Hidden in dense woodland beside the S.O.N.I. offices, and heavily overgrown, is the mound of inauguration of the Clandeboye O’Neills. This is a short distance from the Castle site. A stone chair (now in the Ulster Museum) would have stood atop the mound and was used for the initiation of a new Chieftain.
Once his time came, Con would have climbed the sacred mound to be inaugurated on Clandeboye’s historic stone throne. The ceremony was steeped in ritual. Leading clerics will have performed the ceremony’s religious rites, including the ritual bathing or washing and anointing of Con’s head with holy oil. Then, amid his nobles, warriors, bards and ollamhs (scribes), Con will have sat on the ancient stone and taken an oath…
To preserve all the ancient former customs of the country inviolable, and to deliver up the succession peaceable to his tánaiste (successor); and then hath a wand delivered to him by one whose proper office that is, after which, descending from the stone, he turneth himself round thrice forward and thrice backward.
The thrice-turning (or ‘deiseal’) symbolised the chief reviewing his territory and his subjects; in essence, claiming lordship over all he surveyed. An O’Gilmore, being his chief vassal, will have stepped forward to put a mantle on his shoulders, then passed a wand of hazel over his head and placed it in his hand. This symbolised the transfer of power. He will then have taken off his shoe and passed it over Con’s head in a symbolic gesture of loyalty.
Next came the ollamh’s public recitation of the illustrious genealogy of the young prince, before his chief vassal proclaimed him, ‘Con McNeill McBrian Faghartagh O’Neill, Lord of Upper Clandeboye’ to the resounding cheers of the assembly, which repeated its new chief’s name and title. With this rousing acclamation ringing in his ears, Con will have risen to his feet. Almost instantly, a deferential hush will have descended, as the noble assembly slowly backed away, bowing and kneeling before him.
With the solemnities completed, the assembly would have returned to Castle Reagh, where a sumptuous ‘banais righe’ or wedding feast would have been served to mark the new chief’s marriage to his tribal territory. This was a day for celebrating Clandeboye’s rich traditions and past glories, but it was also a time for looking forward. Oration, poetry, music and dancing would have been the order of the day. Songs and praise poems would have been recited by minstrels and poets to mark the occasion.