Irish Roots

New World Dreams

The idea 'You are what you make of yourself.' arises from the pioneer belief that one's self-worth is earned by one's own efforts. It does not depend upon who one's ancestors were or whether a monarch or baron or landlord granted one privilege. People who embraced this idea of individualism abandoned the feudal systems of Europe and the dependencies created by centuries of plantations, resettlements, exiles, famines and penal laws; they searched out other democratic modes of governance, such as republic, constitutional monarchy, or federation. In such structures did they shape their lives amid multicultural egalitarianism.

It is not likely such adherents who understand their history would display traditional, ancestral coats of arms on their walls or on their possessions, unless it is for historical investigation or for the enjoyment of tracing nostalgic family roots.

It is true that many traditional titles are still recognized and there has been a resurgent interest in re-establishing Irish septs and Chiefs-of-Name, as well as recognizing inherited Scottish, English or continental arms . To many, seeking the preference of official titles connoting wealth and power is a reversion to medieval values. Ironically, logos are a modern form of coats of arms, offering recognition, types of service and degrees of ownership both in businesses and organizations. [MPOG]

Titles of Nobility in The Republic of Ireland

Since 1922, the constitution of the Republic of Ireland forbids the grant of any title of nobility. It also requires any Irish citizen who receives a title of nobility or knighthood from any foreign state to apply for permission to accept/use it.

While not granting any titles itself, the Republic does guarantee the protection of property in its constitution and, further, has never forbidden the usage of inherited titles by its citizens. Of course, any visiting person, such as Prince Charles, is free to use his title.

The Irish government does not honour any old titles, Gaelic or otherwise. The recording or confirmation of an historic title by the Chief Herald is simply a courtesy, a recognition of something that exists. It is no different than the recording of any other piece of property, such as a deed, and is not a concession of a title.

Ireland has an amazing past based in recorded history, oral tradition and mythology. The following outline will not encompass the whole island; instead, it focuses on some main people and chieftain lineages in the province of Munster.

Sept - Coat of Arms - Heraldic Symbol

There is evidence that, even before the arrival of the Normans and the later English invasions and attempts to dominate Ireland, banners and insignia were used in battles as a means of identification.

It is helpful to know the meaning of "sept" in understanding a crest or coat of arms.

Dr. Edward MacLysaght defined sept as "a group of persons inhabiting the same locality and bearing the same surname."

As well as the association of heraldic symbolism with pre-Christian myth, the nature of the property relations within the extended family meant that arms were used in ways quite different to those practiced among the Normans and Anglo-Irish.

In particular, most of the arms were regarded as the property of the sept, rather than being strictly hereditary within a single family, as was and is the case under English and Scottish heraldic law. The Irish coat of arms indicated a member of a sept, although a chief might have his own insignia on the sept coat of arms. Moeover, the Irish made use of tanistry, not primogeniture. What this means is, among the Irish, rights of leadership could be passed on to a relative of the chief in the descendants as far as a grandson based on which one, as decided by the sept, might be their best representative. Among the English and Scottish, arms and rights of leadership were inherited by the immediate descendants. After the influence of the Normans, some Irish coats of arms began to be transferred by progeniture. As a result, there is controversy about who may use the crest or family coat of arms. Based on progeniture, no one can claim a coat of arms because it designates a particular family. Based on tanistry, anyone who can prove he is a descendant of a sept may use the coat of arms, of course, with the latitude, and understanding that members are no longer historically and geographically organized in active septs. There was a fragmentation of septs and families caused by wars, penal laws, the development of towns and cities, by famine and especially by emigration. The rebirth of national pride and the electronic, global re-unification of people has made it popular again , and lucrative for some, to trace roots to a common ancestor and to rediscover the symbols and coats of arms which reinforced a sense of family, a sense of identity.

Today the Office of the Chief Herald remains principally concerned with the granting of arms to individuals and corporate bodies, the ceremonial aspect having lapsed with the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. One aspect of the Office's work today is perhaps connected to this, however. This is the practice of recognising Chiefs of the Name, instituted in the 1940s by Dr. Edward MacLysaght, the first Chief Herald. The aim was simply to acknowledge the descendants of the leading Gaelic Irish families, and this was done [by progeniture] by uncovering the senior descendants in the male line of the last Chief of the Name duly inaugurated as such under the old Gaelic laws. The practice is a courtesy only; under Irish law no native hereditary titles are recognized, and no new titles can be created. Recognizing Chiefs of the Name has led to several disagreements for, regrettably, it seems there are some recent chiefs whose progenitor rights are being questioned.

Geographical Origins: The Province of Munster (Mumhain)

Munster consists of counties Clare, Tipperary, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford and Cork. Its name derives from a pre-Christian goddess, Muma. The full English name incorporates the original Gaelic, together with the Norman suffix "-ster", which is related to the modern French terre, meaning "land".

A principality, designated as Tuath-Mumhan, or Thomond, signified "North Munster;" and contained the six cantreds of Hy Lochlean, Corcumruadh, Ibh Caisin, Hy Garman, Clan Cuilean, and Dal Gaes.

Before the Norman invasion, the county was divided between the old north Munster kingdom of Thomond - which also included parts of Clare and north Limerick - and the south Munster kingdom of Desmond with the border running through the Slieve Luachra mountains. The O'Briens dominated the north kingdom; the McCarthys, the south. Tipperary was the front line of the endless battles between the two, ending only with the expulsion of the McCarthys from Tipperary into Cork. For most of the period, Cashel, in the south of the county, was the seat of the kings of Munster. After the coming of the Normans their power waned and the Butler and Fitzgerald families dominated the north and south of the province respectively.

Dalcassian Roots

Dál gCais, (Dalcassian) means a branching out of the Race of Cas. Cas was the sixth in descent from Cormac Cas, son of Oilill Olum, King of Munster in the 3rd century. Through this line the Dalcassians are connected to Cashel and the other great families of the province of Munster.

Dal Gaes ( Dalcassians) comprised the more extensive districts of Clare included in the baronies of Inchiquin, Bunratty, and Tulla, forming the entire eastern half ruled by the O'Briens, who exercised a supreme authority over the whole, and who preserved their ascendancy here from the date of the earliest records to a late period.

Dalcassians were distinguished warriors who earned a place in Ireland's history especially in the wars against the Danes who long oppressed this country with their devastations, and formed permanent stations on the Shannon, at Limerick and Inniscattery. From these and from the entire district they were finally expelled, early in the 11th century, by the well-directed efforts of the great Brian Boru (Brien Boroihme), the head of the sept, and king of all Ireland, whose residence, and that of his immediate successors, was at Kinkora, near Killaloe. This great clan of Thomond (North Munster), holds several distinguished families including the chief family of the name, the O'Briens, proud descendants of Brian Boru who died in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf.

Dalcassian Septs included Ua Briain (O'Brien), Mac Domhnaill (MacDonnell), Ua Gradaigh (O'Grady), Ua hAnrachain (O'Hanrahan), Ua h-Elidhe (O'Healy), Ua Cinneide (O'Kennedy), Mac Con Mara (MacNamara), Ua Cuinn (O'Quinn), Ua hEachtighearna (O'Aherne),

and O'Muldoon (Malone) of Ogonelloe in east Co. Clare, among others.

Roman Records

The Roman geographer Ptolemy lived about the year 140. His chart of Hibernia (Ireland) is the basis for some of what is known about the early inhabitants of the island. Samuel Lewis' publication in 1837 called "A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland," includes references to the early groups and settlements mentioned in Ptolemy's original work.

Ptolemy designated the inhabitants of the northern part of Munster, much of present Clare and Tipperary, Gangani and Auteini, who inhabited also some of the southern parts of the present county of Galway. Camden and Dr. Charles O'Conor suggested the Gangani were descended from the Concani of Spain.

Myths and Annals

Prior to the arrival of the sons of King Milesius (Milidh) the mythological tribes in Ireland were said to include the Fomorians (Fomhóire), the Partholonians, the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha de Danann. Stories of these people as well as much about the early centuries of Ireland's past have been passed down through time in the form of various annals, the 'Annals of the Four Masters' among the more prominent of these pseudo-historical accounts of ancient Hibernia (Eire, Ireland). Serious scholars have always held Ireland's history is not truly knowable before about 500 AD. The reader can take this into account while reading the early myths and stories and annals

However, any examination of the roots of Irish history would be very incomplete if it omitted reference to the Milesian Genealogies. The website MILESIAN GENEALOGIES from the Annals of the Four Masters
is worth reading in order to understand the mammoth task undertaken in order to make records of Irish roots. Pat Traynor's introduction follows.

"Most of the Irish are descended from one of the three sons of Milesius who had issue. These are the Milesian genealogies.

Before writing was widespread in Ireland, a class of men was trained to memorize the hereditary history of their clan and all the descendants from the founder or progenitor without error or omission. They were called "filads".

King Cormac Mac Art, in the third century of the Christian era, ordered the history of the Irish nation to be compiled. This work was called "The Psalter of Tara". From this and other more recent works, "The Psalter of Cashel" was written in the ninth century. The original of this is in a London museum.

After Christianity came in the 5th century, the monks recorded all of the history and pedigrees they could find. Most hereditary surnames only came into use in the tenth century, by command of the illustrious King Brian Boru. The harp believed to be his, is in the Trinity college museum in Dublin, Ireland.

In the 5th century, St Patrick was one of the nine personages appointed by the triennial parliament of Tara to review, examine, and purge errors from all the chronicles, genealogies, and records of the Kingdom.

The numbers on this list are supposed to be the generations of descendants from the first man, Adam. The monks are believed to be responsible for extending the pedigrees back that far; that list from Adam to Milesius can be found if desired. This list begins with Milesius. Some historians believe Irish pedigrees are fairly accurate back to the 6th or possibly the 5th century. "

The O'Grady roots are referred to in the following:

"Compiled in the years 1632-1636 at the convent of Donegal, by the chief author, Michael O'Clery, a monk of the order of St. Francis, after a search of fifteen years throughout the country for the most important of the Irish documents.


36. MILESIUS OF SPAIN; (GAUL) A valiant warrior, prosperous in all his undertakings. He was contemporary with Solomon. He planned to invade Ireland to avenge the death of his uncle, ITHE, killed by the TUATHA-DE-DANANS, and also to fulfill a prophesy. His eight sons took on the charge after his death.

37. HEREMON; IR; HEBER; The three sons of MILESIUS. HEREMON was the seventh son, but the third of these three that left issue. Five were killed in landing upon the treacherous coast, including IR. AMERGIN, who was a Druid, was one of the three brothers who survived. HEREMON and his eldest brother HEBER were jointly, the first Milesian monarchs of Ireland. They began to reign in 1699 B.C., the first of one hundred eighty three Kings or sole Monarchs of the Gaelic, Milesian, or Scottish race that governed Ireland, successively, for two thousand eight hundred and eighty five years from the first year of their reign, to the submission to the Crown of England; King Henry the II; who was also of the Milesian race by his mother Maude, of lineal descent from Fergus Mor MacEarca, first King of Scotland, a descendant of HEREMON.

HEBER was slain by HEREMON in a quarrel, caused by their wives. AMERGIN was also slain by HEREMON over an argument over territory.


Heber is the line from which Brian Boru comes, as do:

Brady, Brennan, Carroll, Casey, Clancy, Coghlan, Connell, Cullen, Doran, Hagerty, Hickey, Hogan, Kearny, Kelleher, Kennedy, Lynch, Lyons, Lysaght, McCarthy, MacGrath, MacMahon, Macnamara, Moroney, Moloney, O'Brien (10 different pedigrees), O'Callaghan, Collins, O'Connor, O'Corcoran, Daly, Donoghue, Donovan, Flanagan, O'Gara, O'Grady, O'Hara, O'Keeffe, Liddy, Mahony, Meagher, O'Meara, O'Neill, O'Sullivan, Plunkett, Power (o'Poir), Quin, Quaile, Ring, Shannon, Slattery, Stewart, Tracey - to name a few.

38. Conmaol; 12th Monarch c.1650 BC
39. Eochaidh Faobhar Glas; 17th Monarch c.1492 BC
40. Eanna Airgthach; 21st Monarch c.1409 BC
41. Glas
42. Ros
43. Rotheacta
44. Fearard
45. Cas



An excellent resource is The Doyle and McDowell Page:

It is relatively brief but contains Irish history, heraldry, and modern Chiefs of the Name information. It has information similar to the much longer, detailed resource Coats of Arms from Ireland and around the world by Eddie Geoghegan found here

The following excerpt can be found in both .

The last official statement of authentic chiefs was made in l956. It has been brought up to date in a work entitled The Irish Chiefs by C. Eugene Swezey (New York, 1974) where information regarding present addresses, heirs, arms etc., will be found. In that work the prefix 'The' before the surname is given because it has long been used in English to designate them (as it was in Irish in the case of hibernicised Norman septs). In their signatures, however, the surname alone is used without Christian name.

The following are those now officially recognised:

  1. O Conor Don
  2. O Neill of Clanaboy
  3. O'Brien of Thomond
  4. Fox (An Sionnach)
  5. O Callaghan
  6. MacGillycuddy of the Reeks
  7. O Grady of Kilballyowen
  8. MacDermot of Coolavin
  9. O Kelly of Gallagh
  10. MacDermot Roe
  11. O Morchoe
  12. O Donell of Tirconnell
  13. MacMorrough Kavanagh
  14. O Donoghue of the Glens
  15. O Donovan
  16. O Toole of Fir Tire

    Before the final submergence of the Brehon system, a code of laws which governed the septs before it was replaced by feudal laws, there were, needless to say, many more recognised chiefs than the sixteen listed above who have actually substantiated their claim in recent times. Sixteenth century sources, such as the State Papers and the Fiants, show that, apart from the hibernicised Norman families already mentioned, the heads of the following families were there referred to as chiefs: MacArtan (now MacCartan), MacAuliffe, MacAuley, MacClancy, MacCarthy Mór, MacCarthy Reagh, MacCoghlan, MacDonagh, MacGeoghegan, MacGilpatrick (Fitzpatrick), MacGorman, MacGrath, MacGuinness, MacGuire, MacKenna, MacKiernan, MacKinnane (Ford), MacLoughlin, MacMahon, MacManus, MacNamara, MacRory, O Beirne, O Boyle (no connection with the English name Boyle, borne by the Earl of Cork), O Brennan, O Byrne, O Cahan (Kane), O Carroll, O Clery, O Connell, O Connolly, O Conor Faly, O Conor Roe, O Conor Sligo, O Daly, O Dempsey, O Devlin, O Doherty, O Dowd, O Doyle, O Driscoll, O Dunn, O Dwyer, O Farrell, O Flaherty, O Folane, O Gara, O Hagan, O Hanlon, O Hara, O Heyne, O Keeffe, O Kennedy, O Loughlin, O Madden, O Mahony, O Malley, O Mannin, O Melaghlin, O Molloy, O More, O Mulryan (Ryan), O Mulvey, O Nolan, O Phelan, O Reilly, O Rourke, O Shaughnessy, O Sheridan, O Sullivan Beare, O Sullivan Mór.

    (From: More Irish Families by Edward MacLysaght. Pub. Irish Academic Press ISBN 0-7165-0126-0)

    Since1970, there has been a great upsurge of interest in the old Irish chieftainries and clans. Many 'Clan Societies' have now been formed and some of these have revived the practice of appointing Chieftains. The Irish Government has encouraged this pursuit.

    Vulneratus Non Victus

    Wounded But Not Defeated

         ..........motto of the O'Grady sept

    Preston O'Grady     October 17, 1999

    O'Grady Networking