Irish genealogy

Irish genealogy is the study of individuals and/or families who originated on the island of Ireland.


Genealogy was cultivated since at least the start of the early Irish historic era. Upon inauguration, Bards and poets are believed to have recited the ancestry of an inaugurated king to emphasise his hereditary right to rule. With the transition to written culture, oral history was preserved in the monastic settlements. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín believed that Gaelic genealogies came to be written down with or soon after the practise of annalistic records, annals been kept by monks to determine the yearly chronology of feast days (see Irish annals).

Its cultivation reached a height during the Late Medieval Era with works such as Leabhar Ua Maine, Senchus fer n-Alban, Book of Ballymote, De Shíl Chonairi Móir, Book of Leinster, Leabhar Cloinne Maoil Ruanaidh and the Ó Cléirigh Book of Genealogies. This tradition of scholarship reached its zenith with Leabhar na nGenealach, composed mainly between 1649–1650 in Galway.

Genealogy had at first served a purely serious purpose in determining the legal rights of related individuals to land and goods. Under the Brehon Laws, ownership of land was determined by Agnatic succession, female ownership being severely limited.

Over time, genealogy was pursued for its own merits by the Gaelic learned classes. From c. 1100, various families such as Ó Cléirigh, Mac Fhirbhisigh, Ó Duibhgeannáin, Mac Aodhagáin and Mac an Bhaird became professional historians. They were often employed by ruling families, the most important of whom included Ó Conchobhair, Ó Neill, Ó Domhnaill, Ó Cellaigh, Mac Murchadha Caomhánach, Mac Carthaigh, Ó Briain, Ó Mael Sechlainn, Mac Giolla Padraig. It also became pervasive among the Anglo-Irish, with the recording of the family trees of FitzGerald, Butler, Burke, Plunkett, Nugent, Bermingham and others.

Some clans, such as Mac Fhirbhisigh and Ó Duibhgeannáin were originally hereditary ecclesiastical families, while others (Ó Cléirigh, Mac an Bhaird, Ó Domhnallain) were dispossed royalty who were forced to find another profession (see also Irish medical families).

The transmission of this body of lore (seanchas) has resulted in detailed knowledge on the origins and history of many of the tribes and families of Ireland. An anglicised tradition has continued since the 17th-century, translating many of the scripts into English. The practise of genealogy continues to be of importance among the Irish and its diaspora. Historians (such as Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Nollaig Ó Muraíle) consider the Irish genealogical tradition to have the largest national corpus in Europe.

The Irish Genealogical Doctrine

Over the course of several centuries, an evolving genealogical dogma created by the bardic viewed all Irish as descendants of Míl Espáine. This ignored variant traditions, including those recorded in their own works. The reasons behind the doctrine's adoption is rooted in the policies of dynastic and political propaganda.

The doctrine dates from the 10th–12th centuries, as demonstrated in the works of Eochaid ua Flainn (936–1004); Flann Mainistrech (died 25 November 1056); Tanaide (died c. 1075); and Gilla Cómáin mac Gilla Samthainde (fl. 1072). Many of their compositions were incorporated into the compendium Lebor Gabála Érenn.

It was enhanced and embedded in the tradition by successive generations of historians such as Seán Mór Ó Dubhagáin (d.1372), Gilla Íosa MacFhirbhisigh (fl. 1390–1418) and Flann Mac Aodhagáin (alive 1640). By 1600 it was refined to the point that certain Anglo-Irish families were given spurious Gaelic ancestors and origin legends, such was their immersion in Gaelic culture.

The first Irish historian who questioned the reliability of such accounts was Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh (murdered 1671), whose massive Leabhar na nGenealach included disparate and variant recensions. Unlike Geoffrey Keating Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, he did not attempt to synthesise the material into a unified whole, instead recording and transmitting it unaltered. However, historians as late as such as Eugene O'Curry (1794–1862) and John O'Donovan (1806–1861) sometimes accepted the doctrine and a nationalistic interpretation of Irish history uncritically. During the 20th century the doctrine was reinterpreted by the work of historians such as Eoin MacNeill, T. F. O'Rahilly, Francis John Byrne, Kathleen Hughes (historian), and Kenneth Nicholls.

See also O'Rahilly's historical model, Genetic history of Europe, Genetic history of the British Isles.

Genealogical compilations

The following are manuscripts consisting of genealogies in whole or part.

Lost works

Irish Genealogical Office

Burke's Peerage and Landed Gentry

21st-century Irish genealogy

See also:

Notable Irish families

Notable Irish genealogists

See also


  1. Alexander Bugge (ed. & tr.), of Duald Mac Firbis, On the Fomorians and the Norsemen. Christiania: J. Chr. Gundersens Bogtrykkeri. 1905. See Bugge's introduction.

General reference

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