O'Donnell, Niall Garv (DNB00)

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O'DONNELL, Sir NIALL GARV (1569–1626), eldest son of Con O'Donnell, who died in 1583, and grandson of Calvagh O'Donnell [q. v.], the representative of the main branch of the Clann-Dalaigh, was born in 1569. Calvagh died in 1566, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Sir Hugh O'Donnell, who in 1592 surrendered the lordship of Tyrconnel in favour of his son Hugh Roe O'Donnell [q. v.], who was inaugurated with the customary ceremonies at Kilmacrenan. Niall, who was two years older than his cousin, took his election in high dudgeon, and though he attended the O'Donnell's first hosting, he did so ‘not through love, but through fear.’ To this grievance O'Donnell shortly afterwards added another by depriving him of the castle of Lifford, which he had inherited from his father. Niall's grievances were apparently well known to government, and Sir Henry Docwra had special instructions to win him over, if possible, to the crown. Accordingly, shortly after Docwra's arrival at Derry in May 1600, he opened up secret communications with Niall, promising him, in case he would do service against O'Donnell, to obtain for him a grant of the whole of Tyrconnel. Niall accepted the offer, and the bargain was ratified by the lord-deputy and council. So far as Niall was concerned he faithfully observed the conditions of the treaty, and, by Docwra's admission, rendered the colony at Derry service that could ill have been spared. In October he surprised Lifford, and succeeded in holding it against the repeated efforts of O'Donnell to recapture it. From Lifford he and his brothers, Hugh, Donnell, and Con, made several raids into Tyrone, and captured Newtown, now Newtown-Stewart, from the O'Neills.

But Niall, though he was willing to pay the price demanded from him for the lordship of Tyrconnel, was unwilling to abate one jot of the ancient claims of his family. And when Cahir O'Dogherty [q. v.] was in 1601 established by Docwra in the lordship of Inishowen, he regarded it as an infringement of his rights, and indignantly resented Mountjoy's decision that O'Dogherty must and should be exempted from his dominion. Later in the year he wrested Donegal Abbey from Hugh Roe O'Donnell, who failed to recapture it. Docwra about this time received ‘many informations against’ Niall, but confessed that he ‘behaued himselfe deservinglie,’ and ‘had many of his men slaine at the siege of Kinsale, and amongst the rest a brother of his owne.’ After the defeat of the Spaniards and O'Donnell's departure into Spain, Niall began to insist on conditions that were deemed by the government incompatible with his position as a subject. News of his insubordination reached Mountjoy, who summoned him to Dublin, with the intention apparently of granting him a patent of Tyrconnel. Instead, however, of obeying Mountjoy's summons, Niall caused himself to be inaugurated O'Donnell at Kilmacrenan with the customary ceremonies. By Mountjoy's orders Docwra arrested him, but allowed him to go to Dublin to plead his cause with the viceroy. Shortly afterwards he was allowed to proceed to London ‘to solicit pardon for his offences, and to obtain the reward for his service and aid to the crown of England.’ Rory O'Donnell, to whom Hugh Roe O'Donnell had confided the interests of his clan on quitting Ireland, went at the same time. The privy council decided that Rory should be made Earl of Tyrconnel, and that Niall should enjoy his own patrimonial inheritance, viz. that tract of country extending from Laght in the parish of Donaghmore to Sheskin-loobanagh in the parish of Croaghonagh, lying on both sides of the river Finn. The decision was naturally unsatisfactory to Niall, and he shortly afterwards complained that he was debarred from the full enjoyment of the lands assigned to him. In 1605 Chichester tried without success to reconcile their differences. But in March 1607 Niall served with Tyrconnel against Cathbhar Oge O'Donnell, and was reputed to have ‘got a blow in the service which he will hardly recover of long time, if he escape with his life.’

The flight of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel in September 1607 restored Niall's hopes. But his claims were ignored, and he is said to have refused the title of Baron of Lifford. On the outbreak of the rebellion of Sir Cahir O'Dogherty [q. v.] in April 1608, he was suspected and actually charged by Ineenduv (Inghín Dhubh), the mother of his rival O'Donnell, with having instigated it. He protested his loyalty, but after some delay, on a protection from Treasurer Ridgeway, he and his two brothers surrendered (14 June), and were committed, on a charge of corresponding clandestinely with O'Dogherty, ‘to the custody of the captain of the Tramontane,’ to be conveyed to Dublin. The attorney-general, Sir John Davies, found little difficulty in accumulating proof of his correspondence with O'Dogherty, but the question arose whether his guilt had not been condoned by his protection. On 1 July he was examined before the council and committed to the castle. He was not brought to trial till June 1609, and in the interval he and his brothers made several unsuccessful attempts to escape out of confinement. On Friday, midsummer-eve, he was put on his trial in the king's bench; but it being understood that the jurors, after being shut up for three days, would rather starve than find him guilty, the attorney-general, ‘pretending that he had more evidence to give for the king, but that he found the jury so weak with long fasting that they were not able to attend the service,’ discharged them before they gave their verdict. Davis suggested trial by a Middlesex jury, as in the case of Sir Brian O'Rourke [q. v.] Chichester would have liberated the brothers on giving security, and also Niall's son Naghtan, ‘a boy of an active spirit, and yet much inclined to his book,’ who, after studying at St. John's College, Oxford, at the charge of the Earl of Devonshire, had been sent to Trinity College, Dublin, whence he was transferred to Dublin Castle (cf. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, where he is called Hector, and described as ‘gent. ex comitatu Turikonell). However, in October 1609 Niall and his son were sent to England and committed to the Tower, where the former died in 1626. Naghtan, too, probably died in confinement.

Niall's wife, Nuala O'Donnell, sister of Hugh Roe and Rory O'Donnell, forsook him when he joined the English against his kinsmen. She accompanied her brother Rory and the Earl of Tyrone to Rome in 1607, taking with her Grania NiDonnell, her little daughter. A poem in Irish by Owen Roe Mac An Bhaird, beginning ‘O woman who seekest the grave,’ written on seeing her weeping over the grave of her brother on St. Peter's Hill, near Rome, is preserved in Egerton MS. 111, f. 92. A metrical version of this poem by James (Clarence) Mangan [q. v.], from a literal translation furnished him by Eugene O'Curry [q. v.], was published in the ‘Irish Penny Journal,’ i. 123. In 1613 she appears to have been residing in Brussels. In 1617 Grania NiDonnell came to England to petition for some provision being made for herself out of her father's estate. Niall Garv is described by O'Clery, the biographer of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, as ‘a violent man, hasty, austere, since he was spiteful, vindictive, with the venom of a serpent, with the impetuosity of a lion. He was a hero in valour, and brave.’ He was certainly a most unfortunate and badly used man.

[Docwra's Narration, ed. O'Donovan, in Celtic Society's Miscellany, 1849; O'Sullivan-Beare's Historiæ Catholicæ Hiberniæ Compendium; O'Clery's Life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, ed. Murphy, Dublin, 1893; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors; Cal. State Papers, Ireland, James I; Meehan's Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel; Erck's Repertory of Patent Rolls, James I; Hill's MacDonnells of Antrim; Burke's Landed Gentry.]

R. D.