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Covenant between Mageoghegan and the Fox (Author: Séamus Ó Cionga)


Covenant between Mageoghegan and the Fox, with brief historical notices of the two families.

The following compact or covenant, which was made between Mageoghegan, chief of Cinel-Fhiachach, or Kineleaghe, and the Fox, chief of Muinter-Thadhgain (or, as it is anglicised, Munterhagan), on the 20th of August, 1526, is printed from the original, now in the possession of Sir Richard Nagle, Baronet, of Jamestown House, in the County of Westmeath. It is written on a small piece of parchment, in the handwriting, as stated, of James, the son of Cairbri O'Kinga, who was present at the making of the covenant, and who committed it to writing two days afterwards.

That the reader may understand the exact nature of this covenant, it will be necessary to give here a brief sketch of the history of both families, and a description of the relative situation and extent of their territories.

The Family of Mageoghegan: — This sept bore the tribe-name of Cinel or Kinel-Fhiachach, (anglicised Kineleaghe), which name was also applied to their territory; for the custom among the Irish was, not to take their surnames or titles from places and countries, as is usual with other nations, but to give the tribe-name of the family to the seigniory by them possessed.1 This tribe name of Cinel-Fhiachach, was derived, as the Macgeoghegans boasted, from Fiacha, the third son of the Irish monarch Niall of the Nine Hostages; and their claim to this high descent was allowed by King George IV., who, as shall be presently shewn, permitted the head of a branch of this family to take the name of O'Neill, in the sense of descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. There occurs, however, a story in the Leabhar Breac,


fol. 35b, being a lampoon on the Cinel-Fhiachach by certain satirists, in which it is asserted that they are not descended from Fiacha, the son of the great Niall, but from a plebeian Fiacha, son of Aedh, son of Maelibressi:
    1. O Kinel Fhiachach behold your genealogy,
      Fiacha, so of Aedh, son of Maelibressi.

This lampoon enraged the tribe to such a decree, that, at a place called Rosscorr, they murdered the satirists2 although they were under the protection of O'Suanaigh, the patron saint of Rahen; and it is added, that for this sárughadh, or violation of the saint's protections, the Cinel-Fhiachach forfeited two townlands to O'Suanaigh, which formed part of the possessions of the church of Rahen at the time when the story was written.

Shortly after the period of English invasion, Mageoghegan was reduced to insignificance and obscurity; but on the decay of the family of De Lacy in Meath, he became more powerful than ever he had been before, and was soon very troublesome to his Anglo-Irish neighbours and the government. In the year 1329 he took the field at the head of his followers in Westmeath, during the government of Sir John Darcy. The Lord Thomas Butler marched, with a considerable force, to check his proceedings, but was routed by Mageoghegan,


near Mullingar, with great slaughter. In the following year Mageoghegan fought the united forces of the Earls of Ulster and Ormond, but was put to flight after a spirited resistance. His Anglo-Irish neighbours continued their hostilities against him during the next century, but without much effect; for, in the year 1449, when he was summoned by Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, (the father of Edward IV.), to make his submission, he was treated with such honour by that wise and conscientious prince, that Mageoghegan, who regarded this respect as the result of fear, boasted, on returning among his sept, that he had given peace to the King's Lieutenant.’’

Leland's Hist. of Ireland. V. ii, p. 35.

Campion has published the letter of Richard to his brother, the Earl of Shrewsbury, in which he thus complains of Mageoghegan and his associates:

Right worshipfull and with all my heart entirely beloved Brother, I commend mee unto you as heartily as I can. And like it you to wit, that sith I wrote last unto the King our soveraigne Lord his Highnes, the Irish enemy, that is to say Magoghigan, and with him rebells, notwithstanding that they were within the King our Soveraigne Lord his power, of great malice, and against all truth, have maligned against their legiance, and vengeably have brent a great towne of mine inheritance, in Meth, called Ramore,3 and other villages thereabouts, and murdered and brent both men, women, and children without mercy. The which enemies be yet assembled in woods and forts, wayting to doe the hurt and grievance to the King's subjects that they can thinke or imagine, [...]’’

Campion, Historie of Ireland. , Dublin reprint of 1809, p. 146.

On this letter Campion made the following remark in 1571:

Of such power was Magoghigan, in those dayes, who as he wan and kept it by the sword, so now he liveth but a meane Captaine, yeelding his winnings to the stronger.’’

Campion, Historie of Ireland. , Dublin reprint of 1809, p. 148.


The pedigree of Mageoghegan is deduced by Duald Mac Firbis, from Niall of the Nine Hostages. See the accompanying genealogy for this page.

On an old map, made in the year 1567, published with the third


Part of the State Papers (Ireland), the situation of Mageoghegan's country is described as follows:

McEochagan's country, called Kenaliaghe, containeth in length xij myles, and in bredth 7 myles. It lyeth midway betweene the ffort of Faly Philipstown and Athlone, five myles distant from either of them, and also five myles distant from Mollingare, which lyeth northward of it. The said McEochagan's country is of the county of Westmeth, situated in the upper end thereof bending to the south part of the said county, and on the other side southward of it is O'Moloye's country. And on the south east of it lyeth Offaly; and on the east side joyneth Terrell's country alias Ffertullagh. On the north side lyeth Dalton's country; and O Melaghlen's country on the west side between it and Athlone, wher a corner joyneth with Dillon's country.’’

The territory of Cinel-Fhiachach, however, originally extended from Birr; in the present King's County, to the hill of Uisneach, in Westmeath; but subsequently the O'Molloys and Mageoghegans, who were the principal families of the race of Fiacha, son of Niall, became independent of each other, and divided the original territory into two parts, of which O'Molloy retained the southern portion, called Feara-Ceall, and Mageoghegan the northern portion, which retained the original name of the tribe. In the year 1207, both families were nearly dispossessed by Meyler Fitz-Henry and the sons of Hugh de Lacy, who, in this year, contended with each other for the lands of Cinel-Fhiachach, as appears from the following entry in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, translated by Connell Mageoghegan: A.D. 1207. The sons of Hugh Delasie, with the forces of the English of Meath, laid siege to the castle of Ardinurcher, and the same continued for the space of five weeks, until they forced Meyler to abandon and forsake all the cantred of Kynaleaghe from Birr to Killare.’’

Annals of Clonmacnoise.

Sir Richard Nagle, Bart., now inherits the property of the last chieftain of the Mageoghegans, from who he is maternally descended. Another branch of them was removed by Cromwell to the


castle of Bunowen, in the west of the county of Galway, where they still possess several thousand acres of mountainous land.4 The last head of this family (who wrote his name Geoghegan, without the prefix Ma or Mac), conceiving a dislike to his name, because in England he found it difficult to get it correctly written or pronounced, was induced to apply to King George IV., for license to change it to O'Neill, which name he selected because it sounded well in English ears, and was one of great celebrity in Irish history; and also because he thought he had every claim to it, as the Mageoghegans were descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, and, therefore, regarded as a branch of the southern Hy-Niall race. This license was granted, and the name of this branch of the Cinel-Fhiachach is now O'Neill. Such of the family, however, as have remained in the original territory and its vicinity style themselves Geoghegan, Gahagan, or Gegan, but there is not an individual of the race in Ireland who now writes his name Mageoghegan, according to the original and correct anglicised form. The Abbe J. Ma-Geoghegan, who published his Histoire de l'Irlande at Paris, in 1758, was the last of the family that retained the old name.

The Family of Fox: — The family of O'Caharny, who afterwards took the name of Sinnach, or Fox, were originally chiefs of all Teffia and, previously, to the English invasion, far more powerful than the Mageoghegans; but, shortly after that event, they were subdued by the De Lacys and their followers, and reduced to comparative insignificance. The country of Teffia, of which the Fox O'Caharny had been the chief lord before Sir Hugh de Lacy's time, comprised the districts of Calry, Brawny, Cuircne, now the barony of Kilkenny West, besides the lands assigned to the Tuites, Pettys, and Daltons, in Westmeath, as


well as Magh-Treagha, Muinter-Gillagan, and other districts in the county of Longford; but, for many centuries, the country of the O'Caharnys or Foxes has been confined to one small barony, namely, the district of Muinter-Tadhgain, which was formed into the barony of Kilcoursey, and made a part of the King's County.

The following extract from a Patent Roll of Chancery (42 Eliz) will shew the extent and subdivision of Fox's country at that period:

Hubert Foxe of Lehinchie Barony Kilcoursie alias the Foxe his country, Gent. commonly called the Foxe, chiefe of his name, by deed dated 1 May 1599, to express his zeal and loyalty, surrendered to the Queen all his estate spiritual and temporal within the whole barony and territory of Kilcourcie called Mounterhagan or the Foxe his country, which was divided into three parts and parishes, viz. Shantway, Roaghan and Moye, and Monterdowlan and containing 30 corcives or plowlands, part free and part chargeable, with intent that her Majesty shou'd regrant the same in tail male to him and others of his kinsmen, in accomplishment whereof and pursuant to privy seal dated at Richmond 29 January 1599. 42.o f. R.8. her Majesty hereby granted the same to him and the heirs male of his body, remainder to his nephew Brissell Foxe, son of his brother Arte and his heirs male, remainder to his uncle Owen Foxe of Lissinuskie in the said barony and county and his issue male, remainder to Phelim Foxe of Tolghan ne Brennye said barony Gent. and his issue male, remainder to Brissell Foxe of Kilmaledie said barony Gent. son of Neile Foxe, who died lately in the Queen's service, and his issue male, to be holden by knight's service in the capite by the 20th part of a knight's fee and the ancient service of 4 footmen at every general Hosting yearly as he and his ancestors were accustomed to bear, with power, during his life, to keep once a month a Court Baron, and twice a year a Court Leet within any part of the said barony before himself or his Sub-Seneschal, and hereby appointing him Seneschal thereof, and to appoint deputies under him, and a power of alienation to him and his successors, according to the said limitations.’’

The O'Caharnys or Foxes are descended from Maine, the fourth son of the monarch Niall of the Nine Hostages. The following line


of their pedigree is given by Duald Mac Firbis and others: the letters 'K.T.' stand for King of Teffia.

  1. Niall of the Nine Hostages, Monarch of Ireland.
  2. Maine, ancestor of the men of Teffia (a district sometimes called Tir-Many) died in 425. Ann. Clonmacnoise.
  3. Brian.
  4. Brendan, K.T., who granted the site of Durrow to St. Columbkille in 550; he died in 569.
  5. Aedh, K.T., living in 590.
  6. Blathmac, K.T., d. 661.
  7. Congalach.
  8. Colla or Conla, K.T., d. 738.
  9. Braite; and Bec, K.T., d.764.
  10. Maelbeannachta.
  11. Tadhgan, a quo Muintir Tadhgain, the tribe name of the O'Caharnys or Foxes.
  12. Bec.
  13. Conchobar.
  14. Breasal.
  15. Cearnachan.
  16. Cathalan.
  17. Catharnach, a quo O'Caharny, the real surname of the Foxes.
  18. Fogartach.
  19. Ruaidhri, or Rory.
  20. Tadhg Sinnach O'Caharny, K.T., slain 1084 by Melaghlin mac Conor O'Melaghlin.
  21. Ruaidhri.
  22. Niall, chief of Teffia, d. 1233.
  23. Maeleachlainn; and Conor K.T., slain 1226.
  24. Congalach.
  25. Ruaidhri.
  26. Niall.


By comparing this line with that of Mageoghegan's pedigree, above given, we must conclude, from the number of generations, that this Niall was contemporary with Congalach More Mageoghegan, who flourished in the thirteenth century. He was probably the Niall Sinnach, or Fox, chief of Muinter-Thadhgain, who was killed in the battle of Athenry, in the year 1316. It is quite clear that there were four or five generations between this Niall and the Breasal who made this covenant with Mageoghegan, in 1526. Of these, the document itself furnishes two, viz., Eoghan, his father, and Cairbri, his grandfather; and the Annals of the Four Masters will probably be found to supply remaining ones; for, under the year 1446, they record the death of Cucogry, chief of Teffia, son of Maine, who was son of Sinnach, or Fox, lord of the men of Teffia. The probability is, that this Cucogry was the brother of Cairbri, the grandfather of the Breasal who made the covenant in 1526. See the accompanying genealogy for this page.

At what period, or wherefore, the O'Caharnys of Teffia first assumed the name Sinnach, or Fox, it is now not easy to determine. It would appear from the Irish Annals, that Tadhg, or Teige O'Caharny, King of Teffia, who was slain in 1084, was the first called Sinnach. In the old translation of the Annals of Ulster is the following entry, which traces the name Sinnach to a very opprobious origin; but where the translator found authority for it the Editor is


not prepared to say, as it is not in either of the original Irish copies of these Annals.

A.D. 1024, Cuan O'Lochlan, Archpoet of Ireland, was killed treacherously by the men of Tehva, auncestors of the Foxes. They stunk after[wards], whereby they got the name of Foxes,—a miracle shewed of the poet.’’

According to the tradition in the district, as told to the Editor by Mr. John Daly, of Kilbeggan, on the 5th of January, 1838, when he was in the eightieth year of his age, there were three branches of the Foxes in Muinter-Thadgain, of which one possessed the estate of Ballymaledy, lying between Horseleap and Clara; another possessed Cloghatinny (Cloch a' tSionnaigh), in the same neighbourhood; and the third had Streamstown, in the county of Westmeath. The two last estates were lost during the troubles of 1641; and the first, Ballymaledy, was sold, about fifty-eight years ago, by Charles Fox, Esq., who was the last estated gentleman of the name in that vicinity.

It appears from an inquisition taken at Mullingar, on the 18th of December, in the 14th year of the reign of James I., that Robert Nugent enfeoffed to Patrick Fox, of the city of Dublin, the lands of Templepatrick, near Myvour, in 1609; and from another inquisition, taken at the same place, on the 22nd of April 1623, we learn that a Sir Patrick Fox was in possession of the manor of Moyvore, and of the lands of Templepatrick, and several other lands; that this Sir Patrick Fox died on the 27th January, 1618, leaving Nathaniel Fox his son and heir, then thirty years of age, and married. It appears from another inquisition, taken at the same place, on the 19th of March, 1634, that this Nathaniel died on the 4th of February, 1634, leaving Patrick Fox his son and heir, then 20 years of age, and married. Sir Patrick was the ancestor of Fox of Fox-Hall; in the county of Longford, who supposes him to have been an Englishman; but, according to the tradition in the country, he was one of the Sinnachs, who settled in Dublin as a merchant, where he accumulated a considerable


fortune, and afterwards purchased lands in Westmeath. His son Nathaniel, to whom there is a curious monument in the demesne of Fox-Hall, is said to have been an officer in the service of Elizabeth and James I. The name Patrick shews clearly that the founder of this family of Moyvore or Fox-Hall was not of the English Foxes.

The present head of the Irish Sinnachs, or Foxes of Kilcoursey, is said to be Darcy Fox, Esq., of Foxville, in the county of Meath, but the Editor does not know whether that gentleman has any original documents to prove his descent from any of the persons mentioned in the Patent Roll of 1599 above quoted.

There are numerous families of the name living in humble circumstances, in various parts of the counties of East Meath and West Meath; but the Editor never met any persons of the name who had any knowledge of their pedigree, or who could trace their descent beyond a few generations by tradition. Indeed the Foxes of this race are brought so low, now-a-days,’’

as Connell Mageoghegan has observed, with respect to the O'Kellys of Bregia,—that the best chroniclers in the Kingdome are ignorant of their descents, and they are so common, having dwindled into mere churles, and poor labouring men, that scarcely one of the family knoweth the name of his own great grandfather.’’

There are chasms in the pedigree of the Breasal, who made the covenant with Mageoghegan in 1526, and from him to the Hubert of 1599, and from him to Brasill, chief of his name, who died in 1639, leaving a son, Hubert, aged thirty years.

We proceed now to give, in the original Irish, with a translation and a few notes, the curious deed which has given rise to the foregoing remarks.