The Creagh Family

Creagh family crest

(Crest No. 19. Plate 4.)

THE Creagh family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founder of the family was Eogan, ancestor of the Northern Hy Nials, and son of Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379. The ancient name was Craoibhes, signifying “The Tree.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present Counties of Clare and Cavan. Many of the O’Creaghs were valiant chiefs, and gained several victories over the Danes.

The O’Neills of Thomond were originally some of the O’Neills of Ulster, who, having gone to Limerick in the tenth century to assist in the expulsion of the Danes, on one occasion in battle wore green boughs in their helmets, and from that circumstance received the name of O’Craoibh, which signifies “of the branches.” The name was afterward Anglicized Creagh.

This branch of the O’Neills, or Creaghs, were chiefs of Clan Dalvy and of Tradree, in the County of Clare, a fertile and large territory co-extensive with the present Deanery of Tradery, or Tradree.

The Creaghs of Limerick were for several generations a family of eminent respectability and prominence. From 1216 to 1651, the year when the city was taken by the Cromwellians, thirty-four of the name held the office of Mayor of Limerick, and sixty of the name filled the office corresponding to that of sheriff. After the city fell into the hands of the Cromwellians, many members of this family went to France and elsewhere. Some of them obtained patents of nobility in Rochelle, France, where they settled.

As early as the time of Edward the Third, a branch of this family settled in Cork, where they became wealthy merchants, and obtained high civic honors. In 1541 Christopher Creagh, a man described as possessing great influence and power, both with the English Government and the native Irish, was Mayor of Cork. During the Cromwellian wars these Creaghs were expelled from the city as belonging to the “ancient Irish inhabitants.”

At the outbreak of the Revolution in Ireland Sir Michael Creagh was Lord Mayor of Dublin, 1688-89; was a member of the Dublin Parliament of James the Second for the latter year, and Paymaster-General of his majesty’s forces in Ireland. Sir Michael was fifth in descent from Mayor Christopher Creagh of Cork, already mentioned. At the beginning of the war Sir Michael raised a regiment for King James, which was ranked among the best equipped and most efficient in the Irish army. It served with distinction in the campaigns from 1689 to 1691; was present at the blockade of Derry; fought at the Boyne, and participated in most of the actions of the war. After the overthrow of King Janies the regiment went to France, where it was known as the “Regiment de Dublin Infanterie.” Sir Michael’s property was confiscated, and even his house was plundered of all the plate and goods it contained by Lord Coningesby, one of William’s Lord Justices.

Many of the Creaghs were officers in the Irish Brigade in France, down to the disbandment of that body, some of whom held the rank of Major-General. Among the wounded at the battle of Fontenoy was Captain James Creagh, who was shot through the breast, the ball shattering his Cross of St. Louis, and passing completely through his body. Several fragments of the cross were extracted from the wound and he recovered. In 1771 he was made a Major-General, and finally retired on a pension. He was a native of Cork, where he was born in 1701.

In the military service of Spain, also, many of the name held high rank from the fall of Limerick down to the wars of Napoleon.

Another member of this family, Sir Michael Creagh, was Major-General in the British army, in which he served fifty-eight years. He died in 1860.

Some of these Clare O’Neills—or Creaghs—modified the name to Nihell or Nihill. One of these was Baron Harrold, a native of Limerick, and Colonel of the Regiment of Koeningsfeldt, in the German service. Many of them also served with distinction in the Irish brigades on the Continent. Lieutenant-Colonel Nihell of Dillon’s Regiment won special distinction for his conduct at the battles of Fontenoy and Lafeldt. Another of this family was Sir Balthasar Nihell, a Brigadier-General in the service of the King of Naples, and one of the gallant Irish officers who rescued the king when he was surprised at Villetri by the Imperial General Browne. Lieutenant-Colonel O’Neill, who was killed at the battle of Fontenoy, was a member of the same family, who retained the original family name, unchanged and unmodified.

The Creaghs have also contributed many distinguished members to the ranks of the clergy. Of this family was Richard Creagh, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, an eminent writer on ecclesiastical history and the lives of the Irish saints. This pious and learned prelate shared the fate of so many others of the Irish clergy during that period of persecution. He was arrested in 1565 and conveyed to London, where he was imprisoned in the Tower. He was liberated through the interposition of some influential friends, but the persecution having broken out with renewed fury in 1580, he was again arrested and imprisoned in the Tower a second time. During his detention offers of the highest preferment were repeatedly made to him, provided he would apostatize, but the promise of reward had no more effect on him than the horrors of the prison. His discomfited persecutors had him condemned to imprisonment for life in the Tower under the penal statutes of the day. He was kept in a small dungeon, loaded with chains, where he was finally poisoned, October 14, 1585.

The Most Rev. Pierce Creagh, Bishop of Cork, and grandnephew of the above mentioned martyr-prelate, also narrowly escaped martyrdom. He was cast into Limerick Prison, where he was kept three months, when an order came from the English Parliament to send him to London with the Most Rev. Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh, who was put to death on his arrival in the English capital. When Bishop Creagh reached Dublin he was seized with illness, occasioned by the hardships he had endured, and he was confined in Dublin Jail for nearly two years. He was then conveyed to Cork to stand his trial on the trumped-up charge of being privy to the Titus Oates plot. The Judge, who knew the charge was absurd, was inclined to acquit him; and one of the witnesses declared that he repented of his crime, and that all his allegations were false. Another witness, however, persisted in his malice, and swore to a series of calumnies, while the prelate listened patiently, but was powerless to defend himself. But just as this villain had kissed the Bible, and called for the vengeance of Heaven to fall down upon him, if what he swore to was not true, the whole floor of the court house gave way, and with all the people upon it tumbled down into the cellar, and the rogue was crushed to death in the ruins. The other false witnesses who were at hand immediately fled, and none escaped falling down with the floor except the Judge, whose chair happened to be placed on a beam which did not give way, and there he continued sitting, as it were, in the air. The Judge cried out that Heaven itself acquitted the Bishop, and therefore dismissed him with great honors. But that perjured villains should not go unpunished, the Judge next day had them apprehended, and he was going to put the Penal Laws in force against them for their perjury; but the holy Bishop prostrated himself on his knees before him, and with tears in his eyes begged the Judge to pardon them; and it was with great difficulty that the Judge, who was greatly incensed against them, yielded to his charitable request.