The O’Dowds, together with other families, are descended from the 5th century pagan King of Connacht, Fiachra Foltsnathach (of the Flowing Hair), who was the son of Echu Mugmedon, High King at Tara, and were originally known as the Ui Fiachrach, ie descendants of Fiachra. This name continued in use up to the 10th century.
Kings at Tara
Echu Mugmedon: He was King of Connacht until 358 AD, when he became High King of Ireland. During his reign, the Irish carried out raids on the coast of Roman Britain and took many captives whom they made slaves: Echu was called “Lord of Slaves.” His wife was Mongfinn, daughter of Fidegh, King of Munster, and their children were the ancestors of the principal families of Connacht, O’Connor, O’Dowd, O’Heynes, O’Shaughnessy. His son Amhalghaidh (+449) gave his name to Tirawley (Tir-Amhalghaidh). Echu died in 366, and was succeeded by Mongfinn’s brother, Crimthann Mor, who was poisoned by his sister to seize the throne of Tara for her favourite son, Brian, but she was thwarted by Niall of the Nine Hostages, a son of Echu Mugmedon by his second wife, Carinna. (see ‘Tale of the Ambitious Queen Mother’ in Stories ).
Left: Hill of Tara
Daithi: Nath, King of Connacht was known as Daithi because of his skill in “defending himself by the activity of his hands in guarding against arrows.” (Leabhar na h-Uidhri) It is said that he had three wives and produced 24 sons, from whom many leading families, including the O’Dowds, trace their lineage.
In 402, when his uncle, Niall of the Nine Hostages was killed, Daithi was elected High King at Tara. He set about establishing order at home, before setting out to Gaul to avange the death of Niall, although Niall had actually been killed by an Irishman. He led an army into Britain and across the Channel onto the continent, having been proclaimed King of Alba (Scotland), Britannia (England) and Gaul (France) “as far as the Alps.”
In 445, his troops entered the Alps with the intention, it seems, of crossing into Italy, where the Roman Empire had recently crumbled. It was in the Alps that his men knocked down a tower in which the hermit, St Formenius had chosen to live “cut off from the light of the world.” The enraged saint called upon God to end the life of the Irish king, and at that moment, Daithi was struck by lightning and killed.
His son, Aillil Molt, took command of the army and set out for Ireland to bury Daithi in the royal burial grounds. On the way back they were attacked several times and the Annals claim that 10 battles were fought on land and 9 at sea. The names of some of these battles are – Corpar, Conge, Cime, Colom, Faile, Miscal, Lundunn, Corte, Moile, Grenius and Fermir -although the locations are now unknown. In all these, the Irish were victorious, as their enemies were led to believe that Daithi was still alive, and fled in terror. This was achieved by Aillil having a burning sponge placed in the mouth of the dead king, and the vapours from this made it seem that he was still breathing.
On their return, the Irish buried their High King in the Royal Rath at Cruachan, and erected a red pillar to mark the place where the last pagan High King was laid. Years later, this pillar fell over, apparently fulfilling the curse of Formenius that Daithi should have no lasting memorial. This situation has since been rectified and the stone is again upright. The new High King, Laoghaire, son of Niall, was converted to Christianity by St Patrick, whom his father had first brought to Ireland as a slave.
Aillil Molt: Aillil, son of Daithi, succeeded to the throne at Tara about 460, and reigned for 20 years. He was King of Connacht when it is recorded that the Gregraidhe (“Horse People”) in Tirawley opposed St Patrick and the druids beat their shields and threw stones at him. (Book of Armagh) Aillil engaged in a long war with Leinster, and was killed in a battle at Faughan, near Navan in Co. Meath, in 482. With his death, the Ui Fiachrach lost the throne of Tara.
Kings of Connacht
For another 400 years, the Ui Fiachrach provided Connacht with her Kings, but there was opposition from the Ui Neill and Ui Briuin for much of the period.
Eogan Bel: Eogan succeeded his uncle, Macc Ercae, as King of Connacht, but was opposed by two of his nephews, who gained the support of the Ui Neill of Ulster. The two armies met at Sligo and the slaughter was so great that the Garavogue ran red with the blood of the fallen: “The Sligeach bore to the sea The blood of men and their flesh,” (Annals of the Four Masters). Eogan Bel was mortally wounded and ordered the victorious Connachtmen (although the Ulster Annals claim a victory for the Northerners), that he should be “buried standing, his red javelin in his hand, with his face towards Ulster, as if bidding defiance to his enemies.” (Life of St Ceallach) The Annals give the site of his burial as “Rath O’Fiachrach”, which is now unknown, although Knocknarea in Carbury has been suggested. It was claimed that while he stood there, Connacht would never be defeated, and so some years later, Ulstermen disinterred his body and buried it face down elsewhere (Aenach Locha Gile, in the Ulster account). Eogan Bel fell in 543.
In 603, Mael Cothair of Rathmulcah, King of Connacht, was defeated by Ui Neill at Aughris, and Ui Neill “Saints” (clergy) were installed at Skreen, Templeboy, Alternan, Inishmurray, Ballisodare and Easky. Nevertheless, the Ui Fiachrach continued to provide the ruling family of Connacht and Dunchad Muirisce (slain 683), his son, Indrechtach (slain 707), and grandsons, Tipraite (+719) and Aillil Medraige (+ 764) were successively Kings and another son, Airectach was “Lord of Ui Fiachrach” in 735.. In the reign of Cathmug (+787) the Ui Briuin ancestors of the O’Connors successfully opposed the King and took over the Kingship of Connacht. As a result if these incursions, the Ui Fiachrach was split into two groups: Ui Fiachrach Aidhne in County Galway, and Ui Fiachrach Muaidhe in Sligo and Mayo and it was the latter group, the Ui Fiachrach of the Moy, that provided the Kings of North Connacht. In the time of Cathal (+816), the Vikings were a serious threat to the coast of Ui Fiachrach, burning Inishmurray in 807. Cathmug’s nephew Dubhda became King of North Connacht in the 9th century, and in 891 the Ui Amhalghadha slaughtered a Viking party, killing Elair, son of Barid of Limerick.
In 904, Joseph of Loch Conn of UI Fiachrach, Abbot of Clonmacnoise, died.. In the 10th century, the King of North Connacht was Aedh Ua Dubhda, ie. Aedh, grandson of Dubhda, and his descendants continued to use this designation as their surname.
O’Dubhda Kings of North Connacht
The genealogy of Aedh O’Dubhda’s son, Maelruanaidh, was first written down about 1,000, and is preserved in the “Book of Leinster” that was compiled by Aedh MacCrimthainn between 1150 and 1220. The MacFirbis family of bardic scholars preserved these records and added the deeds of successive chieftains up to the 17th century, and the following is based upon one of these manuscripts, the “Great Book of Lecan”, which is now in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.
It seems clear that the O’Dubhda and O’Caoimhin families fought over the chieftainship, as the latter were of the senior line of the family of Conmac, son of Donnacht, King of Connacht. The O’Dubhda were the eventual winners, and only one O’Caoimhin became King, It was this conflict that doubtless gave rise to the legend of St Gerald’s curse. (see Stories)
The genealogy is as follows:
Aodh O’Dubhda +982
Maelruanaidh +1006 He was a supporter of Brian Boru. He, his brother and son all died in 1006, probably of plague, which the Annals state “was raging in Connacht.”
Conchobhar +1032 Killed by a kinsman, son of Niall.
Muirchtach Fionn O’Caoimhin ? The only member of the O’Caoimhin family to hold the office of King of North Connacht
Aodh +1059 Annals record “killed by his own people.”
Muircheartach an Cullach +1096 “Killed by his own people.”
Domhnall Fionn +1126 Drowned returning from a raid on Tirconnell.
Amalgaidh slain 1135
MacDomhnaill Ui Dubhda slain 1136
Aodh +1143 The first record of the MacFirbis surname is recorded in 1138, where the death of
Amhlaoibh Mor Mac Firbis, “Ollamh Ui Fiachrach in Seanchus” is recorded in the Abbey of Cong.
Brian Dearg +1153 Drowned on his way home from a pilgrimage to Rome.
Ruari Mear (1175) Cosnamhach O’Dubhda was the Commander of the Fleet of High King Turlough O’Connor, and commanded the fleet that defeated a Scots fleet off Inishowen in 1154. The Scots leader, MacSceilig, was wounded, but O’Dubhda was killed. The centre of the O’Dubhda kingdom at this time was Errew on Lough Conn, and the territory extended from Cill Deirbhle in Erris to Ierainn in Leitrim, and from Ballinrobe on the Galway/Mayo border to Drumcliffe in Sligo.
Taithleach slain1192 The Rock of Ce was struck by lightning, and the daughter of O’Dubhda was killed.
Aedh ? 1195, O’Dubhda led the army of North Connacht against O’Dochartaigh.
Donnchadh Mor +1226 Donnchadh attacked Clew Bay in 1213,with his own fleet and 56 ships he had hired in the Hebrides. This forced the King of Connacht, the powerful Cathal Crobderg O’Connor, to concede the right of the Ui Fiachrach to hold their kingdom free of taxes. An earlier attempt to hire Hebridean ships, in 1220, had failed when Maelruanaidh O’Dubhda was drowned. D’Alton records that O’Dubhda set upon refugees supporting Turlough O’Connor, and “seized their cattle, leaving them destitute.”
Brian Dearg +1242 In 1237, the Anglo-Normans invaded Connacht, bringing with them families like the Barretts, Burkes, Berminghams (Corish), Albanagh (Scott), Cusack and Fitzgeralds. Norman castles were built in O’Dubhda territory at Ardnarea, Castleconor, Enniscrone and Sligo.
Muircheartach +1248 Joined with O’Boyle to attack Carbury with their joint fleets in 1247.
Taithleach Muaidhe +1282 According to the Annals, Taithleach was “at constant war with the English to defend his territory.” In 1281, he allied with the Cusacks and O’Boyle to drive the Barretts out of Tirawley (Mayo) and a huge battle was fouht at Moyne. It is recorded “There were two Irishmen who surpassed the companies of both sides in prowess … named Taihleagh O’Dubhda and Taihleagh O’Boyle.” The alliance with Cusack was short-lived, as the next year, Adam Cusack attacked O’Dubhda at Tragh Eoile, near Ballisodare, and killed him. The spot was called Beal Atha Tailtigh (the mouth of Tahilly’s ford).
Conchobhar Conallach +1291 Drowned in the Shannon in 1291 while on his way to attack de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster. D’Alton records that The O’Dowda was one of the many, including Felim O’Connor, King of Connacht, killed at the battle of Athenry (10 August 1316) in support of Edward Bruce during his invasion of Ireland. The first name of this O’Dubhda is not recorded.
Sean Brian +1354 Managed to hold his remaining territory free from invasion, and died at an advanced age. In 1344, William O’Dubhda was elected Bishop of Killala.
O’Dubhda Taoiseach of Tireragh
In the latter years of the 14th century, the Irish title Ri (King) came to be replaced by that of Taoiseach (Chief). It was customary for these Chiefs to be known by the patronymic, ie “The O’Dubhda” and to style themselves simply as “O’Dubhda” (or Ui Dubda in Irish). To ensure that the clan would not be left leaderless – warfare and disease were never far away – it was normal practise to elect an heir, or Tanaiste. The Tanaiste did not necessarily succeed the Chief, although in many instances this did happen. About the same time, the territory occupied by the Northern Ui Fiachrach came to be known as Tireragh, “Fiachrach’s Country”, and the Chief was referred to as Taoiseach of Tireragh. The O’Dubhda are fortunate in that the ceremony of inauguration was preserved in the writings of the bardic family of MacFirbis. (See ‘Inauguration of a Chief’ in Stories)
Donal Cleireach O’Dubhda +1381 He was elected Tanaiste in 1344 and expelled the last of the Gall (Anglo-Irish) from Tireragh in1371. Brian O’Dubhda was elected Bishop of Killala in 1381.
Ruari +1417 Elected Tanaiste in 1375. He was the patron of Giolla Iosa Mor Mac Firbis when he compiled the Yellow Book of Lecan in 1391, and the Great Book of Lecan in 1397. When Turlough O’Connor took the oath of homage to King Richard II of England in 1395, he was given power to bind his Urraghts, among whom O’Dowd of Tireragh is listed , to the King. In 1402, Domhnall O’Dubhda was elected Bishop of Killala, and died the same year.
Tadhg Riabhach +1432 He lived at Enniscrone Castle and sponsored Augustinian Abbeys at Ardnarea and Scurmore,and provided Bishops of Killala. He was the patron of the Mac Firbis “Annals of Lecan” (now lost).
Maelruanaidh +1450 After his death there seems to have been a civil war in Tireragh, and Aedh O’Dubhda left the area and settled in Drogheda, where he founded a family that came to be known as the Dowds of Dublin. In 1436, Maghnus O’Dubhda was elected Bisop of Killala. !438 , Concobar, Chieftain of Clann Donnchaidh O’Dubhda of Coolcarney, was killed. Tadhg O’Dubhda’s son was killed by a spear by his brother in 1443.
Donall og (1454/7) Elected Tanaiste in 1447. In 1452, Aodh O’Dubhda filed an Affidavit in Dublin listing the lands that he claimed.
Tadhg Bui +1466. Founded the Augustinian Abbey at Scurmore.
Sean Glas (1479)
Donall Ballach (1480)
Brian Cam (1482)
Eoghan Caoch +1495
Brian og (1497)
Donncha Ultach (1498)
Conchobhar Rua +1538 Lived at Castleconor and died at Moyne Abbey, where his son, Father John, was martyred in 1579. (See ‘Murder at Moyne’ in Stories)
Tadhg Riabhach +1580 Killed in a fall from the roof of Castleconor.
Cathal Dubh +1582 First coat of arms, registered as “O’Dowde”, was recorded by the Chief Herald in Dublin Castle in 1574.
Eamonn +1587 Signed the “Composition of Connacht” 1585, agreeing to pay rent to the government. This showed that the Taoiseach was entitled to 3 free townlands at his castle of Kilglass, and the Tanaiste (Dathi Rua) had 2 free townlands at Castleconor.
Dathi Rua +1594 Elected Tanaiste in 1585. He was described in a government report as a “civil man, much Englished, who took it upon himself to be chief of the O’Dowds.” He refused to give up his lands in exchange for a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, and was later murdered in Castleconor, by “a soldier loyal to the Queen.”
Tadhg Bui (?) Tanaiste at Dunneil Castle, Dromore West, who succeeded his brother. Enniscrone Castle was sold to John Crofton in 1596. Tadhg took 100 men to Ballymote Castle to join his brother-in-law, Red Hugh O’Donnell, and together they marched to Kinsale. After the battle there in 1601, he never returned, but it is believed he settled in Kerry, where he founded a branch of the O’Dubhda Clan. He was the last Taoiseach to be formally installed according to the ancient Brehon Laws.
C. MacHale, The O’Dubhda Family History (Inniscrone,1990); J. O’Donovan, Tribes and Customs of Hy Fiachrach (Dublin 1844 reprinted Kansas City 1993); G O’Reilly, Stoties of O’Dowda’s Country (Inniscrone, 1971); T. Kilgannon, Sligo & its Surroundings (Sligo, 1926); S MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race (Belfast, 1941); E. A. D’Alton, History of Ireland, Vol 1, (Dublin, no date)