Saturday, 15 January 2011

Portmuck and Bryan O'Neill in 1572

In this detail of a map prepared for Sir Thomas Smith's Plantation of the Ards in 1572, "Belfurst" (Belfast) is shown at the head of the "baye of Knokfergus" (Carrickfergus Bay, as Belfast Lough was once known). But just north of Knokfergus (west is at the top of this map), on the barely distinguishable peninsula of Islandmagee, is marked "Portmuk" (Portmuck).

Mark Thompson has just posted this illustration on his "Bloggin fae the Burn" blog site (as a follow-up to his recent publication Sir Thomas Smith's Forgotten English Colony of the Ards and North Down in 1572). In earlier postings of my own I talked about the cattle raids of Bryan McPhelim O'Neill on the Commons of Carrickfergus and the Smith colonists in county Down as a prelude to the arrival of John Dalway with the Earl of Essex in 1573.

Of course, John Dalway eventually married into the Clandeboy O'Neill dynasty and obtained massive estates from the O'Neills between Whitehead and Ballynure in east Antrim. This land grant was confirmed by Queen Elizabeth and James I before Dalway's Bawn was built in the early 1600s.

But this map (of 1572) shows "Bryan Ferty" between Belfast and "Glanyboy" (Clandeboy) in the back country between Ballynure and Antrim town. Trouble is, Bryan Fertagh O'Neill, who had been Lord of Clandeboy before Sir Bryan McPhelim O'Neill, was killed in 1548, nearly a generation earlier than the Smith plantation.

Bryan Fachartach (also Ferty, or Fertagh) O'Neill, was great, great grandson of Aodh Buidhe (Hugh Boy) O'Neill, the progenitor of the whole Clandeboy (Clann Aodh Buidhe) O'Neill dynasty in east Ulster in the late 14th century.

However, this is ground I have covered before, so what is new? Well, we know that before John Dalway "established" the cattle trail from the lands behind Carrick to Scotland via Portmuck and Whitehead, it was the O'Neill's who were in control of the cattle-based economy in the hinterland of the medieval English colony of Carrickfergus. The trade from Carrick was with England although in the 1590s Elizabethan tower-houses or castles were also built at Whitehead and Portmuck to defend these "new" trading ports. But this map suggests that Portmuck was operating as a port (and a strategic one at that) at a time when the O'Neills controlled Islandmagee and east Antrim. Was there a cattle trade with Scotland in Bryan O'Neill's day? I think it is possible, and it could mean that our cattle trail is of even greater antiquity than from the days of Dalway's Bawn.

Postscript: I had just finished this post when Mark Thompson e-mailed me the short message: "Here's another"! This map is what was attached - it must be about the same date as the 1572 one as it has "Smites" castle marked on the Ards peninsula. But here again is "Karregfergus" and "Port Muk" (and perhaps Muck Isle marked as "The Kowe").

Another postscript: I mentioned before that Adrian McKinty's three fantasy novels (The Lighthouse Trilogy) set on Muck Isle at Portmuck involved a fictional American boy, Jamie O'Neill, who inherited the island and a "Laird of Muck" title from the ancient Ui Neill owners of the area. Well for those with local knowledge that think such a connection with the O'Neills is impossible - well, think again!


  1. Philip

    Great post and what a fantastic map.

  2. Thanks Adrian, you were so quick off the mark that you may have missed a second one I added 10 minutes after first posting - having just received 5 minutes before. The wonderful world of the internet!

  3. Phil

    Oh thats interesting. In one Carrickfergus is called Knockfergus and the other Karragfergus

  4. Back when I dabbled in genealogy, I sometimes found that the more I learned, the less of which I was sure!

  5. Gorges,
    That's true - every answered question throws up twice as many more difficult ones.

  6. Great stuff. Now either you or Adrian need to write a novel out of it, to make it more accessible to foreigners like me!

  7. Seana
    Nice idea - and neither of us would have to worry about ghosts from the 16th century coming back to haunt us about copyright or libel!

  8. You've certainly focused like a laser on local history there in County Down. I'm sure you're also well-versed in the ancient traditions of Patrick as they relate to your county...

  9. Gary, the layers of history are so muddled and complex here that a bit of focus is needed - or more like discipline to stop you from flitting from interesting discovery to interesting discovery like a butterfly. So as Patrick was here in Antrim and Down 1000 years before even the Clandeboy O'Neills invaded from Tyrone in the late 14th century, I should resist the temptation. But then he did tend sheep and pigs on nearby Slemish, and he did come across from Scotland on the same livestock trading routes, and the earliest churches in east Antrim (Glynn and Kilroot) do go back to his time ....

  10. I'm directly descended from the Clandeboy O'Neills on one line (through Dobbs) & the Hamiltons of Dunlop on another (through Price). How did James Hamilton 1559-1643 come to be created 1st Viscount Claneboys? Was it to do with being awarded O'Neill estates confiscated by the Crown?

  11. Onslow,
    It was indeed to do with the confiscation of Con O'Neill's estates in Co. Down. The story is a complex one. Hamilton and Montgomery were confidants of James VI of Scotland, so that when he became James I of England and Scotland in 1603, Hamilton concocted a plan to have the arrested Con O'Neill 'sprung' from Carrick castle, and he and Montgomery secrteted him to London for a 'pardon' which involved a 3-way split of the Con's lands in county Down which were not held under English law, but in this 'surrender and re-grant' arrangement, Con retained 1/3 of his lands at Castlereagh (his principal seat) while Hamilton and Mongomery got 1/3 each - Hamilton mostly around Bangor and Killyleagh, and Montgomery mostly around Newtownards and the Ards peninsula. SO Hamilton became Viscount Clandeboye, and Montgomery Viscount Ards.

  12. This is good stuff. Do you know how "the entail was barred" on the Shane's Castle Estates in Antrim, so that they went to their side instead of the branch they were entailed to?