By James O'Laverty
[From An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Conor, Ancient and Modern, Vol. I, 1878]
THE small barony of Dufferin has an area of 17,208 acres and contains part of the civil parishes of Killyleagh and Killinchy. "The eastern edge," says the Parliamentary Gazetteer, "possesses the intricacy of land and water, the profusion of islets and little peninsulas, common to a large portion of the shores of Lough Strangford: the southern border is washed by the Ballynahinch river; and the interior is diversified by the large lake, called Lough Clay, and by several smaller lakes and loughlets." The surface was formerly covered with irregular woods and almost impervious coppices, and was named by the Irish Duibhthrian-the black third, or district. According to the Book of Rights
"The stipend of the King of the fine Duibhthrian is
Two rings, ten steeds, ten shields,
Ten scings (horse trappings) which fatigue not on an expedition,
And ten ships on Lough Cuan (Strangford Lough)."
This stipend was due to him from his superior, the King of Uladh, while on the other hand
"Three hundred oxen from Duibhthrian are due, And three hundred cows with their distended udders to the king"
of Uladh as a tribute. Dufferin is said to have belonged to the MacArtans, but it was seized on by De Courcy and his followers as a part of their conquest, and became the patrimony of the Mandevilles, it subsequently passed into the possession of the MacQuillins. This race proved themselves stout opponents to the Clannaboy O'Neills, who in the 14th century led a band of the Kinel-Owen to conquer and colonize the most fertile districts of Down and Antrim. The Four Masters record A.D. 1433 "A great war between the Kinel-Owen and the Kinel-Connell; and O'Donnell marched with his forces into Duibthrian to assist MacQuillin. O'Neill, i.e. Owen set out with a great army in pursuit of O'Donnell and MacQuillin; and MacDonnell of Scotland arrived at the same time with a large fleet, and went to where O'Neill was to aid him. The Scots proceeded to attack the creaghts (cattle and moveable property) of MacQuillin and Robert Savadge, worsted them, and caused great slaughter and loss of men upon MacQuillin and Robert; and those that made their escape from Duibthrian were almost all cut off at the Pass of Newcastle." After this O'Neill and MacDonnell proceeded to Ardglass, which they burned. In the year 1444 Hugh Boy O'Neill, the chieftain of the Clannaboy, "who had planted more of the lands of the English, in despite of them, than any other man of his day "died" having vanquished the world and the devil," and his relatives, the O'Neills of Tyrone, who seem to have been jealous of the Clannaboy colony, after his death "marched with a numerous army to plunder and destroy the Clann-Hugh-Boy; Murtough Roe O'Neill, Henry O'Neill, MacQuillin, and all their auxiliaries assembled to oppose this army in the territory of Duibhthrian. They cut a passage through the wood, in the direction they conceived they (the enemy) would approach them. O'Neill with his forces advanced to this narrow passage, when the others charged them and slew MacDonnell Galloglagh, who was in the rear of the army amongst the baggage. The army became much discouraged at this, so that they delivered up to the sons of Mac-I-Neill-Boy (the chief of Clannaboy) all such hostages as they chose to select .... on condition of being permitted to return home through the passage already mentioned." A.D. 1470 "A great army was led by O'Neill (of Tyrone) into Clannaboy to assist MacQuillin of Duibhthrian; and Mac-I-Neill-Boy (the chief of the Clannaboy) set out to take a prey from MacQuillin. On this occasion MacQuillin, aided by the powerful alliance of O'Neill of Tyrone proved too powerful for the Clannaboy; and O'Neill of Tyrone "took the castle of Sgath-deirge (now Sketrick Island), which he delivered up into the keeping of MacQuillin." The Four Masters record, A.D. 1503, Randall More MacDonnell "Constable of the Scotchmen of Ireland died in Duibhthrian -Uladh (of Ulidia)." History does not inform us how the MacQuillins obtained Dufferin from the Mandevilles or how it afterwards passed into the possession of the Whites. Sir Thomas Cusack in a letter to the Duke of Northumberland, dated 8th May, 1552, says "The next to that country is the Doufrey, whereof one John Whit was landlord, who was deceitfully murdered by M'Ranyll* boy his sonne, a Scot; since whereof he is able to disturb the countries next adjoining, on every side, which shortly by God's grace shall be redressed. The same country is no great circuit, but small, full of woods, water, and good land, meet for Englishmen to inhabit." Brewer's Calend. Carrew MSS. Marshal Bagenal in his Description of Ulster, A.D. 1586, says "Diffrin, sometymes th' enheritance of the Mandevilles, and nowe apperteyninge to one White, who is not of power sufficient to defend and manure the same, therefore it is usurped and inhabited for the most parte, by a bastard sort of Scottes, who yield to the said White some small rent at their pleasure. The countrey is for the most parte wooday and lieth uppon the Loghe, which goeth out at the haven of Strangford. There are of these bastarde Scottes dwelling here some sixty bowmen and twenty shot, which lyve most upon the praie and spoile of their neigbours." Ulster Journ. Archaeol. An Inquisition, taken at Ardquin, July 4th, 1605, finds that Patrick White of Flemington, in Meath was seized of the lands and castles, and the advowson of the churches in Dufferin. The castles were Ballycaslan-william, Kilaleigh, Rindoffrin alias Meylerton, Rathgorman, Casclanegays. In July 1610, John White, the then proprietor, and his son Nicholas assigned these lands, castles and advowsons to Sir James Hamilton, subject to the rent of £40 and the Crown rent of 6s. 8d., except the townland of Maymore previously assigned to Patrick M'Nabb and Patrick M'Cresscan, whose interest Sir James also purchased.Half a century after that, a circumstance, fortunate for the Hamiltons, freed them from the chief rent, as appears from the following inquisition. "Downpatrick, 9th April, 1662- Christopher Whyte, of Karingston, in County Louth, was seized as of fee of a certain chief rent of £40 from the territory of the Dufferin, in County Down; also of a certain debt of £40 sterling, which both were due to the aforesaid Christopher Whyte by the late Viscount Claneboy, for which the aforesaid Christopher was to receive £60 yearly for his interest: And being so seized the aforesaid Christoper Whyte 30 ... 1642, at Killileagh, in the County aforesaid, and at divers other places in the aforesaid County, was in actual rebellion, and continued in the same rebellion, till the 10th September, 1648, and afterwards died: by reason whereof the premises have devolved upon King Charles, that now is. The aforesaid King by his letters patent under the Great Seal of Ireland, granted all the premises to Henry (Hamilton), now Earl of Clanbrazil, and his heirs." Hamilton MSS. The Dufferin property, except portions leased or sold, still remains in the representatives of the Hamiltons, Lord Dufferin and Captain Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle.
The remains of many of the residences and forts known as Rath, Dun, Lis, and Cathair (pronounced Cahir), still exist throughout Ireland, some of which belong to the most remote antiquity. The Rath was a simple circular wall or enclosure of raised earth, enclosing a space of more or less extent, in which stood the residence of the chief, and sometimes the dwellings of one or more of the officers or chief men of the tribe or court. Sometimes also the Rath consisted of two or three concentric walls or circumvallations; but it does not appear that the erection so called was ever intended to be surrounded with water. The Dun was of the same form as the Rath, but consisting of at least two concentric circular mounds or walls, with a deep trench full of water between them. These were often encircled by a third, or even a greater number of walls, at increasing distances; but this circumstance made no alteration in the form, or in the signification of the name. Dun is defined in a vellum MS. on Gaedhlic law thus: "Dun, i.e, two walls with water." This definition would apply to any mearing formed of a wet trench between two raised banks of earth. The Dun and Rath had small chambers excavated under the ground within the enclosing rampart. These chambers vary in size, but are usually nine or ten feet long, three or four broad, and three or four feet high. The entrance is very narrow, and similar narrow passages connect the several chambers with each other. These chambers correspond with the earth-houses of the Norse, and were intended as places to hide valuables, and perhaps as places of refuge. See O'Curry's Lectures.
* The leader of the Scots settled in Dufferin and Lecale was Alexander Macranald Boy MacDonnell, so called from the descent of himself and his clan from Randal Ban, second son of John Mor MacDonnell and Margery Byse. See Hill's MacDonnells.