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The natural religion of the McGinley clan was Irish Catholic, often called the Celtic Church. This was the case from the beginning of the Christian period up until roughly the end of the fifteenth century and the early sixteenth century. From this point Rome enforced its rule harder on the so called ‘wayward’ Irish. Prior to this, the Irish had a reputation as unruly or disobedient Catholics who didn’t always follow the rule of Rome. The Irish Catholicism form had a much closer relationship with the natural world. You could say that it was a mixture of Catholic and pagan beliefs. This was the church of St Colm Cille, St Bridget and even St Patrick (it is well documented that he ‘adapted’ his teaching methods to fit in with the earlier pre-Christian and 'Irish' Christian beliefs). Historically, Irish Priests and Monks were much closer to the natural world compared to our modern counterparts. They even were allowed to take a wife (often more than one but not at the same time!) as seen in one of our earliest ancestors Ciothruadh Mag Fhionnghail. This ironically takes things closer to the modern Protestant religions!. The actions of the early Irish clergy were a constant thorn in the side of the mainstream Roman Catholic thinking in Rome. Rome had made many attempts to control our form of Christianity since the 1200's.

An Cathach

An Cathach meaning ‘the Battler’, was a very important relic used by the chief Donegal clan of Ó Domhnaill/O’Donnell. It was used as a rallying cry and protector in battle. It was said to protect and guarantee victory in war to the Donegal leaders. Before a battle it was customery for a chosen monk/holy man (usually attached to the O'Roarty clan, and someone who was sinless) to wear the Cathach around his neck and then walk three times around the troops of O’Donnell! All of the Donegal clans… the seed of Conall… from Tír Chonaill, the land of Conall held this book in high esteem. It is the oldest surviving book/manuscript in Ireland, and the second oldest collection of the Psalms in the world. It is a Latin psalter, of the Psalms, attributed to St Colm Cille. The name of the book derives from the Irish Gaelic word cath (pronounced KAH) meaning ‘battle’. An Cathach means ‘the battler’. The hereditary protectors/keepers of An Cathach were the Ó Robhartaigh/O’Roarty clan from north Donegal. The original is still intact, as is the casket in which it was carried. An Cathach, the Battler, has been confidently dated to around the period 590 AD to 600 AD. It has 58 surviving folios which contain Psalms 30:10 to 105:13 (Vulgate version). It is a manuscript on vellum. It was enclosed in a specially made shrine sometime in the 1000's. This was done by Cathbharr Ó Domhnaill, chief of the O'Donnells and Domhnall Mag Robhartaigh, the Abbot of Kells. The shrine cover consists of a brass box measuring 9 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The top is heavily decorated with silver, crystals, pearls and other precious stones. It shows an image of the Crucifixion and an image of St Colm Cille. The decoration throughout An Cathach is limited to the initial letters of each psalm. An Cathach is now housed in the Royal Irish Academy (entrusted to them in 1842) with who's kind permission we show an image of it here. The specially made shrine, of great decoration, is housed in the National Museum of Ireland. After the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, An Cathach found its way to the Continent (for safe keeping) with some Irish Chieftains, possibly with the 'Flight of the Earls', but this cannot be proved. Amazingly, for at least one hundred years (possibly much longer), this priceless Irish relic was used as a cure of eye ailments in cattle by superstitious farmers. They would put the manuscript in water (yes water) and then touch the eyes of the animal with it! Whether the cure worked or not we cannot say, but this practice is the main reason for the poor condition of much of the manuscript today.

There is no doubt that the early Irish Church, both in Ireland and in Scotland allowed marriage among priests and monks. There are many historical examples of this, including our own Ciothruadh Mag Fhionnghail. Concubines were also common. Many Irish and Scottish surnames, of Gaelic origin, attest to this. Examples are, Gillespie/Mac Giolla Easbuig (son of the bishop), McAleese/Mac Giolla Íosa (son of the follower of Jesus), McAnespie/Mac an Easbuig (son of the bishop), McEvanny/Mac an Mhanaigh (son of the monk), Nerney/Mac an Airchinnigh (son of the erenagh), McNabb/Mac an Aba (son of the abbot), McPherson/Mac an Phearsúin (son of the parson), Taggert/Mac an tSagairt (son of the priest), McVicar/Mac an Bhiocaire (son of the vicar), Monaghan/Ó Manacháin (descendant of the monk), Mullan/Ó Maoláin (descendant of the tonsured one), Prior/Mac an Phríora (son of the prior) and many many more.

The respected writer Magnus Magnusson expressed things perfectly in his book “Lindisfarne, the Cradle Island” when he clearly defined the differences between the Irish/Celtic Church and the Roman Church….”Celtic monks lived in conspicuous poverty; Roman monks lived well, Celtic monks were unworldly; Roman monks were worldly, Celtic bishops practiced humility; Roman bishops paraded pomp, Celtic bishops were ministers of the flock; Roman bishops were monarchs of their diocese, Celtic clergy said ‘Do as I do (and hoped to be followed)’; Roman clergy said ‘Do as I say (and expected to be obeyed)’. The final fall of the Irish/Celtic Church co-incided with the fall of the Brehon Laws in the early 1600’s. The McGinley clan thereafter adapted to become Roman Catholics and remained staunchly Roman Catholic thereafter. For centuries the Irish have fought for their Catholic heritage during many centuries of religious and cultural oppresion.


Tradition tells us that St Patrick travelled throughout Ireland on his evangelical mission and found a devout people who respected the land and the nature around them. St Patrick had to adapt his teaching methods to take into account the strong aspect of nature among the Irish. That is why he used the shamrock as a way of explaining the Trinity. Tradition tells us that St Patrick, a Romanised Celt, came to Donegal and famously baptised both Conall and Eoghan and therefore giving his blessing to their descendants which would included the McGinleys. St Patrick came across the River Erne and at Mullaghnashee he blessed Conall and prophesied the birth of St Colm Cille. St Patrick went on to establish churches at Assaroe and Barnesmore in south Donegal and others.


During the late 1400's and early 1500's there was a particularly strong cult of St Catherine in Co. Donegal. It was the Normans who first adopted St Catherine and they more than likely brought her story to the Irish sometime in the 1100's. We know that the wife of the Sweeney chief is responsible for pushing devotion of her in Donegal. Her family in Co. Mayo had in their possession a Latin copy of her life dating to an earlier period, but she was responsible for getting Ciothruadh Mag Fhionnghail of Tory to translate it into the language of the people... Irish Gaelic. The Annals first make mention of such devotion in the year 1513, the same year that Ciothruadh done his valuable work on St Catherine. She was apparently known in Donegal at an early date since we have note of a devotion (on a small scale) to her at Lough Derg in the south of Donegal in the year 1480, but it was Ciothruadh Mag Fhionnghail and the Sweeney family who helped to push such devotion in the north of the county. Devotion to St Catherine continued within the Sweeney clan but also within the McGinley clan for another two hundred years or more. Her memory and devotions were in decline by the 1800's.

One interesting note in the old records, from the Catholic Qualification Rolls Index for Donegal 1778-1790, mentions a Patrick McGinlay living in Kiletter (mistake for Kinletter, Co. Donegal). This index records the names of Catholics showing acceptance to the British Crown in Ireland. He is described as a tailor by occupation. He is mentioned under the date 10-09-1785. This was a list of persons who took an oath of allegiance to the Crown (of England). Despite showing loyalty to a foreign ruler, he was still a Catholic. It is clear that many ‘unofficially’ accepted the state of English rule in Ireland simply to be able to live their lives normally or to be able to do a trade or business.

The two places of worship for our clan in the pre-seventeenth century were the churches at Ballintemple (often called Tullaghobegly Church) and the church at Ray. According to history, the church at Ballintemple was named after a local saint called Begley, hence Tullaghobegly. The Irish spelling is Tullacha Beigile. The name Begley or Beigile is a corruption of the much earlier Beag Bile. In the Genealogy of the Saints, he is recorded thus…”Beag Bile, son of Tighearnach, son of Feargus, son of Aongus, son of Conall Gulban. He was therefore related to the great Colm Cille, the main saint of the area. Beag Bile lived in the seventh century. According to the “Genealogy of the Saints”, his feast day was celebrated on the 12th October, he is also recorded in the important “Martyrology of Donegal”. His name was later corrupted in Irish to Beaglaoch which means ‘little hero’. The ancient graveyard and ruins of the church are still to be seen. It is said to be one of the oldest graveyards in the north west of Ireland. The dead of Cloughaneely (as well as from neighbouring Gweedore) were buried here until new graveyards were opened at Magheragallon in 1765 and Gortahork in 1789.

The church at Ray sits on an ancient religious site. The area was for centuries occupied by monks. The present church on the site is a later one that was used by our clan. The exact age of this old church is not known, but it was in use in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The church at Ray was forced from the local people in the year of 1609 and was said to be in ruins by 1622. According to Alister Rowan in his “Study of the North West of Ulster”… ’the ruins of the church (at Ray) are late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. It is likely that it was built on the original site of the church of St Fionnán. The cross is of the High Cross pattern of the tenth century’. These two places of worship are close to the hearts of all McGinleys.


During the year of 1642, Doe Castle which rightfully belonged to the Clan Sweeney, was taken from them by the English authorities. The castle was put under the leadership of a Captain Robert Conynham. He had a habit of raiding and attacking the surrounding areas and on one such raid, he and his soldiers attacked and destroyed the ancient church at Ray. On that particular day, the church was full with worshippers, the attack took place on a Sunday. It is believed that the Bishop for the diocese was present to give Confirmation. This would account for the church being ‘extra full’. The ‘brave’ English soldiers burst open the doors and killed everyone they found inside, men, women, children and the clergy. One man however managed to escape by throwing himself through a window. He ran as fast as he could across country constantly being chased by the soldiers. He crossed the River Ray at Drumnatinney. He travelled up Killult Hill until he was eventually caught. The soldiers cut his body into pieces as he was saying his final words to God.

The bodies of the dead were buried 200 yards from the church at a place called Lag na gCnámh (hollow of the bones). In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the two principal religious places for the local families, including the main family of the area, the McGinley’s, was the church and graveyard of Tullaghobegly (the main church for the parishes of Raymunterdoney and Tullaghobegly up until the year 1610) situated at Ballintemple and the church at Ray. According to the Hearth Money Rolls for 1665, Tullaghobegly parish was where most of the McGinley name were found for Co. Donegal. The neighbouring parish of Clondahork also had a lot. The surname at that time was very rare in other parts of Co. Donegal. The names of the massacred are not recorded, but it is very likely that many of the slain were McGinleys. The church at Ray was said to be in ruins by 1622, so by the 1640’s it would seem to have been at least temporarily back in use.


After the illegal Plantation of Ulster, the Catholic churches and church lands were confiscated by the English Government. Part of their fight to wipe out the Irish nation included banning the Catholic Church and destroying or giving the churches to Protestants. In 1609 the churches of Tullaghobegly and Ray were assigned to the ‘new’ Protestant faith. These were so called devout religious peoples who saw no wrong in taking away from the native population their faith, buildings and land. Pococke in his book ‘Irish Tours in 1752’ remarked that the Catholic Church at Ray had been “forcibly wrestled from its native owners in 1609”.

Once the ‘physical’ aspect of their religion had been taken away from them, the native people had to find some other way to express their faith and they found the answer in ‘Mass Rocks’. A Mass Rock was any large rock, located in a remote or hard to find location that was fairly flat so as to be used as a makeshift alter. They had to be difficult for English soldiers or authorities to find. Mass Rocks were to become an important feature on the Irish landscape (as they are to be found all over the country). They replaced churches and became a permanent reminder of England’s intolerance to freedom of Religion. In the Cloughaneely/Tullaghobegly area, Mass Rocks can be found at Ballintemple, Ballyboes, Baltony, Inishboffin and Killult. The most important Mass Rocks for the McGinley Clan were at Ballintemple and even more so, at Ballyboes. During this whole sorry period, it was common for Irish people to carry on their persons ‘Penal Crosses’. These crosses were small, made of wood, and of a design that enabled it to be easily hidden on the body. These crosses had short ‘cross-arms’ for this purpose.

During these Penal Times, the Catholic Church was near to defeat in Ireland. Many Priests were close to starvation. Bishop Brenan of Waterford wrote in the year 1672 that the Priests were so poor that ‘many of them for their support are obliged to take up farming, cultivate the land and keep cattle’. Also, Irish Priests run the risk of being discovered by the ‘priest-catcher’. Anyone who informed on a possible priest stood to gain a handsome reward! One of the worst in Ireland was an early settler in Newtoncunningham, Co. Donegal called John Forward. He was ‘High Sheriff of Donegal’ (an impressive sounding ‘English’ title) in the year 1686. He was recorded as ‘a zealous Protestant and famous priest catcher’. He also had a great hatred for the Presbyterians who he described as ‘those who swarm much more in that county than the Roman Catholics’. In fact the Presbyterians, for a while, were cursed by the English just as much as the Catholic Irish.

A Statute passed by English Royal Decree in 1697 stated that... "Catholics were prohibited from burying their dead in any cemetry not attached to a Protestant church". An Act issued on the 4th March 1704 said that "No Protestant should marry a Papist" and "No Papist should be able to purchase land or take a lease of land for more than 31 years". This was to stop Catholics from passing on land to the next generation. It wasn’t until the year 1782 that the laws banning priests and bishops were stopped. Some religious freedoms were beginning to appear, but it was not until 1786 that a new Catholic church was ‘allowed’ to be built at nearby Gortahork. The use of Mass Rocks started to decline after this date and they soon became an integral part of the Irish culture and landscape.




Meaning of the Name

Clan Origins

Clan Territory

Surname Distribution

St Colm Cille

Native Clothing


Clan Leadership


McGinleys in America


Special Places

Neighbouring Clans

McGinley Placenames

Coat of Arms

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