Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  

Cashel Bay Co. Galway 2007 ArseniuriDe Gallium
Achonry Cathedral 2011 JohnArmagh
Bealadangan Bridge, Co. Galway 2018 Newberrt 12
Map of Sligo in Ireland
Dunguaire Castle, Co. Galway 2011 DC Chadwick
Stickman at Straide Friary
Author's Collection
Straide, Co. Mayo


Known as The Matchstick Man of Straide Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn was one of the Country’s greatest poets.


Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn was a member of a celebrated family of distinguished poets from Levney, Co. Sligo.  The earliest mention of these Ó‘hÚigínn’s was a Tadhg Óg (d.1315), the name Tadhg was passed down to a son (d. 1391) plus  his son (d.1448.)  Next generation saw Maol Mhuire whose son Mathghamhain Mac Maolmhuire died during 1585.  Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn was born circa 1550, his father was Tadhg Óg, his mother’s name is unknown.  His oldest brother Fearghal Ruadh died as a youth, another brother was Maol Múire Archbishop of Tuam. (d.1590.)  (Knott Eleanor)  [i]  Eleanor Knott claimed that there was another brother Tomultach who was known as a ‘Rhymer’. (Carney Noel)  [ii]  Tadhg Dall has a daughter Maire also a son Tadhg Óg who was nine years old at the time of his father’s murder.  He inherited his father’s land at Dooghorne in Achonry. (Knott Eleanor)  [iii]

Cill Clunaigh

Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn received training within his family circle plus at the Bardic school of Cill Clunaigh where former ancestors studied.  Other subjects besides poetry  taught at the school were: history, sagas, genealogy, traditional lore.  (Carney Noel) [iv]  Kilclooney Castle was a bardic school which was possibly built during the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. During 1574 the Castle was occupied by Donell Ó ‘hÚigínn.  There were three separate parts held by Brien, Hugh plus Tully during 1641.  [v]  It was run by the renowned Ó ‘hÚigínn family.  The students studied filíoch for twelve years.  The Castle was translated locally as Ciil Cluanaig which means Church of the Meadow; that also suggests that it was a site with Cells.  (Traces of stone structures near the ruins of the old church may well be those remains). Tadhg Dall referred in a poem (see below) that students attended from Ulster & Scotland.  The Cells provided privacy for students to study.  Pupils not only had to remember what they had written but it was required that they recite the lesson verbatim!  The academic year lasted from November to the following March with a Christmas break.  [vi]  Tadhg Óg reported that students were sorry to hear the cuckoo’s fist song as they then had to break up for that term with these lines: ‘O ye who were in the house & sough the Art & residence well might it be hateful to you to hear the utterances of the cuckoo.’ (Owens Séan) ‘As the Waters Flow – Banada through the Years.’  [vii]   Records portray that Donell Ó ‘hÚigínn was in possession during 1574 when he concluded that ‘a well renowned bardic school’ had its days numbered. The original Tower House is a ruin; although the ground floor with its vaulted roof & some of the second story remains.  There are remains of a Bawn or an enclosed lawn that may have been lightly defended beside it. (Carney Noel)  [viii]  A news item from a Claremorris Reporter for the Western People 28th February 1903 page 13 refers to Kilclooney Castle. [ix]  An image of the ruined first floor of Cill Kilclooney may be viewed at this link.  [x]


Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn possessed lands at Doughrane, Achonry plus at Coolrecuil at Kilmatigue apart from several other sites.  He served as a Juror in the County.  Eleanor Knott translated his works for the Irish Text Society.  She suggested that those lands were originally granted to his ancestors by the Sligo O ‘Conner Don family.  Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn enjoyed a high status during his lifetime as was reflected in the Notable Lords to whom he addressed his poems.  These would have included the following: Cú Chonnacht Mag Uidhir (d. 1589), Patrick Plunkett, Baron Dansany (d.16010, Aodh Mag Uidher (d.600), Cormac O h‘Eadhraig (d.1612) Brian na Múrtha Ó ‘Ruairc (d.1591), Conn O ‘Dónail (d.1583), Aodh O ‘Dónail (d.1600), Turlough Luineach O ‘Néill (d.1595). John Burke (d.1580) plus Myler Burke (d.1586).  [xi]


A constant theme throughout Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn’s works included a distinct sense of Irish Nationalism as he was acutely aware of the late sixteenth century political situation.  Irish sovereignty that was under threat from Britain appeared in many of his poems.  He produced Invasion studies in the ‘Lebor Gabel Erenn.’  Several of his compositions were included in ‘The Book of O ‘Conner Don’ plus many are compiled in the O ‘Gadha Manuscript (Ostend 1631 & Brussels / Lille c,1658), these are available to peruse at RIA MS 23 F16. (Knott Eleanor)  [xii]  ‘The Book of the Burkes’ is a surviving manuscript that was created by Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn with Dommhall’s son, Ruaidhrí Ó ‘hÚiginn. Dommhall (b. 1574) was the scribe of ‘Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe.’  [xiii]


He recalled the Ulster students at the Bardic school in this poem: ‘Cáslean Chell Cluaine agus Scoil na bFile,’

‘Seacht bhfir dhéag d’éigaibh Uladh

Do chuaidh d’larraich ealadhan

Dal an chuaine fhinn Ultaigh

Go o Cill Chluaine I g Connachtaibh.’ [xiv]

In this poem he endeavoured to push the leader of the Clan to unite all the clans against England, a challenge which Brian O ‘Rourke obeyed.  Calls to unify against England, or against some local enemy were a frequent theme in the bardic poems of that era.  The Province had split into small divisions under separate leaders, each fighting for their own piece of land.  Many Bards believed that a United Ireland would give Irish People a better chance of fending off that enemy.  His address was probably during 1566. (these are first & last stanzas)

“The man of war is he who dwells in safety,”

A well-worn adage that shall never cease,

Save only when it girdeth on its armour

May many-wooded Banba hope for peace.

Why sit ye still? the Clans of valorous Eoghan,

The Clans of Conn and Conor round you stand;

Do ye not hear the troops of Saxon England

March o’er your plains and trample down your land?

Let Brian, son of Brian, son of Eoghan,

Ponder if one man ever came away,

Arouse thee, valiant Brian of the Bulwarks!

And God be with the champions of the Gael!

The children of the seed of Conn and Eoghan

Stand round thee; canst thou fail? [xv]


Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn was welcomed into all of the great houses of Ireland where he was wined & dined extremely well by his hosts.  As was the custom in Ancient Ireland Poets or Bards composed works to highlight the Hospitably or Nobility of the Chieftains.  Those utterances could make or break the reputation of the ruling Chiefs.  The treatment of the Bard would then be reflected in what they wrote; if result was positive the reputation of the Chieftain would have been enhanced in the eyes of all; through the public reading of the poem or verse.  [xvi]   One specific poem by the Bard alluded to a visit to Cormac O ‘Hara of the O ‘Hara Bui Clan where he received extreme favourable hospitality.  He praised the Chief’s Clan members in battle, their genealogy & lineage.  However, in Connacht, another branch of the O ‘Hara Rua became extremely angered, they had previously been in contention with Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn in a matter of a Land Title.  They saw this as another insult then decided to retaliate.  One night, while he was absent from home; six members broke into his house, stole food & drink.  Later they feared that he would recall their actions if he reported on their activities. When he actually did compose a poem, they became a laughing – stock throughout the Country.  His sharp tongue cost him his life at Banada Corpus Christie Friary one Sunday afternoon during 1591.  [xvii]  Unfortunately, his satirical poem of the six robbers belonging to the Ó ‘Eadhra family of Cashel Carragh, Kilmacteige led to a disastrous conclusion.  [xviii]


Several members of the O ‘Hara Rua family ambushed Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn.  He managed to escape but fled to the nearby Priory where he requested protection of that God’s House.  As the Prior was a member of O Hara Rua Clan, he refused to comply.  That resulted in the horrifying death of the Poet, while he was just forty – one years old on 31st March 1591.  They also ordered the death of his wife & child at the same time.  Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn is interred in Straide Friary in Co. Mayo where his grave is marked with the image of a Stickman. [xix]


Those six assassins responsible were eventually apprehended during 1593, sent to Sligo for trial but due to lack of witnesses or evidence they were all released.  [xx]  An inquisition was held during 1593 at Ballymote, Co. Sligo where it was recorded that Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn had died at Coolrecuil on the last day of March 1591.  (Knott Eleanor) [xxi]


Two volumes of ‘The Bard Poems of Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn’ (1550 -1591) was written by Eleanor Knott 1920 /1926, London. [xxii]

In the above – mentioned book by Eleanor Knott (Vol 1) she penned that ‘He shows in most of his poems a calm acceptation of the contemporary strife as though it were the natural order.  Poetry flourished on it, & for him, like most bardic poets, the profession was the thing.  The apprehension & sorrows which troubled Irish Poets of a slightly later period did not affect Tadhg Dall.  Shadows palpable enough to us in his own poems, portended no disaster to him.  We may take him as a typical figure, the roughly adapted in mind & customs to the existing order: utterly unaware of the imminent dawn of a new world.’  (Quoted in Prionsias MacCana’s, ‘Early Irish Ideology & the Life Concept of Unity, The Irish Mind’ ed. Richard Kearney 1984 Dable Wolfhound Press page 76. [xxiii]

Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn is described as ‘The Chief Teacher of the Poets of Ireland & Scotland.’ [xxiv]

There are forty extant compositions attributed to this poet in ‘The Book of the O ‘Connor Don’ plus material in a Collection by Michael Óg O Loughain, Sean O ‘Munchadh na Raihineach et el: that included ‘Fear ann Cloídhimh Críoch bhanbhha’ also ‘D’fior Chogaídh síotchain.’  He produced a poem on a lump of rancid butter. [xxv]

Within ‘The Irish Literary Tradition’ by J. E. Caerwyn Williams & Patrick J. Ford is a poem sung by Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn when he described a Christmas feast that Toirdhealbhach Luineach Ó ‘Néill provided for his poets. (Owens Séan ‘As the Waters Flow – Banada through the years’)  [xxvi]

William Daniel praised Ó ‘hÚigínn’s contribution in the opening pages of ‘Tiomna Nuadh’, his translation into Irish of the New Testament.  He said that he had relied on him to proof – read his work prior to printing. Seaán Ó Cearnaigh trial – printed a broadsheet during 1571 that contained a poem re Judgement Day by the 15th century poet Pilip ‘Bocht’ Ó ‘hÚigínn.   Domhnaill Óg ‘hÚigínn had run a bardic school at Kilclooney Castle near Tuam in Co. Galway.  O ‘hÚigínn was a Signatory to the 1585 Composition of Connaught, which sough to extend the Elizabethan Government’s hold over the West of Ireland.  (Marsh’s Library) (Modern History (1500 -1700) Features, Issues, (Sept – Oct 2012) Vol 20.  [xxvii]

Jonathon Bardon’s ‘A History of Ulster’ 1998 British Blackstaff Press quoted Tadhg Dall’s advice to Henry Ó ‘Néill to remain in Ulster rather than accepting Tadhg O ‘Brien’s invitation to become High King then drive the English out. [xxviii]

During 1371 Tadhg Óg Ó ‘hÚigínn wrote of the death of his older brother, poet master & teacher Fearghal Ruadh in ‘Lament for Fearghal Ruadh.’  That piece of bardic poetry also served as a metaphor: with the loss of Feargal came worry about the toppling of the Bardic tradition as the Catholic Church competed in the Keeping of Records:

‘The death of Ann’s son took artists their joy:

Just as a plank breaks free from the side of a cask,

The protecting wall of poetry has ended.’  [xxix]

Tadhg Óg Ó ‘hÚigínn (b.1582) was described during 1603 as a ‘Rhymer.’  He became one of the largest native Landowners in the County.  He was appointed Sheriff of Sligo in 1634 plus selected as a Delegate to the Confederate Assembly in Kilkenny during the 1960’s.  [xxx]

Tadhg Óg’s grandson Pól Ó ‘hÚigínn (1628? – 1724) was a Scholar & a Protestant Preacher.  (Knott Eleanor) [xxxi]

Robert Welch has mentioned Tadhg Dall plus the Ó ‘hÚigínn family members: Mathghamhain (d.1585), Maol Mhuire, Archbishop of Tuam, Feargal (fl1400): whose son Brían was mentioned in the ‘Annals of Loch Cé’ as Head of the Bardic Order in Ireland & Scotland. (Oxford Companion to Irish Literature’ Clarendon: Oxford 1996). [xxxii]

Henry Boylan lists Domhnall (d.1502), Maolmuire (d.1591), Maolsheachlainn (fl.1430), Mathghamhain (d. 1585), Tadhg Mór (fl.1400), Tadhg Óg (d.1448), also Tuathal (d.1450) in this edition: ‘Dictionary of Irish Biography’) 1988 Dublin Gill & Macmillen.  [xxxiii]

A list of Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn’s poetry is available on this site: https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T402563.html

In his work, ‘In Search of Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn’ Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin DIAS observed that in his short life Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn produced up to perhaps fifty poems that survive: https://ohigginsclan.webs.com/insearchoftadhgdall.htm

One may read in this EBook; ‘The Poem Book of the Gael’ (translations from Gaelic Poetry into English Prose & Verse) Hull Eleanor 1913 at this link: https://gutenberg.org/files/46917/46917-h/46917-h.htm

Manuscripts are available in Digital Format free of charge, on the Irish Script on Screen Website of Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies: www.isos.dias.ie.

An article pertaining to the Bard that is contained within the National Schools Collection may be seen at this link: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4672112/4671255

Images that pertain to this article from 1st June 2015 by Silent Owl may be viewed here: https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/


[i] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚiginn  (https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[ii] Milltown’s Bardic School (https://milltown.galwaycommunityheritage.org/ ) [ assessed 29th September 2019]

[iii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[iv] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [ 28th September2019]

[v]  Kilclooney Castle (https://visitgalway.ie/kilclooney-castle/ ) [28th September 2019]

[vi] Milltown’s Bardic School (https://milltown.galwaycommunityheritage.org/ ) [ assessed 29th September 2019]

[vii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[viii] Milltown’s Bardic School (https://milltown.galwaycommunityheritage.org/ ) [ assessed 29th September 2019]

[ix] Threatened Destruction (https://westernpeople.ie/ ) [September 28th 2019]

[x]  Kilclooney Castle (https://www.geograph.ie/photo/2329534 ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xi] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  ( https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  ( https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xiii] Kilclooney (https://howlingpixel.com/i-en/Kilclooney ) [28th September 2019]

[xiv] Castle in Galway (https://visitgalway.ie/kilclooney-castle/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xv] Long Lost Verses of Bardic Poets (https://oldmooresalmanac.com/ ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xvi] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xvii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xviii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xix] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xx] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn   (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xxi] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xxii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xxiii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (http://ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OhUiginn_TD/life.htm ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxiv] Milltown’s Bardic School (https://milltown.galwaycommunityheritage.org/ ) [ assessed 29th September 2019]

[xxv] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (http://ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OhUiginn_TD/life.htm ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxvi] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xxvii] History Ireland (https://www.historyireland.com/ ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxviii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (http://ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OhUiginn_TD/life.htm ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxix] Long Lost Verses of Bardic Poets (https://oldmooresalmanac.com/ ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxx] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (https://amayodruid.blogspot.com/ ) [28th September  2019 ]

[xxxi] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn (https://infogalactic.com/ ) [assessed 29th September 2019]

[xxxii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (http://ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OhUiginn_TD/life.htm ) [assessed 30th September 2019]

[xxxiii] Tadhg Dall Ó ‘hÚigínn  (http://ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OhUiginn_TD/life.htm )[assessed 30th September 2019]

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