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My ancestors - O'Rahilly - Contents

O'Rahilly of Sliabh Luachra

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

The connection of our family to the poet

First we consider the basic connection of our family to the Gaelic poet:

  1. Can't trace beyond 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:

The claimed descent from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne

There is an O'Rahilly family tree, showing a line of descent of the poet (and the rest of the family) from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (Co.Cavan), who 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.

The O'Rahilly originally assembled this descent, probably from [O'Hart] and the Irish annals.
But its accuracy must be regarded as dubious.


O'Reilly pedigree on Pages 743-44 of the rather unreliable [O'Hart, 1892, vol.1].
No.122 is Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne (died 1583).

The O'Rahilly family tree then 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.
This seems dubious, but it would be interesting to find the sources The O'Rahilly used.
In [P102/205] The O'Rahilly shows this descent, except with "John" instead of Shane. He references [O'Hart] as a source.
In [P102/208(115)] he gives a slightly different version, and refers to the O'Reilly pedigree in "Bourke, O'Hart, O'Donovan, etc."


The Co.Cavan origin theory

[O'Reilly, 1820] gives a Co.Cavan origin to the family. He says they were originally O'Reilly from Co.Cavan. The theory is (with some additions from the above sources) as follows.

The strongest piece of evidence for the Cavan story is 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. While [1910 letter from The O'Rahilly] reports meeting a man who heard of it.

Owen O'Reilly,
Owen "Cláragh" O'Reilly [O'Reilly, 1820],
[P102/172(1)] uses "Clárach",
[Bourke, 1967] calls him 'Seán Clárach O'Rahilly',
'a respectable farmer' [O'Reilly, 1820],
of Crosserlough parish, Co.Cavan,
[King, 1910] says of Clare in Crosserlough par (W of Ballyjamesduff, N of Lough Sheelin, see map),
[P102/172(1)] discusses whether "Clárach" means "Clare-man", and whether this means Co.Clare,
Owen mar Hanora Daly [dau of Maurice Daly, of Aghacreevy, Ballymachugh parish, on Lough Sheelin, Co.Cavan, see map],
he participated in the rebellion of 1641,
as a result, his estate was confiscated by Cromwell in 1653,
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.

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


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. 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".

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.
  9. See examples of O'Rahillys and Rahillys in this area at and before this time in [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].
  10. There is a townland called Inchirahilly in Crookstown par, Co.Cork (see map), again showing Rahillys were long established in Munster.

  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. The poet often laments the fall of the MacCarthys, for example in "On his removing to Duibhneacha".
  15. [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

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