2023 Summer School

The 2023 Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School will take place over the weekend of Friday 5th May until Sunday 7th May in Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal.

The theme of the 2023 Summer School is, “Feast- Food- Famine / Féasta – Bia- Ganntanas” and the various talks will explore the hardships of day-to-day life in late medieval Ireland in the period from 1500 to 1800 where seasons good or bad could determine the life expectancy of men, women and children.

A full detailed programme will be put on this website in due course.

2022 Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School

We thank all our sponsors above who without their financial or other support, we could not have held the 2022 Summer School

Friday Events

After being introduced by Fergus Cleary, Chairperson of the Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School, Brian MacAmhlaigh formally opened the 2022 Summer School. Brian, who founded the Summer School and  a native of Drogheda in Co Louth, but a Donegal by adoption as he had spent most of his adult life teaching in the county, told the audience, that he always had an admiration for the life and work of Br. Mícheál Ó Cléirigh particularly because he was a brilliant project manager who always sought a sponsor before he embarked on any of his scribal undertakings. For example, he asked Brian Ruaidh Maguire, Lord Enniskillen, to sponsor the copy of the Leabhair Gabhála or the Book of Invasions which told the earliest story of people coming to Ireland. Ultimately, he got Fearrall Ó Gadhra to sponsor the work of the Annals and once the money was in place, he organised his chroniclers and scribes from the hereditary learned Gaelic  families whose editorial decisions would be respected.

Brian went on to say that he always felt that not enough was known about this native of south Donegal, born some two miles from Rossnowlagh at Kilbarron and he wanted Mícheál’s memory to be honoured and what better way was that there would be a history Summer School held each year to honour his work and memory. Thus, the Summer School came into existance in May 2014.

Primary Schools Art Competition

The 2022 Primary Schools art competition was once again presented with a large entry of art work from many young artists from seven schools in the locality. This year after the various lockdowns and restrictions in schools with teachers and pupils isolating to prevent further infections, led us to think that the entry would be small but the opposite was true as the entry was on a par with other pre-pandemic years. The competition is one of the highlights of the summer school and it is great to see so much talent in the locality.

The winning artwork in the four categories
Waiting for the Art Prize-giving on Friday night.

Junior/Senior Art winners
First/Second Class Art Winners
Third/ Fourth Class Art Winners
Fifth/Sixth Class Art Winners

Musical Evening – featuring young musicians from the locality

Young singer
Two young fiddle players

Members of the O’Brien Family traditional group

Saturday Events

Blood & Retribution/ Doirteadh Fola agus Díoltas’

Aims & Objectives

Professor John Mc Cafferty

Professor John McCafferty set out the objectives of the weekend to examine the changes in the laws in Ireland at the end of the Gaelic system of Brehon laws (based on the notion of ‘keeping the peace between neighbours’ and so without harsh sentences such as hanging or flogging, but a fine had to be paid by the guilty person, or by his clan, to compensate the injured individual) to the English system (within the English common law system, judges have more authority to interpret law but are bound by precedent) and the various implications surrounding this fundamental systematic transformation of life in late medieval Ireland.

To Barbados or Bofin: the fate of Catholic priests in Ireland in the aftermath of the Cromwellian conquest’?

Dr Áine Hensey

Dr.Áine Hensey, historian and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta presenter will explain the circumstances surrounding Cromwell’s army’s treatment of prisoners on the isle of Inishbofin in the 1650s. The Island was used as a holding area for rebel prisoners and captured priests and friars were held before being sent to Barbados and other islands in the Caribbean.

Few people realise that the very beautiful island of Inishbofin, off the west coast of Galway was once used to incarcerate prisoners before being dispatched to the sugar plantations of the West Indies.

As part of the Cromwellian land settlement four counties were reserved for the transplanted Gaelic and Anglo-Norman Irish landowners. The counties were Mayo, Galway, Clare and Roscommon. The lands given in compensation for forfeited estates in the rest of Ireland excluded lands close to major rivers and excluded the coastal Islands. As a result islands such as Inishbofin and the Aran Islands were garrisoned by Cromwellian soldiers in case of invasion from the exiled Stuarts, aided by the French crown.

The fort on Inishbofin where prisoners were held until being sent to the Caribbean

This land of ire: Slaughter and Surrender during the Nine Years War, 1593-1603′

Dr. James O’Neill speaking at the 2022 Summer School

During the period from 1593 to 1603,the so called ‘Nine Years War’ destruction and mayhem came to every part of Ireland with large bodies of troops manoeuvring to gain advantage over the other, the Irish forces in the ascendant after the Battle of the Yellow Ford in August 1598 but the Irish forces led by Hugh O’Neill and Aodh Ruaidh O’Donnell were eventually defeated at the Battle of Kinsale in December 1601. The war continued until the Treaty of Mellifont in March 1603.

Dr James O’Neill told the fascinating story of these events and of the treatment of prisoners on both sides.One  of the interesting aspects of James O’Neill’s research was that both contemporary Irish and English accounts of the war underplayed the sophistication of both Hugh O’Neill’s forces in central Ulster and those of  Aodh Ruaidh O’Donnell’s forces in west Ulster and North Connacht. The English explained their defeats in the field by the excuse that their opponents used unfair and ungentlemanly tactics. Whilst the Irish accounts principally that of Lughaidh O’Clery and written some years afterwards, extoll the simplicity of the Gaelic forces against the overwhelming might and modern armaments of the English army. Nothing could be further from the truth as his research has revealed that both armies employed modern 17th Century battlefield tactics. 

Listening intently to the talk

Bishop Cornelius O’Devany: Franciscan martyrdom and suffering in 17th century Ireland’

Professor John McCafferty speaking at the 2022 Summer School in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal

The execution of Bishop Conchobhair Ó Duibheannaigh (Conor O’Devenny) took place in Dublin on the first of February 1612. His life was quite remarkable and he had avoided the scaffold some twenty- four years before in 1588.

Professor John McCafferty, Director of the Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute UCD related the intrigue surrounding the story of Conor O’Devenny and that of other Franciscans who fell foul of the government in this period of Irish history. He was born in Malin at the tip of the Inishowen peninsular in 1530 and educated at the Franciscan Convent in Donegal, later becoming a Franciscan.In the tumultuous period of the break by Henry VIII from the Catholic Church and the setting up of the Anglian Church in the latter part of the 16th Century the most of Ireland remained faithful to Rome although it was common for both the Catholic Church and Anglican Church to make similar appointments to vacant sees. Conor O’Devenny was appointed  Bishop of Down & Connor by Pope Gregory XIII on 27 April 1582, and consecrated by Cardinal Nicolas de Pellevé on 2 February 1583 in the German Chapel in Rome.

A painting of a hanging during the Thirty Years War

He returned to Ireland and was arrested in 1588 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. Failing to  get a jury to convict him Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam petitioned Lor Burghley to find a charge that would convict him but did not get the permission required. He was released in 1590 and from then until the Flight of the Earls in 1607, he was under the protection of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

Perhaps it was this association and the extreme hatred that Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester had for the Earl of Tyrone that led to his arrest in 1612 and subsequent trial and conviction of treason in late January of that year that ultimately led to his execution by being hung, drawn and quartered.

Punishment, pain, and plantation – crime and punishment in an Irish colonial setting

The keynote talk at the 2022 Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School was ‘Punishment, pain and plantation- crime and punishment in an Irish colonial setting’  which looked at the change from the Brehon system of law to the English system of common law and how that diverged from the practice of common law in England, Scotland and Wales.

1603 was a watershed year for Ireland. It had a change of dynasty – not that one would notice much, as monarchs rarely visited Ireland. More noticeable is that it marked the end of an independent Gaelic political entity in Ireland and in the aftermath of this, the English common law system was extended over the entire island for the first time. Whilst much of this system dealt with land law and inheritance, the criminal justice system was also extended to all corners of the kingdom, and some of its inhabitants came into contact with a system that they had not known before. It may be an irony that whilst the law was a central plank in the English ‘civilizing mission’ in Ireland (along with religion, language, etc), it came at a time when the island was consumed in the six decades either side of 1603 watershed by the most destructive violence, much of it perpetrated by the state and its actors.

17th Century Courtroom scene

The talk by Coleman Dennehy considered many of the broader issues of the criminal justice system in the period – how it worked, how the law was adapted to suit Ireland, what it sought to achieve. It will ask who the system defended and who did it prosecute. It will consider what punishments were available to the state, and how often and with what severity they were used. Finally, it will attempt to come to some conclusions about what kind of role it played in the overall process of colonization in Ireland, whether it was a successful contribution, and to what extent did it help to control or improve Ireland

Coleman Dennehy speaking at the 2022 Summer School

Sunday Events:

Bus trip to local historical sites

KIlbarron Church

At Kilbarron Church

Kilbarron Church has great significance to the story of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh as it is the likely place where he was baptised in or around 1590. He was baptised Tadgh and was the youngest son of the family of Honora and Donnchada Uí Cléirigh. His older brothers were Uillim, Maoilmhuire and Conaire.

In May 2022 the Heritage Council of Ireland made a grant offer to the Kilbarron Castle & Church Conservation Group to carry out some conservation work on the east gable of the church. This work was completed in October 2022.

Brownhall Woodland

Twin arched bridge

The tour group travelled onto Brownhall House near Ballintra, home to the Hamilton family. We were given special permission to visit the grounds and were guided by John McMurray. The woodland was in full early summer bloom with bluebells growing in the shaded trees. We saw a small twin arched bridge sited over the Blackwater river or sometimes better known as the Ballintra river. The bridge was originally paced to give guests a view of the house but in the centuries since its construction, the tree cover now obscures the house.

We continued to another part of the woods to see the underground caves known as the “Pullins” This natural phenomenon is caused by the erosion of the limestone rock over millions of years. Due to the slippery undergrowth we did not venture too close to the edge,

The Pullins
Enjoying the woodland scenery
Some of the group that came on the Sunday Tour

Abbey Mill Tea shop and Cafe

Mill wheel at the Abbey Mill Tea shop

After completing the tour of the Brownhall woodland we travelled back passed the ancient monastic site of Rathcunga or Racoo and travelled along passing over Conor’s Bridge at Foyagh reputedly built by Conor O’Clery son of Flann O’Clery, whose tombstone is the oldest recorded found in the Abbey Assaroe cemetery. We arrived to a lovely prepared lunch at the Abbey Mill tea shop and Cafe which is run solely by volunteers.

This is part of the site occupied by the Assaroe Cistercian monastic site founded in 1184 by Fláithri Uí Maoildoraidh,(Muldorey) King of Tír Connaill. He invited monks from the Cistercian convent in Boyle (Co Roscommon) to come and set up an abbey at Áth Seanaidh. It is believed that the original foundation was on Inish Saimer at the mouth of the Erne estuary but later moved to the north shore of the Erne where the ruins are situated.. The new site close to the Uinshinn (Abbey) river gave the monks more room to extend the abbey and by the 14th Century it was the site of a small vibrant community of artisans and trades people. The monastery became wealthy and were subsequently granted much of the lands in the parishes of Kilbarron and Inishmacsaint.

One of the stones found beside the Abbey Mill – this being a pediment of a pillar
Uinshinn or Abbey river

Welcome to the Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School /Fáilte chuig Scoil Samhraidh Mhíchíl Uí Chléirigh

A Summer School for remembering, for learning, for enjoyment.  We remember a great local man, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh.  We learn from scholars about his story and his times.  We begin to understand what this means for us today.  And we enjoy ourselves. 

We travel to local historic sites.  We visit Mícheál’s birthplace.  We walk the beautiful Rossnowlagh beach.  We  talk late into the evening in the local hostelries. Welcome to the Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School to a family distinguished by scholarship. His older brother, Maolmhuire (Fr Bernadine) was ordained in Salamanca, Spain, later moving to Louvain, Belgium in 1619 and Michael joined him a few years later. As a lay brother Michael was able to concentrate on historical research and transcription rather than on priestly duties. 

In 1626 he was dispatched by a fellow Donegal man, Hugh Ward to Ireland to collect the lives of the Irish saints.  This he did.  But he also did more. For 10 years, Michael travelled the length and breadth of Ireland gathering the ancient manuscripts and histories wherever he could find them.  He and his collaborators transcribed the material into Annála Ríochta na hÉireann (the Annals of the Four Masters). They left us with an incomparable record of the history of Ireland.

The Mícheál Ó Cléirigh School has been set up by a partnership of:

Local Organising Committee

Meeting 2 17-9-19
Some Members of the 2019-2022 Committee

Local people from Ballyshannon, Creevy and Rossnowlagh area in Co. Donegal who wish to preserve the memory of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, a local hero who did so much to preserve the ancient and medieval period of Irish History. The committee begin work in September each year planning the upcoming Summer School


Franciscan Community Rossnowlagh

The Franciscan Friars who established a Friary on Donegal Bay 1474 and played such  an important part in Irish writing and scholarship from their monasteries in Ireland and Louvain.

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute UCD

The Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute at University College Dublin repository of an unparalleled archive of  historical documents and the centre of voluminous research on Irish medieval history since its inception in the year 2000. See: www.ucd.ie/mocleirigh


The Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal



The inaugural programme of the Mícheál Ó Cléirigh School took place on Saturday 17th May, 2014. with the theme  “Mícheál Ó Cléirigh” The main events were held in the Ó’Cléirigh Hall beside the Franciscan Friary at Rossnowlagh, close by the birthplace of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh on lands that belonged to the Ó Cléirigh clan, prior to 1610. The venue was an appropriate one, as it was built by the Franciscan Friars who returned to Donegal in 1946. They were, of course, influenced by the association of the area with some of the renowned members of their Irish fraternity, such as  Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, John Colgan and Hugh Ward.


The Second Mícheál Ó Cléirigh School took place at Rossnowlagh on the weekend of 15th  – 17th May, 2015. The theme was “Saints and Scholars” “Naomh agus Scoláirí ” The original purpose of Mícheál Uí Cléirigh’s return to Ireland was to collect information on the many Irish Saints and to record their information.


The Third Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School was held over the weekend of Friday 27th May to Sunday 29th May 2016. The theme was “Refugees and Strangers” “Dídeanaithe agus Strainséirí ” This examined the exodus of many of the Gaelic nobility who left Ireland for European countries and how they coped by being refugees far from their native land.


The Fourth Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School was held over the weekend of Friday 12th May to Sunday 14th May 2017. The theme was “Irish and European” “Gaelach agus Eorpach” The weekend events looked at the relationship between Ireland and European countries in the 16th and 17th Centuries and how this has continued to the present time.


The Fifth Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School was held over the weekend of Friday 11th May to Sunday 13th May 2018. The theme was “Annals and Earls” “Annála agus Iarlaí ” This looked at the way the Ulster Earls were described in the Annals of the Four Masters and did they have a particular O’Donnell favouritism in their recording of the events of the late 16th and Early 17th Centuries.


The Sixth Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Summer School was held over the weekend of Friday 10th May to Sunday 12th May 2019. The theme was “Migration and Plantation” “Imirce agus Plandáil” The Ulster Plantation had a tremendous effect on the lives of the Gaelic Scholars and they found that their skills and learning was no longer required.


Due to Covid 19 health restrictions the 2020 Summer School was cancelled.


A Virtual Summer School was held from Thursday 6th to Sunday 9th of May. The theme was “Women in Turbulent Times- Mná in Aimshir Chorraithe 1551- 1651” This virtual school looked at the way women of the period recorded events in letters sent to their parents husbands and siblings and how they wrote about the things that mattered to their lives and families.