1200 - 1621 AD
By the 1500s, the Saxons
had replaced their Irish neigbours as the biggest threat.
In 1621, the English settlers arrives as part of one of the earliest plantations
MacRagnaills and Muintir Eolais
The lands around Lough Rynn were planted by the English government in the early 1600s as part of a widespread plantation of English and Scottish settlers on Irish lands. Before that, the lands had been owned and settled for 600 years by the MacRaghnaill (Reynolds) clann. At this time, Leitrim (and Sligo, Roscommon and most of Galway) was held by various Irish families, each of which was allied to the main chieftain of the area. In the 12th century, a territory named Muintir Eolais was established as a lordship by the local chieftain, O'Rourke of Breffni, and placed under the rule of the MacRaghnaill clann. The territory comprised `the Barony of Mohill and all the level portion of County Leitrim south of Sliabh an Iarainn', including Loch Airinn, as Lough Rynn was then called.
The MacRagnaill main seat - and stronghold
After gaining the lordship of Muintir Eolais, the MacRaghnaill clann made Lough Rynn their main seat and built a stone castle by the shores of the lake. The ruins of the 12th century castle still stand (see below). The structure is fairly standard for the time, but it did have a few unusual - and clever - features. Although a square shape, the castle had rounded corners that made it more impervious to artillery attacks and it had a straight stairway carved into the hollow of a wall, rather than the more usual spiral stair in one corner. The castle site was well chosen. As well as providing some protection on one side, the lake offered further sanctuary in the form of an ancient crannóg, a round, thatched hut built on stilts a little way out from the shoreline. It had been built thousands of years previously, but was almost certainly used by the MacRaghnaills up to the 16th century.
The remains of the MacRagnaill's castle at the shores of Lough Rynn - and window detail.
Battling and plundering to hold the land
Like other clanns in the area, the MacRaghnaills devoted much of their time to simply holding on to their land and their cattle. The Annals of the Four Masters makes several references to the exploits of the MacRaghnaills, recording many incursions and battles between them and their neighbours. In 1253, the entire country of Muintir Eolais was plundered by a coalition of O'Reillys, O'Connors, and O'Farrells. Battles ensued, centred around Carrigallen, Cloone and Annaduff. Eventually, MacRaghnaill regained his castle and defeated O'Reilly in a `fierce battle where many were slain'. In 1367 MacRaghnaill, O'Connor and MacTiernan, accompanied by a troop of gallowglasses, attempted to take Moylurg in Roscommon but returned `without having gained booty or consideration'. MacRaghnaill's later defeat is recorded with some regret, for he was `a good, rich and affluent man'. When the battles were nearer home and when Lough Rynn proved unsafe, the MacRaghnaills had friends at the nearby monastery in Mohill.. On occasion, they sought refuge there as they retreated from battle or escaped from siege.
Death of the King of Connaught near Annaduff
In 1345, Lough Rynn was the scene of a major battle during which Turlough O'Connor, King of Connaught met his death. Turlough had come there to assist Tadhg MacRaghnaill against the Clann Murtough but was shot by an arrow as he retreated west towards Annaduff. The Annals of the Four Masters record the deed:
Turlough, son of Hugh, son of Owen O'Connor, King of Connaught was killed in Autumn by one shot of an arrow at Fidh Doradha in Muintir Eolais after he had gone to Loch Airinn to aid Teigh MacRaghnaill against the descendants of Muirchertach Muimhneach O'Connor. The Clann Murtough and some of the Muintir Eolais pursued him as far as Fidh Doradha and killed him at Gurtin na Spideoiga. For a long time before, there had not fallen of the Gaels any one more lamented than he. Hugh, son of Turlough was inaugurated King in his place.
At the time of his death, Turlough had reigned for 21 years. According to the Annals of Clonmacnoise `there was not a greater exploit done by an arrow' since the killing 900 years earlier of the great High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. It was the major event in an otherwise bountiful year: the Loch Cé Annals notes that `this was the best year that had ever come for nuts, and the produce of the earth, and of cattle, and of trees and herbs'.
The end for the MacRagnaills and their way of life
From the mid-1500s, the clann way of life - with its feuding, Brehon laws and bardic tradition - was under threat from the English government. In a visit to Mohill in 1540, the `Saxons' destroyed the monastery and beheaded the guardian and several of the friars. By 1590, the English government forces were actively routing the local clanns. In March that year, `an immense army' fought against the forces of O'Rourke and MacRaghnaill. After spending the night in Mohill they made away with 1,000 cattle - a major blow to the wealth and health of the clann.
The Plantation of 1621 and the arrival of English settlers
The MacRaghnaills' hold on the land lasted only another 30 years. Leitrim was one of the first counties to be handed over to English settlers in the Plantation of 1621. The lands around Lough Rynn and the town of Mohill were given to the Crofton family. In the years following the Plantation, the Croftons brought over tenants from England to farm the land and the native Irish were gradually pushed out.
By the late 1600s, William Molyneaux noted that Leitrim was well planted with protestants and that the native Irish were `civil, hospitable and ingenious' and were `very fond of their ancient chronicles and pedigrees'. He also remarked on their abhorrence of theft and on their great love of music and fondness for news. He regretted, however, the way the Irish clung obstinately to their religion in `all its gaiety and superstitious forms'.
The Penal Laws, implemented at the turn of the century were the final nail in the coffin for native Irish landowners. These laws supported the already insidious social change by imposing severe restrictions on Catholics. They were, for example, forbidden to own land and had no inheritance rights, and they were forbidden to hold arms or to vote. They were also banned from the professions and public office.