Gleaning from Ulster History

Seamus O Ceallaigh 1952

The Pedigree of O Neill and MacLochlainn

    "Though the problem is hardly contemporaneous with the matter under
discussion, it may be of interest to point out that the descent put forward 
on their own behalf by the family of O Neill in An Leabhar Eoghanach and
in the official pedigrees is at least open to suspicion.  In the first place,
L.E. explains how each successive O Neill was killed off by the current
MacLochlainn.  In the second place, it does not concede that any MacLochlainn,
during the period of O Neill's eclipse, was ever lord of Ailech.  He was
simply MacLochlainn, and Domnall an tOgdhamh and successive O Neills were
kings of Ulster for five, three, then, seven and five years, until the reign
of Aodh an Macaomh Toinleasg, who was fifty years in the lordship ("caoga
bliadhan gan bhearnadh").  We know from the annals that he was ruler of Teloch
Og only from 1176 to 1177, so that these entries in L.E. cannot be taken as
impartial history.  The record is that the MacLochlainns participated in
at least seven regnal changes from the time of the great Domhnall to 1176 and
in seven more from the death of Aodh to the end of MacLochlainn in 1247.
Thirdly, unlike the entries before and after the period 1033-1160, the
seemingly reconstructed chronicle here is bone-dry; no exploits, no battles.
Fourthly, between the death of Flaithbheartach an Trostain (1036) and that
of Niall MacLochlainn (ob. 1176) or of this Aodh O Neill (1177), who was his
rival, there are two generations extra ( = 60 years normally) in the O Neill
lineage, in that space of a century and a half. This might be explained
away by those prescriptive killings by MacLochlainn or it might be that
some of these O Neills mentioned stood to each other in the relation of
brother and brother instead of that of father and son.  This is all very
disconcerting at so late a date of our attested genealogical system.  But
there is worse to follow.  This Aodh o Neill was the first descendant of
Flaithbheartach an Trostain to break in (1176) on the hegemony of the
MacLochlainns.  The death of his father, Muircheartach Muighe Line, is
recorded in the annals at 1160.  Of the four persons carrying the family back
to Flaithbheartach's son, Aedh Allan, not one, as far as I can see, is
mentioned in the annals.  Not even their obits are recorded.  This fact
in itself would arouse misgivings.  For six generations in sequence the
family depends upon a single individual to maintain the succession; no
brothers or uncles are mentioned, and L.E. expressly states that Aodh
was the last of his race.  Now it was altogether exceptional for these
ruling families to be reduced in the regnal succession to single heirs.
This is evident where MSS. are forthcoming which catered for local
records.  For example, the O'Donnell Genealogies (Pol Breathnach,
Anal. Hib., No. viii), when schematized, show many individuals with quite
a mulititude of sons, and MS. No. 11, king's Inns, Dublin, dealing with the
progeny of Brian Ballach of Clann Aodha Buidhe, in three cases in which 
the general pedigrees are carried down through a single heir, enumerates
12 sons from his son Muircheartach Ruadh, so long ruler of Clann
Aodha Buidhe; 11 such from his son Eamonn, and from Niall Gallda of
Coill Ultach 18!  Following the ordinary law in the community, there 
must have been as many daughters as sons.  If this achievement provokes any
sense of mystery, I leave the probing of it to the student of genetics
or to those curious about the trend of the social proprieties, but
obviously this factor was turned into a source of strength in war and 
administration.  It is conceivable that the O Neill lineage may have been 
spun out to a single filament in 1160, but the manner in which the facts
are presented to us is not convincing.
    There is more relish in the story told in L.E. as to how Aodh got
his nick-name.  His father (killed by MacLochlainn in 1160) was called
of Magh Line.  The father was married to the daughter of O Floinn Line,
ruler of Ui Thuirtre, which, by now, was on the eastern side of the
Bann, and extended from Tuaim towards Carraic Fearghuis.  This is where
Magh Line and Rath Line were.  The child Aodh was born after his father's
death.  MacLochlainn came questing afterwards to O Floinnn's house,
and met the boy, who did not show due respect to the visitor by leaving
his chair.  "Is toinleasg an macaomh," said MacLochlainn - "Oh! thou
tardy to arise" (but perhaps, as was common, he got the name, by
antiphrasis, by reason of his sense of dash and despatch).  Howbeit,
O Floinn secreted his grandson and saved him, and (following L.E.) the
latter can only have been 16 years of age when he broke down the
MacLochlainn jurisdiction and established possibilities for his own
family.  This could all be accepted as aplausible explanation of how
O Neill regained power.  It raises the possibility of a recognition
of mutual interests between O Neill and O Floinn.  It might have been
of long standing, but in spite of the wealth of references to Ui Thuirtre
in the annals, there a few problems on which they throw less light
than on the relations of that family with Cineal Eogain.  The Magh
Line of Muircheartach's designation is spelt Magh Lughan by L.E. - with
confusing results, for there was a district in the older Ui Thuirtre,
west of the Bann, called Magh Lughad.  Muircheartach's father was
Tadhg Glinne, but the "Gleann" is not specified, so the appelation
is of no service to us.  His father again was Conchobhar na
Fiodhbhuidhe (B.B. says C. na Fida) and although there were
many places of that name, one of them being near the Omaigh, the
place meant was probably the well-known territory east of the Bann, at 
Tuaim and lying in the new Ui Thuirtre.  It is still called the 
Feevagh.  Finally, the father of this Conchobhar was Flaithbheartach
Locha Feadha (L.E.).  Other authorities say he was of Loch Rii,
Loch Adhar (B.B.) or Loch Ahdain.  These places are hardly identifiable
now, but if Loch Feadha is right, it is Loch Fea, in Farachta or
Arachtra (vide Index L.C.B.) some six miles north of Cora Criche or
Cookstown.  We are here back again the the older pre-transmigration
Ui Thuirtre.  At the period of restoration could O Neill have been
occupying some territory of O Floinn's or could O Floinn have been 
acting as his overlord in some sense?  But at this stage the argument
becomes to tenuous for practical discussion.