O’Donoghue Historical Origins
The O’Donoghue Society represents eleven distinct, unrelated tribes which bear the name Ó Donnchadha or Ó Donnchú, all of which appear to have been derived from different eponymous ancestors.
The main Gaelic tribal groupings
The annals tell us that the Fir Bolg arrived in the country before the Milesians (the Gaels or Goidels). The former, together with their contemporaries the Fir Domnann, the Laigin and the Ulaidh, are ethnologically classed as the Érainn. Tribes of this origin are prefixed generally with names like Corcu (perhaps meaning seed of) or ending in ‘aighe’ such as the Ciarraighe (black people) or Osraighe (deer people).
The synthetic genesis of two main tribal groupings of the Gaels became known as the Connachta (descendants of Conn) based in Tara and the Eoghanachta (descendants of Eoghan) based at Cashel.
The prehistoric structures at Tara date back to the pre-Celtic Neolithic period (3000 BCE) and are contemporaneous with Newgrange and the other great Stone Age tombs in the midlands and west. The foundation of Cashel occurs at a much later period, traditionally the 4th century AD.
While the genealogical tracts give us the kings of Ireland and the major tribes back to very ancient times, historians are sceptical as to their validity prior to the 5th century when the first Christian missionary, Palladius, appeared on the scene.
There is evidence now that there were Christians (Coptic Gnostic monks from Egypt) established in Kerry perhaps as early as the 3rd century. When it comes to Y-DNA data the Connachta (Northwest Irish) and the Eoghanachta (South Irish) are evidently unrelated tribes and archaeological evidence confirms this.
Both dynasties are Celtic but the roots of the northerners are Germanic while the southerners are Iberian (the Spanish Peninsula). This supports that the true Gaels were late invaders from the East who brought the sophisticated La Tene Type III culture and style to Ireland. These Gaels maintained contact with the Byzantine Empire (see Garranes –The Camelot of Ireland in the January 2011 Journal) and their superior culture eventually assimilated all of the indigenous Irish tribes under the synthetic tradition of a Milesian genesis.
The names of Milesian or Gael tribes/septs tend to be identifiable by Uí, Cinéal, and –acht, which all mean descendants of, kindred, race of. There are, however, cases of the pre-Gael Érainn tribes adopting Gaelic style tribal names in order to overcome the perceived impediment of their heritage.
The Connachta spawned tribes in Ulster, Leinster and Connacht. By 800 we find tribal names such as the Uí Néill, Cinéal Conaill and the Ciannachta in Ulster and northern Leinster. Around 900 the Laighin (pre-Gael) still had a significant presence in Leinster, but the Uí Dúnlainge and Uí Chennselaig had assumed the kingship.
In Connacht, the Uí Briúin, Uí Maine, Uí Ailello and Uí Fiachrach were dominant. The power of the Eoghanachta in 900 was concentrated in Munster where seven tribes carried the prefix Eoghanacht. Tribes carrying the other prefixes are also found, such as the Uí Echach and Cinéal Laoghaire.
By the twelfth century Munster was divided into two kingdoms, that of Thomond or north Munster and Desmond in the south.
These descend from the mythical Conall Corc through his grandson Aonghus mac Nad Fraoich (d.490/2) king of Munster at the time of St Patrick. His son Feidhlimidh, also king of Munster, is said to have been the progenitor of this tribe through his descendant Fingín, (elder brother of Fáilbe Flann, progenitor of the MacCarthys and by some accounts, the O’Sullivans). Dúnghal Ua Donnchadha (d.1025) was their last king of Cashel of the Cinéal Fingín line.
The O’Donoghues and MacCarthys shared the district in north Tipperary around Cashel, with the O’Sullivans based in south Tipperary. The O’Donoghues ruled the territory of Magh Feimhin, now the barony of Iffa and Offa East, from Cashel to Clonmel.
These O’Donoghues were at the apex of their power during the eleventh century but were then eclipsed by the MacCarthys. These annals references describe their prominence after 1025:
- 1038 Death of Cú Dulig Ua Donnchadha, royal heir of Caisel.
- 1052 Mac Raith Ua Donnchadha, king of Caisel died.
- 1057 Dúnghal Ua Donnchadha, king of Eoghanacht Chaisil, slain
- 1078 Conchobhar Ua Donnchadha, heir of Cashel died.
O’Donovan states that they were driven from this territory shortly after the English invasion in 1169, when they settled in the barony of Magunihy, in the county of Kerry, joining the Eoghanacht Raithlinn, already established in that territory. Other sources indicate it is likely they were present earlier than that. The sept of the O’Donoghues of the Glens is considered to be descended from this line, for whom The O’Donoghue of the Glens is the hereditary chieftain and the Society’s patron.
Sometimes referred to as The O’Donoghues of Desmond
The genealogical tracts assert that the Eoghanacht Raithlinn were also descended from Corc of the fourth/fifth century, but Y-DNA evidence suggests otherwise. Feidhlimidh mac Tighearnach (d.590), the first verifiable king of Munster, was of the Raithlinn dynasty.
Traditionally, Corc’s great grandson, Eochaidh, is the progenitor of these Uí Eachach Mhumhan. They figure very prominently in the history of Cork and Kerry, expanding east into west Cork to found Garranes, the capital of Eoghanacht Raithlinn and early seat of the overlords of Desmond. Archaeological excavations there in the 1940s discovered evidence of a significant complex of settlement with an intense manufacturing centre of bronze and millefiori and extensive trade with the Byzantine Empire in the 500s, though habitation there may have been as early as the 200s.
Eochaidh had two grandsons Laoghaire and Aodh Ua Garbh who split the tribe into the Cinéal or Uí Laoghaire (Leary’s people), who became the O’Donoghues and the Cinéal Aodha (Hugh’s people) the future O’Mahonys.
By the tenth century, the Dál Cais were challenging the Eoghanacht for supremacy in Munster, and Dubh Dá Bhaireann (d.959) king of Uí Eachach and chief of the Cinéal Laoghaire became King of Munster and took up the banner to defend the province until he was killed. His son Domhnall (d.1015), also described as king of Desmond, commanded the Cinéal Laoghaire in the central division of the Munster army at the battle of Clontarf in 1014, in conjunction with his kinsman Cian, of the Cinéal Aodha (married to the daughter of Brian Boru). After Clontarf the Cinéal Laoghaire and the Cinéal Aodha fell out over Cian’s refusal to aid Domhnall in his desire to retrieve the hostages of Munster from the sons of Brian. Cian and Domhnall fought, and Cian and his two brothers were slain by Domhnall and his son Cathal. Greatly outnumbered, Domhnall attacked the sons of Brian Boru on his own, losing the battle and his life. The name Ó Donnchadha is derived from Domhnall’s son Donnchadh (d.1057), who led the clan into Kerry and the Eoghanacht region of Locha Léin in reprisal for the O’Moriartys siding with the Dál Cais. Eventually, the O’Moriartys were dispossessed of their kingdom and replaced by the Raithlinn.
In the turmoil of the twelfth century the O’Donoghues of Cashel, the MacCarthys and the O’Sullivans were pressured by the O’Briens and O’Connors to move westward; MacCarthys into West Cork and Kerry, the O’Sullivans into southwest Kerry and O’Donoghues of Cashel to join the Uí Eachach tribe of O’Donoghue Mór, who had by then conquered the ancient Eoghanacht kingdom of Locha Léin and had become kings of west Munster.
- Clann tSealbhaigh of the bright streams,
- A land of which there is no doubt;
- O’Domhnaill and his strong hand
- Divided the plain of brown nuts.
- O’Donnchadha of the Loch Lein,
- O’Donnchadha of the full, strong Flesc,
- Are thus over the Clann tSealbhaigh,
- Men whose mind is on [the sovereignty] of Munster
- Ó hUidhrín
O’Donovan says that the Clann tSealbhaigh was the tribal name of the O’Donoghues of Kerry and this poem implied that they had grand ambitions within Munster as a whole. Sealbhaigh, from whom the clan was named, was descended from Eochaidh, roughly four generations on.
The boundaries of today’s Cork and Kerry did not apply in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. The first reference in English records is to ‘Yoghenacht Lokhelan (Eoghanacht Loch Léin) in Cork’ in 1201 and is the cantred described as Jonath Edoneth in 1254. In an inquisition (judicial or official enquiry) of 1281 the title Ogenathy Donechud was used and the territory was stated to have covered three cantreds. These were probably the pre-invasion native territories of Loch Léin, Áes Aella and Áes Iste and represented the three principal population divisions of the kingdom of Eoghanacht Loch Léin. The umbrella tribal title Ogenathy Donechud applied to where the demesne or ‘headquarters’ district was. It covered an extensive area around and beyond the lakes to the north and east. The territory Áes Aella is now known as the barony of Duhallow, and Áes Iste as the parish of Tuosist. In terms of area, the latter is thought to have corresponded to the barony of Glanarought, with that name occurring in 1365 including an area called Osyste.
Clearly the influence of the Eoghanacht Uí Dhonnchadha and Clann tSealbhaigh covered a very large area by the thirteenth century.
Amhlaoibh Ó Donnchadha (d.1158), King of West Munster, is the first identifiable O’Donoghue chief to carry the designation Mór or Great. Described as high king of the Eoghanacht Locha Léin and usurper of West Munster, he rebuilt the stone church at Aghadoe, where a monastery had existed from the sixth century, the ruins of which can still be seen. Amhlaoibh was killed the year of its completion, in a battle between Thomond and Desmond at the river Suir, and he was buried in his cathedral.
In Victorian times the Aghadoe Crosier was found buried in the remains of the cathedral. The ornamentation along the crest of the crosier matches the surround of the doorway, indicating that it was commissioned around the same time, logically by Amhlaoibh Mór. The crosier is the only extant example of a volute curved style typical of the Romanesque period of the twelfth century. Fashioned from morse (walrus) ivory it is a unique artefact of such material in all Ireland. Since there had never been a bishopric at Aghadoe, it is plausible that it was created as a battle standard and used by Amhlaoibh Mór during his campaign against Thomond. It is possible that it was buried with him. It is a treasure of Kerry heritage, on exhibition at the National Museum and is shown on the Historical Sites & Artifacts page.
After Amhlaoibh Mór, the Eoghanacht O’Donoghue divided into two distinct septs, the O’Donoghues Mór or of Loch Léin led by Amhlaoibh’s son Cathal (d.1170) and the O’Donoghues of the Glens led by Conchobhar (d.1178) of the Eoghanacht of Cashel. Between them, they maintained virtually undisputed hold of Eoghanacht O’Donoghue until the end of the sixteenth century. Until the 1960s there were still signs around Killarney describing the area as ‘Onaght O’Donoghue’.
The annals describe Cathal as having been fostered by the MacCarthys of Eoghanacht Chaisil and Conchobhar was probably a foster son of Amhlaoibh from the O’Donoghues of the same tribe.
The Mórs had their primary residence at Ross Castle, built on the shore of Loch Léin in the fifteenth century, and their lands comprised most of the present Killarney parish with a large part of Aghadoe, the shore of the lower lake from the mouth of the river Flesk round to Lakeview, the mountains on the opposite side and the greater part of the slopes of Mangerton together with the valleys round the upper lake. It is also thought that after the battle of Callan in 1261, O’Donoghue Mór held Molahiffe Castle further north.
In 1320 Tadhg the Generous was inaugurated King of Loch Léin and to mark the occasion Cathán Ó Duinnín, the chief bard of Desmond, wrote a genealogical poem giving the pedigree of the O’Donoghues, which he read seated at the foot of the inauguration stone. This poem can be found in the Book of Munster.
In the sixteenth century the Earl of Desmond rebelled against the English crown and the chiefs chose their sides opportunistically, sometimes for Desmond and sometimes for Ormond who led the forces of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1583 Rory O’Donoghue Mór was campaigning with Desmond and was slain. At that time he was one of the few Irish chieftains siding with Desmond, the latter’s cause being lost. The family was attainted in 1586, resulting in forfeiture of their lands and civil rights.
Rory Óg, the son of the slain Rory Mór, was pardoned in 1601 but his properties were not re-granted to him. He is thought to have left Ireland after the Battle of Kinsale. He was in Spain in 1607, and is presumably the ‘Rodrigo O Donoghu, one of the chief men of Ireland’ who in July 1616 was serving the King of France commanding his clan regiment of 300 fighting men in the Thirty Years War.
Rory Óg’s younger brother Tadgh remained in Ireland and is named as the last chief of O’Donoghue Mór in the Book of Munster. He gave rise to the rapparee family known as the O’Donoghues of Ross who eventually fell into destitution. Local legend suggests Rory’s descendants joined their cousins of the Glens. The estate records of Lord Kenmare, who owned much land around Glenflesk, referred in 1757 to O’Donoghue of Ross requiring charity to help maintain him, while grumbling that he was a useless swordsman who refused to work (which for a chief, even a diminished one, would be below his dignity).
The family tradition of Tighe O’Donoghue/Ross is that they were of the Loch Léin line and were transplanted to the Burren in 1786 as rebels (see the Captain Right article in the January 2004 journal issue) during the tithe wars in Kerry. The society’s Y-DNA project has shown that there are two distinct genetic patterns in Kerry between The O’Donoghue of the Glens tribe and Tighe and other matching O’Donoghues with roots around Killarney, and the Society recognises Tighe as the rightful descendant of the Mór chieftains.
Canon O’Mahony writes in his history:
The Clan O’Donoghue displayed during the entire course of its history an undeviating attachment to the cause of Celtic independence. The last O’Donoghue Mor joined the Desmond insurrection; he fell in battle in 1582, and his Sept-land was given by Elizabeth to Mac Carthy Mor. His memory, or rather his name, still lives in the well-known legends of Killarney. The junior branch, the O’Donoghues of Glenflesk, succeeded in maintaining their tribal existence, within their fastnesses, for many years after all other Munster tribes were extinguished.
This family held the wild glen of the Clydagh and the whole of the parish of Killaha. Their seat was at Killaha Castle in today’s parish of Glenflesk, a tower house probably built in the sixteenth century, the ruins of which still stand in a dominant position overlooking the entrance to the glen.
Conor (d.1178) was the originator of this line. His son, Hugh ‘the monk’ who died in 1231, succeeded him. Hugh had a son, Geoffrey ‘of the mansion’. It is possibly he who, according to the annals, died a fearful death due to the action of his wife Sadb, a daughter of The O’Brien. She is said to have instigated the murder of Donal Got MacCarthy, king of Desmond. In revenge, Donal Got’s son Fingín burnt down the O’Donoghue house in 1253. Geoffrey and many of his immediate family perished.
In 1580 when The O’Donoghue of the Glens was supporting the Earl of Desmond in his rebellion, Ormond raided Glenflesk. The Glens family fought for the Gaelic Irish during the rebellion which culminated in the defeat at Kinsale in 1601, and the chief of the time, Geoffrey, was attainted in 1603 though then restored in 1609.
In 1641 Ireland was in revolt against Charles I of England and Kerry was quickly taken over by the rebels. The main action was the siege of the two castles of Tralee, which lasted well into 1642. Tadhg, The O’Donoghue of the Glens, and his three sons were in the rebel forces. The eldest, Geoffrey, assumed the title on the death of his father in 1643. Geoffrey (c.1620-1678) was one of the four renowned Kerry poets of the period. During his tenure as chieftain, Ireland experienced the horror of the Cromwellian period from 1649 to 1660. Geoffrey lamented:
- Time was when I saw the Gaedhil in silks and in jewels,
- Capable, propertied, earnest, perceptive, just,
- Merry, sagacious, noble, lordly, intrepid,
- Poetical, truthful, wine-loving, feasting – once
- And an oft quoted stanza:
- Alas, alas, how weak is nobility now!
- The serving maids have cuffs and frilly lace;
- Upstart in hats – a shoddy improvement, that!
- And torn-eared caps on people of noble race
In 1652 Cromwell’s General Ludlow wasted Kerry and the O’Donoghue castle at Killaha was destroyed. Geoffrey fled into the depths of his glens. He was buried in Muckross Abbey.
Captain Daniel O’Donoghue, who succeeded Geoffrey, fought in Colonel Roger McElligott’s Regiment with King James’s II army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His cousin Calistus, of the O’Donoghues Duff, a cadet line, was a lieutenant in the same regiment and others of the name also fought for King James. In 1771, after a vigorous legal action, another Daniel O’Donoghue of the Glens, through his mother Elizabeth MacCarthy Mór, became heir to part of the estate of the last MacCarthy Mór.
The nineteenth century saw the most prominent O’Donoghue political figure. Daniel O’Donoghue of the Glens represented Tipperary at Westminster from 1857 to 1865 and then was MP for Tralee from 1865 to 1885. In 1921, his grandson, Geoffrey, while in the British army in India, was jailed and sent home for raising the tricolour on St Patrick’s Day in support of Irish independence. He subsequently became a captain in the newly-founded Irish Army.
This family is one of the twenty remaining who have the right to carry their historic title. The current Chief of the Name, The O’Donoghue of the Glens, lives in Co. Offaly and is the patron of The O’Donoghue Society.
The Uí Dhonnchadha (Clan Donohoe) of Breifne were chiefs of the Teallach Dhúnchadha, traditionally a branch of the Uí Bhriúin Bréifne, itself said to be a branch of the royal Uí Bhriúin Aí, rulers of Connacht. The Teallach Dhúnchadha was a tuath (a petty kingdom or lordship) occupying the territory later known as the barony of Tullyhunco, which included the parishes of Killashandra and Kildallan. The barony contains a hill called Corann Cruachan, the site of the inauguration of the O’Rourkes.
In 1159, the chief of the Uí Dhonnchadha is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster as killed while fighting with the other Uí Bhriúin Bréifne under Tiernan O’Rourke, King of Bréifne, among troops of Rory O’Connor, King of Connacht, at the bloody battle of Ferdia’s Ford (Ardee, Co. Louth). They were fighting against Moriarty O’Loughlin, King of Ulster, and from 1156 King of All Ireland, and Donogh O’Carroll, King of Oriel, which included County Louth within its territory.
The kingdom of Ossory comprised almost the entire county of Kilkenny, with a small part of the south of Tipperary and a barony in Leix. Ossory owed allegiance to the kings of both Munster and Leinster at various times in its history and acted as a buffer state between these two great provinces.
The O’Donoghues of Ossory were a branch of those of Cashel, whose territory was given to the kings of Cashel by the people of Leinster as recompense for the death of their king, after he was slain unlawfully at the Hill of Allen in Kildare by a king of Leinster.
The district where the O’Donoghues resided was known as Magh Mail, or the plain of Mal, and stretched from Gowran in County Kilkenny to Dun-Grian in Tipperary.
These O’Donoghues took their name from Donnchad, son of Gilla Pátraic, who in 1036 displaced the ruling Uí Dhúnlainge and was recognised as king of Leinster. The O’Donoghues lost this territory at the end of the twelfth century to Anglo-Norman adventurers. In Ossory it is said the name O’Donoghue became (O’) Dunphy; but that variation can also be found elsewhere.
Jerpoint, County Kilkenny, a great Cistercian abbey, dates to around 1160 and is generally quoted as having been founded and developed by O’Donoghues, kings of Ossory. While their tribal name was O’Donoghue (dating from the eighth century) they had adopted the patronymic name of MacGillapatrick by this time. Donogh O’Donoghue is said to have ‘enriched it with great revenues in the year of Incarnation of the Divine Word’ in 1180.
For over five hundred years the kingdom of Leinster was dominated by the Uí Dhúnlainge. In 728 Dúnchad, of that tribe, came to the throne and from him were descended the Uí Dhúnchadha, who provided many later kings.
The Uí Dhúnchadha spread north-east into Wicklow through to the outskirts of Dublin, where the district of Dolphin’s Barn is said to be a corruption of Dunphy’s Cairn. Their royal seat was at Castlelyons on the Dublin-Kildare border.
Dúnchad was originally a different name to Donnchad, but it became hopelessly confused with the latter and was replaced by it.
The two lords of Fine Gall or Fingal were Ó Dúnchadha and Mac Giolla Mocholmog. They ruled an area stretching from Gormanstown in Meath to Dublin City.
The O’Donoghues were kings of Teallach Modharáin – ‘Household of Moran’. They were seated in East Meath, probably in the barony of South Moyfenrath. It is said that the name has been anglicised as O’Donoghy or Dunphy, similarly to the O’Donoghues of Ossory, though the name Dunphy can now be found throughout the island.
The O’Donoghues of the Ui Chormaic derived this name from Cormac descended from Maine Mór. They, together with two other tribes, had the right to inaugurate and depose their O’Kelly overlords.
They were located to the south outside the Lathach, or Quagmire, which is a great plain in the baronies of Loughrea and Leitrim.
These were part of the tribe known as the Uí Fhiachrach of the Moy. Fiachra was a brother of the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages and father of King Dáithí, the last pagan monarch of Ireland.
The O’Donoghues were descended from Clann Temen of that tribe, said to be of Tireragh in Sligo, in the district around Killala.
Historical references to this tribe are not extensive. They were also known as the Eoghanacht Árann, with territories in North Clare and the Aran Isles.
Aonghus mac Nad Fraoich, king of Munster, of the Eoghanacht Chaisil sent troops to Clare in the fifth century to wrest control from Connacht. St Enda, his brother-in-law, consequently founded a monastery on Inis Mór to convert the native Fir Bolg to Christianity. These troops are said to have formed the nucleus of this tribe.
Flann (d.1010) son of the O’Donoghue of Cashel, was sent to Inis Mór and described as a successor to Enda. The O’Donoghue name is quite common in North Clare and the Aran Isles.
We currently know little of this tribe (O’Dunphy and O’Donoghue) beyond their mention in Power’s The Place-Names of Decies. Their territory was in Waterford/Tipperary below the River Suir.
A 6/7th C. tract refers to the high king of Luachair and Loch Léin (embraced as Iarmumu or West Munster) and describes the equal standing between them. Their territory encompassed many tribes across Munster including the Uí Fidgenti (Limerick), Uí Echach Mumhan and overlordship of the powerful Eoghanacht Raithlinn (the O’Donoghue Mór). Their last king with the title rí Iarmuman died in 791. Afterwards they are just called rí Locha Léin
Flann Feórna of the Ciarraighe Luachra was king of Kerry (so-called) in 8th C. He had 11 sons.
MacFhirbhisigh shows a Cinéal (kindred or descendants of) Dhúnchadha from the first son of Flann Feórna and a Uí (also descendants of) Dhúnchadha Bhig from Reachtabhra, grandfather of Flann. This creates a link with Ó Conchobhair (O’Connor). Dúnchadha/Donnchadha are all the same over time as is evidenced by the Uí Dhúnchadha tribes in Leinster and Cavan described earlier.
A battle in 812 against the Danes was led by the Locha Léin and the Ciarraighe, and presumably with the significant participation of the Uí Dhúnchadha. Legend states that Rattoo was built by the Uí Dhúnchadha at that time in commemoration.
Later in the 9th century the tribes of west Munster transferred their loyalty to Cashel and the Loch Léin never recovered their leadership.
Perhaps as Cashel and later Raithlinn took over Loch Léin, the Ciarraighe Ui Dhúnchadha were absorbed.
There a number of Ballydonoghue (Baile Dhonnchú) townlands in north Kerry (with many rátha or ring forts of the name) and over the county border in Limerick, so the name was there very early on.
Brian Bóraimhe (or Ború) was King of Ireland and defeated the Danes at the famous battle of Clontarf in 1014. He was the son of Ceinnéidigh (Kennedy), and Brian’s sept was known as Síol mBriain (descendants of Brian) within the overarching tribe of Dál Cáis.
MacFhirbhisigh identities that three of Brian’s sons left progeny and one of those was Donnchadh, from whom arose the Uí Dhonnchadha. These later became absorbed into the Clann Bhriain of Atharrlach. This place is now known as Eatharlach (anglicised Aherlow) in County Tipperary.
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