These pamphlets were originally published in 1923 with soft covers and are getting increasingly difficult to find. They were put together in a hard backed book and published by the Glens of Antrim Historical Society in 1988. Unfortunately this is now out of print, but second hand copies can be obtained quite easily.
" Where lone Dunanaonaig's sad ruins are looming,
O'er the sea-hallowed caves in which dark waves are booming;
Where Ceann-ban's pallid brow meets the storm winds of heaven,
When the rage of the North o'er the ocean is driven
While the shriek of the gull and the storm-spirits yelling
On the mist and the spray of the sea-blast are swelling--
When the moon from o'er Margy, so solemnly tender
Shone down on Ceann-ban with her softness of splendour,
One night when the bay in that radiance lay sleeping
The child of the billow a vigil was keeping." — Barney Maglone.
There is no trace of the old fort, which was probably on a ridge a little way south from the Castle. Its name signifies "hill of the fairs or assemblies," as it was here that the old fairs were held and rents paid or arrangements formed for grazing the chief's extensive herds of cattle. All that marks the site of the Castle is a fragment of the foundation of its tower, and it can be reached from the Quay Hill by the path on the cliff, or by the road passing the Roman Catholic Church. From the path and also from the ridge behind the Castle there is a charming view and a touch of variety in the natural beauty of a strikingly picturesque district. On the west is a level country for about two miles with the humble cottages of an industrious peasantry surrounded by sheltering trees. Along the north-east are the glory of the isle sparkling like a jewel on a silvery sea, the blue outline of part of the rugged Scottish coast, the frowning cliff and the shining bay, the long line of purple and richly tinted hills, and the glen with its murmuring stream forming a picture of surpassing excellence and fascination. There comes a thrill of old romance into the thoughts as the eye wanders pleasantly over the sloping glen side strewn with its roughened crags; or over the hill country tinged so gracefully with the deeper shades of green and azure and purple, and which is always a delight to a cultured mind. The Castle stood on the edge of the cliff, about 200 feet in height, and was protected on the south side by a semi-circular dry moat about 80 yards in length, opening on the edge of the cliff, and varying from 20 to 26 feet in width, and from 13 to 26 feet in depth. From the limited space enclosed by the moat, which is about 60 yards from east to west and 35 yards from north to south, the Castle must have been a square keep or tower with massive walls. There was no well within the enclosed space, and when besieged the garrison must have depended on rain water for their daily and always uncertain supply. This was also the case at Kenbann Castle and at many of the medieval castles.
The Castle was probably erected in 1500 by Alexander MacDonnell, of Islay and Kintyre, chief of the Clandonnell South, to distinguish them from the MccDonnells of Sleat, known as the Clandonnell North. James IV. persuaded the Scottish Parliament to declare MacDonnell an outlaw, but James V. after his succession, annulled the decree and received him on friendly terms during his frequent visits to Scotland; and it was here he had an Irish home, and here he died about 1540. James, the eldest son, succeeded, and deciding to live in Scotland, appointed his brother Colla leader in Antrim. On the death of Colla in May, 1558, the position was offered to Angus and Alexander, but they declined, and it was finally accepted by Sorley Boy, the youngest of the brothers. It is probable that Sorley Boy was born here about 1505, and as he had assisted his brothers James and Colla in their struggle against the O'Cahans, of Derry, the MacQuillins, and even against the English, he was competent from his military experience to become their leader, and ultimately became one of the most famous of the family in Ireland. In the following year Edward MacQuillin and his sons Edward, Charles, and Rory, resolved to recover possession of their lands between the Bush and the Bann, and their independence, as Colla had defeated them three years before his death. During this struggle they received assistance from the O'Neills, of Lower Clannaboy, under Shane O'Dennis O'Neill, and from those of Tyrone under Hugh MacFelim O'Neill; and in the series of battles and hand-to-hand conflicts along Glenshesk the MacQuillins were ultimately defeated and their power finally crushed by the Scots. In two of these engagements the MacQuillins had suffered severe losses, and intending to collect fresh troops retired to Aura mountain, where they were reinforced by a party of the O'Neills and Hugh MacFelim O'Neill was appointed commander of the combined force. Sorley Boy was also reinforced by the arrival of a contingent from Cushendall under Hugh MacAulay, and ready to renew the conflict. There had been a quarrel between O'Neill and a harper named O'Cahan, and the latter resolved to have revenge for the insult. He had an interview with Sorley Boy, and advised him to attack immediately, as O'Neill was hourly expecting a large reinforcement. And he showed him a path by which the Scots could arrive near O'Neill's position without the latter being aware, and also proposed to go in the character of a messenger from O'Neill's camp to meet the leader of the troop and inform him that there was no necessity to proceed any further, as Sorley Boy had been completely defeated and his forces scattered. After this interview Sorley arranged his plans for an attack, and on the night before the battle at Aura, on July 13th, covered with rushes a bog lying on one side of MacQuillin's position, so constructed that a file of infantry could pass along, and to deceive the MacQuillins he sent a number of boys and men who were camp followers to a distant hill with flags and poles to appear as if they were coming to the assistance of the Scots. O'Neill when he noticed the crowd on the hill decided to attack the Scots at once, expecting to defeat them decisively before the arrival of those from the hill. He expressed himself as confident of victory, but McIlmoyle, one of MacQuillin's men, dissented, and stated that he was very doubtful of their success, with the result that there was a quarrel and angry words passed between them. The Scots advanced and seized a favourable position from where they could harass the MacQuillins, and as it was necessary for O'Neill to dislodge them, and being unaware of the nature of the intervening ground ordered his horsemen to charge. Sorley quickly noticed the movement, and ordered a retreat across the narrow path of rushes, and in the charge the O'Neill's horses became unmanageable in the bog, and the horsemen easy victims to Sorley's sharpshooters and bowmen. This was a severe reverse to O'Neill, who realised that he had been outmanoeuvred by the Scots, and was unable to extricate his horsemen from their fate; and, worst of all, upset his whole plan, as it was on these that he relied for final victory. But, withal, the MacQuillins fought desperately, as it was their last opportunity, but were at length defeated and dispersed by the Scotsmen, who became the proud victors of a hard fought field.
" MacDonnell's crafty band has strewed
The marsh with rushes o'er,
And he who trusts the dangerous path
Shall ne'er see fireside more.
And now MacDonnell sends decoys
On foot across the moss;
M'Quillin's horse in fierce pursuit
Sinks in the treacherous floss.
Thus the disastrous day begins,
And this successful ruse
Knells the wrecked fortunes of the line
Of the brave Lord Dunluce." —K. B. D.
O'Neill, accompanied by a faithful servant, fled when the battle was lost, but they were overtaken and slain by M'llmoyle in revenge for the personal quarrel they had before the battle commenced, and two cairns near the summit of Aura mark their graves. Edward MacQuillin, the eldest son, escaped and sought refuge on an island or crannog on Loughlynch, in the parish of Billy. On this crannog was a fortified house belonging to the MacQuillins, and which had been used as a place for safety during their numerous fights with the O'Cahans of Derry. He was closely pursued by Coll Doenagapple MacDonnell and Owen Gar Magee, cousins of Sorley Boy, who cast lots on the shore of the lough as to which of the two should fight MacQuillin, and the lot fell on Magee, who was a member of the Magee family from the Rhinns of Islay. Magee, armed with a dirk between his teeth, swam across, and in single combat slew MacQuillin after a most desperate struggle, and the remains of a cairn is said to mark his grave. The last lineal descendant of this family in the district, as far as we are aware, was the late Hugh Magee, of Carnsampson, a humble peasant, who died a number of years ago, and who had in his possession the original title deed written in Irish of a grant of lands in Islay from the MacDonnells, dated 1408, and which he sold to the Registry Office in Edinburgh. The MacAulays, in celebration of the victory, invited Sorley Boy to a great feast on the south-eastern slope of Trostan mountain, near Cushendall, which lasted for four days. The battle sealed for ever the fate and fortunes of the MacQuillins, and Sorley Boy immediately annexed their lands between the Bush and the Bann and encouraged Scotsmen to settle thereon.
During the invasion of the district by the Lord Deputy, Sir John Perrot, the Castle was occupied on January 2nd, 1584, by nine men who were placed there as a garrison by Sir William Stanley, one of his officers, but these were soon withdrawn, as they had heard that Angus MacDonnell and Sorley Boy had landed on the same day at Cushendun with a force of 2,000 men from the Isles. The English had received no opposition, as Sorley Boy and his men were in Scotland, and their greatest activity was the destruction of 50,000 cows, the property of Sorley Boy, as well as many of the Scottish and Irish farmers, which had been placed for greater security on the lands lying between the Bush and the Bann. Sorley Boy was now in possession of the lands from Cushendun to Coleraine, while his nephew, Donnell Gorm MacDonnell, held the rest of the Glens from Cushendun to Glenarm. The Castle was Sorley Boy's favourite residence until his death in 1590, when it ceased to be used as the chief residence of the MacDonnells, and a constable with a few men were placed in charge as a garrison or ward. The old site of this Castle is interwoven with the memory and the career of this distinguished Glensman, who, after a strenuous life and a gallant and successful struggle against his numerous enemies rests peacefully in an unknown grave in the old Friary of Bunnamairge, near the sound of the restless ocean. He has left behind him the memory of a distinguished personality on which the hand of time has been placing a gradually increasing shadow of dimness, but such has been the rule in life among the greatest of every age.
" 'Twas here where the brave old chieftain died,
And his faithful clansmen bore
His corse adown the steep hillside
Whilst they croon'd a coronach o'er--
A Highland coronach mingled they--
With an Irish caoine, that woeful day !
Methinks I see them across the ford
Of the brawling mountain stream;
A slogan sad is pip'd for their lord,
A sad lament, I deem,
Some air handed down from sire to son,
Like a wail o'er the dead when the fight is won!
In the grey old Abbey they have left him,
Where the winds through the casements moan,
Chanting their solemn requiem
In a wierd and mournful tone!
And the strangers, when they reach the place,
Bonamargy, view with a reverent grace." — David Lindsay.
Sir Randal, fourth son of Sorley Boy, afterwards created first Earl of Antrim, received in 1606 a charter for a market or fair on every Tuesday at Dunananie, which was subsequently transferred to Ballycastle. Then on November 9th, 1612, he granted to Hugh MacNeill, described on the deed as of " Dunynie, Constable, in said County Gentleman," lands now forming part of the Boyd estate at Ballycastle. There was a reservation clause by which Sir Randal retained for himself and his wife either jointly or separately the right to reside in the Castle and also in Ballycastle, and during such residence of having the sole use of " all and whollie the markets, custom, and towne custome of wynee, oill, and aquavytie, and all other customs whatsoever, and the one moytie or half-due of the custome of the said Port Brittas shall be for the onlie use and behoof of the said Sir Randall and his said Lady and their heires for ever and in the absence of them or their heires the whole to be for the use and behoof of him the said Hugh Makneill and his heirs males for ever." This grant was held " in knightes service by the fyfth part of a knightes fee" and at " the yearlie rent of nyne pounds stating money of England;" and was signed by " Randall Makdonnell and John X Steward (his marke) as a Feoffe." There is an entry on the deed that on December 9th he received possession through John Magknaghten, acting as attorney for Sir Randal, by both of them entering " upon the within granted land called the Brumemore" in the presence of witnesses. There is no allusion in the document to any member of Hugh MacNeill's family or to the district in Scotland from which he or his family came. The MacNeill clan divided into the two septs known as MacNeill of Barra, and MacNeill of Gigha. The earliest document containing this surname is a charter granted by Robert I. to John, the son of Gilbert MacNeill; and the oldest charter connected with the Barra family is the one dated 1427 to Gilleonan MacNeill. and which confirms the one from Alexander MacDonnell, Lord of the Isles. The MacNeills of Gigha were appointed by the MacDonnells in 1472 keepers or constables of Swen Castle in North Knapdale on Kintyre.
When the power of the MacDonnells was suppressed in the Isles, the MacNeills, of Barra, who were the senior branch of the clan, supported the MacLeans of Mull, while the MacNeills of Gigha and Kintyre remained faithful to the MacDonnells; and it is therefore probable that Hugh MacNeill was a member of the Kintyre branch of the family. In 1775 there were at least three influential families of the southern branch residing on their estates—MacNeill of Tainish in Knapdale, MacNeill of Gallachoil and Tarbert on Kintyre, and MacNeill of the Island of Colonsay, the latter being descended from the family of Arechonan; but the island has passed from their possession a few years ago. Hugh MacNeill was succeeded by his son Hugh, who, from an entry on the deed, was plaintiff in some legal dispute affecting his title to the property with Alexander, third Earl of Antrim, with whom were joined Daniel MacDonnell and AEneas Black as defendants. The deed was produced at Bushmills on April 28th, 1686, and sworn as genuine by Robert Kennedy, Esq., Alex. Macaulay. Esq., Bryan Dunlop, Neale MacNeale, and Owen O'Mullan, Gent. ; and the witnesses to their oaths were Charles Stewart, Robert Griffiths, and Jo. Maknaghten. The dispute must have been settled in his favour, as he was succeeded by his son Daniel, who held the estate and left a family of two children, a son and a daughter. The daughter Rosa married the Rev. William Boyd, Rector of Ramoan parish, and by this marriage the property came into possession of the Boyd family of Ballycastle. We close this account of the Castle, the remains of which, situated on a romantic coast, will ere long be without a single stone to mark its site, with the following lines from a ballad descriptive of the surrounding scenery by a writer whose name is unknown to us.
"I have stood on Dun-an-Aonach,
Gazing awe-struck, on the beauty
Of the scene that lay before me!
There Knocklayd ascends in green slopes,
Every slope with cattle covered
Upward, onward to the summit;
There the eye surveys, delighted,
Now the cornfields of Culfeightrin,
Now Benmore'e huge piles of basalt,
Now Glenshesk's flower-sprinkled meadows,
Now the lovely Isle of Rathlin !
Everywhere the same bright landscape
Over all the land of Banbha."