Keeping it Real. ( Part 1)

The legend of Eileen Mac Sweeney and Turlough Óg O'Boyle.

According to the legend, Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney, Chief of Doe 1596 - 1630, was living in Doe Castle in 1620. He had a beautiful daughter, Eileen, who was in love with Turlough Óg O'Boyle, the grandson of the last Chief of the Clan O'Boyle. Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney disapproved of the romance and ordered his men to capture O'Boyle and bring him to the castle.

'They took him to Doe Castle, in strong chains he was bound
And by Maolmhuire was confined to a dungeon underground,
And in a few days afterwards, beneath the castle wall,
Four stalwart ruffians bore a bier wrapped in a funeral pall.

Young Eileen from her tower on high beheld this mournful scene;
In mute amaze she cast her gaze on the castle graveyard green,
Where, pale in death, beside a mound of freshly risen soil,
The pall removed, she then beheld the features of O'Boyle.

Then with a shriek she madly jumped from tower to the ground;
Where by her faithful waiting maid her gory corpse was found.
And in Doe Castle graveyard green beneath the mouldering soil,
Maolmhuire's daughter sleeps in death with Turlough Óg O'Boyle.'

Folktales 'improve with each telling' and a recent version of the 'legend' states that Turlough Óg O'Boyle and Eileen MacSweeney were buried side by side and 'a rose bush grew from each grave and the branches intertwined.'

The legend of Turlough Óg O'Boyle and Eileen Mac Sweeney as narrated in the poem by Niall MacGiolla Bhríde (above) is now the traditional version of a tragedy that never happened. The following information is given not for the purpose of debasing the folktale but in the interests of historical accuracy and the reputation of Mhaolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney, Chief of Doe.

Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney occupied Doe Castle from 1596 to 1598 and the 'murder' of Turlough Óg O'Boyle could have occurred only during those years. The English took control of Doe Castle in 1603 and it changed owners several times before Captain John Sandford purchased it in December, 1614. Sandford and his family were living in Doe Castle in 1620 when Eileen Mac Sweeney is alleged to have jumped to her death. Sandford's wife died in 1629 and is buried in the graveyard beside Doe Castle. Sandford died soon afterwards.

Turlough Óg O'Boyle's grandfather, Tadhg Óg, last Chief of the Clan O'Boyle, died in 1607 and his son Turlough Rua, was granted land at the Plantation of Ulster, c.1610. It is recorded in Pynnar's survey, 1619, that Turlough Rua, at the time of the grant, was only a child. Given that Turlough Rua was a child in 1610 it is impossible that his son, Turlough Óg, could have been 'murdered' by Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney between 1596 and 1598. Furthermore, Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney's daughter, Eileen, could not have been in love with someone not yet born.

Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney died c.1630. Turlough Óg O'Boyle was slain by Cromwellian forces at the battle of Scarriffhollis, near Letterkenny, June 1650. From time to time the 'legend' of Turlough Óg O'Boyle and Eileen Mac Sweeney appears in print, however, authors conscious of their reputation as historians always inform their readers that the 'legend' is without substance. Sweeneys conscious of their heritage do likewise.

27th December. 2001

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