O'Donovan, one of Ireland's greatest Gaelic scholars,
historians and genealogists, recorded his impressions
of Fermanagh in 1834 and gives us a glimpse of a
hidden Ireland 20 years before the great famine.
He observed the folklore and antiquities of the
county, the ancient kingdoms, their conflicts and
their rulers and placed them in the context of the
ancient Irish Annals which go back 1,400 years.
Donovan paid particular attention to Fermanagh's
ancient families, especially Maguire, O'Flanagan
and McManus with their genealogies. There
are references to numerous other families of Fermanagh
and surrounding counties such as Ó Cassidy, McCaffrey,
McElroy, Cox, Corrigan, Melanophy, Crudden, McGrath,
McGoldrick, Breslin, etc.
by the noted County Fermanagh historian John Cunningham,
The Letters of John O' Donovan from Fermanagh
is extensively footnoted to bring the letters
alive to the modern reader, scholar and genealogist. Unforturnately,
the book is now out of print and we have sold out
our supply of the CD version of the book.
Mr. Cunningham's permission, below we have reprinted
one of O' Donovan's letters, with the editor's note.
The letter may not be reprinted or republished
in any further form or manner.
Cunningham lecturing during the 1999 clan
rally, with Dr.
Cathal Cassidy on the left.
Cunningham provides specialized tours, including
ones focused on genealogy, in County Fermanagh.
He has served as a guide for tours on behalf
of the Cassidy Clan and is highly recommended.
He can be contacted at Adam4Eves@aol.com
Please tell him you heard of his services
on the Cassidy Clan website.
from Enniskillen, October 12, 1834 Re County Fermanagh
within all day yesterday to make an index to the
extracts from the Annals. They throw great
light upon the topographical names of the county,
[Ed. Note 1] but I have not, I
am convinced, got the half of them yet. O'Keeffe
has extracted only those passages which occur under,
Fir Manach, Loch Eirne, Inis Ceithlinn and Achad
Urchair, but there are many other places in Maguire's
county certainly (to my own knowledge) mentioned
which O'Keeffe has not sent.
I cannot do without the whole, and I beg that you
will get him to send me all the passages relating
to the following places, taking special care to
(1) CUIL, territory, now the barony of COOLE. This
territory is frequently referred to as the residence
of O'Cassidy, Maguire's head physician, and as the
territory of a collateral or dynast branch of the
Maguires. Perhaps this territory will be found
in the Index under the name Cul, Cuil, and Fir or
(2) TUATH-RATHA, now called TRORY and TOORA.
This was the principality of O'Flanigan, a chief
tributary to Maguire. Tuath-Ratha is very
often mentioned in the Annals.
(3) TUATH LUIRG, sometimes called Fir and Feara
Luirg. It is now called the barony of Lurg,
situated in the north of Fermanagh. This was the
patrimonial inheritance of O'Maolduin, who was also
tributary to Maguire. The following curious
passage occurs in the Annals under the year 1369
respecting this place:
"O'Maolduin (Donnell) Lord of Tuath Luirg,
was slain by the sons of Niall O'Donnell, who carried
the spoils of his territory with them to Badhbha,
one of the islands of Lough Erne. To avenge
the death of his oglach, O'Maolduin, Philip Maguire,
Lord of the seven Tuaths (i.e. Lord of the 7 territories
into which his principality of Fermanagh was divided)
sailed with a large fleet to the island upon which
the sons of O'Donnell were, and a naval engagement
took place on that part (division) of the Lough
(near the island) called Fionnloch, [Ed.
Note 2] in which Niall Oge O'Donnell was
The Muldoons are numerous in the Co. yet.
(4) MACHAIRE STEPANACH, now the barony of Magherastephena.
This frequently occurs in the Annals, but O'Keeffe
has not sent me a word about it.
(5) CLANN CHONGHAILE, now the barony of Glenawley.
Do the Annalists give Clann Amhlaoibh, if so, where
is it situated?
(6) TIR ENDA. I am inclined to think that
the Tir Enda of the Annals is the barony of Tir
Kenedy in the Co. of Fermanagh. Where does
Harris or the Abbe Ma Geoghegan place this territory?
(61/2) CNOC NINDIGH, now the barony of Knockninny.
(7) Airidh Broscaidh now Derry Brusk!
(8) Aireach Maolain now Derry Vullen!
(9) Oilen na Trionoide, i.e. Trinity Island.
There is an island of this name in Lough Ke, and
another in Lough Erne.
(10) Oilen-Na-naomh: do the Annals give any
such island. There is an island in Lough Erne
called Inis-Mac-Saint. What does Archdall
or Colgan say about this? [Ed. Note 3]
(11) Bel (beul) Atha Charbaid, or Ath-Charbad.
This is the now Belturbet.
(12) Ross-airther now Rossorry.
(13) Bel (Beal) Lice, now Beleek.
(14) Loch Meilge, now Lough Melvin.
(15) Machaire na croise or Machaire Croise.
(16) Cluain-Eois, now Clones.
(17) Cill Laisre, now Killesher.
(18) Claoininish, now Cleenish.
(19) Inis Coain now Iniskeen.
(20) Cill Chonghaile, now Kinnawley.
(21) Beann Eachlabhrais, now Benaghlinn Mountains.
(22) Machaire Cuil mona.
(23) Lios na aginth?
(24) Tuaim Riagain.
not sent me half the passages that relate to the
Maguires. I should be glad to have before
me while in Fermanagh, all the notices of that family,
because names of places might be mentioned, which
might throw great light upon the ancient topography.
Send every passage in the Annals relating to the
24 places above mentioned.
me also that part of O'Dugan's Topographical poem,
which treats of the families and subdivisions of
Fermanagh. It will be found in O'Kane's MS,
which Mr Petrie has at present.
you heard from Myles O'Reilly? The name books
are very meagre, but Mr Stothard is at my request,
getting the names copied into them as they are spelled
in the Grand Jury map of the County.
expect an answer to this as soon as possible.
Note 1: An article entitled
"The Barony-Names of Fermanagh and Monaghan"
by Nollaig O Muraile of the Placenames Office of
the Ordnance Survey, Phoenix Park, Dublin in the
Clogher Record of 1984 deals in great detail
with the names of the eight baronies in County Fermanagh.
The following information is largely gleaned from
the two largest baronies, Lurg and Magheraboy,
are on either side of Lower Lough Erne. On
the southern side, Magheraboy . . .
the yellow plain does not appear in print before
1585 when it appears in the Composition Book of
meaning a mark, trail or track is recorded as a
Kingdom in the Annals in the year 1039. The
clan O Maolduin, anglicised Muldoon, held the territory.
. . . Ninnidh's Hill is the only barony name in
Fermanagh which is also a townland name. The
name is believed to derive from a 6th century St.
Ninnid who is listed as one of the "twelve
apostles of Ireland." He bears the nickname,
'Saobhruisc' (squinting) i.e. "the squinting
saint" or sometimes the ,"One-eyed Saint."
This barony name is not found until the year 1450.
as a name has nothing to do with the modern personal
name of Kennedy. Instead it arises from an
emithet "Cennfhota" or long headed applied
to, Fergus son of Cremthann, the eponymous ancestor
of the Ui Chremthainn, i.e. it means ..... the country
of the descendants of the long-headed (Fergus).
With its ruling family Ua Daimhin, usually anglicised
to Divine, the territory is first mentioned in 1349.
. . . Clan Amhlaoibh, derives its name from Amhlaoibh
the son of Donn Carrach Maguire the first Maguire
King of Fermanagh who died in 1302. Amhlaoibh
is a gaelic version of the Norse name Olaf.
Many Irish families adopted Norse names. The territory
name is first recorded in 1306. The Fermanagh
surname Mc Cauley and Mc Auley derive from Amhlaoibh
and therefore make them ultimately Maguires also.
In this fashion there are many other "disguised
Maguires" in Fermanagh.
. . . Clan Cheallaigh, derives from Cellach, son
of Tuathal, king of the Ui Chremthainn who was killed
in 731. Like Clanawley the origin of the name is
that of a sept which ruled the area.
occurs first in the Annals of the Four Masters in
the year 1520. O'Donovan alleges its origin
to be from the name of one Steafan or Stephen the
son of Odhar the progenitor of the Maguire clan,
a figure of the 10th century. Unfortunately
for this explenation the name Stephen did not arrive
into Ireland until the time of the Normans in the
12th century. There is no reference to a family
group called Muintir Steafain or any other individual
connected with Feramangh in the genealogies or annals.
It is an enigmatic barony name to date.
. . . meaning a corner (perhaps of land running
into Lough Erne) appears in the Annals as Cuil na
nOirear and as O'Donovan writes may have applied
to an old half-barony near Enniskillen. Neither
its full meaning or location are definitely established.
2: The Finn Lough refers to that narrow
part of Lough Erne between Boa Island and the shore
adjacent to the present day town of Pettigo.
In 1744, Isaac Butler, wrote this description of
"An island near ye north shore of ye lough
which is called ye Bow Island, 3 miles long and
near 1 1/2 wide; on which several villages are,
whose inhabitants, as it is said, seldom come on
shore but live in silent retreat, marry amongst
each other and are blest with all ye common necessaries
time immemorial Boa Island and it's people have
been like this, solitary and apart from the mainstream
of Irish life but nothing the poorer of that.
It is the biggest island inside Ireland with an
area in excess of 1300 acres and through fishing
and farming it once supported a population of over
600 people. They were an independent people
with a tradition of self-reliance and mutual interdependence.
They had their own musicians, storytellers, poets
and historians. See Mysterious Boa Island
by John B. Cunningham, St. Davog's Press, 1988.
Note 3: Among the sources frequently
consulted by O'Donovan and his fellow workers are
Inquisitions of the period of the Plantation of
Ulster, the Down Survey papers, the various Annals,
the Topographical Poems of O'Dubhagain and O'Huidrin,
Keating's History of Ireland, the Lives of the Saints
of Ireland, the Lives of Saint Patrick, the Genealogies
of Duald MacFirbis, the Calendar (Feilire) of Aengus
the Culdee, the Dindsheanchus; the writings of Archbishop
Ussher, Sir James Ware, Dr. Charles O'Connor's Rerum
Hibernicarum Veteres Scriptores, the Topographia
Hiberniae of Giraldus Cambrensis, Dr. John Lanigan's
Ecclesiastical History of Ireland and Mervyn Archdall's
Monasticum Hibernicum, etc.
letters O'Donovan frequently gives forthright opinions
on these and other writers e.g. on Sir William Betham,
the Ulster King-at-Arms who criticised the translation
of an ancient Irish poem which had been translated
by himself, Eoin O'Curry, Thomas O'Connor and Owen
Connellan. [From Mountrath on 15-11-1838]
"It vexes me a great deal to find that Sir
William Betham has attacked the translation of the
peom on Aileach because it is too outrageous a humbug.
It is not too bad that a man who does not understand
a single sentence of a certain rude language should
set himself up to criticise the translation which
has passed the examination of four persons from
the four different Provinces of Ireland, in whose
native language it is written and who have studied
its native and modern idioms since they were children?
. . . I defy Sir William to translate any one poem
in the Irish language whoich has not been translated
before, or any one story, legend or anecdote in
the Books of Lecan, Ballymote, Lismore or the Leabhar
Breac; and not only any one story but any one sentence
containing a noun, a verb, a preposition and oblique
case! If these things could be put to the
test like Latin and Greek, pretenders like Sir William
would soon disappear from the world of letters,
and the history and antiquities of Ireland
would be examined as those of other nations have
is also very scathing on the topic of early religious
writers whose sacred enthusiasm allowed them to
pervert the truth. "Why
were the early monks such liars? Why did man
not learn how to commit the truth to phonetic characters
earlier? Why did not the Christian religion
establish peace in Christendom? Why did the
Christian writers tell more lies than Plutarch,
Livy, Heredotus and Tacitus ?" [Loughrea 25-10-1838]