The Cunningham Settlement.

The Cunninghams came to Ireland around the year 1610. In that year King James the first gave the orders for the Plantation of Ulster and issued land rights to the ‘Grantee’ persons and organisations for huge areas of Irish land confiscated from Irish owners who had participated in military action against English/British interests. The Grantee for 20,000 acres of Land in Donegal county was Ludovic Lennox, the Duke of Lennox, who was not only a Scottish nobleman but also had the good fortune to be a close relative of King James. The land was known as the Precinct of Portlough and was described as being part of the Barony of Raphoe; Raphoe being the regional centre at that time. The Episcopal Bishops of this area are still known as the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.

It was a condition of being a Grantee that the land granted must be settled with British farmers and secured against possible repossession by the original Irish inhabitants. The Duke looked to his own people in and around Ayrshire in Scotland the predominant clan in that area being the Cunninghams. He needed ambitious and hard working individuals and amongst those that he chose were Sir James Cunningham, who was granted 2,000 acres, and John Cunningham, Cuthbert Cunningham and another James Cunningham who was the uncle of Sir James, who each received 1,000 acres. I read that Cuthbert was greatly criticised for his lack of activity in developing his portion but John Cunningham on the other hand seems to have been very active indeed and one account that I have been told suggests that at one stage he acted as local agent for the Duke. An Alexander Cunningham also received a grant of 1,000 acres further west in another precinct. All these men were from Ayrshire.

James Cunningham’s 2000 acres were in the lands of Machrimore, which is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic 'Machair Mor', meaning ‘Large plain’ in English. The area was, and still is, prime farmland close to the shore of Lough Swilly and he was charged with tenanting his lands with loyal settlers, the establishment of a manor, and with organising the defence of the lands. He brought in landless but capable people from the home area so by 1614 there were 29 tenants on the land and in 1622 over 50 tenants were recorded. He also took over a long abandoned castle, rebuilt it, and added a bawn wall around it to create a place of safety for all in case of attack. I have seen this referred to as Fort Cunningham and as Castle Cunningham but I do not think that it was ever put to use as the area was not attacked during the 1641 rebellion. A manor house was built close to the castle and local services established with the arrival of blacksmiths and others. This central settlement lives on today as ManorCunningham though there seems to be no trace of the original buildings.

This view of ManorCunningham today shows how it has been bypassed by the main Letterkenny to Derry road. Just down the hill is the shore of Lough Swilly and a small tidal river where boats would have put in to land and load cargoes. The settlers also had the right to take fish from the adjacent area of the Lough. There would have been fish in great numbers in those days at the right times of the year for each species. The land here produces cereals, potatoes etc and both beef and dairy cattle.

I referred to the 1641 rebellion above , many of the men from the two settlements and the other settlements in the area were part of what has become known as the 'Laggan Army'. This was two mounted regiments raised locally for the defence of the area and commanded by brothers named Stewart who were well connected local landowners and also experienced soldiers. There is plenty of evidence to this day of the influence of the Stewarts all across the north of Ireland. The Cunningham settlements were untouched by the fighting as the Laggan Army were very successful in protecting the area and providing assistance to other surrounding settlement areas that were in trouble and when the rebel army moved against their own home area defeated them at the Battle of Glenmaquin.. More on this can be found at this rather interesting site:- http://www.eastdonegalulsterscots.com/history.html



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