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O'Kanes Rise to Power

Clan Owen

The rise of the O'Cathain to power in the former territory of Cianachta took place in the century and a half which elapsed between the invasions of the Norsemen and Danes, and that of the Normans. The Norse invasions are the feature of the ninth and tenth centuries. A victory was gained over them at Loch-Febhail (Lough Foyle) from which twelve score heads were brought." A few years later the Norsemen, accompanied by Clan Owen, performed the unprecedented feat of capturing the ancient fortress of Dunseverick by force.

The eleventh century was a century of Clan Owen expansion. In the beginning of this century, a dominant position in Ulster was held by the Clan Owen chief known as Flaherty of the pilgrim staff, so called because he once made a pilgrimage to Rome.. By the middle of this century the men of Magh Ithe (the Clan Connor) came into prominence by raids upon the Oriella, and on the Clan Binny of Loch-Drochait, whose territory has been placed by as the western side of the River Bann north of Lough Neagh.


Since the original territory of Clan Connor was in East Donegal, it would be natural to suppose that they conquered North Derry by crossing the Foyle and progressing eastwards. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that under the year 1076 AD the Annals of Ulster record: "The defeat of Belat was inflicted by Aedh Ua Mael-Sechlainn and by the men of Magh-Itha upon the Ciannachta, so that stark slaughter of them was inflicted." Belat has disappeared as a p]ace name; but it appears on the Plantation map of Sir Thomas Phillips, covering the Grocers' lands, and is about a couple of miles east of the River Foyle. Here indeed, between the Foyle and the Faughan, part of Clan Connor settled, the Clan Dermot, who gave their name to the parish of Glendermott or Clandermott..

There are very definite signs of pressure by the Clan Owen upon the tribes to the west of Lough Neagh and the Bann during this century, a pressure in which the men of Magh Ithe or Clan Connor take part. Of these tribes, the Ui Tuirtre lay to the west of the northem part of Lough Neagh, the various septs of Clan Binny and Fir Li to the west of the Bann, and the Cianachta of Glinne-Geimhin in the valley of the Roe. The signs of this pressure are clearly recorded in the Annals in raid and retaliation. It has been already noticed that the men of Magh Ithe raided the most southerly of the Clan Binny septs, the Clan Binny of LochDrochait-this is recorded under the year 1053. Twice in the next quarter of a century it is recorded that the king of Tullyhog was killed by Clan Binny, while in 1081 they killed the chief of Ui Tuirtre. It should be noted that in the later occasions when Clan Binny appears in the Annals, it is always the sept known as Clan Binny of the Glen, which was the farthest north. At this particular period Clan Binny appear to be a buffer state between the northerly pressure of the Tullyhog chieftains and the Cianachta of North Derry. Earlier in the century the Annals record direct clashes between Clan Owen and the Cianachta; under 1014 when Denis Gough, chief of Cianachta, was slain; and under 1023, when the Clan Owen chieftain was slain by his own brother and the Cianachta of Glinne-Geimhin. It would almost seem as if the centre of pressure was moving eastwards during this century towards Lough Neagh and the Bann, just as the seat of the Owen kingdom moved from Aileach to Tullyhog.

In the opening years of the twelfth century, internal troubles appear in the Cianachta territory. In 1101 Echri Ua Maelmuire, chief of Cianachta, was killed by O'Connor of Glinne-Geimhin; while three years later the O'Connor chieftain of Cianachta was killed by his own people. Finally, in 1122, O'h Ainiarraidh, the chief of Cianachta, was killed by his own brothers in the middle tlle cemetery of Banagher.

Just four years previously it is recorded that the chief of Fer- managh was killed by a tribe living at Ardstraw and by the men of Craebh (or Creeve, near Coleraine). Then in 1138 it is recorded that "Raghnall, son of Imhar Ua Cathain, lord of the of the Craebh, Cianachta and Fir Li, fell through treachery and guile, the Ui-Eoghain of the Valley." The valley people are evidently Clan Binny, and the O'Cahan killed ushers the O'Cahan clan into a stormy future that occupies a large place in Ulster history for the next five and a half centuries. This is the first mention of the O'Cahans in the Annals, and it is perhaps appropriate that their coming was preceded by a great storm in the previous year. By 1138 they are obviously masters not only of the Creeve, but also of Cianachta and Fir-Li.

O'Cahans Rise Within Clan Connor

These changes pass silently in the Annals. It is difficult, however, to resist the impression that the centre of pressure moves toward Tullyhog, which was burned in retaliation in 1011, and had its trees uprooted by the Ulidians a century later. The best interpretation of the facts which are available seems to be that while Donnell McLaughlin, King of Clan Owen, was exerting pressure to the west and south from Tullyhog, Clan Connor and particularly the O'Cahans were pressing north until we find that the tribes of Fir Li and Ui Tuirtre are driven across the Bann, that Clan Binny is subdued and soon disappears from the Annals, while the O'Connors, once chiefs of Cianachta, are forced eventually into the position of small farmers in the district they previously ruled.

This interpretation of the evidence as pointing to the O'Cahan thrust against Cianachta as coming from the south up the Bann valley and then across the mountains must remain tentative. There is, however, some corroborating evidence. First, A. Moore Munn notes two townland names in the parish of Killelagh which he thinks point to the original settlcment of the O'Cahans, or Kanes, Tirkane (the country of Kane), and Half Gayne (the stone house of Kane). Tamneymullan, north of Maghera, must at one time have been occupied by an O'Mullan. Both the O'Mullans and the O'Cahans were descended from Connor.

By this period O'Cahan has assumed pre-eminence inside the Clan Connor. These place names confirm the tradition that O'Cahan's country at an early stage extended down to Lough Neagh.

Second, in the mountainous area between the Roe Valley and South Derry, there are a remarkable series of place names which may possibly commemorate struggles which have left no mark upon written annals of Ulster. They are as follows:
Slaghtaverty - parish of Errigal;
Slaghfreeden - parish of Lissan;
Slaghtbogy (Slatevoylagh, Slatgolan) - parish of Maghera:
Slaghtneill - parish of Killelagh;
Slaghtmanus - parish of Cumber Lower.

Similar names have been preserved which have not become modern townland names. The Phillips manuscripts give the following place-names on the Skinner's lands:
Slatelons,
Slatmone Latmiske.

In the parish of Rasharkin in the townland of Crushybracken is a place called Slaghttaggaart. It will be noticed that the word Slaght (meaning monument for the dead) is in a number of these instances connected with a proper name such as Neill, Manus and Averty. These may, of course, be connected with some earlier struggles, but it is noteworthy that Manus or Magnus is a Norse name, and that therefore this name is subsequent to the Norse invasions.

Finally, it may be noted that the O'Cahans, who were always generous benefactors to the Church, founded an Augustinian priory at Dungiven at a very early date. Their earliest connections with the North Derry area seem to be at the Creeve, and in the range of hills between the Bann and Roe. It is as O'Cahan of the Creeve, with the daughter of O'Henery (probably his wife), that the O'Cahan chief at the later date of 1192 presents the doorway of the refectory of the Black Church of Columkille in Derry. The O'Cahans sometimes regretted their generosity to the Church at a later stage.

This summarises the facts, which point to the O'Cahan conquest of Cianachta as coming from the Bann valley and across the mountains. James O'Kane, of the parish of Swateragh, known as thc bard of Carntogher, wrote of this close connection with Dungiven in the lines:
" Dungiven , when darkness and silence surround you,
Enfolding your mountains that rise by the Roe,
I think of the glories that covered and crowned you,
Your power and your splendour in days long ago.

Here stood the strong castle and halls of O'Cahan,
Here spread the broad acres held under his sway,
Beyond the Moyola, the Bann and the Faughan,
And here lies the dust of their chieftain to-day.

Yes, here does he rest in your old church, Dungiven,
Who often in battle defeated the foe,
Unfurled Erin's flag to the free winds of Heaven,
And marshalled his troops on the banks of the Roe."

Annuals of Ulster

From 1138 AD the O'Cahans appear regularly in the Annals. The following references to them in the succeeding years illustrate the type of material which is available, which does not lend itself to connected narrative.

1156 AD. Aedh, son of Ruaidhri Ua Canannain, lord of Cinel-Conaill (Donegal) was slain by Ua Cathain and Feara-na-Craeibhe (Men of the Creeve) by treachery.

1157 AD. (The Cinel Owen lead an army into Leinster and Connaught and into King's County.) This host was defeated and many of them were slain, together with Ua Cathain of Creeve. (The Connaught men meantime had invaded Tyrone and plundered the country as far as Coolkeenaght in the parish of Faughanvale.)

1167 AD. (The men of Leinster and lords of Desmond and Thomond dlivide Tyrone between Neill McLaughlin and Hugh O'Neill.) The part north of the mountain, i.e., Callainn (Slieve Gallion), to Niall Ua Lochlainn for two hostages, Ua Cathain of Craebh and Macan-Ghaill Ua Brain. (This illustrates the importance of the O'Cahans, for it was generally from the most important sub-clan that hostages were drawn. It also illustrates the close connection between the McLaughlins and the O'Cahans, a connection that Dr. O'Kelly has noted also between the McLaughlins and the the men of Magh Ithe.)

1171 AD. A great predatory force was led by Maghnus Mac Duinn sleibhe Ua hEochadha and the Ulidians into Cuil-an-tuaisceirt, and they plundered Cuil-rathain (Coleraine) and other churches. A small party of the Cinel-Eoghain (Clan Owen) under Conchobhair Ua Cathain overtook them, and a battle was fought between them, in which the Ulidians were defeated, with the loss of 21 chieftains and sons of chieftains, with many others; and Maghnus himself was wounded, but he escaped from the conflict on that occasion. (Magnus McDonlevy, whose unrighteous doings are deplored by the Annals, was the ruler of the petty kingdom of Ulidia, which had its capital at Downpatrick in County Down. Twescard is a district in North Antrim stretching from Coleraine over to Armoy and Loughgiel. It is interesting to notice that this attack on North Antrim was countered by the O'Cahans, and it is probable that they had extended their sway from the Creeve to portion of North Antrim at a very early date.)

1175 AD. The Kinel Enda were defeated and a great slaughter made of them by Eachmarcach O'Kane and Niall O'Gormley. (The territory of Enda was thirty quarterlands south of Inishowen. As already mentioned, the Gormleys were the leading sept of Clan Moen, and settled to the east and north-east of Strabane.)

1178 AD. Randal, the son of Eachmarcach O'Kane, had been slain by the Kinel-Moen in the beginning of this summer. (Eachmarcach was the chief of the O'Cahans or O'Kanes at this period. Evidently the pact with Clan Moen was of a very temporary duration; this clan bordered on that section of Clan Connor Magh Ithe, known as the Clan Dermot, whose lands were north of theirs.)

The Time of the O'Cathains had come but already the present of the Anglo-Norman invader threated to make this ascendancy a short one.

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