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Tullyhogue Fort


Tullyhogue Fort, Tullyhogue or Tullaghoge fort (from Middle Irish Tulach Óc meaning “hill of youth” or “mound of the young warriors”) is large mound on the outskirts of Tullyhogue village near Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland It has depressed centre and is surrounded by trees. It is an ancient ceremonial site where chieftains of the O’Neill dynasty of Tyrone were inaugurated. It is a State Care Historic Monument sited in the townland of Ballymully Glebe, in the cooks town District Council area, at grid reference: H8250 7430. The inauguration site is a Scheduled Historic Monument of Grid reference H8251 7428


The date of the construction of Tullyhogue fort is not known, however it is believed to have held great significance from early times, possessing a form of ritual importance long before the O'Neills became associated with the site. Tullyhogue rath was originally associated with the Uí Tuirtre of Airgialla, and then the O'Hagans between the 11th and 17th centuries. The O'Hagans would dwell at the site and become its hereditary guardians, with their burial place at Donaghrisk situated at the bottom of the hill. In the later medieval period it would become the inauguration site of the O'Neill dynasty, where the title "the O'Neill", was bestowed upon the new lord. The inauguration was carried out by the head's of the O'Cahan and O'Hagan O'Cahan, the O'Neill's principal sub-chief, threw a golden sandal over the new lord’s head to signify good luck.

The O’Hagans

O'Hagan, were the hereditary guardians of Tullyhogue, and would place a golden shoe on O'Neills foot and present them with a rod of office. Hugh O’Neill’s inauguration in 1593 was the last of the O'Neills to take place at Tullyhogue. The O'Hagan clans surname is originally from the pre 10th century in Old Gaelic O'hAodhagain, meaning "Young", they are the "male descendant of Aodh", a personal name meaning "fire". Aodh was a pagan god worshipped by the early natives. Until the destruction of Gaelic order in the 17th Century the O'Hagans were one of the most powerful and influential families in Ulster, holding the title Lord of Tullyhogue (Tulach Óg, Hill of Youth, in Irish) in the Barony of Dungannon (Upper), parish of Desertcreat.

The chief exercised the hereditary right of inaugurating O'Neill as king or overlord of Ulster. In medieval times, members of the sept were territorial magnates in Counties Monaghan and Armagh, and two places called Ballyagan, (from "baile", a settlement), one in County Derry and the other in County Antrim, further locate the O'Hagans. For over six hundred years the O'Hagans were hereditary brehons and inaugurators of O’Neill who were descended from the UiNeill tribe. The O’Hagans were Chiefs of the Clan Feargusa, they descended from Fergus Cerrbél mac Conaill Cremthainne (Fergus Crooked Mouth) grandson of Niall of the nine Hostages said to be High King of Ireland from 370 to 406 who in turn descends from Conn of the Hundred Battles the Milesian Gaelic King of Tara / Ireland in the 2nd Century.

The O’Kanes  

O'Kane which is the anglicised form of O'Catháin and is diversely renpresesented by the following forms: Kane, Keane, Kayne, Keaney, O'Keeny, Keyne, O'Cain, Cain, Keny, McCain, Cathain, McKane, Caine, Cane, Ó Catháin, Ua Catháin, Ui Catháin, MacCatháin, O'Cahan, MacCain and other varients. In addition, it embraces McAvinney, McEvinney and McQueen. Another large sub-sept of O'Catháin is McCloskey (McCluskey, Cluskey and McLuskey), a numerous north Derry name. McCloskey derives from Bloscaidh O'Catháin (Bloskey O'Kane), who, in 1196, slew Murtagh O'Loughlin, heir to the Irish throne.

The north of what is now County Derry was the heartland of O'Catháin country. Their territory spread out from the Limavady region, north across the Faughan and Roe valleys, east beyond Binevenagh Mountain to Coleraine and the Bann, and south through the upper Roe valley to Dungiven and the Sperrins beyond. The O'Catháins were overlords of these lands from the late twelfth century onwards. It is believed they came from the west of Ireland, having been displaced by Anglo-Norman invaders in the 1170s. Moving north through Ulster, the O'Catháins, in turn, drove out the O'Connors from the latter's lands around Glengiven (Dungiven) and established their overlordship for the next four centuries. As mentioned above O’Catháin Clan were a significant clan in Ulster, The name was anglicized to O'Kane and Kane.

They are descended from Eoghan, son of Niall of the nine hostages. In the late middle ages, they were the primary sept under the O’Neill clan holding the privilege of inaugurating the Chief of the O'Neill by tossing a shoe over the new Chief's head in acceptance of his rule. They were Barons of Keenacht and Coleraine in Ulster under the O’Neill, ruling from Dungiven Castle in Dungiven, which is 9 miles from Limavady. There was a large O'Cathain castle in Limavady thought to be the chief residence of the clan, which has fallen into ruin, and it is situated in the Roe Valley Country Park just outside Limavady town. There is much historical evidence of the clan's ancient Ulster roots.

These include Dungiven Priory, which is reputed to be the tomb of Cooey-na-Gall O'Cathain, who died in 1385. 'Cooey-na-Gall' means "Terror of the Stranger", Turloch O'Cathain owned Dunservick castle in medieval times, after participating in the First Crusade. Dunservick was a 'key' ancient site in Ireland and one of the royal roads from Tara, seat of the Kings of Ireland, ended here. Rory Dall O'Cahan, an Irish harpist of the 17th century, may have penned the popular Irish tune "The Derry Air" or, "Londonderry Air", in order to lament the destruction of the O' Cathain Clan. Consequently, it may have been originally called "O'Cahan's Lament". The tune is best known as the accompaniment to the song "Danny Boy". The O'Cathain Clan's long battle with the English crown ended in the early 17th century. With that defeat, its lands were contributed to the Derry plantation, during the Planatation of Ulster, as the County Coleraine, and now form the bulk of today's County Derry. After the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Sir Domhnaill Ballagh O'Cathain, Chief of the O'Cathain (and at one time knighted by the English Crown), was captured and sent to the Tower of London, where he died in 1626. There has been no Chief since.

Leac na Rí

The inauguration stone was a large boulder known as the Leac na Ri which means "the flagstone of the kings". It stood outside Tullyhogue fort, where by the 16th century it had become incorporated into a ceremonial stone chair where three large slabs had been placed around it. In 1602 during the Nine Years Wars, Lord Mountjoy, in charge of the English forces at war with Hugh O'Neill, smashed the inauguration stone to symbolically end the O'Neill's sovereignty. The Leac Na Rí is stated as being the Ulster counterpart to the Stone of Destiny, which is now part of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. The Leac na Rí is also stated as reputedly been blessed by St Patrick. According the official version the coronation chair was demolished by Lord Deputy Mountjoy in 1602, one year prior to the surrender of Hugh O'Neill at Mellifont Abbey.

However, there are some vague indications that the Ulster coronation chair survived the Nine Years War. First indication is the, never recognized, coronation of Sir Phelim O'Neill in 1641. The second indication is a seventeenth century map depicting the coronation chair on the hill below the fort. Recent archeological surveys of the area indicate that the actual throne may still be there in sections, two large stones in an adjacent field just below the Tullyhogue site may actually be part of the throne. This may have been because lord Mountjoys troops may have split the throne and dragged the side pieces in different directions away from the centre piece, the survey also  indicated that there is a large anomaly below the ground directly inbetween both of the large stones. This is something that the Association may want to investigate from an academic and agrological perspective in more detail, sometime in the future.       


The initial impression of Tullyhogue fort is that it resembled an early Christian bivallate rath which was an enclosed homestead surrounded by two banks and ditches. Tullyhogue matches this description in that it has an enclosure 105ft in diameter that is encircled by two banks. Entry to it was by a causeway in the inner bank. What makes it clear that it wasn't an enclosed homestead is that the two ditches were built wide apart with a flat area inbetween, with no outer defensive ditch. The layout of the fort itself shows that it wasn't built or designed as a defensive structure, but as an area of ceremonial importance.


Cookstown District Council have initiated a tourism plan for visitors and Tullyhogue Fort has become part of its marketing agenda due to its history. During the summer it is a popular tourist destination. In 1998, Don Carlos O'Neill, a Spanish descendant of the O'Neills of the fews, started an annual event that takes place in August each year whereby he and his family commemorate the inauguration ceremony of the O'Neills on the spot were his Tyrone predecessors were crowned. In February 2007 Cookstown District Council confirmed that the Department of Agriculture and rural development (DARD) had agreed to sell the land required to develop Tullyhogue Fort to Council for £90,000.