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!