North Mayo Historical Society Journal (1990) Vol. 11 No 4 p 67- 81



Founder and Past President of the County Donegal Historical Society and

former Hon. Secretary, Military History Society of Ireland, which he delivered

to the North Mayo Historical Society in December, 1978.

THE O'Donnells have their roots in Donegal, being descended from Conall, popularly known as "Conall Bulban" from having been fostered on Ben Bulben in Sligo. Their distinguished ancestor, who was son of King Niall of the Nine Hostages, received the district between the Swilly and Dore as his patrimony. His descendants were cradled on Lennonside around Ramelton and when they rose to power, at the beginning of the 13th century, they chose Kilmacrennan as the place of Inauguration. The ceremony was both religious and civil. The former was conducted in the local Abbey by the successor of their kinsman, St. Colmbkille, i.e., the Bishop of Derry. O'Friel was the actual inaugurator. The newly elected Chieftain viewed his territories and received the homage of his people at nearby Rock of Doon.

"Here he swore upon the Cathach,

Held aloft the willow wand,

While ten thousand tribesmen hailed him

And awaited his command."

Eigneachan was the first to hold the high office. He was succeeded by twenty-four others, terminating with Niall Garbh, ancestor of the Newport O'Donnells, inaugurated 1603. Within a short time the new leaders, who controlled all the territory from the Swilly to the Erne, with a buffer zone beyond to the Drownes, moved their royal seat to Ballyshannon and cast covetous eyes westward into Connaught. Their dream was fulfilled, thus adding "Lord of Fermanagh, Lower Connaught and Sligo" to their Title. "Lower" in this context means "North" as the Irish always calculated from the equator. This extended influence no doubt accounted for the banishment of northern malefactors to Achill. It also highlights the ease with which Red Hugh, after destroying thirteen castles in Donegal and Connaught to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy during the Nine Year War, acquired Ballymote from the McDonagh clan for £400 and 300 cows-. Thereafter it became his chief residence. It was from Ballymote that he set out, after celebrating the Feast of Samhain, on the ill-fated journey to Kinsale. The disaster that followed changed the whole course of Irish history

Failure to obtain further foreign aid, coupled with the untimely death of Red Hugh in Spain, without ever having reached the ear of the King, rendered the home position untenable. The Irish were forced to sue for peace. Red Hugh's brother, Rory, whom he placed in charge in his absence, was pardoned, knighted, and created Earl of Tyrconnell. The price,. however, was a dear one. He had to renounce all extra-territorial claims, thus losing Ballymote without compensation. Inishowen, that great peninsula between Loughs Foyle and Swilly, had to be ceded to O'Doherty and the extensive Castlefin Estate restored to his cousin, Niall Carby, who had defected to the English. The Crown retained the castle and town of Ballyshannon, together with 1,000 acres around it. It also reserved the valuable fisheries of the Erne to itself. Rory was irregularly deprived of Lifford and 4,000 acres surrounding it, which had not been reserved under the terms of his Patent. The English Governor of Ballyshannon and the Protestant Bishop of Derry took illegal possession of the sea fishery at Killybegs. Sheriffs who were placed in the county extracted exhorbitant levies, while the occupying garrisons plundered the people of horses, cattle and provisions without compensation. With revenues slashed Rory went heavily into debt and was forced to raise money by mortgaging large portions of his remaining lands. He suffered many other wrongs and insults during the uneasy peace. Pressure mounted until he and Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, were obliged to provide for their safety by fleeing the country. They, and a large band of followers, sailed out of Lough Swilly on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14th September), 1607, never to return, thus opening up the way for the Plantation of Ulster, from which the present Northern Ireland troubles stem.

With the passing of those who participated in the Flight of the Earls the main line of the O'Donnells is continued through Red Hugh's uncle, Calvagh, the 22nd Chieftain. He had a son, Con. The latter had a number of sons, three of whom, Niall Garbh, Aodh Buidhe and Con Óg, left issue to become the founders of what are known today as the Newport, Larkfield and Castlebar branches, respectively, of the family.


Niall Garbh, who regarded Tir Chonaill as his inheritance, was bitterly disappointed when the Crown bestowed it upon Earl Rory. Although he recovered Castlefin, it is unlikely that he moved from Lifford, where he already had a residence. His star was no longer in the ascent. Rejected by his new masters, he was arrested for alleged implications in the Cahir O'Doherty Rising of 1608, and held prisoner, without trial, in the Tower of London until his death in 1625.

Wholesale clearances of the native population followed the defeat of the Irish by the Cromwellians at Svarrifhollis, outside Letterkenny in June, 1650. It is believed that under this upheaval Niall Garbh's grandson, "Rory of Lifford", and many others, were transplanted to the Ballycroy district of Mayo, around 1654. They were not welcomed by the Errismen, who, unsuccessfully, attacked them. Knight gives this account of their descendants in his "Erris In The Highlands" :

"This Colony of Ulstermen, at whatever time they settled in this country, still retain the ancient dialect of language used in the North, inter-marry almost exclusively with one another; a hardy, low-sized, dark-featured race, bold, daring and intrepid in danger, not good-tempered, but hospitable to the extreme. They are considered very intelligent and having that degree of cleverness and acuteness, particularly in bargaining, said to be peculiar of their northern origin, they are the material of a fine people, if properly managed."

The late Padraic Ó Domhnaill, the distinguished historian of Newport, writing as recently as 1937, said that his parents had wonderful traditions of the O'Donnells when they came from Donegal and told him that for several generations they used to go down there to visit their kindred and bring them presents of knitted wear, etc. I have been unable to trace a similar tradition in Donegal. In fact, the transplantation of the Ulstermen to Connaught is now forgotten.

The first O'Donnell homestead was at Claggan in Ballycroy. Rory of Lifford's son, Manus, a Jacobite Colonel, who fought at both the Boyne and Aughrim, came to reside at Rosturk, three miles from Mulranny, on the north shore of Clew Bay. He was a person of distinction and the subject of a poem by Cathaoir Mac Caba, in which the year of his death is given as 1736.


The Colonel had three sons -Charles Roe of Newcastle, Co. Mayo, will proved 19th June, 1799; Hugh Mor, died 1762, and Manus, who left only daughters. He also had a daughter, Anne, who made a romantic marriage with Henry MacDermott Roe of Roscommon. It appears that Henry was actually engaged to a Miss O'Malley of Mayo. He and his mother visited her people to make the final arrangements for the wedding. While there he sought his mother's permission to call on the O'Donnells of Newport. She consented on condition that he would return in time for dinner. On arrival at the house the Parish Priest and O'Carolan, the famous harper, were present. It did not take much persuasion to make Henry forget his dinner appointment. The uisce beatha, or poitin, must have flowed freely as he stayed the night and Anne and he were married in the morning! Mrs. MacDermott Roe was furious. She never forgave the unexpected bride, whom she described as coming from a family that were "far from well-to-do". Charles Roe's eldest son, Manus, entered the Austrian Service in 1741 and rose to the rank of Major General. He was given permission to return to Ireland to attend to his affairs in 1765. A mission entrusted to him at the time was the purchase of horses for the Emperor. He never returned to Austria, dying in Dublin in 1793, aged 80 years. He was quite wealthy. The vault at Straide (now, alas, in a sad state of decay), was constructed for him. He left an only daughter, who died childless. His brother, Lewis, also served for a period in Austria. He, too, returned to Ireland, settled at Killeen, Co. Mayo, dying at the ripe age of106 years in 1822. Lewis' grandson, Charles, a Lieutenant in the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers), died without issue, 4th August, 1853, thus bringing the senior line to a close.

Returning to Calvagh Roe's brother, Hugh Mór -the building of Newport House with its beautiful staircase and Georgian domed hall, is attributed to him. He married Maud, daughter of Valentine Brown of Mount Brown, near Westport. Her cousin, John, conformed to the Protestant religion in 1729 and was created Earl of Altamont. His grandson, the third Earl, was made Marquis of Sligo for services in connection with the Union. Hugh Mór had a number of sons. The eldest, Hugh og, was unmarried. The next, Francis, left an only son, Hugh, who died in the East India Company's Service. The third was Neal. The Author of "Annala Beaga Pharaiste Bhuireis Umhaill" has this to say about him: "Hugh's son, Neal, 'bent upon winning', took steps at once to secure his worldly position. On the 14th November, 1763, scarcely a year after his father's death, he solemnly renounced the faith of his fathers and became a Protestant. With the change over to Protestantism, the way to advancement was wide open to his scion of the princely family of O'Donnell. By 1768 he was a magistrate. In December, 1770, he was created a baronet. Before the end of 1780 he had bought, for £20,000, the lands of the former abbey of Cong. Five years later he became the owner of the Medlicott Burrishoole Estate at a cost of £33,598-19s-4d. Where did the money come from? Neal's contemporaries were apparently as puzzled as we are, as we can see from the curious statement made by Rev. Mr. Benton in 1800. Benson stated: 'The family hold in this country, from the fortuitous acquisition of property, no inconsiderable rank'."


The source of his wealth is no longer a mystery. I have solved it by the chance remark in the autobiography of Rev. James Coigley, of 1798 fame. It was derived from the honourable occupation of smuggling, then prevalent on the west coast of Ireland. Sir Neal was a shipowner and traded as far south as Cadiz, Spain. Revenue officials seized several hogheads of wine from his Melcomb premises in 1790. He retaliated by suing the Crown for trespass and the breaking open of doors, etc. After protracted court proceedings he was awarded £1,500 damages and costs.

Sir Jonah Barrington, in his "Personal Sketches", recounts that arriving "through deep snow, bog roads, and after several tumbles" at the inn of a Mr. Jennings at Hollymount, near Kilcommon, Co. Mayo, he was treated to the finest old claret, declared by his host to be "of the real smuggling of Sir Neal O'Donnell's own cutter, Paddy Wheack, from the Isle of Man". He was further assured that "Sir Neal (a Baronet of Newport), never sent a bad hogshead to any of his customers, his honour's brandy, likewise, was not ajot worse than his claret, and always tasted best on a cold morning".

Sir Neal had a keen interest in horses. As early as 1776, before his venture into property, he purchased the stud of the 1st Earl of AItamont, then rated as second in importance in the Kingdom. He was an acknowledged judge of animals. The press declared that he never bought a trained horse that did not pay for itself in Plates in the first year. His income in 1800 is given as "better than £8,000 a year". Twenty-three years later his Cong rents amounts to £3, 769-11s-2d. Unfortunately, the books also carried irrecoverable arrears of £5,945.

Fosterage was still a way of life in the West. Sir Neal himself had been brought up in a lowly house in Ballycroy. He continued the custom with his children.


Sir Neal was an Irish speaker and used the language to transact business with his tenants. He had Valiancy's Irish Grammar, published 1782, in his library. An amusing story is told of a Ballycroy man who sent his young son with a pig for the landlord. The lad was told to be careful about his manners and have 'Sir' with every word. Sir Neal encountered him ag geata an tigh mór and asked: "Ca bhfuil do thriall, a mhic?". True to his briefing the boy replied: "Chuir Sir m'athair Sir mise Ie Sir'moic ag Sir Niall!"

The baronet had married Mary, daughter of William Coane of Ballyshannon and had a numerous family. Their eldest son, Hugh, as Lieutenant Colonel of the South Mayo Militia and Colonel of the 100th Regiment of the Line. He represented the Borough of Donegal in the Irish Parliament. He bitterly opposed the Union. In a fighting speech in the 1799 Session he declared: " ...Should the legislative in dependence of Ireland be voted away by a Parliament which is not competent thereto, I shall hold myself discharged from my allegiance. I will join the people in preserving their rights. I will oppose the rebels in rich clothes as I have done the rebels in rags."

For those disloyal sentiments he was dismissed from his regiment overnight. He had been offered the Earldom of Achill and a large sum of money but could not be bought off by Castlereagh.

His younger brother, Captain James Moore O'Donel, was equally incorruptible. He, too, sat in Parliament and made the last speech in the Irish House of Commons, in the course of which he said: "I have opposed the Union through every stage. I shall continue to do so. One principle alone actuated and directed my conduct- the love of my country and certainly neither I or this House has any right or power to vote away the property and privileges of Irishmen. Let the Ministry of both countries look to it; let those who have sold their birthright for a pot of porriage look to it; if they persevere the consequences will be dreadful; on their heads be it. For my part, in the presence of this House, in the hearing of my country and in the awful presence of God -who yet, I trust, with his omnipotent arm, will avert this dreadful punishment -I wash my hands of all concern with the waste of blood which must follow from the further continuance of this destructive proposal."

How right were his predictions!


This gallant fellow met an untimely end in a duel with Major Denis Bingham. at Killangly Glebe, near Enniscrone, Co. Sligo. A tradition says that he was lame and had the sight of only one eye. He is supposed to have been placed with his back to the sea, so that he was silhouetted against the horizon. The same source alleges that his opponent had been instructed by his second to fire before word was given. This he did scoring a direct hit to the heart. Bingham himself was unhurt.

Sir Neal was Colonel of the Volunteers in 1782. When the threat of invasion had receded and the force disbanded, he and his family continued to send reports of suspicious movements of foreign shipping off the Mayo coast to the Government. James Moore, 0'D., alarmed by the rumour that the remnants of the Hoche Expedition was heading northwards after leaving Bantry Bay, fitted out his own pleasure cruiser of 30 tons and sent her to sea with a crew of six to patrol between Erris and Galway Heads on look-out for the enemy. Upon advising Dublin Castle of his action he was directed to discontinue it as unnecessary. His claims for expenses were disallowed.

Newport was occupied for a week by the insurgents, following the advance of General Humbert's forces on Castlebar in 1798. The occasion was marked by the planting of a "Tree of Liberty" in the Main Street. Sir Neal was a volunteer with Lord Cornwallis' troops at Athlone when news of the occupation reached him. His four sons were also with their regiments. He hastened home immediately to find the place evacuated. He cut down the tree, arrested Fr. Manus Sweeney, who was standing beside it and confined him in fetters in Newport House. His release was secured after a few days by the local parson, who feared a hostile reaction by the population if he continued in custody. Upon gaining his freedom Fr. Manus proceeded to Killala. When that place was recaptured he retraced his steps to Newport and, after a time, set out for his native Achill. He was rearrested by Major Bingham, "To the expense of the Government of £50", tried at Castlebar, sentenced to death and hanged, I am told, from the arm of the market scales in Newport. Evidence on behalf of the Crown was given by Sir Neal, although he was not the principal witness at the trial.

Captain James Moore O'Donel was quite a paradox. As a soldier he did not spare himself rounding up the rebels. As a lawyer he turned up to defend them in court. When he was not successful he pleaded for a lenient review of the sentences by the Lord Lieutenant. This so angered Rev. Dr. Benton, Chaplain to the South Mayo Militia, that he charged the entire family with what amounted to treason. A sworn military enquiry was held in Castlebar. As a result of the evidence it submitted the Lord Lieutenant had no hesitation in fully exonerating them "from any imputation of disloyalty, or want of zeal in their duty as magistrates and officers."

Sir Neal's daughter, Maria, married Dodwell Browne of Rahins, Castlebar. A monument, with inscriptions in Irish, French and English, to her memory stands in the grounds. Her grandson, Dodwell Francis Browne, kept a Journal of Family History. It has some very interesting entries. I quote:

"(I) Headquarters, Sunday morning. General Humbert presents his best compliments to Mrs. Browne, thanks her for her polite attention she has hitherto shown him, requests that she will be good enough to send him a shirt by the bearer.

"General Humbert sends her a horse which saved his life in the late engagement and requests she will order proper care to be taken of it.

"(2) Madame, I make you a thousand thanks and I have received what you had the goodness to send me. I hope I will be so happy to see you tomorrow at dinner for General Humbert.

"(3) Mr. and Mrs. Browne present their respects to General Humbert, acquaint him that the wetness of the day prevent their waiting for him, which they regret extremely. They mean, however, to avail themselves of the honour tomorrow should the day prove dry.

"(4) The family tradition is that Dodwell and Maria duly dined with the French General in the Rebel Mess in Castlebar. It was said at the time that no table cloth being available an English flag was used for the purpose, but this is believed to have been a falsehood circulated by Dodwell's enemies. If it was true he (a Lieutenant R.N.), would hardly have got command of the Falcon the following November and of the Osprey the succeeding May."


Brigadier Daniel O'Donal of the Ramelton Branch, whose regiment fought at both the Boyne and Aughrim, took the Cathach, or Battle Book of the O'Donals, with him to France, to which he repaired under the Treaty of Limerick. This was a copy of the Psalms made by St. Colmkille and the subject of the famous copyright case of long ago in which the decision "to every cow its calf and to every book its copy" was given. The custom was to have it borne thrice around the army of Tyrconnell on the breast of a sinless cleric; then, if the fight was in a just cause, it was believed that St. Columkille would come to the assistance of his kinsmen and victory was assured. The sacred vellum was housed in a beautiful 11th century silver gilt casket.

Daniel was worried that the shrine was showing signs of wear and tear. To save it from further deterioration he had a rim case into which it could fit made and deposited the relic in a Continental monastery, to be claimed by whosoever should prove himself the Head of the O'Donnells. It lay unknown and forgotten for almost a century until Sir Neal of Newport chanced to hear of it. Some say that it was Fr. Prendergast, the last Abbot of Cong, who had been abroad, told him. In any case, fortified by the spurious pedigree, prepared by Sr. William Betham, showing him as senior of his race which he was not -that honour rested with Lewis of Killeen (already referred to), who lived to 106 years -made a successful claim and so had the sacred heirloom brought back to Ireland. His grandson gave it in charge to the Royal Irish Academy. The manuscript is now in their library and the shrines on display in the main hall of the National Museum.


Sir Neal died in 1811. He was succeeded by his son, Neal Beag, whose daughter, Mary, became a Catholic, entered the Presentation Order of Nuns in Galway, and as Sr. Mary de Pazzi, did herculian work for the relief of the distress among the starving population during the Famine years. Neal Beag's son, Hugh, was next in line. His reign was a short one. Upon his death the Baronetcy passed to his brother, Richard, who had been fostered with the O'Donnell family of Rossmore. The new holder earned the nickname "the Darbyite" or "swaddling preacher", from his having embraced a sect founded in 1830 by John Nelson Darby, a Dublin lawyer. Sir Richard, in his enthusiasm, built a conventicle in which to preach to his followers in Newport. It is now the Catholic Parochial Hall. He was also actively involved with the Rev. Mr. Nangle in the establishment of the Missionary Settlement at Achill. He had taken a fierce dislike to all things Catholic and is on record as having said that he would not leave a Catholic between Knocknabola Bridge and the River of Newport. But he only succeeded in exterminating himself. He is gone and the Catholics are still there.


He died in 1879 and was succeeded by his son, George, the 5th and last Baronet. Sir George cared little about religion. He married a Catholic and it was L through her influence that the Sisters of Mercy secured the site for their convent and schools on the Barrack Hill, Newport. He died childless in 1889, his heir being his niece, Millicent Agnes, daughter of his brother, Richard Alexander, who had predeceased him. The estate had been heavily encumbered with charges and mortgages from the beginning. The burden had been somewhat eased by the sale of the Cong lands, comprising some 7,770 acres, to Sir Benjamin Guinness in 1856. It was he who built the grandiose residence now known as Ashford Castle Hotel, Congo What Millicent Agnes received was only a small fraction of her extensive possessions of her great-great grandfather, the 1st Sir Neal. She married Edwin Thomas, who changed his name by deed-poll to "O'Donel". They had an only child, George O'Donel Frederick Thomas O'Donel, a Captain in the British Army, who was killed in action in France, 16th June, 1915. He was married but had no family.

Edwin Thomas O'Donel died 25th August, 1932, and Millicent Agnes herself on 15th October of the following year: She left the little she possessed to her daughter-in-law, who sold Newport House. Padraig O'Donnell, the Newport historian, acquired the contents of the Rent Office in the course of the sale. It is to the great credit of his widow that she gave this valuable collection of documents, etc., to the National Library, where they are now available to the public.

Commenting on this branch of the family a modem writer declared: "Sic transit gloria mundi -the O'Donnells of Newport have gone and their place knows them no more."


Aodh Buidhe, ancestor of the O'Donnells of Larkfield, died in 1649. His great grandson, Hugh, left Donegal after the Williamite victory and, contrary to the Penal Laws against Catholics, obtained a lease of lands in excess of 31 years, at Mullaghbane, Co. Fermanagh. He was "discovered" by one Rowland Kane, a Protestant, and dispossessed in 1742. He then moved to the adjoining county, where he became a tenant of Lord George Bingley at Larkfield, between Manorhamilton and Dromahair, Co. Leitrim. Here he was known as "Earl" O'Donnell. Hugh married, firstly, Flora Hamilton of Killanure, Convoy, Co. Donegal, by whom he had two sons, Connell (otherwise Karl), and John. Her brother, General Count Hamilton, served in Austria. He invited his two nephews to join him, which they did and rose to rank and distinction in the country of their adoption. Being unable to prove their sixteen quarterings, owing to lack of records, they brought with them the original Patent of 1603 creating Rory O'Donnell Earl of Tyrconnell. This was duly recognised as proof of nobility.

They were admitted to Court and given the courtesy title of "Count". Other members of the family that served the Emperor were similarly treated.

The present Head of the family, and Chief of the Name, is an t-Athair Aodh 0 Domhnaill, O.F.M., descended from Con, a son of Hugh O'Donnell's second marriage with Margaret Montgomery of Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh.


Con Óg, founder of the Castlebar branch, was slain in 1001. His grandson, Calvagh Ruadh, a Jacobite Colonel, is believed to have been the first of his line to come to the West. After a period in Sligo he moved to the Castlebar district of Mayo.

His son, Hugh, married Margaret O'Neill, whose family had been transplanted to Connaught from the Fews, Co. Armagh. They resided on the O'Neill lands at Oldcastle, Co. Mayo, until denounced before the Court of Requests as 'recusants and papists" and dispossessed in 1703. The forfeited property was granted to the Charter School of Sligo, who later disposed of it to the Bolingbroke family.

After being turned out, Hugh secured a lease at Oughty, behind Croagh ,. Patrick, from the Protestant Archbishop of Tuam. His son, Calvagh Dubh, married Mary, an aunt of Sir Neal O'Donnell, the 1st Baronet of Newport. They had four sons, two of whom were to shed lustre on the name abroad and establish lines in Spain and Austria, respectively, that survive to this day.

Manus, the eldest, remained in Ireland. His youngest son, Charles, joined his uncle Henry in Austria and had attained the rank of Major General when he died of wounds at the Battle of Nereshein in 1805. He was unmarried and was reputed to have been a comparatively wealthy man but to everyone's surprise his estate amounted to only £105. Commenting on this Lt. Col. O'Ferrall said: "I do not doubt, in any way, that poor General Charles has suffered the lot of nearly all military personnel who died in the Service -that of being robbed. I have known him for a very good manager (of his affairs), and one can feel sure that his horses

and equippage alone were worth much more than the sum remaining."

Manus' eldest son, Joseph, sought service in Spain but involvement in a duel compelled him to return to Ireland. He married and shortly after the birth of a son, Joseph Manus, in 1780, set out alone for the West Indies, where he died within a "; few months of his arrival. It was decided that Joseph Manus should enter the Austrian Service under his uncle Charles. He left in 1803 but was back again before long. He claimed that on the overland journey from Hamburg to Lemberg in Poland, where his uncle was stationed, he was taken prisoner by the French, ill-treated and shipped back home. The story was duly believed, but I have since discovered it to be a fabrication. What actually occurred is set out in a letter of Lt. Col. O'Ferrall, in the archives of Count O'Donnell von Tyrconnell of Austria. The writer is commenting on the death of the Major General and, after alluding to the boy as "not a very dependable character", continues: "I recall that he (Charles) regretted some years ago that this young man, whom he wished to place in the Service, should have come as far as Hamburg and there wasted his money and returned."

The truth wins out -even after all these years!

Joseph Manus now put all thoughts of a military career out of his head. He

entered the legal profession and built up a lucrative practice for himself at Castlebar. His son, Charles Joseph, followed in his father's footsteps. He, too, read law, was called to the Bar and became Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Dublin. He was a great family historian. Dr. John O'Donovan acknowledges having received "important and original information" from him and his appendix to the annals of the Four Masters. Charles Joseph had an only son, Manus Basil Hugh, a Major in the Royal Engineers, who died unmarried in 1936, thus bringing this particular line to a close.


Calvagh Ruadh's second son, Joseph, went to Spain, was Colonel of the Regiment of Ultonia and a Lieutenant General. His six sons carved out distinguished careers for themselves in the army. Sir Parker Caroll met four of them in the Peninsula in 1808. They had no regular place of abode at the time, merely residing at the various military posts to which they were assigned. Each retained native Irish servants and spoke the Irish language. They were also fluent in English, with a strong Irish accent, which Sir Parker attributed to having learned it at home with the aid of ' 'a good Irish nurse". Outstanding among the boys was Enrique who is renowned for the part he played in the defence of the strategic town of Gerona, that straddles the main highway from Barcelona to France. The defending garrison was the depleted Regiment of Ultonia, consisting of 424 officers and men, under the command of Colonel Antonio O'Kelly, with Major Enrique O'Donnell second in command. Enrique pressed able-bodied men into service and, with permission of the Bishop, formed a company of clerical students. He trained them all thoroughly in the art of war. The siege lasted 18 months and, at one period, an attack of 30,000 was beaten off. He was created Count Abisal for reducing the fortress of that name at another stage of the campaign. It was during that operation that he received a leg wound that left him lame for the remainder of his days. He became a Lieutenant General, was Director of Infantry and Regent of Spain during the incapacity of Ferdinand VII.

Carlos, the second son, was Lieutenant General, Captain General of Castilla, Director General of Artillery and holder of the Knight's Grand Cross of St. Ferdinand. As was to be expected his four sons turned to soldiering and were caught up in one of the bloodiest and bitterest civil wars that ever divided an unhappy kingdom. Leopoldo, the third of the boys, has been rated by a contemporary as "perhaps the greatest man of his name that ever lived". Having distinguished himself on the Cristina side of the Carlist War, he was a Major General and Captain General of Aragon, Valencia and Murcia at the age of30 years. He went on to become Governor of Cuba, Field Marshal and Prime Minister of Spain. For his conquest of Morocco he was awarded the Dukedom ofTetuan. He died without issue, 5th November, 1867, aged only 58 years. His heir was his elder brother, Carlos' son, Carlos Jnr., Lieutenant General, Chamberlain, Minister for State and Ambassador at the Courts of Brussels, Vienna and Lisbon. The younger Carlos's son, Juan, General of Cavalry, was the 3rd Duke. He is best remembered for having presided at the Irish Race Convention in Paris in 1922. He was succeeded by his son, Juan Jnr., who died unmarried in 1932. Upon his death the title passed to his sister, Blanca. Her home was looted during the Civil War and family records stolen or destroyed. Years afterwards a volume of the Annals of the Four Masters that belonged to her grandfather, the 2nd Duke, was found in a secondhand bookshop in Madrid by Rev. Fr. Joseph Ranson, last Rector of the Irish College, Salamanca, and restored to her. She died childless. The title now went to her uncle's son, Leopoldo, the 5th and present Duke. He was conferred with a Doctor of Laws degree (honoris causa) by the National University of Ireland in 1956. He has a son, Hugh, Duke of Estrada, Count of Lucena, born 1948, who has also visited Ireland.

It may be remarked that the Spanish branch is very strong in the male line and there is little fear of its dying out.


Henry, the third son of Calvagh Dubh, joined his Larkfield cousins in Austria while still in his teens. He fought in the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, rose to the rank of Major General and was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Marie Therese.

Henry was over six feet tall, red headed and reputed to have been the handsomest man in the Imperial army. He was a great favourite at Court, especially with the Empress, at whose bidding he married Leopoldine, daughter of Prince Juan Rudolph Cantacuzene. Marie Theresa gave the bride a dowry, three estates in Galicia and led her to the altar on her wedding day. Later, when the Empress was dividing her jewellery after her husband's death, she gave some of the finest pieces to Henry for his wife.

His son, Joseph, graduating from the law school of Gottingen University, received his first appointment in the Galezien Court Office, Vienna. Knowledge, talent and diligence soon enabled him to advance. Two years later he was called to the Appeal Council in Lemberg, to be shortly afterwards transferred as Counsel of the County Court. He became Chamberlain in 1782. His brilliance secured for him the Counsellorship of the Vienna County Court in 1787. He was created Privy Councillor and made Governor of Carinthia in 1791, a post he held for three years, when he was appointed General Field Commissioner for the duration of the War.

He retired from public office after the Peace Treaty but was called back again in 1808 to take over the Presidency of the General Court Chamber. In this capacity it fell to him to take the extraordinary financial powers for the carrying on of the New War of 1809 as the exchequer resources had become exhausted by fourteen years of fighting. He was rewarded for his success by the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Stephen. It is generally acknowledged that had he not died suddenly on 4th May, 1810, the bankruptcy of the following year would have been avoided. It is interesting to note that when financial retrenchment became necessary after the last War the Austrian Finance Minister announced that he was adopting the same measures that Joseph O'Donnell took in Napoleonic times.

His son, Maurice, followed a military career to become a Major General. He was an exceptionally good-looking man and friend of the fabulous Madame de Saael, whose attentions embarrassed him. He married Christine, daughter of the Prince de Ligne.

Their son, Maxmilian Karl Lamoral Count O'Donnell (popularly known as "Max"), as Colonel Aide-de-Camp, saved the Emperor Franz Josef from an assassin's attack as both were walking on the bastions of Vienna one February day in 1853. His gloves, stained with the Emperor's blood, are a treasured family memento today. There was great rejoicing at the Emperor's miraculous escape. A Te Deum was sung in St. Stephen's Cathedral and a magnificent Gothic church, the Votivkirch, liberally subscribed to by the Crown Heads of Europe, erected in Vienna as a mark of thanksgiving. The tablet commemorating the event was removed from the building by the socialists that came to power after the First World War. It has never been re-erected. In fact, Max's name was completely forgotten when I spoke to an official there a few years ago.

Max was showered with honours. All friendly monarchs conferred him with Orders of Chivalry, while the cities of Vienna, Prage, Pest, Laibach and others made him a Freeman.

Franz Josef awarded him the Commander's Cross of the Royal Order of Leopold and admitted him to the Austrian Peerage with the status and dignity of "Count" -thus replacing the courtesy title the family had hitherto enjoyed. The relative citation reads: and as a further proof of Imperial and royal grace and favour, we augment henceforth his heriditary and family arms by the insertion of our own initials and shield of our most serene and ducal House of Austria; and, finally, the double-headed eagle of our Empire, to be an endure as a visible and imperishable memorial of his proved and devoted services." This was a privilege never before granted a commoner. Nevertheless, the O'Donnells were not impressed. They considered their own armorial bearings older and superior to those of the Hapsburgs. A member of the family declared to me that their beautiful arms (the hand grasping a cross), had been "disfigured by that awful monstrocity" (i.e. the Habsburg addition)!

The Emperor had a great affection for Max. He provided him with a site for a mansion on the picturesque Mirabl Platz, Salzburg -the only private residence on that beautiful thoroughfare. Max, although married, had no children and his splendid Salzburg home passed out of the family after his death. Baron and Baroness Kast, the then owners, gave a reception in it for my wife and I during our stay in Austria.

The line is continued through Max's brother, Maurice, a Chamberlain to the Emperor. His son, Henry, retired after an army career to Budapest. His only son, Rory, also had an only son, Henry, that visited Newport House shortly before his

death in 1932. He was unmarried thus bringing the Hungarian offshoot of the O'Donnells to a close.

Henry of Budapest's brother, Hugo, was Civil Governor of Wels. His son, Douglas George Karl Maurice Maria Columban Count O'Donnell von Tyrconnell, was educated at the Jesuit College of Kalksburg, near Vienna. He entered the army as a Cadet, fought on the Eastern Front in the 1914 War, was taken prisoner by the Russians and escaped twice. He was a fine horseman. Although not above average height, he had splendid physique and won the reputation of being the strongest man in the Austrian Cavalry. He had four sons: (a) Mario, City Treasurer of Linz, died without issue, 1973; (b) Lieut. Douxi, Iron Cross (1st Class), wounded and missing, believed dead, on the Russian Front since 1943; (c) Gabriel, present Count O'Donnell von Tyrconnell, married, a son, Douglas, and a daughter, Elizabeth, and (d) Johann, married, a son, Rory, and a daughter, Maria. .

Count Gabriel represented his father at the O'Donnell Clan Rally held in Ireland in 1954. He and Count Johann spent a fishing holiday with me at Cruit Island in the Rosses of Donegal in 1973.


Calvagh Dubh must have moved to, or have had some association with, another part of Mayo as his fourth son, Charles, was born in Bathoul, about two miles west of Swinford. The youth joined his Larkfield cousins in Austria in 1745, and although he saw much fighting, did not advance beyond the rank of Lieutenant. He was dropped from the military records in 1757, which was apparently the year he returned to Ireland. He settled on an estate of 2,321 acres at Faheens, close to his birthplace. What was left of the land was taken over by the Congested Districts Board in 1913. Lil, wife of Peadar O'Donnell, the author, was of his line. It came to an end with the death of her brother, Rev. Fr. Hugh Edward O'Donnell (b.1875), Philadelphia, USA.


The late Chris McDonagh, founder of the County Donegal Historical Society, told me that while listening to a light orchestral recital on the Forces Programme during the War he was surprised to find a most unusual arrangement of a rare Sligo air included in its repertoire. His curiosity was immediately aroused. He wrote asking how the piece, which was almost unknown outside its own immediate area, had been acquired. The reply he received was astonishing. The conductor had picked it up in North Africa -from an Arab, named O'Donnell!