Tyrconnell did not depend
on the Pale or on England for its links to mainland Europe, but had its own
direct relationships, with a fleet of twelve or thirteen wooden ships, used to
conduct maritime trade and diplomatic missions, to patrol their vast
territorial waters, and to convey pilgrims in both directions. Diplomatic
relations were maintained with France, Scotland, Spain, and the Holy See in
Tyrconnell also received traders in Donegal town from England, Wales and
Scotland, and Flanders, France, and Spain. Foreign ships also frequently called
at Tyrconnell’s other ports, especially Ballyshannon, Killybegs, and Lough
Swilly. It also had its own
trading agents in foreign ports. Links
were long established with Bristol, St. Malo, Morlaix, Bordeaux, and beyond to Denmark,
Spain, and Italy. Exports included fish (especially salmon and herring), rugs
and hides, and imports consisted of wine, salt, iron, luxury garments, weapons
and armor, even from as far away as the Baltics.
During the Nine Years
War, Spain even exported artillery from Corunna to Tyrconnell, and
gunpowder and arms were also imported into Ulster from Danzig. It was the growth of the herring
fisheries along the west coast in the mid-1400s that particularly benefitted
Tyrconnell’s trading relations with Spain.
By the late 1500s, the O’Donnell
King of Tyrconnell was known on the continent as “King of the Fishes”,
as he controlled the lion’s share in the Irish fish trade, and also could lay
claim to the cocket of the port of Sligo. Another factor in expanding relations
was pilgrim traffic from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela, and in reverse
direction to St. Patrick’s purgatory on Lough Derg.
Content copyright . Francis Martin O'Donnell. All rights reserved.