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THE DONEGAL HIGHLANDS.
DONEGAL is rich in early remains and memories of the past. The general tourist will need a summary of the history of Tyrconnell to aid him to interpret those echoes of the olden time, which he will be glad to catch in the traditions and legends of the country for their poetic if not their historic interest.
At the earliest dawn of Irish history this district comes prominently into view, shrouded, indeed, in those fabulous surroundings that dim the first beginnings of every nation tracing its origin up to a remote antiquity. Here, on a plain near Lough Swilly, was fought the battle of Magh-Ith, “the first battle fought in Ireland,”* between the Fomorians, a piratical tribe just then landed on the island, and the Nemedians,t the first inhabitants, who had settled here a short time before. The Fomorians engaged in the fight were all killed, but their tribe still remained in strength on the sea-coast, whence
* Annals of the Four Masters.
they kept up a perpetual war with the Nemedians in the interior. Torry seems to have been the chief stronghold of the Fomorians. We find chronicled under the year A.M. 3066 a fierce attack on TorConainn, or Conaing's Tower, in this island. The tower was taken by storm and the work of demolition completed, when, succour arriving by sea to the pirates, the battle was renewed on the strand, and the combatants closed in an obstinate struggle from which the returning tide did not make them relax till they all, with but a very few exceptions, perished together in the waves. The power of the Nemedians was completely broken in this battle, and the Fomorians now ruled the coast with undisputed sway. Two hundred years passed away, and a new colony, known as the Firbolgs, probably of the same stock originally as the Nemedians, appeared in Erinn. And many years afterwards came a strange race, the Tuatha De-Dennans, led by Nuadh of the Silver Hand,* who at once subjugated the Firbolgs, and formed an alliance with the Fomorians. Some years later the Fomorians take the field against the De-Dennans, and Nuadh is killed by" Balor of the Mighty Blows,” † the leader of the Fomorians, whose principal residence is supposed to have been at Torry, from the many traditions re
• Nuadht-Airgetlamh, in the Irish. + Four Masters.
specting him there. Balor was himself killed in this battle by Lewy the Long-handed, (Lugh Lamhfhada,) his own daughter's son.
When Ith, the adventurous pioneer of the Milesians, sailed from Spain to seek out “ the land to the west," it was in the county of Donegal, near the Laggan, on the shores of Lough Swilly, he first landed ; and it was here, on the plain called MaghIth,* the Tuatha De-Dennans attacked him and his followers. He escaped to his ship, but not before he had received a wound which proved fatal. He was carried back dead to Spain. Then followed that second expedition to Inis Ealgazt which led to the establishment of the Milesians in the land. We pass down to the reign of Cimbaeth,s remarkable for the building of the famous palace of Emania, and, according to the more critical of our annalists, the starting-point of authentic chronology in Irish history. According to the accounts of the time, a prince named Aodh Ruadh, i.e., Red Hugh, who had enjoyed kingly power in Ulster, was drowned at the cataract of Ballyshannon, (hence the name Easaroe,) and his daughter Macha, a very Semiramis, having made good her claim to succeed him by force of arms, married her competitor, Cimbaeth, who thus became sole ruler in the north. Towards the end of the fourth century of the Christian era (379) reigned Niall of the Nine Hostages, one of the most famous of the Pagan kings of Ireland. Niall was the founder of the Hy-Niall, a race for many an age to come rulers in the land. Eight of his sons became the heads of princely houses. Four settled in the Meath district, and four settled in Ulster; and thus came the southern Hy-Niall and the northern Hy-Niall. Amongst the four brothers who settled in the north were Conall and Eoghan.* From Conall came the name and race of Kinel-Conall, while Eoghan was the father of the Kinel-Eoghan. Hence the districts of Tyr-Conall and Tyr-Eoghan, with their respective governing septs, O'Donnell and O'Neil-names afterwards so illustrious in the Irish annals. Conall received the appellative Gulban from Ben Gulben, the modern Benbülben of the county of Sligo, where he was fostered. That he was a man far above the common sort we may gather from the annalists, and more particularly from the traditions in which his strength and daring have been handed down with all the exaggeration of an Ossianic tale. He was slain in an encounter with a tribe inhabiting a district in the present county of Cavan. It is recorded that Eoghan died of grief for the death of his brother, and was buried at Eskaheen, in the peninsula, which is named after him, Inishowen.
* The precise locality has not yet been identified. + As Ireland was then called.
I Pronounced Kimbahe. 661 years before Christ, according to the computation of the Four Masters.
& Eas-Aodh-Ruadh, the Cataract of Red Hugh.
* Pronounced, and usually written, Owen. The orthography of most of the proper names that figure in Irish history is marvellously various, a fact which will account for the slight variety in the spelling of a few names that occur in these pages.
St Patrick's visit to Ireland, (432,) and the ready acceptance of the gospel by the inhabitants, and the fervour of the proselytes, form perhaps one of the brightest and most interesting chapters in the history of Christianity. Tyrconnell shared in the general blessing. There is a beautiful tradition connected with the great saint's visit to this district. The apostle in his progress through the island, after resting on “Magh-Ith, in Cinel Chonaillhe, went in his chariot the next day to the stream which is called Daol.”* The spindles of the chariot broke, were mended, and broke again; and then Patrick, addressing those with him, said, through the spirit of prophecy, “Do not wonder, for the land from the stream northwards does not stand in need of a blessing, for that a son shall be born there who shall be called the Dove of the Churches, (Collum-Cille,) who shall bless the land to the north, and it is in honour of him that God has prohibited my blessing this land.” Ath-an-Charpaid, (ford of the chariot,) on
* The river Deel, or Burndale.