The Rahilly and O'Rahilly family of Sliabh Luachra and Ballylongford

Dr. Mark Humphrys
Dublin City University

Great-grandson of Nell Rahilly.

O'Rahilly the family tree guy

Tree in The O'Rahilly's papers.
UCD Archives P102. (For full ref. see my site.)

A lost Gaelic world

Reference to a Ms in the NLI with the poet's 1722 signature.

Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, or Egan O'Rahilly, born c.1670, died c.1730.
The celebrated Gaelic poet.
Of the Sliabh Luachra region, Co.Kerry.
One of the last of the old Gaelic poets.

The entry for the poet in Irish Writers, Edward O'Reilly, Dublin, 1820.

The poet's grave, Muckross Abbey, near Killarney.

The re-discovery of the connection to the poet

Extract from The O'Rahilly's early research.
Could not trace beyond Michael Rahilly.
No tradition of a connection to the Gaelic poet.

Looking through P102, the thought occurred: Maybe it is not true?

It seems to be legit

  1. Michael Rahilly was buried in Muckross Abbey, at or near the poet's grave.

  2. These Rahilly families and female branches did have a tradition of connection to the poet:
    • Rahilly of Knockburrane (and our branch noted them as relatives)
    • Julia Rahilly's family (and Julia was niece of our Michael Rahilly)
    • Rahilly of Knockearagh
    • Rahilly of Coolcaslagh
    • Fitzgerald of Ardteegalvan

  3. The exact connection of various people was remembered.

  4. The research Michael Warren did for The O'Rahilly clearly established the link of our family to these families.

Note in 1911 from The O'Rahilly about the inscription on the poet's tomb.

Going back further? O'Reilly, Lords of East Breifne (Co.Cavan)

There is an attempted descent from O'Reilly, Lords of East Breifne (Co.Cavan).

O'Reilly pedigree in the (rather unreliable) John O'Hart, Irish Pedigrees, 5th edn, 1892.

T.F. O'Rahilly in [P102/209] provides a much more detailed O'Reilly pedigree based on primary sources. Summary:

Hugh Conallagh O'Reilly,
Lord of East Breifne 1565-83, died 1583,
had issue:

Philip O'Reilly,
Lord of East Breifne 1595-96, imprisoned in 1585 in Dublin Castle, killed on 14 Oct 1596, his lands forfeit,
had issue:

Sean O'Reilly,
captured by the British in 1596 and held hostage in Dublin, died 31 Jan 1634,
had issue:

Capt. Owen O'Reilly,
of Clare in Crosserlough par, Co.Cavan, one of the rebel leaders in Co.Cavan in the 1641 Rebellion.

The 1641 rebel existed and has medieval ancestry

Capt. Owen O'Reilly mentioned in deposition of 1643 giving an account of the 1641 Rebellion.
"Captain Owen MacShane MacPhillip O'Reilly" shows he is son of Shane son of Phillip O'Reilly.

T.F. O'Rahilly provides a convincing descent of Capt. Owen O'Reilly from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne.
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.

Is the 1641 Cavan rebel the grandfather of the Kerry poet?

The entry for the poet's father in Irish Writers, Edward O'Reilly, Dublin, 1820.

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

Why did the poet never mention it?

Scholars have long doubted the Cavan origin story for the Kerry poet.
Eugene O'Curry doubted it.
Rev. Patrick S. Dineen and Tadhg O'Donoghue doubted it.

The poet wrote about his ancestry (albeit in vague terms).
His deathbed poem refers to MacCarthy of Co.Kerry as "those princes under whom were my ancestors before the death of Christ".
He never talked about Cavan.
He never talked about O'Reilly.
His only direct mention of O'Rahilly ("Mhuintir Rathaille") is as a Kerry family.

The problem is the above descent is too good.
If he was directly descended, not just from any O'Reillys, but from O'Reilly, Lord of East Breifne, you would think he would mention it.

Conclusion: The father of the poet must remain uncertain.

We descend from the brother of the poet

Extract from Danta Aodhagain Ui Rathaille: The poems of Egan O'Rahilly,
eds. Rev. Patrick S. Dineen and Tadhg O'Donoghue, 2nd edn, London, 1911.

Things to do: See this, if not burnt in 1922!

Conn O'Rahilly, evicted from Sliabh Luachra

Extract from Michael Warren's letter of 1906 [P102/207(4)].
He meets old Julia Sheehan and she says Conn was the son of Fionn (nephew of the poet).

The eviction, maybe around 1790s

O'Rahillys (maybe now Rahillys) evicted from their land at Upper Lisbaby, E of Killarney, Co.Kerry, after ownership dispute.
Maybe around 1790s.

Things to do: Date this!

The eviction.

Michael Rahilly, of Killarney

Came into Killarney. Set up business there.
Married Ann Sullivan (normally no O), sister of Rev. Daniel O'Sullivan (normally with O).

Said to have gone to Ballylongford, but no real evidence of that.
Youngest child, Michael Joseph Rahilly, baptised 6 Sept 1810, in Killarney.
Was buried in Muckross Abbey, Killarney, at or near the poet's grave.

Extract from Michael Warren's letter of 1906 [P102/207(6)].
Shows Michael Rahilly as son of Cornelius Rahilly.

Rev. Daniel O'Sullivan

Probably how Rahilly came to Ballylongford.

Rev. Daniel O'Sullivan in [Pigot's Directory, 1824].

He was a priest at Abbeydorney in 1820.
He was PP of Tarbert and Ballylongford from 1823 until his death 1832.

After he becomes PP we find multiple Rahilly children go to Ballylongford:

The lost 1821 census

The Public Record Office, Dublin, before it was burnt in 1922.
The 1821 census would probably show the Rahillys still in Killarney.
No Rahilly listed at Ballylongford in [Tithe Survey, 1824].

Michael Joseph Rahilly, of Ballylongford

Married Margaret McEllistrem.
Ran shop in Ballylongford.

Michael Joseph Rahilly signs his name in his notebook at Ballylongford on Thur 3 May 1832.

[P102/208] says he was going for the priesthood.
But he fell in love with Margaret McEllistrem when on a visit to his uncle at Ballylongford. (Implies he lived Killarney.)
His father was angry with him leaving the priesthood and cut him off.

Michael Joseph Rahilly draws "A Dandy" in his 1832 notebook at Ballylongford.

Michael Joseph Rahilly, policeman

The O'Rahilly's grandfather was a policeman (member of County Constabulary) for a short time.

Testimonial to Michael Joseph Rahilly dated 30 Jan 1833 from John O'Donoghue, scholar, TCD.
Probably needed when he joined the police.

The McEllistrems

Margaret McEllistrem was dau of Richard McEllistrem of Ballylongford.
Richard became a family name.
Still is today, in O'Rahilly and Humphreys/Humphrys families. (My father, brother, son.)

"Richard McElistrem" listed with 11 acres at Ballylongford in [Tithe Survey, 1824].

Michael Joseph dies

Michael Joseph Rahilly died 7 Mar 1849.

The death of Michael Joseph in 1849.
Extract from [P102/208(81)].

The McEllistrem grave

McEllistrem is the standard spelling.
Margaret's brother Richard died 1848. Spelt "Richard Mac Ellestrem" on tomb.
[P102/208(81)] says tomb was built by his brother-in-law Michael Joseph Rahilly, who was very fond of him.
Michael Joseph himself died 1849 and is buried in this tomb.

Grave of Richard Mac Ellestrem (died 1848), Lislaughtin Abbey.

His widow carries on

Michael Joseph's widow Margaret McEllistrem carried on running shop until her son Richard Rahilly took over.

Mrs. Margaret Rahilly on Main St, Ballylongford, in [Griffiths Valuation, 1851].
She has multiple properties.
Plot 4 is the old Rahilly house.

Map for [Griffiths Valuation, 1851].
Plot 4 b is the old Rahilly house.

Educated children, loyal to the state

Business must have been good, considering the education the children got.

Michael J. Rahilly goes to university and becomes a doctor.
From Irish Times, June 29, 1859.

Dr. Michael Joseph Rahilly, surgeon in Royal Navy

Dr. Michael Joseph Rahilly, c.1865 (before his death in 1866).

Served on HMS Gladiator from 1860 to 1864, in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

When waiting to board ship at Queenstown, he wrote to his brother Richard, asks him to "send me my favourite book" which he says is History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, by William Hamilton Maxwell.
Aodogan O'Rahilly thought this might show some early interest in nationalism.

History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, by William Hamilton Maxwell

From History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, William Hamilton Maxwell, 1854.
Aodogan O'Rahilly thought Rahilly liking this book might show some early interest in nationalism, but in fact the opposite.

Maxwell was an Ulster Protestant who served in the British Army, and the book is famous for its anti-Irish, simian depictions of the rebels.
Liking this book shows how pro-British the Rahillys were.

Richard Rahilly takes over

Richard Rahilly and family. Photo c.1887.

Richard Rahilly listed among "grocers and spirit dealers" at Ballylongford in [Slater's directory, 1870].

Grocer, spirit dealer, shopkeeper, baker, miller, fish curer, draper, general merchant, farmer, landowner, importer, inventor, post office and shipping agent.

Apparently not a public house, though.

Anna, Ellen Mangan, Richard Rahilly, Dr. David Humphreys, Nell.
Photo would be c.1895.

Loyal to the Crown

Richard was a loyal British subject.
Became postmaster for Ballylongford in apparently 1880-81. This sensitive job would have to be approved by Dublin Castle.
He was a Justice of the Peace in Co.Kerry. Appointed 1890.
He sat on the Board of Guardians in Listowel (Listowel Poor Law Union).

Richard listed as a JP when he signs a group letter
from many JPs and notable figures of Co.Kerry,
urging John Adye Curran, County Court Judge of Kerry, not to leave the county.
Irish Times, February 12, 1891.

"Patt is a rabid Parnellite"

Richard's brother-in-law Patrick Fitzgerald.
In a letter of 17 May 1891, Richard refers to his brother-in-law's support for Parnell:
"Patt of course with his accustomed aberration of intellect is a rabid Parnellite".

Richard dies, 1896

Richard attended Board of Guardians in Listowel on 19 Mar 1896.
He cycled home to Ballylongford in torrential rain and wind, got pneumonia.
Died Ballylongford, 24 Mar 1896, age 56 years.

His widow and The O'Rahilly sold the house and business soon after.

Ellen Rahilly and Anna moved to Quinsborough House.

The O'Rahilly - JP in 1898. Nationalist in 1899.

The O'Rahilly was a Justice of the Peace. Described as such in Deed, Nov 1898.

The first sign of nationalism is letters controversy in 1899 in the European edition of the New York Herald, following celebrations of Queen Victoria's 80th birthday.
Rahilly criticised the celebrations. See 7 and 14 June 1899.

1900-1910 - Decade of (among other things) family tree research.
Re-naming as "O'Rahilly" and then "The O'Rahilly".

The O'Rahilly's dramatic entry at 40 Herbert Park in [Thom's, 1914].

1916 reaction 1 - Rev. Daniel Mangan

From Rev. Daniel Mangan's letter to his 1st cousin Anno after the death of her brother The O'Rahilly in the 1916 Rising.
"That rising was indeed a foolish and a hopeless affair, but no doubt those who took part in it did so with the best intentions."

1916 reaction 2 - Fr. Con Mangan

Fr. Con on the death of his 1st cousin The O'Rahilly in the 1916 Rising.
"Thanks be to God I have lived to see the day."
From letter of 18 May 1916.

1916 reaction 3 - Alfred Rahilly

Letter from Alfred to Nell on 25 May 1916, after 1916 Rising.
"I am going to try to be an Irishman in future."
Note that he is still "Rahilly" and has not yet adopted "O'Rahilly".

1916 reaction 4 - Letter about Mac O'Rahilly

"Your eldest boy Risteard is now The O'Rahilly."
Letter from Maire de Buitleir to Nancy O'Rahilly, 7 May 1916.

Mangan - The tragic poet

The O'Rahilly focused on male line. Wish he had done more on female lines!

James Clarence Mangan, the tragic poet (1803-49).
Exact relationship unknown.

Nolan - The faction fight of 1825

Account of the faction fight in Shanagolden in 1825.
From Freemans Journal, June 14, 1825.
If Kennedy O'Brien had not been killed, The O'Rahilly would not have existed.

Donovan - The Act of Union petition, 1799

Joseph Donovan, of Lisgordan House, near Shanagolden, Co.Limerick,
is ancestor of The O'Rahilly through Mangan and Nolan.

Joseph Donovan of Lisgordan House signs a Sept 1799 petition in favour of the proposed Act of Union.
Finns Leinster Journal, 28 Sept to 2 Oct, 1799.

The O'Rahilly's lost family tree?

Aodogan O'Rahilly talked about a pile of papers burnt after 1916.
But extensive family tree research survives in UCD P102.

Re-discovery of a Gaelic Ireland.

The family tree was the origin of his nationalism?

Back: Sighle Humphreys.
Middle (Left to Right): Dick Humphreys, The O'Rahilly, Emmet Humphreys (born 1902), Mac O'Rahilly (born 1903).
Front (Left to Right): Aodogan O'Rahilly (born 1904), Niall O'Rahilly (born 1906).

All details and images at:

In particular in these family trees:

Dr. Mark Humphrys