The McClain Family
This is the Flynn Crest
History of the Flynn’s
2,000 YEARS OF HISTORY
THE O’FLYNNS OF CONNACHT
THE O’FLYNNS OF MUNSTER
THE O’FLYNNS OF ULSTER
Margaret Ann Flynn McClain was born Maggie Flynn, on April 8, 1904 in Houghton County, Quincy Township, Hancock, Michigan. Her father, Andrew Flynn, the son of Margaret Fitzgerald, was born in Kerry , Ireland on April 6 th , 1866 and her mother Margaret Hurley was born Waterford Ireland in March of 1864. Her parents came to the United States in approximately 1881 and settled in Hancock , Michigan until they moved to Butte , Montana . Andrew Flynn, her father, owned some of the mines in Butte and the family relatively was well off. Margaret was very proud of the fact that the family had their own pew with the “Flynn” nameplate on it in the local Catholic Church. We think that the church was St Patrick's Catholic Church, 329 W Mercury St, Butte, MT 59701, (406) 723-5407 because it is the oldest church in Butte, Montana, however the old pews with the names on them was removed several years ago. When Margaret was very young she fell down the stairs in their home while wearing her mother's high heel shoes. Because of this she had to spend a long time using a wheel chair. She was also diagnosed with St. Vitus' dance as a child. St. Vitus' dance, also called Sydenham's chorea is a disorder effecting children and characterized by jerky, uncontrollable movements, either of the face or of the arms and legs. It is normally caused by rheumatic fever. At one time, rheumatic fever was the most common cause of damaged heart valves, and it still is in most developing countries around the world. Margaret did have a heart condition in the later years which could have been caused by this. Her mother died on Christmas day in 1909. Margaret was only five years old at the time. Her mother, Margaret Hurley Flynn trimmed the Christmas tree and put out all of the presents then went to bed. When the children came to wake her on Christmas morning she was dead. Margaret had two brothers, Patrick and Jerry and a sister named Mary. Andrew Flynn, Margaret's father, took the death of his wife very badly. He died the next year. Margaret was only six years old. She thought he had died of a broken heart. He fell asleep sitting in his chair and when they came to wake him they discovered he was dead.
Patrick Flynn was born in March 1891 Michigan , Margaret's favorite brother (she talked about him all the time and how great he was). He died in the worst hard-rock mining disaster in American history which took place on June 8, 1917 , when a fire in Butte , 2,000 feet below ground, left 415 miners to fight for their lives. Patty and one hundred and sixty-three others died in the cave-in. Of the 251 men who lived, 34 saved their lives by entombing themselves behind crude barricades, enduring for days before being rescued. His hair turned white when he was 17 or 18. He was 26 when he died.
Jerry Flynn was born July 1892. Margaret said he was a bit mischievous. He was 7 at the time of the 1910 census.
Maggie Flynn was born April 1894 in Michigan and was 6 at the time of the 1900 census but not in school yet. However Margaret Ann Flynn claimed that she wasn't born until 1904. Records also indicate that Maggie Flynn was 16 at the 1910 census.
Mary Flynn born March 1898 in Michigan was 2 at the time of the 1910 census. Mary died in a dentist chair getting her teeth worked on. Also she was many times a widow. Margaret said Mary was rather flighty.
Dennis Crowley was her stepbrother born Jan 1883 in Michigan . He was 16 at the time of 1910 census. He worked in a copper mine. These are the children of our Maggie Hurley's previous marriage.
Nellie Crowley was her stepsister born in Michigan , June 1886.
Julian Crowley born in Michigan in August 1888.
According to the 1910census there were 7 children at this time.
Margaret claims there was also an Uncle Dan. According to her he was left on their doorstep one stormy night and became her step-brother. It seems that they did not have much government in those days. Dan became her favorite brother and was the only one to visit her in New York after she married Joseph Johnson.
After the death of Margaret's mother and father she was placed in a convent in Hancock , Michigan and raised by the nuns. She had become a nuisance and burden to her big sisters and brothers and they found this was a way to ease that burden. Margaret said that the nuns taught her reading, writing, counting and how to behave properly and like a lady. If Margaret had a sister named Maggie then it may have been that Margaret and Maggie's records were either mixed up or possibly Margaret's records were lost. Because she was sent to the convent prior to the 1910 census it is believed that she was not reported to the census bureau. This is a logical reason that a 6 year old named Margaret Ann born in 1904 was not on the census.
When Margaret was fifteen years old she was taken from the convent and sent to New York City , chaperoned by a couple named the Wheelers for an arranged marriage to an older man who was also of substance. According to Margaret the Flynn family was very rich and felt money should only marry money. The man she was to marry was many years older that she. It was shortly after the end of World War I. They were staying in a hotel in downtown New York where Joseph Johnson McClain, who had recently been discharged from the US Navy, was an elevator operator. One day this rich old man became abusive chased her around the suite and she ran into the elevator. Joseph was her savior and was able to get her away from the old man. Exactly what happened after that is not known? What is known is that Margaret Flynn and Joseph J. McClain fell in love. Joseph was 23 at the time and a Negro. Margaret was 15 and a Caucasian. In the United States in the 1920's this type of interracial relationship was unheard of. They decided to get married but a man of 23 could not marry a girl of 15 in the Catholic Church even if they were of the same race. It is unknown if Margaret forged her birth certificate or used that of a sister with a similar name but the record showed that Margaret's birthday was April 8, 1894 at the time of their marriage. They were married in Corpus Christie Catholic Church on November 23, 1920 . Eventually her family found out that she had escaped the prearranged marriage and of all things had married a Negro. They cut her off of any inheritance she might have had and disowned her. There was no record of a Margaret Ann Flynn born in 1904. Only that of a Maggie Flynn born in 1894 to the same family. This is the birth date recorded on the birth certificate of Margaret at her death in Dumfries , Virginia on March 28, 1981 .
The above synopsis of the life of Margaret Ann Flynn McClain is based on historical documents integrated with stories as told by her oldest daughter Margaret who lived from October 2, 1925 to August 22, 2003; Her daughter Mary Patricia who lived from March 10, 1931 to February 8, 2007; Her son William born July 28, 1928 and her son Joseph born August 9, 1936.
Andrew Flynn’s home, Kerry Ireland.
Kerry, maritime county in southwestern Republic of Ireland , in Munster Province , on the Atlantic Ocean . The county has an irregular coastline indented by many bays and inlets. The region is largely mountainous, with several peaks more than 914 m (3000 ft) above sea level. Carrantuohill , at 1041 m (3415 ft), is the highest point in Ireland . In the center of the county are the picturesque Lakes of Killarney . The principal rivers are the Feale, the Maine , the Inny, and the Kenmare. Many islands lie off the coast. The administrative center, Tralee , is the most important town. Dairying, the raising of sheep and goats, fishing, the quarrying of slate and limestone, the manufacture of coarse woolens and linens, and tourism are the chief sources of income. Area, 4701 sq km (1815 sq mi); population (1991) 121,894.
The old man was Edmond O’Flyn, who claimed to be the O’Flynn chieftain. He held only a minuscule portion of the once-extensive clan territory, and he was an outlaw on the run from the local sheriff. The scholar was John O’Donovan, who told of the meeting in his edition of the Four Masters, a major study of the old Gaelic order.
1837 was well over two hundred years after the English Tudors finally broke the power of the native Gaelic aristocracy. Men like old Edmond O’Flyn - if he was the chieftain he claimed to be - could only dream of what it had been like to be a chief - an Irish king - in the old times.
2000 Years of O’Flynn History
The origins of the O’Flynn clans are hidden deep in the graygreen mists of prehistoric Erin. Their roots are entwined with those of all the Gaelic Celts, the ancient Irish nobility. The O’Flynns, and all the old Irish families of the Gaelic aristocracy of Ireland, considered themselves “Milesians,” descended from the legendary Celtic King Milesius of Spain. According to Milesian tradition, their ancestors, the sons of Milesius, invaded Ireland hundreds of years before Christ, defeated a magical and wonderful race called the Tuatha de Danaan, and ruled Ireland for nearly two thousand years.
The O’Flynn chieftains and their immediate families were indeed a part of the proud, and ancient, Gaelic aristocracy. An elite, warrior nobility, they ruled over the common folk, who were a mix of Gaelic Celts, earlier Celtic invaders, and the prehistoric, pre-Celtic races of Ireland. The Gaels were, in turn, a part of the larger Celtic culture that once dominated most of Europe.
The heads of the ancient O’Flynn clans were among the leaders of that old Gaelic society. While not kings of countrywide or provincial rank, they were prominent and powerful clans on a local level and their chieftains were relatively wealthy nobles who often ruled over large territories and many subclans. Such chieftains were often called by the title “Ri,” the Gaelic for “king.” Some had castles and large land holdings. Some were warriors. Others were highly-placed churchmen. Most O’Flynns, undoubtedly, were of less illustrious station.
The surname itself is about a thousand years old. The use of hereditary surnames which pass from father to son, as we know and use them, did not become customary until around the tenth century AD, and then only among the aristocracy. Before that, the individual’s name, and the clan or tribename was used. The original name in Irish is O’Floinn, which means descendant of Flann, and Flann is a personal name meaning “redfaced” or “ruddy,” derived from the Gaelic word for blood. As an individual name, Flann was probably fairly common, and as time went by, the descendants of prominent Flanns called themselves O’Floinn, to show both their genealogy and their relationship to a great or famous man named Flann. Eventually, the name evolved into a clan-name and the clannames evolved into surnames associated with territories and places in Ireland.
There arose at least four unrelated clans named O’Flynn in different parts of Ireland. One was in the western province of Connacht, in what is now county Roscommon. Two were in the southern province of Munster, in what is now county Cork. Another was in the northern province of Ulster, eventually being concentrated in what is now county Antrim. These, of course, were already part of old families, septs, clans and tribes whose roots and pedigrees extended far back before they became known as O’Flynns. We will take a closer look at the differences between these terms later.
While the genealogies and pedigrees of the ancient Gaels are considered by many to be very unreliable before the third century AD, most believe that there is some historical basis for the legends. It would actually be a mistake to try too hard to separate myth from history. For one thing, we would have to ignore rich and colorful stories that are also part of our heritage. Secondly, since many of our ancestors believed the myths were the literal truth, they undoubtedly acted accordingly and affected actual history. A historian writing about the history of the Isrealites noted that from a historical point of view, it was irrelevant whether God actually appeared to Abraham, or if Abraham lied or hallucinated. The Isrealites accepted it as fact, acted accordingly, and the history of the Jews proceeded from that point.
Similarly, the myths and legends of ancient Milesians, which are also those of the O’Flynns, were the basis for ancient Gaelic society. The Gaelic aristocracy and the ancient O’Flynns probably did believe them to be absolutely true. The social standing of the entire nobility of Ireland was constructed upon these stories. There was too much was at stake, and they were too widely accepted, for all of them to be baseless. This does not mean that they are to be taken literally. It simply means that they should be sifted for the historical nuggets of truth that they undoubtedly contain.
Historically, the Milesians were probably the leaders of the last wave of Celtic invaders. The Tuatha de Danaan were probably a Celtic people as well, which might explain why they are held in such high regard in Irish legend. These legends and their possible historical basis will be evaluated more later, as will the details behind the following highlights of O’Flynn stories and history.
For now, let us look at very brief overview of about 2000 years.
They begin with the legends of the Milesian invasion around the third century BC. The O’Flynns of Connacht and the O’Flynns of Ulster both claimed Heremon, son of Milesius, as their ancestor. If your Flynns came from the north or west of Ireland, this might be your old, old, granddaddy. The O’Flynns of county Cork, in Munster, claim descent from Ithe, an uncle of Milesius. If your Flynns are from the south of Ireland, then Ithe might be yours.
The Connacht and Ulster O’Flynns also claim a somewhat belligerent man called “Conn of the Hundred Battles,” monarch of Ireland sometime around 125 AD, and his grandson, Cormac MacArt, one of ancient Ireland’s truly great kings. Conn’s descendents, including the O’Flynns, were known as the Dal Cuinn, or the “Race of Conn,” and the province of Connacht gets it’s name from him.
Jumping ahead some years, to the third century AD, we have the story of Colla Uais, also reputed to be an O’Flynn ancestor. A deposed high king, he later lead the Connacht invasion and conquest of Ulidia in modern Ulster. Descendants of these warriors established the Ulster O’Flynns.
There are some very interesting tales, or tantalizing bits of stories, that tie the O’Flynns with famous people and events throughout Irish history. One Fifth century ancestor is connected with Saint Patrick. Another, a Sixth Century prince, was fatally involved in events which contributed to the downfall of a high king of Ireland, and is part of a much larger historical event involving the mission of Saint Columcille, also known as Columba, the greatest Irish Christian figure after Saint Patrick.
The O’Flynns became lords of large areas of counties Cork, Roscommon and Antrim. As warriors, they fought other clans, Viking raiders, Norman invaders, Anglo-Saxon conquerors. They founded churches, built castles and helped keep substantial parts of Ireland Gaelic and free for centuries.
At the end of the sixteenth century, the O’Flynns marched with Hugh O’Neill and the other Irish clans in the last great war that ended in the defeat of the Gaelic order. After that defeat, the last leaders of the old Irish aristocracy left Ireland in 1607, in what was called the “Flight of the Earls,” leaving the people leaderless and exposed to the final English conquest. Thus, the Gaelic way of life lasted about two thousand years. In the years after that defeat in the early 1600s and the reestablishment of an Irish nation in the twentieth century, the remnants of the Gaelic ruling class were crushed by the English Cromwellian army in the 1640s, their lands confiscated and turned over to foreigners, and their culture and language all but destroyed. The Penal Laws reduced most of the remaining native Irish to abject poverty and ignorance. Attempts at rebellion were brutally crushed. The horror of the “Great Hunger,” the potato famine, and other factors scattered the Irish across the face of the globe. It took the English about four hundred years, from the Norman invasion in 1170AD until the defeat of the Irish chieftains around 1600AD, to really conquer Ireland. It took the Irish another four hundred years of resistance and rebellion, to regain Irish freedom. The O’Flynns were also a part of that story.
THE O’FLYNNS OF CONNACHT
This is the O’Flynn clan that is currently registered wbith the modern “Clans of Ireland” office in Ireland and is sometimes known as “The O’Flynns of Ballinlough.”
The O’Flynns of Connacht, and almost all of the native Irish families of Connacht, claim their original Milesian descent back to Heremon, son of Milesius, who invaded Ireland centuries before the birth of Christ, then forward many centuries from Heremon to “ Conn of the Hundred Battles,” monarch of Ireland (123 - 127 AD). Connactht itself derives it’s name from “ Conn of the Hundred Battles” and his descendants are known as the “Race of Conn,” or the Dal Cuinn. Conn’s grandson was the great Irish king, Cormac MacArt.
The O’Flynn pedigree becomes more specific through Brian, a 4 th century king of Connacht, and his descendant, Aedh, king of Connacht who died in 577AD. Aedh’s son Cunnan, was king of the UiBriuin tribe. The O’Flynns are a UiBriuin sept.
It is difficult to say where these pedigrees are legendary, or even mythical, and where they become historical fact. Generally speaking, authorities say the genealogies are fairly reliable after the third century AD.
The O’Flynns were chiefs of Siol Maolruain, with their territory based west of Castlerea and south of Airtech, in western Roscommon, on and over the borders of Mayo and Galway. They dominated a fairly large area from their clan stronghold around Ballinlough, Roscommon, where the ruins of the old O’Flynn castle can still be seen. O’Flynn’s country was the entire present parish of Kiltullagh, and part of Kilkeevin parish in County Roscommon. It also included a considerable portion of Ballynakill, near the village of Ballymoe in County Galway.
The O’Flynn legacy can be seen in place names. Slieve O’Flynn (O’Flynn’s mountain) is on the boundary of, and partially in, both Kiltullagh and Kilkeevin. Lough O’Flynn is O’Flynn’s lake, and Ballinlough can be roughly translated as “the town of O’Flynn’s lake.” North of that area, on the outskirts of Boyle, County Roscommon, was the church of Asslyn. Asslyn is derived from the Gaelic for “the cataract of the O’Flynns.” The O’Flynn castle stood on the top of a hill between Ballinlough and Lough O’Flynn.
Most of Connacht was dominated by the powerful Royal O’Connors for well over a thousand years. The O’Flynns of Ballinlough were sub-chieftains of the O’Connors, but independent rulers in their own territory. They were usually succession wars of the Royal O’Conors, particularly during the 13 th century, the O’Flynns and MacDermots generally took the same side.
To date, we have only a handful of anecdotes regarding O’Flynn chieftains. A very early chieftain was Enda, who is reputed to have given St. Patrick land for a church on the site of an ancient standing stone. The place where he built the church was called Kiltullagh Hill. This site in now the centre of much archaeological interest. Excavations, undertaken by the Geography Department of the University of Manchester, Oxford Rd., Manchester, England have recently been completed.
There is reference to “The O’Flynn” being in attendance at the inauguration of Cathal Crobhderg O’Conor in 1201 AD, as one of the sub-chiefs of the king. It is also mentioned in conteporary records that the chief of the O’Flynns had the privilege of mounting the same steed on “The O’Conor.” While this seems to be a peculiar and even humorous honor, it certainly must have been a serious and significant distinction for word of it to have passed on for so many centuries. It does show that the O’Flynn chiefs were close to the Royal O’Conors, who were provincial kings of Connacth, and sometimes held the high kingship (ArdRi) of Ireland at Tara.
THE O’FLYNNS OF MUNSTER
There are two major O’Flynn clans associated with County Cork, possibly having common roots.
Members of the Milesian aristocracy, the O’Flynns of Munster were a branch of the Corca Laoidhe, a tribe whose “tuath,” or petty kingdom was based in Cork. This segment of the Gaelic elite, claimed their descent from Ithe, an uncle of Laighe, and then to his grandson, Lugaidhe Mac Com, monarch of Ireland from 195 AD to 225 AD.
The O’Flynns of Ardagh Castle were in west Cork, in the barony of West Carberry between Skibbereen and Baltimore. O’Flynns were also chiefs of Ui Baghamna, which covers the baronies of Ibane and Barryroe. They are classed in some histories as a noble chieftain family, ruling a relatively small area with a limited number of subject clans.
A portion of a poem has come down to us:
O’Flynn Arda of the blooming woods,
The O’Flynns of Muskerry were lords of Muskerrylinn (Muscraidhe UiFloinn)which is the territory between Ballyvourney and Blarney and from the River Dripsey to Ballyvourney. Muscraige was also an independent kingdom, or “tuath,” peopled by an ancient race, of which the O’Flynns were a branch, also claiming the same Milesian background as the O’Flynns Arda.
After the Norman invasion, the MacCarthys, who were the royal family of the Eoganacht tribe, were being pushed westward by the conquering Normans. They in turn, pushed the O’Flynns further east.
The Eoganachts were the dominant tribe in Munster for Corca Laoidhe, the Muscraige, as well as the Eoganachts, was eligible to become King of Cashel, the provincial king of Munster.
THE O’FLYNNS OF ULSTER
The O’Flynns of Ulster were probably the most illustrious and powerful of the ancient O’Flynn Clans of Gaelic Ireland until the Norman invasion.
At the end of the twelfth century, just before the Norman invasion, the Ulster O’Flynns were led by a Gaelic chieftain named Cumee O’Flynn. From what we have uncovered so far, Cumee was an able and aggressive leader. As Gaelic Ireland, with it’s Celtic heritage, was still intact when he came to power, Cumee is interesting not only as an O’Flynn, but as a a good example of a true Irish chieftain.
Our research to date, shows that the O’Flynn territory was a portion of Antrim, north and east of Lough Neagh, known as Northern Clanaboy, an area that would become the baronies of Toome and Antrim. No doubt many of their descendants still live in that area.
Before we take a closer look at Cumee O’Flynn, his times and struggles, let us look at where the Ulster O’Flynns came from. Information, so far is scarce, but we can piece some of it together.
Northern Clanaboy, in Antrim was the O’Flynn homeland for quite a while, but they had not always ruled in that area. There had been migrations and dislocations long before the Normans and English arrived.
Originally, the O’Flynn forebears seem to have come to Ulster from Connacht over eight hundred years before Cumee, in the forth century AD. They were part of the invasion led by Colla Uais, former High King of Ireland and conqueror of the Uliad of Ulster. The Ulster O’Flynns traced their pedigree from Fiachra Tort, son of Colla Uais, through twenty eight generations; to a chieftain named Flann, to his son O’Flann, and then to Rory O’Floinn, presumeably Flann’s grandson.
The O’Flynn chieftains, part of the warrior aristocracy of Ireland, considered themselves “Milesians,” descended from the mythical Celtic King Milesius of Spain. According to Milesian tradition, his sons conquered Ireland from the magical and wonderful race, the Tuatha de Danaan, hundreds of years before Christ.
The stock from which the O’Flynns of Ulster came, were the Irish tribes and clans of Connacht, the Dal Cuinn, who claimed their descent from Milesius through his son, Heremon. They were of the “Race of Conn,” the heros and heroines of the ancient tales and sagas contained in the “Fenian Cycle.” Their ancestors ruled from the Hill of Tara and included: “ Conn of the Hundred Battles;” King Cormac MacArt; and Finn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), leader of the Fianna, the legendary warrior society. For hundreds of years, they fought against and struggled with their rivals in Ulster, the Uliads.
The Uliad of Ulster, known as the “Race of Concobar,” claimed their descent from Milesius through another of his sons, Ir. They ruled their lands from the ancient fortress, Emain Macha, near Armagh. They were the Uliad of the tales of the “Ulster Cycle.” King Concobar; the hero Cuchulain, “The Red Hound of Ulster” and the “Knights of the Red Branch,” the other great warrior society of Irish legend, were their ancestors. They ruled Ulster for about seven hundred years and held their ground against their rivals in Connacht, the Dal Cuinn.
The Fourth Century
The centuries-old stalemate was broken in the fourth century AD and this is where the O’Flynns of Ulster come in. High King Muiredeach, of the Dal Cuinn, ruling from the Hill of Tara, sent his cousin and rival, Colla Uais, along with his two brothers, off to fight their traditional enemies, the Ulaid of Ulster. It appears that the forebears of the O’Flynns of Ulster were part of the invasion force.
This incursion culminated in a great battle on the plain of Farney in present-day County Monaghan, in 332 AD. Colla Uais was victorious. As their share of the spoils of that invasion, those ancestors apparantly took over a large territory in southern Armagh, extending from Lough Neagh to the sea, which they and their descendants held for many centuries, becoming the O’Flynns of Ulster.
The O’Flynns Migrate to Antrim
During, or after, (the dates are unclear) the disruptions caused in part by the Viking invasions of the eigth, ninth, and tenth centuries, the O’Flynns lost a war with a rising power in the area - the O’Kanes. As a result, the O’Flynns, along with the leaders and warriors of the tribes and clans they led, migrated east across the river Bann and north
along the shores of Lough Neagh.
There were large towns in Ireland at the time in places like Dublin, Limerick and Wexford. There were monasteries and centers of learning throughout the country and the Gaelic aristocracy were sometimes quite sophisticated. But this area was rural and pastoral. This is rolling land, with mountains between them and the sea, the lowlands and lakeshores good for farming and grazing, the uplands and mountains wild and sparsely inhabited. The O’Flynns probably had to fight their way there, no doubt displacing or subjugating other clans in the process. Eventually, they settled in as the rulers of Northern Clanaboy, as independent warlords and minor kings: struggling and jostling for power and wealth with the heads of other tuaths, or petty kingdoms. Certainly, they were enemies of the O’Kanes and their allies, who now occupied their ancestral lands, south Clanaboy and east of the valley of the river Bann.
The Life of a Gaelic Chieftain
It was a time of war, raids, and killing. Local wars and feuds were normal, frequent, and often brutal. There were major power struggles going on between the provincial kings and High King, which often involved their followers: chieftains like Cumee O’Flynn. The Gaelic chieftains and kings were a warrior aristocracy, often taking the heads of rivals and enemies as trophies - if they were tough enough and lucky enough. Otherwise, their own heads were often lost. Usually, the fighting forces were composed of the aristocrats themselves, their male relatives, the male leaders of their allied clans and families, a few full-time warrior followers, and perhaps some hired mercenaries. Generally, however, they were rural cattlemen and farmers.
Cumee O’Flynn probably spent most of his time seeing to his lands, his family, his clients and his cattle. So far, we don’t know much about him. He would have been relatively wealthy compared to the common folk and many of his followers. His clothing would have been of good quality: well-cut woolen cloaks, perhaps lined with silk and fastened with a jeweled brooch of gold or silver. A fringed linen tunic with woolen belts embroidered with gold were not uncommon for men of his standing. His weapons would have been well-made: a sword, round shield, and perhaps chain mail and a battle-ax. Irish kings and chieftains rode horses and their mounts were good ones.
By contrast, most of his followers would have worn jackets and trews - woolen trousers. They would march and fight on foot. Their weapons would have been spears, with some swords, battle-axes, and shields of wood with metal bosses. Fierce and warlike as they were, noble and commoner alike were part-time warriors. They made their living from their animals and land. Wealth was counted in cattle – the “walking gold” of the Celts.
Where he made his primary home, we have yet to discover. Typically, a petty king or chieftain might build his stronghold on the ruins of an old ring fort, or dun, with an earthen wall and ditch used for the protection of his personal compound. Cumee’s timber-and-wattle dwelling would have been the largest building, capped with a thatched roof supported by beautifully-carved timbers. His residence would have been surrounded by the homes of his noble kinsmen, along with stock pens and other domestic buildings. His personal standard probably flew over his home, perhaps decorated with the severed heads of his enemies. The coat of arms of the Ulster O’Flynns may have been different from the one we know and use. We have read of one consisting of “...a dexter arm copted between two swords...” Craftsmen, musicians, bards and storytellers might have been part of Cumee O’Flynn’s entourage. Certainly, geese and dogs would have been around, perhaps a great shaggy wolfhound or two as well. Beyond the compound would have been the farming lands and pasturage of the O’Flynns, their allies, their subject clans and families. It would have been a village of sorts, but not really a town. Their traditions, laws and culture, where nearly two thousand years old. The Norman invasion would shake Gaelic society to it’s foundations and open the way for the Saxons.
“CUMEE” PART TWO
CUMEE O’FLYNN, CHIEFTAIN OF ANTRIM, AND THE NORMAN INVASION.
In 1169 AD a small band of Norman knights, backed by archers and men-at-arms, landed on the southeast coast of Ireland and immediately built a fortification. Invited by a deposed Irish king, encouraged by the king of England, and with the blessing of the Pope, they were the spearhead of an invasion that would change Ireland forever.
Only a few years later, by 1177 AD, many native Irish tribes and clans had been pushed from their homes and territories and Norman fortifications dotted the countryside. Ancient Irish kingdoms had fallen. The king of the province of Leinster was a Norman knight, Richard FitzGilbert, nicknamed “Stongbow.” King Henry II of England had had his ten-year old son, John, declared “Lord of Ireland.” Rory O’Connor, the last Ard Ri of Ireland, controlled only a fraction of Ireland and was high king in name only.
That same year, in early 1177, Cumee O’Flynn, Chieftain of HyTuirtre and Firlee, was gathering his warriors and clansmen to face a Norman army that was marching on the homeland of the O’Flynns of Antrim. The Normans were powerful, but Cumee O’Flynn, a strong, warlike and competent chieftain was not to be easily defeated.
Centuries later, O’Donovan would refer to “the O’Floinn of Firlee and Delaradia,” and say that they were, “far more illustrious than the Connacht O’Flyn, or the O’Floinn Arda, and that they were powerful opponents of Sir John DeCourcy, the conqueror of Ulidia.” Indeed, not only were Cumee O’Flynn and king Rory MacDonlevy of Ulidia, the chief opponents of the Norman John DeCourcy, but Cumee O’Flynn dealt him a major defeat and very nearly changed the course of Irish history in Ulster.
O’Flynn’s opponent, John DeCourcy, was an adventurous young man. The youngest son of a Somerset knight, he had limited prospects and little or no inheritance coming. But Conquest was the family business of a Norman knight, the Norman families were grabbing as much of Ireland as they could get, and the invasion of Ireland was an adventure and a business opportunity that John did not want to pass up. Other Norman barons were seizing Irish land in Meath, Leinster and Munster, concentrating on the plains, the coasts, and the rivers; while pushing the native Irish to the hills, woods and boglands. Daring young John DeCourcy, without waiting for permission from the king, set his sights on the conquest of the kingdom of Ulidia, in north-eastern Ulster.
DeCourcy was a tall, fair, muscular young knight who was considered mild-mannered in private but ferocious in battle. In 1177, he gathered a band of about three hundred discontented young knights and soldiers from the garrison around Dublin, and a number of Irish warriors as well. Setting out under the eagle banner of the DeCourcy family, he and his army marched on Ulidia. It was a great escapade they were undertaking, and the potential rewards - vast estates, power and untold riches - were wonderful to contemplate. They were undoubtedly excited and confident. Ulidia was perhaps the most warlike and naturally protected of the Irish kingdoms, but the Normans of this time were professional soldiers while the Irish, for all their ferocity in battle, were part-time, amateur warriors. It would not, however, be an easy victory against the Irish. The Irish kings and chiefs had a strong incentive to fight. Everything they had in the world was at stake.
King Rory MacDonlevy of Ulidia, the O’Flynns of HyTuirtre, Firlee and Delaradia, and other chieftains and clans of Ulidia took to the field to defend their territory, but on February 1, 1177, their capital, Downpatrick, fell to DeCourcy. Cardinal Vivian, the Pope’s legate, saw DeCourcy, as he entered there, slaughtering the people on the street. MacDonlevy, and the other native Irish attempted to recover Downpatrick. They fought bravely, but their weapons, lack of armor and fighting methods were no match for the Normans. Again, conquest was the industry of the Norman kinsmen and warfare was their trade. They went into battle with a plan, while the Irish clans tended to charge bravely, but in disarray. Norman tactics usually began with massed Welsh archers lofting a storm of arrows, which could be devastating to unarmored soldiers. This would be followed by a cavalry charge of armored knights mounted on massive warhorses, backed up by disciplined, mail-coated Flemish foot soldiers. The Irish were defeated.
After the fall of Downpatrick, DeCourcy turned north. The native Irish in the north half of Antrim found a champion in Cumee O’Flynn, chieftain of HyTuirtre and Firlee. Cumee’s methods seemed to tend more to a style of fighting that would later be termed “guerilla warfare.” At first Cumee O’Flynn fought and delayed the Normans with a scorched-earth policy to deny DeCourcy food and supplies. He burned the town of Armoy before DeCourcy could take it and harassed him in every way possible.
According to the historian Giraldus, DeCourcy received a severe defeat at the hands of Cumee O’Flynn. While leading a cattle raid, John DeCourcy and his knights were attacked by Cumee O’Flynn and his Irish warriors. The Irish pounced on them in a narrow mountain pass and overpowered them. DeCourcy barely escaped alive. Only he and eleven of his knights managed to escape to his stronghold at Down.
It was King Rory MacDonlevy and Cumee O’Flynn who led the opposition. Rory MacDonlevy called for help from his lord, MacLochlann, king of Cenel Eoghain. The two kings, their allies and clans, returned with a larger army, including clerics, bishops, and sacred relics. This Irish host met the Norman knights, archers and mail-clad footmen on June 24, 1177 and fought a courageous and brutal battle, but they were defeated.
Despite this defeat, the Irish and Cumee O’Flynn continued to fight on, and the O’Flynns won renown as among the most determined opponents of DeCourcy. However, it was a losing fight and John DeCourcy, “Conquestor Ultoniae,” conquered Antrim and Down by the sword.
Of course, Cumee O’Flynn and his tribes also had to contend with old feuds while fighting the invading Normans. Instead of presenting a united front against a common enemy, the Irish kept up their clan warfare. In 1181, Eachmarcach O’Cahan, and men of Mach Ithe and Clan Binny, attacked and plundered Firlee and HyTuirtre and carried off thousands of cows. A few years later Cumee O’Flynn was killed by the Normans.
DeCourcy established many castles, abbeys and petty towns. Carrickfergus Castle, perhaps the first real castle to be built in Ireland between 1180 and circa 1205, was very likely built by John DeCourcy. He also consolidated his victories by building castles in Coleraine, Dundrum and other locations. This too was part of the Norman advantage. They had the rich and powerful Norman power structure in England, Wales and Normandy to draw upon for talent and capital investment.
DeCourcy ruled like an independent prince for nearly 30 years and married Affreca, the daughter of Godred, Norse ruler of the Isle of Man. Throughout Antrim and Down, he established his followers, later to become the Hackets, Russels, Savages, Whites and Logans.
THE IRISH REBOUND
The Irish learned fast, and began to change their methods of fighting to meet the new threat in the land. Only a few years later DeCourcy was overwhelmingly defeated in an attempt to conquer Connacht, and his army was almost annihilated.”
The Irish kingdom of Ulidia became a Norman state and colony, but it was a veneer. The Normans were few in number. Since they considered the Gaelic chiefs to be their social equals, they intermarried with the native Irish, and indeed became Irish themselves. The war was between the Gaelic nobility and the Norman aristocrats and continued on the borders, but in the Norman-administered areas, there was generally peace and order. They also needed labor and did not exterminate or expel the ordinary Gaelic Irishman. They encouraged the common people to stay and cultivate the soil and herd the cattle. Indeed, in many cases, they just established themselves as overlords and the majority of the people lived as they had.
Thus the O’Flynns remained. John DeCourcy, however, ultimately left. He fell out of favor with King John of England, made a stand against the forces of the king in his castle at Dundrum, was taken prisoner, released, and died in France in 1219.
The later O’Flynn chiefs continued to rule HyTuirtre but they were subordinate to the Norman lords. Some Flynns dropped the “F,” leaving Lynn, a common name in Ulster. Many O’Flynns, Flynns, O’Lynns and O’Lynns still populate their ancient territories to this day.