The Geoghegan Family

Geoghegan family crest

(Crest No. 21. Plate 6.)

THE Geoghegan, Geoghen or Geghan family. as the name is variously spelled, is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The family belongs to the Hy Nial tribe, which was founded by Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379. The founder of the family was Fiacha, ancestor of the Southern Hy Nials, and son of Nial the Great. The ancient name was Eochagain, signifying “Doorkeeper.” The title of the chief was Prince of Kinel Fiacha, and the designation of MacGeoghegan was taken from one of their princes, Eochagan, the sixth in descent from Nial the Great.

The possessions of the MacGeoghegans were situated in the present County of Westmeath, extending from Bir, in Kings County, to the noted Hill of Uisneach, in Westmeath, and comprised the barony of Moycashel, with parts of the baronies Rathconrath and Fertullagh, and the districts about Mullingar, in Westmeath. The MacGeoghegan’s country was subsequently limited to the district of Kinaliagh, twelve miles long and seven broad, embracing the barony of Moycashel.

From the beginning of the Anglo-Norman invasion the MacGeoghegans were at war with the intruders, and the centuried fight was sustained down to the time of Elizabeth. The MacGeoghegans were the most dreaded of the foes of the English Pale, and they erected and long maintained the possession of many strong castles, the chief of which was at Castletown-Geoghegan, near Kilbeggan, whose extensive site is marked on the British ordnance survey. From the time of De Lacy’s intrusion down to the final English conquest, the MacGeoghegans produced many valiant chiefs, and defeated the invaders in many bloody battles.

In A. D. 1328 MacGeoghegan gave a great overthrow to the English, in which three thousand five hundred of them, together with the D’Altons, were slain. This battle in which the English forces met such tremendous defeat was fought near Mullingar, on the day before the feast of St. Laurence, namely, the 9th of August. The Irish clans were commanded by William MacGeoghegan, Lord of Kenil Feacha, in Westmeath, comprising the present baronies of Moycashel and Rathconrath. The English forces were commanded by Lord Thomas Butler, the Pettits, the Tuites, Nangles, Delemers, etc. The battle took place at the Hill of Ardnocher.

On the eve of St. Laurence, at the Cross of Glenfad,

Both of chieftains and bonaghts what a muster we had:

Thick as bees round the heather, on the side of Slieve Bloom,

To the trysting they gather by the light of the moon.

For the Butler from Ormond with hoisting he came,

And harried Moycashel with havoc and flame,

Not a hoof or a hayrick, nor cornblade to feed on,

Had he left in the wide land right up to Dunbreedon.

Now, level your spears, grasp your battle ax firm,

And for God and our Ladye strike you down right and stern,

For our homes and our altars charge you steadfast and true,

And our watchword be vengeance and Lauvh dearg Abou.

· · · · · · · · · ·

In the Pale there is weeping and watchings in vain,

De Lacy and D’Alton, can you reckon your slain?

Where’s your chieftain, fierce Nangle? Has De Netterville fled?

Ask the Molingar eagles, whom their carcasses fed.

Ho! ye riders from Ormond, will ye brag in your hall,

How your lord was struck down with his mailed knights and all?

Swim at midnight the Shannon, beard the wolf in his den,

Ere yon ride to Moycashel on a foray again!

MacGeoghegan at the Battle of Ardnocher


Captain Richard MacGeoghegan, a distinguished commander in the war against Elizabeth, was particularly celebrated for his defense of the Castle of Dunboy, in the County of Cork. MacGeoghegan and his small and poorly-equipped band of one hundred and forty-three men withstood the attack of more than four thousand English troops, supported by artillery, for fifteen days, he and the remnant of his gallant band meeting death finally amid the ruins. When the English soldiers reached the cellar they found MacGeoghegan, who had been mortally wounded, dragging himself, with a lighted brand in his hand, toward the powder magazine, to blow up himself and survivors and the enemy in one common ruin.

Into the vault the Saxons ran;

The voices and the tramp of feet

Aroused the Chief MacGeoghegan,

Whose heart had well nigh ceased to beat.

With hard, wild stare he looked around—

Were these the Saxons near him? What!

His gallant men disarmed and bound?

He tottered to the flames and caught

A glowing ember in his hand;

Then toward the cask held on his way.

The English soldiers saw the brand,

And rushed in front his course to stay;

Their Captain, Power, forward flew

And grasped the dying hero fast,

The while another of the crew

His bloody weapon through and through

The noble chieftain’s body passed.

Slow dripped the blood; that heart had nigh

Before the cruel deed run dry;

But ere his gallant spirit fled,

Lord Thomond caught the chieftain’s eye,

And thus with dying breath he said:

“Ha! Earl, you’ll own I told you true

When on the Island’s side we met;

The words should still be known to you,

I can recall them even yet—

‘«ˇNo English troops shall ever find

A shelter from the rain and wind;

No English preacher ever raise

A canting hymn in England’s praise;

No English council ever prate

The weal or woe of England’s state;

Nor Irish slave one hour enjoy

Beneath the roof of proud Dunboy.’

I spoke you thus, and, traitor, tell:

Have I not kept my promise well?”

Of this heroic defense Sir George Carew, commander of the enemy’s forces, wrote: “So obstinate and resolved a defense hath not bin seene within this kingdome.”

The MacGeoghegans held their rank and considerable possessions in Westmeath down to the Cromwellian wars and revolutions, after which their estates were confiscated. During the Penal Laws one of this family, known as “Geoghogan of London,” resided in that city, and learning that he was in danger of losing his estate for not having conformed to the Protestant religion, he hastened to Dublin, professed in all its legal forms the Protestant religion on a Sunday, sold his estates on Monday, and went back to “Popery” on Tuesday. When asked for an explanation of his action, he replied somewhat impiously: “Because I had rather trust my soul to God for a day than my property to the Devil forever.” When he was making his “religious profession” in Christ Church, Dublin, he drank off the entire contents of the sacramental wine cup that was handed to him. On being rebuked by the minister Geoghegan replied: “You need not grudge it to me; it is the dearest glass of wine I ever drank.”

In the wars against Cromwell the MacGeoghegans maintained their reputation for fidelity and bravery. The secretary of the great Owen Roe O’Neill notes that no family behaved as well as the Geoghegans, and adds: “Never a one of them was ever killed other than like a brave soldier, and in command in action.” He names ten Geoghegans, ranking from Captain to Lieutenant-Colonel and Major, and adds: “These ten Geoghegans, commanders, perished to the world, but to future ages left sufficient matter of honorable imitation.”

In the war of King James the Second in Ireland the MacGeoghegans took a prominent part in support of that monarch against William of Orange. Two of them, Brian MacGeoghegan of Donore, and Charles of Sionan, sat in James’ Parliament in Dublin in 1689.This latter, Charles MacGeoghegan, and his seven sons fought in the army of James, and afterward on the Continent. The eldest, Conly, an officer in the French army, was slain at the battle of Cavan, 1690, and four of his brothers fell before the close of the war. One of the survivors was created baronet by James, whom he followed to France, and the other became a Captain of Grenadiers in Berwick’s Regiment, Irish Brigade. One of the latter’s sons, Alexander MacGeoghegan, a Captain of Grenadiers in Lally’s Regiment, signalized himself in many battles on the Continent, and subsequently went with his command to India, where, at the battle of Wandemash, being in sole command, he defeated Major Brereton, the English commander, and a force four times as large as his own, and for the time being saved the French power in India.

Others of this family were honored with the distinction of Chevaliers of the Order of St. Louis. The MacGeoghegan family has also produced many eminent men in literature, among them being the Abbé MacGeoghegan, Chaplain to the Irish Brigade in the service of France, and author of a valuable History of Ireland; and the poet MacGeoghegan, author of “The Monks of Kilcrea,” and other well-known productions.

William Geoghegan, poet and journalist, of New York City, is a descendant of this ancient and distinguished family.