Ó hUiginn, Tadhg Dall (c.1550–c.1591), bardic poet and scholar, was born probably in the barony of Leyney (in modern Co. Sligo). His father, Mathghamhain (d. 1585), and grandfather, Maolmhuire, were also poets who practised the family profession in a direct line of descent from Tadhg Óg Ó hUiginn (qv) (d. 1448). Aside from a period in fosterage among the O'Donnells of Tír Chonaill, it may be assumed that Tadhg Dall received his bardic training within his family, or he may possibly have also studied at a bardic school in Ceall Cluaine (in modern Co. Galway) which has been associated with the Ó hUiginn bardic family. The sobriquet Dall suggests that he was visually impaired. Little is known of Tadhg Dall's immediate family. A reference in a Gaelic manuscript compiled on the Continent by Fearghal Ó Gadhra (qv) of Sligo between 1655 and 1659 (RIA 23 F 16) states that Maol Muire Ó hUiginn (qv), who was consecrated archbishop of Tuam in 1586 and who apparently died in Antwerp in 1590 on his return there from Rome, was a brother of Tadhg Dall (O'Rahilly, 139–43, 178). Eleanor Knott (qv), in her magisterial edition of the poems of Tadhg Dall, suggested that one Tomultach Óg, son of Mathghamhain, may possibly have also been his brother (Knott, ii, 323–4). It is known that Tadhg Dall had at least one son, Tadhg Óg (b. 1582), who was described in a pardon of 1603 as a ‘rymer’ (Knott, i, p. xxxii). A shrewd player within the complex political environment of early seventeenth-century Sligo, Tadhg Óg figured among the largest native landowners in the county by the 1630s. His appointment as sheriff of Sligo in 1634 and his selection in the 1640s as a delegate to the confederate assembly in Kilkenny reflect his local standing and influence (O'Dowd, 58–9, 78). A single reference to Máire, daughter of Tadhg Dall, is extant (Knott, i, pp xix–xx). Nothing is known of his mother or wife.
Eleanor Knott's transcriptions of relevant inquisition materials, which subsequently largely perished during the destruction of the PRO of Ireland in 1922, provide basic details of Tadhg Dall's land holdings. In various inquisitions taken in Sligo in 1584 and 1590, in which Ó hUiginn served as a juror, he is described as ‘Tege Dall O Higgen de Dughorne’ and ‘Thadeus O Higgin de Cowlerecoll’. In an exchequer inquisition taken in Sligo in July 1590 it was testified that ‘Matheus O Higyn’ of Dougharane in the barony of Leyney had died on 9 January 1585 and it was noted that his heir was Tadhg Dall, aged 40 and married at the time of inquiry (Knott, i, p. xiv). In an inquisition taken at Ballymote in 1593, it was testified that Tadhg Dall had died at ‘Cowlrecoyll’ on the last day of March 1591 and that his son Tadhg Óg, aged nine at the time of his father's death, was his legitimate heir (ibid., p. xv). Dougharane is situated in the parish of Achonry, and Coolrecuill is located in the parish of Kilmactigue, which are both in the barony of Leyney (ibid., p. xxxi). Dougharane and Coolrecuill, along with other parcels of land, were subsequently granted to Tadhg Óg (ibid., p. xxxii). Knott suggested that the lands held by the family were originally assigned them by the O'Connor Sligo lords whom they served as poets (ibid., p. xxix).
Tadhg Óg Ó hUiginn served as a juror in a chancery inquisition, taken in Sligo on 30 June 1617, which investigated claims to the ownership of lands previously held by members of the O'Hara family. It was recorded that these O'Haras had been attainted in 1591 for ‘murdering one Teige Dall O Higgen his wife and childe in the yeare one thousand five hundred ninetee and one or thereabouts’ (Knott, i, p. xv; Fiant Eliz., 5865, 1594). Corroboration of Ó hUiginn's murder is provided in a fleeting reference to him in a poem on the decline of bardic culture and learning, the earliest copy of which is extant in the ‘Book of O'Conor Don’ (c.1631). The employment of oidhidh in reference to Tadhg Dall indicates a violent death (de Brún et al., 1). The heading to a copy of a satirical poem on six O'Hara robbers, ascribed to Ó hUiginn, written in 1714 by Muiris Ó Nuabha (RIA 23 L 34), states that on foot of the satire the O'Haras cut out Tadhg Dall's tongue (Knott, i, p. xvi). These references suggest that he met a violent death c.1591 as result of a feud with members of the O'Hara family.
The contemporary significance of Tadhg Dall's professional status is reflected in the range of Gaelic lords in north Connacht and south-west Ulster to whom he addressed poems. Among the extant poems ascribed to him are compositions addressed to Cú Chonnacht Maguire (qv) (d. 1589), Hugh Maguire (qv) (d. 1600), Cormac O'Hara (d. 1612), Brian na Múrtha O'Rourke (qv) (d. 1591), Conn O'Donnell (d. 1583), Hugh O'Donnell (qv) (d. 1600), Turlough Luineach O'Neill (qv) (d. 1595), and various members of the Mac William Burke family of Mayo, including John Burke (qv) (d. 1580) and Myler (d. 1586). Further corroboration of his standing is evident in the fact that copies of his poems were recorded in two highly important manuscript miscellanies of the early seventeenth century. A total of twenty-four poems is ascribed to Ó hUiginn in the ‘Book of O'Conor Don’, which was largely compiled by Aodh Ó Dochartaigh in 1631 in Ostend, and fifteen poems are directly attributed to him in the Ó Gadhra manuscript (RIA MS 23 F 16) which was compiled in Brussels and Lille in the period 1655–9.
Although composed within the conventional and highly regulated format of bardic poetry, Tadhg Dall's extant corpus is characterised by a distinct sense of Irish national consciousness, informed by a recognition of the political imperatives of late sixteenth-century Ireland. The theme of Ireland's territorial sovereignty in the face of external aggression is discernible in several of his poems. Allied to this theme is a creative engagement with the schema outlining the various successive legendary invasions of Ireland documented in the pseudo-historical text known as ‘Lebor Gabála Érenn’, with a view to refashioning it to integrate the gaelicised descendants of the medieval Anglo-Norman colonists within an overarching framework of national identity. For example, in the poem beginning ‘Tógaibh eadrad is Éire’ (‘Raise the veil from Ireland’; Knott, no. 1) which he composed for Conn (d. 1583), son of An Calbhach O'Donnell (qv) (d. 1566), Ó hUiginn locates his addressee in an overtly all-island context. Utilising the time-honoured motif of the female embodiment of Ireland, he depicts the island as an unfortunate widow in search of her prophesied mate. Ireland, a land of natural beauty, has been rendered desolate in the absence of a spouse. Addressing O'Donnell directly, the poet advises him that it has been foretold that he will liberate Ireland from its current foreign domination. He argues that the Gaelic Irish are anxious for war, and he envisages Conn's intervention taking the form of a catalyst which ignites smouldering resentment. United behind O'Donnell, people from every territory in Ireland will join him in storming the boundaries separating the Gaelic Irish from the foreigners. Eleanor Knott's edition of the work of Ó hUiginn established his status as a master bardic poet. Additionally, it is clear from his innovative approach to questions of political sovereignty and national identity that Ó hUiginn must also be accounted a major figure in early modern Gaelic cultural history.