Sunday, 20 July 2014

How did the O'Donoghue name get to North Kerry?

How did the O'Donoghue name get to North Kerry?

By Rod O’Donoghue (whose roots lie there)

The question?
The question I am asking is who were these O’Donoghues in North Kerry?  Where did they come from?  In Listowel and its vicinity by J Anthony Gaugan, 1973, I found that ‘the Broder or Broderick, Kennelly, O’Connor and Scanlan are probably the oldest names in the district.  Close behind those are the McCarthy, Moriarty, O’Connell, O’Donoghue, O’Mahony, O’Shea and O’Sullivan families’. This was the territory of the dominant O’Connor Kerry tribe.
Ballydonoghue parish and townlands
Very close to Ballyduff, where my own family came from, is the parish of Ballydonoghue (Baile Dhonnchú or Donoghue’s town or home). The parish used to be called Lisselton but, when asked what name they would like, the parishioners chose Ballydonoghue, which is the name of a local townland   The term baile means that the territory was occupied by an extended kin-group or family.   
Ballydonoghue has 9 Donnchú rátha showing that it was a place of some tribal importance long ago.  These are ringforts or circular fortified settlements that were mostly built during the Iron Age (800 BCE–400 CE), although some were built as late as the Early Middle Ages (up until c.1000 CE). They are found in Northern Europe, especially in Ireland.

Further north and just over the border in Limerick, between Glin and Tarbert, is another townland called Ballydonoghue, and in the east of that county, in the parish of Kilflyn near Kilmallock, is another one.  This suggests the presence of tribes of our name for many centuries in this general area. 
Census of 1659
Looking at the census of 1659 there were a lot of O’Donoghues in two of the baronies which covered these three local areas.

The barony of Iraghticonnor in north Kerry, which covers Ballydonoghue parish (shown as Lisselton), records 22 McDonnoghs with 13 O’Connors. The enumerators very rarely got our O right, even Magunihy O’Donoghues (13), where the chieftains lived, were called McDonnoghs. 
In the barony of Connologh in Limerick just over the border in the parish of Kilfergus there were 11 O’Donaghows and 43 McDonoghs.  In this case there are 59 McConnors and O’Connors.

Clanmaurice, south of Iraghticonnor, records 7 O’Connors but no O’Donoghues.


Local folklore states that Rattoo Tower was built to commemorate a battle against the Vikings at The Paddock, close to Ballyduff, which it is said that the O’Donoghues won.  In an article on Rattoo in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1910 it says ‘It is recorded in The Wars of the Gaedhill with the Gaill (the Gaels with the Foreigners) supposed to have been written by an eye-witness of the famous battle of Clontarf that in 812 ‘the Danes first began the devastation of Erin, and that in this year they landed in Munster from 120 ships, plundered the country, and burned Inis Labhrainn and Dairinis, but were defeated by the Eoghanacht (O’Donoghues) of Lough Léin, ie the Lakes of Killarney’.  O’Donoghues has, it appears, been inserted by the author, on what basis I cannot say. 

If they were involved, 812 is before the O’Donoghues Mór had arrived in Killarney and might suggest another tribe.  John O’Donovan in his Ordnance Survey Letters (1834-42) states that Inis Labhrainn [not sure who Labhrainn was?] is an island in the mouth of the Cashen river in the townland of Derryco, two miles from Ballyduff, where there is also an old church. 
It is said that the O’Donoghues may have built Rattoo tower and church.

The Annals of the Four Masters says for 807 (corrected to 812) that ‘A slaughter was made of the foreigners by Cobhthach, son of Maelduin, lord of Loch Lein’ but doesn’t say where.  This is repeated in Annals of Ulster for the year 811 with the added note that King of Loch-Lein was a bardic term for the King of West Munster.  Francis Byrne in Irish Kings and High Kings shows Cobhthach (d.833), son of Máel Dúin (d.786) as a king of Locha Léin. 

In The O’Donoghue Society yDNA project there is a small group of us, with origins lying in North Kerry/Limerick, whose genetic signature has some similarities to that of the O’Donoghue Mór.  Our closest connection though, is in itself quite ancient amongst all of the various O’Donoghue surnames.
In terms of more recent origins, one participant’s family is from Castleisland, and he says they were originally from Glenflesk.  Another comes from Knocknagoshel, which is a bit north of Castleisland. And another in Limerick also came from Knocknagoshel.  So the group is not all from more northerly parts.  My origins lie in Ballyduff, further north and west.

This would suggest that our O’Donoghues probably came up from Cork/Kerry but it could very well have been a long time ago or even as a separate branch of the Eoghanacht, the dominant tribal group of Munster. 
But the Mór do not fall into the normal South Irish Cashel-based genetic grouping.  They are not standard Eoghanacht material.  At one marker they are unique and have a relationship with a group of people found in the Carpathian Mountains near today’s Rumania, which is where the ancient Scythians of Milesian legend were located.   

As O’Connor Kerry is the paramount tribe in North Kerry we checked to see if there was a relationship with this group, but one was not found.
Migration from the south

The O’Donoghue Mór were of the tribe Eoghanacht Raithlinn in west Cork.  They had invaded and taken over the territory of the Eoghanacht Loch Léin in around the 11th century.
Clearly one theory must be that O’Donoghues came up from the Mór territory at some point.  What events may have caused such a migration?  Four spring to mind.

The battles of Callan in 1260 and Mangerton in 1262 at which the Desmond chiefs, led by the MacCarthys, drove the Normans back up north, gave a considerable boost to the influence of the O’Donoghue Mór, as the MacCarthy chief had been killed.  One outcome was the grant of Molahiffe Castle and its lands with the task of holding the line against the Fitzgeralds to the north.   
However in 1280 the MacCarthys transferred the castle into the hands of their Coshmang sept, the O’Donoghue Mór chief (variously called Tomás or Tadhgh) having died three years earlier. 

Did this outpost garrison of O’Donoghue Mór tribe just move further north when MacCarthy Coshmang sept took residence?
In 1311 the Mór fell out very seriously with the MacCarthys and perhaps some fled north?

Another possible causal event might have been the destruction of the Mór chieftainship and attainder of all their lands in the 1580s during the Desmond Rebellion.
The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine in 1992, in an article entitled Sketches from old Ballydonoghue by John Foran, states

‘A Donoghue man from Killarney settled near the village in the early 1600s.  He built a big house there and had an extensive fruit and vegetable garden there along the bank of the stream that flows by the place.  Donoghue became the owner of Trienakilla and the village of that name which is now the location of Johnny Buckley’s farmyard.  The townlands are now known as Upper and Lower Ballydonoghue’.
The middle of the 17th century saw the tragic period of Oliver Cromwell’s destruction of the Gaelic order. His commands sent many north to County Clare so that his army could take over their land.  While many remained in their historic places, plenty were sent to ‘Hell or Connaught’.

An historic O’Donoghue family still live in south Clare.  Their Patrick Sarsfield O’Donoghue’s commonplace book (see end of  article) records that their ancestors, Geoffrey and Florence, ‘left the Glenflesk area after the fall of Ross Castle to the Cromwellians around the year 1652 and rowing up the River Shannon they settled first in Tradaree near Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare’.  This is just over the border from the area we are concerned with, admittedly with the Shannon in between!
Earlier origins in the north

We now move much further back in time.
A 6/7th C. tract refers to the high king of Luachair and Loch Léin (embraced as Iarmumu) and describes the equal standing between them.  Their territory encompassed many tribes across Munster including the Uí Fidgenti (Limerick), Uí Echach Mumhan and overlordship of the powerful Eoghanacht Raithlinn (the O’Donoghue Mór).  Their last king with the title rí Iarmuman died in 791.  Afterwards they are just called rí Locha Léin.

Flann Feórna of the Ciarraighe Luachra was king of Kerry (so-called) in 8th C.  He had 11 sons.

MacFhirbhsigh shows a Cinéal (kindred or descendants of) Dhúnchadha from the first son of Flann Feórna and a Uí (also descendants of) Dhúnchadha Bhig from Reachtabhra, grandfather of Flann. This creates a link with Ó Conchobhair (O’Connor).  Dúnchadha/Donnchadha are all the same over time as is evidenced by the Uí Dhúnchadha tribes in Leinster and Cavan as well. 

 The battle of 812 against the Danes was led by the Locha Léin and the Ciarraighe and presumably with the significant participation of the Uí Dhúnchadha.  Was Rattoo built by the Uí Dhúnchadha at that time as legend says? 

Later in the 9th century the tribes of west Munster transferred their loyalty to Cashel and the Loch Léin never recovered their leadership.

 Perhaps as Cashel and later Raithlinn took over Loch Léin, the Ciarraighe Ui Dhúnchadha were absorbed and intermarriage occurred between the O’Donoghues.

This is one explanation for all the Ballydonoghue townlands in North Kerry for it works best chronologically.  The name was there very early on and, perhaps, these are the people who are remembered in the rátha referred to earlier.


This is a rather confusing picture at this stage.  Migration from the south would perhaps be the current front runner.  However the identification of Uí Dhúnchadha septs in the Ciarraighe Luachra (with the implied relationship with O’Connor Kerry), the Donnchú raths and a very strong presence in the 17th century supports greater historical depth.  While current genetic knowledge supports migration from the south, it is probably a mix of both theories.  A larger genetic sample from the area would be required to examine this further.

Bary, Valerie – Houses of Kerry, Ballinakella Press, 1994
Byrne, Francis J – Irish Kings and High Kings, 1973
Byrne, Matthew J, Rattoo, JCHAS, 1910
Foran, John – Sketches from old Ballydonoghue, Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine 1992
Gaugan, J. Anthony - Listowel and its vicinity, 1973
Keane, Dan – Logainmneacha, 2004
Lankford, Dr Eamon - A Collection of Place names from County Kerry
MacFhirbhisigh, Dubhaltach – The Great Book of Irish Genealogies (1275.1), De Búrca, 2003
O’Donoghue/Ross, Tighe and Elizabeth (tribal and DNA specialists of The O’Donoghue Society)
O’Donoghue, Patrick Sarsfield (1819-96) – His commonplace book
O’Donovan, John – Ordnance Survey Letters, 1834-42
O’Clery, Michael – Annals of the Four Masters, De Búrca, 1990
Pender, Séamus - A Census of Ireland, circa 1659: with supplementary material from the Poll Money Ordinances (1660-1661), Dublin: Stationery Office, 1939
Annals of Ulster, De Búrca, 1998
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

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