Thursday, 21 April 2011 17:43

The O'Laverty family of West Co. Tyrone

Featured 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 Co. Donegal and my surname was quite unusal for Co. Wicklow. 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 Co. 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 (Camderry), fought near Omagh in 1241, must also have played a major part in the decline of the west Tyrone families.

Another prominent west Tyrone family who also disappear from the Gaelic records at this time were the O'Lavertys. (Ó Laithbheartaigh/Uí Flaithbertaigh). There is some confusion about the genealogy of the O'Lavertys as there were many Cenél nEógain kings called Flaithbertach, with the distinct possibility that there was more than one family with this surname in medieval Tyrone. Never-the-less it it thought that the O'Lavertys had a very distinguished ancestry being descended from Flaithbertach, king of Ailech 887-896, who was the son of Murchad, king of Ailech 879-887, grandson of Máel Duin, king of Ailech c. 862, and great-grandson of Áed Oirdnide (Aed the Ordained), a prominent king of Ailech and high-king of Ireland who died in 819 AD. The O'Neills and McLoughlins were very closely related being descended from Áed Oirdnide's other son Niall Caille (d. 846), who too was once king of Ailech and high-king of Ireland. The main fortress of the O'Laverty family was at Dun Cloitighe which is thought to be 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 Ailech, and in 1186, one of the family, Rory O'Laverty (Ruaidhri Ua Flaithbertaigh, king of Ailech 1186-1187), was even made King of Tyrone. He was killed the next year on a raid into Tír Chonaill.

Probably naturally enough 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. Indeed the O'Lavertys may have had ambitions to take over 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 monastery 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. This battle was fought between a Gaelic alliance led by Domnall Óg O'Donnell, the king of Tír Chonaill, against a pro-Anglo-Norman army commanded by Hugh Boy O'Neill. Domnall 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'Lunneys 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'Lunney family were forced high into the Sperrin Mountains while the O'Donnellys ended up in east Tyrone where they did retain power and influence 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.

Some O'Lavertys appear to have settled 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. Whether these O'Lavertys were from west Tyrone or were members of a seperate family (Another O'Laverty family is thought to possibly be descended from Áed Allán, king of Ailech and high-king of Ireland who died in 743 AD), is unknown.

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 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 Monday, 25 April 2016 00:18
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.