Clan Maguire of Fermanagh

Maguire is leader of their battalions

He rules over the mighty men of Manach

At home munificent in presents

The noblest lord in hospitality

(O'Dugan, 14th Century)

Of all the great Gaelic clans of Ulster, perhaps the most successful was the Maguire family. We know that by the year 1302 the Maguires were already well established as rulers of Fermanagh and by the end of the sixteenth century they controlled almost all of the entire area within the modern county boundary. Fermanagh was indeed "Maguire's Country".

Beginning in the 12th century with Donn Mor, the founder of the clan, and ending with the last Maguire to rule Fermanagh - Hugh in 1600 - the Maguire family gave Fermanagh effective government and provided the county with a succession of chieftains. In the early, critical years of the clan's ascendancy strong and stable leadership prevented the bitter, destructive feuding so common amongst the other Irish royal families. Not only were the Maguire chiefs effective rulers but they also sponsored Gaelic culture and learning. The most illustrious Fermanagh historian was Cathal Og MacMaghnusa who, under the sponsorship of the Maguires, provided later scholars with a wealth of historical information in what became known as The Annals of Ulster. This Maguire manuscript was later incorporated into The Annals of the Four Masters and is still preserved as one of the primary sources for Irish history. In more recent times, the book "The Fermanagh Story" by Peadar Livingstone has become well known and respected as a documented history of County Fermanagh from the earliest times to the present day. The Maguires were also great benefactors of the Church and the death notices of their chieftains, recorded so meticulously in the Annals of Ulster, list the goodness of their government, their hospitality and their generosity to the poor.

Back in the 5th century, a group of people called the "Airghialla" (in English "Oriel") began to expand into Ulster and soon occupied parts of Fermanagh. During the centuries that followed, the growth developed outwards to encompass the whole area around Lough Erne and by the end of the first millennium we find the Airghialla as kings of Fermanagh. Eventually a loose federation of Oriel tribes formed into a kingdom of Oriel. The boundary of this kingdom follows the border of the area now occupied by the Diocese of Clogher. Indeed the Bishop of Clogher was referred to in The Annals of Ulster as the "Bishop of Airghialla" right up to the fourteenth century.

Following the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror and the subsequent defeat of the Saxon King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans quickly took control of Britain and eventually arrived in Ireland in 1169. Their initial successes brought them as far north as the borders of Ulster. Fermanagh, at this time, was ruled by the O hEignigh (in English, "O'Hegney") clan and although they managed to keep the Normans out of their territory, the dynasty did not survive. Indeed, conquest was not easy for the Normans and for two centuries the invaders were confined to the area of Leinster around Dublin known as The Pale. Later this Anglo-Norman conquest spawned an Anglo-Irish aristocracy, which became "more Irish than the Irish themselves". Great change was taking place and the clan Maguire now enter the spotlight of Fermanagh history to dominate the kingdom until they in turn were swept aside by the Elizabethan conquest of Ulster in the closing years of the 16th century.

Traditionally the Maguire clan have been given an Oriel pedigree but historians are divided about the origins of the family. What is certain is that they came to prominence around the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland. They chose as their heartland the area in south Fermanagh where Saint Ronan had established his church back in the fifth century. Though initially the expansion of the Maguires under its first leader Donn Mor was gradual, soon Aghalurcher became the most important place in the kingdom. The clan and its chieftains became patrons of the Church and two of its members became Bishops of Clogher - Pierce (1443-1447) and Rossa (1447-1483). In fact, before his death, Bishop Rossa chose the churchyard at Aghalurcher as his final resting place.

During the Maguire period about fifteen per cent of Fermanagh was church land. Each church owned the area around it and as the years progressed this estate was enlarged by the donations of local people. To oversee this property the church appointed a family called a "herenach" whose members farmed the land and cared for the church.

The post of herenach was a hereditary one and indeed the same family names appear in association with the same churches throughout this period. There were many churches in Fermanagh including Aghalurcher where the Mac Scoloig (in English, "Farmer") family were herenachs. The Annals of Ulster mention that an Aghalurcher parish priest, one Lucas Mac Scoloig, died in 1394. Another Fermanagh church at Pobal, near Tempo, later to be associated with the junior Maguire clan, had the O hEoghain (in English, "Owens") family as herenachs.

Similarly the Maguire rulers protected the monasteries in Fermanagh. In the twelfth century the Augustinians arrived and founded a monastery at Lisgoole on the shores of Lough Erne. They remained there under the sponsorship of the Maguires until Cuchonnacht II founded a new Franciscan abbey at Lisgoole in 1583. Many of the Maguire chieftains were buried at the Franciscan Friary in Donegal while others were interred at the monastery at Cavan.

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