Genealogy research by Mark Humphrys,

Home      Blog      Surnames      Ancestors      Contact

To do      €1000 Competition      Competition blog



My ancestors - O'Rahilly - Contents

  The basic connection to the poet

The Co.Cavan origin theory

The Co.Kerry origin theory

Our family


O'Rahilly of Sliabh Luachra

O'Rahilly "Fionn", of the Sliabh Luachra region, Co.Kerry.
"The O'Rahilly" of Ballylongford and Dublin.

In Irish, many spellings are seen, including: Ua Raighillagh, O'Raighilligh, O'Raghallaigh, Ó Rathaille, Ua Rathghaille.

In English: Rahilly or O'Rahilly.
Most of the family became "Rahilly" by the 19th century.
Most of the family reverted back to "O'Rahilly" in the Irish nationalist revival of the 20th century, following the lead of The O'Rahilly.

P102 - Papers of The O'Rahilly

Papers of The O'Rahilly, dates 1833-1989, [UCD Archives] UCDA P102.
This contains most or all of The O'Rahilly's genealogical research.
Includes some papers of his son Aodogán O'Rahilly.
Deposited by Aodogán in UCD 1991. Indexed by Karl Magee, 1993.

The basic connection to the poet

First we consider the basic connection of our family to the Gaelic poet.
This was worked out by The O'Rahilly as follows:

  1. Can't trace beyond Michael Rahilly:
    • When The O'Rahilly began researching the family tree in the 1890s, he could not trace beyond Michael Rahilly.
    • See his early notes in [P102/208(79)].
    • [P102/208(115)] shows that as at 1900 he could not trace past Michael Rahilly.

  2. Told about connection to poet:
    • The O'Rahilly shows in [P102/208(79 and 115)] that his branch had at one point lost any tradition of a connection to the Gaelic poet.
    • However Richard Rahilly (died 1896) met a relation who still knew of the connection to the poet, and told him about it.
    • The O'Rahilly in [P102/208(79 and 115)] recounts the story: "On one occasion my father met in Tralee some members of the family (one a widow who kept a tobacco store there) and on his return he jocularly related how they traced relationship to a poet named Rahilly - the exact degree I do not know."
    • Note that Rahilly of Knockburrane was a tobacconist in Listowel, so that is probably the relative (not Tralee).
    • [P102/208(81)] says the widow had a strange name beginning with P, maybe "Prendergast".
    • [P102/208(115)] shows that as at 1900, The O'Rahilly knew there was some connection to the Gaelic poet, but could not trace it.

  3. Traces connection to poet:

Extract from The O'Rahilly's early research in [P102/208(79)].
Shows that when he began researching the family tree, he could not trace beyond Michael Rahilly.
And his family had lost any tradition of a connection to the Gaelic poet.

The Co.Cavan origin theory (descent from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne)


Identification of Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly with Capt. Owen O'Reilly

[O'Reilly, 1820] says the family of O'Rahilly of Co.Kerry descends from O'Reilly of Co.Cavan.
He says the grandfather of the Co.Kerry poet Egan O'Rahilly (and hence ancestor of our family) was Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly of Co.Cavan.

T.F. O'Rahilly in [P102/209] provides a convincing identification of Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly ("Clare-man") with Capt. Owen O'Reilly, of the 1641 Rebellion, who had confiscated lands at Clare, Co.Cavan.


Medieval ancestry of Capt. Owen O'Reilly

T.F. O'Rahilly in [P102/209] provides a convincing descent of Capt. Owen O'Reilly from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (Co.Cavan).
O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne, had their seats at Cloughoughter Castle and at Cavan town (see "Fort" on old map).
The line of descent goes back to Ragheallach (or Raighilligh), ancestor of the O'Reillys, who was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

For sources, T.F. O'Rahilly in [P102/209] references the following:

The O'Rahilly in 1900 [P102/208(115)] shows an early (and inaccurate) version of the O'Reilly descent. He refers to the O'Reilly pedigrees in "Bourke" and "O'Hart" and "O'Donovan". In [P102/205] he references O'Hart.


Evidence for the Co.Cavan origin

It seems that Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly was a real person with a medieval ancestry. The question is whether he really is the grandfather of the poet. The O'Reilly of Cavan origin for the poet has been questioned (see below).
The strongest piece of evidence for the Cavan story is:
  1. The poem expressing the wish to return from Co.Kerry to Co.Cavan.
    Who wrote it if not Egan's father?
    [O'Reilly, 1820] reports seeing the Ms. of it.
    [1910 letter from The O'Rahilly] reports meeting a man who heard of it.


The entry for the poet's father on Page cciii under "A.D. 1700" in [O'Reilly, 1820].


Of the Lords of East Breifne, we start with:

Myles O'Reilly,
Lord of East Breifne (Co.Cavan) 1537-65,
Maolmuire, succ 1537,
died 1565,
had issue:

Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly,
Lord of East Breifne 1565-83,
succ 1565,
the Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney wrote about him 1575, praising his governance of Breifne,
died 1583, bur in the monastery of Cavan,
had issue by 1st wife:

Philip O'Reilly,
Lord of East Breifne 1595-96,
second son, of Bellanacargy (Drung par, Co.Cavan, see "Fort" on old map),
signed an agreement with the Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney in 1566,
wrote to the Bishop of Meath in 1572,
in 1581 he engaged in war with some of the O'Neills,
dispute with his brother about succession to their father in 1583, they came to Dublin in 1584 to try to settle the dispute,
he was regarded by the Crown as a dangerous figure, and was imprisoned in 1585 in Dublin Castle,
still in prison in Dublin Castle in 1592, eventually escaped, free by 1595,
Lord of East Breifne 1595,
in 1596 he was allied with O'Neill in open rebellion against the Crown,
killed on 14 Oct 1596, by a bullet in the forehead,
his lands forfeit to the Crown,
had issue by 2nd wife:

Sean O'Reilly,
or Shane,
The O'Rahilly in [P102/205] has "John",
of Kilmore, Killinkere par, Co.Cavan,
and of Castlerahan, Castlerahan par, Co.Cavan,
captured by the British in 1596 and held hostage in Dublin, in prison for years,
in 1607 he was implicated in a plot against the Crown, the informant was Christopher St.Lawrence, 9th Baron Howth,
died Kilmore, 31 Jan 1634,
bur in (illegible) parish church in Co.Cavan, see [P102/209],
had issue:

  1. Owen O'Reilly,
    or Eoghan, third son,
    Capt. Owen O'Reilly,
    Owen "Cláragh" O'Reilly [O'Reilly, 1820],
    Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly in [P102/209] and [P102/172(1)],
    of Clare in Crosserlough par, Co.Cavan (W of Ballyjamesduff, NE of Lough Sheelin, see map and map),
    [P102/209] says "Clárach" means "Clare-man",
    [P102/209] shows that the confiscated estate of Capt. Owen O'Reilly was at Clare and therefore he must be identical with Owen "Clárach" O'Reilly,
    mar pre-1637 to Hanora Daly [dau of Maurice Daly],
    Maurice Daly was of Aghacreevy, Ballymachugh parish, on Lough Sheelin, Co.Cavan (see map and map),
    Owen was one of the rebel leaders in Co.Cavan in the 1641 Rebellion,
    he was a Captain in the Irish forces,
    present at the Siege of Drogheda (1641-42),
    he is mentioned in [1643 deposition] giving an account of the 1641 Rebellion,
    the Irish cause was finally defeated in 1653,
    his estate at Clare was confiscated by Cromwell in 1653,
    after losing his lands he lived at Crosserlough village, Crosserlough par (W of Clare, see map),
    [O'Reilly, 1820] merely calls him "a respectable farmer" of Crosserlough,
    though [P102/209] is convincing in identifying him with Capt. Owen O'Reilly of the 1641 Rebellion,
    had issue:

    1. John Mór Ua Raghailligh,
      or O'Reilly, or O'Raghallaigh,
      [Bourke, 1967] calls him 'Seán Mór',
      a poet (like his son),
      born Co.Cavan,
      went to study for the priesthood in the classical schools of Co.Kerry,
      Killarney at this time was a centre for Catholic education in Ireland, he would have learnt the classics, and Gaelic poetry,
      whilst on holiday in his native Co.Cavan he accidentally killed one of his attackers in an affray,
      acquitted of murder, but debarred from the priesthood,
      returned to the south, and got married,
      mar ---- Egan [see below],
      he was a Gaelic poet of some note, one of his works being a lament for his absence from Cavan, entitled 'Ir fada liom nach dtéidhim ó Loch Léin go Loch Sighlin' ['Would that I might return from Lough Leane to Lough Sheelin'],
      [O'Reilly, 1820] reports seeing the Ms. of this poem,
      [1910 letter from The O'Rahilly] says: "I failed to get a copy of the poem 'Ir fada liom nach dtéidhim ó Loch Léin go Loch Sighlin' .. but I met a Caherciveen man who referred to it as 'Ir fada an céim ó Loch Léin go Loch Sighlin'" ['It is long the step from Lough Leane to Lough Sheelin'],
      had issue:

      1. Aodhagán Ó Rathaille,
        Egan O'Rahilly, the celebrated Gaelic poet,
        see below.

O'Reilly pedigree on Pages 743-44 of [O'Hart, 1892, vol.1].
Showing ancestry of the Lords of East Breifne going back to Ragheallach (or Raighilligh), who was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
No.122 is Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (died 1583).

1641 rebel Capt. Owen O'Reilly mentioned in [1643 deposition] giving an account of the 1641 Rebellion.
"Captain Owen MacShane MacPhillip O'Reilly" shows he is son of Shane son of Phillip O'Reilly.
This man existed. The question is whether he is the grandfather of the Co.Kerry poet or not.

The descent from Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly shown in O'Rahilly / O'Reilly family tree (Ann O'Rahilly version).
Shows Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (died 1583) as father of Philip O'Reilly, father of Shane O'Reilly, father of Owen O'Reilly, father of John Mór Ua Raghailligh, father of the poet.

The descent from Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly shown in O'Rahilly / O'Reilly family tree (Sighle Humphreys version).
Shows Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (died 1583) as father of Philip O'Reilly, father of Shane O'Reilly, father of Owen O'Reilly, father of John Mór Ua Raghailligh, father of the poet.
See full size.


The Co.Kerry origin theory

Scholars have long doubted the Cavan origin story:

Evidence against the Cavan origin and in favour of a Kerry origin for Rahilly:

  1. The poet often referred to his ancestors, but always as of Co.Kerry, and whose chiefs were the MacCarthys of Co.Kerry.
  2. The poet never referred to Co.Cavan.
  3. It is possible but seems unlikely that these are all references to his mother's family, the MacEgans, of Co.Kerry, hereditary brehons to MacCarthy Mór.
  4. The poet's deathbed poem refers to the MacCarthys of Co.Kerry as "those princes under whom were my ancestors before the death of Christ". This could refer to his mother's family. But it seems like an unusually ambiguous statement for the poet to have been referring to his mother's, and not his father's, people.
  5. His satire on O'Cronin (see below) directly implies the O'Rahillys are of Co.Kerry.
  6. If he was directly descended, not just from any O'Reillys, but from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne, as it seems above, you would think he would mention it.

  7. The poet refers to "The abiding of my forebears for some time past in Iveleary".
    • Iveleary (or Uibh Laoire or Uibh Laoghaire) means "the country of the O'Learys" and is in Co.Cork (on Co.Kerry border, across the mountains SE of Killarney).
    • Page 118 of [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911] says Iveleary extends from Macroom to Inchigeelagh, Co.Cork (see map).
    • The RC parish of Iveleary corresponds to the large civil parish of Inchigeelagh, Co.Cork (see map).
    • The reference may be to Gortyrahilly (see below), Ballyvourney par, Co.Cork (beside Inchigeelagh par). Gortyrahilly has been described as "in Iveleary".

  8. His complaint about Browne being an usurper of MacCarthy does not work so well if he himself is a new arrival. (In fact, it does not work at all, since first, Browne is related to MacCarthy, and second, O'Rahilly spent most of his life praising the Brownes.)

  9. O'Rahilly and O'Reilly are simply different names. There were both O'Rahillys and O'Reillys at and before this time in this part of Munster (Co.Kerry/Co.Cork border). There seems no reason why the poet would use O'Rahilly if he was an O'Reilly.
  10. See examples of O'Rahillys and Rahillys in this area at and before this time in ["The Kenmare Manuscripts"] and [Hickson, 1872] and [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911] and [Fitzelle, 1986]. It seems more likely the poet came from one of these families. See discussion in [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911].
  11. There is a townland called Inchirahilly in Crookstown par, Co.Cork (see map), again showing Rahillys were long established in Munster.

  12. This O'Rahilly family certainly were tenants in the early 18th century under McCarthy, at Lisbabe and maybe Annaghilymore. The question is whether this went back much further.
  13. A Daniel Rahilly (who could be the poet's nephew Dónall 'ac Murchadha ó Rathaille) and a Michael Rahilly witnessed the 1724 will of Owen McCarthy of Headfort (Eoghan MacCarthy, son of Cormac Riabhach MacCarthy), whose lands included Lisbabe and Barraduff, where our family lived.
  14. The poet himself wrote a poem to this Eoghan MacCarthy: "To the Chieftain Eoghan, son of Cormac Riabhach MacCarthy" (c.1708). He wrote as if he and his children lived under Eoghan Mac Carthy.
  15. The poet often laments the fall of the MacCarthys, for example in "On his removing to Duibhneacha".
  16. [Dict. Ir. Writers] sums it up: "the poet regarded the MacCarthys as his chiefs, and himself as properly their poet".


A direct reference to the O'Rahilly family in the works of the poet.
From [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911].
Explanation: The poet wrote a satire in (or soon after) 1713 against the tax-collector Tadhg Dubh O'Cronin. See p.287. It ridicules the Cromwellian planters and the Irish that help them. The passage above is on p.297. It is translated on p.xi.
It refers to "Mhuintir Rathaille" (the O'Rahillys) as clearly being of the Co.Kerry region.


Earlier Ulster origin

[MacLysaght, 1985] states that the O'Rahillys have no connection with Breifne and the O'Reillys, that they did originate once in Ulster, "but have so long been associated with Co.Kerry that they must be regarded as Munstermen, especially Egan O'Rahilly ... [who] was of a family long established near Killarney".


Our family

With the origin of the family uncertain, we can start as follows:
---- O'Rahilly,
or Rahilly,
[King, 1910] says the poet's father lived for a time at Gortyrahilly, Ballyvourney par, Co.Cork (on border with Co.Kerry, across border from Sliabh Luachra district, across the mountains SE of Killarney, see map and map),
later lived Scrahanaveal, Kilcummin parish, in the district of Sliabh Luachra, E of Killarney, Co.Kerry (see map),

mar ---- Egan [or McEgan or MacEgan or Mac Aodhagáin],
she was of the MacEgans, hereditary brehons (lawyers and judges) to MacCarthy Mor, King of Desmond,
the brehon MacEgans lived at Pallis, W of Killarney (see map) and other places near Killarney,

he died Killarney, when the children were still young,
left his widow in good circumstances,
after her husband's death she was said to have held "half of Scrahanaveal" (i.e. about 200 acres),
the inheritance was dissipated by her son the poet, who is described in [O'Reilly, 1820] as "an opulent man",
she finally tenanted a small farm at Stagmount with her son the poet (i.e. she probably lived to a good age),
had issue:

  1. Aodhagán Ó Rathaille,
    Egan O'Rahilly, the celebrated Gaelic poet,
    one of the last of the Gaelic poets,
    born est c.1670, Scrahanaveal,
    date of birth unknown, there are various estimates, the estimate in [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911] of c.1670 seems as good as any,
    named after his mother's brehon family.
    [Dineen and O'Donoghue, 1911] says he wrote his name "Aodhagán" and "Aogan" (Egan), but never "Eoghan" (Owen).

  2. Morgan O'Rahilly of Raheen, Co.Kerry,
    "Murtagh" in [P102/205],
    born est c.1675.

Gortyrahilly on 1829 to 1842 map.

Scrahanaveal on 1829 to 1842 map.


A coat of arms The O'Rahilly did up, stuck on one of his books. See full size.
[P102/205] shows his designs for arms.

Miscellaneous Rahillys and O'Rahillys

Feedback form

See long form version.
You can also email me.
Upload additions and corrections to this site:
Upload a file (e.g. a picture):
Your email address:
Enter this password:
Donation Drive

Please donate to support this site. I have spent a great deal of time and money on this research. Research involves travel and many expenses. Some research "things to do" are not done for years, because I do not have the money to do them.
Please Donate Here to support the ongoing research and to keep this website free.

Help      How to read the trees      Conventions      Abbreviations

Privacy policy      Adoption policy      Image re-use policy