Who are the Muintir Lúinigh?

The Irish word “muintir” means “people of”, “family” and/or “land of”.  The Irish family name “Lúinigh” was first spelled “Ua Lúinígh”, meaning “grandson of Lúineach”, and then “O’Lúinigh”, meaning “descendant of Lúineach”“Lúineach” is an ancient Gaelic warrior name meaning the “Lúin” (used as a man’s personal name) and “armed”.  The Lúin” was the enchanted spear of the gods of pre-Christian Irish mythology.  The “Lúineach”, after whom the Muintir Lúinigh were named, and from whom all O’Lúinigh, O’Luinin, Lunney, Lunny and Lunnie families descend, was Lúineach, the son of Gairmlegaigh, Chieftain of the Cinel Moen and King of Magh Ithe.  Lúineach mac Gairmlegaigh was born around the 8th century in the kingdom of Magh Ithe (the area surrounding the modern day town of Raphoe in County Donegal).  Lúineach was a descendant of Europe’s most ancient royal line (the Milesian Gaels), which had ruled Ireland since its conquest of the island sometime around 1000 BC. Luineach and the Cinel Moen were part of the great kingdom of Tir Eoghain, the descendants of King Eoghain mac Niall of Aileach, who ruled most of the North of Ireland from the Grianan Aileach from 425 to 465 AD.

The Munterleny (a/k/a Muintir Lúinigh) district of Donegal, the area surrounding the present-day town and barony of Raphoe in County Donegal,  was a territory of the Muintir Lúinigh until the end of the 12th century.  The hill above the present town was likely the site of the Muintir Lúinigh hillfort, and is now the site of the ruined Castle of Raphoe.

Written records from the years 1090 and 1178 show Chieftains of the Cinel Moen using the surname “Ua Lúinigh” and “Ó Lúinigh”.  The Annals of Ulster tell of a Chieftain of the Cinel Moen named Gilla-Christ Ua Lúinigh who was killed in treachery by Domnall Ua Lochlainn, the King of Aileach, in 1090.  The Annals also tell of Conchobur Ó Lúinigh, who took the Chieftanship of the Cinel Moen in 1178, after the defeat of the Irish by the invading Norman English, and after his Ó Gailmredhaigh cousin was deposed for defaming the Church. Conchubur Ó Lúinigh had ruled only a brief time when he was murdered at the house of his kinsman Domnall Ó Gailmredhaigh, supposedly while under the protection of the powerful Herenagh of Ernaidhe.  His murder set off a deadly conflict among the rival tribes in Donegal.  During these struggles, Galach Ó Lúinigh was killed in 1178. In 1183, a great battle was fought, and most of the Ó Lúinigh and the Cinel Moen were slain. The remnants of the Cinel Moen and Ó Lúinigh were driven across the River Foyle into the mountains of Tir Eoghain (now the Sperrin Mountains of Counties Derry and Tyrone) and into Fir Manach (County Fermanagh).  The Ó Lúinigh gave their name to the area of the Sperrin Mountains and surrounds.

The Munterloney (a/k/a Muintir Lúinigh) district of Tyrone was a principal seat of the Ó Lúinigh chieftains from the early 13th century until the early 17th century.  Ó Lúinigh chieftains occupied the 200-square-mile Muintir Lúinigh district of Tyrone from around 1200 until 1607.

In 1544, The O’Lúinigh of Muintir Lúinigh in Tyrone adopted Turlough O’Neill, the orphaned 14-year-old son of Niall Connallach O’Neill (the Tanist of Tyrone, who died before he could succeed to the kingship of Tyrone). Turlough had been living with the O’Lúinigh as a foster child for several years.  As a young adult, Turlough took the name “Luineach” meaning “of the Ó Lúinigh” to honor his adopted family. Turlough Luineach became The O’Neill Mor (The Great O’Neill) of Tyrone and the paramount Irish over-king of Ulster in 1567 and reigned until 1593.

Turlough Luineach (shown above) was described as “Chief of Kings, the King of Ulster…” by the Irish poet John Buidhe O’Daly in 1584.  He is mistakenly described as a “collaborator with English authorities” in some modern Irish histories, but was actually described during his lifetime (by his cousin Hugh O’Neill to Queen Elizabeth I) as an “enemy of the Crown” and by Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy of Ireland as “treacherous” and “a traitor”. Turlough was brother-in-law to his powerful Scottish ally, the Earl of Argyll, and was a cousin and father-in-law to his arch-enemy, “Red Hugh” O’Donnell, The O’Donnell of Donegal. For over a quarter of a century, he reigned from his castle near Strabane (in the western portion of the Muintir Lúinigh), and frustrated both the efforts of the English to tame and colonize Ulster and the ambition of his cousin Hugh O’Neill to become the ruler of Ireland. During Turlough’s long reign, Ulster remained a relatively peaceful bastion of Gaelic power and customs.

When Turlough Luineach married the widowed Lady Agnes Campbell MacDonnell, the sister of the powerful Earl of Argyll, in 1569, he gained not only a large dowry of redshank mercenaries provided by Argyll, but also became father-in-law to his cousin The O’Donnell of Tir Connell.  When she married Turlough Luineach, Lady Agnes brought thousands of troops with her. Their marriage was celebrated with fourteen days of feasting, story-tellers, jugglers and jesters.

During the twenty-six years of his reign as The O’Neill Mor, Turlough was reviled by the English as being a treacherous villain and the greatest threat to English authority in Ireland.     Despite their repeated political and military efforts to remove him from power, the English were faced with a military stalemate, and finally settled for a treaty in 1578, negotiated by Lady Agnes, which confirmed Turlough’s vast land holdings in Ulster, granted him the British titles of Earl of Clanconnell and Baron of Clogher, for life, and allowed him to retain his personal army of Scottish mercenaries.  In spite of this treaty, Turlough continued to intrigue against the English through covert alliances with Spain and Scotland. Turlough Luineach maintained virtual control of Ulster until 1593, when he was finally forced by failing health and military setbacks to cede power to his ambitious cousin, Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone.

Following the defeat of Hugh O’Neill and the united Irish forces at Kinsale, and the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the entire Kingdom of Tyrone (including the Muintir Lúinigh) was seized by King James I of England as his personal fiefdom. Over the next few years, the territory was parcelled out to English and Scots nobles and planters during the Plantation of Ulster. Some of the Ó Lúinigh managed to stay on in their beloved and idyllic Muintir Lúinigh after 1607, even though most of their lands had been seized, by becoming Protestants.

The modern English spelling of “Ó Lúinigh” is “O’Lunney” or “Lunney”.  An early 17th century map of Ulster, showing the locations of the seats of principal Irish families, clearly shows the location of the O’Lunney seat as still being at or near Aghalane in County Tyrone:

The Sperrin Mountains were called, until quite recently, the Munterloney Mountains.  The original boundaries of the Muintir Lúinigh district of County Tyrone generally corresponded to the present day boundaries of the Barony of Strabane and the northeastern portion of the Barony of Omagh.  Until the 1590′s, the boundaries of the Muintir Lúinigh extended as far north and west as the town of Strabane.  By the early 20th century, the area then referred to as the Munterloney had been reduced to roughly the present day civil parishes of Upper and Lower Bodoney and Termonmaguirk.

Lunney’s lived at Aghalane up until the early 20th century, when the last Lunney males of Aghalane were killed in France during World War I.

Lunney House at Aghalane

The last Lunney in the Muintir Lúinigh, “old James Lunney”, lived at Gorticashel, meaning “stone fortress”, on the side of Mhuintir Lúinigh Mountain and died around 1970.  Gorticashel is the site of a well-known “fairy fort”, which is the ruin of an ancient stone rath, possibly the original Ó Lúinigh habitation dating from the 12th century.

The Muintir Lúinigh of County Fermanagh were also known as the Ó Lúinin of Ard O’Luinin on Innismore (Great Island) in Lough Erne. They were a noted family of clerics, scribes, historians and stewards of church lands, who served for many generations as the royal scribes and historians to The Maguire’s of Fermanagh. They are also referred to in some genealogical records as the hereditary Ard-Ollamhs, the Chief Heralds or antiquaries of Ulster and of Ireland. They are first recorded in the annals of Ireland in the 14th century. They were hereditary ecclesiastical tenants, being the Herenaghs of Arda, who also had a one-third share in the administration of church lands in Derryvullen. They were also Herenaghs of Lisgoole, near Enniskillen, and produced many distinguished clerics. No less than six of them are mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters as priors or canons of Lisgoole between 1380 and 1466.

The first Matha (Matthew) Ó Lúinin (died 1396), Herenagh of Arda, is also described as skilled in praise-poetry, history, music and Latin learning and other arts. His successor, Piarus “the Crooked” Ó Lúinin (died 1441), was a poet and historian as well as Herenagh, a tradition continued by his son Matha (II) Ó Lúinin (died 1477). Tadhg Fionn Ó Lúinin (died 1478) was called a sage in medicine as well as history. Ruairdhri Ó Lúinin (died 1528), the son of Matha II, was scribe of the majority of both the “A” and “B” texts of the famous Annals of Ulster.  The original handwritten are on display at Trinity College in Dublin and are one of Ireland’s greatest historic treasures. His grandson Matha Ruadh Ó Lúinin (died 1588) is also mentioned in the Annals as a sage in history.

In a certificate signed by Patrick Ó Luinin (a/k/a Lynegar), and dated from his residence at Ard O’Luinin on Innismore on October 2, 1632, he stated that he received, “these genealogies from my ancestors, chief antiquaries of Ireland.” Another document, from the early 18th century, is a genealogy, in Irish and English, of the 4th Earl of Antrim prepared in 1704 by Charles Lynegar (a/k/a Cathal Ó Luinín) of Trinity College, Dublin.  Charles Lynegar was also referred to as the “Chief Antiquary of the Kingdom of Ireland”.  He recorded that his great grandfather had prepared the “Genealogies of the Nobilities of Ireland” and had filed them with the King at Arms of England, and that he (Charles Lynegar) had obtained a copy of them from the King at Arms prior to 1718.

The modern English spellings of “O’Luinin” are ”Lunney”, “Lunny”, ”Linney”, ”Lennon” and “Leonard”. These Lunneys once lived at Innismore, Cluntymullan and Clones, still live at Enniskillen, Derrylin and Dublin. A Lunney cemetery is at Kinawley.

8 responses to “Who are the Muintir Lúinigh?

  1. Fascinating history. I am only beginning my research but believe our families may well have been contemporaries and I have read many references here that are also present in my limited research, so far.
    My family name is McGlynn (magfhloinn) and we also hail from Donegal and later Ulster with the family lands believed to be in the area known as Loughinsholin.
    Loughinsholin (from Irish: Loch Inse Ui Fhloinn meaning “lough of O’Lynn’s island) is a barony in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Its southeast borders the northwest shore of Lough Neagh, and itself is bordered by seven other baronies: Dungannon Upper to the south; Strabane Upper to the west; Keenaght and Coleraine to the north; Kilconway, Toome Upper, and Toome Lower to the east. (source: wikipedia)
    I would be delighted to know if you have any knowledge of the name, or its history.
    If I can be of any assistance to you, please let me know.

    regards
    David McGlynn
    Clan McGlynn (finte na h’eireann, Clans of Ireland 2011)

  2. Chris Lane

    Hi,
    My name is Chris Lane. I recently had my DNA tested at Family Tree DNA and found that I match the “Niall of the Nine Hostages” DNA. I know that my Lane’s came from Ulster to Virginia around 1740-50. In researching the surname “Lane” in Ulster I’ve come across it also being mentioned as a part of the Cenal Moain as well, sometimes seen as O’Lane, Laney, Loney, Lawn, and Loane. I’ve often wondered if some of these other surnames I’ve listed aren’t anglicized versions of the Ui’ Luinigh? I also have a decent DNA match with a Gormley. Have any of your Lunney’s had their DNA tested? It would be interesting to see if the Lunneys also match the Niall DNA pattern and perhaps my Lane’s.
    All the best,
    Chris Lane

    • Hello Chris, You may be correct in asking if “Lane” is an anglicized version of O’Luinigh or O’Luinin. When the Irish were forced to use English names, spelling was not standardized, so depending upon the dialect of Irish, the anglicized version of O’Luinigh varies from Looney and Loney to Lineen and Lennon. My family nale “Lunney” or “Lunny” is the most common spelling. I haven’t had a DNA test (and don’t intend to due to medical privacy concerns), but as far as I know, all of the Lunneys and other Cinel Moen families are descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Some Lunneys have been tested, confirming the link.

  3. Maureen

    My name is Maureen Lunney – just found your website – fantastic. I am meeting Dan and Patrick Lunney from Sydney Australia tonight at my brother’s bar: Emmett O’Lunney’s. Very interesting to learn more about family history! My Father is from Swanlinbar, County Cavan and now has a bar/restaurant in Times Square Pub (O’Lunney’s).

  4. Nick

    Found your site to have some really good information as I’m a Looney. My father and I have doing a lot of research into the families history, and have traced our history back to Robert Looney Sr., son of John Looney of Ireland. But we haven’t been able to trace it further back than John. If there’s any other information that you may have going down that line, it would be very much appreciated.

  5. thomasbond2

    Hi Timothy,

    I am a descendant of the Lunney’s- Thomas Lunney. I will be in Ireland this summer. Do you know of any living relatives I can meet in Ireland. Thanks.

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