The O'Donnells of Tyrconnell


The O'Donnell Maritime Trading Network 1400-1600

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 Rome.

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.    

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