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  • Writer's pictureWilde Irishe

Discoveries at Tullyhogue: O’Neill Inauguration Site & Native Settlement

In August 2019 we were able to visit Tullyhogue, located 16 minutes drive north of the Hill of The O’Neill at Dungannon. It is a double banked circular ráth, located on a commanding height, much like the Hill of The O’Neill. It may have originally had a single bank, and was apparently built as an ancient ceremonial site without true defensive features. It was the settlement of the O’Hagans from the 11th century. With the rise of the medieval O’Neill dynasty, O’Hagan became hereditary seneschal (reachtaire) and the senior of O’Neill’s household families, the so-called “loughtee,” or lucht tighe. As custodian of the inauguration site, O’Hagan presented and read the law at O’Neill’s inauguration.

View from the entrance to Tullyhogue mound, August 2019.

Thus, Tullyhogue was in a similar vein to the ancient ráthanna occupied by the O’Byrnes in the Wicklow mountains, or the many crannóga utilized by native lords in northern Connacht and southwest Ulster—an ancient part of the cultural landscape whose cachet was utilized by later generations to invoke authority in a lineage-based society with deep respect for the past.

A contemporary image of Tullyhogue became well-known after the maps of Richard Barthelet (drawn c. 1602) were discovered and published by G. A. Hayes-McCoy in 1964 (in Ulster and Other Maps). Barthelet was on staff with Lord Deputy Mountjoy as ‘the Lord Deputy’s Cornet,’ serving in fact as official cartographer. His maps have been shown to be very reliable and accurate representations of the topography of southeast Ulster during the last days of Tyrone’s Rebellion.

Rath of Tullyhogue, with O'Neill's stone chair and O'Hagan houses.
Detail, Richard Barthelet (Bartlett) map of Tullyhogue, 1602. (National Library of Ireland)

Caoimhín Ó Danachair described Barthelet’s picture as follows (in Representations of Houses on some Irish Maps of c. 1600); “Within the ring-fort is a green lawn with paths running through it from the gates in the rampart. On the lawns are shown two houses, one of them a small building with much rounded hip-roof, very similar to many other small houses on the maps, and the other a much larger house, apparently two-storied, with a thatched hip-roof. No chimney is shown in either, and one wonders how the smoke escaped from the larger house if indeed it has an upper storey.”

Reproduction stone chair on the path to the mound.

Near the base of the hill, the stone of kingship or Leac na Rí was located. This inauguration stone had been turned into a rough outdoor throne by the Tudor era with the addition of three flat stone slabs for a back and two arm rests. A reproduction is located at the approximate spot indicated by Barthelet, since the original was broken by Mountjoy in 1602 to symbolize the destruction of the O’Neill dynasty’s sovereignty. The remains of the original Leac na Rí may be represented by some stray stones still on the site.

Richard Barthelet (Bartlett) map of Tullyhogue, 1602. (National Library of Ireland)
Richard Barthelet (Bartlett) map of Tullyhogue, 1602. (National Library of Ireland)

The O’Neill

"On this hill the Irish create their O Neale."

It was said of Shane O’Neill that “he has evermore had a thirsty desire to be called O’Neill—a name more in price to him than to be called Ceasar.” Indeed, the Act of Attainder against Shane in 1569 stated: “The name of O’Neill, in the judgements of the uncivil people of the realm, doth carry in itself so great a sovereignty as they suppose that all the lords and people of Ulster should rather live in servitude to that name than in subjection to the crown of England.” Likewise, in May 1595 “Tyrone created himself O’Neill . . . whilst he sat in his stone chair upon the hill.”

On the day of inauguration, O’Hagan presided while O’Cahan—chief sub-king or uirrí to O’Neill—threw the single shoe over the new chief’s head (shown in the sketch above), echoing the ancient Indo-European concept of monosandalism. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick (in Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland) has shown that a wide variety of these ceremonies were utilized across Gaelic Ireland, with varying props and locales. As Irish regional kings devolved into chieftains under English pressure, the ceremonies evolved. In some places, they were moved into churches. The O’Neill’s ceremony dated to their consolidation of power in the mid-13th century and was part of their propaganda apparatus, which included the adoption of the red hand symbol. Their rite involved the use of a stone, the single shoe, and the presentation of the white hazel ‘rod of kingship’ (slat na righe), which by Tudor times was termed ‘rod of lordship’ (slat tigiornais). By analogy to similar rites conducted with the ‘Chair of State’ during Tynwald Day on the Isle of Man, and Alexander III of Scotland’s inaugural “royal seat adorned with silk clothes woven in gold,” Fitzpatrick has suggested that the stone chair may have been fitted with a cushion and covered with a canopy on the inauguration day. It is probable that the Deiseal was performed, the traditional right-handed turn which brought luck and blessings. Either O'Hagan or O'Cahan would have thereby performed a threefold circuit around the seated chief. The chief would often have arrived on horseback at the ‘hill of shoutings’ dressed in a white gown, with horse and gown afterwards being gifted to a coarb, or custodian of church lands. The assembly concluded with each important official and churchman shouting the name in turn; the gairm anma, or proclaiming of the name. The chief was thereafter referred to simply by the surname 'O'Neill.'

Recent Excavations

In 2015, the foundations of a number of structures were excavated at the foot of the hill. The remains of a Grand Hall dating to the late 15th-early 16th century were most significant to our period. A plaque installed on the site, next to the modern car park, tells us “The hall was identified by a shallow trench, known as a drip-gully. This was used to catch rainwater that fell from the roof. The structure was built using jointed arched timbers, known as crucks, and was probably used as a gathering place for the social life of the day. Inside there was a large open space around 12x6m with a central fire hearth. There was no chimney, however. Instead, smoke would have made its way out through the thatch or through a smoke-hole in the roof. Around the room, the walls would have been decorated with hunting scenes. On special occasions, the chief O’Hagan and his most honored guests would have dined here, seated at the main table, while others ate nearer the walls. During the feasts, harpers and storytellers would provide entertainment. The guest’s favorite hunting dogs would also be inside, enjoying an occasional piece of food from the table or squabbling for scraps on the floor.” (We might demur that the entertainment at a feast was in fact provided by the “rakry” (recaire), a professional chanter of poems who was accompanied by the harp. The poet (filí) himself sat by the chief, observing the performance of his composition. On certain occasions, the “petigrer” or seanchaí would also recite lineages or histories, but this office should not be confused with the peasant story-teller of later days. And while a chief's dogs may have been present for the feast, they were boarded on his tenantry with very specific instructions for their proper feeding and didn't rely upon table scraps!)

The following illustration shows what the settlement at Tullyhogue might have looked like around 1500. Two oval areas measuring 5x3m and 7x3m were found near the hall, the remains of two small houses dated 1170-1200. They would have looked similar to those on the left side of the reconstruction drawing, with thatched roofs and walls of wicker plastered and lime washed. Probably the homes of farmers who cultivated crops for the elite who lived higher up the hill. An important guest, perhaps the O’Neill, is seen arriving with his bodyguards. He is greeted at the doorway by O’Hagan and his men. Behind the settlement we see Tullyhogue Fort, and the O’Hagan’s house on top of the hill.

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