“To the rocky wastelands west of Kilmacrennan..”

If the Twelfth is a celebration of the triumph of force, it is not the only one. The Easter Rising of 1916 was an assertion of force that eventually led to the establishment an independent Irish state. Eamon McCann notes the historical roots of an altogether civil celebration of the Battle of Glenmaquinn and the securing of the plantation of the part of East Donegal known as the Laggan. And he also notes the endorsement of such celebration of separate identities, by the Belfast Agreement and its more recent successor.By Eamon McCann

A yin hunnèr yin thoosan fair faa ye! Or céad míle fáilte, as might be said in another of our minority indigenous languages. Fair faa ye at any rate to the cultural extravaganza planned for Donegal this weekend, when the legacy of the Lagganeers will be celebrated in a “fun-filled festival for all the family.”

This will be the biggest Ulster Scots carnival of the year. There’ll be bouncy castles, tug-o’-war, a band parade and, tomorrow night in the Diamond in Raphoe, an open-air concert featuring the (very good, as a matter of fact) Dundee celidh-rock band Cutting Edge. The centrepiece of the event will come on Saturday afternoon in the festival field at Glenmaquin, in the shadow of the Mongorry Hill with a breathtaking view across the Swilly, where the Battle of Glenmaquin in 1642 between the Lagganeers under Sir Robert and Sir William Stewart and the Irish troops of O’Neill will be re-enacted.

The Laggan is, roughly, the area of Donegal between Lough Foyle and the Swilly. Although vastly outnumbered, the Lagganeers, led by veterans of the 30 Years War in Europe, routed the Irish and secured east Donegal and parts of Derry and Tyrone for the Protestant planters. Said one of those involved in organising the weekend, “The Battle of Glenmaquin was the key to our survival here. If the Lagganeers hadn’t won, we would have been back on the boats to Scotland. Those who survived, anyway.”

The plantation of the Laggan had been inaugurated only a single generation beforehand, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Gaelic feudalism with the Flight of the Earls in September 1607. Within days of the Earls’ departure from Rathmullan, the king’s sheriff appeared in the square at Lifford to order the families abandoned by O’Neill and O’Donnell to betake themselves immediately with whatever goods they could carry to the rocky wastelands west of Kilmacrennan, or else. On the following day, the sheriff reappeared to issue title deeds in the name of the king to a throng of Scots and English soldiers, in parcels of 500, 1,000 and 3,000 acres, according to rank. It was formally declared that henceforth and for all time, these would be the only legal deeds to land in the Laggan.

They will have been the first title deeds in the area held by those who worked the land, the followers of the Earls having been, in effect, serfs.

The Lagganeers were to defend the lands thus acquired by whatever means necessary. The Rev. Alexander Lecky wrote with grim satisfaction of the aftermath of Glenmaquin: “Any of the Lagganeers’ neighbours who may have meditated deeds of this kind soon found out that they would have enough to do in preserving their own lives and possessions, for the Laggan forces let it be seen that any who showed themselves disaffected towards British rule, if within their reach, would soon be taught who their masters were, and made to suffer for their disloyalty.”

In Saturday’s re-enactment, the Lagganeers will be represented by local Ulster Scots, the Irish by a contingent from the Mourne Valley Cultural Association in Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone. Obviously, it would have been more authentic to have the Irish roles played by local Catholics. But perhaps that would have been indelicate. A reminder that the events of the mid-17th century can still resonate and give rise to resentment came on Tuesday afternoon when, initially unable to raise any of the organising group, I called a community worker in Letterkenny asking for alternative ‘phone numbers. “You’ll just have to keep trying,” I was advised. “A lot of those people would be out on their farms.” Pause. “They still have the land, you see.”

And so, in many instances, they do. But then, they’ve had the land for as long as Europeans have had land in America, and were tilling the soil here generations before any white farmer fenced off a tract in Australia. In which connection, it’s worth calling to mind that at least the indigenous inhabitants of the Laggan, unlike their counterparts in Bermuda or Tasmania, for example, weren’t hunted down like animals until not a single soul survived.

This weekend’s event is the brainchild of East Donegal Ulster Scots (EDUS) and has been funded by Donegal County Council through the European Union’s Peace and Reconciliation Programme. EDUS chairman Stewart Buchanan hopes that the result will be “greater understanding of the Ulster Scots identity.”

The impetus to form the EDUS and to set about recovering the history of the Lagganeers came from the Multi-Party Agreement of April 1998, with its promise to respect diversity and celebrate separate identities. In the context of the Agreement, the Protestants of east Donegal who feel themselves Ulster Scots are surely as entitled as any other group on the island to proclaim and celebrate their distinctive heritage.

This is not to say that the ritual reinforcement of a sense of identity rooted in a savage history has anything positive to contribute to the present or future. But it’s inherent in the settlement endorsed, as we are daily reminded, by majorities North and South. So I anticipate supporters of the Agreement, Nationalist and Unionist, converging on Raphoe and Glenmaquin to cheer on the Laganeers as, once again, they rout the rebel Irish.

Next year, perhaps, a re-staging of the land allocation at Lifford?

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  • merrie

    Festivities to mark the separation of “us and themmums” yet again. And how we defeated themmums and threw them off their good land, held for 1000s of years, and sent them into the wastelands.

    Same old story that has to be repeated over and over, generation after generation. Why?

    Are “we” still feeling insecure and fear themmums? Maybe the repetition is needed so that new thoughts, and perhaps guilt, do not intrude.

  • Nevin

    A little bit more about the Lagganeers.

  • Would a celebration in,say, Kansas or the Dakotas about the defeat and displacement of native americans be considered appropriate?

    What next in celebrating this “culture”?

    A Cromwell from central casting at Drogheda?

  • Tochais Síoraí

    ‘….So I anticipate supporters of the Agreement, Nationalist and Unionist, converging on Raphoe and Glenmaquin to cheer on the Laganeers as, once again, they rout the rebel Irish….’

    I just can’t comprehend this PC bolloxology sometimes. Does Eamonn think that native Americans should join in celebrations of their defeats or some day Palestinians should join in a party with Israelis to celebrate 1948. It may be a cause for celebration for some form the Ulster -Scots tradition but the rest of us might just stay at home .

  • Would a celebration of ethnic cleansing promote peace and reconcilliation in Bosnia or Kosovo?

    Sorry ,but this just looks like fascist triumphalism

  • Nevin

    As the Lagganeers link demonstrates, the relationships were complex:

    “From March onwards, a combined force of royalists: Lagganeers, Irish Confederate troops, Scottish highlanders, and Scots forces from east Ulster under the command of Lord Montgomery of Ards besieged Sir Charles Coote at Derry. The besieging army was driven off in August by the unlikely combination of Owen Roe O’Neill and the Ulster Irish army in support of Coote.”

  • Nevin I think there is little comnplexity in the motivations of those who wish to relive the successful ethnic cleansing of the native Irish.

    It is coat trailing dressed up as historical tourism.

  • TS I dont think Eamonn is saying what you are attributing to him at all tbh.

    I have heard Eamonn McCann on many occassions attack the Belfast Agreemnet becuase it fossilised the ethnic/religious divide into the institutions of the state.

  • Coming soon…the people of East Timor gather together in celebration of the Indonesian pilots who bombed them . Plans include fighter-plane displays and a re-enactment of a helpless civilian population running for cover.

    Make a day of it.

    Fun for the whole family.

  • merrie


    Owen Roe O’Neill had a very complex life.

    The further details you have provided do not justify celebrating these events that occurred several hundred years ago

  • k

    Ethnic cleansing, fun and kulture for all the family!
    Just to remind people, McCann is being sarcastic for most of this piece. He is anti-GFA. Not in a RIRA/CIRA way but because it institutionalised (what’s that worth in scrabble?) sectarian division.

  • Nevin

    Merrie, I don’t suppose the organisers of such events give much thought to the feelings of those who aren’t part of their group. Are any commemorations based on inclusivity?

  • páid


    When do we start the campaign to delete the Orange from the Tricolour?

  • merrie

    My point is that there should not be such a commemorative event.

  • Nevin

    Merrie, there will be a lot of gaps in the annual calendar if you leave out commemorative events – or are you just being selective?

    Mick has focussed on the ‘celebration of the triumph of force’. They could perhaps also be presented as events of solidarity – or even thanksgiving for survival. Do they also fulfil a need for groups in society now? Do they highlight difference at the expense of community cohesion?

  • darth rumsfeld


    such a lot of MOPEry now even directed against that mildmannered and quiet Protestant community of East Donegal, who- whatever their ancestors did in the 1640s haven’t exactly been renowned for their bloodthirsty triumphalism since.

    This is no more coattrailing than the reeenactments of the struggles in the Border area of Scotland/England that happen every summer. Do you get some English nutters on complaining that Braveheart style jockanapes is offensive and coattrailing cos their ancestors lost a few sheep?

    I recall the drive to commemorate the battle of Glenmaquin – which I hadn’t heard about- was inspired by Dr Billy Kelly of Magee, and supported by the Donegal Historical Society who erected a memorial at the battlefield. I’m going to be there, watching the always pleasant experience of men from Tyrone getting a hiding.I don’t care if the person beside me is Jewish, Polish or republican. They’ll enjoy a good day’s crack

    The real reason for the gripes on this thread from some is , of course, not just their manifest ignorance, but an instinctive fear of a different Irish identity which challenges their nice wee monoculture, and which suffered at the hands of the predominant culture in much more recent times- indeed in living memory in some cases. I appreciate that Protestants are a terrible inconvenience- I suppose Poles and Nigerians are too- but unfortunately if you want to live in a modern liberal state …ah, now I understand.

  • Nevin

    Darth, do you suppose the latter day Lagganeers will then lay seige to the latter day Parliamentarian forces in Derry? 😉

  • Darth.
    These nice quiet people you refer to still economically benefit from that massacre and ethnic cleansing of the 1640s.

    Surely there should be no place for such triumphalism in a modern liberalk state-or dont you think Taigs should have feelings about this.

    I’ll get to the back of the bus now and not offend my betters with the better land…..

  • Reader

    phil macgiollabhain: These nice quiet people you refer to still economically benefit from that massacre and ethnic cleansing of the 1640s
    Any human, anywhere, benefits from their ancestors being on the winning side more often than not, at the end of 100,000 years of massacre, migration and upheaval. And I doubt if any O’Neill was ever a redistributionist.

  • Garibaldy


    This looks a lot like an attempt to draw some money into the local area via a spectacle, particularly if Darth is right and the impetus came from Billy Kelly and others, then it is clearly not aimed at sectarian coattrailing.

    As for your point about the 1640s, I find it simply depressing. In a modern liberal state, perhaps we can not demonise people on the basis of what their ancestors may or may not have done 3 and a half centuries ago.

  • DK

    Seriously Phil – what do you want? This entirely peaceful and cross-community event cancelled? Land owned by protestants in Donegal taken off them and give to… who exactly?

  • me

    so because some people dont agree with a reenactment which certainly given the context has some shades of triumphalism-you construct a straw man implyng they have something against protestants, poles and nigerians.nice

  • merrie

    There are lots of other things to commemorate. The “Lagganites” should use their imagination instead of continually focusing on their violent past.

    Some sources they can read for inspiration: “The Year in Ireland” by Kevin Danaher; Evans “Irish Folk Ways”

  • Wilde Rover

    Another “Who’s Your Daddy? I’m Your Daddy” victory celebration? Ah well, culture is important and people shouldn’t be denied their right to celebrate that culture.

    And if the people of Derry, at some future point, decided to hold a celebration of their modern “victory” in the city they wouldn’t have to look far for experienced re-enactors to play the parts of those departing.

  • A N Other

    As a southerner who lived in the North for a few years – with “one of them” as a girlfriend, no less! – Belfast during the 12th week always fascinated me (car-crash television if you like).

    However, it’s threads like these that always remind me of a comment one of my less open-minded friends is fond of re: our Unionist “brethern”:-

    ….”Why don’t they all just f**k back to England?”..

  • merrie

    AN Other

    If “themmums” were celebrating a victory over another part of the community (eg the “Lagganeers”) then I’d say the same thing about them (ie what I have said, not your comment).

    Why keep focusing on events that are divisive or potentially divisive of a community? It is a time of change now, so why not go with the flow and change, create new events, commemorate other events. One problem with NI is that one side or another is always focusing on battles and phyrric victories.

    Focus on what you want to get what you want.

  • john

    I don’t understand the objections to this. these people are entitled as irish citizen to celebrate thier culture as they see fit. Its unfortunate that people like Darth Rumsfeld will be attracted across from NI for the event, but its up to East Donegal Ulster Scots to control who attends. Also, there will undoubtedly be lots of kilts worn and pipes played, so gaelic culture will be fully represented. They’re even having a ceididh band. The laganeers will be turning in their graves!

  • john

    I don’t understand the objections to this. as Irish citizens the East Donegal Ulster Scots lads are entitled to celebrate they’re identity as they see fit. Also, there will undoubtedly be lots of kilts worn and pipes played, so gaelic culture will be fully represented too (they’re even having a ceididh band). The lagganeers will be turning in their graves!

  • Stonewall


    How pathetic can some people be!!!!!?????

    Trying to say that re-enactments of historical events such as this are in some way tramping down the poor Irish is just absured!!!!!

    I was at the celebrations at Bannockburn this year to see the english be defeated. I didnt hear all this diatribe about the poor english being demonised and down trodden!

    Are the Re-enactments which take place all over the world evil?

    Perhaps we should prevent these evil men and their families partaking in such evil and immorral practises!

    Once again people on here need to wake up!!!!!!!

    And for all those “native Irish Celts” who await the appology for the loss of their land, could we perhaps have one from you to those you stole it from before it became your “blood right”???

    Dry your eyes!

  • toby1kenoby

    So what if they celebrate it, Donegal is a free and easy place! let them have their fun!!! im glad donegal has such a heritage. I hate it when people think that what happens in the 6 counties gets done in Donegal. The prods and caths in Donegal are not like the rest in Northern Ireland! Its IS different in here…nowadays especially. chill out! Of course it is a Derry man stirring up trouble again in Donegal! typical.