Céad míle fáilte

Above: Coat of Arms in the name of "His Excellency the Chevalier Francis Martin O'Donnell" (etc.), as recorded in the Register of Grants and Confirmations of the Chief Herald of Ireland (copyright, 2015. All rights reserved.)


This website (www.odomhnaill.com) is now broadened to encompass material relating to the wider historical community of the Clan O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, by gradually bringing previously unpublished or inherited material into the public domain for educational, heritage, and cultural preservation purposes. The focus is on hitherto little-known facets of O'Donnell history, and not the recounting of well-known story-lines, such as the life of Red Hugh O'Donnell, the Flight of the Earls, or the historically-prominent branches of the clan in Austria, Canada, Spain, or the USA. 

The statements throughout the following pages result from deep research over many decades by my late father and myself, as well as published sources. These sources will be made available in a comprehensive account to be soon published after extensive peer review by historians, genealogists, and other knowledgeable persons. Responsibility for errors remains uniquely mine, and corrections of fact are welcomed. 

My series of occasional lectures/talks on O'Donnell history and heritage continues.  The first was delivered at the O'Donnell Clan Gathering in Donegal, on 8 August 2013.  The second, in honour of our Clan patron St. Colmcille/Columba, whose feast day is Monday, 9 June, was held on the following day.  A pre-Schismatic saint, he is honoured by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants (Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran).  I gave a lecture to the Genealogical Society of Ireland (GSI) on Tuesday 10 June 2014, at the Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute (formerly Dun Laoghaire College of Further Education), Cumberland St., Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

The topic on which I spoke was: “Clans of Ireland – A Case Study of the O’Donnell Clan”.  The talk covered a broad outline of the revival of Irish clans  and historical families, current challenges. It also took the example of the Clan O’Donnell of Tyrconnell (Ó Domhnaill Tír Chonaill also known as Clan Dalaigh)  touching on the more notable branches of the Clan, in Flanders, Spain, and Austria, and including the “lost” French branch of Counts O’Donnell, extinct since 1879. I also spoke on the challenges of adjusting clan mythologies/histories to the fruits of new research, interpretive issues/historical quandaries, and implications for clan governance in the 21st century. The lecture was open to the public, and well attended. 

More recently, the Military History Society of Ireland, in its journal, The Irish Sword, Volume XXX, no. 119 of Summer 2015, has published my article "The Chevalier Michel O'Donnell (1730-1803) - A Wild Goose from Mullet", who served in the Irish Brigade in France, and hailed from Termoncarragh in County Mayo.

 The Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society also published an article of mine on "The Kerry Days of the Knights Hospitaller" in its Journal, Series 2, Volume 12, in 2015. The article covers the Knights' historic presence in Ardfert, Rattoo, and Tralee, as well as the influence of St. Aubin on the town land of Ballintobeenig.

Most recently, I was invited to participate in the 2
nd International Colloquium on Nobility, held in Madrid on 20-21 October 2017, and hosted by the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España (Royal Association of Nobles of Spain), and to present the gist of my synoptic paper on the subject of Irish Nobility and Armigerous Families, which will be published in due course. I also drew attention to the UNESCO 2003 International Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage as an instrument that can prove beneficial for the global recognition and national preservation of elements of our ancient heritage, such as heraldry, or as the Irish Government already recognized, the ancient Gaelic sport of Hurling and the Celtic music of the Uileann pipes.

Francis M. O'Donnell,
Ambassador (ret.)

Contact: on social networks or by email:    framarodo [at] aol [dot ] com

Challenges in tracing the genealogy of diverse O’Donnell septs

Historically, indigenous nobility in Ireland was derived by dint of an ancient family tradition of particular dominance in a locality, recognised by recounted and recorded genealogy, and not the product of the exercise of any royal prerogative. The reliability of the early genealogies is today generally assumed to be credible from about 650 AD.

Beyond that, it has more the character of myth, although it must be said that recent archaeological discoveries have borne out the veracity of some catastrophic seismic or climatic events that occurred as far back as 500 BC, and were later recorded in ancient annals, either based originally on oral lore or on the legendary rods of the Filí written once in Ogham on wands of aspen or hazel by the poets or more probably by the brehons or druids. Some plausibility may therefore be attached to certain aspects of more ancient genealogies, for example the probable existence of a named character attributed the primary responsibility for such events such as the clearance of an oak forest and the construction of an ancient bog road, e.g. over two thousand years ago at Corlea.

Both the ancient annals and modern genealogy attest that over time, several distinct O’Donnell septs have arisen independently in Ireland, from different ancestors called Donal (Domhnall) and therefore originally unrelated to the clan of the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell.

The Tyrconnell O’Donnells were originally of the Cinel Luighdheach centered around Kilmacrenan in County Donegal, and various records of them appear in the Annals of the Four Masters, e.g. in 1100, Gillacholuim O’Donnell, Lord of Cinel Luighdheach, was reported killed.  In due course they became the principle clan of the Cenel Chonaill.

Elsewhere in Ulster itself there was another O’Donnell sept of the Cenel Eoghan, known as Cenel Binnigh. In addition, offshoots of the O’Hart clan were O’Donnells, Lords of Clonkelly in County Fermanagh. Other O’Donnells were of the Uí Eathach, and were a sept of the Oirghealla in County Armagh. 

In Munster, the O’Donnells of Limerick and of County Tipperary have claimed origins from Shane or Seán á Luirg, son of Turlough “of the Wine” O’Donnell who ruled Tyrconnell in the early 15th century. This origin has been disputed, but a strong tradition surrounds it, honoured by the O’Donnells of Trough Castle and later of Baltimore (USA). Several of the other different O’Donnell lineages are identified in the most ancient annals, sometimes in detail, sometimes just in recording a singular event or death.

However, a distinct sept comprises the O’Donnells of Corcavaskin in south-western County Clare. Their progenitor, Domhnall, son of Diarmuid, of the Clan Ua Deagha of Ulster descent, fought and was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. A later chieftain of these O’Donnells, also Lord of Corca Bhaiscinn, was slain in 1158.  This sept is sometimes called MacDonnell, descendants of the O’Briens of the posterity of Brian Boru, but different from the MacDonnells of Kilkee also in County Clare, and certainly different from the MacDonnells of Antrim. These O’Donnells/MacDonnells were dispossessed by the MacMahons (another branch of the O’Briens) in the early 14th century. 

There were also other O’Donnells in Munster, such as the O’Donnells of Fermoy, said to hail from Sliocht Aodha mic Domhnaill mic Raighne, descended from whom was one Domhnall Óg, mac Domhnaill, mic Domhnaill, mic Aodha, mic Domhnaill mic Raighne. This clan was said to be an offshoot of the O’Briens, of Dál gCais. They were also said to have ruled as Chiefs of the Muighe in Tuath Muighe Finne, near Fermoy. Another O’Donnell clan, related to O’Donoghue, held sway as Chiefs of Clan Sealbuidhe (Shalvey), in Iveleary and the Muskerry area of County Cork.  These O’Donoghues (O Donnchadha) were a Desmond sept eventually driven from Cork to Kerry.  A record also exists in British archives, covering 1467-1472 for an O’Donnell as Lord of Leskerry and which involves a dispute over the delivery of seven pipes of salmon. Cuchaill O’Donnell, Prince of Durlass (Thurles) was recorded as slain in 993 (recté 1000), by Hugh O’Neill, Prince of Tyrone. 

In Leinster, in 956, Neaidheannan O’Donnell, was killed at Feighcullen in Kildare.  In 1087, another O’Donnell of Leinster, the son of Murchadh O’Donnell, Lord of Uí Drona, in County Carlow was slain.  In 1090, Maelmórdha, son of O’Donnell, King of Uí Chinsealigh, was recorded in the annals as slain. In 1161, an O’Donnell of south Leinster was recorded as slain in Wexford.  There was also Mac Dalbaig Ua Domnaill, King of Uí Felmeda, one of the Leinster kings who submitted to King Henry II in 1171-2.

In Connaught, other O’Donnells were of the Uí Maine, in County Galway. One such was Sitric O’Donnell, son of Gilla-Enain, Chief of Clann-Flaitheamhail, one of the seven septs of Uí Maine (Hy-Many) recorded in 1158 as slain.

There may also have been O’Donnells indigenous to other parts of Ireland. Whether indigenous or of migrant origin, several appear in the Dublin area by the late 1500s. Surviving records of court proceedings of the archiepiscopal jurisdiction of the Liberty of Saint Sepulchre (south central Dublin city today) for the mid-1580s include cases of O’Donnells as plaintiffs and defendants in commercial dealings. This was a few years before the Nine Years War.

But no O’Donnells were found in north-west Kerry until much later, in fact just a few centuries ago when they appeared in the Barony of Clanmaurice, and the question must be asked: as they were not indigenous, where did they come from? If records prove elusive for now, family lore and tradition can give some indications, and form an important element of intangible cultural heritage.

The O’Donnells of Ardfert have continuously held that they came originally from Donegal, and have long believed that they are descended from an O’Donnell of Tyrconnell, who came there in the early 1600s, around the time of the Battle of Kinsale. A similar claim is recognized in family lore and local tradition in Castlegregory in the Barony of Corcaguiney.


Internal exiles and migrations

There are in fact several documented cases of O’Donnells and related tributary families (Begleys, Clerys, MacGuires, McSweeneys, O’Friels, O’Hegartys, O’Muldoons), from Tyrconnell/Donegal settling in Munster. A community known as Ultachs (meaning people from Ulster) exists at Curreeny, Templederry in North Tipperary, comprising several families, who all bear surnames originating in Ulster. One theory has it that they descend from those retreating from the Battle of Kinsale.

A controversial case is that of the O’Donnells of Limerick and of Trough/Truagh, County Clare. They claim their descent not only from Donegal, but from an ancient line of the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, namely from Turlough “of the Wine” O’Donnell, i.e. Toirrdhealbhach an Fhíona Ó Domhnaill, who died in 1423, through Shane, Niall Garbh, Shane Luirg, Art, Niall, Toirrdhealbhach, Shane, to Hugo O’Donnell, who settled in Limerick and died in 1610.  Their subsequent descent is well described in Burke’s Landed Gentry. More will be given later on their British and wealthy American descendants, some of whom married into French nobility, but they should not be confused with the quite distinct dynasty of French O’Donnell counts.

According to O’Ferrall, the O’Donnells of Kilmallow also descend from Seán á Luirg O’Donnell, whom he recorded as the eldest son of the same Toirrdhealbhach an Fhíona Ó Domhnaill, then Lord of Tyrconnell in the 14th century. Seán á Luirg was banished from Tyrconnell by his father, and alleged to have migrated to settle in Kilmallow in County Tipperary, where his presumed descendants are said to remain. However, O’Ferrall’s contentions in these respects have been hotly debated since the 1850s, and both his genealogy of Seán á Luirg O’Donnell, and Sir William Betham’s (the Ulster King of Arms) pedigree of the line of the O’Donnells of Truagh, have been rejected in the mid-19th century by Charles Joseph O’Donel of Castlebar, the most prominent O’Donnell genealogist of his day, and others.

Another case of an O’Donnell in Limerick relates to the royal House of Bernadotte-Clary, Monarchs of Sweden, who descend inter alia, from an O’Donnell whose daughter married Thomas Clery (born c. 1610)He was the son of John Clery of Gibbonstown, Kilmallock, County Limerick, one of three brothers who having been expelled from their Castle of Kilbarron in Donegal in the early 1600s, traveled to Munster bringing their goods, cattle, and servants with them. According to O’Clery accounts, John settled in Kilmallock around 1605 after retreating from the Battle of Kinsale in 1602 (the other two brothers settled in Clare and Tipperary respectively).  Thomas Clery married an O’Donnell lady and had a son Seán Ruadh Clery (born c. 1630) who married a Lynch, and had a son John (born c. 1660), who emigrated from Kilmallock to Marseilles to become a silk merchant. This John, or Jean, Clery had a son Joseph Clary (1693-1748), who married Francoise Ammoric and they had a son Francois Clary (1725-1794), who became a wealthy silk merchant. Francois had thirteen children, and was father (by Rose Somis) of Desirée Clary (1777-1860), who married Napoleon’s famous General Bernadotte, later King, and became the latter’s Queen of Sweden and Norway from 1818, and ancestor of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who acknowledged his Irish ancestry in 1991 during a visit to Ireland.

Other families from Donegal also settled in Munster over the centuries: some McSweeneys, namely from Mac Suibhne Fánad, migrated down to County Kerry along with several O’Clerys.  A branch of Mac Suibhne Boghaineach (Banagh) became High Constables to the O’Conor Don, and to the Butlers, Earls of Ormond. The Carbery McSweeneys of Sliocht Donagh Mac Tirlogh once in the service of Fineen MacCarthy Reagh descend from Brian Mac Swyne of Tyrconnell. A branch of Mac Suibhne na d’Tuath (Doe) from Doe Castle near Creeslough went to south Cork in the late 15th century, and became High Constables for the McCarthy Mór of Desmond, with their own territory in Muskerry, and at Mashanaglass Castle. A branch of the Donegal sept of the Begleys, also migrated to west Kerry, with the McSweeneys in the 15th century.  A cluster of several Begley families is to be found around Dingle.  A group of O’Friels, once seldom seen outside Donegal, migrated to Sligo and then on to Munster

Whether following the Flight of the Earls after the Battle of Kinsale, the Cromwellian plantations, or the Jacobite Wild Geese, or for other reasons, a huge uprooting and displacement of communities occurred over the centuries.  The term Wild Geese came into use in the 1720s to describe prominent Gaelic aristocracy exiles leaving to the continent, or those recent Jacobite exiles. However, mass displacement also occurred within the country, usually from Ulster to Connaught, but often further afield, including to Munster.  As late as 1795, a large scale exodus of families from Ulster occurred, e.g. following the Battle of the Diamond near Portadown in County Armagh, which led to the establishment of the Orange Order. Ten thousand Catholics are said to have fled sectarian persecution, in internal exile mainly to Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, and Galway.  They were also known as Ultachs.  Massive internal migration also occurred during the Great Famine in the early 1840s, all around the country. In the late 1800s, economic development also led to large influxes to the growing urban centers, usually a migration from west to east. 

There were also O’Donnells originating from Munster who moved in the reverse direction to Donegal.  There were scattered O’Donnells in north Munster believed to be descendants of the O’Donnell Lords of Corca Bhaiscinn (Corcavaskin) in County Clare, a sept distinct from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell.  Two of the family of MacCormack O’Donnell of Corca Bhaiscinn became monks at Assaroe in the 14th century, and later became Bishops of Raphoe in Donegal/Tyrconnell.  They held tenure during the periods 1319-1337 (Thomas), and 1367-1397 (Conor), and also appear in various land deals of the period. Another died in 1399, Cormac Mac Cormaic O’Donnell, Bishop of Raphoe.

However, of more direct relevance and particular interest for this study, amongst the men of Ulster origins who settled therefore in north Kerry in the early 1600s, were people from the aristocratic Gaelic families of MacGuire (from Fermanagh to BallyMcElligott), Clery (Matthew, from Donegal to Ardfert Abbey, later to Louvain), and O’Muldoon (William, from Lurg in Fermanagh to Aghanacrinna/Killahan adjacent to Ardfert parish), where we also find an O’Donnell (from Donegal) in Ardfert.

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