The Ancient Parish of Kilteevogue
by Chris MacDonagh
(Donegal Annual Golden Jubilee Issue, 1996)
(This article, which first appeared in the booklet published by the Ballybofey/Stranorlar Civic Week Committee, is published here as a tribute to the late J.C. McDonagh, who was so instrumental in the founding of the Donegal Historical Society 50 years ago).
The early history of the Parish of Kilteevogue is shrouded with obscurity and yet there are ample evidences of these times strewn with remarkable profusion in its valleys and glens while others dominate its hilltops and passes. Little is known of the heroes of Mulmorne who guarded the great pass of Barnesmore and Cashelnavean is the remains of their fortress. Dunwiley is an enigma, yet its massive outworks survived a vandalistic attack within living memory. Local tradition contains no reference to Garran Ban or Meengarranroe and leaves us, to historic parallels, to construct the story of the outlaw clans of Barnes mountains and woods before the O'Donnells tried to tame them into submission and turned the more sophisticated portions of the middle Finn Valley into the "Fuidhir lands of the O'Donnell". Tradition has not even the courage to reprimand the neo-Celts who have Gaelicized the town built on the "Srath bo Fiach" to "The Town of the Twenty" and the equally inexplicable "Bealach Feich" although the remains of Fiach's rath still dominates "the great Ford of the Finn" and reference to "the Four Masters" and the State Papers will confirm the origin of "Baile Bo Fiach".
The valley of the Finn is covered with interesting place names which reflect and enshrine beautiful cameo histories of the countryside. The placename myth, that bugbear of folklore, however, makes us tread so cautiously that we shall only deal with those which reflect the early history of the valley. Most important of these is Kilteevogue which is the modern pronunciation of (1) Kill-Dabeoc (the Church of Dabeoc) whose feminine ending (2) caused tradition to associate a female with the bearer of this Christian name. The origin of this tradition is by no means recent. It arose when the memory of the founder became obscure and obstructed in the folkmind by the telescoping of traditions relating to at least two other personages of the same stock as the founder of Kilteevogue. The resultant is a colourful story which has deceived many.
We present the following as our interpretation of the Kilteevogue myth:
1. That the saint from which Kilteevogue takes its name was none other than St. Daveoc of Loch Derg.
2. That the folk memory of the O'Deveneys has telescoped three traditions intimately associated with the stem from whence they were descended.
It now becomes necessary to analyse these traditions and to test them in the light of cold historical fact. One has no quarrel with tradition when it claims that the O'Deveneys were associated with the foundations of the Patriarch Church of Kilteevogue if it admits that, during these years, their ancestor Maine (the son of Niall of the Nine Hostages) was then the ruler of the countryside around Loch Derg. It is recorded that St. Dabeoc of Loch Derg was his grandson and the brother of Fiachra, who was in turn the great grandfather of St. Rioghan, foundress of the monastery at the Reelin. This leaves four generations between St. Rioghan and her ancestor, Maine. Therefore, she could not be contemporary with St. Patrick. We do accept the tradition that Daimhin was the eponym from whom the O'Deveneys took their surname, but he is not to be found in the pedigrees of the family for generations after Patrician times and much later than even his collateral ancestress, St. Rioghan.
The following is recorded* as one of the most authentic traditions dealing with the foundation of Kilteevogue:
"It is said that Taodhog was a sister of the ruling chieftain Daimhim or Deveney and that St. Patrick visited this noble magnate on his way to Donoghmore and had the satisfaction of receiving the whole princely family into the Christian fold. Taodhog became a nun and obtained from her brother five townlands to endow a church and a convent . . . Rioghan is stated to have been her sister and to have impressed her name on Killrathen by founding a church and religious house in that locality" (a quo Reelin).
Such is the manner in which tradition telescoped approximately four hundred years of Glenfinn's history and focused it into a colourful story in which St. Patrick commanded the personages mentioned to build Christian edifices "where the salmon leaped and the deer frisked". Such picturesqueness is not the slightest reflection of the motives which prompted St. Patrick or any of the early missionaries to build their churches in our locality, for these men and women were realists and attacked paganism in its strongest citadels.
Joyce, writing of fountain worship in his "Social History of Ireland", tells that St. Patrick and his followers "took over in like manner, forts buildings, festivals and observances of various kinds so that the pagans who became converted had the way made smooth for them and suffered no violent wrench". Here in the Finn Valley we can see Christianity radiating from the Patrician foundation at Donoghmore. Killcaden, the church of the "Patron of Fasting", became Christianity's alternative to the Dallans or Stone Gods of Killygordon and Crolack. The pagan ceremonies at the Wells of Carricknaman, Killtown, Loch Allan and Drumbo became shrines where St. Brigid, in the course of time, drove the memory of the Brigids of Celtic Mythology from the folkmind. Christianity left nothing of their pagan practice to survive but the harmless mementoes, ribbons and rags, fluttering from their inevitable Whitethorn trees and little insignificant offerings, scattered in profusion, on the erstwhile malediction stones around these wells, when devout pilgrims had "done the stations" and the backaghs and pedlars had reaped their harvest on the annual "Patron Day". It even turned the Dallans of Boultypatrick, Seefin in Cloghan, and Glenmore, into harmless boundary marks for the nomads of the Finn Valley. It is more than a mere coincidence that wherever one finds an early Christian Church or association in the valley, there also will be found, in close proximity to it, a pagan landmark. On the road from Ballybofey to Barnes Gap lay Killcrockery and beside it may be found the remains of a giant tumulus called "Duggan's Cellar". Nothing now remains of the Abbey of Drumboe, founded by Mohana, the brother of St. Maura of Fanad, which was for a time the headquarters for one of the O'Donnells in their fratricidal wars, and which was last occupied by friars as late as the year 1610; but its "Abbey Well" is still a landmark and a pilgrimage. Beside the "Giant's Grave" at Cashell-na-gat and Cashell-Corkey lay Templemongan whose sanctuary extended to the Dallan of Glenmore and over the Finn into what later became the Church lands of Curraghamongan.
Most important of all was Dabeoc's church in the townland of Ballybotemple, for it gave its name and site to each parish church down through the ages in the combined parishes of Glenfinn and Stranorlar. It lay within the shadow of Altnapaste which (like Loch Derg) is still associated with the Serpent Legend (the sacred symbol of the pagan Gael). The boundary marks of its sanctuary were the dolmen of Gortness, the tumulus and Seefin-Dallan of Cloghan, all of which enclosed sanctuary lands made up of such historical place names of Cashel, Clogher, Ballynaman and Ballybobaneen. With these in mind it would appear that Dabeoc of the O'Deveney line carried out St. Patrick's behest to assail our local Druids in their greatest local stronghold of that Paganism which made Sedulius, a Patrician missionary in Ireland, cry out with horror:
"What wiltess folly takes the senses now
That full-grown man before a bird, a cow
Half human hound or twisted snake shall bow".
(1) D and T or T T were interchangeable in Old and Middle Irish Mss., O'Donovan's "Grammar", p.29. See also Father Paul Walsh "Martyrology of Donegal".
(2) See John O'Donovan's Letter on Loch Derg, Nov. 1835.
*Maguire "History of Raphoe", Vol. II, Kilteevogue and Stranorlar.