The Three Baronies: Dartry,
Farney, and the Lucht Tighe
Tully Crannog (on the left) in Convent Lake, headquarters of the
"As the Sixteenth Century
opened," writes Peadar Livingstone, "it could be argued that there was not one
but three MacMahon kingdoms in Monaghan."
The MacMahons seem to have spent
as much time fighting amongst themselves as they did fighting their external
enemies (a quality still discernable in some MacMahons today). Toward the
close of the 15th Century, the family and the kingdom had split into three
The family of Eoghan MacMahon
ruled Dartry from their fort at Lisnagore, near Clones. Livingstone describes
these as the Dartry MacMahons.
The descendents of Reamonn MacMahon ruled the northern part of MacMahon's
Countrie, also known as the Lucht Tighe, from Monaghan. Livingstone calls them
the Monaghan MacMahons.
The descendents of Red Hugh
MacMahon remained powerful in Farney, headquartered at Lurgans and then at
Lisanisk, near Carrickmacross. These became known as the Farney MacMahons.
Some imprint of these divisions
lingers in the outlines of County Monaghan's modern baronies.
In political matters, the English
and the O'Neills of Ulster sometimes treated these three divisions as three
distinct kingdoms. Nonetheless, the MacMahons continued at least ceremonial
appearances of a unified Oriel. They continued to appoint a single chieftain
as "The MacMahon" at the Hill of Leck. The title became less coveted and less
a point of strife as the divided MacMahons struggled against their neighbors
and one another for their very survival.
"The very fact that the Monaghan branch monopolised the chieftancy from 1513
to 1589 is a strong indication that the other branches felt there were more
important issues to concern themselves with," Livingstone writes (The
Monaghan Story, p. 61)
The O'Neills imposed an overlordship on the lands of Oriel and tried to exact
tribute from the MacMahons. The MacMahons struggled to free themselves from
this burden, and when they failed they struggled just as mightily to make
their small kingdoms prosperous. Often they took arms against one another in
shifting alliances with or against different branches of the O'Neills.
Except for scuffles with the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Dartry MacMahons
enjoyed the most peaceful reign in the 16th Century.
Out of political necessity, the Monaghan MacMahons tended to align with the
fiercely Irish O'Neills who pressured them from the North.
Meanwhile, the Farney MacMahons
tried to maintain a precarious peace in proximity to the Pale, an area of
English dominion that reached as far north as County Louth. As the English
grew more powerful, the days of raiding the Pale slipped into the storied
past. During the rule of Ever MacMahon, the Farney MacMahons adopted some
English customs, began speaking English, and, it is whispered, even aligned
with the English against their MacMahon cousins to the West.