The Ancient Origins of the Duggans of Galway – 2002

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Having compiled a history of my own famiIy, I decided to research the more ancient origins of the Duggans in Co. Galway.

The knowledge I had on them at this stage was minimal, but I had two lucky breaks. The “History of Moylough-Mountbellew” by John D. Claffey came into my possession and this gave me some invaluable leads. My second break was when I happened to meet an old school pal whom I had not met for some time, and having told him of my little project, he sent me a copy of a map of County Galway which was made in 1641.As this map showed many old place names now extinct, it enabled me to locate them when they came up in my researches. My sincere thanks to Martin Clarke, of Grange, Turloughmore for this map. Because the Duggans, O’Duggans or Ó’Dubhagains were poets and historians. Under Brehon Law they were exempt from military service and therefore do not appear in the accounts of the many battles recorded in the ancient tracts. But, as you will see later on in this article, they distinguished themselves in their own field of activity, namely poetry and history.

It was not until about the tenth century that the term ‘Clan’ came into being and more or less coincided with the introduction of surnames. The political groupings of peoples before this are usually referred to as septs or dynasties and traced their ancestry back to a person whom they regarded as having founded the sept, for instance the Connacha descendants of Conn and who later, because of expansion of numbers, broke up into the various clans, i.e. O‘Connors, McDermotts and O’FIahertys. The same applied to Ui Maine, they became O’KeIIys, O’DonneIIans and O’Maddens. I hope that this explanation of the political and family groups as they existed in the early part of the following history of the Ó’Dubhagains will give you a greater understanding of their genealogy.

The Sogain

According to the “Book of Lecan”, compiled in 1418 by Giolla Íosa Mac Firbish, the Sogain (of whom the Ó’Dubhagains were part), were descended from Sodain who was son of Fiacha Araidh, King of Ulster, about 240 A.D. It would appear that they came to Galway about the 3rd Century as they were well established there by St. Patrick’s time. They occupied an area which, according to the Book of Ui Maine, stretched from the river Clare in the west to the river Suck in the east and the river Shivern in the north to the Raford river in the south.

This area was to become known as Mag Sencheineoil or the plane of the old inhabitants. Some townlands in this area derive their name from the Sodain: Ardnasodan i.e. high ground of the Sodain, near Abbeyknockmoy, Shudane in the parish of Athenry and the townland of Killaghaun in Ballymacward was known as Killimorsugane or Killimorsogain as distinct from Killimordaly. As you will see later on, many other places take their names from the Sogain clans or families. The Book of Ui Maine also states that the Sogain comprised six kindred branches Cineal Reachta, Cineal Tréana, Cineal Luchta, Cineal Fergna, Cineal Domangéin and Cineal DeigeiIle. The head of each of these were eligible for election to chieftainship. I do not know to which of these branches the Ó’Dubhagains belonged as there is no record of them, due, I suppose to the fact that they were not military men.

The Sogain in religion

In my perusal of “The Book of Ui Maine”, I discovered that, in pagan times, the Sogain had a Druid named Mogh Ruith who had a magic wheel called Roth Ramach (Rowing Wheel) with which he could soar into the heavens and disappear.

St. Jarlath of Tuam brought the Christian faith to the Sogain about the 5th or 6th century and soon some of the Sogain men were distinguishing themselves in their newfound religion.

The Féilire of Oenguis, or Calendar of Oenguis, records the 12th February as the feast day of Mo Diuit, Bishop of Cell Mo Diuit in Sogain. Thanks to Martin Clarke’s map, l was able to locate Cell Mo Diuit at Mount Hazel in the Parish of Ballymacward. Also mentioned in association with Mo Diuit is Dubhhan, and l have located Cill Dughain, now Killooaun also in the parish of Balymacward. The patron saint of Cell Mo Diuit is given as St. Simplex and his feast day is the 29th July.

The “Oxford Dictionary of Saints” by David Hugh Farmer (courtesy of the Redemptorist College in Esker) quotes the Martyrology of Jerome which says that Simplicius and Faustinus were brothers, put to death for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Their martyrdoms took place at Rome on the road to Porto about the year 304 A.D. In 1868, the cemetery of Gencrosa was discovered beside this road. It had a small church dating from the time of Damascus, and contained contemporary frescos and inscriptions.

The relics of these three martyrs, found here, were transferred to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome, who’s feast day is on 29th July.

lt may seem strange that an almost unknown Roman Saint would be taken as a patron. But Catalogus Sanctorum Hiberniae (Catalogue of the Saints of lreland) arranges the early lrish Saints into three c|asses. The First Order, which is described as ‘most holy’, consists of those who received their orders from St. Patrick. The Second Order was described as ‘very holy’ and was known as the Ancharites or Céili Dé (Companions of God). The Third Order was described as ‘merely holy’.

The Ceili Dé lived according to the Rule of Colm Cille, which laid down ‘that he labours unto sweat and prays till tears are loosed, while his steady perseverance gains white martyrdom, he must be prepared for red martyrdom (martyrdom of blood)!’ lt is more than likely that Mo Diuit took the martyr Simplex as his patron and inspiration. I do not know if there was or is any devotion to St. Simplex in Ballymacward in recent times.


Another saint of Sogain stock listed in the Féilire of Oenguis, under 8th March, is Cuindles. It says: “Ór (pray for) Connindles of Cell Conainn in Sogain in Connaught, at Essa Mac n’Éire he is”. It states that he was christened Conna but his mother added ‘ail’ to his name, ‘ail’ being a Gaelic endearment. The Féilire also says that his mother was a sister of St. Senan of lnis Chartaigh (Scattery lsland). Cuindles went on to become Abbot of Clonmacnoise. He died in 724 A.D. and a stone memorial slab bearing the inscription “Ór ar Chuindies” (Pray for Cuinndles) as well as a sculptured Celtic or wheel cross can be seen at Clonmacnoise. “At Essa mac nÉirc he is” poses a bit of a puzzle, as Essa Mac nÉirc is inter- preted as Assylin in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. l can only guess that maybe he is buried there.

Cell Conainn is also a bit of a conundrum, as I cannot locate it anywhere in Co. Galway. Some historian say that it is Cill Commedan, in Aughrirn, while tradition in the Kilconnell area has it that a female missionary called Connaine started missionary work around that area, that she was a sister of St. Senan and that it was really she who was responsible for the first monastic settlement at Kilconnell. It is possible that, in interpreting the mediaeval Gaelic of the Féilire of Oenguis, it may be that some confusion arose and that the name Connaine was given to St. Connindles’ mother rather than himself and that St. Connaine was really the saint mentioned above, St. Connindles.

It is also possible that Tiaquin, a townland in the parish of Monivea could have connection with St. Connindles, as it is an anglicisation of ‘Teach Deacoinne’ which could be interpreted as ‘Church of Coinne’ or‘Tigh da Coinne’ (House of Coinne).


Another saint of the Sogain was Iomar, the founder of Killiomor Sogain or Killimor-sugane which corresponds to the modern Killaghawn in Ballymacward parish. It is said that, after setting up his monastery at Killimorsogan, he had a difference with some of the other monks there and that he moved to Killimordaly and set up another monastery there. Maol Cosna was the founder of Ballymacward parish, and the site of his church would correspond to that of the old church in Ballymacward cemetery. His feast day is 16th August.

l think that it might be as well to explain that the aforementioned monastic sites were composed mostly of clay and wattle cells and would not compare on any way to the stone-built monasteries like Kilconnell or Cloonkeenkerrill. Those stone monasteries were not erected until about the 13th century. Kilconnell, as already stated, was a monastic site long before the 13th century and so also was Cloonkeenkerrill. St. Kerrill, a bishop of the 7th century, set up a monastery at Cloonkeenkerrill in the parish of Gurteen which would then be part of Sogain territory. l do not know if St. Kerrill was of the Sogain Sept. His feast day is 13th June and is still celebrated as a holiday in the parish of Gurteen. There are numerous other ecclesiastic sites through- out this area but for the purpose of this history, l have confined myself to the ones that are recorded as having definite Sogain connection.

The Uí Maine

About the 5th century, another northern tribe moved into East Galway; they were called Colla da Crioch. They occupied an area around Ballinasloe and Creagh takes its name from them. One of their chieftains was called Maine Mór and, from then on, they became known as Ui Maine or Hy-Many. Over the centuries, they became very powerful and some historians believe that the Sogain became subject to them sometime before the 10th century, but this is not altogether correct. There is ample evidence that the Sogain retained their independence up until the coming of the Normans and their relationship with the Ui Maine was more along the lines of a military alliance in order to protect themselves from the O’Connors.

Tadhg Mór O’Kelly, chief of Ui Maine, took part in the Battle of Clontarf and the Sogain fought beside him as his allies. A poem composed by Mac Hag (Poet to Brian Born) says:

‘The worthy Sogain seed

flinched at no strife

Nobly they bore themselves

who grabbed with the Norsemen’

and in another verse:-

‘Raise the honoured Sodain shield

that showed the victorious way

The Sodain carry the Prey

from all parts. to Hy Many

to their own abode’.

“Chronicum Scutarum” (written by Dubhaltach Mac Firbhisigh in 1651) also States that ‘in 1131 when the victory of Maengach was gained by Sil Muineadaigh over the Ui Maine in which many fell together with Conchubhar Ó’Ceallaigh and ÓMannáin King of Sogain’. The foregoing and especially the royal title given to O Mannáin, is a clear indication that the Sogain were not an enslaved people.

It was not until after the coming of the Normans that the O’Kellys, now the dominant family of the Ui Maine, began to make largescale encroachments into Sogain territory. The reasons for this were first, they need for more land for the expanding O’Kelly sub-chiefs, second, to replace territory confiscated by the Norman invaders, and third, the unsettled conditions which existed in the area at the time, especially after the Bruce invasion, made this kind of occupation more acceptable. In 1352, the O‘Kellys hanged the Sogain chieftain O Mannáin and occupied his castle at Clogher (Killaclogher in the parish of Killascobe).

Eugene Duggan is a well-known historian, a regular contributor to the Athenry Journal and author of ‘Horse and Hand’ 2000  and ‘The Ploughman and the Pound Note 2004.

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About this record

Written by Eugene Duggan

Published here 14 Aug 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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