Sunday, October 18, 2015

Iníon Dubh

Iníon Dubh (said, Nee-an doo) is one of the most remembered and beloved heroines in Irish history.  Iníon Dubh was her pet name which means 'black haired daughter.'   Her real name was Fionnuala Ní Dhónaill née Nic Dhónaill.

Iníon Dubh was a pivotal figure in the history of Ireland.  She was the catalyst of a migration of Highland Scots, called Redshanks, into west Ulster.  This migration began in the late 1560s and continued on into the early 1600s.  Most of these Redshanks were from mid Argyll and Lennox.   

She was a Gaelic aristocrat, the daughter of the Taoiseach (chief) of clann Dhónaill, Seamus Mac Dónaill, and Anna Chaimbeul, the daughter of the third Earl of Argyll, head of clann Chaimbeul. 

She was a woman of considerable skills and talents.   She was born on Islay and spent much of her early life in the Scottish Court in Edinburgh. She was multi lingual, speaking her native Gaelic, Latin, and English.   She left the Scottish court just prior to the fall of Mary Queen of Scots.  This move very probably suggested by her very powerful cousin, Giolla Easpuig Donn Caimbeul, the Taoiseach of Clann Chaimbeul and the fifth Earl of Argyll.  

Due to a complex series of events and a course of action initiated by her cousin Lord Argyll, she married Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill in the summer of 1569.   She moved to the Laggan district of Donegal with some 1,000 Redshanks recruited from clans Caimbeul and Mac Dónaill.  Over the next thirty years more Highland Scots, called Redshanks, migrated to east Donegal, brought there by Iníon Dubh and later her son, Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill, as part of an Ó Dónaill military build-up to counter both Clann Uí Neill and later the English.

the ruins of Iníon Dubh's Mongavlin Castle today



With her husband's health failing, she became the de facto taoiseach of Clann Uí Dhónaill by the mid 1580s.  She was by this time also the most powerful person in west Ulster, because she commanded her own army of very devoted Redshanks. 

Iníon Dubh was the mother of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill who led his west Ulster army to many victories against the English in the Nine Years War (1594-1603).  During the time when her son Aodh Rua was imprisoned in Dublin, she was threatened, by the English and rival claims to the headship of the Ó Dónaill clan.  Iníon Dubh used her Redshank and Ó Dónaill followers expertly and successful thwarted all attempts to oust her.  She even personally lead her army of Redshanks to victory at the battle of Derrylaghan in 1590.  

She lived at Mongavlin just south of St Johnston, in east Donegal.  The remains of her castle are still standing.  Her legacy still lives in Donegal in the many families there that are of Redshank origin.

I had studied her life and times when working on my history degree.  I found her one to be one of the most remarkable figures in both Irish and Scottish history.  Years later, I discovered my own family was connected to her.  My family, the McCains, i.e. the Mac Eáin family of Dunamuck, Glassary, in mid Argyll, were one of the Redshank families that migrated with her to the Laggan district in east Donegal. 

An account of her remarkable career, and life and times, is in the book Finding the McCains.  I also told her story in my first book,  The Laggan Redshanks, which also includes a 1630 muster roll from the Port Lough precinct (from Port Hall to just north to St Johnston area in the Laggan) and included notes on some of the clans and surnames of the Highland Scot families that settled there.

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