You are here:

Irish Genealogy

Now on Sale from this website!

Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an historian, author and genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.

Website URL: E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

In this my first blog for quite a while I would like to talk about some of the less well-known Gaelic Irish families of the medieval lordship of Tír Chonaill (now called Co. Donegal). These are the families of O'Mulgeehy (Ó Maolghaoithe), O'Farren (Ó Furadhrán), O'Breslin (Ó Breasláin), McGarvey (Mac Gairbhith) and O'Murray (Ó Muireadhaigh).

To begin with the O'Mulgeehys, O'Breslins and O'Farrens - these three families were native to Co. Donegal and in medieval times were situated in the north-west of the lordship of Tír Chonaill. The O'Mulgeehys were known as Mhuintir Uí Mhaoilghaoithe 'the people of O'Mulgeehy'. In the year 1284 they are recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters for killing Dubhgall O'Boyle the Lord of Cloghineely. The O'Mulgeehy family are not recorded in the Irish annals again but by the time of the Plantation of Ulster in 1610 the family were still erenaghs of one quarter of land in the parish of Clondahorky, where they paid annual rents to the Bishop of Raphoe.

In medieval times the O'Farrens were lords of 'Fionnrus', now the Rosses area of west Co. Donegal. The family are not recorded in the annals but they are mentioned in the famous topograhpical poem of Ireland by the Gaelic poet Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagán who died in the year 1372. Although the O'Farren's are not recorded in the annals, a Gaelic noble called Brian O'Farren was pardoned by the English in March 1601 as part of Niall Garbh O'Donnell's (the Lord of Glenfinn) retinue.

The O'Breslins were a very prominent family in early medieval Donegal, members of the family being recorded as Lords of the Fanad peninsula from the 1180s to the early 1260s. Prominent O'Breslin chieftains include Conn O'Breslin, who when he was killed in 1186 by the McLoughlins of Tyrone was referred to in the annals as 'Chief of Fanad, the lamp of the hospitality and valour of the north of Ireland'. In 1261 there was a massacre of Tír Chonaill clergy at Derry by a Tyrone noble called Conor O'Neill. It was Donn O'Breslin the 'Chief of Fanad' who led the Tír Chonaill forces that killed O'Neill soon after in revenge. Donn O'Breslin the Lord of Fanad was assassinated in the Bishop's Palace at Raphoe by Donal Óg O'Donnell the king of Tír Chonaill in 1263. Donal Óg O'Donnell who was the most powerful Gaelic king in the north in the decades after the Battle of Downpatrick (fought in 1260 AD) may have attempted to dispossess the O'Breslins from their estates in Fanad. By 1281, when Donal Óg was killed by a pro-Anglo-Norman faction of the O'Neills of Tyrone at a battle fought at Disert-da-chrioch near Dungannon, an O'Donnell noble called Cormac son of the Ferleighin O'Donnell who was also killed in the battle, is referred to as 'Chief of Fanad'. Another enemy of the O'Breslins, Ceallach 'the Stammering' O'Boyle who murdered Gilchreest O'Breslin 'Chief of Fanad, and his brother', was also killed at the battle of Disert-da-chrioch. The elimination of these local rivals and a seemingly hostile O'Donnell lord of Tír Chonaill may have allowed the O'Breslins to temporarily regain control of Fanad. This would then explain the memories of the destruction of the O'Breslin family by the first McSweeney galloglasses to arrive in Tír Chonaill, an account of which is preserved in the traditional history of the McSweeneys of Fanad compiled in the early sixteenth century.

The O'Breslins survived in Tír Chonaill as a noble and respected family however. Along with their neighbours the O'Boyles, the O'Breslins migrated to the wilds of south-west Tír Chonaill, where they became the most important erenagh family at the major ecclesiastical site at Inishkeel. Brian O'Breslin the chief of the family around the year 1600 was a staunch adherent of the famous lord of Tír Chonaill Red Hugh O'Donnell. The O'Breslins of Inishkeel followed O'Donnell's army to the safety of Lower Connacht in 1601 as the Nine Years War turned against the Gaelic confederates. In February 1603 Brian O'Breslin 'alias O'Breslin' was pardoned by the English in the retinue of Red Hugh's brother Rory O'Donnell.

According to Ó Dubhagán's poem the McGarvey family (Méig Gairbhídh) were lords of Tír Bresail in eastern Donegal, a territory between the ecclesiastical site at Raphoe and the peninsula of Inishowen. The family are not recorded prominently in the annals. Some of my own ancestors were from the O'Murray family of Donegal. These O'Murrays are not to be confused with the O'Murray Lords of Laggan in Connacht. (This is a bit confusing as there is also a place called the Laggan in east Donegal. However, it was families such as the McGarveys who held this area). The O'Murrays appear to have originally been an ecclesiastical family associated with the famous monastery at Derry that always had very strong Tír Chonaill connections although it was located in Tyrone. In 1185 the Annals of the Four Masters record that Maelisa O'Murray 'Lector of Derry-Columbkille, died at a venerable old age'. In 1206 they record the death of Donal O'Murray 'Chief Lector at Derry'. The O'Murrays were also supporters of Red Hugh O'Donnell during the Nine Years War. Among Rory O'Donnell's adherents pardoned in February 1603 were Owen, Donal, Gillapatrick Boy, Rory and Donal Crone O'Murray.

I hope readers have enjoyed this blog - the first for a long time. Please appreciate that it is difficult to keep a blog going on a regular extended basis as original material is needed and I used up all my ideas writing in 2011. With the break however, I now have a few more. Next week 'Whatever happened to the O'Tairchets Lords of Clanelly?'.

A New Series of Blogs to see out the rest of the year (2012).

After a bit of a break I hope to write a short series of genealogy blogs on some interesting Co. Donegal families that I have researched througout the year. Most of these families were recorded in the Irish annals in medieval times but many were dispossessed by the early modern period by such powerful Donegal or Tír Chonaill families as the O'Donnell lords of Tír Chonaill and the McSweeney galloglass chieftains. I will write the first blog over the next few days and then one a week until Christmas. Title of blog this week: Some more interesting Donegal families ~ O'Farren, O'Mulgeehy, O'Murray and McGarvey.

Friday, 10 February 2012 22:11

An Important Note from Dr Darren McGettigan

Please Note: Darren is no longer accepting genealogical commissions on this website.

However, I am keeping this website up to promote my books and the history of my McGettigan family. I also hope to have a new book published soon.

There is also a year's worth of genealogy blog entries on my website ~ feel free to explore them ~ I enjoyed writing them and they were quite popular.

Christmas Irish Genealogy Blog 2011 by Dr Darren McGettigan of Family History Ireland

When I posted earlier this week on my Facebook page that I would try and write a Christmas themed blog this week, one of my readers suggested that I write about the Christmas traditions of the Gaelic Irish around the year 1602. Unfortunately, it is sad to say that very few writers at the time recorded any cultural Christmas traditions of the ordinary people of the Gaelic lordships. Perhaps such evidence has survived and I just havn't found it yet.

Some evidence of Christmas in Gaelic Ireland for the years 1600 to 1602, which was the time of the end of the Nine Years War (1594 - 1603), has survived however, in relation to the O'Molloy chieftain, Calvagh O'Molloy, who was the Gaelic lord of the territory of Fircall, a small Gaelic lordship in the Irish midlands, which is now part of the modern Irish county of Offaly. Calvagh O'Molloy became lord of Fircall in the spring of the year 1599 when his father, Conal O'Molloy, Lord of Fircall died. The Annals of the Four Masters record that Calvagh was appointed Lord of Fircall by Queen Elizabeth I, although 'Some of the gentlemen of his tribe vied and contended with him (according to the custom of the Irish), for that name'.

Calvagh O'Molloy appears to have been a decent man, who tried to keep his lordship and family out of the major war being fought on the island of Ireland, between the English army of Queen Elizabeth and the forces of the Ulster chieftains, Hugh O'Neill, the lord of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O'Donnell, the lord of Tír Chonaill, who were determined to preserve their autonomy and perhaps drive English influence out of Ireland for good. However, try as he might, Calvagh O'Molloy could not keep the war out of Fircall. In the Spring of 1599, Hugh O'Neill sent his son Conn into the region 'to ascertain who they were that were firm in their friendship and promises to O'Neill and the Irish'. One of O'Molloy's neighbours, O'Carroll Lord of Ely treacherously killed a company of Hugh O'Neill's mercenaries in the winter of 1599, which led Hugh O'Neill himself to march through Fircall in January 1600 on his famous expedition to Munster. Hugh O'Neill spent nine nights in the Fircall region and he did not leave until he had plundered Ely O'Carroll in revenge for his murdered soldiers and until 'the people of Fircall, of Upper Leinster, and Westmeath, made full submission to him, and formed a league of friendship with him'. Later on in 1600 as the war turned against the Irish, the English army reconquered Laois and Offaly. However, war returned to Fircall in the winter of 1601 as Red Hugh O'Donnell passed through the territory on his epic march to Kinsale.

Not surprisingly all this warfare and the to-ing and fro-ing of so many opposing armies through the Fircall region had a terrible impact on the local population. One of the family, a Franciscan friar Francis O'Molloy, later wrote that 'the kingdom of Ireland was devastated with famine, fire and sword, and in the utmost dearth of provisions, in Queen Elizabeth's time'. However, Father O'Molloy also records that Calvagh O'Molloy, concerned for the welfare and possibly the very survival of his followers 'invited to his house nine hundred and sixty persons for the feast of Christmas, entertained them there for the space of twleve days'. This was a remarkably generous deed by the O'Molloy chieftain, which was probably inspired by some of the famous 'invitations' issued by a number of prominent Gaelic Irish chieftains in late medieval times. O'Molloy's Christmas feast was probably not unique in Gaelic Ireland during the Nine Years War but it is the only one that I am aware of. The feast I think illustrates the concern some Gaelic Irish chieftains had for the own family and followers and also their attitude to war and famine relief. However, Calvagh O'Molloy's Christmas feast must have been unusually generous. A stanza of bardic poetry was also written to commemorate his very generous deed. Translated from Irish it reads:

'Thrice three hundred and three score -Tale unheard by thee before - Feasted free in Calvagh's hall - Caring light what might befall'.

Hope you enjoyed my Christmas blog. Have a great Christmas and New Years everyone. Next blog 2012!

Irish Genealogy blog by Dr Darren McGettigan of Family History Ireland

My last blog was written about the decline in fortunes of some Cenél nEógain families, left behind in the Inishowen peninsula as the power of the O'Neill Kings of Tyrone contracted to east of the Foyle River. This week, as promised, the distribution of power in Inishowen in the year 1602, as the period of autonomy in Gaelic Ulster was just about to end.

In the Elizabethan Fiants, under the year 1602, there is recorded a 'Pardon to the following persons of Inishowen in the province of Ulster'. The pardon contains a list of many hundreds of names, headed by Cahir O'Doherty, the young Gaelic lord of the peninsula, and dates from 5 June 1602. This list is of great interest to genealogists and also to early modern historians, as it records how political power was then distributed in 1602 among the inhabitants of Inishowen.

Readers of my last blog may remember that I disucssed the history of two prominent Cenél nEógain families who inhabited the north-west and north-east of the Inishowen peninsula in late medieval times ~ the Ó Maolfhábhail and Ó Duibhdhíorma families. So how did these two families fare in 1602? The 1602 list records prominent and powerful Gaelic nobles. A number of Ó Duibhdhíormas are listed, including an Eoghan Ó Duibhdhíorma and a Tuathal and Tuathal Óg Ó Duibhdhíorma, probably a father and son. However, these men are recorded as individuals, not as members of a powerful Gaelic family with a clan territory and castles. However, I was not able to find any members of the Ó Maolfhábhail family at all listed in the pardon, which indicates to me that the family had declined in power by 1602 to such an extent that no members of the family were regarded as any longer noble, although people with the Ó Maolfhábhail surname did continue to live in Inishowen in 1602. However, they must all have been tenant farmers, subject to some other Gaelic lord.

The 1602 pardon list does record however, that the McLoughlin family, which had previously in earlier medieval times ruled as kings of Tyrone, was still recognised as a Gaelic Clan, being referred to as the Clan Loughlin in the pardon list. This list contains a substantial number of McLoughlin nobles, headed by Hugh Carragh McLoughlin, who in other contemporary sources is referred to as the McLoughlin chieftain. The family retained two castles on the shore of Lough Foyle, Red Castle and White Castle, and was obviously regarded as still a powerful family in Inishowen in 1602. The retention of power by the McLoughlin family in part of Inishowen was a substantial achievement, given that the family had been in eclipse ever since the year 1241 AD, when the McLoughlins had suffered a crushing defeat in battle at the hands of the O'Neills of east Tyrone and as a result had lost the kingship of Tyrone for ever. The survival of some McLoughlin power has been overlooked by historians of the early modern period and I think that its survival should be more recognised.

However, the 1602 pardon list also demonstrates that most power and control of almost all of the peninsula rested with the dominant O'Doherty family, which as I indicated in my last blog was of Cenél Conaill origin. As I have already stated the first name on the list is that of Cahir O'Doherty, in 1602 the Gaelic lord of Inishowen. In the list of hundreds of names which follow, most appear to be people with the O'Doherty surname. The pardon list breaks the O'Doherty family up into numerous distinct sub-family units. The 1602 list refers to 'the race of Brian O'Doherty', 'the race of the O'Dohertys called Bressalie', 'the race of Felim O'Doherty' and 'the race of Donal of the O'Dohertys'. The local historian and talented artist Seoirse Ó Dochartaign has produced a beautifully illustrated book called 'Seacht Sliocht Uí Dhochartaigh Inis Eoghain ~ The Seven Races of Inishowen O'Doherty',which attempts to make sense of the tangled O'Doherty family tree. There is certainly a thesis or book there for someone who has the few months needed I think to familiarise oneself with the many O'Doherty sub-families that held most of the land in Inishowen in June 1602.

The 1602 list also records some other families which had some power in Inishowen at the time, including the 'Clan David' ~ the McDaids, a prominent family descended from a medieval chieftain called David O'Doherty, which had branched off from the O'Dohertys at an early stage, and the 'Clan M'Gillachomhaill', and the O'Morrison families who were probably of Cénel nEógain origin, and many members of the O'Shiel family who probably were not.

I hope my readers have enjoyed this week's blog, as I think it shows how not only could the vast majority of land-onwership in one small part of Gaelic Ireland, totally change over the course of two and half centuries, but hand in hand with this process, a still substantial element of the original pre-existing population could retain its land and some of its political power. Very little of this process is recorded in the annals. A lot does appear to have been recorded in this type of genealogocial material. The difficulty is in finding and then interpreting it.


Page 2 of 9

Support Center

Contact Darren McGettigan

  • Tel: (+353) 086 8825824
  • Email:

My Newsletter


My Facebook Page

Family History Ireland on Facebook