The Dempsey Family

Dempsey family crest

(Crest No. 272. Plate 45.)

THE Dempseys are descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the Heremon line. The ancient name was O’Dimasaigh and signifies “Estimable.” The founder of the family was Rossa Failge, son of Cathire More, or Cathire the Great, King of Ireland, 144 A. D. The Dempseys are of the same descent as the O’Conors Faily. They were Princes and Lords of Clanmaliere and Offaley and were sometimes styled Barons of Phillipstown and Viscounts of Clanmaliere.

Their territory of Clanmaliere embraced parts of the baronies of Geashill and Phillipstown, in Kings County, with part of Portnehinch, in Queens County, and part of Offaley, in Kildare, including Monasterevan and the adjoining districts.

The O’Dempseys had many castles in Kings County, the principal one of which was at Geashill, besides one in the barony of Offaley, in Kildare, and one at Ballybrittas, in the barony of Portnehinch, in the Queen’s County. This beautiful country was transformed into shires in the reign of Queen Mary and the seat of the O’Dempseys was changed to Philipstown, in honor of her husband, Philip of Spain. This territory was the scene of many fierce encounters with the English of the Pale after the Anglo-Norman invasion, in which the O’Dempseys bore a distinguished and patriotic part.

In the twelfth century they waged war against the Anglo-Normans under Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, who, in the year 1173, together with his son-in-law, Robert de Quiney, or de Quincy, constable and standard-bearer of Leinster, marched at the head of a powerful force into Kildare and Offaley. The English were defeated with great slaughter by the Irish clans, commanded by the O’Dempseys, Chiefs of Clanmaliere, the standard-bearer, de Quincy, being among the slain.

The affair is thus mentioned in Harris’ Hibernica: “From thence Strongbow went to Kildare, making many incursions into Offaley upon O’Dempsey, lord of that country, who refused to come unto him and to deliver hostages; the earl, to subdue him, made a journey in person upon him; Offaley was burned and harassed, the whole prey of the country taken, and the army retired toward Kildare; in the retreat the earl, with a thousand men, marched in the vanguard, and the rear was commanded by Robert de Quincy. In the pass, when the vanguard was passed, O’Dempsey came upon the rear, at which charge Robert de Quincy and many others were slain, and the banner of Leinster lost; and for his death, as well by the earl as by the whole army, great lamentation was made.”

It was not until after the Elizabethan wars that the O’Dempseys lost their possessions.