A few years back I met with Sean O’Rourke of RTE at an Alumni event. I found him good company. We exchanged several little anecdotes about our Alma Mater. I pressed Sean on his surname and its connection with Leitrim. We also discussed that other great political broadcaster Sean Duignan who had recently retired. Duignan incidentally has also attended UCG / NUIG. Mr. O’Rourke and I mused on how much changed Irish political Life was since Duignan had released his memoirs ‘One Spin on the Merry-Go-Round’ in 1995. If only we could have that conversation again now and see how much the wheel has turned again.
I began thinking of these two men recently when I was doing a spot of spring cleaning which involved putting some order on my collection of books. I came across Duignan’s memoirs again. The thought struck me about how important a role was played by both the O’Rourke and Duignan families in Leitrim history. Much is known of the O’Rourkes and considerably less about the Duignans, despite the latter been amongst the foremost historians of the day. If you wanted an epic family tree then the key in medieval Ireland was to hire a Duignan to fast track your way to dynastic significance.
They Duignan family originated in the kingdom of Annaly and Breifne in the area known as Conmaicne Maigh Rein (modern day County Longford and South Leitrim). The family themselves descended from Maine of Tethba (Teffia), a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
The Irish historian, Fr. Paul Walsh stated that “The celebrated Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh … informs us that the O Duigenans followed the profession of historiographers under the families of Clann Mhaiolruanaidh and Conmhaicne in Magh Rein, that is, with the Mac Dermotts and the MacDonoughs in the west, and with the O Farrells in the territory of Annaly.”
One of writers of the Annals of the Four Masters was a Franciscan Friar named Peregrine O’Duigenan from Castlefore, Fenagh, Co. Leitrim.
The Annals tell us that the earliest known reference of the surname was in 1296, when, “Maelpeter O’Duigennan, Archdeacon of Breifny, from Drumcliff to Kells, died.” The Annals further record that in 1323– “Gillapatrick O’Duigennan, Chief Historian of Conmaicne, and Lucas, his son, were slain by Conor, the son of Garvey Maguire.”
Branches of the family migrated into Connacht and particularly to Moylurg (Boyle / Keadue) in Co. Roscommon where they became Bardic Historians to the MacDermott family. Ferghall Muimhneach O’Duigenan, built the church of Kilronan in 1339 to which they became erenachs, or its lay proprietors. By this time a brother of Ferghals, named Philip na hInishe had already settled a branch of the family in Conmaice Rein (Fenagh, Co. Leitrim). Reference is made to Maghnus mac Melaghlin Ruadh O Duibggeannain, who died in 1452. This Maghnus of Castlefore was the chief compiler of the Book of Ballymote, which was commissioned by Tomaltach MacDonagh, Lord of Coran, around 1391.
The Four Masters include the following references to the family:-
- 1339 – The church of Kilronan was erected by Farrell Muimhneach O’Duigenan.
- 1340 – Philip O’Duigenan, Ollav i.e. Chief Poet of Conmaicne, died. The church of Kilronan was burned.
- 1347 – The church of Kilronan was re-erected by Farrell O’Duigenan. Finola, daughter of Mac Fineen, and wife of Farrell O’Duigenan, died.
- 1357 – Clement O’Duigenan, Vicar of Kilronan, died. He was called Sagart-na-Sinnach (i.e., Priest of the Foxes). Muimhneach O’Duigennan, Ollav of Conmaicne and Clann-Mulrony, Lower and Upper, died.
- 1360 – Naevag O’Duigennan died.
- 1362 – Cu-Connacht O Duigeannain, Vicar of Cill Ronain rested in Christ.
- 1381 – Lasairiona, daughter of Ferghal O Duigeannain, wife of O Mithin (Meehan), of Bealach ui Mithin, died.
- 1398 – David O Duigeannain, Coarb of the Virgin St. Lasair, chief chronicler of MacDiarmuda (MacDermott) and his great favourite, a hospitaller for all comers of Eirinn in general, a reverend attendant of a nobleman, and one that never refused anyone for anything he had until his death, died in his house and was interred in the Church of Cill Ronan.
- 1578 -O’Duigennan of Kilronan (Dolbh, son of Duffy), Ollav of Tirerrill, a learned historian, who kept a thronged house of general hospitality; a cheerful, eloquent, and affable man, died; and his son, Mulmurry, took his place.”
Peregrine O’Duigenan, one of the four masters was actually born Cu Coigriche mac Tuathal O Duibhgeannain circa 1590.He was ordained a Franciscan monk and changed his name to Peregrine O’Duignan. Nothing much is known about Peregrine until he became involved in the creating the Annals of the Four Masters) with Brother Michael O’Clery (Michael O Cleirigh), Peregrine O Cleirigh and Fearfeasa O Maoilchonaire, The four men based themselves in North Leitrim and South Donegal for approximately 8-9 years recording the history of Ireland for 3,800 years up to 1616 AD.
Sadly very little is known of Peregrine after 1636 although he is believed to have headed to the Continent. I’m quite sure that Peregrine would be proud to see Irish Political commentary has been so well attended to in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries by an O’Rourke and Duignan.