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A Depiction of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty—Or Not!

Recently we received a request for a copy of a portrait of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty (ca. 1587 - 05 July 1608), our last clann chieftain and Lord of Inishowen. The requesting individual said that an image supposedly of Cahir's portrait had been found within Google image search at some point, but it was presently unable to be located. Certainly, in the past there have been images misattributed as the likeness of the notable chief. However, upon further searching, each painting or portrayal identified as such online was not truly him. It had been some time from then until now, so this request warranted a search of what was presently published online.


 

The first image purported to be a portrait of Sir Cahir O'Dogherty is published on a nice blog written from New Zealand called “Walking to Donegal.” Their writeup on the O’Doherty Rebellion of 1608 is done fairly well. However, the image labelled “Cahir O’Dogherty” is certainly not him.

Screensnip from the blog “Walking to Donegal” with an image claimed to be the likeness of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty.


This image was published in the year 1856 in an article titled “Owen ‘Roe’ O’Neill” within Ulster Journal of Archaeology, volume 4 (https://archive.org/details/jstor-20608790). The journal says the image below is a lithograph of a historic painting of General O’Neill.

Left, a lithograph likeness of the painting of Owen Roe O’Neill from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1856. Right, an image attributed as Owen Roe O’Neill, possibly of the painting from which the lithograph was made?


The article from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology gives the following details.

There is every reason to believe that the portrait of Owen Roe O'Neill, from which our lithograph is faithfully copied on a reduced scale, is genuine. It is an oil painting on wood, and measures about 16 in. by 12 in. On the back is written, in characters now much obliterated, — “Owen Roe O'Neill at the court of * * * * by the celebrated Dutch artist, Van Brugens.” This writing is older than the memory of the present owner, a lady now far advanced in years. The painting is traditionally known by all the branches of her family as the portrait of Owen Roe, and highly valued as such.

 

The next image found online reputed to be Cahir were from two Spanish blogs on “The History of the O’Doghertys,” published in 2009 and 2017, respectively. Additionally, another website which pulled from a historical instance of Wikipedia featured the same low-quality image, as seen below.


Images from two Spanish blogs attributing these photos as the likeness of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty.


Certainly, the misattributions for these images published on various websites have confused Google. In turn, the erroneous association of these images to Cahir by Google and other search engines has only propagated the confusion.


Above, when doing a search for the source of this image of Sir Arthur Chichester, Google has identified two possible associations: Sir Arthur Chichester and Sir Cahir O’Doherty!


Most certainly, Sir Cahir O’Dogherty would “roll over in his grave” if he knew his name was associated with this likeness. As seen below, these are portraits of Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Chichester, who was the English Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1605-1616. In 1607, Chichester wrongly imprisoned O’Dogherty who had gone to Dublin to press against the false allegations of Sir George Paulet, the arrogant, newly-instated Governor of Derry. Also, beginning with the Flight of the Earls in 1602, and only temporarily interrupted by the O’Dogherty Rebellion in 1608, Lord Deputy Chichester was one of the major masterminds behind the Plantation of Ulster.

Certainly, Paulet lusted after the vast lands of the O'Doghertys. However, his advances (or rather, instigations to rebellion) were blocked by the O’Dogherty’s and their kin the McDevitts in 1608. In 1610, Chichester became the beneficiary of the land-lust of the ill-fated Sir George Paulet, receiving the patent for the entirety of Inishowen following the crown's confiscation of Ulster and the beginning of the plantation. Ultimately, it was Chichester who finished dividing up the O’Dogherty lands in Inishowen to renters for a considerable entrance fee. (Dictionary of Irish Biography, dib.ie). Though, thankfully, today Dohertys and Chichesters live among each other in Inishowen peacefully.


Left, “Lord Arthur Chichester of Belfast (1563–1626),” painting, oil on panel, 16.5 in. x 12.4 in., dated before 1626, painted by the Anglo/Irish School, now in the collection of Belfast Harbour Commissioners (Wikimedia). Right, “Arthur Chichester, Baron Chichester,” line engraving, 6 3/8 in. x 4 1/2 in., dated 1781, possibly by Charles Hall, published by John Thane, now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London (Wikimedia).


 

Next, there is an image of a painting of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty on horseback. The highest quality image of this work of art is featured on a Spanish blog bearing the Latin title “Si vis pacem memento bellum,” which is roughly translated, “If you want peace, remember war.” The blog’s caption of the painting is, “1608 04-19 Saqueo y quema de Derry - Rebelión de sir Cahir O'Doherty - Sean O'Brogain,” which indicates the smoke in the background of the painting is of the sacking and burning of Derry done by O’Dogherty’s forces on 19 April 1608.


Seán Ó Brógáin’s modern painting of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty after the 1608 sacking and burning of Derry.


The beautiful painting is by County Donegal artist and illustrator, Seán Ó Brógáin who works with a historical focus. Seán’s LinkedIn account says, “I research and create artwork for Publication, museums and private commissions.”


Also, Ó Brógáin's bio at bloomsbury.com gives more information,

Seán Ó’Brógáin lives and works in Donegal, Ireland. He has a BA (Hons) in Scientific and Natural History illustration from Lancaster University, and has worked for a wide range of clients. In addition to his stunning work for Osprey Publishing, he has collaborated with the University of Manchester, An Post, the National Museum of Ireland, the Irish Office of Public Works and a variety of media companies, museums, councils and private individuals.


The modern painting is probably historically accurate, excepting for the much older visage with which the painting portrays Cahir. At the time of his death the redheaded chieftain was only twenty-one years old. Also, Cahir was known to have worn a hat with a large feather plume, which is notably absent from Ó Brógáin’s work.


 

Finally, there is one depiction of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty which is roughly contemporary to him. Sir Cahir was shot and killed on 05 July 1608 near Doon Rock in Kilmacrenan, County Donegal Ireland. Printed in London the same year, only a short time after his death, was a news bulletin entitled, “Over-throw of an Irish rebell, in a late battaile: Or the death of Sir Carey Adoughertie, who murdered Sir George Paulet in Ireland; and for his rebellion hath his head now standing over Newgate in Dublin.” The bulletin was printed for “I. Wright,” and copies were sold at Wright’s shop near Christ Church in London.

Left, a 1608 London news bulletin depicting the severed heads of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty and Phelim Reagh MacDevitt displayed on pikes at Dublin Castle. Right, Dublin Castle, today.


Though the woodcut print, above, was made in England, some time after the battlefield death of Sir Cahir O’Dogherty in Ireland, it may still be relatively accurate. Following the printed news bulletin, the publishers included a letter from an English soldier, “out of Ireland,” describing nuanced details of the battle in which Cahir was killed. Thus, it appears there was fresh, descriptive, firsthand information, being brought to London for readers.

Additionally, the striking similarity which the drawing holds to the still-standing Dublin Castle (which was also across the sea in Ireland), may further suggest the print bears a greater degree of accuracy, and may indicate the likenesses of these men in the woodcut print may bear a fair resemblance of MacDevitt and O’Dogherty.

The contrasting ages between the two heads, indicate the head on the left is that of Phelim Reagh MacDevitt, while the head on the right belonged to Sir Cahir O’Dogherty. Cahir is shown with neck-length hair, a small, pointy style of beard known as “peak de bon” (common in Tudor portraiture), and a moustache. One thing the black and white image fails to portray is the color of his hair. As his epithet “Rua” implies, Cahir’s hair was red, a color of hair often associated with Ireland.

Detail from the 1608 bulletin depicting the head of Phelim Reagh MacDevitt (left) and Sir Cahir O’Dogherty (right). One edition of the woodcut, bulletin, and letter may be viewed on the O'Doherty Rebellion page on this site.


Thus, while Cahir has been incorrectly associated online with a number of portraitures, none of which are actually his, the 1608 woodcut print may be a rather close resemblance of this chieftain, who attempted to balance the two clashing worlds of his day and is held dear by many Ó Dochartaighs today.


If you haven't already, make sure to check out the Clann Ó Dochartaigh Reunion page for updates and information on reserving your spot at the Reunion in Ireland, around the corner in July!

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