One of the perplexing mysteries about the O’Luinigh of Tyrone is what happened to their written records from the period 1200 to 1607. We know that Turlough Luineach was raised by the O’Luinigh beginning around 1537, and reigned as The O’Neill Mor of Tyrone from his home in the Mhuintir Luinigh until his death in 1595. Upon his death, he was praised as having been the greatest patron of the ollavs (scholars and historians) in all Ireland. So what happened to all of the material written by these ollavs in the Mhuintir Luinigh. Another mystery is that Hugh O’Neill spent two weeks in the Mhuintir Luinigh just before he fled Ireland in 1607. O’Neill had been Turlough Luineach’s, Turlough’s sons’ and his wife’s family, the Argyle Campbell’s, enemy…supposedly. I have long suspected that O’Neill was there to make amends with his "cousins", prepare for his flight from Ireland, and to gather up the legacy of The O’Neill’s of Tyrone to take to safety on the Continent.
Doing some research about the Irish priests who came to Florida with the early Spanish explorers and settlers, I discovered that many of the ollavs and a great hoard of their documents were in fact brought to the Continent during the Flight of the Earls, but not to Rome with Hugh O’Neill. Apparently, most of this hoard of documents ended up at the Irish colleges at Louvain, Belgium and at Salamanca, Spain.
With the outbreak of the French Revolution, the collection of Irish manuscripts at Louvain was moved to St Isidore’s College, Rome in 1792, and there remained until it was removed to the Franciscan Friary at Merchants’ Quay Dublin in 1872. A new Franciscan Library was established at Dún Mhuire in 1946, and all Irish manuscripts in Franciscan hands were then stored there. In November 2000, they were housed under the curatorship of University College Dublin, where they remain today, are now available to "select scholars." The Irish College at Salamanca, Spain closed in 1951. 50,000 documents accumulated since its founding in 1592 were transferred to Maynooth College in Ireland. This treasure trove of manuscripts includes those from other Irish colleges in Spain and Portugal: Lisbon, Valladolid, Santiago de Compostela, Seville, Madrid and Alcalá de Henares.
So, as the old saying goes, the "missing" documents have been "hiding in plain sight" at University College Dublin and at Maynooth, locked up in their archives and available only to selected "scholars". Knowing the pace of scholarship regarding ancient manuscripts written in "old" Irish, I despaired of ever learning what secrets lay buried in those archives. However, St Patrick’s College at Maynooth, has announced the launch of the Salamanca Papers Catalogue Project. The Salamanca Papers contain the archives of the Irish colleges in Spain from 1592 to the middle of the twentieth century, and are now the property of the Irish Episcopal Conference. The St. Patrick’s College archivist, Susan Leyden, is heading the project, and aims to have it completed by 2011. The catalogue will be made available on-line and some of the collection’s key documents will be digitized and presented on the web. So there is some hope.
It is ironic that my research into Irish priests in colonial Spanish Florida would lead full circle back to Ireland today, and perhaps to the "missing" written legacy of the Mhuintir Luinigh.