The O’Flagherty Family

O'Flagherty Family crest

(Crest No. 255. Plate 42.)

THE O’Flagherty family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Ir. The founders of the family were Flacherteach, King of Connaught, A. D. 729, and Conal Kearneach, the famous warrior. The ancient name was Flaugherty, signifying “High Lord,” and the head of the sept was Chief of Deabnafeadhe. The name was taken from Flaithbheartaigh, one of their chieftains, A. D. 970.

The O’Flaghertys held possessions in Clare and Galway, and a branch of the great O’Flagherty family of Connaught were also Lords of Kinel Owen, in Ulster. The O’Flaghertys are styled by O’Dugan Chiefs of Muinter Murchadha, now the barony of Clare, County of Galway. In the thirteenth century they were deprived of this territory by the English, and having settled on the other side of Lough Corrib, secured extensive possessions there in the barony of Moycullen, and were thence styled Lords of Iar Conacht, or West Connaught. They had the chief naval command about Lough Corrib, on the islands of which they had castles. An ancient bard says of them:

“Clan Murcadha of the fortress of hospitality

Was governed by the Clan Flagherty of Swords,

Who from the shout of battle would not flee;

To them belongs the regulation of the fair ports.”

The O’Flaghertys were among the first to offer resistance to the Anglo-Norman invaders, and as early as 1173 we find them in the van of King Roderick O’Connor’s forces in opposing Hugo de Lacy, and capturing his stronghold at Trim, one of the first military castles erected by the Anglo-Normans in Ireland. It was only after a series of the fiercest contests that the de Burgos and other leaders succeeded in depriving the O’Flaghertys and other chiefs of the territory of their possessions.

The Martin family received a grant of over two hundred thousand acres of the confiscated lands of the O’Flaghertys. One of the most remarkable of the O’Flaghertys was Emun Laidir, or Strong Ned, a man of marvelous strength, and still more marvelous courage. He had frequent encounters with Captain Richard Martin, who held his confiscated lands.

Martin was always attended by his followers, and Ned Flagherty usually fought them on horseback, with a sword. He always succeeded in putting a number of them hors de combat, and never failed to escape by cutting his way through their ranks. His exploits are still talked of among the peasantry of Connaught. The O’Flaghertys supported the Stuarts, and after the Restoration they were treated as were the other Irish who were senseless enough to adhere to that worthless house. Their reward was ingratitude, and the confiscation of their remaining estates to be parceled out among court favorites and noble adventurers.

The O’Flagherty family has contributed many eminent ecclesiastics to the Church, and many writers, poets and actors to literature and the stage.

Roderick O’Flaherty, an eminent historian and antiquary, was born at Moycullen Castle, Galway, in 1629. His father, Hugh O’Flagherty, was the last chief of his race. Roderick wrote a number of valuable works on Irish subjects, the principal of which, The Ogygia, or the History of Pagan Ireland, “remains,” says Hardiman, “a lasting monument of his learning and genius. Immediately on its appearance it excited the curiosity and attracted the attention of the learning of Europe, many of whom testified their approbation of the work in the most flattering terms. Our ablest antiquaries since that time have admitted that in it he has given secure anchorage to Irish history.” O’Flaherty was despoiled of his estates and property by the Cromwellians, and died in abject poverty at the age of eighty-nine. A portion of his estates was afterward restored to his son.