North Mayo Historical Journal (1987) Vol 2, No. 1




"The O'Donnells of Newport (Clan Dalaigh) were the lineal descendants of Garbh O'Donnell of Donegal, cousin of Red Hugh. Niall had made himself chief of his name in 1602 on the death of Red Hugh in Spain. He is not one of our national heroes. He dealt rather in treachery and did not hesitate to join the English against his own countrymen. He was rewarded for his services in the characteristic English way. He was lodged in the Tower of London in 1608. There he died a miserable death in 1626. His son, Manus, a colonel in Owen Roe O'Neill's army was killed at the Battle of Benburg in 1646. Rory of Lifford, son of Manus, was the first of the family to settle in Mayo."

The last paragraph was written by Padraic O'Morain, M.A., in his "History of Burrishoole and I find I cannot entirely agree with the fact that Rory was the first of the family to settle in Mayo. According to my records Ustion McDonnell of Cabbragh was given a patent of the town, lands and the quarter of Cabbragh on the 20th August, 1618. He was followed by Colonel Maney O'Donnell, his eldest son, Charles Roe, who had the Cloonkelly, part of the Enniscoe Estate in the period 1654-1658.

Charles, eldest son Manus, entered the Austrian Service in 1741 and became Major-General returning home to look after his personal affairs in 1765, aged fifty-two years. His brother Lewis served also in the Austrian service for some years and he returned, settling at Killeen. Lewis was born in 1716, dying in 1822 aged 106. He was the last of the old Gaelic landlords in the parish of Crossmolina.

Lewis was also the main line of decent from Red Hugh and the rightful owner of the 'Cathach'. This was a manuscript written by the hand of St. Columcille himself. It contains about half of the Book of Psalms. It was called the 'Catach' or 'Battler' because in the old times the O'Donnells used to carry it into battle. Cathbarr O'Donnell, who died in 1106, got made for it a case or shrine of silver inlaid with gold. The shrine was repaired several times, the present lid is of the fourteenth century. Daniel O'Donnell, who fought in Limerick in 1691, took to France. In 1732, he enclosed it in a silver box and left it in a monastery with instructions that it was to be handed over to whoever should prove himself chief of the O'Donnells. (Lawlor,. R.I.A. 1916. vol. XXXIII.).

Lawlor says the shrine was discovered in Paris by Sir Capel Molyneux and delivered by him to his father-in-law, Sir Neal O'Donnell. In 1802, Sir Neal had got from Sir William Betham, assistant to the Ulster King-at-Arms, a certificate stating that he, Sir Neal, was chief of the O'Donnells. Petrie says it was Fr. Prendergast, Abbot of Cong, who found it and it was to the second Sir Neal it was given. If Petrie is right, it is strange that it was Sir Neal's mother, who in 1814, brought an action against Betham for opening the shrine. It was from her he got the loan of it in 1813. It was an express condition of the loan that the shrine be left unopened. It was believed that the relic enclosed in it was a bone, or bones, of Columcille. Betham got curious. He saw a small hole and poked in a small wire, Hearing a noise like rustling of paper, he succumbed to temptation, opening the case and found the manuscript. .

Matthew O'Connor and others denounced Betham's certificate to Sir Neal as a falsehood and his pedigree of the O'Donnells as a fabrication. John O'Donovan had, however, proved that the pedigree was historically correct. That did not mean that Sir Neal was the head of the family. By right of seniority, the 'Cathach' should have gone to Lewis O'Donnell of Killeen, Co. Mayo. Lewis lived til 1822. His father, Charles Roe, was Colonel Maney's eldest son. - The shrine and its manuscript are now in the Royal Irish Academy.

The O'Donnells were buried in Straide and the inscription run thus:- "To the memory of Calbachroe O'Donel, of New Castle, died 1770, and of his sons, Manus, Count of the Empire, Major-General in the Austrian Service, born 1713, died 1793 (for whom this vault was first erected), and Lewis, of Killeen, captain in the Austrian Service, born 1716, died 1822, aged 102 years; and of the sons of Lewis -Manus, Captain in the British Service, died 1812? Domnick, also an officer in the British Service, died in India; and Lewis, of Rosslands, who died and was buried in Ostend, 1841? and of his wife, Judith O'Donel, (otherwise Bourke). She died at Kingstown, and was buried in Marlborough Street Cathedral, Dublin, 1871, most sad survivor of the eight children, all of whom died unmarried. In this vault lie the remains of four of these children ~ Mary Baptiste, born 1828, died 1847; Judith, born 1830, died 1849; Charles, born 1832, died 1853 ; Jane Louise, born 1822, died 1855."

A daughter of Lewis was married to Quinn and received Cabra as a dowry. The Quinn family are now gone and the land has been taken over by the Land Commission. There was a traditional story that Capt. Quinn saved Lewis O'Donnell's life, presumably in the Austrian Service, and that he gave him one of his daughters with Cabra as a dowry. Another daughter married one of the Gallaghers and lived in Killeen. Thomas Gallagher of Errew was Lewis O'Donnell's agent.

Lewis was not involved in the rebellion of 1798. His sons were in other armies not involved, and he was about eighty-two years of age that year.

The last record of the O'Donnells in Cabra-Killeen was that of Jane Louise,' grand-daughter of Lewis, given in Griffith's Primary Valuation of Tenements, as the landlord of the estate. The Quinn family male line died out and the farm has been divided. Killeen, the Gallaghers farm, was divided between two brothers in the second generation. One sold his portion to Doctor MacHale, who sold it to Michael O'Malley, and it is now the property of the Lough Conn Milling Company. The other brother married, remained there and the line died out with the death of James Gallagher. It is now the property of Mr. James Kilwee.

I believe the O'Donnells came to Mayo after the Battle of Kinsale, 1601. They had connections with this county, as we well know long before that. Another wave of displaced people came from Ulster in the middle of the seventeenth century and the advent of Cromwell. Anybody who was attainted for rebellion, and there were many, generally fled to remote places like Newport, Keenagh, Ballycroy or Erris.

They were not welcomed by the Errismen who fought them unsuccessfully. Knight in his "Erris in the Irish Highlands" gives the following account of them. "The colony of Ulster men, at whatever time they settled in this county still retain the ancient dialect of language used in the North, intermarry exclusively with one another; a hardy, low-sized, dark featured race, daring and intrepid in danger, not good tempered but hospitable to the extreme. they are considered very intelligent and having a degree of cleverness and acuteness, particularly in bargaining, said to be peculiar of their northern origin, they are the material of a fine people if properly managed." That is a pretty fair description for those of us who have had dealings with Northern farmers.

To conclude, as one writer puts it, "Sic transit gloria mundi... The O'Donnells of Newport (and Killeen) have gone and their place knows them no more."

above pps13-15


Patent Rolls of James I

History of Burrishoole, by Pddraic O'Moráin, M.A.

O'Donnell's of Donegal lecture by Rupert S. O'Cochlain, in Ballina.

Letters of Ordinance Survey.

Griffith's Primary Valuation of Tenements.

Book of Survey and Distribution.

The following additional information on the Cathach and its shrine may be of interest:.-

(a) Ecclesiastical History of Ireland

By Rev. Thomas Walshe (New York, 1854)

"p. 402 -404. (Donegal) ...The relic of Columcille was called the "Cathach" because borne to their battles by the O'Donnells, princes of Tirconnell.

It is a brass box 9 ½ " long, 8" in breadth and 2" in thickness; it is divided into three arches, supported and separated clustered columns; in the central compartment or arch is a sitting figure of St. Columba, with his hair flowing over his shoulders, holding up his right hand, the third and fourth fingers folded down; in his left holding a book. The arms of the chair on which he sits are curiously carved with eagle heads. In the right arch is a figure of a bishop, in full pontificals, with his mitre, holding up his right hand, the third and fourth fingers folded, and grasping a crozier, with his left. In the third compartment is a representation of the Passion, with a glory around the head; and, as is usually represented, the two Marys, one on each side of the Cross. Over the arms of the cross are engraved two birds, apparently doves, and these figures are chased in relief. Over the right arch is a figure, also chased, of an angel throwing up a censer, under which is engraved a figure of a priest holding something like a , basket or incense-cup, and above is a grotesque figure resembling what is called a wyvern in heraldry. Over the left arch is a similar figure of an angel with a censer, above which is a figure, wyvern-like but with a human face, and below a griffin

"Round the whole box is a chased border of about 3/4" wide, on the top and bottom of which are grotesque figures of wyverns, cockatrices and lions, and on the sides oak leaves and acorns; in each of the corners is a setting of rock crystal; in the centre, at the top, is a crystal setting surrounded by ten gems, a pearl, three small shells, a sapphire and amethysts -all in the rough. Affixed to the right side of the box, at the top, is a silver censer suspended to a curious flexible chain, and on the censer is an inscription in Gothic characters, too much defaced to be legible. The bottom of the "Cathach" is of brass, plated with silver, and

around the rim or outer plate is a mutilated inscription in the Irish character and language requesting a prayer for the artizans who made the box. The sides and ends are of brass, and consist of eight pieces and four connecting plates joined together like hinges. On the front, in the centre, is affixed a semi-circular piece

of silver workmanship, divided into four compartments, by three pillars ornamented with silver wire, all richly gilt. At the bottom is a silver plate on which -, are engraved the letters I H S (Irish characters), richly gilt. On the right, which represents a shrine, are four compartments, and on the left six oblong cones, divided into pairs, one above the other, and surrounded by silver borders –the centre being richly inlaid with pure gold and chased;'

"The back is also divided into fourteen similar compartments; the ten interior were also richly inlaid with gold and chased; the gold inlaying of two is gone and in four others much injured. The four outer compartments were plated with silver and chased in leaves and flowers, Between each pair of compartments are three silver round-headed rivets. The two end-plated have been richly enameled, on which is a silver serpentine pattern, At each end of the four corners is a hollow pillar by which the top of the box was fixed to the body with four thick pins with silver heads, which were so contrived as to be moveable at pleasure."

The contents of this box, when opened, were found to be a rude wooden one, very much decayed, enclosing a manuscript on vellum a copy of the ancient Vulgate translation of the Psalms, of 58 membranes. On one side was a think piece of board covered with red leather.

It was so much injured by damp as to appear almost a solid mass. The manuscript was originally about 9" by 6" wide; it has been much injured at the beginning. All the membranes before the 31st Psalm are gone, and the first few of those which remain are much decayed. The last. membrane contains the first 13 verses of the 106th Psalm. "I have collated several of the Psalms with the Venetian Vulgatge, before mentioned, and find them to agree, nearly word for word" (Sir William Betham, Ulster king-at-arms). It is now the property of Sir Richard O'Donnell, of Newport, Mayo, and is deposited for security in the Royal Irish Academy.

(b) Lectures of the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History

by Eugene O'Curry, M.R.I.A.

Re-issue Dublin: W. B. Kelly, 8 Grafton Street. London: William & Northgate, 1873.

p. 331 ". ..This book of St. Colum Cille must have been encased in an ornamented shrine at some early period; but we find that it was further cared for at the close of the eleventh century by Cathbharr O'Donnell, chief of Tirconnell, and Donnell O'Rafferty, abbot of Kells (in Meath) who was one of the O'Raffertys of Tirconnell, and thus eligible to succeed his family patron saint, Colum Cille, in any of the many churches founded by him throughout Erinn, one of which was the important church of Kells. This O'Rafferty died in the year 1098; and Cathbharr O'Donnell died in the year 1106; so that the magnificent silver-gilt and stone-set case which now surrounds the older cases of this most ancient and interesting relic, must have been made some time before the year 1098, in which this abbot of Kells died. The authority for these dates is found on the shrine itself in the following words:- (see appendix 98) "A prayer for Cathbharr O'Donnell by whom (i.e., by whose desire and at whose expenses) this shrine was made, and for Sitric, the son of MacAedha (MacHugh) who made it; and for Domhnal Ua Robhartuigh (Donnell 0' Rafferty), the Comharba (successor) of Ceannus (Kells) by whom it was made (i.e., at whose joint expenses with that of O'Donnell it was made)".

The last mark of devotion conferred on this relic was a solid silver rim or frame into which the original shrine fits. This rim contains an inscription from which it appears that it was made in the year 1723, by order of Daniel O'Donnell, who, there is reason to believe, fought at the Battle of the Boyne, after which he retired to the Continent. At his death, or some time previously, it ap- pears, he deposited this important heirloom of his ancient family in an monastery in Belgium, with a written injunction that it should be kept until claimed by the true representative of the house of O'Donnell; and here it was discovered accidentally, in or about the year 1816, by a Mrs. Molyneux, an Irish lady who had been travelling on the Continent, and who, upon her return home, reported the circumstances to Sir Neal O'Donnell of Westport. This gentleman had asserted his claim to the chieftanship of his name and race under the

authority of the late Sir William Bentham, Ulster King-at-Arms; and, thus prepared, he applied for the Cathac descended to his son, the present Sir Richard O'Donnell of Newport, county Mayo; who with characteristic liberality has left it for exhibition among the many congenial objects of Christian, historicial and antiquarian reverence preserved in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy".

...The fragment contained is of small quarter form, 58 leaves of fine vellum in small, uniform but rather hurried hand. ..

Ibidem, p. 330. "...that if carried three times to the right around the army of Cinel Conaill at going to battle, it was certain they would return victorious; and that it was upon the breast of an hereditary lay successor, or of a priest without mortal sin (as far as he could help) it was proper the Cathac should be carried around that army."

(From O'Donnell's 'Life of St. Colum Cille.' MS classed 52/2. RIA P 196)

(d) Ordnance Survey Letters (Mayo, Vol. 1, p. 113-4 (folios 216-17)

21 Great Charles St.,

11 th June 1838.

My Dear John (i.e. O'Donovan)

O'Keefe will send you the passages from the Ultonia relative to the Keepers of the Cathach, the MacRaffertys or Roartys, and St. Columb's red stone. But I wish to remove an erroneous supposition, into which you have been led by your Irris informant, that the Cathach was brought into Mayo by the O'Donnells. This is very far indeed from the fact, at least in respect to time, for the first of the Mayo O'Donnells who got it was Sir Neal, the father of the present Sir Richard. The true history of it is this :-

One of the O'Donnells who accompanied James II to France brought it with him and, previously to his death, deposited it in an Irish monastery in Flanders with a written order that it should be given up to the chief of the name when applied for. Here it remained for a long period till accident brought an Irish priest, Father Prendergast, Abbot of Cong, to visit this monastery when he was showed the reliquary and informed of the circumstances connected with its locality there. On his return to Ireland in a few years afterwards the priest, recollecting the facts, stated them to Sir Neal O'Donnell, who was proprietor of Cong: and Sir Neal wrote to his brother, Connell O'Donnell, who was then on the Continent, to apply for the Cathach in his name as Chief of the family. But it was not given up to him till Sir William Betham gave a certificate in right of his office to establish the justness of Sir Neal's claim. How true this certificate was you can yourself judge, but thus the Cathach was obtained. Sir William got a thousand guineas from Sir Neal for his genealogy, which made him Chief of his name, and I may add that the late Dr. O'Connor wrote Sir William a letter denying his right to do so in contrary to historical truth and the concurrent tradition of all the Irish, who were conversant with the history of the family.

The facts relative to the Cathach I have given you as detailed to me by the Rev. Abbot himself, and Sir William Betham acknowledged to me this truth!

Believe me ever, my dear John,

Yours faithfully,

George Petrie.

(e) The Course of Irish History

T.W. Moody & F.X.Martin O.S.A.

Mercier Press, Cork, 1967.

p. 61. Article 4:- The Beginnings of Christianity (5th and 6th Centuries)

by An tAthair Tomas O Fiach, Professor of Modern History,

St. Patrick's College, Maynooth.

p71- 72 .Copying of manuscripts formed an important part of the monastic occupations. The monastic scholar par excellence was the scribe, and Colum Cille and Baithin, the first two abotts of Iona, laid the foundations of a scribal art which, with its later illuminative elements, formed one of the greatest glories of Irish monasticism. Of all the surviving manuscripts, however, only a handful go back to the period with which we are dealing, around the year 600. One is the Cathach, a fragmentary copy of the psalms, traditionally looked upon as the copy made by Colum Cille in his own hand, which led to the battle of CuI Dreimhne and the saint's exile from Ireland. It is now preserved in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, and shows the Irish style of writing before it was subjected to any seventh-century continental influences …

p88-89 While northern England had still been pagan, the Irish were already masters of a fine script. A psalter, known as the Cathach, attributed to St. Columcille, was written about 600, and shows features which later became typical of Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts. In it the scribe provides headings with a series of decorated initials, which diminish in size until they are brought into the body of the text. This was a favourite device of Irish scribes, and can also be seen in the manuscripts from Bobbio. It is used again, with much greater elaboration, in the Book of durrow, which was written a generation or two later. Some modern scholars argue that this book was produced in Northumbria, others say it was written in Ireland or Iona. But wherever it was produced, it was created under the direction of a man who had received an Irish training …..