Most the native Rosses surnames have stemmed from the descendants of Conall Gulban, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages who was High King of Ireland in the 4th century (It was Niall who kidnapped St Patrick as a boy and put him into slavery). Although there is evidence of human habitation in this area for thousands of years, we have not record of their inheritance until close on the fifth century. Conall Gulban and his two brothers ruled North West Ulster after he defeated the Firbolg in ©460 A.D. This territory was then divided, with Conall getting the land from the River Erne to Glen Head and northwards to Farsetmore on the River Swilly. This area consisted of most of the later baronies of Tír Hugh, Kilmacrenan and Bannagh and Boylagh of which Rosses is part of. This area was the original Tír Chonaill. Although he never subjugated, his descendants established their authority of Cineál Chonaill or the Race of Conall for the next one thousand years. Conall’s territory was further divided, with one of Conall’s seven sons Éanna Bóghaine getting the area from the River Eany which rises in the Blue Stacks and flows into Donegal Bay near Inver to the river Dobhar at Crolly. This area was called Tír Bóghaine and later formed most of the baronies of Boylagh and Bannagh.

In the middle of the 6th century, the northern portion of Tír Bógaine became Tír Ainmhireach. Ainmhireach was a great grandson of Conall Gulban and his new territory was the area from Loughros Bay to the river Dobhar. Cineál Ainmhireach ruled this area which included the Rosses for the next six hundred years, except during the time of Dálach and his son. Eight High Kings of Ireland came from Tír Ainmhireach.

When clan surnames were adopted in the 10th century Cineál Ainmhireach became O Gallachóir, O Cannon and O Muldory. The O’Boyle, O’Doherty, O’Duffy and O’Donnell came from the neighbouring race of Cineál Lughdhach who ruled an area in which Gaoth Dobhair is part of. The O’Duffy’s developed as a clan from their progenitor Saint Dubhtach a member of Cineál Lugdadh who lived in the tenth century.

Since the introduction of the clan system, the O’Donnells were overlords of Tír Chonaill. The administration of Tír Chonaill was divided into territories or tuath. The tuath of Tír Ainmhireach was ruled by the O’Boyle clan from the neighbouring Cineál Lughdhach, the same race as the O’Donnells. In later years they were replaced by the incoming gallowglass clan Mac Suibhne na dTuath or Sweeney of Doe. Gallowglass was the Gaelic for “Foreign Warrior” Scottish clan such as McSwine, Crawford, Grant and Campbell. The people of the Tír Ainmhireach gave their support to the Lord of the Tuath who in turn gave theirs to the ruling O Donnell clan. This support was called on as feuds flared up frequently. When the O’Donnell cheftain needed help the local rulers fought for him.


In 1435 Toirealeach Rúa Mac Suibhne and his subjects fought for Neachtain O Donnell at Loughanure, where he and his men were defeated by the forces of Henry O Neill of Tír Eoghain. Eoghan Mac Suibhne na dTuath was the chieftain in control on the Rosses when he provided shelter to the survivors of the Spanish Armada wreck on his coast in 1588.




Two years after the Flight of Earls, on September 5th 1609 the English commissioners met at Lifford and set up an inquiry to survey the division of the ancient territory of Tír Chonaill including the Rosses. This inquisition and handover was completed on September 12th 1609. It was decided in London that of the seven Baronies in the County of Donegal, there were only five available for plantation. Tír Hugh was given to Trinity College, Dublin and Inishowen was granted to the deputy. The other five precincts were The Liffer, Portlough, Boylagh & Banagh, Doe and Fawnett. Scottish undertakers would be planted in the Barony of Boylagh and Banagh, an area that included the ancient Tír Ainmhirneach.



The Barony of Kilmacrennan which includes the parish of Tullaghobelgey or the ancient Tír Lughadh was given to the native Donegal clan leaders and their kinsmen for the rest of their natural life. Three Mac Suibhne clan leaders, Turlough O Baoghill and his clans were given land in Kilmacrennan, which included the former territory of Tír Lughdhach.


The Rosses which was now divided into eight estates was given to Sir Robert MacLennan Lord Bomby of Galloway. He was given a freehold of the area with an annual rent payable by MacLennan amounting to £10 13s 4d. One of the conditions of the land grant was that neither he nor his heirs should alienate, demise or convey these lands or any part of them to the mere Irish, in other words he wasn’t to rent his land to the native clans.

In the event of MacLennan violating that condition, the grant made to him would be null and void. MacLennan had Andrew Johnston as his agent in the Rosses. Another of the lease condition was he’d build a castle with strong court or bawn.

In 1612 the crown granted the Rosses to Anthony Andrews of Kent, an English Catholic. Andrews gave back the Rosses lands in 1613 with the authority to “hold a Thursday market and annual fair at the townland of Roscatt or present day Carrickfin.

In 1614 the Rosses was rented to Sir Robert Gordon for £53 6s 8d per annum. Andrews and Gordon never actually got possession of the Rosses. The original owner MacLennan alienated the lands to John Murray of Cookpool, Drumfries on October 12th 1616. Murray was a groom of the bed chamber and keeper of the privy purse, whom King James I created Viscount Annan in 1622 and Earl of Annandale in 1624.

His resident agent in the Rosses was Herbert Maxwell. He wasn’t able to fulfill the conditions of the plantation. In 1629 a cossision was appointed by Lord Falkland to see if Murray had observed the conditions of the plantations. His cousin Rev Alexander Conyngham was one of the commissioners. Murray’s rent was doubled and he was fined but he was allowed to hold on to his property.

When the 2nd Earl of Annandale died without issue in 1658, his land in the Rosses was eventually sold to Albert Conyngham. In 1666 Albert Conyngham was created Lord Mountcharles, the name of his title was in honour of his friend King Charles II. He had his seat in the village of Tounytallon which was later changed to Mountcharles. The Mountcharles’ later went to live at Slane in Co.Meath but they had resident agents in Rosses down the years.  The Lordship of Mountcharles and later the Marquis of Conyngham were landlords of the Rosses until the foundation of the Irish Free State. The Marquis of Conyngham owned the lakes of the Rosses until the 1960’s.

©Jimmy Duffy December 2015