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Dún Mhaonghaile and the early Ó Dochartaigh Homeland

Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh


Two weeks ago, I was studying the migration and expansion of the Ó Dochartaighs' early medieval ancestors, the Síl Lugdach tribe, when reading Lug's forgotten Donegal kingdom. As I read, I couldn't help but try to think of how I could capture and employ the archaeological and historical strategies used by Dr. Lacey to further our research of the Ó Dochartaigh Clann—particularly the place names.

William de Burgh, the Norman "Earl of Ulster," was murdered by his family in 1333 AD, leaving a massive power vacuum in Inishowen. I've not given this era much reading, but it would appear that the Ó Dochartaighs seized the opportunity with decisive and immediate force, as the Annals of Ulster report that six years later, at the time of his death in 1339, Donal Ó Dochartaigh was "arch-chief of Ard-Midhair—and it is not this alone, for there was little wanting from his having the lordship of Inis-Eogain and the lordship of the Cantred of Tir-hEnna".

As we set out to identify the geographic habitation of our Ó Dochartaighs before their Inishowen invasion, it is these two other place names that will be our focus: Tir Enna (Cenél-Enda) and Ard-Midhair (Ardmire). We recently learned how our ancestors, the Síl Lugdach, began their expansion from northwest Donegal, in the 8th century, into Kilmacrenan and Raphoe. So where is the first place we can associate with the Ó Dochartaighs as an individual people? Ó Clerys Book of Genealogies takes the first stab at this by associating Donal, the great great grandson of Dochartagh, with a place called "Droma Fornochta" (The Treeless Ridge) in the Laggan. The exact location of Droma Fornochta is unknown, but this tells us they were in the Laggan by no later than around 900 AD.

Within a short amount of time, Clann Ó Dochartaigh had fully established itself in the Finn River valley. In the year 1194, the Ó Doherty founded a Cistercian abbey at Hillfothuir (just a little over a mile north of Castlefinn in Kilmonaster) (Walsh, 1854). Over the next two hundred years, our Clann was associated with the territories of both Cenél-Enda and Ardmire. Here just are a few of those references from the Annals of the Four Masters: 1199 "Donnell Ó Doherty, Lord of Kinel-Enda and Ard-Mire…"; 1342, "Donnell Ó Doherty, Chief of Ardmire, and of the cantred of Tir-Enda…"; and, in 1413, “Conor Ó Doherty, Chief of Ardmire, and Lord of Inishowen…"


First, we'll try to identify the territory of Cenél-Enda in terms of today's known locations using historic sources. Some sources, such as The Battle of Magh Rath and The Book of Fenagh describe the territory of Cenél-Enda as a larger tract across east-central Donegal, extending from Inishowen and the River Swilly all the way down to the Gap of Barnesmore and Sruthail (Sruell) further south in Donegal (Ó Donovan, The Battle of Magh Rath, 1842) (St. Cailin & Hennessy, 1875) (Hogan, 1910).

On the other hand, Historian John Ó Donivan’s notes to The topographical poems of John Ó Dubhagain give a slightly smaller definition, stating that “Cinel-Enna… The territory of this sept, usually called Tir-Enda, comprised thirty quarters of lands, and is situated in the barony of Raphoe, and county of Donegal, to the south of Inishowen, and between the arms of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly.” (Ó Donovan, Ó Dubhagáin, & Ó Huidhrin, 1862). Ó Donivan footnoted a similar description in his translation of the Four Masters’ Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, a few years earlier, but further describes it more specifically as being “…between the arms of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, that is, between Lifford and Letterkenny...” (Ó Donovan, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, Volume 3, 1856).

Another description, preserved in the State Papers relating to Ireland, comes from an early Irish account discovered just after 1600 by Sir Francis Shaen which lists among the “tuaths” (districts) of Tirconnell (Donegal), "…3. The Tuath of Tir-Enna from the streamlet of Tamhafada unto Beal Atha Trona…[in Raphoe, and lying between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly]…” (Public Records Office, Great Britain, 1874)

The medieval Cenél-Enda corresponds in many ways with the modern barony of Raphoe, though it doesn’t seem to have extended quite as far west as Raphoe South (which will be evident in our search for Ardmire, below). Contained within part of this territory are the fertile lowlands between Lough Swilly and the River Foyle which in early times described as the “Lagan” (though, in the past few centuries this name has been extended to cover a larger area that historically) (Ó Tuathail, 1937). The location of Cenél-Enda thus aligns perfectly with the Ó Clery’s mention that one of our Clann’s progenitors, Donal, was of Droma Fornochta in the “Lagan”.


Now that we’ve identified the general location of the territory of Cenél-Enda, let’s attempt to identify the Ó Dochartaigh’s other medieval territory: Ardmire. I find it interesting that Ardmire is actually mentioned more in the Annals in association with our Clann than is Cenél-Enda. This may suggest that it was the central or more historic base of Ó Dochartaigh power, while the other may have been a territory into which they expanded, as they grew…but where is this mysterious place, Ardmire?

Before we begin, let’s explore a few sources outside the Annals which place our family there.

Ceart Ui Neill, or “The Rights of Ó Neill”, translates: "The customary right and lordship of O Neill over the Province of Ulster: His claim on Ó Domhnaill--that he come with full muster from Tarbh Chinn Casla to Eas Ruaidh, without consideration of the advantage or disadvantage to themselves. And these are the Chieftains who come with Ó Dohmnaill i.e., …and Ó Dochartaigh from Ard Miodhair, and…" (Ó Doibhlin, 1970). Another reference, from an ancient Irish poem of Ó Dubhaguin published in the Irish Eccesiastical Record describes our early homeland as being on well-watered (irriguous) slopes (Ó Doherty, 1900):

“A battle-armed host which is not treacherous,
Is over Ard-Miodhair of irriguous slopes;
Men who have been found valiant,
Are proving it to Ó Dochartaigh.”

With that, we’ll continue on to identifying the location of Ardmire.

In a footnote to his translation of the Four Masters’ Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, John Ó Donivan says: “Ard-more, or Ard Miodhair, was the name of a territory lying westwards of Kinel-Enda, in the direction of Lough Finn. It is to be distinguished from Ceann Maghair, near Fanaid."

With his mention of the "direction of Lough Finn", my first thought a few years ago was that maybe this corresponded with Ardmore, a sub-townland of Meenmore East about two miles north of Fintown which sits right on Lough Finn, but that just seemed a little farther from the rest of Cenél-Enda than I was expecting. Upon further study The topographical poems of John Ó Dubhagain clarifies:

“Ard-Miodhair.—The limits of this territory have not been yet determined. In the year 1199, Ó Dochartaigh, now Ó Dogherty or Doherty, was chief of the territory of Cinel-Enda and Ard-Miodhair. Ard-Miodhair extended westwards of Cinel-Enda, in the direction of Glenfinn, in the parish of Kilteevoge. On the increasing power and population of the descendants of Conall Gulban, Ó Doherty, a very high family of that race, became lord of Inishowen, and expelled or subdued the families of the race of Eoghan, who had been lords of that territory before him.” (Ó Donovan, Ó Dubhagáin, & Ó Huidhrin, The topographical poems of John Ó Dubhagain and Giolla na naomh Ó Huidhrin., 1862)

The Irish account of the tuaths of Tirconnell (i.e., districts of Donegal), mentioned earlier as preserved in the State Papers, describes it as thus: “5. The Tuath of Ardmire [or Ard Miodhair, extending from Tir Enna westward to Glenfinn]…a half tuath…”. This account also mentions, “6. The Tuath of Glen-Finne…" as the next entry, separately (Public Records Office, Great Britain, 1874).

From analyzing last two sources above, we learn that Glen Finn (now in the parish of Kilteevoge) was its own independent tuath or district in those times. This is important because the sources indicate that we will find the small territory (half-tuath) of Ardmire situated westward of Cenél-Enda, between it and Glen Finn. Well, we know where Glenfin is today and we’ve roughly identified the boundaries of Cenél-Enda, above. Just looking at a map of Donegal, then, it appears that Ardmire should have been centered somewhere near Stranorlar.

Fr. Edmund Hogan, an Irish Jesuit scholar, described the place in his Onomasticon Goedelicum as “Árdd Mídhair…now Ardmire in the barony of Raphoe” (Hogan, 1910), the wording of which implies to me that he’s saying Ardmire is actually the name of a modern place in Raphoe that we can identify today. While we’ve somehow missed this for the last century, that appears to be exactly the case!

As I mentioned earlier, while I was reading Lug's forgotten Donegal kingdom my gears were turning, trying to figure out how we might uncover the history hidden within place names and archaeology to learn more about Clann Ó Dochartaigh. At some point in this process, I remembered a snippet of information which I had read some months back concerning an old rath or fort in Dunwiley while I was exploring a presentation on possible connections between the Munnelly family and the Ó Dohertys. The slide mentioned how the place name Dunwiley, in its’ Irish form may preserve the name "Fort of Maenghail"—Maenghail being one of the progenitors of the Ó Dochartaigh Clan (Manley, 2013). I began looking into this and found the remains of Dunwiley fort to be a mile above Stranorlar. To my surprise, I found that the townland immediately below Dunwiley to be named “Admiran”—anglicized from the Irish “Ard Mireann”. (Irish OpenStreetMap community, 2019) (Buckley, 2019). This seemed way too close to be a coincidence! I reached out to Dr. Brian Lacey to get his opinion and he said that he’s “had an idea for years that it [Ardmire] may have been the higher land between Letterkenny and Ballybofey which would fit in roughly with [this idea], although [these place names] are more precise.” At the same time, I had reached out to the presentation’s author, Paul Manley, who shared his peer-reviewed research paper, Munnelly Origins. Mr. Manley’s paper led me to an old Ár nDúthchas Clann newsletter, from which I drilled down, yet further, to a news article published in October 4, 2006 in the Finn Valley Voice.

Rose McNamee with the Finn Valley Voice kindly shared with me, from their newspaper archives, a copy of the article which was based on a discovery by one of our own clansmen, historian and genealogist Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh. Well, remember how Ó Donivan’s footnotes referenced earlier pointed us toward the parish of Kilteevoge? The article shares how Seoirse had meticulously combed through the whole parish of Kilteevoge in County Donegal for some tiny shred of evidence linking to our Ó Dochartaighs, however his search returned fruitless until he exhausted that region and extended his search area beyond that area. When his search got near Stranorlar, Seoirse discovered the two place names, Admiran and Dunwiley, which almost certainly held strong connection to Clann Ó Dochartaigh. (Finn Valley Voice, 2006)


In the article, Seoirse expressed joyful surprise of how the mysterious Ardmire was hidden right in plain sight, just as the medieval topographical poem told, on the “well-watered slopes” of the Finn River Valley. As ruling clans rose and fell, the boundaries of territories changed over time, and as, during the 17th century, the English language and governmental system was being imposed upon Ireland, somehow, the name of the half-district of Ardmire got disguised as “Admiran” and hidden as the name of a tiny townland in its center. Similarly, because, in Irish, an “mh” at the beginning of a word is pronounced as a “w, Dún Mhaonghaile, which actually means “The Fort of Maonghal”, was anglicized as “Dunwiley” and also hidden as the name of the townland surrounding the medieval fort ” (Wikibooks contributors, 2019).

Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh

Upon his initial discovery, Mr. Ó Dochartaigh immediately consulted with his friend, Jon Williams, a noted topographer and Irish historian, and together they poured over historic maps, surveys, and works on local place names, finally concurring that the location of Dunwiley/Admiran was the best place in the region for such a fortress from the viewpoint of defensive military strategy. Seoirse told the reporter how that just south of there was their border with Tyrone—territory of the Ó Neill, the arch-enemy of the Ó Doherty and Ó Donnell. Dún Mhaonghaile guarded the historically strategic crossing of the Finn River, which was, in that day, the only place in the region that linked the north and south parts of Donegal together. From their outlook at the fort, the Ó Dochartaighs could see invading armies miles ahead and prepare the Clann’s forces to defend their people and homeland. Seoirse also said that they were obliged to protect their overlords, the Ó Donnells, who lived beyond “the Gap” in the impassable mountains at Barnesmore, just south of there. (Finn Valley Voice, 2006)

View from Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh

The National Monuments Service Historic Environment Viewer for this ringfort rath at Dunwiley (#DG078-003) cites the Archaeological Survey of County Donegal by Dr. Brian Lacey and a number of his colleagues to provide the following description for this historic site which is the largest ringfort in the whole region:

Internal diameter 12.5 metres North-South, 17 metres East-West. A massive fortification consisting of an oval area enclosed by an inner earthen bank up to 1 metre high. Below this is a terrace and below this again a fosse [a long, narrow trench or excavation] and second outer bank. The inner bank has gone on the SE sector and the outer bank in the S sector. The outer bank is revetted by a stone wall on the N side which is probably modern. There is an entrance consisting of breaks in the banks and a causeway across the fosse at the E side where the approaching slope is more gradual. Rock outcrop breaks through in several places particularly along the middle terrace. It is situated on the summit of a hill commanding the neighbouring area of excellent farming land. (National Monuments Service, 2019)

Earthen works of Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh

Additional information from the National Monuments Service roughly dates the construction of ringforts such as this one to between 500-1000 AD (National Monuments Service, 2019). From our study of the Síl Lugdach expansion, using the annals and genealogies, we know that the Ó Dochartaighs’ progenitors would have arrived in this region around the 9th century, which fits nicely within the archaeological timeframe (Lacey, 2012). Genealogically, this was the era in which at least three of the Ó Dochartaigh patriarchs were given the name Mhaonghaile. Ó Clery’s and MacFirbis’ genealogies give the following lineage which roughly correspond with this era: “…Maenghaile son of Donogh son of Maonghaile son of Dochartach (from whom Ó Dougherty) son of Maonghaile…” (Ó Cléirigh, 1950).

While most ringforts served as residences and farmsteads (National Monuments Service, 2019), Seorise Ó Dochartaigh said that, based on the archaeological studies done up to that point, Dún Mhaonghaile was “the only clearly defensive fort in the center of the region” (Finn Valley Voice, 2006). With that said, cross-referencing the historical and genealogical information with the archaeological data, it seems very likely that the place name, meaning “Fort of Mhaonghaile”, preserves, still today, the name of our ancestor, Mhaonghaile, who very possibly may have been the founder or, at least, conqueror of the fort and/or surrounding district of Ardmire, as they continued their conquest and expansion eastward across Donegal.

Personal names were, in times of yore, often given with much more thoughtfulness to their meaning and significance. The name Mhaonghaile or Maongal means “wealth” and “valor” in Irish (Woulfe, 1922). With this meaning in mind, it may be less than coincidence that the archaeological class of this site, being of trivallate ringforts (those which have three sets of banks and trenches), “are less common and have been equated with higher status sites belonging to upper grades of society”, according to the National Monuments Service (National Monuments Service, 2019).

Alternately, the other meaning of the name Maongal, given by Woulfe, is “valor.” The Ó Dochartaigh Clann have since the times of yore been known as “valiant” family (Ó Doherty, 1900) (Keating, 1723). Depending on from which individual named Maongal the ancient fortress takes its’ name, Dochartach, the c. 9th century progenitor and eponym of our Clann, would either have been his son, father, or great grandfather, according to the genealogies. We believe that it was from this same valiant spirit that our progenitor, Dochartach, earned his epithet, meaning “hurtful” or “obstructive” for his skill and courage in battle. Our family, known in his time simply as the Síl Lugdach or, more specifically, “Clann Fiamahan”, in the succeeding centuries adopted the name Ó Dochartaigh. There’s limited genetic evidence to-date, but some evidence suggests that the Mac Mhaonghaile (MacMonagle) family is descended from the same progenitors as are Ó Dochartaigh—very possibly one of these men named Mhaonghaile.

Whether our patriarch Mhaonghaile’s name was given to signify the wealth or the valor of our ancestors—or both—significantly enough, those qualities are represented in the archaeology of Dún Mhaonghaile, either in its’ architectural status (as associated with high social class) or in terms of the forts’ massive size and its’ placement in terms of military strategy.

On another note, preserved within The Schools’ Collection of the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin is a story which goes like this:

Long ago there was a stone wall round Dunwiley Fort. One year Mr Thomas Gallagher of Dunwiley Stranorlar took the field in which the Fort was situated to graze cattle. One day he thought he would tumble the wall and make use of the stones to build a shed. He tumbled the wall and told his men to take the horses and carts and bring the stones the field in which he proposed to build the shed. When the men had filled the carts with the stones the three horses fell dead. This was because the fort was "gentle" and should not have being interfered with. (Laverty & Mc Namee, 2019)

The story, along with some remains still in place, show us how a stone wall once surrounded the rath, supporting the outer earthen ring. What is significant is the “herringbone” pattern of the stone wall. According to another article from the Finn Valley Voice in 2007, “The over-and-back structure is not found in any other fort, and it is the only one of its kind on earth. Herringbone building, in which the stones or bricks are placed in alternating diagonal rows for strength, was used in Roman times and later by the Normans in churches and castles, but dry-stone herringbone structures are far rarer” (Holland, 2007). There appears to have been quite a hype about the wall a few years back, including speculation of Viking influence. However, opposing this conjecture, the National Monuments Service, citing the Archaeological Survey of County Donegal, says that the stone wall was “probably modern” (National Monuments Service, 2019). Another account acknowledges the mysteriousness of the place, saying “Dunwiley is an enigma, yet its massive outworks survived a vandalistic attack within living memory” (MacDonagh, 1996).

The mysterious herringbone stonework at Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh

In addition to all the evidence presented thus far, one last point, yet a significant one, is that the National Monuments Service describes this site as a “rath.” According to Merriam-Webster, a rath is “a usually circular earthwork serving as stronghold and residence of an ancient Irish chief” (Merriam-Webster, 2019). If this earthen fortress was indeed inhabited by the 9th and 10th century patriarchs and progenitors of our Clann, it would seem to imply that their lineage, which later assumed the name Ó Dochartaigh, were chiefs over their other cousins of Clann Fiamahan and other inhabitants of the district very early on. This helps explain the Ó Dochartaighs’ ascent over the following few centuries, as they became the second-most powerful family in all of Donegal.

Commanding view from Dún Mhaonghaile (Dunwiley) near Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. Photo courtesy of Conor Gallinagh

Horticulture Consultant Conor Gallinagh was so helpful to take these photos for us of our Clann’s historic fortress and the commanding views it still holds over the surrounding countryside of the Finn River Valley. Conor offers a horticulture consultancy and garden design service based in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. For more beautiful photos of the Irish landscape, gardens, and plants follow him on his social media pages (


Will Dougherty III


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Will Dougherty III
Will Dougherty III
Dec 31, 2019

@Paul Dougherty (odochartaigh). I appreciate the kind comments and constructive feedback about the site. The blog page seems to be the slowest, but I'm not sure I can change that, though I have had success at speeding some of the other pages up, as I get time to work them over (I use a third-party service, so I'm limited with what I can do). Glad you enjoy the content! Love the story of the "Wee Mr. Munnelly" :)


Dec 28, 2019

Will, I found this post and the evocative photographs very interesting and the bibliography is useful. My parents were both born in Ireland and used to joke affectionately about an insurance man coming to the door named Munnelly ... spoken Muneeli 'Wee Mr Munnelly'

Thanks for creating such an interesting, rich and well laid out site. As a constructive criticism, I do find the site slow to navigate even with a modern browser, although, that might just be my experience.

Paul Dougherty


This post has intrigued me greatly! Thanks for your tremendous hard work!

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