The MacLoughlins belong to two entirely distinct septs, both of which were of considerable importance in Irish history. One was a senior branch of the northern Ui Neill and their territory was in Innishown, Co. Donegal. The other was a celebrated Meath family, descended from Maoilsheachlainn, better known as Malachy II, King of Ireland from 980 to 1002, when he was dethroned by the great Brian Boru.
The Ulster MacLoughlins were a powerful and important sept up to the thirteenth century. This sept was called Mac Lochlainn in Irishson of Lochlainn, a forename of Norse originbut we are told by Dr. MacIsaght in his Irish Families that this does not imply that the family itself was of Norse stock.
According to Connellens Four Masters, in the eleventh century a branch of the ONeills took the name of MacLoghlin from Loghlin ONeill, one of their chiefs. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the MacLoughlins were very powerful and two of them became monarchs of Ireland. Many celebrated chiefs of the name are mentioned in the annals, buy in the thirteenth century they were put down by the superior power of the O'Neills.
In the eleventh century we find increasing strife between the ONeills and McLoughlins to secure the kingship of Ulster. Under the date of 1051 we find that Ardgar McLoughlin, who was then king, was expelled from the kingship of Tullyhog by Hugh ONeill. However, Ardgars son, Donnell, succeeded as king of Aileach in 1083. He held the kingship for eleven years, and then succeeded to the High Kingship of Ireland which he held for twenty-seven years until his death at Derry in 1121.
Donnell McLoughlin is described as the most warlike and capable ruler of his time. In the year 1111 an army was led by the Ulidians to Tullyhog and they cut down its ancient trees. In revenge Neill McLoughlin mad a raid upon the Ulidians and carried off 3000 cows. Two years later, Donnell McLoughlin at the head of an army deposed the king of Ulidia, retained a portion of Ulidian territory, and divided the remainder into two parts under petty chiefs.
Donnell McLoughlin caused a most magnificent shrine to be made for the better keeping of St. Patricks Bell. On this shrine was inscribed Donnells own name, and also the name of the keeper of the bell at the time, Chathalan OMulholland.
The contest between the McLoughlins and ONeills to secure exclusive title to the kingship of Ulster continued for a lengthy period. In 1167 it is recorded that the rivalry was settled temporarily by forec from outside. Under that date the Four Masters record that the men of Leinster and the Lords of Desmond and Thomond divided Tyrone. The part north of the mountain (Slieve Gallion) was assigned to Neill McLoughlin, and the part south of the mountain was assigned to Hugh ONeill.
It was only and interruption of the rivalry, which continued until the ONeills defeated the McLoughlins decisively and finally at the battle of the Caimerge in 1241. At this point the McLoughlins sink into relative obscurity, and the ONeills became and remained the premier Irish dynasty until the Ulster Plantation period.
Donnell McLoughlin retired to the monastery of Columcille at Derry, where he died on February 9th, 1121 at the age of 73, in the eleventh year of his reign as king of Ulster and seventh as monarch of Ireland.
The MacLoughlins of Meath bore the name OMelaghlin up to 1691 when they shared the defeat of the Jacobites. The remnant of the sept remaining in their ancestral territory after that were known as MacLoughlin. Their Irish name, Maoilsheachlainn, signifies servant or follower of Seachlainn, ie. St. Secundinus.
After the Anglo-Norman invasion the OMelaghlins, as they were then known, like all the Gaelic princes and chiefs of Meath and central Ireland, were greatly reduced in power. In 1543 they were still strong enough to be named in an Order establishing martial law in the midland counties, but in each of the successive waves of invasion, especially in the seventeenth century, they further declined, till, as we have noted already, after 1691 they disappear altogether as OMealaghlins.
For many centuries after the granting of Meath to the Norman leader, Hugh de Lacey, the OMelaghlins wer confined to the Barony of Clonlonan in Westmeath. They were, however, one of the five Irish families who had the privilege of using English laws. In the reign of James I they were again stripped of a considerable portion of what remained of their ancient patrimony.
So completely had this ancient and once powerful family been ruined by the confiscations of the seventeenth century that in the attainders of 1691 there appears but one person of the name Maolseachlin OMelaghlin of Lough Mask, Co. Mayo.