Saturday, March 3, 2018

Magh Gabhlin, Donegal, Castle of Iníon Dubh,

Magh Gaibhlin Castle on the Foyle (© 2018 Carolyn McKane)

Magh Gaibhlin is the land and castle of Fionnuala Ni Dhónaill née Nic Dhónaill... known in Irish history as Iníon Dubh (dark haired daughter).   She was a Scottish Gaelic princess by birth, the daughter of Seamus Mac Dhónaill of the Glens of Antrim and Islay, Taoiseach Chann Eáin Mhóir.  Her mother was Anna Mhic Dhónaill née Caimbeul, daughter of the third Earl of Argyll.   Iníon Dubh’s first cousin was none other than the fifth Earl of Argyll, the brilliant, Giolla Easpuig Donn Caimbeul.  Iníon Dubh and her family were part of the highest echelons of Gaelic aristocracy.  Her husband was Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill, taoiseach of Clann Uí Dhónaill .   They were married in late summer 1569 on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Antrim. Iníon Dubh settled down in Magh Gaibhlin Castle, in what is now Porthall, Donegal.

The Calendar of State Papers for Ireland recorded her possessions and it reads:

From Cul-Mac-Tryan runs a bogg three myles in length to the side of Lough Foyle – in the midst of the bogg is a standing Loughe called Bunaber – here at Bunaber dwells O’Donnell’s mother (Ineed Dubh MacDonnell).  Three miles above Cargan stands a fort called McGevyvelin (Magh Gaibhlin) upon the river of Lough Foyle – O’Donnell’s mother’s chief house.

While some of these anglicised names are crude, the boundaries of Iníon Dubh's land can be easily located. The parcel of land was in the Portlough precinct which was an administrative district that corresponded to Taughboyne, All Saints, Raymoghy, and part of Raphoe parishes today.  The area comprises the heart of the Lagan District in Donegal.

A Redshank soldier 1590s © 2018 Dave Swift

Iníon Dubh went on to become one of the most important people in Ireland in the late 1500s.  She recruited an army of Gaelic Redshanks from mid-Argyll that settled on her estates around Magh Gaibhlin, from Porthall, north to StJohnston, to Carrigans.  These villages were on the Foyle River and her Redshank soldiers protected the river landings for the Ó Dónaill clan.  Iníon Dubh’s Redshank army was passionately loyal to her and they became the elite soldiers for Clann Uí Dhónaill.  She was the mother of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill.  His vision and the work of his life, was to make Ireland free of English domination.  Aodh Rua used his army and considerable military skills to wage war on the Elizabethan English who were trying to conquer Ulster.  In 1592, Aodh Rua became taoiseach of Clann Uí Dhónaill, after his dramatic escape from the dungeons of Dublin Castle. He eventually made peace with his rivals, Clann Uí Neill, and formed an alliance with them. 

Aodh Mór Ó Neill and Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill led their combined forces against the Elizabethan English. The two Irish chiefs came so very close to defeating  the English and winning independence for Ireland in the Nine Years War (1593-1603).  At the Battle of Kinsale (1602 NS), all was lost however.   
There is a chapter in my book, Finding the McCains, were I give a history of Iníon Dubh.  I find her one of the most romantic and most tragic figures in Irish history.  Magh Gaibhlin Castle is in complete ruins now, just a forlorn memory of its past glory.  It is still has a quiet beauty that one finds often in Ireland.  Magh Gaibhlin is a haunted place, with a bitter sweet sadness to it.  I became interested in the castle and its history while researching my family's connection to Iníon Dubh and Magh Gaibhlin. 

© 2018 Barry R McCain   

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