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Thursday, 21 April 2011 17:43

The O'Laverty family of West County Tyrone

Written by  Darren McGettigan
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What really got me interested in genealogy was researching the history of my own McGettigan family. My grandfather was from County Donegal and my surname was quite unusal for County Wicklow, at least while I was young. While researching the McGettigans I discovered records of the deaths of two McGettigan chieftains in the Annals of the Four Masters, Diarmaid McGettigan in 1132 and Tadhg McGettigan in 1215.

The Four Masters stated that these McGettigans were lords of Clondermot, an area which was in the west of the modern County of Derry, running along the east bank of the Foyle. However, with the death of Tadhg McGettigan in 1215 the McGettigan family disappears totally from the Irish annals and they are never recorded again. The next references I was able to discover about McGettigan people was in English records dating from the early 1600s but all these references were to County Donegal and not to Tyrone. So at some stage the McGettigan family must have moved and left County Derry to migrate into Donegal or the lordship of Tír Chonaill, as it was in late medieval and early modern times.

This disappearance and migration got me interested in what was happening in the medieval kingdom of Tyrone in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. When I discovered that the O'Carolan family, who were recorded as lords of Clondermot much more frequently than the McGettigans also disappeared from the annals after about the year 1300 AD, the goings on in late medieval Tyrone definitely had my attention. The disappearance of the families of Clondermot or the Clann Diarmada as they appear in the Gaelic Irish genealogies appears to have been due to the Anglo-Norman advance into Ulster which began with John De Courcy's conquests east of the Bann and culminated with the Earl of Ulster's building of the great castle at the mouth of Lough Foyle in the early 1300s. The Anglo-Normans must have destroyed the power of the coastal families of Derry and Inishowen. The fact that the most powerful family in west Tyrone, the McLoughlins also suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of their rivals the O'Neills, at the battle of Caimeirge, fought in 1241, must also have played a major part in the decline of the west Tyrone families.

Another prominent west Tyrone family who also disappeared from the Gaelic records at this time were the O'Lavertys. (Ó Laithbheartaigh). The O'Lavertys had a very distinguished ancestry being descended from Áed Allán, a king of Tyrone and High-King of Ireland who died in the year 743 AD. The O'Neills and McLoughlins were descnded from Áed Allán's brother Niall Frossach. The first prominent member of the family recorded in the annals was Murchadh O'Laverty who was nicknamed Glunillar 'of the eagle knee'. Murchadh also bore the title King of Aileach and must have ruled western Tyrone for Donal O'Neill who was High-King of Ireland at the time. Murchadh O'Laverty was fatally wounded in the year 972 while leading a raid into Tír Chonaill and he died after returning home to his fortress at Dun Cloitighe which is thought to have been at the site of the modern village of Clady on the River Finn. This area on the modern border between Northen Ireland and the Republic appears to have been the O'Lavertys' family territory. In the early thirteenth century the O'Laverty chieftains had the prestigious title ríoghdhamhna (royal heir) of Aileach, and in 1186, one of the family, Rory O'Laverty was even made King of Tyrone. However, he was killed the next year, again on a raid into Tír Chonaill.

Probably naturally to a west Tyrone family the people of Tír Chonaill appear to have been the hereditary enemies of the O'Lavertys. However, the O'Lavertys also appear to have feuded frequently with the O'Gormleys, another prominent west Tyrone family and indeed the O'Lavertys may have had ambitions to take over the O'Gormleys' territory. In 1251 the death of one of the last prominent O'Lavertys recorded in the annals, Ardgal O'Laverty, is entered in the Irish annals. He is called 'the lamp of the valour and hospitality of the north of Ireland', and he was buried in the monastic city of Derry. The last O'Laverty recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters was Murtough O'Laverty, who was killed in the year 1281 at the battle of Desertcreaght, which was fought between a Gaelic alliance led by Donal Óg O'Donnell, the king of Tír Chonaill, against a pro-Anglo-Norman army commanded by Hugh Boy O'Neill. Donal Óg O'Donnell was killed in the encounter and O'Laverty appears to have been in O'Donnell's army.

The O'Lavertys disappear from Gaelic Irish history after this date. This is quite surprising as it appears from the material above they were a very prominent and distinguished Tyrone family, much more so than the McGettigans or even the O'Carolans. I am not entirely sure what happened in this part of west Tyrone but some of the O'Donnells of Tír Chonaill appear to have moved into the Lifford area of modern County Donegal and expelled many Tyrone families such as the O'Donnellys, O'Gormleys, O'Loonys and the O'Lavertys also. The first O'Donnells to muscle in on the area may have been junior branches of the clan but certainly in the fifteenth century a major branch of the O'Donnells, the sons of the chieftain Neachtan O'Donnell were based in the Lifford area. These O'Donnells appear to have married into the O'Gormley family, and as a result it is probably no coincidence that the O'Gormleys were the one west Tyrone family to retain some of their power right ot the end of the Gaelic order in the early 1600s. The O'Loony family were forced high into the Sperrin Mountains while the O'Donnellys were sent into east Tyrone where they did retain power and infleunce as marshal of O'Neill's cavalry. The O'Lavertys appear to have been confined to the valley of the river Derg close to the ecclesiastical site at Ardstraw where they had a small fort inside the Termon or sanctuary. An indication of their very reduced status can be gleaned from the O'Neill document the Ceart Uí Néill which appears to have been written for the chieftain Turlough Luineach O'Neill, who ruled Tyrone in the late sixteenth century. This tract records that the O'Lavertys were not entitled to any compensation 'however long O'Neill should stay with them', which must have been a very onerous tax indeed.

A major but surprising factor in the decline in the power and status of the O'Laverty family in early modern times must be the fact that a substantial portion of the family appear to have left west Tyrone to settle east of the Bann with the O'Neills of Clandeboy in the fifteenth century. Certainly by the early 1600s O'Lavertys were prominent in Antrim with many O'Laverty families settled at Carrowlaverty and in the parish of Armoy.

However, by the time of the end of the Gaelic order in the early 1600s the O'Laverty family probably still maintained the cohesion of a very small and minor Gaelic clan, settled in the Derg valley west of Ardstraw. Whether they retained any memory of their illustrious medieval past is open to question, but one hopes that they did.

Last modified on Friday, 22 April 2011 07:44
Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an established Author and Genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.

Website: www.familyhistoryireland.com

1 Comment

  • Comment Link Debra Laverty Ketchie Sunday, 27 May 2012 20:08 posted by Debra Laverty Ketchie

    Thank you for this article. It was informative to say the least.I have found other research articles on the Laverty name but none as well written as this. This article was very well done, reinforced some of what I knew and added a great deal to it. I look forward to researching the sources mentioned here. Debra Laverty Ketchie

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