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Inauguration of the 'O'Cahan'

The inauguration of the O'Neill

The Chief of the O'Neills conferred on the O'Cahan the title of "eriagh Thee O'Caughan" or "Chief of the O'Cahans". This is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic Title which may be reasonably reconstructed as Oireachtaidhe Ui Chathaidn, meaning the noble O'Cahan, or indeed Chief of the O'Cahans. Sources claims that The O'Neill bequeathed to the O'Cahan Chief "lands in Coleraine, Garvagh, Limavady, Kilrea and several other places. This making up the greater part of the County of Coleraine, later to be renamed the County of Londonderry in Plantation times.

On the day of the inauguration, mass is celebrated by the Primate of Armagh, who gave instructions to each participant in the ceremony concerning the duties he was to carry out. A procession was then formed, headed by a priest with a cross, followed by the king elect, and included princes, lords, councillors and guards, and its approach to the hill was announced by trumpeters. The inauragation was performed by O'Cathain and O'hagan; O'Donnaile was his marshall of hosts. When it had arrived and all had taken up their assigned stations the prince took his seat on the crowning stone, when he had King Cormac's instructions, or Book of instructions of Kings, read to him by his chief bard, after which he took the oath, on the Bell of St Patrick, to preserve the customs of the country inviolate, to rule justly, and to give up his office peacefully if he should become old or infirm or be deposed.

O'Cahan Chiefest of O'Neill's Urraghs

He then laid aside his sword and battle-dress, and received a rod or white wand, straight and stainless, from O'Cathain, this being a symbol that be would not need to rule his people by force and that his reign would be uncorrupted. His shoe was taken off and placed on St Patrick's flagstone, bearing the impression of the feet of the first chief of the Cinel Owen. A pair of new sandals was now fastened on his feet. One junior chief retained one royal shoe as a memento while another is cast by O'Cathain ( chiefest of O'Neill's urraghs) over his head for luck. The king then arose from his chair, turned round three times and left to right and three times from right to left in honour of the holy Trinity, and in order to view his dominions on every side. This done, a sub-chief pronounced in a loud voice the surname of O'Neill, followed single by clergy, the remaining sub-chiefs, and freeholders, when he was loudly cheered by the thousands of spectators, "amid the clang of bucklers and the music of a hundred harps" When the noise had subsided the Primate performed the anointing and crowning ceremony and homage to the church where a second homily was delivered, and when this had finished festivities began on Tullagh Og (the hill of the youth).

The putting off of the shoes symbolized a renunciation of authority and dedication to the will of the people, a custom prevalent in ancient Israel where to remove a man's shoe was a disgrace, and to take it off voluntarily and give it to a neighbour was a pledge, "concerning redeeming, and concerning changing, for to confirm all things." Boaz, in the BOOK of Ruth, drew off his shoe when he purchased the parcel of land from Naomi The placing of the foot, at the inauguration, in the stone print, was the chieftain's act of seisin, or taking possession of his authority and lands. The rod in Israel was the emblem of patriarchal Leadership.

Later Conflict With O'Neill

The use of the shoe at the ceremony was to cause controversy between Hugh O'Neill and Domhnall Ballach O'Cathain after the nine years war, concerning the "cios ri" when O'Cathain acknowledged himself to be "urriagh and chief feudatory to O'Neill his Lord".

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