo (Donough, the son of Cathal Oge) was severely wounded, for
he and O'Conor Roe (Hugh, son of Turlough Roe) and Theobald-na-Long, with all their forces,
went along with the Lord Justice at this time.
O'Donnell, however, had been in want of forces, and had only a small number on the
Saturday on which the Lord Justice came into the country with this powerful force; but
his people and forces were assembling and flocking to him from every direction, so that
most of them had reached him before the noon of Monday. On this occasion Maguire (Hugh,
the son of Cuconnaught, son of Cuconnaught) and O'Rourke (Brian Oge, the son of Brian, son
of Brian Ballagh) came to join him with their forces; and after the chiefs had assembled
together, they allowed the Lord Justice and his army neither cease nor rest, for they
carried on skirmishing and firing, conflict, assault, and onslaught, on the camp, every
day during the three days that they continued battering the castle. O'Donnell's army
frequently drove those who were on the outskirts of the Connaught camp into the very
centre of it, and those who were in the centre to the outskirts; and they did not permit
their horses or other cattle to go forth outside the boundary camp to graze, nor did they
permit hay or corn (to be carried) into them. The Governor and his army were thus reduced
to great distress and extremities; for, though they should wish to depart, they could not
approach any common ford on the Erne from Cael-Uisge to Ath-Seanaigh. The chiefs, though
numerous were their forces, were much dispirited finding themselves placed in such peril
by their enemies. When, therefore, the Governor, the Earls, and the chiefs in general, had
perceived the great danger in which they were, they held a consultation from the beginning
of night on Tuesday, to the morning twilight of Wednesday, the 15th day of August; and the
resolution they finally came to at the day-break was to advance forward at once from the
place where they were at Sith-Aedha to the rough, turbulent, cold-streamed, rocky ford over
the brink of Assaroe, called Casan-na-gCuradh, and they advanced to that (to them) unknown
and seldom crossed trajectus, in troops and squadrons, without being noticed or heard by
O'Donnell. In consequence of the strength of the current, and the debility of some of the
army and horses, from having been deprived of food, a countless number of their women, and
men of their inferior, unwarlike people, of their steeds and horses, and of other things
they had with them, were swept out westwards into the sea by the current of Assaroe.
(O'Donovan Notes: Casan-na-nGuradh, i.e. the path of the heroes, translated Semita Heroum
by P. O'Sullivan Beare...The name is still remembered, and the ford pointed out,
immediately above the great cataract of Assaroe.)
The annals continue:
They left their ordnance and their vessels of meat and drink in the power of the
Kinel-Connell on this occasion. The chiefs and gentlemen of the army, however, and such of
them as were strong, crossed the Erne after great danger and peril. The warders of the
castle continued firing on them as rapidly as they were able, and pursued them to the brink
of the river, in order to exterminate their enemies; and intelligence (of their movements)
reached O'Donnell and his army. When O'Donnell heard the report of the firing, he
immediately rose up with his forces, and, having quickly accoutred themselves in their
fighting habiliments, they advanced to the river as speedily as they could. When the
Governor's army had cleared the opposite bank of the river they went into order and battle
array. They placed their women, their calones, their unarmed people, their wounded men,
and such of their horses of burden as they had, between them and the sea. They placed their
warriors and fighting men behind them, and on the other side towards the country, for they
were certain of receiving an attack by those forces who had pursued them. O'Donnell's
people went in pursuit of them across the river without delay; and they were so eager to
wreak their vengeance on the army that fled from them that they did not wait to put on
their armour or outer garments. They began to surround them and sharpen the conflict
against them, and both parties continued shooting and attacking each other from the Erne to
Magh-gCedne in Carbury-Drumcliff. At this time there fell a shower of rain in such torrents
that the forces on either side could not use or wield their arms, so drenched with wet were
their powder-pouches and the apparatus of their fine guns. These showers of rain did more
injury to O'Donnell's people than to the Governor's army; for they (the former) had left
their outer garments behind, as we have said before; but not so the others, they wore
coverings over their battle dresses.
The Governor proceeded with his forces to Sligo that night; from thence on the next day to
the abbey of Boyle, and on the third day to the district of Athleague. The chiefs of
Connaught then dispersed from their territories and houses, and the Governor went to
O'Donnell was greatly chagrined that the Governor and the Earls should have escaped as
(In baseball parlance, the battle was called on account of rain, Irish rain, in the words
of the Four Masters, rain in "such torrents that the forces on either side could not use or
wield their arms".)
Let O'Clery and his colleagues give a bizarre sequel, in their own words:
"As for the Baron of Inchiquin, of whom we have already spoken as having been wounded and
drowned when the Governor and the aforesaid Earls were crossing the Erne with their forces,
his body was taken up by Cormac O'Clery, one of the monks of the monastery of Assaroe, and
the body was buried by him, with due honour, in the monastery. In consequence of this a
dispute and contention arose between the friars of Donegal and the monks of Assaroe; the
friars maintaining that the body should be of right buried in their own monastery, because
the ancestors of the Baron had been for a long period before that time buried in the
Franciscan monastery in his own country, and the monks insisting that it should remain
with themselves; so that the friars and the monks went before O'Donnell, and the two
Bishops who were then in the country, namely, Redmond O'Gallagher, Bishop of Derry, and
Niall O'Boyle, Bishop of Raphoe, and these chiefs decided upon having the Baron, Murrough,
the son of Murrough O'Brien, buried in the monastery of St. Francis at Donegal. This was
accordingly done, for the body was taken up at the end of three months after its interment
in the monastery of Assaroe, and the friars reburied it in their own monastery with
reverence and honour, as was meet."
The successful defence of the Castle of Ballyshannon and the routing of the combined
English and Connaught forces were the apex of O'Donnell's military success. There followed
the defeat at Kinsale, and the departure of O'Donnell to Spain where he hoped to raise a
new army to dislodge the Sassanach invaders.
An account of the final fall of the Castle of Ballyshannon is given in the following
extract from the Annals:
The Year of Christ, 1602.
The castle of Ballyshannon, in which guards had been placed by O'Donnell, was taken by
Niall Garv O'Donnell and the English, after they had broken and battered it by a great
gun which they had carried to it; and the warders, seeing that there was no assistance or
relief at hand, escaped from it by flight. This castle was taken in spring.
Inis-Saimer (at Ballyshannon) and Inis-mic-Conaill were taken by Hugh Boy, the son of Con
O'Donnell; and Cormac, the son of Donough Oge Maguire, was also taken prisoner by him.
(O'Donovan in a footnote adds: The castle of Ballyshannon, "that long desired place," was
taken by Captain Digges, one of Dowcra's officers, on the 25th of March. Dowcra himself has
written the following account in his Narration: "And now, being earnestly called vpon for a
supply of victuells at Dunnagal (the second shipping I had sent about for that purpose being
kept backe with foule weather), I took vp Garrons in O Doghertie's Countrey, loaded them
with salte & Biskitt, & with 100 Beeves went over the mountaines, most parte on foote,
the wayes were soe rotten, & on the 12th day of December brought them reliefe; & because I
sawe that little pile, reserved from the rage of the fire, to small, a great deale, to
contain a large and important Garrison, I removed parte of them, and added two Companys
moore, to ly at Ashrowe, an Abbey 10 myles further, & not about a quarter of a Myle distant
from Ballyshannon; left Captain Edward Digges, the Sergeant Major, to Command there; took a
viewe of the Castle; promised as soone as I came home, to send him the Demy cannon, which,
before, I had taken Ainogh withall; gave my oppinion howe he should proceede in the vse of
it; tooke oath and pledges of the chiefs of the Inhabitants thereabouts; and soe returned.
By the way I was a litle stopped by the passage of the waters, & before I came home the
Newes overtook Mee of the Lord Deputie's happie victorie att Kinsaile, of Tyrone's flight
and returning homewards, & of O'Donnell's departure to Sea to goe into Spain. I sent away
the Cannon assoone as I came home, & on the 20th of March it arrived there, & on the 25th
(being the first day of the yeare 1602)* was that long desired place taken by the said
Captain Digges, with lesse than a tenth parte of that charge which would have beene
willinglie bestowed vpon it, & the Consequences thereof brought may furtherances to the
*From the late 12th century until the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 the new
year began on Lady Day, March 25th, in England.
This is the last entry in the Four Masters' Annals where Ballyshannon is mentioned.
However, O'Donovan, in an appendix to his translation, in a footnote to a chapter titled
"Pedigree of O'Donnell", at page 2392, records that in 1712, Carolan, the most famous of
Irish harpists and composers, to celebrate the marriage of Charles O'Donnell, then living
at Newcastle in Mayo, to Catherine, daughter of James O'More, Esq., chief of his name,
"composed the song called "Seabhac na hEirne agus Bheil Atha Seanaigh," i.e. "The Hawk
of the Erne and of Ballyshannon".
The present writer is pleased to record that, after a search of four years, Carolan's
"The Hawk of the Erne" was eventually located via the Internet. Having queried all Celtic
music groups who arrived in Ottawa, Canada; having had extensive inquiries made on my
behalf of authorities in Dublin, for which I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of my
friend, Dubliner and former member of the Canadian Senate Hansard staff, Liam Culleton;
and having been told the tune was unknown under that title, and its attribution to Carolan
was dubious, a visit to the Turlough Carolan Main Page on the Internet revealed that a
compact disc issued under the NARADA label contained a two-minute recital of "The Hawk of
Ballyshannon" by Minnesota harper Ann Heymann, a happy ending to this edition of
"The Kindly Spot".
Far from being lost, "The Hawk of the Erne and of Ballyshannon" has survived almost
three centuries, as the following music review from Stanford University, dated
July 5,1996, reveals:
"In a step back in time, Heymann uses a wire string harp as Carolan would have used.
It has a ringing, resonant tone. This track is weighed down with a lot of harmony and
that same resonance, and loses the lightness that normally comes with the piece."
Carolan's title was adopted by the present writer for the Internet edition of
"The Hawk of the Erne".
Brother Michael O'Clery died at Louvain in 1643. We owe him much.
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