The purpose of this Web site is to outline the history of County Fermanagh and in particular, the story of the most important of Fermanagh's Gaelic clans - the Maguire family. Our story traces the history of the clan from its beginnings right up to the present day. 

Clan Maguire first came to prominence in Fermanagh in the middle of the 12th century and eventually fell from power with the arrival of the English during the Elizabethan conquest of Ulster in the early part of the 17th century. During the subsequent 'Plantation' period, Ulster saw the arrival of English and Scottish settlers whose successors helped to fashion a new generation of Fermanagh people and gave the county new ideas, beliefs, customs and a new language spoken with a distinctive accent. The modern county is an integral part of the ancient Irish province of Ulster, and derives its name from the clan Fir Manach, meaning the "Men of Manach". Five hundred years before the little kingdom of Fermanagh was formed, the Celts reached westward from their origins in southern Germany. These tall, clean-shaven warriors expanded into the Iberian Peninsula and moved steadily westwards until they reached the shores of Ireland. The Celts quickly established themselves and began to take control of the whole country.

By the birth of Christ, only the northern Irish province of Ulster was not under the control of these brave and hospitable people. When Ulster threatened the whole country, the province of Connacht in the west led the defence and in later years, pushed northwards and eastwards eventually bringing the northern province under Celtic control. By the fifth century AD, the most powerful of the northern clans - the O'Neills - were the dominant authority in Ulster.

The fifth century brought great political changes to Ireland, particularly to the northern province of Ulster. This transformation brought with it something that has remained solidly with Ulster people to the present day - Christianity. Most people know of the conversion of the island by St. Patrick who arrived from mainland Britain in 432 AD. Twenty years later, Patrick made Armagh his headquarters and introduced mainstream Latin Christianity to Ireland for the first time. This structure of Bishops with dioceses was modelled on the system used by the Roman Empire but did not take firm root in Ireland. Instead, a monastic arrangement developed with great autonomous monasteries, each under the control of an abbot, providing the focal point for Celtic Christianity. Fermanagh was no exception and the monastery on Devenish Island in Lough Erne with its 80 foot round tower became part of this "Golden Age" when these great monastic centres of learning sent out missionaries to the rest of Europe, already caught in the Dark Ages. Devenish Island and its ruins still survive today and has become Fermanagh's greatest landmark.

The ruins of Aghalurcher Church

Though there are many stories about St. Patrick's missions to Fermanagh, it is not certain if he ever actually visited the Erne country. The foot soldiers of the new faith were probably recruited from local clans and indeed these early saints made a lasting impression on Fermanagh and its people. One of these missionaries, Saint Ronan, came to south Fermanagh and established a church near the modern town of Lisnaskea in what is now the townland of Aghalurcher. A local legend tells us that the people of the locality could not agree on where the new church should be built so to resolve the issue they decided to cast a stone and where the stone landed, the new church would be built. This gave the area the name "Achadh Urchair" meaning in English "the field of the cast". The tiny church has stood the test of time and its ruins and ancient cemetery still survive to the present day.

When Ireland eventually settled into a Christian and Celtic way of life the island saw the establishment of a federal monarchy in which the Ard Ri or High King of Ireland sat at the top of the hierarchy. Each of the four provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht was made up of a collection of independent kingdoms called tuaths. Fermanagh contained at least seven tuaths and its chieftains were sometimes referred to as "Lord of the Seven Tuaths". A leader called a Taoiseach, elected by the freemen of the tuath, controlled everything and presided over the assembly known as a Dail. The Taoiseach, who had to be a member of the Deirfine (Royal Family), acted as chieftain, judge and commander-in-chief. This federal monarchy symbolised the unity of the country though the powers exercised downwards were not impressive.

The autonomous tuath became the basic unit of Celtic secular society with the Taoiseach as chieftain, the nobility, bardic class and clergy below this level and the common people at the bottom of the social strata. Part of the bardic class structure was the Brehon or judge who dealt with grievances and disputes within the kingdom. Celtic society was far more protective of the rights of the commoner than other parallel European cultures of the period.  

The Brehon Laws

The Brehon laws were an immensely complex legal system that functioned in Ireland for a period of at least 1000 years until the middle of the 17th century. These laws respected individuals first and property second. They honoured the sanctity of contract. Women had equal rights to men and all citizens owed a duty of hospitality to strangers. Incredibly, this legal system needed no court to enforce the law since all citizens respected it.

The Bardic schools, which were separate from the ecclesiastical schools sponsored by the great monasteries of Ireland, trained young men in history, law, language and literature. From these schools, the poets, historians, brehons and physicians graduated. All members of the bardic classes were entitled to special privileges. An example of this would be the right of entry to any home in the kingdom, the hospitality of the host and free food and shelter. The bardic classes did not take any active part in battle but only offered advice to their leader and recorded the events for posterity.

The post of Brehon became recognised as a professional position in Irish society during the early Christian period. These educated intellectuals were specialists who knew and developed ancient Irish law. Disputes and difficulties were referred to them and decisions were usually accepted as binding. The Brehon declared what the law stated as applied to the facts brought before him and acted more as an arbitrator than a judge. In Celtic Fermanagh of the Maguire period, the Brehons were recruited from the O Breaslain (Breslin) family. This tradition continued in Fermanagh until 1603 when the last Breslin Brehon handed over the ancient scrolls to Sir John Davys, the English Attorney-General on Devenish Island in Lough Erne.

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