Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Donnell, Godfrey

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O'DONNELL, GODFREY (d. 1258), Irish chief, was son of Domhnall Mór O'Donnell, chief of the Cinel Conaill, who died in 1241, and was son of Egneachan O'Donnell, also chief, who died in 1207. When his brother, Maelsheachlainn O'Donnell, was killed by Maurice FitzGerald in 1247, Ruaidhri O'Cannanain was made chief of the Cinel Conaill, to a branch of which, senior to O'Donnell, he belonged; but in 1248 the tribe banished him, and made Godfrey (in Irish Goffraidh) chief. Ruaidhri O'Cannanain, who had fled to Tyrone, brought the Cinel Eoghain against him, but they were defeated and Ruaidhri slain. In 1249 Godfrey ravaged Lower Connaught, and in 1252 made an expedition into Tyrone. Brian O'Neill [q. v.] followed his retreat, but was beaten off, and the Cinel Conaill got home with their plunder. In 1256 he marched into Fermanagh, and thence into Breifne Ui Ruairc, now the co. Leitrim, and brought back spoil and hostages. Maurice FitzGerald attacked him in 1257 at Roscede near Drumcliff, co. Sligo. He and Maurice FitzGerald fought a single combat, and both were wounded severely. The English were defeated, and driven out of this part of Connaught. On the march back to Donegal he destroyed an English castle at Caeluisce, on the river Erne. O'Donnell retired to the crannog, or artificial fortified island, in Lough Beathach in the barony of Kilmacrenan. The glen in which the lake lies has steep cliffs or wooded slopes on two sides, and the ends, though more open, are only accessible through a difficult country. The crannog was one of the last in regular use in Ireland, and was a fortress till the reign of James I. Even in the last century the island was occasionally used as a place of refuge. His wounds kept him in bed for a year, and at the end of that time Brian O'Neill sent messengers to demand hostages in token of submission from him. O'Donnell summoned the Cinel Conaill, and ordered himself to be carried among them on an árach, or litter, and set off to fight O'Neill. The Cinel Conaill came up with the Cinel Eoghain on the river Swilly, near the present town of Letterkenny. The Cinel Eoghain were defeated, and O'Neill retreated, and lost many prisoners and horses and property. After the victory Godfrey O'Donnell was carried on his bier into Conwal, close to Letterkenny, and died when the bier was put down in the street, exhausted by his old wounds. O'Neill heard of his death, and again sent to demand hostages. The Cinel Conaill were deliberating when Domhnall óg, younger brother of Godfrey, who had been for some time in Scotland, came up, and was at once elected chief. To the envoys of Brian O'Neill he replied ‘Go mbiadh a domhan féin ag gach fer’ (‘Every man ought to have his own world’). O'Neill went home, and the poets compared Domhnall's advent to that of Tuathal Teachtmhar, who returned from Scotland after the massacre of the Milesian chiefs by the Aithech Tuatha, and restored the monarchy.

[Annala Rioghachta Eireann, ed. O'Donovan, vol. iii. Dublin, 1851; Annals of Loch Cé (Rolls Ser.), ed. Hennessy, vol. i.; information from the late Rev. Anthony Hastings of Kilmacrenan; and local observation.]

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