The Story of Kilbarron Castle Part 3

In this, the third part of the story of Kilbarron Castle, we cover the transition of the Ollamh to the Uí Domhnaills from the family of Uí Scingín to Uí Cléirigh in the mid-1300s.

In 1342 a young Brehon lawyer called Cormac Uí Cléirigh travelled north from Tír Amhlaigh in north Connacht to Abbey Assaroe situated on the estuary of the Erne in Tír Connaill.

Seventy years earlier in 1264 William FitzAdelm DeBurgo seized the Uí Cleirigh ancestral lands in Co. Galway stretched from north east of Kilmacduagh Monastery, near modern Gort, to Lough Rea.

Abbey Assaroe, overlooking the mouth of the RIver Erne and the sand-dunes of Finner beyond. Photo courtesy of Philip Cleary
The Monastery of Kilmacduagh in Co. Galway.

In the Uí Cléirigh Book of Genealogies, now in the Royal Irish Academy, it records that Domhnal Uí Cléirigh had four sons and two Sean Sgiamhach and Daniel went north to Tír Amhlaigh. Tomás went to Breifne Uí Raghallaigh (Co Cavan) and the youngest Cormac to Cill Ceannaigh (Kilkenny).

“Seaan sgiamhach o ttát Sean muinter Clerigh tire conaill: Daniel o ttát muinter Cleirigh thire h-amhalgadha ; Tomas o ttát clann Cleirigh a breifne i raghallaigh; Corbmac o ttát muinter Cleirigh cille caindigh.”

Uí Cléirigh Book of Genealogies

Cormac Uí Cléirigh, grandson of Sean Sgiamhach, spent some time with the Cistercian monks at Assaroe where he met Matha (Matthew) Uí Scingín, Ollamh to Niall Garbh Uí Domhnaill I, who ruled Tír Connaill from 1342 to 1348.

The story records that Giolla Brídhe, Matthew Uí Scingín’s son had died some time beforehand. He was destined to succeed his father as Ollamh and in order to continue this hereditary office, Matthew agreed to the marriage of his daughter to Cormac on condition that their sons would train to become Ollamhs so that they would continue the legacy and succeed their grandfather in that role. Giolla Brídhe Uí Cléirigh in time, succeeded his grandfather as Ollamh to the Uí Domhnaills.

The Annals of Connacht record the death of Maithú Uí Scingín in 1289.

We know that Matthew Uí Scingín was in possession of the lands in the vicinity of Kilbarron Castle at this time. This Matthew Uí Scingín was possibly the grandson of the Matha Uí Scingín whose death is recorded in the Annals of Connacht in 1289.

The Story of Kilbarron Castle Part 1

Kilbarron Castle was built on the scenic wild Atlantic coast of County Donegal. Here we will lay out the history of the Castle and it’s people.

The route to the castle on the landward side leads to a narrow causeway over a deep ditch. It must have been a very defensible location but perhaps not too sheltered or comfortable whenever there was a raging Atlantic storm!

View from the castle ruins looking south towards Ben Bulben in Co Sligo

For anybody who has visited the ruins of the Kilbarron Castle the first thing you notice is that the ruins are perched on a rocky promontory jutting into Donegal Bay and surrounded by cliffs on three sides lapped by the Atlantic waves.

The site is much older than the existing stone walls would suggest as these walls date from the early 14th Century. The Kilbarron Castle Conservation Report of 2014 estimated that the place began as an Iron Age settlement.

We do not yet know much about this early settlement but by the 7th Century the area between the River Erne and the Ballintra River was under the control of the Uí Maoildoraidh clan who were centred in or near Droim Thuama (Drumholm). The territory north of this to the River Eske was ruled by the Uí Canannáin clan. They both shared common ancestry and the kingship of the Cenél Connaill but were often in bitter rivalry.

We have a map to help, see Castle Locality

Further south from Kilbarron on the Erne estuary is a similar promontory fort called Dún Cremthain (Dungravenan) there in 650 AD two factions of the Cenél Conaill fought each other for supremacy. This battle of Dún Cremthain is referred to in the “Annals of Ulster”.

Artistic impression of the 10th Century wooden promontory fort on the Kilbarron site

In 1178 Flaghertagih Uí Maoildoraidh founded the Abbey Assaroe. He is buried in Drumhome (Drumholm) Old Graveyard and his death was to signify the end of the Kingship of the Uí Maoildoraidhs and soon after that the Kingship of the Uí Canannáins as a new power was coming into prominence from the north western part of Tír Conaill.

The parish gets its name from this ancient church and Flahertaigh Uí Maoildoraigh, King of the Cenél Conaill is buried here.

Drumhome Old Church Graveyard is part of the site of Drumhome monastery, which was founded by the monks of Columcille in the sixth century. The Graveyard is still used as a burial ground.

Illustration of a Viking ship

In the 10th Century the Norsemen or Vikings began raiding and plundering the coastal areas of Ireland travelling along the rivers systems as the Erne and Shannon to attack and plunder such monasteries as Devenish and Clonmacnoise, However by the 11th Century they had settled down somewhat in the coastal areas trading and founding such modern coastal cities as Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Not as well known is that they also founded trading stations at Ath Seanaidh Ballyshannon and Donegal, the latter in the Irish language, Dún nan Gall means the “fort of the foreigners” testifying to its Viking foundation. The Cinél Connaill by and large were content to allow such trading posts and would have exacted a tribute to allow them to continue their trading operations.