Caption: Historian Marcas Ó Murchú, American historian and author Dr Matthew McDavitt and John McCarron of the West Inishowen History and Heritage Group, at Elagh Castle.
His potentially contentious claim regarding an iconic Sixteenth Century Inishowen artefact led US historian, Matthew McDavitt to visit the peninsula, where he delivered a “wonderful and engaging” lecture with Cahir O’Doherty (1587 to 1608) at its heart.
A guest of the West Inishowen History and Heritage Society (WIHHS), which “promotes Inishowen from Manor to Malin”, Matthew’s talk examined the Nine Years’ War (1593 to 1603) and the Flight of the Earls (1607) in the context of the relationship between Cahir O”Doherty and Hugh Boy McDavitt.
The event took place in The Plaza in Buncrana following Matthew’s brave online claim regarding Cahir O’Doherty’s Sword, which is on display in Derry’s Guildhall.
Matthew contacted the WIHHS to say that the sword in question did not belong to Cahir O’Doherty.
WIHHS member, John McCarron, described Matthew’s lecture, entitled: “The Sons of David: new insights into the lords of Inishowen” as “mesmerising.”
Speaking to the Inish Times, John said: “Essentially, Matthew’s contention was that 400 years ago, four McDevitt brothers fostered the young Inishowen Lord, Cahir O’Doherty.
“Matthew has uncovered new evidence concerning the identity and activities of Cahir (O’Doherty) McDevitt’s foster family, which has yielded fascinating insights into the O’Doherty family’s crucial role in obtaining Spanish military aid for Ireland in their fight against England; modernising Irish warfare; and assisting Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell on the Flight of the Earls (September 4, 1607),” said John.
John Deery one of the co-organisers of Matthew McDavitt’s visit to Inishowen said the historian’s research was “groundbreaking and fascinating.”
John added: “On behalf of the WIHHS, I would like to extend a big ‘Thank You’ to Matthew for his wonderful and engaging talk on Cahir O’Doherty, Hugh Boy McDavitt, the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls.
“His research on the influence of Cahir O’Doherty’s foster family; the four McDavitt brothers; his education at Elagh Castle; Hugh Boy McDavitt’s military training and position in the Spanish Army, and many other new insights into that period of history and events locally, nationally and beyond, added greatly to our knowledge of Cahir O’Doherty’s revolt.
“This important time in our history deserves thorough and proper research. Matthew has provided that and we look forward to hearing more of his brilliant research as it develops.
Our thanks also to everyone who attended Matthew’s lecture in The Plaza,” said John.
During his time in Inishowen, members of the WIHHS took Matthew McDevitt and his family to several significant historical sites in the peninsula.
They visited An Grianán Áiligh, Burt Castle and Elagh(more) Castle.
Speaking to the Inish Times on the rain swept ramparts of Elagh Castle, which are clearly visible from the Buncrana Road at Coshquin, Matthew said travelling north to Inishowen was “magnificent.”
The historian said: “I have never seen such beautiful landscapes. The wild and lush terrain was punctuated with unexpected and stunning views of jagged sea crags and cliffs as we turned a corner or created a hill. Any visitor can see that Inishowen is a unique and powerful place.
“In my research over the past seven years, I have been reconstructing the history of the four McDevitt’s (McDaid’s) who fostered the young Cahir Rua O’Doherty. I had determined that these men lived at Elaghmore Castle with Cahir and his father, Chieftain Shane Óg. Additionally, Cahir’s primary foster father, a man named Hugh Boy McDevitt, has refortified Burt Castle at the coming of the English to Derry in 1600, in part to protect Doherty food stores from English Raids.
“Cahir later went north to Carrickabraghy Castle, after he was wrongly accused of treason, where he wrote an eloquent and stern letter to the Governor of Derry, who had accused him of rising in rebellion, with Cahir proclaiming his innocence.
I found it awe-inspiring to walk in the desolate ruins of these three castles,” said Matthew.
The historian revealed that when he is performing documentary research, he views the subjects like characters in a novel, as the focus is on reconstructing events and motivations of the players.
Clearly impressed with the natural beauty of Inishowen, he added: “However, to stand inside Burt Castle or experience the magnificent views from the raised platform of Elaghmore Castle, or to see the primordial, unearthly landscapes in which Carrickabraghy is nestled, humanises these stories in a powerful way.
“As you feel the wind and rain on your face, or you see titanic rainbows arch out of the sky around you, you remember that these historical figures were people, just like us.
“They were facing a deadly threat to their world and way of life, and they, in these now quiet and magical sites, lived their lives, raised their families and made momentous decisions, which would impact the course of Ireland’s history.
“It is truly humbling to walk in the footsteps of these heroic ancestors, simultaneous celebrating their lives and mourning their passing,” concluded Matthew.
At Elaghmore Castle Matthew and the assembled members of the WIHHS enjoyed a short talk delivered by renowned musician and historian, Marcas Ó Murchú.
As the torrential rain pulsed in down the Swilly, Marcas recounted how in September 1588, the survivors from the Trinidad Valencera, a Spanish ship of the Armada, which had sunk at Kinnagoe Bay, found themselves at Elaghmore Castle.
He said: “They were required to fire a shot because they wanted to indicate to the English (brothers Richard and Henry Hovendon) who were at Burt Castle at the time, that they had taken over the castle and the O’Doherty’s had not given them a night’s lodgings. Then the O’Doherty’s would have been accused of treason and harbouring the Spanish.
“It transpired that there was an occasion when the English told the Spaniards to take off their armour and they would get free passage back to Spain. However, the local story is that more than 230 Spaniards were massacred.
“Some of the officers survived. One of these was Don Rodrigo de Lasso. He was in charge of the Spanish garrison in Binche, in The Netherlands, who welcomed the O’Neill and O’Donnell families, the Maguire’s and some of the O’Doherty’s, after The Flight of the Earls.
“On that occasion, Don Rodrigo de Lasso recognised on of the O’Neill’s companions, namely Henry Hovendon, who had literally jumped ship. He went with O’Neill, having thought that O’Neill would be victorious in getting an army first from Phillip II and then from Phillip III of Spain. So, Don Rodrigo de Lasso comes face-to-face with Henry Hovendon, the person who had butchered the Spaniards on the site of Elagh Castle. That must have been an incredible moment,” concluded Marcas.
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