The Battle of Killard (Dunree, Desertegeny)

On April 30, 2016 by admin

The Battle of Killard

How an Inishowen chieftain changed the course of Irish history in 926


This article originally appeared in the ‘Inish Times’ in 2015

By Roisin Henderson (reporter)

FORGET Clontarf, an Inishowen chieftain drove out the Vikings 100 years before Brian Boru defeated the “foreigners.”

Local historian and archaeologist John Hegarty has been researching the Vikings in Inishowen in recent years, and has made some insightful discoveries. Little recorded evidence survives of the Vikings’ time in the peninsula. It is known that they sailed up the Foyle in the late 10th century, with a hoard of Viking brooches found in Quigley’s Point in the 1930s, and also that they sacked the monastic settlement at Fahan in the 10th and 13th centuries.

However, through examining local place names and drawing on the oral history of the area, as well as examining the Annals of Ireland, John has established that the “foreigners”, as they were known, had a strong relationship with the area. A relationship that was ended by a passionate local chieftain in 926, following a battle at Desertegney that would go on to change the course of Irish history.unnamed (2)

Arrival of the “Foreigners”

“The Annals of Ireland show there were a lot of different Viking settlements around the Irish coast,” said John. “The official date that they arrived in Ireland was 795, which is the first large fleet recorded, but many historians believe they were here 100 years before that.

“The first mention of the Vikings in the Annals are of a place called Recru, which some believe to be Rathlin Island, and others believe to be Lambay Island off Dublin.

“Personally I think Rathlin makes the most sense. Locals there even still call it Rachery. There are a lot of places like that in the Annals,  that different areas claim to be their own.”

John continued:  “When exactly they came to Inishowen is one of the questions we have been trying to establish. For how long they were here, no one really knows. We’ve no written records.

“We do know they were here in Inishowen. There are several mentions of them on the Swilly in 842 in the Annals.”

John said Lough Swilly would’ve been the ideal landing point for the famous seamen, having sailed the long journey from Scandinavia.

“They were looking for a safe port, and a defensive position so they could defend against attacks. They would also be looking for somewhere they would have identified as having a source of fresh water.

“If the Vikings were coming from the north, along the west coast of Scotland, one of the first places they would’ve sighted would’ve been Lough Swilly.

“They would’ve recognised it as fjord, as Lough Swilly is one of only three fjords in Ireland. It would’ve been like home to them.

“They later went up the Foyle, which is a sunken river valley. We know 32 ships raided the Foyle, but that would’ve been after they were on the Swilly.”

John said the Vikings raided Fahan multiple times, and would’ve have had bases in defensive positions around the coast of the peninsula.

“Fahan would have been a great landing place for them. They could’ve come up the Swilly and would’ve been able beach their ships there without causing any damage to them.

“They couldn’t land at Urris or Dunaff, there is too much of a swell there that would’ve damaged their wooden boats.

“Culdaff and Bonagee would’ve been the perfect spot for them too, as would’ve been Trawbreaga Bay where ships would’ve been safe.

“The Isle of Doagh was also a big centre, and contains some place names that sound Scandinavian.

“A lot of those place names have been erased from history over the years, but some still remain if you know what to look for.”unnamed (1)

The sacking of Killard

The subject of place names has piqued John’s interest in the Vikings in Inishowen in recent times, particularly in his own native Desertegeny

Having grown up hearing stories of the foreign invaders, John has established that some place names in the Dunree area are in fact of Scandinavian origin rather than Irish as previously thought, and has noted a similar pattern across the north coast.

Specifically referring to the hill of Dunree, where it is known there was a Viking settlement, John said he believed the tribe known as the Goths had established themselves there by the 9th century.

“When we were growing up we were always told they had a trading post at Dunree,” recalled John.

“There is even a place name on Dunree Hill that sounds Irish, but only makes sense when translated from a Scandinavian language.  It relates to a tribe of southern Norway.

“Back then there were no nationalities. Ireland was made up of tribes. We can see from the Annals that the Irish tribes would join with the foreigners to attack other Irish tribes.

“The Cineal Eoghain, the people of Inishowen, even teamed up with the Vikings at times. They just saw them as another tribe, and they would attack other tribes in other areas to steal their cattle and so on.”

He continued: “When we were young we used to go and get milk cans from a man named Hughie McGrory, who lived overlooking Port Ban.

“He told us there had been a monastic settlement at Killard, on the hill. Sometime after their first arrival, the Viking tribe raided the monastic settlement and robbed and burnt the church. They wanted their gold and silver.”

John explained that Dun Righ, meaning the Royal Fort or Fort of Kings, is mentioned in the Annals, and that it was built on the settlement known as Cennrigh. He said it is believed the monastic settlement on the site may have been covered by sand over the centuries. It is hoped there will be an archaeological dig on the site in coming years.

“The oral history of the locals whose ancestors lived at the bottom of Dunree hill will tell you that before the Night of the Big Wind in 1839 boats could come in a lot further there,” said John.
“That storm blew a lot of sand up, which covered the remnants of the monastic settlement at Killard. The locals in the area whose ancestors lived there said the sea used to come right up to what is known as the Sandy Road, which is now a quarter mile from the sea. That would’ve it made an even better landing spot for the Vikings.”

A righteous battle

John said it was the sacking of the monastic settlement at Killard that sparked the demise of the Vikings not only in Inishowen, but all along the whole north coast of Ireland. A local chieftain called Muircheartaigh son of Aedh Fionnla, an ancestor of the current McLaughlin Clan, attacked the Vikings in a massive battle in 926. “Muircheartaigh and those chieftains are the reason Dunree is known as royal,” said John. “As a result of the burning of the monastic settlement Muircheartaigh made it his mission force out all the Vikings from the north coast of Ireland.

“In the Annals it says he took ‘200 heads of the foreigners’ in that battle.”

Following that battle, John said the Vikings were forced to settle elsewhere in Ireland. “The battle of 926 was the end of the Vikings along the north coast. They never came back to the north again.

“Carlingford Lough, Dublin, Wexford and so on.

Strangely, along the north coast, all the Viking place names have been lost. Where are our Wexfords and Waterfords?

“They have been erased out of our history over the years.”

When asked what that battle meant for the course of Irish history, John conceded: “Well that is what spurred them to go on and build up Dublin.

“I suppose if you want to use your imagination, maybe if it hadn’t been for that battle in 926 the capital of Ireland could’ve been at Buncrana or Dunree!”

[John Hegarty is current vice chair of West Inishowen History & Heritage Society. In the past he has sat as chair of the society]











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