The Kingdom Of The McGoverns

The Annals define West Breffni as a whole of the present County Leitrim as well as the baronies of Tullyhaw and Tullyhunco now included in West Cavan. The Kingdom of Tullyhow was for many centuries ruled by the McGovern Clan. The Kingdom of Tullyhow included the complete tow of County Cavan from Bawnboy and Ballyconnell across the Leitrim border at Dowra (including Newbridge, Cooligraine and Tullinamoyle) right down to Blacklion and Swanlinbar, a total of over a hundred and forty square miles.

Here ruled in regal state the Síol Samhradháin from very ancient times. They held sway in this their little kingdom, longer that many a royal house on the Continent. The greatest source of information on the McGovern Clan is the famous ‘Dúnaire Mheg Samhradháin’ a book written b on Ruaidhri O’Cianain for the Chief of Tullyhow, Thomas McGovern who died in 1343. The O’Cianain family were the bards of the McGoverns.

It appears that this McGovern family were powerful and highly respected in early Irish circles as many of the great chiefs of Connaught and Ulster intermarried with them and in those days as well as being a sacrament, marriage was also a means of securing strong allies in war, or wealth in peace. Marriages are on record between the McGoverns and O’Connor of Sligo, O’Rourke of Breffni, McGuire of Fermanagh and O’Reilly of Cavan. Their generosity was proverbial and sung of by the Bards, but they did not go unscathed when visited by the satirist Aonghus O’Daly when he wrote:

Clan McGovern of the little cattle
and they all with little food.

But then O’Daly had no good words for anyone.

Tullyhaw is mentioned in the Annals of the four Masters. Under the date 1595 we find that the O’Donnell of Donegal attached O’Rourke of Breffni and he returned in triumph through Tullyhaw. Within its confines was located the chief idol of pagan Ireland, at Magh Sleacht, namely Crom Cruach “with his sub-gods twelve”. This idol stood somewhere in the region of Ballymagovern near a river called Gaghard. St. Patrick came here, destroyed Crom Cruach and erected a church nearby called Domhnach Mór.

According to tradition Crom Cruacn was the most powerful pagan god of Ireland. Among other things we find that by the curse of Crom the great High King Cormac Mac Airt was choked by a fish bone at Tara. Great pilgrimages took place to this area in those far off days and thus it got its name Magh Sleacht, the plain of Adoration. As a sacrifice the pagans offered the firstlings of animals to Crom. And the custom of destroying the first born of cats and dogs still lingers in the remote hill of this area. Another custom in this region, which is a throw back to those far off days, is that of visiting certain mountain tops on the last Sunday of July – locally known as Domhnach Croim Duibh. No trace of the great idol now remains but even today one of the old sacrificial stones which was used to hold the blood of sacrifice may be seen at Killinagh, Co. Cavan.

At Glangevlin in the Tullyhaw region the last strains of our native language lived on into the early years of the present century. It was here to this wild upland glen that Gaelic scholar Professor O’Toole came to record the last fragments of the Irish language In West Breifne. Here he recorded proverbs peculiar to these parts – Little gems of wisdom such a “‘ciall agus cuid, is mairig nach mbíonn aige an da chuid’ (sense and your share, its well to have both) or ‘cé mholfadh an ghe granna mara molfach sí í fein’ (who would praise the ugly goose if she would not praise herself). McGoverns were among the old men and women who gave the profes­sor the tales, poems, prayers and proverbs which he salvaged

Up here at the foot of Cuilceagh mountain in the townland of Derrvlahan the lordly Shannon rises and father on in the valley of Sliabh an larann legend says that he Tuatha de Dannan race landed in a mist in days of long ago. The chief fortresses of the McGovern were those of Bawnboy, Ballymagovern, Cul on guaire and Doire an Chasain. Many of the McGovern Chiefs are named in the Annals inciuding Giolia Íosa, Dunnchadh, Tomas, Brian Breagach, Manus and Tomas Óg. To the pre­sent day the McGoverns are plentiful in all this area from Dowra to Swanlinbar and from Bawnboy to Blacklion. One of their ancient places of burial was the old Abbev of Killinagh near Biacklion. Within the aucient walls of Killinagh Abbey may be seen one of’ their tombs. Here where the green fields of Largy and the rugged slopes of the Barrs look down on the peaceful waters of MacNean rest the chiefs of one of Breifne’s ancient clans, the great McGoverns.

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