The O'Donnells of Tyrconnell

Céad míle fáilte


This website presents material relating to the wider historical community of the Clan O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, gradually bringing previously unpublished or inherited material into the public domain for educational, heritage, and cultural preservation purposes. The focus here 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, Spain, or elsewhere. My late mother claimed O'Donnell descent on her side, from a female ancestor, and my late father participated in the first Clan reunion in three centuries that took place under the auspices of An Tóstal in Donegal around Easter in 1954.

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 are now being made available in a comprehensive account being published internationally and after extensive peer review by historians, genealogists, and other knowledgeable persons. Responsibility for errors remains uniquely mine, and corrections of fact are welcomed. 

Lectures & articles

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 Saint Colmcille/Columba, whose feast day is Monday, 9 June, was held on the following day.  A pre-Schism saint, he is honoured by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants (Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran).  I subsequently gave a lecture to the Genealogical Society of Ireland (GSI) on Tuesday 10 June 2014, at the Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute (formerly Dún 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 Dálaigh)  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. 

In 2015, the Military History Society of Ireland, in its journal, The Irish Sword, Volume XXX, no. 119 of Summer 2015, 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.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Austro-Irish Society, hosted by the Irish Embassy, in Vienna, I gave give a brief talk on my book “The O’Donnells of Tyrconnell - A Hidden Legacy” on 16 May 2019. A similar talk was given to the book club of the Association Française - Belgrade Acceuil, in Belgrade on 15 November 2020. 

Conferences & seminars

I was also invited to participate in the second
 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, was published in Actas – Il Coloquio Internacional Sobre La Nobleza (2nd International Colloquium on Nobility, Madrid 20-21 October 2017), published by the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España, Madrid, 2019. 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.

In 2018 I was invited to present a seminar in French on 17 October to Master's Degree students at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Under the general rubric of social anthropology and culture, the seminar dealt with the contribution of genealogical research to cultural history, in a series directed by Professor Eric Mension-Rigau. An introduction on the Wild Geese (Les Oies Sauvages) was given by Patrick Clarke de Dromantin, a direct descendant and France's most published authority on the subject. My subject dealt with The O'Donnell Counts in France and their transition from ancient chivalry and military service to the highest echelons of the civil service, the Conseil d'EtatI gave a talk on the same subject on 9 November 2018 at Griffith College in Dublin for the 2018 Lecture Programme of the Military History Society of Ireland. Further talks were scheduled as follows: during St. Patrick's "Belgrade Irish Festival" in Serbia on 21 March 2020, and at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco on 17 April 2020, and at the Listowel Writers' Week in late May 2020. These three events have been postponed to 2021 on account of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.  

Books & reviews

In 2019, my book, The O'Donnells of Tyrconnell - A Hidden Legacy, was published in hardback by Academica Press LLC, Washington DC. The book extends to 750 pages, with 33 pages of coloured illustrations, an appendix on heraldry and genealogy providing 50 pages of genealogical tables/family trees and source notes and commentary for the main dynastic lines, a rich and structured bibliography on a further 50 pages, and a detailed index on 55 pages. Over 1,700 footnotes provide detailed commentaries and references, and over 1,100 sources are cited. The book has taken over 14 years to prepare and is based on 30 years of research. 
Further details can be had on the publisher's website:, and the improved 2nd printing version is available from The latter online sellor also has my book No Man's Land - Selected Poetry & Art, published in Dalkey, March 2020.

The first, the history book, has been favorably reviewed as follows:

  • by Caitlin Bain, & Brian Donovan, Director, Eneclann: The O’Donnells of Tyrconnell: A Hidden Legacy, review thereof published by Eneclann – The Irish Family History Centre, Dublin, 26 January 2020.
  • by Michael Merrigan: Celebrating Ireland in Belgrade (front cover story about the book The O’Donnells of Tyrconnell – A Hidden Legacy) published in Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette, Volume 15, no. 2, monthly newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Ireland, February 2020.
  • by J. Anthony Gaughan: The Astonishing History of One of Ireland’s Great Clans, published in The Irish Catholic, 12 March 2020.
  • by Kenneth Ferguson, LL.B, Ph.D, Honorary Editor, in Book Reviews – The O’Donnells of Tyrconnell: A Hidden Legacy, published in The Irish Sword, the Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, Volume XXXII, no. 129,  Dublin, Summer 2020 (pp. 351-352).

The excavation of the remains of Red Hugh O'Donnell has also created renewed interest in the O'Donnell dynasty and its fate. Several recent articles on that subject are referenced in my Twitter feed (@fmod1), and on the
Facebook page "The O'Donnell of Tyrconnell - A Hidden Legacy", and some of which I authored and can also be accessed on the website, here:

Historic Commemorative Webinar

On Wednesday 21 October 2020 a webinar was held under the auspices of the formerly-Franciscan Irish College of Saint Anthony in Louvain, now the secular Irish College Leuven (ICL), supported as an all-Ireland institution in Europe by the governments in Belfast and Dublin. It was the first webinar of the ICL and was held under the commemorative theme "Memorialising Emigré Dignity", to mark 400 years since the first burial in the Chapel of St. Anthony in September 1620, that of my family’s ancestor Donal Oge O'Donnell, nephew of the famous Red Hugh O’Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell, and who participated in the Flight of the Earls as part of the entourage of his other uncle and successor as Prince of Tyrconnell, namely, Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. Donal Oge was the ultimate beneficiary-in-remainder to the Lordship of Tyrconnell in the Letters Patent of King James I for the Earldom of Tyrconnell, but died prematurely of wounds inflicted in 1620.

The webinar also held to honour the 250 Irish emigré friars, scholars, soldiers and friends interred or associated with the College over the centuries, and brought out the cultural and social richness of the diverse personalities associated over the centuries, many famous in the annals of Irish history, and reflecting a great number of Irish clans and historic families. My most recent visit to Leuven's Irish College was in 2017, with an old friend, Baron Bernard Snoy et d'Oppuers, former President of the Association de la Noblesse du Royaume de Belgique (the Association of the Nobility of the Kingdom of Belgium) on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the re-opening of the Irish College in 1927, when Bernard's grandfather and my second cousin thrice-removed, the late Cardinal Patrick O'Donnell, presided. Following on that visit, a commemoration was planned, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this evolved instead into the webinar which was organized with the keen collaboration of David Grant, Chief Executive Officer of the Irish College, and with the support of the Leuven Centre for Irish Studies and the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies.

The webinar was hosted and moderated by David Grant, Chief Executive Officer of the Irish College Leuven, and the speakers were Dr. Katharine Simms, PhD, Fellow of Trinity College Dublin and member of the Royal Irish Academy, who spoke on the theme of “Queens in later medieval Ireland”; Mag. Douglas O’Donell von Tyrconnell, M. Phil., who addressed the subject of “The Wild Geese and the Holy Roman Empire”; Prof. Fr. Mícheál MacCraith, OFM/NUI (Galway) of the Franciscan House of Studies in Dún Mhuire, Killiney, who treated of “The re-fashioning of the exiles in the continental culture of national and religious identity; Baron Bernard Snoy et d'Oppuers, who gave his exposé on how his family helped give sanctuary to “The Irish in exile with the persecution of the Irish friars in Leuven in occupied Belgium”; Prof. Johan Verberckmoes, KU/Leuven, who talked about “The four Irish Colleges in Leuven in the 17th and 18th centuries”, concluding with my own presentation on “An O’Donnell Odyssey - Preserving intangible cultural heritage: emigrés, allies and patrons in sanctuaries abroad”.


The webinar recording can be viewed on Youtube:


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

Contact: on social networks or by email:  or on Twitter: @fmod1

The Book:  
The O'Donnells of Tyrconnell - A Hidden Legacy

The Foreword has been provided by Dom Henry O’Shea, OSB, Glenstal Abbey, heraldic and genealogical advisor to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and its principal chaplain in Ireland.

The book is the product of over 30 years intermittent personal research by the author in many countries but principally, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, England, France, Italy, and Spain, and 14 years of incremental writing, and has benefitted from consultations and advice from principal family members, lineage descendants, clan kinsfolk, academic historians, archivists, conservators and curators, clerics, diplomats, heraldic experts, librarians, professional genealogists, and scholars, who, along with many others, are appreciated in the extensive six-page acknowledgements.

The book suggests the descent of the Ardfert (County Kerry) line from the historic ruling dynasty of O’Donnells of Tyrconnell (County Donegal), with a close connection to the now extinct O’Donnell counts in France, who are hitherto-unknown in Irish history. Although passing references are made, the book does not delve into the better-known histories of Red Hugh O’Donnell, the Battle of Kinsale, nor the Flight of the Earls, nor for that matter the better-documented aristocratic O’Donnells of Austria (Counts) and Spain (Dukes, etc.). Instead, the book aims to add value to the corpus of texts on O’Donnell history, with new research. 

The internecine rivalries of the O’Donnell dynasty as its realm crumbled are laid bare. The ironies of factors leading to exile and becoming later choices abroad are brought out.  The most likely origins of the famous love-lament “Donal Oge”, and what it implies about the Flight of the Earls, and for the mysteries of lineage, are suggested.

The missing first family of the last regnant dynasty is revealed.  The discovery of the actual contemporary portraits of the 1st and 2nd Earls of Tyrconnell, Rory and his son, Hugh Albert, and the probable production of the almost-unknown portrait of the latter in the workshop and under the supervision of Peter Paul Rubens are made known.

The extraordinary adventure of his cross-dressing pseudo-cavalier sister, Lady Mary Stuart O’Donnell, and her romantic disillusions, choices, and ultimate distress are once again described, but this time with an accounting of the deep political ramifications of her options and eventual choices.

The discovery of a forgotten dynasty of O’Donnell counts in France is revealed, along with their transition from military chivalry to distinguished civil service at the highest levels, and their modest but real influence on France. Their Jacobite influences and roles, right up to the exile from France and deathbed in Rome of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the last Stuart Pretender, are a new discovery. The modesty of their lives and repose, and their decaying tomb in Paris, require sympathetic recognition, and for the latter, preservation.

A link is drawn with their Kerry relatives and their roles as Jacobite officers, rapparee rebels, and local stewards, and the hedge-school master and his descendants, surviving through the Famine, and the mark they left on Country Kerry from their now-protected listed homestead. Few Irish tales would be complete without a ghost story, and indeed we have one in the ghost of Ballyheigue Castle, re-interpreted in light of deeper discoveries, and hopefully now laid to rest.

Elements of the research have already been published by the Military History Society of Ireland (2015), the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society (2015), and on websites and, as well in the O’Donnell Clan Association Newsletter (2004), and on the Clan Facebook page. Oral presentations of research findings have also been given to the O’Donnell Clan Association in Donegal in August 2013, and to the Genealogical Society of Ireland in June 2014, as well as to the 2nd International Colloquium on Nobility in Madrid in October 2017. Invited by Professor Eric Mension-Rigau, a post-graduate seminar was given at the Sorbonne in Paris on 17 October 2018, on the value of genealogical research to cultural history under the theme “the transition from military to civil service” using the book’s case study of the French O’Donnell counts.  A similar lecture will be given to the Military History Society of Ireland in Dublin on 9 November 2018 (open to public).

As per the Foreword by Dom Henry O’Shea, OSB of Glenstal Abbey:

“This is a totally compelling book, combining as it does in its over seven hundred pages, meticulous research, detective intuition and acuity, political, social and religious history along with family and personal good fortune and misfortune.  Such a work can be the envy of any Gaelic clan or family, trying in happier times to re-capture its past beyond the barriers presented by the dearth of documentary evidence…. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, but one worth every heart-beat.”

The book is published by Academica Press, LLC, Washington D.C., under its Maunsel Irish Research Series, in hardcopy. 

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 Sean a 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.

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