History of County Antrim

The earliest inhabitants of this part of Ireland on record were a race of its ancient Celtic possessors, designated by Ptolemy Darnii or Darini; and it deserves notice that Nennius mentions the "regions of Dalrieda" as the ultimate settlement of the Scythian colony in Ireland. According to the Irish annalists, Murdoch Mac Erch, chief of the Hibernian Dalaradians, early in the fourth century, by a series of conquests extended his dominions in the north of Antrim and the adjacent districts, while his brother Fergus succeeded in establishing a colony in North Britain. The first intruders upon these earliest settlers were probably the Danish marauders, to whose desolating descents this coast was for several ages peculiarly exposed. Subsequently the northern Scots harassed the inhabitants by numerous plundering inroads, and ultimately accomplished permanent settlements here, maintaining for a long time a constant intercourse with their roving countrymen of the isles. A right of supremacy over the lords of this territory was claimed by the powerful family of the northern O'Nials (now written O'Neill), who were at length deprived of the southern part of this county by the family of Savage and other English adventurers. Early in the 14th century, Edward Bruce, the Scottish chieftain, gained possession of this district by the reduction of Carrickfergus, which had long resisted the most vigorous assaults of his troops. The English, however, shortly afterwards recovered their dominion; but in 1333, William de Burgho, Earl of Ulster, being assassinated at Carrickfergus by his own servants, and his countess, with her infant daughter, seeking safety by escaping into England, the sept of O'Nial rose suddenly in arms, and, falling furiously upon the English settlers, succeeded, notwithstanding a brave and obstinate defence, in either totally extirpating them, or reducing them within very narrow bounds. The conquerors then allotted amongst themselves the extensive possessions thus recaptured from the English, and the entire district received the name of the Upper and Lower Clan-Hugh-Boy, from their leader, Hugh-Boy O'Nial. During the successful operations of Sir John Perrot, lord-deputy in the reign of Elizabeth, to reduce the province of Ulster into allegiance to the English government, he was compelled to lay siege to Dunluce castle, on the northern coast of Antrim, which surrendered on honourable terms: this fortress having been subsequently lost through treachery, in 1585, was again given up to the English by Sorley Boy O'Donnell or Mac Donnell, the proprietor of a great extent of the surrounding country, to whom it was returned in charge.

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