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Finavarra Plaque and O'Daly Monument
in commemoration of the Uí Dhálaigh

by Luke McInerney

O'Daly Monument at Finavarra
The O’Daly Monument at Finavarra

Finavarra has long been associated with the Uí Dhálaigh (O’Daly) family, a scholarly family who originated from Westmeath. The family were often described as ollamhain (‘master poets’), and from the eleventh century were associated with the monastic school of Clonard. In later medieval times, branches of the family settled all over Ireland, from Roscommon to southwest Cork, and at Finavarra in north Clare.

Tradition suggests that the greatest member of the family, poet Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh (c.1175-1244), whom the annals describe as ‘a poet who never was and never will be surpassed’, operated a school of poetry at Finavarra. Donnchadh Mór composed a number of well-known poems in classical literary Irish, many of which had religious themes. Upon his death he was buried at Boyle Abbey in Roscommon.

When antiquaries John O’Donovan and Eugene O’Curry visited Finavarra in 1839, they were struck by the ‘wild stories’ told about Donnchadh Mór. Ruins of the Uí Dhálaigh school of poetry could be seen in the mid-nineteenth century in the field opposite the pillar and plaque locally known as the O’Daly monument. To the north of the monument situates a large ringfort or ráth called Parkmore, which it is said had links to the Uí Dhálaigh poets. Little is actually known about their school and only a few references from the seventeenth century provide us with detail about its activity.

A poem by Aonghus Ruadh Ó Dálaigh (d.1617), a controversial poet from the Cork branch of the family, says that the Finavarra school was wealthy and sounded like a ‘loud organ’ where one could hear ‘pupils reciting the melodies of the ancient schools’. Another text writes that Finavarra was ‘a great centre of mastership in poetry for the poets of Ireland and Scotland’, and was where the ‘four divisions of poetic knowledge’ were studied. It also says that instruction in harp-playing was offered at the school. In another poem, dating from the 1640s, a Scottish poet who was on a circuit to all of the poetry schools in Ireland like ‘like a bee stealing honey from every flower’ (gadaigh bláith gan blátha a-muig) described Finavarra and its school in verse, calling it: Fiodhnach Bhearaigh bhionn-Donnchaidh (‘Sweet Donnchadh’s Finavarra’), recalling that earlier association with Donnchadh Mór.

To the west of the so-called O’Daly monument and plaque, on the south side of the hill called Knockavorneen, stood the ‘brehon’s chair’ This roughly hewn stone monument was also known as ‘Daly’s Chair’. It is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as ‘St Denis’s Chair’. The name probably derives from traditions about the great poet Donnchadh Mór (Donnchadh = anglice ‘Denis’). It is likely, however, to have been a site of assembly or inauguration in Gaelic times and may have been connected to the activities of the Uí Dhálaigh poets. Poets and historians in Gaelic Ireland were highly revered for their learning and status and were known to have taken part in the inauguration ceremonies of Gaelic lords.

The Uí Dhálaigh of Finavarra are recorded in the annals for the years 1404 and 1420 as ollamhain of Corcomroe. One member whose obituary was recorded in the Irish annals under the year 1404 was named Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. He was the first of the family recorded with the title ollamh Corco Modruadh (‘professor of Corcomroe’). In 1514 the annals record the Uí Dhálaigh operating a ‘house of general hospitality’ and from this time they had links to Corcomroe Abbey when one of their leading members was interred there. Their settlement at Finavarra must have drawn the attention of the English authorities because it was attacked by the Lord Justice of Ireland in 1415 when he plundered a number of the learned Gaelic families in Ireland. There is little evidence to support the local tradition that Donnchadh Mór established a branch of the family here before his death in 1244. But records indicate that the Uí Dhálaigh were well established in the locality by the early 1400s. A charter made by the earl of Thomond in 1590 confirmed the Uí Dhálaigh in their landholding at Finavarra, and deeds show that members of the family were still living at Finavarra in the early 1700s.
The octagonal pillar on the south side of Finavarra is known as the leacht or pillar-stone of ‘Donoughmore O’Daly’. It stands on the shore of Oyster Creek in Pouldoody Bay, where it has stood since at least the 1830s. It is not known who erected it or why, but the pillar came to be seen as a monument to the memory of the poet. The plaque at the base of the pillar dates from modern times. The pillar is thought to share similarities with the market stone at Noughaval in the Burren, which may date from the seventeenth century. One theory is that the mound upon which the pillar was raised was a burial place. The octagonal pillar stone might have been connected with the fishing trade, perhaps in the form of market stone or the like. The fisheries around Finavarra are celebrated for their oysters and rich seafood. Their daily catch is highly prized in restaurants today.


Excerpt of a poem by Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh (d. 1244)

Na treig mo theagasg a mhic (‘My son remember’)

Dóthchas creideamh agus grádh
bíodh agad go bráth i nDia
Ú mhlacht a’s Foighde gan fhearg
Fírinne gan chealg i do thriall

But oh! let faith, let hope, let love
Soar far above the cold world’s way;
Patience, humility, and awe –
Make them thy law from day to day.

Translation by Douglas Hyde, 1906.


Na treig mo theagasg a mhic (‘Don’t forget my counsel, son’)

Faith, Hope and Charity
Be with you forever, in God
Humility and Patience without anger
Truth, without offence be your quest.

Translation by Ristéard Ua Cróinín,
Dysert, Co. Clare, May 2017

Further reading:

Luke McInerney, Clerical and learned lineages of medieval Co. Clare: A survey of the fifteenth-century papal registers (Four Courts Press, Dublin 2014).

T.L. Cooke, Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare (1863)

Plaque on O'Daly Monument at Finavarra
Plaque on the O’Daly Monument dedicated to the memory
of the ‘venerable poet’, Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh

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