County Fermaagh 


The Parish of Inishmacsaint

Parke, William K, 1973, pp 23-8:


The mission field of St. Ninnidh covered a large area south of Lower Lough Erne. This area, over the years over the years gradually developed into a definite parish known as Inishmacsaint or Inis Maighe Samh. In pre-Christian times this area was sparsely populated. Pagan priests known as druids held sway over the people. The learned class included judges, prophets, historians, poets, doctors and teachers. Their religion consisted of the worship of the old celtic gods. Indeed the name Derrygonnelly, is thought by many to mean "The Oak Wood of the Candle" as the druids often worshipped one of their gods, Baal, by placing a rush candle on the branch of an oak tree. Little is known of druidism in Ireland, but they are thought to have had their chief seat at Tara.

There is much evidence in our part of the country which tells us of the presence of a pre-Christian people. Relics of the Stone Age have been found on the shores of Carrick Lake and a court grave at Tully has revealed pottery and flint instruments. Ringed forts, raths and crannogs are common throughout the parish. The arrival of the Celts brought improved methods of farming, together with new laws and customs.


St. Patrick arrived on our shores to spread the Christian religion in 432 A.D., but almost a hundred years were to pass before Christianity was to reach Fermanagh. In 523 St. Molaise arrived on the island of Devenish to establish his church and around the same time St. Ninnidh arrived on Inishmacsaint. It has often been said that these monastaries were established on islands for protection, but this is not entirely true. Lough Erne was a vast highway stretching from where Belturbet is today to Belleek. The surrounding countryside was a mass of bogs and woods and almost impossible to pass through, so the lake was the most obvious and easiest way to travel. It was still the main highway of Fermanagh until roads were made in the 17th Century.

St. Ninnidh, who was a grandson of the High King Laoire, was born in Donegal, and from an early age it was seen that he was interested in religious matters. He was therefore sent to Clonard to be educated under St. Finnian. His fellow students at this establishment were said to be St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise St. Molaise of Devenish and St. Aidan of Ferns. St. Ninnidh was one of the twelve students supported on the milk of St. Ciaran's Dun Cow. St. Ninnidh, St. Aidan and St. Molaise were all close friends and St. Ciaran, their colleague, visited Inishmacsaint in 534.

St. Ninnidh preached along the south shore of Lough Erne making the island of Inishmacsaint (Island of the Plain of Sorrel) his headquarters around 532 A.D. He likely journeyed up and down the southern portion of Lower Lough Erne in a hollowed-out boat, coming ashore at intervals and making his way inland, in order to meet the people and spread the Gospel, no doubt having the odd heated discussion with the local druid. He probably established a little church or residence at Glenwinney (Ninnidh's Glen), visited Ninnidh's Hill above Roscor to meditate and pray and quenching his thirst at nearby Ninnidh's Well. A route led from Inishmacsaint Island to Maherahar and Inishway; thence to Glenwinney where there was a small church; through Urros and Beagh along what was later to become the old coach road from Dublin to Ballyshannon through Magho. The route then turned to Ninnidh?s Hill above Roscor where a small church was established and then through Killybig to another little church at Kilcoo. This route was probably used by St. Ninnidh and the early Christians of the area during rough weather when it was dangerous to go by Lough Erne.

He is said to have fasted during Lent on Knockninny, which still bears his name, no doubt making his way there by boat from Inishmacsaint. The saint was bishop over an area stretching from the oustskirts of Derrygonnelly to Bundoran and the saint?s feast day is celebrated on the 18th January, which is the date he died, but the exact year is unknown. St. Ninnidh's Bell, which was cast and presented to him by St. Senach of Derrybrusk, was still in existence on the island in the middle of the seventeenth century, probably until the dissolution of the monasteries of 1630. Later the Bell was in the Castle Caldwell Museum, and is now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Archdall, writing in the early 19th century stated "The Saint's Bell is yet preserved here as a precious relique and is holden in so great a veneration that it is often judicially tendered them to swear on". Most abbeys during this period kept students who were taught Greek, Latin and other subjects. Some students were destined for a monastic life, but others rejoined their families when their education was completed. According to P. W. Joyce, St. Molaise had 1,500 students attached to Devenish. So one could assume that a number were attending Inishmacsaint. Some of these students lived within the monastic enclosure itself and the poorer ones were boarded out with the local people. It is not known who succeeded St. Ninnidh on his death but the next parson mentioned is Fiannamail, descendant of Boghaine, who was slain in 718. It is not known how Fiannamail met his death, probably at the hands of a druid who was perturbed at the spread of Christianity. The religion of the druids still held a sway in the remote areas as the countryside was covered by forest and bog and sparsely populated. Wild animals, including wolves, roamed the area, not to mention suspicious natives All these obstacles were responsible for the slow spread of Christianity. The Oriel invasion of Fermanagh which took place in the late 8th century was another upheaval and there is little mention of Inishmacsaint for the next hundred years.


The Vikings, those hardy ferocious men from Scandinavia, who had been ravishing the shores of Britain and Europe, arrived on Lough Erne in 837, according to the Annals of Ulster "all the Church of Lough Erne together with Cluain Inis (Cleenish) and Daimhins (Devenish) were destroyed by Gentiles (Vikings)". The Vikings entered Donegal Bay, established a base at Belleek and pillaged all the churches on the islands and shores of Lough Erne. Some historians maintain that the Vikings were not particularly anti-Christian. They raided abbeys and churches because they were the places that housed valuables, nevertheless, they destroyed valuable books and murdered many people. The religious centres on Lough Erne were within easy reach from the viking long boats. There may have been a church or abbey near Tully as that part of the shore is known as Abbey Point and the field is known locally to this day as the Abbey Field. What is known is that the Lough Erne shrine was found near this point less than a century ago and dates back to the 10th century. This reliquary was probably dropped overboard accidentally by an over-enthusiastic Viking when climbing into his long boat, and was recovered almost a thousand years later when the lake was lowered during one of the many drainage schemes, or maybe hooked by a local fisherman. In the same century, in 923, it is recorded that a "Danish Fleet spent almost a year on Lough Erne". One could hardly expect the Men of Fermanagh to fight off seasoned warriors when more war-like people in Europe failed to do so.

After the defeat of the Vikings in 1014, Christianity, around Lough Erne and in Fermanagh generally, was at a low ebb. Devenish became active again in 1130 and it is reasonable to assume that Inishmacsaint did likewise.


In 1306 Inishmacsaint is mentioned in a Papal Taxation and it is likely that the church of Inishmacsaint after this period was administered from Devenish and both churches became dominated by the O'Flanagans and the Maguires.In 1426 Nicholas O'Flanagan was rector of both churches and in 1452 Redmond O?Flanagan was rectr. In 1505 it is recorded that "Lawrence O'Flanagan, Rector of Inishmacsaint, died." "In 1521 Redmond O'Flanagan, Prior of Devenish, son of the Parson of Inishmacsaint, died this year." "In 1530 Aodh O'Flanagan, son of the Parson of Inis, died this year." "In 1531 James O'Flanagan son of the Parson of Inis died this year.? ?In 1549 the gloomy Gillie O'Flanagan, Prior of Devenish, son of the Parson of Inis died this year." "1551 the Parson of Inis, namely Edmond O'Flanagan, a man of full intelligence and knowledge and of every good virtue besides, died this year." There are no records of Rectors of Inishmacsaint after this date until we come to the Plantation, although there was a Prior O'Flanagan of St. Mary's Abbey on Devenish in 1603. Nothing remains today of the original building on the island except the foundations. The church ruins, which measure 60 feet by 23 feet, contain a small window dated around the early 14th century. Near the ruins stands a plain cross fourteen feet high and tradition tells us that the cross rotates three times to the rising sun every Easter morning.

A church situated on an island does not seem nowadays to be very convenient for local people attending worship but we must remember there were roads and the lake was the main highway.

The O'Flanagan sept, who supplied many of the clergy for both Devenish and Inishmacsaint, were the chieftains of Tuatha Ratha. The territory of Tuatha Ratha covered approxmately the area which is known today as the Barony of Magheraboy and their stronghold was situated at Baile ui Fhlanagain in the townland of Aghamore on the shores of Carrick Lake.

The Church of Aghamore was built by the chieftain at time, Gilbert O?Flanagan II, and his wife Margaret, in 1483 "In honour of God and Mary". There was much family strife among Gilbert's descendants which resulted in several deaths, for the Annals of Ulster record that in 1528 the chieftain Gilleece O'Flanagan, his son Turlough, were both slain in the chapel at Carrick by Patrick O'Flanagan on the same day. Why did Gilbert II build a church at Aghamore (the Great Field) The general opinion is that it was a private chapel. Did he have a difference with his kinsman who was Prior on Inishmacsaint or did he build it for prestige? Gilbert II died in 1496 and when his wife Margaret, who was a daughter of the ruling house of the Maguires of Fermanagh, died, she was buried at the Abbey in Donegal.

At the plantation the O'Flanagan chief, Hugh III, received a rant of lands at Glack in Boho and his descendants were here until the early 1700s. This ruling branch of the O'Flanagans seems to have emigrated to Austria, where some of them distinguished themselves in the Austrian army, navy and diplomatic corps and their descendants are to be found there today.

Carrick church may have existed as a place of worship for the local people until penal times as there is no record of any other Roman Catholic place of worship in the area. Inishmacsaint church was taken over by the planters as Hume, the local landlord, did not build a church until 1688 at Drumenag.

The graveyard, surrounding the old ruins which are in a dangerous condition, was used by the locals up to the early 1930s.


In the very early 17th century inquisitions were taken in various centres so as to establish County, Parish and Diocesan boundaries. In an Inquisition taken at Enniskillen in 1609, it was established that the boundaries of the Parish of Inishmacsaint were "From the hill at Drumreask, to Rawtomagho on the South, to Abberneleigh and the Droysee river to the sea on the West and Lough Erne on the North". The hill at Drumreask is situated beside Church Hill, Rawtomagho is probably in the area of the scenic point over-looking the townlands of Magho. Abberneleigh is an area on the Owynefaerand which flows into Lough Melvin near Roskit island on the Fermanagh-Leitrim border. The Droysee is the Drowse which flows from Lough Melvin to the sea. The boundary from Abberneleigh along the river Drowse to the sea was also both the County and Diocesan boundary. The eastern boundary is not mentioned, but it stretched from the townland of Derrygonnelly on the Sillies river to the island of Inishmacsaint. A study on the map of these boundaries will show that vast areas of mountain such as Blackslee and Loughnavar are not included as such land as this was considered useless and therefore ignored. This then is the old Parish of Inishmacsaint, the area covered by St. Ninnidh on his Christian mission.

At the same Inquisiton taken at Enniskillen on the 18thh September, 1609, in the Barony of Magheraboy, Parish of Inishmacsaint, there was both a parson and vicar collative. The parson paid 8/= yearly to the Bishop of Clogher and the vicar 4/=. The tithes of the parish were paid in kind, one fourth to the Bishop, one fourth to the said Vicar, and the other two one fourths to the Parson. Further, the said Parson and Vicar were equally to share one third part of the cost of repairing the Parish Church and maintaining it, and the herenagh was to bear the other two-third part of the said charge. In the Parish of Inishmacsaint there was a chapel of ease called Fenneare (now Bundoran) and to this chapel the Vicar of the Parish was to send a curate to say Divine Services.

A survey taken in Fermanagh in 1608 during the reign of James I found, "the spiritual lands in the Parish of Inishmoysoan, with two quarters of land, and a half, all being in the possession of Patrick O'Flanagan as corbe, was also attached to the Parish Church."

The land belonging to a church was called termon land, later glebe land. The Manager of a termon was a herenagh who could be admitted to the office of Deacon. A Corbe was always the Abbot of the Monastery. Ballyhosey was the modern Ballyhose, the home of the O'Hoseys, bards to the Maguires. Parish boundaries seem to have been rather haphazard in those days as this townland was always considered to be in the parish of Devenish.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the old parish was divided up ; part of it making the Parish of Finner and part making the Parish of Slavin and Garrison. The following townlands made up the old parish beginning with those no longer part of it: Ardfarn, Ardloughill, Ballyhanna, Ballymunterhiggin, Carrickboy, The East Port, West Port, East Rock and West Rock and the town of Ballyshannon, Drumacrin, Town of Bundoran, Drummuckram, Finner, Black Islands, Inish Samer, Magheracar, Portnason, Rathglass and Rathmore. (The above townlands are now in Co. Donegal.) Ardees Upper, Bar of Slawin, Callagheen, Ardgart, Carrigolagh, Slawin, Bar of Bolustymore, Bolusty Beg, Bolustymore, Drumbadmeen, Roscor Island, Cornahaltie and Legg, Corry, Corrakeel, Drumbadreevagh, Drumataffan, Gortnalee, Lergan, Roscor, Carranbeg, Carranmore, Drumlesaleen, Farran, Cassidy, Moneendogue, Loughill, Manger, Derrynacross, Fassagh, Muckenagh, Drumnasreane, Brolagh, Corgary, Derrynameeo, Killybeg, Tullymore, Menacloyabane, Tullyloughdaugh, Corramore, Cornadarum, Garrros, Glen East, Glen West, Killymore, Knockaravan, Leglehid, Muggainagrow, Rosskit Island, Ardees Lower, Gorminish Island.

The following are townlands of the present parish : Blackslee, Boheavny, Dromcrow West, Drumreask, Lenaghan, Loughachork, Magho, Portnacloyduff, Shean, Letter, Whiterocks, Carrck, Derryyahon, Drumary North, Aghamellan, Braade, Cornirk, Minrin, Tonnagh, Bunnanone, Aghamore, Callow, Correl, Dresternan, Largalinny, Monawilkin, Drummenaghbeg, Village of Church Hill, Drummenaghmore, Tully, Benmore Glebe, White Island, Slisgarrow, Conagher, Glenasheever, Beagh Big, Beagh Little, Blaney East, Blaney West, Caldrum Glebe, Cashel, Clarah, Cooracloon, Cosbystown West, Derrygonnelly, Village of Derrygonnelly, Dromore, Sandhill, Drumbockney, Dromcrow East, Drumskimbly, Glenleven, Inishway, Magherahar, Glenwinney, Inishmacsaint, Milltown Blaney, Owl Island, Pushen Island, Rabbit Island, Rahalton, Rossdagamph or St. Catherines, Rosspoint or Cosbystown East, Rooskey, Tabagh, Tullynadall East, Tullynadall West, Tullynagowan, Urros, Wheathill Glebe, several small islands.

In 1873 the following townlands were transferred from Devenish parish to Inishmacsaint: Doagh, Drumary (South), Drumanane, Keadue, Kilgarrow, Mullykevit, Straniff, Stratonagher and the following townlands were transferred to Devenish: Inishway and Magherahar.

The townlands of Minrin and Droagh were granted by Charter of Charles I to Rev. Archibald Erskine in 1631. During the 18th and 19th centuries the glebe lands were Wheathill, Caldrum and Doagh. The income from glebe lands was claimed by the Parish Church. The division and alteration in the parish boundaries took place in 1873 which resulted in the area being about halved.


The Reformation and rise of Protestantism in Europe including England had little effect in Ireland and made no impact whatever in Fermanagh during the 16th century. Then early in the 17th century all this was to change with the Flight of the Earls, followed by the plantation of Ulster.

King James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, thus uniting both countries. When he arrived in London, he was accompanied by a number of his friends from Scotland who, no doubt, expected favours or well-paid positions. Amongst his retinue on arrival in London were John, George and Alexander Hume, sons of Alexander Hume of Manderiston in Berwickshire. George Hume was created Earl of Dunbar in 1608 and was described as ?a person of deep wit, few words; and in His Majesty's service no less faithful than fortunate. The most difficult affairs he compassed without any noise, never returning when he was employed without the work performed that he was sent to do. John Hume, George's brother, also fared well in London for he was granted a licence to export one thousand dickers (ten thousand) of red hides, tanned within two years. Soon afterwards he was granted a pension of two hundred pounds per annum. Sir George Hume seemed to be the member of the family with charm, and obviously had influence for both his brothers, John and Alexander, received grants under the plantation in the Barony of Magheraboy.

John Hume gave up his concessions and pension when he received a grant of 2,000 acres called Ardgort. The estate was called Ardgort after a townland near Slavin and contained the following townlands: Defassagh, Ardgort, Rosswyre, Gartnarough, Drummaghmore, Tullagh, Menrin, Cragimore, Muckinish Island, Cooney Island and other islands in Lough Erne. The rent was ten pounds thirteen shillings and four pence English, granted on 24th July, 1610. Not all the townlands in his estate are mentioned here, but it stretched approximately from beyond Roscor to Rahalton, including the mountainous area of Blackslee, Loughnavar and Bar of Whealt. This vast area contained more than 2,000 acres but mountain and bog did not count when grants were issued. In 1611 it was reported by Carew that ?Sir John Hume hath 2,000 acres, has taken possession, returned into Scotland, nothing done, nor any agent present. Pynnar in his survey of 1618 refers to Hume?s estate not as Ardgort but Carrynroe, states that "there is a bawn enclosure of stone 100 feet square and 14 feet high, having four flanks for defence. There is also a fair strong castle 50 feet long and 21 feet broad. He hath made a village near unto the bawn in which is dwelling twenty four families." These families were settled on land ranging from 240 acres to 2 acres; those receiving the larger amounts sub-leased. According to Pynnar, all twenty four families lived in the village, which was known Drumenagh and later Church Hill. They likely dwelt together in the village for protection and journeyed daily to their farms. The castle referred to was Tully and another writer describes it as "isolated from the main village". The castle entrance was within the bawn. A spiral staircase led to the apartments on the first floor. The ground floor had a vaulted-type low room which was quite large, 45 feet x 15 feet, with a fireplace. The first floor had two rooms each with a fireplace. A spiral staircase led to the top floor. All the plantation castles in Fermanagh were built by Scottish Masons except Tully, which was Irish built.

Alexander Hume, Sir John's brother, was granted a small proportion of Drumcoose containing 1,000 acres, the lands of: Drumcoose, Coagh, Raltonagh, Lenaghan, the island Inishgollowe, the island Inishloughe, the island Inishcomeade, the islands of Carr and Trasna in all 1,000 acres. Granted 9th April, 1611. Alexander disposed of this estate almost immediately to his brother George and returned to his home in Scotland. When Pynnar visited Drumcoose in 1619 he reported: "George Hume hath 1,000 acres called Drumcoose. Upon this there is a bawn of 80 feet square of lime and stone 12 feet high. There is no house on it. I found but very few to appear before me, for the undertaker was out of the country, but the land was well planted with British families, and a good store of tillage, and not an Irish family that I could learn of." No doubt George Hume was still enjoying the comforts of London in preference to living rough in Drumcoose. There seems to have some doubt regarding George Hume?s conduct in carrying out the terms of the plantations for in 1623 Malcolm Hamilton of Castletown, Archbishop of Cashel, supported by Sir George Dunbar, issued a certificate to the effect that "George Hume of Drumkose had carried out his duties regarding the planting of his lands in Ireland." In 1626 he disposed of this estate to his brother, Sir John of Tully Castle.

Some years before in 1615, Sir John Hume purchased the estate of William Fuller or Fowler called Moyglass containing 1,5000 acres. Pynnar reported that "upon this proportion there is nothing built, I find planted on the land of British families a good number of men." This estate stretched from Springfield to Lough Erne. So we find by 1626 that Sir John Hume is the only one of the three brothers still in Ireland and the owner of three estates containing in all 4,500 acres together with a vast area of mountain and bog stretching from the outskirts of Enniskillen almost to Belleek and in both the parishes of Devenish and Inishmacsaint. He was thus the largest landowner in Fermanagh.

Sir John's tenants hailed from the Scottish border around Berwickshire and had a mixture of Pict, Saxon and Viking blood in their veins. This area was known as the marches and for decades the people of these lands had scant regard for law and order and little religion. From Roman times the border area was a constant battleground with the result that the inhabitants were denied leading a normal life and they resorted to raiding and pillaging both North and South. When the plantation was prospected, a large number of these people either grasped the opportunity or were forcibly persuaded into going to Ulster, and no doubt sent as far west as possible in case they should return. The area was described in a survey as "covered in wood and bog" and no doubt thinly populated as the population of Ireland at the time was less than one million. Roads, towns and villages were non-existent. These people then, the forefathers of the Parishioners of today, were not only Hume?s tenants but those of the Barony of Magheraboy. They left a land which was troublesome for hundreds of years and arrived in Ulster where there has been trouble ever since. They carved their little farms out by clearing the woods and draining the bogs, survived and progressed and no doubt will continue to do so. Sir John Hume was M.P. for Fermanagh in 1634 and died five years later in 1639. He was succeeded by his son Sir George (1st Baron of Tully Castle).


The other undertaker or landlord in the parish of Inishmacsaint was Sir John Dunbar who hailed from Mochrum, Wigtonshire, also in the vicinity of the Scottish border area. The Dunbar family were descendants, through the female line, of William the Lion and Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Dunbar did not arrive in 1610 with the other undertakers, as he was detained in Scotland disposing of his already diminished estates. He eventually arrived in 1615. In 1611 it was reported by Gatisfeth in his survey that, "Mr. Dunbar's brother is there taking up his duties and rent but doth nothing else that I see." Carew, a chief plantation commissioner, in 1611 reported that "John Downebarr 1,000 acres taken possession, returned into Scotland and sent over six persons, two free holders and lease holder, one tenant for years and two tenants at will, some building in hand, eight horses for work brought over with money to provide materials."

John Dunbar's grant is described as "The small proportion called Drumcrow containing the following townlands: Drumcrow, Drumbocking, Correclooney, Tounegowan, Dromore, Drumdowns, Ganwen, Urbill, Dromarrowe, Driesternan, Rahaltan, Clonlawan, Rostagawhe, Tullenadall, Doagh, Ratonogho, Dromnemine, Rossnurbegg, Dirgonilly, Mullaghelanagie, Behagh, Letragan, Lecessioghowe, Gortagarne, Killwhum, Revagh, Shrebagh, Aglthovas, Closrogy, Tullaghstranaferne, Tullaghnasragh, Turgan, Monniscribagh, Dromnagawna and Kiltagart." Dublin Castle January 13th, 1615. Again, not all townlands in Dunbar's estate are mentioned but it stretched from Lough Erne between Drumcrow and Blaney to the village of Garrison. This area included a vast area of mountain and contained much more than 1,00 acres.

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