I first became aware of the O’Flahertys while searching for the few scraps of information available about my own family, the MacConroys of Gnomore and Ballymaconry. Being historically minded, I was of course fascinated by their story. Their dynasty actually ruled two different kingdoms at two different epochs. At first, all I wanted to do with this was to give the details of the 11th century tract regarding the retainers of Muintir Murchada in a manner that made comprehension easier. Naturally, my distaste for presenting information out of context left me with little chance of not being long-winded, so to speak.
What follows here, then, is indeed an account of the information in that tract, preceded by a brief description of the dynasty’s history in the centuries leading up to that point and followed by a brief account of the family’s fortunes afterward.
Ui Briuin Seola & Muintir Murchada to the 12th century
The first notice in the annals of Ireland of chiefs of the dynasty which ultimately became the O’Flahertys of Iar Connacht was in the mid-7th century, long before the adoption of surnames and before they had moved into the territory for which they first became famous. Cenn Faelad mac Colgan, chief of a sept of the Ui Briuin dynasty, which was then competing for dominance with the Ui Fiachrach that had displaced the previous Fir Ol nEchmachta rulers of Connacht, was high king of Connacht 668-682. No member of his sept held the throne of Connacht again until the latter years of the 11th century.
The entry in question, dated 653, treats him as the chief retainer of Maenach mac Baethine of the Ui Briuin Magh nAi in battle against Marcan mac Toma of the Ui Fiachrach Aidne, the dynasty which at the time ruled Connacht. The Ui Fiachrach Aidne and the Ui Briuin had been alternating in dominance since the 6th century; Loingseach mac Colmain of Ui Fiachrach Aidne was the current high king of Connacht. The location of the battle, in which Marcan was killed, is given as “Iarthar Seola”, or “West (Magh) Seola”.
Two things of note here: (1) this is the first mention of the sept in connection with the territory for which it later became known; and (2) the presence of the Ui Fiachrach Aidne in that region indicates that sept may have been overlords of its rulers, the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, who later became subordinate kings of Cenn Faelad’s descendants.
Loingseach died in 655 and was succeeded by his brother, the famous Guaire Aidne, who ruled until 663, when he was succeeded by his son, Murchetach Nar. Cenn Faelad must have been part of the derbhine of Ui Briuin Ai since he ascended to the throne of Cruachan in 668 when that sept regained dominance.
The next mention of the sept that ultimately became the O’Flahertys in the annals is the death of Donn mac Cumasgach, called king of the “southern Ui Briun”. At this time, the territory almost certainly included the lands of the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad and the Conmaicne Dunmore but not the entirety of the southern territory they later controlled. However, it may have included the actual geographic feature for which that kingdom became known because Magh Seola, the “plain of Seola”, lies in the modern townlands of Caltragh in the parish of Killower and the townlands of Caltragh and Carheeny in the parish of Belclare, both parishes adjacent to Dunmore.
Maelan mac Cathmogha, who died 848, is the first to be called “king of Magh Seola”. It is from his son, Murchadh, that the dynasty acquired its sobriquet Muintir Murchada, which soon came to be used for their whole territory as well. Although Roderic O’Flaherty indicates this was the name by which it was known among the sept, and probably its retainers, it never occurs in the comtemporary annals.
The patronymic “O’Flaithbheartach” (nominative) or “O’Flaithbheartaigh” (genitive) derives from a scion living in 970, not the head of the family but certainly of the derbhine. Its first use in the annals came in the death notice of Muiredach Mor ua Flaithbheartach in 1034.
The title “king of Iarthair Connacht” first appears in the death notice of Urdach mac Muiredach in 945, but the title was not used regularly until Ruadhri O’Flaherty, who died in 1061. Urdach, by the way, was grandfather to the later king of Thomond and of Munster who became High King of Ireland, the first real King of all Ireland, Brian Borumha. His daughter Be Binn was wife to Cennetig mac Lorcain, Brian’s father.
Although the name Iar Connacht now applies to the modern baronies of Moycullen, Ballynahinch, Ross, and Aran, all west of Loch Orbsen (Loch Corrib), before it was restricted to the lands on the east of that lake, along with the authority of the O’Flahertys, at least as part of the title “kingof Iar Connacht” used in the annals.
In 1048, during the reign of Amhalgaidh mac Cathal as king of Magh Seola, the forces of the king of Connacht, Aed in Gai Bernaig of the Sil Murray (by then the dominant branch of Ui Briuin Ai), ransacked and destroyed to seat of the Muintir Murchada on Inish Loch Cime (now Lough Hackett). This was the culmination of a conquest of Conmaicne Dunmore. The next year, Aed moved his seat from Cruachan to Tuam, the parish of which straddles the modern baronies of Dunmore and Clare.
Aed, who later blinded Amhalgaidh to render him unfit for kingship, took these actions because of the rising power of his sept. At around the same time, a sept of Sil Murray called Clann Taidg carved out a kingdom from the western territory of the Ui Maine subkingdom of Tir Soghain and the eastern territory of Muintir Murchada. The latter involved the parishes of Monivea, Kilmoyan, Killererin, Athenry, and possibly part of Cummer, reducing the lands of Muintir Murchada even further.
The O’Flahertys remained a significant force in Connacht, however, and one of their own, Flaithbheartaigh ua Flaithbheartaig became king of Connacht in 1092 after blinding his predecessor, Ruadri O’Connor, in revenge for what had been done to Amhalgaidh, for which he himself was killed in 1098.
To the time of this chief of the O’Flahertys is assigned the tract known in Irish as “Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada” (in English, “A tract on the Connacht territory of Munitir Mhurchada”). It is a unique document providing great insight into the workings of a regional Irish kingdom in the High Medieval period.
Muintir Murchada at the dawn of the 12th century
The septs and clans of Muintir Murchada (the territory) and their lands, the retainers of the O’Flahertys, at this time are listed below. The references to townland and parish mean the modern ones. The list is more or less north to south. The names have been anglicized, either from already standard renderings or in versions I worked out myself.
The tract mentioned just above exists in three manuscripts, each differing slightly from the others, and I have used the two translations available to me, each of a different version: the one on Wikipedia, and the other from O’Flaherty’s work .
The O’Flahertys, known as Ui Flaithbheartaigh or Muintir Murchada and earlier as Ui Briuin Seola, were the kings of Iar Connacht, which then meant Muintir Murchada. Their seat was at Inish Loch Cime (now Lough Hackett) in the center of the modern parish of Donaghpatrick. Despite its location at the heart of the diocese of Donaghpatrick, governed from the abbey in the townland of Abbeytown, their patron saint was St. Fursey, founder of the abbey at Killursa.
The O’Morrollys were the chiefs of Muinn-in-radain, a name now obsolete meaning “Wood of the Good Road”. The O’Morrollys were the chief stewards of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Donnells were the chiefs of Ardratha, a name now obsolete. The O’Donnells were masters of the feast for the O’Flahertys.
The MacGilgannons were the chiefs of Moylislionn, a name now obsolete which means “Plain of the Ale-fort”. The MacGilcannons were the masters of the horse for the O’Flahertys, meaning commanders of their cavalry.
The O’Mullawills were the erenaghs of Donaghpatrick (“Church of St. Patrick”), of the abbey in the townland of Abbeytown or the church in the townland of Donaghpatrick, but more likely of both. The abbey was founded by St. Patrick, who left St. Felart as its first abbot. The abbey was better known as Domnach Mor Seola, or “Great Church of Seola”, an indication of its importance. Before the reforms of the 12th century, the abbey had a diocese attached to it of the amorphous kind that led to the those very reforms. The O’Mullawills were also the brehons of Muintir Murchada.
The O’Mealeys were chiefs of Bogogi, a name now obsolete, as well as the erenaghs of Killamanagh and Kilnacoelan, both in the parish of Donaghpatrick. Killamanagh means “Church of the Monks”, indicating a early abbey other than the one at Abbeytown. Kilnacoelan means “Church of St. Coelan”. That name is now obsolete, but was probably in the modern townland of Kildrum (“Church of the Hill”).
St. Coelan was a contemporary of Enda of Aran who had a monastery on the island of Ilaumgarraunmore in the territory of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha. There was later a church there dedicated to him, and another in Connemara on the island of Croaghnakeela.
The O’Lenaghans were erenaghs of Kilkilvery. The name Kilkilvery means “Church of St. Kilvery”, about whom nothing is known, except that he had an abbey and church named for him that later gave their name to the parish and the townland.
The O’Mullins were also erenaghs of Kilkilvery. To have two families as erenaghs of a single territory was not an unusual occurrence where there were vast lands belonging to a church or abbey, or in this case, both.
The O’Colgans were the chiefs of Ballycolgan, still the name of a townland in the parish of Kilkilvery. The O’Colgans were the standard-bearers of the O’Flahertys.
The MacBeolans were the erenaghs of Killower (“Church of the Book”), and Keepers of the Black Bell of St. Patrick. The “Book” in question was a gospel that Patrick carried with him on his missionary journey through the area. The Black Bell is one of the most treasured relics associated with the chief patron saint of Ireland. It later passed to MacGeraghtys of Ballinrobe, who used to take it to Croagh Patrick in Tir Umhall every Garland Sunday. It is now at the National Museum in Dublin.
The O’Duans were the erenaghs of Killursa, probably of both the church and the abbey. The name Killursa means “Church of St. Fursey”, the patron saint of the O’Flahertys. St. Fursey later became the first Irish missionary among the pagan Saxons of East Anglia before relocating again to Gaul, where he died. There was also a church dedicated to Fursey at Ballymacgibbon North in the modern parish of Cong.
The O’Daigens were the chiefs of Ardfintan, still the name of a townland in the parish of Killursa. They were also stewards to the O’Donnells in their capacity as masters of the feast for the O’Flahertys.
The O’Codels were the chiefs of Ballycodil, a name now obsolete, but their territory was in the area of the parish of Killursa between Headford and Loch Orbsen.
The O’Mulloons were the chiefs of Ballymulloon, a name now obsolete, but their territory was in the area of the parish of Killursa between Headford and Loch Orbsen.
The MacKilkellys were the chiefs of Ceann Druim, Athacind, and Cahernacanally. The name of the first is obsolete; the second is now the town of Headford in the parish of Kilkilvery; the third is still the name of a townland in the parish of Killursa. The MacKilkellys were the shanachies (historians, poets, and genealogists) of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Cargises (“Leathcargais” in the tract) were the erenaghs of Rathhindile, which means “Fort of the Cattle”. Probably the lands of the parish church of Cargin, which had to have been more substantial than previously thought for there to have been erenaghs in 1100. The O’Cargises were keepers of the tithes for the O’Flahertys, i.e. treasurers.
The taxation records of church lands for Ireland in 1306, by which time it was the seat of the Archdeacon of Annaghdown, name the parish church of Cargin as Rathmyalid (according to Thomas Knox) or Rath-maolid (according to the British Public Records Office), both of which are probably corruptions for Rathhindile, which comes from the tract.
The O’Conloughts were the chiefs of Ballyconlought, still the name of a townland in the parish of Cargin. The O’Conloughts were keepers of the bees for the O’Flahertys.
The O’Clercins were the chiefs of Rath Bhuidhbh, now rendered Rafwee, still the name of a townland in the parish of Killeany. The patronym implies they were a clerical family, which is interesting because the Buidhbh in question was a king of the Daoine Sidhe.
The O’Duans were the chiefs of Clooneen, still the name of a townland in the parish of Killeany. These O’Duans, a different sept from those of Killursa, were the house attendants of the O’Flahertys.
The MacFinnans were the coarbs of Kilcoona, of the monastery and of the church both in the townland of that name in the parish of the same name. Kilcoona means “Church of St. Cuana”.
The O’Coragens were the chiefs of Beagh, still the name of a townland in the parish of Kilcoona.
The O’Caseys were the chiefs of Ballycasey, still the name of a townland in the parish of Kilcoona.
The O’Hanlys were the chiefs of Derry Ui Angli, later rebaned Kilroe (“Red Wood”), still a townland in the parish of Kilcoona.
The O’Kierans were the chiefs of Lischiaran (“Fort of Ciaran”), a name now obsolete but may been been in the parish of Annaghdown since the abbey there was actually founded by St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise rather than St. Brendan of Clonfert. The O’Kierans were stewards for the O’Donnells in their capacity as masters of the feast for the O’Flahertys.
The O’Lees were princes of Ui Briuin Seola, subordinate to Muintir Murchada, which had become its own dynasty like the O’Connors had done, leaving the MacGeraghtys as kings of Sil Murray. The O’Lees were also the erenaghs of Annaghdown and medical ollamhs, or physicians, to the O’Flahertys.
The O’Fechins were chiefs under the O’Lees in Ui Briuin Seola.
The O’Balwins were chiefs under the O’Lees in Ui Briuin Seola.
The O’Duffs were chiefs under the O’Lees in Ui Briuin Seola.
The O’Maddens were chiefs under the O’Lees in Ui Briuin Seola.
The O’Callanans were the coarbs of Kilcahill, still a townland in the parish of Annaghdown. The name Kilcahill means “Church of St. Cathal”.
The O’Dalys were chiefs of Ui Briuin Ratha, a substantial territory covering fourteen townlands. Clearly another sept branched off of the Ui Briuin Ai, there is little genealogical information about them in historical sources.
The O’Kennedys were chiefs under the O’Dalys in Ui Briuin Ratha.
The O’Duins were chiefs under the O’Dalys in Ui Briuin Ratha.
The O’Innogs were the chiefs of Knockdoe, still a townland in the parish of Lackagh.
The O’Lynans were the chiefs of Lackagh, still the name of a townland as well as the parish.
The O’Canavans were the chiefs of Tobrined, a name now obsolete that represents the even older name of Tuath na dToibrineadh. The O’Canavans were also physicians of Muintir Murchada as well as of Ui Ailella.
The O’Mulleenys were the erenaghs of Termon Ballycolu, a name now obsolete. There is a townland of Ballyculloo, but it is in the parish of Kilcolgan in the barony of Dunkellin, well outside the area of Muintir Murchada, by this time part of the kingdom of Ui Fiachrach Aidne.
The O’Duaghs were chiefs of the Drums, possibly the area between Drumbaun and Drumgriffin in Annaghdown.
The O’Dagdas were also chiefs of the Drums, a words meaning “Hills”.
The O’Fahertys were kings of Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, Muintir Fathairaigh, and Fiodh Luaraigh, all three of which probably refer to the same tribe, another substantial territory covering fourteen townlands. They were distant cousins to the Delbhna Tir Da Locha west of Loch Orbsen, whose kings were the MacConroys. The O’Fahertys are the only chiefs of a tribe or sept referred to as kings in the tract, other than the O’Flahertys themselves. Muintir Faithartaigh covered most of the parish of Claregalway.
In his great genealogical poem of topographical names, O’Dugan rendered the tribal name Muintir Fathairtaigh as “Muintir Fathaigh”, a mistake because that was the territory of the Delbhna Nuadat in Ui Maine, whose chiefs were the O’Fahys. Of course, he left out that group entirely. Unfortunately, MacFirbis and nearly every writer afterward has followed him.
The O’Hallorans were the chiefs of Clan Fearghail, which was the largest subordinate division of Muintir Murchada containing twenty-four townlands, and were the lead retainers of the O’Flahertys. Their patronymic surname, “Ó hAllmhuráin” in Irish, means “stranger from far away”, so despite the contortionistiquely fictious pedigree they are given elsewhere in the grand Irish tradition of false pedigrees, their most like origin is Viking, probably Danish. Clan Feargail covered part of the parish of Claregalway and all of the parish of Oranmore.
The O’Antuiles were the innkeepers of Clan Fearghail, responsible for providing room and board for travelers and temporary lodgers. In ancient and medieval Ireland, this was a key responsibility, especially in such a crossroads as the territory in which they lay.
The O’Ferguses were the erenaghs of Roscam, the lands of the abbey and the church founded there by St. Patrick in the 5th century.
The O’Hugheses were the chiefs of Clan Cosgraigh, a territory that became the parish of Galway in which the medieval town arose.
The MacGowans were chiefs of Meadhraighe, which by this time was reduced to the area of the parish of Ballynacourty.
The MacCarneys were also chiefs of Meadhraighe, which had lost the parishes of Stradbally, Kilcolgan, Killeely, and Drumacoo to encroachment by the Ui Fiachrach Aidne.
The O’Talorans of Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, are not mentioned in the tract, nor are any of their own subject septs. That indicates they were not vassals to Muintir Murchada at the time the tract was composed, either because they had not yet been conquered or because they were in a temporary state of independence. There is little doubt, however, that they were subjects of the O’Flahertys soon after.
The MacConroys and the O’Heynys of Delbhna Tir Da Locha west of Loch Orbsen are not mentioned in the lists of O’Flahertys’ retainers either. Even though they were probably already part of the nascent Diocese of Annaghdown, there is simply no account from any source that they were so subject.
Hereditary officers of the O’Flahertys:
All of these are noted in the entries for the chiefs of septs and retainers above, but to get a better idea of the staff needed for a mid-sized kingdom in early medieval Ireland, it might be helpful to see them in a separate list.
The MacKilkellys of Ceann Druim, Athacind, and Cahernacanally were the shanachies (historians, poets, and genealogists) of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Colgans of Ballycolgan were the standard-bearers of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Morrollys of Muinn-in-radain were the chief stewards of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Cargises of Rathhindile were the treasurers of the O’Flahertys.
These O’Duans of Clooneen were the house attendants of the O’Flahertys.
The O’Donnells of Ardratha were the masters of the feast for the O’Flahertys. A “master of the feast” was the master of ceremonies at a banquet, which to an Irish lord was of great importance. The ancient Greeks had a word for the office, “architriklinos”.
The O’Daigens of Ardfintan and the O’Kierans of Lischiaran were stewards for the O’Donnells in their capacity as masters of the feast.
The O’Conloughts of Ballyconlought were the bee-keepers for the O’Flahertys.
The MacGilcannons of Moylislionn were the commanders of cavalry for the O’Flahertys.
The O’Mullawills of Donaghpatrick were the brehons of Muintir Murchada.
The O’Lees of Annaghdown and the O’Canavans of Tobrined were physicians of Muintir Murchada; the O’Canavans were also physicians to Ui Ailella.
If you want to see the sources, check out the page on Wikipedia dealing with the tract and/or Hardiman’s Notes at the end of O’Flaherty’s A Chorographic Description…, where it begins at page 368. You can find the book online by tying in the title and download the entire ebook for free from Googlebooks.com or archive.com. The book and Wikipedia article are both listed in the sources at the end.
Ecclesiastical nobility of Muintir Murchada:
Reading the list above, one can’t help notice the seemingly extraordinary number of families with status deriving from ecclesiastical ties. It is a graphic illustration of the influence, and the power, of the early Irish church, in large part due to the nature of Irish law. Again, culling these into a separate list might give a better view of this.
The O’Callanans at Kilcahill were the coarbs of St. Cathal.
The MacFinnans at Kilcoona were the coarbs of St. Cuana.
The O’Lees were the erenaghs of Annaghdown.
The O’Mullawills were the erenaghs of Donaghpatrick.
The MacBeolains were the erenaghs of Killower and Keepers of the Black Bell of St. Patrick.
The O’Duans were the erenaghs of Killursa.
The O’Ferguses were the erenaghs of Roscam.
The O’Lenaghans and the O’Mullins were erenaghs of Kilkilvery.
The O’Cargis were the erenaghs of Rathhindile.
The O’Mealleys were the erenaghs of Kilmanagh and Kilnacoelan.
The O’Mulleenys were the erenaghs of Termon Ballycolu.
Church-related hereditary offices
Coarbs were the leading heirs of a particular saint. If the saint founded several institutions, the only abbot designated as coarb would be the one at his or her chief abbey.
Erenaghs were the managers of the lands of an abbey and/or church. Like the office of coarb, this too became hereditary. While the existence of a coarb definitely implied a present or former abbey, this is not necessarily the case with an erenagh.
Irish territorial divisions
Simplistically put, modern Ireland is divided into thirty-two counties. Each county is divided into several baronies. Each barony is divided into four to seven parishes. Each parish is divided into an average of thirty townlands. Theoretically, anyway.
In reality, many parishes are split between baronies, because parishes originated with the ecclesiastical reforms of the 12th century while baronies were laid out in the Late Middle Age to serve the needs of English administration. A few of the baronies have lands in two or more counties. Some parishes—Claregalway, Athenry, Ballinchalla—have lands in two baronies; the parish of Ballinrobe has or had lands in three baronies (Ross, Kilmaine, and Carra) and two counties (Galway and Mayo).
The modern townlands of Ireland were defined in the 16th century, and since then many have subdivided, others disappeared, some newly created. These were much smaller units than the townlands mentioned in the Muintir Murchada tract and are roughly equivalent to the ancient ballyboes (from the Irish “baile bo”, meaning “cow place). Ballyboes were subdivisions of the basic territorial unit, the ballybetagh, or baile biatagh, meaning “victualler’s place”. Each ballybetagh represented the territory of an Irish sept, and was composed of anywhere between eight and sixteen ballyboes. Where the text of the Muintir Murchada tract mentions townlands, this is the unit to which it is referring.
Thomas Larcom, director of the Ordnance Survey in the 1840’s, developed this table to describe how land was divided up in Ireland as it was standardized in the 11th and 12th centuries.
10 acres = 1 gneeve
2 gneeves = 1 sessiagh
3 sessiaghs = 1 ballyboe
2 ballyboes = 1 carrow, or seisreagh (i.e., “ploughland”)
4 carrows = 1 ballybetagh (or “townland”)
30 ballybetaghs = 1 triocha cet
These measurements were not hard and fast, and there was considerable variation in both size and nomenclature across the island, but this meant the average.
As previously mentioned, parishes were based largely on tuath, or septs, or tribes. The ideal was one parish per tuath, but often there were two or more, depending on the size of the tuath.
The triocha cet mostly served a military function, being the area of land from which 3000 warriors could be raised. Later, these served most of the basis for the baronies instituted by the London government.
Later fortunes of the O’Flahertys
For Muintir Murchada, the 12th century was dominated by war with the O’Briens, with some trouble from their sometimes allies, sometimes enemies at Tuam, the O’Connor king of Connacht. This futile conflict involved major invasions and counter-invasions in the years 1117, 1132, 1137, 1145, and 1150, possibly more, in which the O’Briens and the forces of Thomond thoroughly ravaged Connacht at least four times.
In another arena, the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1118 recognized the dioceses of Tuam based in the religious center of their O’Connor rivals as well as the Diocese of Cong to the north, but failed to do so in the case of the O’Flahertys’ own Diocese of Annaghdown. The spurned diocese did not meekly cease to function, however.
That same year, Ruadri O’Connor, king of Connacht, died, and his place was taken by Turlough O’Connor, destined to become the greatest High King of Ireland of all time other than Brian Borumha. One of his fist steps was to curb the power of the O’Flahertys, who had apparently been pushing north, casting them out of Conmaicne Cuile Tolad as well as re-establishing a second regal residence at Cong.
In 1124, in response to the troubles with the O’Briens, the O’Flahertys built a castle at the mouth of the River Galway, which in time acquired its own hamlet, then village. This settlement was the basis for the medieval town of Galway. It was destroyed twice during the wars. Meanwhile, to the north, the O’Connor built a castle at Shrule at the border between Muintir Murchada and Conmaicne Cuile Tolad as a check on the O’Flahertys.
These internecine wars over petty causes continued throughout the century until the arrival of the Cambro-Normans in 1169, followed by that of the Anglo-Normans in 1172, gave them bigger things to worry about. As well as new potential allies to turn against each other.
Prior to those events, the Synod of Kells in 1152 raised the see of Tuam to an archdiocese, the seat of the province of Connacht, but again did not recognize the Diocese of Annaghdown, even though the Diocese of Cong was converted into the Deanery of Shrule.
When the English first invaded Connacht in 1777, they ended up fleeing prior the arrival of a united force of Connacht and Munster warriors who had been called up against them.
Two years later, in 1179, the Diocese of Annaghdown finally received acceptance as one of the dioceses of the province of Connacht.
In 1225, Henry III ordered the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to deliver the province of Connacht into the hands of Richard de Burgo, ancestor of the Clanrickard and MacWilliam Burkes. With the help of the O’Connors, the English forced the O’Flahertys to leave several of their castles, including the ones on Loch Orbsen and the one at Galway. However, the latter remained in Castle Galway east of the lake for another decade. The O’Flahertys were finally forced to yield, after which they removed west across Loch Orbsen.
The Burkes and their allies proceeded to cover Muintir Murchada and nearby territories with castles to prevent their return. Their territory, known as Clanrickard, took in the later baronies of Clare, Dunkellin, Athenry, Loughrea, Kiltartan, and Leitrim; in effect, all the lands previously belonging to Muintir Murchada and Ui Fiachrach Aidne and part of that held by Ui Maine.
In their new home
To the immediate west of the lake, south of the Party Mountains between Loch Orbsen and Kilkieran Bay, the MacConroys ruled Delbhna Tir Da Locha based in Kilcummin (now the townland of Lemonfield) in the north, while a junior sept of the tribe, the O’Heaneys were the erenaghs of Spiddal, and possibly also of Cloghmore, in the south. Another family, the MacAneaves, were (possibly) erenaghs of Portnacrossan, and may have served as brehons for all Delbhna Tir Da Locha..
O’Dugan’s topographical poem of the mid-14th century assigns the territory of Gno Mor (Gnomore) to the MacConroys and that of Gno Beag to the O’Heaneys, but this is probably an anachronism well over a century since the Delbhna Tir Da Locha occupied the country. When the annals note the death of the chief of the MacConroys in 1142, they call him “king of Delbhna Tir Da Locha”, not “of Gnomore”. The more likely source of those territories is below.
In the mountains to their north, a country then known as Ui Orbsen, lived the Partraige an-t Sliebh, who were previously ruled by a sept of the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad and may have still been at that time. Their chiefs were the O’Kynes.
West of Kilkieran Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, with their territory between Tir Umhall and the Partry Mountains in the north and Loch Lurgan in the south, were the Conmaicne Mara, whose chiefs were the O’Cadhlas, or O’Kealys. Their subordinate septs were the MacConneelys, the O’Devaneys, the O’Clohertys, and the O’Falons, the last serving as the brehons and dalaighs for Conmaicne Mara.
When the O’Flahertys came west, they brought with them the O’Hallorans, the O’Lees, the O’Duans of Killursa, the O’Canavans, and the O’Donnells, possibly others.
The chief, Hugh Mor, settled at Ballynahinch in the territory of the Conmaicne Mara, and from him come the western O’Flahertys. Their line, the senior branch whose chief held the titles of The O’Flaherty and king of Iar Connacht, became known as Sliocht Eoghain. The western branch spawned the septs of the MacDermotts, the O’Connors, the MacHughes, and the MacDonoughs.
Hugh Mor’s brother, Brian na nOinseach O’Flaherty, took over the territory of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha. His sons split the territory between them, Murrough, the eldest, taking Gnomore while the younger, Gilleduff, took Gnobeg. This was probably when those names came into existence, and O’Dugan assumed they had always been there. Their septs were called Sliocht Murchaidh and Sliocht Giolla Duibh, respectively
As for their followers, the O’Duans erstwhile of Killursa resettled in Renvyle. The O’Lees at first lived along the western shores of Loch Orbsen until mid-century, when the Burkes seized the shores along that side of the lake to stop raids by the O’Flahertys and they were forced to relocate to Renvyle with the O’Duans. The O’Hallorans settled both Gno Mor and Gno Beg, and later Renvyle also. The O’Canavans and the O’Donnells also made their homes among the eastern O’Flahertys between Loch Orbsen and Kilkieran Bay.
If the newcomers offered any resistance to the takeover of their country, no record survives; the gentry and many of their followers removed elsewhere. Most of the MacConroys headed west with a sizable contingent to establish themselves in the land between Mannin and Streamstown Bays, giving the name Ballymaconry to that whole region. A smaller group sailed south across Loch Lurgan and settled its shores in the parish of Drumcreehy among the Corco Mruad in Thomond, the territory of the O’Briens, giving their name to Ballyconry there.
The O’Heaneys went the same direction, at first inhabiting the Cleggan and Renvyle Peninsulas, later heading east across River Galway to settle next to their distant cousins in Claregalway, the O’Fahertys of Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, where they became loyal retainers of the Clanrickard Burkes.
Of the Conmaicne Mara, only the sept of the chiefs, the O’Kealys, are known to have removed elsewhere, going east and north to Ui Orbsen. The MacConneelys definitely stayed, and so did the O’Falons, who continued to serve as brehons to the western O’Flahertys until ancient Irish law was abolished in Iar Connacht (as well as in Tir Umhall) in 1625.
After the O’Flahertys’ seizure of the area for resettlement, the name Iar Connacht became restricted in meaning to these territories, despite the fact that in the earliest mentions of the annals it referred to the entire geographic area, also including not just Muintir Murchada but Tir Umhall (the baronies of Burrishoole and Murrisk in Co. Mayo) as well.
The village of Galway around the castle became the Town of Galway, which eventually gained its dependence from the by-then Gaelicized Burkes of Clanrickard. Its fourteen ruling families, known as the Tribes of Galway, never played a part in local affairs, keeping to themselves, speaking English and governing themselves by English law.
Around the year 1283, Thomas de Joys, a Cambro-Norman knight fleeing from the aftermath of a failed rebellion in Wales, landed in Iar Connacht after pausing for a while in Thomond where he married an O’Brien daughter. The O’Flaherty gave him Ui Orbsen in exchange for an oath of fealty, and the area became known as Joyce Country from that time. The marriage of his son to an O’Flaherty daughter added most of what is now the parish of Ballynakill to the territory.
Going native, with one important exception, the Joyces adopted Irish patronyms, their chiefs becoming the MacThomases and their cadets the MacTybods. The exception was a branch of the family that kept the name Joyce and became one of the Tribes of Galway.
The O’Kealys of Conmaicne Mara, who had relocated to Ui Orbsen to escape the O’Flahertys, found their new overlords much more agreeable.
In the early 14th century, the western O’Flahertys granted Omey Island just west of Ballymaconry (Kingstown) Peninsula to a group of O’Tooles fleeing fratricidal warfare in their native Leinster. Later in the century, some of the Fitzhenrys of Co. Wexford settled in Gnomore as vassals of Sliocht Murchaidh, where they became known as the MacHenrys
The O’Flahertys did regain control of the western shores of Loch Orbsen not long after they were taken, and even became masters of the lake again, though that was often challenged by the Burkes and the Joyces. By the mid-14th century, they had even regained some lands along the eastern side of the lake, at least in Annaghdown, where they built the castle of that name about this time in addition to its cathedral.
This then was the kingdom of the O’Flahertys after they were forced to move their seat west of Loch Orbsen. From here they played little part in the affairs of the national scene. Much of their times was spent fighting the Burkes, the Joyces, the O’Malleys of Tir Umhall, or the MacTeige O’Briens of the Aran Islands. Their favorite foes, however, were each other, usually the eastern O’Flahertys fighting the western O’Flahertys, but the O’Flahertys of Gnomore and the O’Flahertys of Gnobeg were bitter rivals of each other also.
In 1582, they added the Aran Islands to Iar Connacht after invading the Inishmore and expelling the MacTeige O’Briens.
In the Indenture of Composition of 1585 for “O’Flaherty’s Country”, besides the heads of the various branches of the eastern and western O’Flahertys, only five chiefs of name are listed: MacThomas, O’Halloran, MacConroy (the name given as “McEnry”), MacDonough, and MacConnor, the last two being septs branched off of the western O’Flahertys. There are seven other persons mentioned, but only as individual “gentlemen”, absentee freeholders of the Tribes of Galway living inside the walls.
The same indenture created the barony of Moycullen from Gnomore and Gnobeg, the barony of Ballynahinch from Connemara, the barony of Ross from Joyce Country, and the barony of Aran from the islands.
An Inquisition in the barony of Ballynahinch in 1607 listed the leading chiefs of that region as O’Flaherty of Bunowen, MacEnry (MacConroy again), MacConnor, MacDonough, O’Duan, O’Lee, and MacConneely.
The end came after the failed Irish Confederate Wars of the mid-1600’s against Cromwell in which they had taken an active part along with the MacThomas Joyces, the Burkes, the O’Malleys, even the Tribes of Galway. Even though many O’Flahertys managed to retain some smaller holdings, they were no longer masters of Iar Connacht. The Tribes, like all the other rebels, were transplanted, some to holdings they had bought in nearby Gnobeg and Gnomore late in the previous century.
The Martins, for example, took up residence on land they had held for decades near Loch Lonan on what had formerly been the border between Gnomore and Gnobeg, now in the barony of Moycullen. Their home, Ross House (for which the lake was renamed Lake Ross) near the site of the former Ohery Castle of the O’Hallorans, which had been seized by the O’Flahertys of Aughnanure (those formerly called “of Gnomore”) late in the 16th century.
Upon being transplanted from Westmeath, Art MacGeoghegan (a sept of the southern Ui Neill) was granted Bunowen on Ballyconneely Peninsula; his descendants later became Protestant and adopted the surname O’Neill.
The Brownes and the D’Arcys, like the Martins formerly of the Tribes of Galway, were resettled on Omey Island, overwhelming the unfortunate O’Tooles.
The Martins of Lake Ross in Moycullen soon acquired the nearly all the remainder of the barony of Ballynahinch, becoming the largest landowners in the British Isles, with more than 250,000 acres in all.
The Chieftain Clan O’Flaithbheartaigh, Kings and Queens of Connemara. Webpage. http://laffertyhistory.webs.com/successionofthekings.htm
Clare County Library website. “Old Territorial Divisions and Land Measures”.
Clare County Library website. “Units of Land Measurement”. http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/territorial_divisions/units_land_measurement.htm
“Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada”, or in English, “A tract on the Connacht territory of Munitir Mhurchada”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crichaireacht_cinedach_nduchasa_Muintiri_Murchada
Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada, a tract listing the territories and chiefs of Muintir Murchada before the expulsion of the O’Flahertys, c. 12th century. Text in Hardiman’s Notes to O’Flaherty’s book.
Roderic O’Flaherty. A Chorographic Description of West or h-Iar Connaught, 1684.
James Hardiman. “A Chorographical Description of West or H-IAR Connaught Written A. D. 1684, Edited, from a Ms. In the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, with Notes and Illustrations”, Journal of the Irish Archaeological Society, 1848.
John O’Hart. Irish Pedigrees, or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 1892.
Public Records Office of Northern Ireland website. “Local History Series: 1, The Townland”. http://www.proni.gov.uk/local_history_series_-_01_-_the_townland.pdf