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The Betrayal of The Last O'Kane Chief

A Chief's Lament


A chief far famed for liberal affluence,
For wise discretion and conducting sense,
Whom sages honour and learned commend,
The minstrels' patron, and the clergy's friend.

In his sad bower and damsel bands are pale,
And weep their chieftain and unwearied wail,
With lamentation oft renewed they mourn,
And know no joy, but hope for his return.

When Croghan's fate in battles fearful scale,
Hung trembling yet and their fair dames looked pale,
His arm rolled back the battle from afar,
Chief of valiant - Ulster's leading star.

With jewelled wealth and gay magnificence,
Whose bounteous tables heaped with princely hand,
Diffused a grateful odour o'er the land,
There met the brave, there came the poorest distrest,
And there the minstrel was an honoured guest.
O'Kane the brave, the generous to dispose,
Wealth to his friends - destruction to his foes,
Sword, fire and plunder followed where he trod,
And peace and mercy vanished at his nod.

End of a Line of Princes

The O'Cathain bard laments the pasting of his great chief. Sir Donnell O'Cathain's death brings an end to the line of O'Cathain Chiefs of Ulster and the twilight of Gaelic Ulster. The last bastion of the Gaelic world, Ulster was to become the most anglicised of all.

The events leading to this moment, resulted from the events in the year of 1607, The Flight of the Earls was to become a significant turning point in what was to be the final reduction of Gaelic Ulster. These events were the beginning of the end for the Great Houses of the UI Neill, not only for those who had fled but also for those who remained. Donnell O'Cathain was not onboard the ship that slipped out of Lough Swilly on the night of 14th September 1607. The reason for this is explained in the relationship between O'Neill and O'Cathain at the beginning of 1605.

Donnell O'Cathain claims, where well founded and morally justified, in relation to ownership of the lands of Coleraine, unfortunately he had become an obstacle to the wider plans of the Crown. The government had become suspicious and wary of O'Cathain, either by implication in the plotting of the Earl of Tyrone or by his opposition to the progress of the Reformation in his territory.

King James I and council at Whitehall on the 24th of January 1607 write to the Deputy Chichester as follows:

"It remaineth now that we say something to you concerning our intention to bring either McMahon or O'Cahane to reason if they stand out to open contempt; first, that as far as may be without dishonour, you do draw them to obedience by shaking the rod over him, rather than by engaging His Majesty's martial power; next, in case that fail, and thereby the notoriety of their refusal give ill example to others, His Majesty is pleased you shall use your discretion in ranging them to conformity by drawing down some force upon them." Hence, already a notable number of individuals were waiting for O'Cathain to make a mistake and so provide evidence for his conviction and forfeit of his ancient lands.

The protestant Bishop of Derry, signalled his contempt for O'Cathain when he remarked that "I will not trust you; for I know that one bottle of aquavitae ( whiskey) will draw you from me to the earl"

Sir Arthur Chichester, a once formidable enemy of O'Cathain, retorted of him in a letter dated 31st October 1609;

"Sir Donnell O'Cahane has ever been reputed a man true to his word, valiant but inactive as may be seen"

Similarly, the Rev George Hill regarded O'Cathain,

".as a man, however, of a fickle and selfish disposition, who would not brook disappointments, nor tolerate any superior on that territory he had come to regard as his own special inheritance."

O'Cathains future was looking increasingly bleak for "he no sooner ceased to be useful than be became obnoxious to the Government." Yet his fate was close at hand for in February 1608 Donnell O'Cathain was arrested by Sir Thomas Philips and charged with treason. The records of the Crown arrested him for " sundry misdemeanours and great presumption of treason".

O'Cathain who seeing the enemies around him, was at his own request committed to Dublin castle. O'Cathain believing that by doing so he was showing his innocence of these charges, the dye had already been cast for O'Cathain, 1607 had seen the appointment of a board of commissioners and the lands of the O'Cathain Sept where earmarked for plantation by a group of merchants from the city of London. One observer commented.

The Tower of London

"It was felt to be desirable that O'Cahan should be entirely put out of the way".

Once in prison, there was always some crisis created to continually hold O'Cathain. Shane Carragh O'Cathain brother to O'Cathain made accusations against him, in return for land in Coleraine, which was never honoured. Similarly other accusations and depositions were made against him, including one from his other brother Manus O'Cathain, one from Gilduff O'Mullan and one from Dennis O'Mullan

So all along a strong case of disloyalty and treason was being developed and manufactured against Sir Donnell O'Cahan. Six counts of treason were issued, the principal elements indicated that he intended to go with O'Neill and that he was implicated in Shane Carragh's rising. According to Mullin, "it was clear that no Irish jury would convict him on evidence offered, and no case was ever brought. Never the less, O'Cathain continued to argue his innocence's, on numerous occasions writing letters to the Crown, asking to be heard on the charges against him. Despite these protests, the world of Gaelic Ulster was about to be turned up side down, for the great scheme had arrived, "The Plantation of Ulster."

Sir Donnell O'Cathains intendment was to take a new dimension, for in July of 1610 he was removed from Dublin and sent to the tower of London where he continued to argue his innocence through various letters to his family and to Crown officials. O'Cathain lived out his final years in the Tower of London and died in 1628, as the last in a long line of O'Cathain Princes.

O'Cathain with foresight may well have taken his own advise and

"bade the Devil take all English men and as put their trust in them"

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