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From Moylurg to Coolavin

To many McDermotts around the world whose ancestors may have left these shores one hundred and fifty years ago the name Coolavin (pronounced Cool-a-vin) still maintains a certain degree of significance with which however it remains difficult nowadays to identify. This is a small attempt to rectify this problem and to bring you closer to the place which is still today an essential and living focal point for McDermotts. In order to explain about Coolavin, which has been the family home of The MacDermot for one hundred years, it is necessary to give a small amount of historical background. For this I happily and proudly acknowledge the work of my late Grandfather Dermot, The MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin. The fruits of which work were born in July 1996 during our last MacDermot Clan Gathering with the publication of his exhaustive history of our name and family in "MacDermot of Moylurg, The Story of a Connacht Family"

King of Moylurg

For nigh on five hundred years, from about 1185 until the time of the final dispersal of the Connacht Gaelic Irish families following the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland of 1649/50, MacDermot lived on The Rock of Loch Ce, just off the shores of what is now Loch Key Forest park, outside Boyle in Co. Roscommon. Carrick MacDermot or MacDermot's Castle was to become the centre of our kingdom of Moylurg, where MacDermot held court, gave judgements and played chess. It was a powerful symbol not only to those who followed MacDermot and who bore his name but also to neighbouring clans and representatives of foreign power. Not once in five centuries of infighting between MacDermot, O'Conor, O'Donnell, O'Gara, O'Kelly, MacCostelloe to name but a few or of conflict with emissaries of English authority did the Rock fall in to enemy hands. The only occasions on which it did change hands following loss in conflict was when MacDermot fought and defeated MacDermot ! This doesn't count, naturally.

MacDermot was King of Moylurg, chief vassal to O'Conor in whom was vested the greater Kingship of Connacht. Without MacDermot's continued promised support however O'Conor's position would have often been untenable; indeed there were times, especially when Mulrooney MacDermot (King of Moylurg 1294-1331) was in his prime when MacDermot was the most influential and materially powerful of all Connacht's Gaelic chieftains.

None of this serves to address the subject of Coolavin except to pose a few pertinent questions. How does a King of Moylurg become a Prince of Coolavin ? What and where is Coolavin, especially in relation to the old territory of Moylurg ? And what does it all mean today four hundred years after Carrick MacDermot was abandoned for ever by its last kingly inhabitant ?

Moylurg to "Old" Coolavin

By the mid seventeenth century the territory of Moylurg had all but disappeared. Much land, especially that which had previously belonged to the Church, had already been given away by the time the new English order under James 1 established itself in the earlier part of the century following the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the flight of the Earls in 1607, although Connacht itself escaped in relative peace until the aftermath of Cromwell's campaign. New English planter families such as the Kings, Dillons, Cootes and Croftons, to mention some, were granted the MacDermot ancestral lands (approximately 35,000 English acres at the time) by Charles II. These lands had previously been granted to Brian MacDermot and others of his family by James I in 1617. This James I grant, whilst recognizing the authenticity of MacDermot's heritage nevertheless put under foreign regal privilege what previously had been inherited as of birthright by the descendants of Mulrooney Mor. It was therefore temporary and revokable, as it indeed turned out to be. Many of these new families had either already previously settled in the area (King was granted the lands of Boyle Abbey by Elizabeth I) or were Old English transplanted from the Pale (e.g. Dillon).

The last MacDermot to be known as King of Moylurg was in fact Turlough who died in 1586. Subsequently and until they lost possession of the Castle and its lands the chieftains were known as "...of the Carrick" or "....of Carrick MacDermot". In 1644 there is the first record of the chief being referred to as An MacDiarmada , The MacDermot, which to this day remains one of the two official titles of the head of our Name.

With the last of our lands confiscated by the middle of the 1600s the family was without estate until in 1669 when Charles (Cathal Roe) MacDermot re-leased to his second son Hugh lands at Shruffe, County Sligo in the half- barony of Coolavin in picturesque setting on the slopes of the north shore of Loch Gara. From then until late in the Nineteenth Century Old Coolavin, as we now call it, was the home of The MacDermot.

The MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin

As we have seen the territory of Moylurg no longer existed and MacDermot had now been moved outside of its old confines. No longer therefore Kings of Moylurg the head of the family was still known as The MacDermot, a direct translation from the Irish An MacDiarmada. This reference to the head of a clan by his patronymic only was common usage in all the Irish Annals. The title Prince of Coolavin, which is still applied to the head of the family, arose purely by popular usage. Although the MacDermots were compelled to abandon their title and lands in Moylurg and settle in the barony of Coolavin they were not divested of their royal heritage. They still regarded themselves as princes and more importantly were recognized as such by the people who lived around them.

The Houses called Coolavin

The old house, of which only a vague outline remains today, was probably a single storey over basement construction of medium size. No pictures remain to my knowledge. A summer house or gazebo nestled in one corner of the property. The house, secluded and surrounded by trees was only a few yards from the lake shore, although one contemporary account states that not a single window overlooked the water as MacDermot could not bear to look out and be reminded of his lost inheritance. This does not seem either practical or likely. The nearest towns were Ballaghaderreen and Boyle. The house was connected to the road which joined the towns by a long winding avenue. It is quite likely that travel between these places and also between neighbours was carried out by water. The family burial grounds were at Templeronan, which too was reachable by boat rather than by road.

The family lived at old Coolavin until Hugh Hyacinth MacDermot (see family tree in Researching MacDermots section) bought the nearby lands at Clogher in 1879 and commenced building the new Coolavin which was completed in 1898. The house, designed by the Irish architect James Fuller from Tralee, is an imposing edifice situated on a rise overlooking richly wooded parkland. It has three storeys is built in a combination of local grey limestone and Scottish red sandstone around the windows and doors. On the ground floor the drawing room, morning room, dining room and kitchen area all lead off the large hallway which rises two storeys. The grand timber staircase to the first floor is wide with a large window at half landing overlooking the demesne. The staircase splits and turns both left and right a full 180 degrees before returning to a balconied landing on the first floor which looks down on the hall and around which the principal seeping accommodation is situated.

The second floor is arrived at by a much meaner staircase and not through the main body of the house at all but by way of the kitchens. This being the way to sleeping quarters for children and household employees.

Many MacDermot children now long since grown up have left their mark at Coolavin since the turn of the Century. Given that work for the head of the family usually meant living in Dublin and that education of the children was given in various boarding schools in Ireland or England, Coolavin was for the children a special place for fun and adventure during the long summer holidays and was therefore enjoyed all the more for it.

The house is still the home of the MacDermots and is currently inhabited, although not by the current Chieftain who lives in County Kildare.

For a greater insight into the world of the MacDermots from their Celtic background to modern times I highly recommend a thorough reading of "MacDermot of Moylurg, The story of a Connacht family" by Dermot The MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin, from which most of the information for this piece was borrowed.

Rory MacDermot


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