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  • Writer's pictureWilde Irishe

Leinster Clandonnells; the Queen Majestie’s Galloglass

Updated: May 24, 2020

An examination of the lineage, organisation, land holdings, and campaigns of the government galloglass. For information on galloglass kit, see our blog on the Muster of the MacSweeneys.


The direct ancestors of the Leinster MacDonnells migrated from Highland Scotland to Ireland in the second quarter of the 14th century. They subsequently moved from Ulster to Connacht, where they served the O’Kellys and were Constables to O’Connor Roe. In 1419, Turlough MacDonnell commanded O’Kelly’s galloglass in a crushing defeat by the Clanrickard Burkes. He escaped, and by 1430 he had moved to Wicklow, settling in the “Debatable Lands” around the North-West base of the Wicklow mountains and founding the original Wicklow line, which afterwards expanded to include the Tinnakill MacDonnells. With the temporary weakness of the Kildare lordship due to succession issues, this was an ideal time to become established as defenders of the Dublin Marches, or borderlands separating the Pale from the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles. This initial settlement was in the townlands of Ballydonnell North and Ballydonnel South, known for the next two centuries as “Clann Donnell’s Countrie” (see map below). John Carragh MacDonnell—succeeding as head of this Wicklow line after Donough—was referred to as “The Constable of the Pale,” and “Best Captain of the English,” but at this point the MacDonnells where in the service of the Earls of Kildare. An Alexander MacTurlough (recte Mac Colla?), from Ballyboy/Baltiboys, Wicklow, is recorded in 1541 as acquiring “Great Grange ” (Monksgrange), Co. Laois, south of Athy, an early instance of gradual expansion into Laois. Here are the arms and probable lineage of the Tinnakill line of Leinster Clandonnells. More elaborate genealogies compiled by Lord Walter FitzGerald may be found in our Resources.

Crown Service

The “Great Earl” of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald (Gearóid Mór)—generally Lord Deputy from 1479-1513—was responsible for the introduction of his own kern and MacDonnell galloglass into the service of the Dublin Administration. Gearóid Mór was to some extent Gaelicised, and ruled Ireland as virtual “High-King.” The Leinster Clandonnells served under the Great Earl at his famous victory of Knockdoe in 1504, where Gearóid called upon his “Captain of Galloglaigh” to “begin this game.” The famous reply was: “I am glad, you can do me no more honor, by God’s blood, and he took the axe in his hand and began to flourish.” The Great Earl’s son Gerald (Gearóid Óg) became Lord Deputy in 1513 and continued the practice, contemporaries complaining that rather than bills and bows, the King’s Deputy was now followed by a “multytude of Iryshe galloghaghers and a multytude of Iryshe kerne.” After the downfall of the house of Kildare following the rebellion of Gearóid Óg’s son, “Silken Thomas,” the Kildare galloglass were permanently transferred into Royal service. “Silken Thomas” had been served by 240 galloglass in his rebellion of 1534-5, doubtless three battles of 80 spars each, and these were the galloglass transferred into Government service after his defeat. In 1548, Lord Deputy Bellyngham writes in the State Papers that he has “appointed M’Donnell to bring with him forty spears [sparrs] besides their boys, who has brought six score. Their charges to be borne with the money of the cess, if it may be.” This was for service in Ulster and Bellyngham was told to cess them upon “places that the Earl of Tyrone hath by his handwriting condescended unto,” and to “let the galloglas marshal go with them.” In fact, they seem to have served under a single “Chief Captain” until 1561, after which each sept had its own captain. The office of “Chief Captain” or “Marshall” remained a sought-after post in the last quarter of the 16th century, largely filled by Calvagh “Colla” MacDonnell of Tinnakill. By 1549 they are styled the “King’s galloglasses of the Clandonnells,” and a few years later as the “King’s Scotici, otherwise galloglass,” later becoming the “Queen Majestie’s Gallogalss.” In 1553, Thomas Cusack (serving as Lord Justice during the Lord Deputy’s absence), writes of his expedition to Ulster in support of Conn O’Neill’s son, the Baron of Dungannon, and how he saved Conn’s house in Dungannon from burning at the hands of the malcontent Shane O’Neill, and “then cessed in the country 300 galloglass,” probably the three septs of the Leinster Clandonnells. This is the form used by the Earl of Sussex, the Lord Lieutenant, in 1560 to call up the Queen’s Galloglass for service in Ulster against Shane O’Neill: “Trustie and wellbeloved we grete you well; And whereas for the service of the quenes highness we have thought good at this present to entertayne three hundreth sparres of her majesties gallowglasses under your conducte for one quarter of a yere; we lett you witt that we have directed our servall mandates unto Obyrne and unto Omoloy and unto captaynes of the Analy to furnyshe you of your bonaght for the same accoordingly, the which mandates you shall receyve herewith to be delyvered unto them and therefore will and chardge you and every of you to assemble and prepare your saide numbre of sparres of gallowglasses and with all expedicion receyve your said bonaght appointed and furthewith be with them in readynes to her majesties service as you shall from us have comandement. Herof se you faill not in any wise” The Queen Majestie’s Galloglass were called out again in April, 1563 to form part of Lord Lieutenant Sussex’s forces going against Shane O’Neill again in Ulster. The results were a bit comical. Sussex records arriving at Armagh on the 6th, returning to Newry for supplies on the 8th, and advancing to Armagh again on the 11th, to await the galloglass and kern from the Pale. On the 15th the army went upon Shane’s cattle, and took enough to serve, but would have taken more “if I had galloglasse.” Sussex returned to Armagh on the 16th to wait three more days for the galloglass, finally sending to Dublin for them. When they finally did arrive, they continued to cause Sussex headaches, the government kerne and galloglass fighting among themselves until “one Kelly was slain, and McDonnell gallo and others wounded,” so that Sussex “took up the matter, and made them friends in his tent.” The galloglass may have tarried on this occasion, possibly due to personal conflict with Sussex, but a glance at their genealogy shows they died in action as often as not, with father and son dying together more than once.

Queen’s galloglass in mail shirt with sparth axe
Queen’s galloglass on Elizabeth’s Charter to Dublin, 1582

A conference with the “captens of the three septes of the Queens Majesties Galloglasses” was held in Dublin in 1568, setting the wages to be paid in money and victuals. (see the full document in our Research section) The companies were organized in spars of two men, rather than the more usual three, possibly a sign of the notorious parsimony of Elizabeth’s government. For similar reasons, the number of sparrs also seems to be set now at 300, apparently without any deadpays, the captains relying instead upon a set allowance. (When they had been in Kildare’s service, there were 240 spars, indicating 80 galloglass “on their feet” with an allowance of 20 deadpays per company.) Those galloglass billeted, or taking “bonaghtes,” in Ulster, Munster and Leinster received 5s 7d Irish per quarter year (=3/4d per day, Irish), plus sustenance in the form “Dietts in Victuellis;” bred-corne and butter, and “Dietts in Money;” 1d. sterling per meal, totaling 11s 6d per quarter. Those billeted in Connaught received an additional 7s Irish, perhaps because that was considered a post of danger.

TIn 1570, 300 spars of galloglass were again called out for six weeks service to support Fitton’s expedition against the Burkes. Their chief captain, the Colla of Tinnakill who received the grant of Tinnekill in 1562 (see New Land Grants, below), was subsequently killed on June 18, 1570, at the siege of Shrule, Mayo. His second son, Alexander, was killed by the Burkes at the gate of Galway, in 1577.

Queen Majestie's Galloglass on campaign.  Their camps at right.  Siege of Castlemaine, 1572.
Queen Majestie's Galloglass on campaign. Their camps at right. Siege of Castlemaine, 1572.

Gearóid Óg Fitzgerald had noted early in the century that “Wherever the Deputy goes, it is usual for the galloglass to have their food in those parts.” Likewise, when Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney was making his progress through Munster in December 1575, he spent Christmas in the city of Cork. The townsmen “willingly received his English footmen and galloglass, lodged and entertained them during his six weeks abode there, the townsmen receiving half the soldier’s wages for board, fire and lodging.”

In November, 1579, the three captains—Turlough Óg mac Alexander, Maelmurry mac Edmund, and Hugh Boy mac Callagh—were ordered to assemble, each with ninety spears [sparrs] of galloglass at Carrig [Carrick-on-Suir] to serve under the Earl of Ormond against the Earl of Desmond and his brothers.

Queen Majesty's Galloglass Organisation, circa 1570.
Organisation of the three septs of Queen Majesty's Galloglass, circa 1570.

Pencion: Ending the Cess

The government had wanted to eliminate the onerous “cess” for a long time. They had attempted to use billeting of galloglass on the hostile Gaelic neighbors of the Pale as a means of debilitating and watching them. But it proved difficult for the galloglass to collect their “bonaght,” so that the government often had to provide payment in lieu of it. And the farmers of the Pale had long complained, for these impositions were made upon them also. Therefore, an Indenture of Composition was executed in 1578 with the “three cheefe Captaynes of the three septs of Clandonills, her Majesty’s galloglass;”

• Turlough Óg mac Alexander MacDonnell of Wicklow

• Maelmurry mac Edmund MacDonnell of Rahin

• Hugh Boy mac Callagh (Calvagh) MacDonnell of Tinnakill

The old system of cess and bonaght was commuted to a money payment, and they were to be paid annually 300£, one-third to each for himself and the rest to his sept. The captains were to furnish 90 spears [sparrs] of galloglass when required, who have rights to press victual over and above the 300£. (Does this indicate that 10 deadpays were now being allowed per company?)

The document reads “Considering the auncient and contynuell fydelytie, loyaltie, and true service of the Captaynes and septs of the sayde Clandonnells, always borne and done towards her Majestie and her most worthy progenitors, the Bonaghts, sourens, dead payes, and blackmail, heretofore levyed, shall be commuted into a yearly pencone of three hundreth pounds to be paid out of Her Majestie’s Exchequer, into the hands of the said three cheefe Captaynes : Provyded that henceforth none of the sayde Captaynes, gent, nor officers, of the sayde three septs in any warlike journey or feat of war, shall use armour or weapon in serving of any other than the Queen's Majestie or her successors; provyded alsoe that henceforthe as heretofore of auntient use, and custome hath been due, the sayde captaynes, officers and galloglass shall supply, execute, and doe, as well in and for the marche of her Majestie’s army, and approaches and assaults, and prepuracones of approaches and assaultes of castells and ffortresses, all such officers and sapires (sappers), as by her Majestie’s galloglass ought to be supplyed, executed, and done.”

French sapper with axe, circa 1812.
French sapper with axe, circa 1812.


The emphasis here on galloglass serving as sappers and assaulting castles is interesting. Sappers of the 18th-19th century European armies always carried a heavy axe, for these can be useful in breaking down doors and other defenses. There are indications that galloglass served this purpose in 16th century Ireland. As late as January of 1595, well past the heyday of the galloglass, Hugh Maguire laid close siege to Enniskillen Castle, employing 40 picked men dressed in mail and armed with axes to assault the castle. These were apparently galloglass. They broke into the bawn and forced the ward to retreat into the tower.


Not surprisingly, there is evidence that the Queen Majestie’s Galloglass may have been accompanied by pipers. The Fiants of Elizabeth record a pardon in 1573 for Hugh Boy mac Calvagh MacDonnell’s brothers—Alexander, Walter, Donough and Brian, as well as 66 others, among whom are two bagpipers; Alexander, piper, and Turlough, piper.

New Land Grants

In the wake of the Plantations of Leix and Offaly in 1557, the MacDonnell galloglass were among those receiving grants of forfeited land in 1562, to be held by knight’s-fee:

1. Tinnakill Castle and its townland to Calvagh “Colla” mac Turlough MacDonnell (formerly O’Connor Faly possession).

2. Rahin-Derry townland to Maelmurry mac Edmund MacDonnell

(formerly O’More possession).

3. Newcastle (Castleno) townland to Alexander (or Alestran) MacDonnell

(formerly O’More possession).

In return, they paid rent and were each to to personally maintain 9 or 12 “able galloglass on sayde Castel and land,” as specified (Colla was to have 12, Maelmurry Mac Edmund and Alexander, 9). They were also required to adopt the English language, dress and law as far as they reasonably could, and to maintain fords, bridges and “pavements” (metalled roads?) on their properties. They also had to appear for muster before the Constable or Sheriff on 1st September annually with all their followers, aged 16 to 60, and deliver a list of their names and answer for their deeds in the year past. The upkeep of the captains’ full “battles,” or companies, was laid upon Gaelic clans bordering the Pale, the burden of their maintenance, as well as their very presence, hopefully serving as a bridle to the more turbulent families. As early as 1538 the O’Byrnes of Wicklow (see our previous blog on them) bore “a battaille of galloglas . . . being there as the Kinges souldeors.” When Deputy Grey spoiled their country that year, that battle of galloglass had to be relocated to billets within the Pale. By 1552, however, the O’Byrnes are again said to “beareth vi score (120) galloglas one quarter yearly, yielding to every of them iiiid. by the day.”

Location of the land holdings of the Clandonnell galloglass mentioned in the text..
Location of the land holdings of the Clandonnell galloglass mentioned in the text..

The map of 1563 below shows Maelmurry mac Edmund’s allocation of Rahin-Derry, under the much earlier name of FERANCLANDIDONIL, or Feran-Clan-Di-Donnell, the Land of Clan Mac Donnell. Also seen is Tenachelle (Tinnakill) Castle in the center. Note the extensive woods, with the “passes” cut through them marked by parallel hatching.

Tinnakill Castle

We have seen that in 1562 Colla, or Calvagh, MacDonnell appears to have came into possession of Tinnakill or Tighearna Coille (Forest Manor), Co. Laois, also spelled Tennekill or Tynekill. Originally built by the O’Connors Faly, it would be the chief seat of the Leinster MacDonnells for 200 years, its resident usually serving as Marshall or Chief Captain of the Queen Majestie’s Galloglass. A typical tower house, it had dimensions of 38 x 30 feet, and stood about 85 feet tall. It had a vaulted second storey ceiling, protecting the uppermost storey from fire, but no vault over the lowest level. The entry door, with its pointed arch, is guarded by double machicolations, and had an iron grate, or yett, as protective outer door, swinging on stanchions in the masonry door surround, which also had a hole to take the chain fastening the yett. The second floor had a “hole of forgetfulness” type of prison. The “Sheela-na-gig” pictured as an inset, was said to have formed part of the second storey window jamb. It was latterly photographed being used on a neighboring outbuilding.

Tinnikill castle in 1903 and today.  Sheela-na-gig inset.
Tinnikill castle in 1903 and today. The inset sheela-na-gig gracing a farmer's outbuilding in 1903 is now lost.

Section and elevation of Tinnikill Castle drawn in 1853.
Section and elevation of Tinnikill Castle drawn in 1853.

Floor plan of Tinnikill Castle as drawn in 1853.
Floor plan of Tinnikill Castle as drawn in 1853.

Turned Rebels in the Nine Year’s War

Despite the injunction to renounce their allegiance to the Papacy and to adopt the English language, dress and law, which came with their land grants in 1562, the Leinster Clandonnells retained a Gaelic cultural identity. Like other Gaelic chieftains, they sponsored Irish poets and produced a family dunaire, or book of bardic poems dedicated to the family (and paid for handsomely). The patron was Hugh Boy MacDonnell, and the poems are almost exclusively in the “Bardic-Franciscan” tradition, “reflecting primarily the ideals of the Observant Reform, more fitting to an ecclesiastic than a Constable of Galloglass.” Also included is an encomium of around 1570 praising Hugh Boy and his brother Alexander titled “Le dís cuirthear clú Laighean.” It includes the lines, “Aodh’s horses maul the bodies of warriors—a wall of axe-bearing troops.” Hugh’s wife Mary O’More also has additional quatrains dedicated to her. Intermarriage with the O’Mores helps explain the Clandonnell’s actions during the crisis of the 1590’s. The poem reflects a possible dispute for the chieftainship between Hugh Boy and Alexander, and portrays Alexander as the subordinate. But Alexander succeeded their father Calvagh, in 1570, holding the title until his death in 1577, after which Hugh Boy became chief.

By 1592, Henry Bagenal (later to command the army defeated at the Yellow Ford), characterized the Queen’s Galloglass as “the firebrand and nurse of rebellion.” In the State Papers in 1600, “the Clandonnell Galliglasses, a naughty race and disposed to rebellion,” are said to leave the Seneschal of King’s County “sore pressed.” Captain Tomas Lee wrote in 1597, “Then are there the Gallinglasses of Lease who have alsoe landes and great pencions of her Majestie yet they are all in action with the traytors the Moores and have bene the moste cruell towards the Englishmen inhabitinge that Countrye.” At the height of Tyrone’s Rebellion in 1599, the State Papers list the following MacDonnells among the Leinster rebels opposing Lord Deputy Essex:

• Edmund mac Maelmurry MacDonnell of Rahin-Derry, Queen’s County.

• Walter mac Edmund ballagh (the freckled) MacDonnell of Ballyboy/Baltiboys, County Wicklow; known as “the Galloglass of the Mountain.”

• Callogh mac Walter “brother’s son to Hugh Boy (the yellow haired) MacDonnell, of Tinnakill, Queen’s County. Called “the most stirring and bloody rebel in Leinster,” second only to Owny mac Rory O’More.

Taking of the Earl of Ormond, 1600.
Taking of the Earl of Ormond, 1600.

This Calvagh, or Callogh, macWalter MacDonnell was the man that pulled the Earl of Ormond off his horse at the notorious parley in 1600, the Earl afterwards being held for ransom by Owny mac Rory O’More. Calvagh later died attempting to save Owny mac Rory O’More, and had his head spiked atop Dublin Castle. He was the nephew of Hugh Boy, then lord of Tinnakill. Of the latter, George Carew, President of Munster, wrote in 1600—“. . . in the Queen’s County there is a Galloglass of good livelihood called Hugh Boy M’Calloghe. His sons, as I understand, are in rebellion, but himself is an aged corpulent man, and lives in neutrality.”

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