The Donnelly Family

Donnelly Family crest

(Crest No. 163. Plate 8.)

THE Donnelly 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 Donally, which signifies “Howling.”

The possessions of the sept were located in the present Counties of Donegal and Tipperary. The O’Donnellys were chiefs in Muiserith Tire, now Lower Ormond, in the latter county. The O’Donnellys were also chiefs in Tyrone, at Ballydonnelly and other parts.

In Donegal they were chiefs of Fear Droma, a district in Innishowen, as mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, A. D. 1177. This place is shown on an old map of Ulster, preserved in the State Papers Office, London, as “Fort and Lough O’Donnellie,” to the west of Dungannon. Ballydonnelly (now called Castlecaulfield, after Sir Toby Caulfield, ancestor of the Earls of Charlemont, to whom it was granted by King James the First) contained twenty-four ballyboes.

In 1177 we read of Gilla-Maclaig O’Donnelly being slain in a battle with John de Courcy and his followers, at Downpatrick. The pedigree of this O’Donnelly is given in various authorities as chief of Feara-Droma-Lighean. i. e., the men of Druim-Lighean, now Drumleen, a short distance to the north of Lifford, in the district of Tir-Enda, barony of Raphoe, and County of Donegal.

On the increase of the power and population of the Kinel-Connell, the Feara Droma, and other tribes of the Kinel-Owen, originally seated to the west of the Foyle and Mourne, were driven across these rivers, and they acquired new territories for themselves. According to Keating, the head of this family was hereditary Marshal of O’Neill’s forces; but little of their history has been yet recovered from O’Donnelly who was slain by de Courcy, down to the year 1531, when the Four Masters state that O’Donnelly’s town was assaulted by Nial Oge O’Neill, who broke down O’Donnelly’s castle, and made a prisoner of the son of O’Neill (the Donnellyan), who was then in fosterage with O’Donnelly, and carried him off.

Fynes Moryson, secretary of Lord Deputy Mountjoy, states in his enumeration of the forces of the chieftains of Ulster who combined to oppose the Earl of Essex in 1599, that “the O’Donnellys had in their country one hundred foote and sixtie horse.” And the same writer adds that among “the Captains and companies under the command of the Traitor Tyrone” (Hugh O’Neill) were two of the O’Donnellys, namely, “Donnell Grome MacEdmond, who had a hundred men, and Patrick McPhelim, who had a hundred more.” This Donnell Groome MacDonnell O’Donnelly accompanied Tyrone to Kinsale, where he fought with such desperation, that he, “a Captain with one hundred,” and all his men were slain.

Patrick O’Donnelly, nephew of Donnell Groome, above mentioned, was head of the sept during the insurrection of 1641, and his prominence may be gauged from the fact that £400 were offered for his head by the Lords Justices and Council. This Patrick Moder O’Donnelly took possession of Lord Caulfield’s castle, at Ballydonnelly, in October, 1641, and in 1642 he was one of the four Captains placed over the Bann by Sir Phelim O’Neill, General of the Irish forces in Ulster.

In 1687 and 1688 Terence O’Donnelly was appointed high Sheriff of the County of Tyrone by Lord Tirconnell; and in 1687, when Colonel Gordon O’Neill was Lord-Lieutenant of Tyrone, this Terence O’Donnelly and Shane O’Donnelly were Deputy-Lieutenants. In 1689 Patrick O’Donnelly of Dungannon was member of Parliament for that borough in the Parliament of King James the First, in Dublin, and the same year Daniel O’Donnelly was a member for the borough of Strabane. Dr. Patrick O’Donnelly was Catholic Bishop of Dromore since the Revolution, and Dr. Terence O’Donnelly was Catholic Bishop of Derry. During the Revolution this sept were remarkable for their loyal adherence to the cause of James the Second. The Rev. James Coigly, who was maternally descended from this family, states in a pamphlet written in 1798, that his own great-grandfather, O’Donnelly, together with five of his brothers. were slain at the head of the tribe, defending the bridge at the battle of the Boyne.

After the overthrow of James the Second, the O’Donnellys forfeited the remnant of their ancient estates, but still they never lost sight of their former station.

Dr. John O’Donovan, writing of the O’Donnellys, says: “All the men of this family that I ever saw are remarkable for their manly form and symmetry of person, and even the peasants who bear the name exhibit frequently a stature and an expression of countenance which indicate high descent.”

The name is still numerous in many parts of Ireland and in the United States. The Hon. Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, littérateur and politician, is a descendant of this family. His sister, Miss Elenor C. Donnelly, is widely known as one of the most charming writers of the day, and a poetess of acknowledged and deserved merit.