O'Higgins family

Ó hUigin

Arms of The O'Higgins, Lords of Ballynary
Country Kingdom of Connacht
Parent house Southern Uí Néill

Kingdom of Connacht

Kingdom of Spain

Jacobite Peerage

Royal House of Georgia

  • Baron O'Higgins
Current head Karl Aiden O'Higgins

O'Higgins (Irish: Ó hUiginn) is an Irish noble family descended from Shean Duff O'Higgins (fl. 1600 C.E.), Gaelic Baron of Ballynary, who was married to a daughter of the royal family of O'Conor at Ballintuber Castle in Connacht. Shean Duff O'Higgins himself claimed descent from King Niall of Tara (d. 450 C.E.).[1][2][3] Historically, many of their ancestors were poets and scholars who enjoyed the patronage of several chiefly families including O'Conor Don, MacDermott, O'Doherty, O'Gara, and MacDonagh.

O'Higgins are counted among the Gaelic nobility as a sept of the royal house of O'Neill.[4][5] Members of this family were further ennobled in 1724 by James III (pretender to the throne of England and Ireland) during his in exile in France, and again in 1795 and 1796 by Charles IV of Spain.

Family name

Earlier scholars traced the origin of the name from the word "knowledge" in Irish, possible linked to the family's early prominence as bards to the Gaelic Kings.[6] However, more recent scholars have identified that "uigin" refers to a Norse seafarer or Viking.[7] In Gaelic times the prefix Uí before a name was used to signify descent from a grandson, this family are said to have descended from the grandson of Uiginn who lived in the 11th century or possibly from a previous Uiginn who was a grandson of King Niall of Tara. In modern times the surname has often been translated from Irish into "Higgins" in English although members the more senior branches of the family continue to use "O'Higgins".


The O'Higgins family originated in the Kingdom of Meath and Brega which equate to the modern Irish counties of Meath and Westmeath. As a sept of the Southern Uí Néill their roots in these areas can be traced at least to the 5th century and possibly even earlier. By the 12th century the senior branch of the family had migrated into the Kingdom of Connacht where they settled and were granted large estates by the O'Conors in Sligo at Dooghorne and Monteige in the Barony of Luighne under the protection of the O'Hara Chiefs and at Ballynary in the Barony of Tir-Errill under the protection of the MacDonagh Chiefs.

From the Council of Drom Ceat in 574 AD up to the end of the Gaelic era in the 17th century various members of the O'Higgins clan were hereditary poets (filés in Irish) in the courts of Irish Princes and Chiefs.[8][9] As hereditary poets they were accorded a status of nobility second in rank only to the King and were entitled to wear the same amount of colours in their robes. Members of this family came under the patronage of other Irish noble houses particularly Ó Conor, Ó Neill, MacDonagh, Ó Rourke, Maguire, Ó Doherty, Mac Dermot and Ó Gara. From the 14th to the 17th centuries the O'Higgins were among the most prolific poets in the courts of the Irish Princes.:[10]

Loss of status and migration

Due to their loyalty to Gaelic culture and religion, the O'Higgins family of Ballynary suffered under the English Crown in Ireland and by 1654 had lost their lands in Sligo.[11] While some members of the family remained in Sligo as tenants on their own lands, some members of the family migrated to Spain where they achieved high office in the service of the King. The O'Higgins of Ballynary migrated to Summerhill in Co. Meath where they lived at Clondoogan and Agher.

In 1751 Ambrose O'Higgins (ca. 1720-1801) left Summerhill in Co. Meath for Cadiz in Spain from where he went to Peru and Chile. In 1788 he became Governor General of Chile. He was ennobled by King Carlos IV of Spain initially in 1795 as 1st Barón de Ballinar and again in 1796 when he was raised to Marqués de Osorno.[12] His son Bernardo O'Higgins became the first Head of State of Chile in 1818. His son Pedro Demetrio O'Higgins Puga (1818-1868) was a Chilean politician and entrepreneur. Ambrose O'Higgins' brother William (Guillermo) O`Higgins (1722 - 1772) was Captain of the Spanish troops and Colonial Administrator in Paraguay.

The Ballynary line of the O'Higgins family continued at Summerhill in County Meath until 1947. Karl Aiden O'Higgins of Cheshire in England now represents the family title.

Sir John Higgins Bt of Monteige, kinsman to the O'Higgins of Ballynary, was knighted and ennobled by King James III in 1724 in return for his services to France. He was senior physician to the King of Spain. His cousin Don Esteban de Iguiño (Stephen Higgins) was a General in the Spanish Colonial Army in the Philippines.[13]

Notable members of the family


The O'Higgins family are armigerous in the Kingdom of Ireland, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Jacobite) and in the Kingdom of Spain.[21][22]

The earliest known coat of arms was recorded in 1724 by Sir John Higgins Bt of Montoge with Sir James Terry, Athlone Herald in the Court of James II at St. Germaine. Sir John Higgins's branch of the family moved to Limerick after they lost their lands at Monteige in Sligo and eventually relocated in France and later in Spain where John Higgins was knighted and became personal physician to the King of Spain.

The descent of the Arms of Shean Duff O'Higgins, Baron of Ballynary were recorded in the Office of Ulster King of Arms in 1788 having existed for at least the previous 200 years.[23] and were later recorded in the same year with the Cronista Rey de Armas in Madrid eventually descending to Thomas O'Higgins of Cheshire.[24][25]

In 1788, Don Ambrose O'Higgins obtained a certificate of descent and the right to use the Ballynary Arms with due difference from Ulster King of Arms (Kingdom of Ireland) and subsequently received a grant from the Cronista Rey de Armas (Kingdom of Spain).[26] His Coat of Arms was then adopted in 1796 as the official emblem of the city of Osorno in Chile after which he had been ennobled as Marquis of Osorno.

Dr. James O'Higgins Norman recorded Arms in 2011 with the Cronista Rey de Armas de Castilla y León before being admitted as a Caballero in La Casa Troncal de los Doce Linajes de Soria.[27]


  1. The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  2. Annals of the Four Masters M378-405
  3. Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.48, 1.49, 1.50, 51, 52
  4. See List of Irish clans.The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  5. Genealogy of Ó hUiginn from O Clery Book of Genealogies (based on edition by Séamus Pender, Analecta Hibernica 15, 1951)
  6. letter from Prof. Eóin Mac Neill to Prof. Knott written in December 1919.
  7. The bardic poems of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1550–1591), Eleanor Knott (ed.), London, 1920 and 1926
  8. The Book of Glendalough Rawlinson MS B 502 Oxford, Bodleian Library c. AD 1130
  9. Keating, G. The History of Ireland. Section 10.
  10. Eleanor Knott, Bardic Poems of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1922), I, xx–xxii:
  11. O'Rorke, T. (1889) "The History of Sligo Town and County Vol. II – Conclusion" (Dublin: Duffy & Company).
  12. Letters patent from King Carlos IV 27 January 1796 in Archives of the Indies.
  13. Archivo General de Indias (Sevilla), Filipinas, 194, N.38: Petición de Juan de Eguiño para que se dé licencia a Esteban de Eguiño para venir a España a defenderse. 1719-1723
  14. National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  15. The pedigrees and papers of James Terry, Athlone Herald at the court of James II in France(1690–1725)" edited by Charles Lart
  16. (Ricardo Donoso, El Marqués de Osorno: Don Ambrosio Higgins, Santiago, Publicaciones de la Universidad de Chile, 1942 p.53.
  17. National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  18. Velilla, Benjamín, Parentesco de Bernardo O'Higgins Con Los Yegro del Paraguay en el "Anuario del Instituto Paraguayo de Investigaciones Históricas" Vols. 6, 7 (1962). La versión en línea incluye una entrevista con la señora Candida O'Higgins en Última Hora periódico (Asunción), 6 de febrero de 1985, página web(http://usuarios.lycos.es/fulgencioyegros/parentesco.html), citado 06 de febrero 2007.
  19. Demetrio O'Higgins by Jorge Ibañez Vergara.
  20. Montaner, C.A. Twisted Roots, A Look at the Historical and Cultural Influences that Shaped Latin America.
  21. The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  22. Archivo del cronista de armas de Castilla y León, Registrada al Número 31 del año 2011.
  23. Genealogical Office, Dublin MS 165. p. 396-399.
  24. The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  25. Archivo del cronista de armas de Castilla y León, Registrada al Número 31 del año 2011.
  26. Genealogical Office, Dublin MS 165. p. 396-399.
  27. Quedó Inscrito en el Libro General de Linajes, Libro I, Asiento N° 82.
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