“A Great Jumper” at O’Donnell’s, Larkfield.

My Great Grandfather James Davis (1833 -1909) told this story about the O’Donnells of Larkfield in County Leitrim, which was recorded with the title “A Great Jumper” for The Schools Collection in 1937 by my mother, Ena. Larkfield is the neighbouring townland to Boggaun where the Davis farm was located. The incident was said to have taken place in the mid-1800s. To start there are a few paragraphs on the history of the O’Donnells. I include this story here as it relates to the last blog “Connor’s Line”, describing a trek up O’Donnell’s Rock, which takes its name from the family.

The O’Donnells house at Larkfield.

The O’Donnells of Larkfield were descendants of Red Hugh O’Donnell who died in Valladolid in Spain in 1602 and whose burial site and remains are currently, June 2020, the scene of an archaeological dig in that city. 

Following Red Hugh’s death and failure to raise support for the war with the English, his brother Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell, with Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone fled these shores at Lough Swilly in 1607 in what became known as the Flight of the Earls. This effectively marked the end of the resistance to the English conquest, and the Gaelic Earls would never return home.

Red Hugh was famous for having been kidnapped as a sixteen-year-old from his Donegal home and taken to gaol in Dublin Castle. After five years he escaped, having been recaptured on an earlier attempt, and went on to lead the Nine Year’s War against the English. He was buried in Valladolid as an Irish hero and with great pomp and ceremony.

Since Hugh O’Donnell arrived in the parish of Cloonlogher just outside Manorhamilton in the early 1700s, after being forced out of Donegal, the family have tenaciously held onto their small Leitrim estate.

Hugh adopted the title of “Earl” as the head of the Irish family, but as a Catholic he could not own property, but only lease the lands to which he gave the ‘fancy name’ of Larkfield. However, marriages into Ascendancy families, then and in future generations, secured their tenure.

While the Larkfield townland is the second largest in County Leitrim and the likely extent of their lands, their estate was a meagre one, being mostly unproductive mountain.  It is not improbable that the allocation of such lands was intentional in those times of Penal Laws.

Hugh’s first wife Flora, née Hamilton planted over 70,000 trees, suggesting aspirations to a colonist’s estate. Their sons, John and Con were soldiers of fortune in European wars during the 1700s, part of a group referred to as The Wild Geese.

Hugh, a scholar, and a patron of the arts, most famously befriended Turlough O’Carolan, the great harpist and composer and the modest estate house hosted many great occasions.

The last resident at Larkfield was Captain John O’Donnell, a WWI recruiting officer known to harangue many a young man on a Manorhamilton a fair day, was buried in 1932 in the graveyard at the old Franciscan Abbey at Creevelea near Dromahair. The large crowd of mourners, the Davises included, followed the coffin, eased and guided through tight turns around the ruins, to the family plot at the base of the abbeys walls, where they stood among the mounds of unmarked graves and in the open fields alongside. The last of this line would be buried here some 60 years later, the Earldom passing to the Spanish O’Donnell family.

Following the sale of the estate to the Land Commission in the 1930s, there was an auction of the house contents in October 1932. It was disrupted by the attending crowd who demanded acceptance of a bid by Captain O’Donnell’s son, on behalf of his mother and sisters, which had been initially refused. The crowd was addressed thus:

“The O’Donel so by the disgraceful proceedings … was the descendant of the great Tirconnell Chieftain in Queen Elizabeth’s time. Chasing chieftains from their Irish homes might have been a popular pastime in Elizabeth’s day but times had changed. This was the O’Donel’s day, this was the O’Donel’s property and his property it would remain.”

The speaker and O’Donnell were roundly cheered by the crowd and the auction abandoned.

“A Great Jumper” – James Davis

Years ago, The O’Donnell in Larkfield laid on a big dinner for the gentlemen of the area. These O’Donnells were the direct descendants of Red Hugh O’Donnell, famous in history.

After the dinner they retired to the drawing room where they began bragging and boasting of the super strengths and deeds that their men could do.

Old O’Donnell finally wagered five pounds that he had a man who could perform a great feat, that none of the others could match. If anyone could better his man, then the wager would be theirs.

O’Donnell sent for his man Lawrence Gallagher, who lived nearby in Larkfield.

In the meantime, the long dining room table had been arranged for the next dinner, deep decanters and glasses set all around.

When Lawrence Gallagher arrived, they went into the dining room, and in his bare feet he leapt high over the table leaving every glass standing.

The men cheered at the spectacular jump, knowing that none of their men could offer any challenge to match this, and thereby lost their bets.



1. The Schools Collection, Duchas, part of the National Archive. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4602749

2. Transcripts of the Davis contribution to The Schools Collection at this link.

3. The O’Donnell family:  The O’Donnell Brothers from Larkfield Manorhamilton, Leitrim Guardian, Dominic Rooney.

Hugh O Donnell of Larkfield – Patron of Gaelic Literature (1691-1754), Breifne 1986, Proinnsíos Ó Duigneáin

4. “Abortive Auction” The Sligo Champion, Saturday October 22, 1932.

5. Red Hugh O’Donnell, Valladolid archaeological dig. Irish Times 1 June 2020 https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/carrier-of-o-donnell-flame-waits-as-search-for-red-hugh-continues-1.4266976