Archive for Niall of the Nine Hostages

Clan O’Donnell – Ó Dómhnaill

Arms: The ancient armorial bearings of the O’Donnells are: Or issuing from sinister side of shield an arm dexter, sleeved azure, and cuffed argent, with hand proper grasping a passion cross gules.

Motto: “In hoc signo vinces” (under this sign you will conquer)

Variations: (English)O’Donnell, O’Donell, O’Donel, (Gaelic)Ó Dómhnaill, Ó Dónaill

Niall of the Nine Hostages (Nial Noai nGiallach) who reigned from 379- 405 AD and who is reputed to have brought St. Patrick to Ireland as a slave boy, had many sons. One of those, Conall, asserted his dominance over that territory which later became known as Tír Chonaill (approx. Co. Donegal minus Inishowen).

General Leopoldo O’Donnell

The O’Donnells, descendant from Conall, at first lived along the river Lennon but later established themselves in south Donegal. At the beginning of the 15th cent. they built a castle at Ballyshannon and about 50 years later moved to Donegal Town where they built Donegal Castle which was restored a few years ago.

The prominent role played by this royal family in their country’s history is well recorded but after their overthrow and the collapse of the old Gaelic system in 1602 (Battle of Kinsale) less is known about them.

The main family emigrated to the continent in 1607 where all died within a short time –the last dying in 1642.

Other branches of the family were moved to Connaught during the Cromwellian Plantations. About the middle of the 18th cent. some emigrated to Spain and Austria, in which countries they played an important role.

The most senior O’Donnell family today(according to the Chief Herald) is that of John O’Donel (deceased), Blackrock, Co. Dublin, namely, Fr. Hugh O.F.M., Nuala and Siobhan. Next in seniority is Leopoldo O’Donnell, Duke of Tetuan, Madrid. The next in line live in Austria, Gabriel, Count O’Donell von Tyrconnell.

Information provided by the O’Donnell Clan Association.

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Irish Clans-Septs includes O’Donnell History

Sept is an English word deriving as far as I know from the French word sept for ‘seven’. It’s been used in Ireland to describe kinship groups since the middle ages. I’m guessing the Normans chose the word because it reflected the fact that certain well-known Irish tribes like the Laois were divided into 7 sub-tribes, clans, or dynasties.

* The great 20th century Irish genealogist Edward MacLysaght liked to use the word sept rather than clan when he talked about Irish kinship groups because he didn’t want the word clan to make people think they were dealing with a Scottish clan or a Scottish-style clan. There seems to be a difference between Scottish clan structure and Irish clans and tribes, but I’m no expert on Scottish kinship groups so, in honesty, I don’t know what these differences are. But I do think I’ve noticed that at least some Scottish clan/sept relationships are based on political alliance rather than blood.

For example, are the Hutchinsons as a sept of the McDonnell clan actually descended from the McDonnell clan, a blood branch of it? In the Irish system, a sept or clan always descends in blood from its tribe, even if they wound up with a false genealogy to prove it as sometimes occurred. For example, the Cinéal Chonaill (‘Kinship of Conall’) are actually part of the Uí Néill In Tuaiscirt ! (‘Descendants of Niall in the North’) because they actually descend from Niall.

* With regard to how clans and tribes (or septs if that word is preferred) were formed, it was very much like the Nike commercial – “Just do it!” In the case of my ancestor Conall son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, he and his brothers decided to invade what is now western Ulster. This was mid-5th century A.D. They, like their father, were members of the Connachta who, within the last couple of hundred years had conquered the west of Ireland and placed their own tribe-name on that part of Ireland. So, as part of the invasion plan for western Ulster, Conall and his followers took what is now Tír Chonaill (‘Land of Conall’, aka Co. Donegal).

Conall and his immediate descendants immediately formed the Cinéal Chonaill (‘Kinship of Conall’) to rule their newly-conquered land, electing their own rí or king. Conall’s brother Eoghan and his followers took what is now Tír Eoghain (‘Land of Eoghan’, aka Co. Tyrone in English). Eoghan and his immediate descendants immediately formed the Cinéal Eoghain (‘Kinship of Eoghain’) to rule their new land, electing their own rí or king. As card-carrying members of the Connachta, they continued to owe allegiance to the king of the Connachta, no doubt helping to elect him, but in time their own lineage of the Uí Néill (‘Descendants of Niall’) rivalled and then surpassed that of the Connachta, at which point the Uí Néill ceased to be part of the Connachta politically, although their descent naturally continued to be recognized. And so on clan by clan, tribe by tribe, across Ireland.

* The Irish words used to designate a clan or a tribe are many. At the front of the tribe or clan name you find indicators like Cinéal (‘kinship’), Uí (‘descendants’), Dál (‘share’), Clann (‘children’), Tuath (‘people’), Muintir (‘people’), Síol (‘seed’), Corcu (perhaps ‘seed’ – a word so ancient that nobody is really sure anymore), etc. At the end of an ancestor’s name (especially at the end of an ancestor-god’s name), you can find -raighe (‘people of the god ..X…’), -ne or -ni (‘collective descendants of the god…X..’), or -achta (‘descendants of the god or ancestor-hero …X…), etc.

* Generation-by-generation Irish genealogies are typically accurate back to the late 5th century A.D. unless they’ve been tampered with for political purposes. For example, the genealogies of the Dál gCais are only accurate generation-by-generation as far back as about the 7th century. That’s because they were tampered with to give the Dál gCais a false Eoghanacht genealogy in order to justify the Dál gCais taking the Kinship of Munster. But whether we’re talking about generation-by-generation genealogies going back to the 5th century or to the 7th century, that’s still a lot further back than any other family on the face of the planet except one. Only the Japanese imperial family can match the age and accuracy of the typical Irish person’s genealogy once that Gael has tapped into his/her clan or tribe’s dynastic line.

* But Irish genealogies don’t stop at the 5th century A.D. Although no longer accurate generation-by-generation, they’re still accurate clan by clan or tribe by tribe (unless tampered with for political purposes). For example, the tribal genealogy of the Ó Domhnaill (‘O’Donnell’) dynasty of Donegal is as follows:

Ó Domhnaill (‘O’Donnell’) is descended from the Clann Dálaigh, which is descended from the
Cinéal Chonaill (rising in the 5th century A.D.), which is descended from the Uí Néill In Tuaiscirt which is descended from the Uí Néill, which is descended from the Connachta (rising in the 2nd-3rd century A.D.?), which is descended from the Féni (rising at about the time of Christ?)

Note that this genealogy is tribe by tribe, not generation by generation, so that’s why it’s called a tribal genealogy rather than the generation-by-generation genealogy you’re used to.

* By the time you hit the Féni you’re back to around the time of Christ, and that’s one of the short ones. Tribal genealogies of the Laighin families (like the Caomhánach or ‘Kavanagh’ family) appear to go back to the 3rd to 1st centuries B.C. Tribal genealogies of the Érainn families (like the Ó Ceallaigh or ‘Kelly’ family of the Corcu Luighde) seem to go back to the 5th-3rd centuries B.C. Tribal genealogies of the Cruithin families (like the Mag Aonghusa or ‘Guinness’ family) appear to go back to the 8th-5th centuries B.C.

* Sometimes it’s even possible to trace an Irish family back on a tribal basis to before they got to Ireland. But that’s another story.

Hope that’s helpful.

Best Wishes, – Jerry Kelly

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If Irish Claim Nobility, Science May Approve

Another article from the Times

If Irish Claim Nobility, Science May Approve


Listen more kindly to the New York Irishmen who assure you that the blood of early Irish kings flows in their veins. At least 2 percent of the time, they are telling the truth, according to a new genetic survey.

The survey not only bolsters the bragging rights of some Irishmen claiming a proud heritage but also provides evidence of the existence of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the fifth century A.D. regarded by some historians as more legend than real.

The survey shows that 20 percent of men in northwestern Ireland carry a distinctive genetic signature on their Y chromosomes, possibly inherited from Niall, who was said to have had numerous sons, or some other leader in a position to have had many descendants.

About one in 50 New Yorkers of European origin – including men with names like O’Connor, Flynn, Egan, Hynes, O’Reilly and Quinn – carry the genetic signature linked with Niall and northwestern Ireland, writes Daniel Bradley, the geneticist who conducted the survey with colleagues at Trinity College in Dublin. He arrived at that estimate after surveying the Y chromosomes in a genetic database that included New Yorkers.

About 400,000 city residents say they are of Irish ancestry, according to a 2004 Census Bureau survey.

“I hope this means that I inherit a castle in Ireland,” the novelist Peter Quinn said by phone from the Peter McManus cafe in Chelsea. Some McManuses also have the genetic signature. (“I hang out with kings,” Mr. Quinn said.)

He said his father used to tell him that all the Quinn men were bald from wearing a crown. But he added, “We spent 150 years in the Bronx, and I think we wiped out all the royal genes in the process.”

The report appears in the January issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics.

Dr. Bradley said he was as surprised at finding evidence that Niall existed as he would have been to learn that King Arthur had been real. Niall of the Nine Hostages was so named because in his early reign he consolidated his power by taking hostages from opposing royal families.

He estimated that two million to three million men worldwide carry the distinctive Y chromosome signature, which he named the I.M.H., for Irish modal haplotype. A haplotype is a set of genetic mutations.

If he was indeed the patriarch, Niall of the Nine Hostages would rank among the most prolific males in history, behind Genghis Khan, ancestor of 16 million men in Asia, but ahead of Giocangga, founder of China’s Manchu dynasty and forefather of some 1.6 million. This calculation, and the estimate of the I.M.H. signature’s frequency in New York, were derived from a database of Y chromosome mutations.

The writer and actor Malachy McCourt said he was not surprised, since every Irish person is related to a king.

“They didn’t mind who they slept with, and they had first dibs,” he said. “It’s so boring. It’s not like the house of Windsor; every tribe had its own king.”

He said Niall was “a highwayman. He was a slave trader, nothing noble about him. He was a pirate.”

The link between the Niall Y chromosome and social power, which would have enabled the king to leave many descendants, “stretches back to the fifth century, which is a long time in Western European terms,” Dr. Bradley said.

Asked if he himself carried the Niall signature, Dr. Bradley said he did and was “quite pleased,” even though tradition holds that Niall captured and enslaved St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland.

Niall is said to have obtained hostages from each of the five provinces that then constituted Ireland, as well as from Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons and the Franks. He is thought to be the patriarch of the Ui Neill, meaning “the descendants of Niall,” a group of dynasties that claimed the high kingship and ruled the northwest and other parts of Ireland from about A.D. 600 to 900.

But historians have tended to view the Ui Neill as a political construct, doubting their genealogical claims of descent from Niall and even whether Niall existed at all.

When the Irish took surnames, however, around A.D. 1000, some chose names associated with the Ui Neill dynasties. Dr. Bradley tested Irishmen with Ui Neill surnames and found the I.M.H. signature was much more common among them than among Irishmen as a whole.

The men with Ui Neill surnames tested by Dr. Bradley included those with the names, in anglicized form, O’Gallagher, O’Boyle, O’Doherty, O’Donnell, O’Connor, Cannon, Bradley, O’Reilly, Flynn, McKee, Campbell, Devlin, Donnelly, Egan, Gormley, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, McLoughlin, McManus, McMenamin, Molloy, O’Kane, O’Rourke and Quinn. (The prefix “O” is sometimes dropped.)

Dr. Katherine Simms, a Celtic historian at Trinity College who advised the geneticists and was a co-author of their report, said some historians had assumed that the common ancestor of the Ui Neill was “merely a mythical divine ancestor figure, imagined in order to explain the political links that existed between the dynasties themselves in the later period.”

But Dr. Bradley’s findings, she said, “appear to confirm that the Ui Neill really did come from a common ancestor,” and perhaps that the mythical narrative of Niall’s birth and ascent to kingship “had a genetic basis.”

The earliest Irish genealogies, if true, must have been recorded in oral form for several generations, since writing did not become common in Ireland until 600. Dr. Daibhi O’Croinin of the National University of Ireland in Galway said he was confident that “extensive genealogical material” could have been memorized and put into writing later, but “whether Niall of the Nine Hostages ever existed is itself a moot point.”

Another Celtic expert, Dr. Catherine McKenna of Harvard University, said in an e-mail message that “historians will be skeptical about the notion that all of the Ui Neill descend from the ancestor who seems to be implied by the genetic evidence, or that this ancestor was Niall Noigiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages) himself.”

She said the number of Niall’s supposed sons grew from 4 to 14 as new dynasties achieved power and claimed descent from Niall. “The evidence for the Ui Neill as a political construct is strong enough that historians wouldn’t readily believe in the historical reality of Niall himself,” she said.

Still, the new genetic evidence may convince historians that there was a common ancestor for at least one of the major branches of the Ui Neill, such as the Cenel nEogain, which lived in an area of northwest Ireland where the I.M.H. is most common.

“In fact,” Dr. McKenna said, “I find the evidence, from that point of view, really fascinating.”

Michelle O’Donnell contributed reporting for this article.

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Irish king left a wide genetic trail

Irish King Left A Wide Genetic Trail
Scientists say 3 million men are descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages
By Siobhan Kennedy

The High Kings of Ireland
AY Chromosone Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland

DUBLIN, Ireland – Scientists in Ireland may have found the country’s most fertile male, with more than 3 million men worldwide among his offspring.

The scientists, from Trinity College Dublin, have discovered that as many as one in 12 Irish men could be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th-century warlord who was head of the most powerful dynasty in ancient Ireland.

His genetic legacy is almost as impressive as Genghis Khan, the Mongol emperor who conquered most of Asia in the 13th century and has nearly 16 million descendants, said Dan Bradley, who supervised the research.

“It’s another link between profligacy and power,” Bradley told Reuters. “We’re the first generation on the planet where if you’re successful you don’t (always) have more children.”

The research was carried out by Ph.D. student Laoise Moore, at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity. Moore, testing the Y chromosome that is passed on from fathers to sons, examined DNA samples from 800 males across Ireland.

The results — which have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics — showed the highest concentration of related males in northwest Ireland, where one in five males had the same Y chromosome.

The ‘Genghis Khan effect’
Bradley said the results reminded the team of a similar study in central Asia, where scientists found 8 percent of men with the same Y chromosome. Subsequent studies found they shared the same chromosome as the dynasty linked to Genghis Khan.

“It made us wonder if there could be some sort of Genghis Khan effect in Ireland, and the best candidate for it was Niall,” Bradley said.

His team then consulted with genealogical experts who provided them with a contemporary list of people with surnames that are genealogically linked to the last known relative of the “Ui Neill” dynasty, which literally means descendants of Niall.

The results showed the new group had the same chromosome as those in the original sample, proving a link between them and the Niall descendents.

“The frequency (of the Y chromosome) was significantly higher in that genealogical group than any other group we tested,” said Bradley, whose surname is also linked to the medieval warlord. Other modern surnames tracing their ancestry to Niall include Gallagher, Boyle, O’Donnell and O’Doherty.

Checking the molecular clock
For added proof, the scientists used special techniques to age the Y chromosome, according to how many mutations had occurred in the genetic material over time. The number of mutations was found to be in accordance with chromosomes that would date back to the last known living relative of Niall.

Niall reportedly had 12 sons, many of whom became powerful Irish kings themselves. But because he lived in the 5th century, there have been doubts that the king — who is said to have brought the country’s patron saint, Patrick, to Ireland — even existed.

“Before I would have said that characters like Niall were almost mythological, like King Arthur, but this actually puts flesh on the bones,” Bradley said.

When international databases were checked, the chromosome also turned up in roughly 2 percent of all male New Yorkers.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

© 2006


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