O'Donnell, Manus (Ó Domhnaill, Maghnas) (d. 1563), lord of Tír Conaill, was born in Co. Donegal, the eldest son of Aodh Dubh O'Donnell (qv), lord of Tír Conaill. His mother is unknown. He had thirteen half-brothers through his father's marriages to six other women (as well by relationships with additional women). Manus was regarded from an early age as Aodh Dubh's most senior son and was given the title ‘rioghdhamhna an tiri’ – prospective king of the land. He is first mentioned in the annals in 1510, when his father went on a two-year pilgrimage to Rome and appointed him to govern Tír Conaill in his absence. Manus demonstrated his independent thinking when he released an O'Neill captive contrary to his father's instructions. This was to be a character trait constantly exhibited by him. In 1512 Aodh Dubh returned to Tír Conaill and Manus loyally returned the government of the lordship to his father.
For the next decade Manus assisted his father in a long war with O'Neill of Tyrone. In 1522 he fought in his father's stunning victory over Con Bacach O'Neill (qv) at Knockavoe, near Strabane, and was subsequently sent on his father's behalf to negotiate with the Connacht and Munster forces approaching Tír Conaill from the south. When this army fled Manus arranged an escort for the embarrassed messengers left behind. In 1523 he visited the Hebrides in Scotland on behalf of his father to hire redshank mercenaries, who arrived in Tír Conaill in 1524. In the same year the lord deputy, Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 9th earl of Kildare, accompanied by Con Bacach O'Neill, the lord of Tyrone, led a large army to the eastern border of Tír Conaill at Lifford. Manus had an argument with Aodh Dubh, who did not want to attack the lord deputy, but he disobeyed his father and led the Scots redshanks to fire large showers of arrows into FitzGerald's camp, killing many people. The next day FitzGerald and Aodh Dubh agreed a peace. In 1525 Manus negotiated on his father's behalf with FitzGerald and O'Neill and in 1526 travelled to Dublin to meet the lord deputy again, although he failed to reach an agreement with O'Neill. Also in that year Manus began to build his important castle at Port na dTri Namhad at Lifford (he had commenced the foundations in 1524). Con Bacach O'Neill attempted to prevent the construction of the fortress but was repulsed by Manus, who completed the castle in 1527.
In 1529 Manus came into conflict with his half-brother Aodh Buidhe O'Donnell over the castle of Cuil mic an Treoin, on the border of Inishowen. Manus captured the castle and called together the council of Tír Conaill, who decided to demolish it. In 1531 Aodh Buidhe seized Belleek Castle in southern Tír Conaill, which caused civil war between him and Manus's forces. The Annals of the Four Masters state that at this time Manus ‘was oppressing his own kindred’. Aodh Dubh attempted but failed to reconcile the brothers, and Aodh Buidhe raided Manus's lands in Cinél Móen and defeated the latter's sons in a skirmish. Manus subsequently fell out with his father. In 1537 he wrote to Leonard Grey (qv), the lord deputy, that his father ‘kept a woman [most likely Mary McNamee, d. 1548] against God's laws’, who by ‘crafty means of that wicked woman daily procured my said father to have me out of his favour’ (SP Henry VIII, 1537, p. 472). As a result in 1536 he refused to accompany his father's expedition to put down a major rebellion in Lower Connacht, the only one of Aodh Dubh's sons not to go (the annals state that Manus was also ‘biased’ by Con Bacach O'Neill). In 1537 war broke out between Manus and Aodh Buidhe. Manus turned to James V of Scotland at this time for assistance in the war.
Aodh Dubh died on 5 July 1537 and Manus was inaugurated O'Donnell at Kilmacrennan by O'Gallagher and O'Friel. He stated that Tír Conaill was ‘passably obedient unto me’, but was fortunate that his half-brother Aodh Buidhe died in 1538. Bristol merchants carried correspondence from Manus to Lord Deputy Grey in 1537 to bring news of his father's death and his own inauguration as O'Donnell. Manus also took over Aodh Dubh's administration, and his father's personal secretary, John Fagan, entered his service. (The following year he sent Fagan to visit Lord Deputy Grey.) Manus quickly asserted his authority in Lower Connacht, and in 1538 he took Sligo Castle.
Manus became deeply involved in the Geraldine League to restore the young surviving Geraldine heir, Gerald FitzGerald (qv) (d. 1585), to the earldom of Kildare. He allied himself with Con Bacach O'Neill, the lord of Tyrone, and in June 1538 married Gerald Óg's aunt Lady Eleanor FitzGerald, the widow of Donnell MacCarthy Reagh. To prepare for an assault on the English administration in Ireland he sought ‘engines and guns and skilled men for the recovery of certain castles’ from James V of Scotland. Con Bacach spent Easter 1539 with Manus at Donegal Castle, and the two Gaelic chieftains decided to invade the Pale. Ardee and Navan were plundered and the Ulster forces penetrated as far as the hill of Tara. However, in August 1539 Lord Deputy Grey inflicted a major defeat on the forces of Manus and O'Neill at Bellahoe, on the border of Ulster and the Pale, as they returned to their lordships with their plunder. According to the annals, ‘Some of their common people were slain.’ Manus seems to have tried to rally his own troops, but his standard bearer was killed, as was a MacSweeney noble. Manus subsequently decided to abandon the League. He divorced Eleanor FitzGerald and shipped Gerald FitzGerald off to Morlaix in Brittany.
In 1540 Manus sent a letter via the Bristol company to Henry VIII, stating that he had ‘most heinously and unkindly offended God Almighty and my most dread and benign sovereign Lord, King Henry VIII’ (State Papers Henry VIII, 1538–46, p. 217). In 1541 he petitioned to be made earl of Tír Conaill or Sligo and astounded the new lord deputy, Anthony St Leger (qv), by meeting him in O'Reilly's country dressed in ‘a coat of crimson velvet’ with gold trimmings, a satin cloak, and a bonnet with a golden feather. He also had with him a French-educated cleric and six other advisors ‘right honestly apparelled’. Manus invaded Tyrone with the lord deputy and also plundered the islands in the lakes of Fermanagh by boat, destroying Enniskillen Castle. However, in 1542 he failed to attend parliament or hand in pledges, though in 1543 he did agree to yield some revenues to the crown from the great herring fishery of ‘grabhushe’ at Aran Island.
In 1542 Manus raided Lower Connacht with his sons until the local chieftains submitted. In the same year he launched a major attack on MacQuillan of the Route in north Antrim, fording the Bann in three detachments and plundering the area until MacQuillan submitted. He invaded the Route again in 1544, when he captured Inisloughan fort. In 1542 he sent his son An Calbhach O'Donnell (qv) to Lord Deputy St Leger to ratify a peace and reached an agreement with Maguire of Fermanagh whereby he agreed to return some territories to Fermanagh. In recompense Manus was awarded the rising out of Fermanagh and half the éiric for murder in the Maguire lordship. In 1543 he travelled to Dublin to meet Lord Deputy St Leger in person. He agreed to release his half-brothers Éigneachán and Donough from captivity and was reconciled by the lord deputy with another half-brother, Con. However, Manus's son Aodh captured Lifford Castle and expelled Manus's dóirseoir (doorkeeper). In 1544 his eldest son, An Calbhach, obtained some English troops and recaptured the castle after an English soldier was killed, others were wounded, and an O'Gallagher hostage was executed in reprisal.
In 1545 Manus's son An Calbhach defeated his father's brothers in battle at Killygordan, near Castlefinn. Manus's brother Donough Cairbreach was killed. In 1548 An Calbhach was to turn on his father as well, but was heavily defeated by Manus's forces at the battle of Srath bo Fiaich, near Ballbofey, in February 1548. In 1550 French envoys landed in Tír Conaill but Manus refused to meet them. In 1555 An Calbhach travelled to Argyll in the highlands of Scotland and signed a treaty for assistance with the fourth earl of Argyll (d. 1558); he agreed to yield ‘a perpetual tribute’ of 400 Scots marks in return for 500 Campbell soldiers. He then landed in Inishowen with these troops and an artillery piece, the ‘Gonna Cam’, and captured his father at Rossreagh, near Kilmacrennan. The deposed Manus was imprisoned by An Calbhach in Lifford Castle for the rest of his life.
Manus fell into bad health while in captivity but gave An Calbhach intelligent advice to launch a surprise night-time attack on Shane O'Neill (qv) in 1557. He died at the castle on 9 February 1563 and was buried in the Observant Franciscan monastery at Donegal. In his obituary he was called lord of Tír Conaill, Inishowen, Cinél Móen, Fermanagh, and Lower Connacht. It was also stated that he was a benefactor of learned and religious men.
Manus himself was an accomplished poet and Gaelic scholar. In 1532 he compiled a biography of St Colum Cille (qv), the patron saint of his family, called the Betha Colaim Chille, at Port na dTri Namhad at Lifford. He collected sources from ancient books from all over Ireland, ordered the translation into Irish of sources in Latin and ‘hard Gaelic’, and then dictated the book ‘with his own lips’. Manus also wrote love poems in Irish, five of which survive, and composed three satirical one-verse poems on the Observants of Donegal. In addition he was to the fore in the development of written records for his administration. In June 1539 he had drawn up an important agreement for Sligo Castle in which one of the O'Connors of Sligo agreed to hold the fortress from Manus, a compact that was guaranteed by the top clerics and learned families of Tír Conaill. The text known as the Quartering rights of the Uí Domhnaill over Ulster, which recorded the tributes of O'Donnell in the province, was attached to the Betha Colaim Chille and was possibly written down on his instruction. Manus also drew up many other official documents. The English state papers record that he gave his wife Joan O'Reilly ‘a writing in the Irish tongue’ which confirmed to her the grant of the castle of Belleek. Other letters to the English administration contain an impression of Manus's seal, a wolf with the red hand of Ulster, and the letters M+OD.
Manus was a humane yet a stern leader. In 1538 he pardoned a Connacht musketeer who shot dead his son Niall Garbh, but when Turlough MacRory MacSweeney forced O'Friel to inaugurate him as MacSweeney Fanad, Manus and his father were ‘exceedingly offended’. Manus subsequently plotted the destruction of MacSweeney's lands and people and had him assassinated in 1544. He is credited with being the first Gaelic leader to impose bonnaghts on ecclesiastical lands.
Manus married five times. His first wife was Joan, the daughter of O'Reilly, and the mother of An Calbhach (d. 1566), and two daughters, Róis and Margaret; she divorced him. With his second wife, Judith O'Neill (d. 1535), a sister of Con Bacach, he had three sons, Aodh (d. 1600), Caffar (d. 1551), and Manus. Subsequently he married, in 1538, Eleanor FitzGerald, the daughter of Gerald FitzGerald (qv), eighth earl of Kildare (divorced 1540), Margaret (d. 1544), who was the daughter of McDonnell of Islay, and the daughter of Maguire. His other known offspring were sons Niall Garbh (d. 1538), another named Caffar (d. 1580), and Manus Óg (d. 1586), and daughters Eveleen (d. 1549), Grainne (d. 1551), Joan (d. 1553), Mary (d. 1566), and Nuala.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).