Sunday, 13 July 2008


Imaging if a well known, charismatic figure from Inishowen history could come back and answer the 5 Minutes with Questions…. Well imagine no more. This week Cahir Rua is (sort of) with us.

Cahir was elected taoiseach in May 1601 when he was only 14 years old. He was made the Lord of Inishowen between 1601 – 08. All was well until George Paulet, the governor of Derry, accused him of planning a rising when in fact he was only cutting down trees to repair his castle in Buncrana. When Cahir appealed to the Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester in Dublin they locked him up until he produced a surety of several thousand pounds. When he retuned to Inishowen he was so infuriated that he decided to rebel and, with his men, burnt down Derry. Cahir was killed for a reward and the gallant hero’s head was placed on a spike above the main entrance to Dublin Castle where it remained for many years. Meanwhile, his quartered body was put on display in Derry as an example to any would-be insurgent. All of his lands and properties were confiscated by Chichester who then became the new “lord” of Inishowen.

What music do you like?
Oh, my all-time favourite has to be The March of the Kings of Laoise. It’s such a rousing tune! Our pipers used to play it as we were marching into battle. Yes, what a piece!

What would you never throw away?
My trust. I trusted the English and they conspired against me. They goaded me into warfare when all I wanted was peace and stability for the people of Inishowen.

What book are you reading?

“The Last of the Name” by Charles McGlinchey. It’s all about my people and what became of them when I had to leave them. It’s a wonderful book! This is my third time reading it. I am also reading the new book out by Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh named Seven Races of Inishowen O’Doherty. It’s a great read. Check it out on

What was your favourite childhood game?
Blind Man’s Buff with my little sisters in the castle at Elaghmore. You could hide in hundreds of places there!

Have you been to the cinema recently, what did you see and was it any good?
I see the odd DVD. I’m not a cinema person. Too tall. I’m 6ft 8”. Everybody behind me screams to lie down or something! I saw “The Fighting Prince of Donegal” recently. You know, Hollywood hasn’t a clue about historical accuracy. Red Hugh O’Donnell was a giant…like myself.

What section of the newspaper do you turn to first?
The political features, usually. But I despair at the quality of leadership in Inishowen sometimes. No teeth!

What is your idea of a good night out?
Oh, much the same as it always was: a good roast on a spit and a barrel of claret for me and my friends...and some nice harp music, of course.
Most embarrassing moment of your life?
When Paulet, the Governor of Derry, struck me on the face in front of all those people. But he got his just deserts in the end. He actually gave my beloved Inch, which was legally mine, to some military upstart. That was the beginning of it.

Have you a favourite TV programme?
Don’t watch TV much, but I really enjoyed a series a few years ago on TG4 (Irish is my first language). It was about two Donegal undertakers – “C.U. Burn” I think it was called. I laughed till I cried.

How do you relax?
Now? Well, I just kind of float around up here. It’s heaven, you know! I don’t think I was too relaxed in my earth days. Do you know any 21-year olds who relax?

What job did you want to do when you were a child?
I was fortunate. We had lots of servants and maids in the castle. But when my father and I were taken hostage by the O’Donnell in 1593, they made me sweep the dungeon.

Where would you like to go for your holidays?
Scotland! I have relations in the Western Isles and haven’t seen them for ages. It’s a home from home over there!

Your idea of heaven?
Where I am right now! But I suppose I’d love to be riding on my horse over the hills of Inishowen and taking it all in. That’s heaven too.

Your idea of hell?
I suppose, it would be to see Inishowen - which used to be teaming with poets and storytellers and musicians – become an urban concrete jungle where people imitated the worst aspects of foreign ways and turned there backs on all things Irish.

What famous people would you invite around for dinner and why?
Pádraig Pearse: for his poetry and romantic outlook. Gráinne Mhaol, the female sea pirate: for a bit of craic. Paganini: to enliven us all with his magic fiddle!

Favourite animal?
The horse! I was reared in the saddle. I love horses!

What couldn’t you live without?
The company of my darling wife Mary and our beautiful daughter Onóra.

Biggest fear?
Dark, mysterious figures in the woods.

Biggest thrill?
Burning Derry to the ground! But we only killed a couple of soldiers who resisted us. We let the rest go. You should have seen them run in their long nightshirts!

The world’s most irritating invention?
I think it’s that little squarish thing you see people with all the time, stuck to their ears – mobile phones, I think they’re called. Hate them!

What is your idea of a good night in?

Me, Mary and Onóra, sitting around a big log fire in our castle with one of our best story-tellers telling us about the legends of Aileach!

Do you have a hobby?
I used to be a great letter-writer – in Irish. I loved the sound of the quill pen on dry parchment. They told me I was a great letter-writer.

Biggest disappointment?
That we didn’t save Inishowen as an independent country. We could have gone alone, trading with Spain and France. They were crazy about out fish and our poteen. A salmon washed down with a drop of old “Inishowen” was something hard to beat.

Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?
I think the Irish War of Independence in the 1920s. Despite all, we did it! It’s not all that we dreamed of, but, hey, we are fairly independent now!

World’s most useful invention?
It must be the wheel. But the man who invented tar for the roads deserves to be knighted!

What do you have for breakfast?
In my youth we had hot, wheaten farls with butter. We usually drank buttermilk with it. Hmmm…scrumptious!!!

What is the best/worst piece of advice you have been given?

The worst was, undoubtedly, when one of my men in the swamp near the Rock of Doon, told me that it was safe to go forth. But it wasn’t. That’s when the assassin’s bullet pieced my skull and left my people without their chieftain.
The best was the day, my friend Feidhlimí Riabhach Mac Dáibhid introduced me to my future wife, Mary Preston. “Marry her, Cahir, or I’ll marry her myself!” he said.

Personal philosophy?
My philosophy is simple: despite my military experience it would always say “live and let live!”

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