Mongavlin Castle and The black haired Queen of Donegal


Mongavlin Castle – Sixteenth Century, Royal, Riverside Residence

Just a few miles from the village of Saint Johnston in County Donegal, stand the ruins of a former stronghold of the O’Donnell clan, Mongavlin Castle. Back in the sixteenth century, this riverside residence housed the notorious ‘blacked haired queen of Donegal’, Finola MacDonnell. This formidable lady was the daughter of James MacDonald of Dunnyveg, the wife of Sir Hugh O’Donnell, and the mother of the fighting prince of Donegal, Red Hugh O’Donnell.

Queen Finola and the Scottish Crawfords

When Finola came to Ireland to marry Sir Hugh, she brought with her a squad of one hundred of the tallest and fiercest men she could find in Scotland to act as her bodyguards. Eighty off these men went by the name of Crawford. When the O’Donnell’s eventually abandoned Mongavlin, the Crawfords settled and married in the local area. Many of the descendants of these men still live in the area to this day.

The Flight of the Earls and Sir Cahir O’Doherty

After the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Sir Cahir O’Doherty, the last Gaelic Lord of Inishowen, laid siege to the City of Derry. Sir Cahir, upset by the seizure of his lands during the plantation of Ulster, attempted to sack Derry. He instructed Sir Niall Garve O’Donnell to go to Lifford to resist the attempt by the English to send reinforcements to Derry via the river crossing at Lifford.

The Eviction of Queen Finola

Niall had other ideas and decided instead to head for Mongavlin Castle and evict Finola. His strategy was to be close to Derry during the sacking of the city. He could then benefit from a share of the spoils. He wasted no time and began plundering the local area. When Cahir became aware of  Niall’s devious actions, he evicted him and reinstated Finola MacDonnell in Mongavlin.

Sir Cahir eventually sacked and burnt Derry killing the Governor, Sir George Paulet in the process. Shortly afterwards the castle became abandoned due to the in-fighting of the O’Donnell clan.

The Stewarts and Mongavlin Castle

The second Duke of Lennox, Ludovic Stewart, was granted Mongevlin Castle and 1,000 acres of land by royal patent on 23 July 1610. Ludovic died on February 16, 1624. His title and lands at Mongavlin passed to his brother Esme Esmé married Katherine Clifton in 1609, and they had eleven children. After Esmé had died in August 1624, Katherine married James Hamilton (second Earl of Abercorn) around 1632.

James Hamilton, the sixth Earl of Abercorn, and Viscount of Strabane had a plaque erected in 1704 in memory of his mother, The Honorable Elizabeth Hamilton.

King James and the Siege

James II of England visited Mongavlin on his way to the siege of Derry in 1690. It was from here that he sent a letter proposing surrender, it was rejected.

The castle is now in ruins with only a small proportion of it left standing.

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