News updates




medieval ireland


See below for details of the launch of a paperback edition of my book on land organisation in Early Ireland. The book has been out of print for several years and this is a very welcome reprint from Four Courts Press

Medieval Ireland
Territorial, political and economic divisions
Paul MacCotter

New in Paperback

Describes, for the first time, the nature of the unique economic areal system of Gaelic Ireland as it developed and changed between the Early Medieval and Anglo-Norman periods, with special emphasis on the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The origins of this system are explored in their European context, and the components of the system: local kingdom, trícha cét, late-túath and baile biataig, are explored, described and understood. Special attention is given to the role of kingship in this early society, as well as to the lesser grades within society. A large part of this work of political geography is taken up with the task of listing and describing the area of each cantred/trícha cét by use of a newly developed methodology of boundary study. These are then represented cartographically. This methodology reveals the close relationship between Gaelic and Anglo-Norman areal units in a remarkable pattern of continuity. The various component units of the trícha cét, from the townland upwards, are examined of themselves and in addition shown to have great relevance for the study of such subjects as taxation, corporate kinship landholding, military levy, and even the origins of the rural Irish sense of place.

This is the first book to be published on this neglected and important area of study, the areal Irish medieval landscape. It has been described variously by Irish and British reviewers as ‘a seminal work’, ‘a landmark publication’, as having ‘the potential to be a paradigm shifting work’, and as ‘essential reading for anyone involved in the study of Early Ireland’. In addition to its relevance to Irish medieval history, the book has been described as providing a new approach ‘to land tenure elsewhere, particularly but not exclusively in the British Isles’.

Paul Mac Cotter is currently a part-time lecturer and researcher with the School of History, UCC. He has published widely on such subjects as medieval history; genealogy; family, government and church history; and DNA studies.

320pp; ills. ISBN:
Retail Price: €29.95


graduation ace 14a Genealogy conferring in Cork, early November

The School of Adult and Continuing Education in University College Cork, in co-operation with the Irish Ancestry Research Centre, Limerick, offers a two year diploma in genealogy, family history and local history, with corresponding employment potential. I enjoy lecturing and providing tutorials on this course, working closely with course director Dr. David Butler, a leading Irish historian and geographer. Teaching adults is very different from teaching ‘normal’ students. (By ‘normal’ I mean those of traditional student age, late teens and early twenties). Generally adults tend to be more motivated and less shy about asking questions, and also tend to have a strong work ethic not always present in students of a more traditional age. Adult students also tend to have well-developed bull**** antennae, requiring the lecturers to be on top of their subjects.

The Diploma offers participants the opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary study of the past while developing genealogical research skills. The course provides a range of lectures from specialists in its various subjects, as well as field trips and, in second year, the chance to bring it all together by doing a dissertation of 8,000 words or so. Last year’s subjects covered such subjects as a local gunpowder mills, the history of a particular rural railways serving Blarney, the history of glass-making in Cork City, and several very interesting genealogical investigations. This years first year course also has a distance learning element.

The picture shows yours truly on the left in company with graduate and genealogist David Ryan and Dr. David Butler. The wood panelling in the background reminds me that the celebration afterwards was held in the university aula maxima, a wonderful hall dating to the 1840s.


Records of Death: cemetery and headstone records

Death records always interest genealogists: many of you find it hard to pass a cemetery without parking and wandering in for a look at some headstones. What I want to do in this blog is give some useful background for researchers.

Burial registers

There are several categories of cemeteries and graveyards in Ireland. To understand these we need to know a little history. The Catholic Church in Ireland has ancient roots, having arrived during the 300s AD (as we know from recent research debunking the myth that Patrick was the first Christian missionary to Ireland). Many churches were founded during the period 400 to 700 and there was another wave of new church building upon the arrival of the Anglo-Normans during the 1200s. When the English reconquered Ireland during the period 1540 to 1604 they introduced the Protestant Anglican (Episcopalian) Church as the Irish state church. Despite this most Catholics did not convert, leading to a situation during the nineteenth century when 70% of the Irish remained Catholic, with 20% Anglican and 10% Presbyterian.

The problem with church record keeping, including those of baptism, marriage and burial, was that the Penal Laws oppressed the Catholic and Presbyterian churches, meaning that in most cases these churches only began to keep records from the late 1700s onwards, in some cases not beginning until as late as the 1860s. Even when records began to be kept in many cases these were only baptism and marriage records. Burial registers were almost unknown in Munster and in Dublin, and were kept only intermittantly in Connacht. The majority of churches kept burial registers in Leinster and Ulster. The Penal Laws were state laws aimed at making life uncomfortable for Catholics and thus encouraging them to become Protestant. They were mainly economic in nature, forbidding Catholics from owning much property for example. Other aspects of the Penal Laws concerned burial. The only church allowed to have cemeteries was the Anglican Church, so everybody had to be buried in these. What is not always realised is that, when the English made the Anglican Church the state church, it was given all the property including churches and cemeteries, that had belonged to the medieval Catholic Church. These included the big city cathedrals and churches, but also the little country churches, the scenic ruins of which litter the Irish countryside, and most of which had been unroofed by the English during the wars of conquest and never repaired.

It was only with the final abolishment of the Penal Laws in 1829 that Catholics (and Presbyterians) were officially allowed to have their own cemeteries. In many cases these were new cemeteries, most opened during the period from the 1830s to the 1880s. Most of these kept cemetery records, but the tendency for these cemeteries was that they were built and maintained by the local authorities and not the Church. Such records may be in local authority keeping or in local authority archives. There were Church owned cemeteries as well, usually in rural areas and located around the church itself. While many of these began keeping burial records from 1830 or so, in a small number of cases the Penal Laws had been ignored and burial records kept from an earlier period. Local knowledge is required when researching the survival of burial registers, there is no central listing. Anglican churches kept burial registers, many of which date back well into the 1700s with some as old as the 1640s. Note however that only about 40% of Anglican records survived the PRO fire in 1922. Note also that these registers can often contain little information, merely the name of the deceased and the date of burial. Anglican records are kept in a number of locations, with the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin the main repository. The National Archives have a large collection of microfilmed registers, while the various online church record websites sometimes have church burial registers transcribed in addition to baptism and marriage records.


Headstones, being more widespread than burial registers, may be a better source of death records before 1864. It should be noted that Ireland’s damp climate is harsh on headstones, and many have inscriptions which are virtually unreadable, especially the older stones. The good news is, however, that people have been transcribing headstone inscriptions for over a century, and large collections of these are available. There was even an annual journal called the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Dead, which published between 1886 and 1931. This consisted mainly of Protestant members, and the association collapsed due to many of its members leaving Ireland in the post-War of Independance period. Today there are a number of organizations and researchers involved in such research. I’ll discuss some of these below, but please understand that this is not meant to be an exhaustive survey.

  • Brian Cantwell: this late researcher recorded 25,000 inscriptions in various counties, mostly in Leinster and Connacht. His entire corpus is available to purchase on CD from Eneclann.
  • Dr. Jane Lyons: visit her free website where you can find all kinds of genealogy records, including many thousands of headstone transcriptions, some photographed.
  • this is a community based heritage project which uses the latest digital recording equipment to record entire graveyard headstone collections, and then puts them online where they are freely available. Nearly 700 cemeteries are now online. Community groups are trained in correct methodology and the project is growing in leaps and bounds under the guidance of archaeologist John Tierney. All in all a wonderful project with a national canvas.
  • this is a similar project to Historic Graves, using similarly advanced GIS technology. Most of the uploaded cemeteries to date are in Connacht and Donegal.
  • this international online database has records from over 3,000 Irish cemeteries. While its difficult to tell from the website how many complete cemeteries are online the number may be as high as 10%. Data is submitted by volunteers and locations within the cemetery are not given.
  • another international website which hosts material supplied by volunteers where location within the cemetery is again not given. This site does not have a very large collection of records so far, but is obviously growing.
  • A few of the major city cemeteries are also fully online, such as Glasnevin in Dublin and Mount St. Lawrence in Limerick. In the case of other large city cemeteries, such as St. Joseph’s in Cork, work is ongoing, and currently the period 1877 to 1917 is online at Cork Archives. In the case of many such cemeteries however, one still has to visit the local archives and do a manual search of the registers
  • If you found this blog helpful please visit my facebook page and ‘like’ me. Go to









The deliberate destruction of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922

The deliberate destruction of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922

  A bit of everything, the Four Courts fire, O’Mahers, O’Carrolls, Tipperary, and the National Archives I had a busy weekend recently in Limerick and Roscrea. First stop was to the Strand Hotel in Limerick to speak at The Genealogy Event, jointly organized by American genealogy event organizer Bridget Bray, the Irish Ancestry Research Centre and Merriman Research. Several leading genealogists presented interesting papers. In my limited time there I was able to speak with Brian Donovan and Fiona Fitzsimons of Eneclann, John King of IARC, and my colleague in UCC, David Butler. I also noted several colleagues from the Association of Professional Genealogists Ireland, but time prevented me from seeking them out. My presentation was on the subject of the Irish National Archives in Dublin. This is the lineal descendant of the old Irish Public Record Office, so sadly trashed by the IRA in 1922 in an event whose recall still brings sadness to genealogists. I discussed briefly the issue, in particular the modern tendency by some historians to ‘revise’ this event and pass it off as an accident. It was anything but in fact. It was a deliberate effort to both kill soldiers of the legitimate Irish government of the time, and to destroy what was seen as ‘the record of 800 years of slavery’. What it was in essence was the destruction of  much of the history and genealogy records of the Irish people by ignorant men. Today the National Archives contain much of what remains of our genealogical heritage. This includes: 1. Our only two full censuses publicly available (1901 and 1911) 2. Pre-Griffith’s Valuation House and Tenure books from the 1840s 3. Pension ‘green forms’ containing census data from the 1851 ‘lost’ census 4. Encumbered Estates Court records containing genealogical data (leases and rentals) from the late 1700s to 1885 5. Irish prison registers from 1790 to 1924 6. Wills and related records from 1858 These are just a few of the main sources in this wonderful establishment, which gives a sterling service despite being underfunded and understaffed.


O’Maher conference in Roscrea

Monaincha Church: Twelfth century doorway

Monaincha Church: Twelfth century doorway

Roscrea Cathedral: Romanesque frontage

Roscrea Cathedral: Romanesque frontage

My next visit was to the O’Maher clan gathering and academic conference in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, where I was the keynote speaker. The O’Mahers are one of the great Irish clans, who remained in their upland territory of Ikerrin despite the arrival of the Normans in the late 1100s. Weathering this period, when they were surrounded by Norman settlers, the sept made good use of the O’Carroll revival which saw the O’Carrolls drive the Normans from their old territory, a move which put the Ikerrin on the border between the Irish O’Carrolls to the north and the Norman Butlers to the south. For several centuries the O’Mahers made the most of this situation, playing off one neighbour against the other, always looking to their own interest. In this way Ikerrin was able to expand southwards into the Norman areas, greatly expanding the O’Maher territory and protecting it with a necklace of castles. The family also had strong ties with the Church, and dominated the priorship of the monastery of Corville and its sacred site, the bog-island located ancient church of Monaincha. This is one of Ireland’s most beautiful and haunting ancient churches, boasting handsome Hiberno-Romanesque doorways and a ninth century high cross, and set in a landscape of utter tranquility. One of the most remarkable features of this clan is their attachment to such special places in Ikerrin, another of which is the quirky mountain top ridge called the ‘Devils Bit’, well worth the half an hours climb if you are ever in the area. The main political dynamic in this part of Tipperary in the 16th century was the O’Carrolls efforts to reject the overlordship of the Butler earls of Ormond. They managed this by being included in the county of Offaly in 1605, despite their territory being part of medieval Tipperary. The O’Mahers found their interests at this time lay more with the Butlers, and this explains why their territory lies in the very northern part of modern Tipperary, along with the Butler town of Roscrea with its wonderful and largely unknown architectural heritage, ranging from 13th century Roscrea Castle to the stunning Hiberno-Romanesque facade of Roscrea Cathedral built in the mid-1100s. The O’Mahers remained the main landholders in Ikerrin until Cromwell’s confiscations of the 1650s. The chieftain’s castle at Clonakenny was granted to the Hewson family, a descendant of whom, local historian Adrian Hewson, sold the castle back to William O’Meagher twenty years ago. The clan have a committee doing sterling work in preserving the memory of their ancestors and the attractions of one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, albeit much neglected by tourists.



summerschool 14 1 summerschool 14 UCC Genealogy Summer-school, July 2014   The second UCC Genealogy Summer-school was held recently in Cork. I was heavily involved in lecturing and fieldwork. There were over fifty students enrolled, and these were treated to a feast of genealogy speakers and related heritage and fieldwork visits. Students hailed from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Britain and Ireland, giving a true international flavour to proceedings. Representatives of bodies such as TIARA and the Kansas City Irish Fest indicated the experience of many of the students. Subjects covered included oral genealogy, genealogy visit planning, Irish vital records, Irish census records, genealogy-related folklore, Irish administrative divisions and genealogy, estate rentals, online sources for Irish genealogy, fosterage and adoption records, court records, prison records, American immigrant research, the Tithe Applotment Books, Griffith’s Valuation, wills, Irish WWI British soldiers, genealogy and food, genealogy software, Irish newspapers, Irish Jewish genealogy, surnames and genealogy, genetic genealogy, Irish church records, the Great Famine, and records in the Valuation Office, among others. It could be said, with a few notable exceptions, that ‘Everybody who was anybody’ in Irish genealogy featured. Course co-ordinator, Lorna Molony of UCC, is a well-known innovator and software expert in Irish genealogy circles. Other speakers included Eileen Ó Dúill, Ireland’s only board-certified genealogist, historian Dr. Joe Mannion of NUIG, Fiona FitzSimons and Brian Donovan of and Eneclann (companies who need no introduction), Kyle J. Betit of Salt Lake City, Aidan Feerick of the National Library, Sean Murphy of UCD, who may be described as ‘Ireland’s senior genealogist’ for his accuracy and high standards in research and teaching over many years, heir specialist Stephen Smyrl of the Irish Genealogical Research Society, food historian Regina Sexton of UCC, Mary Beglan of MAPGI, Nicola Morris of Timeline Research, Stuart Rosenblatt FGSI, Dr Dagmar O’Riain-Raedel of UCC, Dr. David Butler of UCC, editor of Irish Genealogist and co-ordinator of UCC’s level seven diploma in genealogy, Hilary McDonagh, Maeve Mullin, and several others. Lectures were held in the modern and comfortable West Gate Building, where facilities were top class (apart from the coffee). I gave three lectures in Powerpoint. Firstly I spoke on Irish church records and genealogy, covering what, where, and how to access these valuable genealogical sources, the pitfalls which may befall the researcher, and the limits of church records as genealogical sources. My second talk was on genetic genealogy and surnames. This gave an outline of the current state of play with y-chromosome DNA research, in particular in relationship to surnames, all of which was prefaced with a teaching on the basics of understanding the genealogical relevance of surnames. My third talk was on the history and genealogical relevance of administrative and spatial divisions, ranging from the county to the townland. Adopting my favourite interactive teaching style, I thoroughly enjoyed relating with such an interested and intelligent group of students. As always, while teaching one also learns. As an example of the range of the discussions which featured, one might take a point which arose during a discussion on the workhouse and the Great Famine of the 1840s during my spatial divisions presentation. The workhouse was funded by local taxation underpinned by the then current laissez-faire philosophy of taxation. This was a policy which held that as little tax as possible should be raised and government should allow free-market rules to operate as much as possible. Hence the workhouses were divided into three sections, men in one, women in another, children in a third, so as to make them as uncomfortable and miserable as possible in order to ensure that only the absolutely indigent and starving would use the facilities. At the time one million Irish people starved to death in a six year period and another one and half million emigrated, mostly to America. At the same time there was more than enough food in Ireland to feed everybody. Ireland was a net food exporter, as the government refused to step in to subsidise the cost of the food in order to make it affordable to the starving, all due to the economic system then in play. The point was made that this economic system is essentially the same as that advocated by some political groups in America today, among whom no doubt are many of Irish descent whose ancestors were driven to America due to such crazy economics. I was also co-ordinator of two of the school fieldtrips. Our first was an evening in Kinsale where we visited the 13th century St. Multose’s Church, the Town Hall, and Charles Fort, built in the 1670s, and from where we enjoyed a wonderful view of Kinsale Harbour from the Old Head to Ringrone Castle on a lovely summer evening. Our second trip was West Waterford based, starting in the Cistercian abbey of Mount Mellary, founded during the 1830s on poor mountain land which the monks tamed and upon which they erected their wonderful abbey church. Students were particularly interested in the beautiful and peaceful Mellary grotto, where an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have occurred thirty years ago. Our next stop was the heritage town of Lismore, with its remarkable castle and early cathedral. Here we enjoyed lunch in the excellent Lismore Castle Hotel before our next stop. This was Dromanagh House in Villierstown. This is home to an ancient branch of the great Geraldine FitzGerald family, who once owned an estate here in excess of 100,000 acres and now hold less than one thousand. The house itself is a 17th century build partly upon an older towerhouse, wonderfully located on a cliff above the River Blackwater. Tours of both house and extensive gardens were enjoyed, given by the Grubb family, descendants in the female line of the FitzGerald lords of Decies. Plans are already afoot for next year’s school.
tab1 The Tithe Applotment Books Online: a health warning   I will start by giving a little history of the Tithe Books, before going on to discuss the problems with the new website. Skip the history if you want to go directly to the genealogy. Most of the Irish census records of the nineteenth century were destroyed. Accordingly, a number of land-tax records were identified as so-called ‘census substitutes’, documents that would go some way to ameliorating the loss of the census records. The earliest of these were the Tithe Applotment Books. These are basically lists of farmers giving acreages of farms by townland and giving some indication of land quality. Sometimes landlords names are also given and rarely terrier maps showing individual farms. Most of these books date from the period 1825 to 1835, and are thus our earliest ‘national’ source of genealogical data. The picture above features a page from the Tithe Book for Kylebrack East townland in Leitrim civil parish in east Galway. The background to, and use of, these books may be summarised as follows. Payment of tithe has long been a feature of Christian churches. Tithe, or ‘tenth’, was a portion of income payable yearly by church members to their parish priest or vicar. In addition to sustaining the cleric, the money was also used to maintain the parish church itself, while a portion went to the bishop of the diocese. During the medieval period payment of tithe became formalised or standardised into a rigid system where all parishioners apart from the destitute were required to pay a fixed portion of their income each year. This system was fine as long as the entire population belonged to the same church, as was the case until the Reformation. After this, however, the splitting up of the old Catholic Church into Roman Catholic and various Protestant denominations splintered the old medieval tithe system. From the seventeenth century onwards formal tithe collections backed by the law of the land only applied to the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church in Ireland. This was because this church was the ‘official’ or state or ‘established’ church. Therefore, in Ireland one had a system where all farmers were obliged to pay a heavy tithe upon their profits to their local Church of Ireland parish regardless of what religion they belonged to. Understandably, this caused great resentment among Catholic and Presbyterian farmers, who also had to support their own clergy. By the early nineteenth century resentment spilled over into agrarian disorder. This may be summarised as follows.

  • Tithe Composition Act of 1823, tithes commuted to a cash rent based on corn prices, the tithe applotment books regulated this process by recording land quality and local corn prices


  • Catholic Emancipation in 1829 raised farmers hopes of an end to tithes


  • When this didn’t happen the so-called ‘Tithe Wars’ began (1831-1838)


  • The first efforts at collection were made by middle-men, tithe-farmers, tithe proctors


  • Later tithes were collected by the police in the shape of livestock seizures, but many riots and deaths resulted.


  • In 1831 alone there were 242 murders, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 280 cattle maimings, 161 assaults, 203 riots, all associated with tithe collection.


  • Tithe Commutation Act of 1838, tithes reduced by an average of one-quarter and paid to landlords as part of rent.


  • Tithes finally abolished with the Disestablishment, in 1871.

Thus the origin of the Tithe Applotment Books. The originals of these are kept in the National Library in Dublin, and the entire series was microfilmed during the 1960s. A few years ago the National Library co-operated with the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Utah in creating a website and database of the Tithe Books. The idea was to make available to everybody this wonderful Irish genealogical source. The URL of the site is

Problems with the website

            Unfortunately the quality of the website is very poor. This is not to take from the brave efforts of the Latter Day Saints who were faced with significant obstacles in compiling this website. As all genealogists know, the Latter Day Saints are the greatest friends of genealogy we have, and deserve thanks for the many wonderful services to genealogy they have performed. However, in this instance more work remains to be done to make this database fit for use. This is due to the fact that creating the database was done in Utah by LDS volunteers with little or no specialised knowledge of Irish placenames or surnames. As the originals were hand-written and faded, and due to having to work from microfilm, problems arose with accuracy. Again, for some reason the volunteers appear to have had limited knowledge of the Irish civil parish structure. This created a serious problem as the tithe books are based on this parish structure, with each book based on a single parish. There is a facility on the site to report errors in transcription, but no facility to correct the numerous placename errors and mislocations. At the same time, however, we should be grateful for the scans of most of the books which are available on the website, allowing one to examine the original images. The main problems, not all caused by the volunteers, may be summarised as follows.

  • Townland entries are often located within the wrong parish, sometimes out by fifty miles or more.


  • Townland names are often transcribed wrongly, leading to two or even three names for the same townland.


  • Surnames are regularly mistranscribed and there is no surname variant function (nor townland variant function).


  • Many books contain details of financial arrangements still in existence after the tithe system was abolished. These can date to as late as the 1880s but are usually given the same date as the book itself, and so contain genealogical details misdated by up to fifty years.


  • Sometimes the scan of the microfilm is illegible.


  • Books are sometimes misdated by as much as ten years.


  • The Irish townland only became standardised in name and area during the 1840s. As most Tithe Books are earlier, sometimes the townland of the tithe is gone by the 1840s, and in other cases the townland name may be spelled differently. The trick here is to compare the names of the farmers in these ‘lost’ townlands with those in the same area in Griffiths Valuation. Often a pattern will emerge allowing one to identify the lost townland.


  • The acres used in the books may be Statute acres (2.4 = 1 hectare) or Plantation acres. 1.6 Standard equal 1 Plantation.

The website can be used as the first port of call in research. However, if you find material of relevance you should try to access the microfilm of the relevant parish and cross check. The entire collection can be accessed in the National Library in Dublin, while most county libraries have their own books on film. The films can also be ordered through LDS Family History Centers worldwide.


The tower at Ballincollig Castle


Blarney. Note the older thin tower to the left.

McCarthy, Riordan, Kelleher, Barrett, O’Mahony, Murphy, Flynn and O’Callaghan. Irish ethnic cleansing! Part of my research as a medieval historian is to examine in detail local events of long ago and how they pertain to Irish clans. The Norman conquest and settlement of part of Ireland happened after 1170, but by the early 1300s something historians call the ‘Gaelic Resurgance’ was occurring. This was where the Irish clans, who had been left only the marginal and poor bogs and mountains by the Norman settlers, fought back and attacked the colony and colonists. This was because the Norman government in Dublin began to loose control of the outlying areas of the colony due to factors like Bubonic Plague, famine, and the Scottish invasion of 1314 onwards. One of these areas ‘purged’ of Normans was the Lee Valley, that part of County Cork west of the city, and that’s what I’m blogging about here. This process began when two of the leading Norman lineages in the area, the Barrys and the Cogans, began fighting among themselves. Then one of the biggest Norman lords in Munster, the first Fitzgerald earl of Desmond, got the idea to expand his already extensive lordship in several counties by going into revolt against the Dublin government. His rebellion lasted from 1321 to 1346, when he was imprisoned. During his long revolt he hired Irish warriors from various clans to assist him. One of these was Diarmait MacCarthy of Kanturk. In his spare time, when not campaigning with the earl, Diarmait organized attacks in the LeeValley against the colony there. These begun in the 1330s, and were carried on in spite of the wishes of the MacCarthy kings, who were based in Killarney upon lands which they paid rent for to the Normans. Diarmait MacCarthy enlisted the help of many other renegade MacCarthys, as well as other local clans, some of whom had originally been driven out of the area by the Normans in the early 1200s, probably violently. Among these were O’Callaghans, O’Riordans, Murphys, O’Kellehers, O’Twomeys, O’Flynns, and others. The eastern part of the valley, stretching twenty miles west of the city, had been heavily settled by settlers of Norman, English, Welsh and Belgian ancestry, and these had developed a thriving agricultural economy centred around several market towns. MacCarthy and his followers adopted guerrilla warfare tactics, attacking the outlying homesteads (usually ringed by a rectangular fence and ditch), burning crops, stealing cattle, occassionally taking hostage and even raping the womenfolk. Some Norman knights were ‘flayed alive’, that is, whipped to death by the Irish. As the local Cogan lords had failed to halt the attacks, which went on for twenty years, by the 1350s much of the colonists had left and fled into the walled city of Cork, along with their cattle. Its important to note that we have records of the Irish ethnic cleansing in the valley but not the similar activity that the Normans had probably gotten up to. In response to these attacks the Dublin government sent a royal army down to Cork and, assisted by the local county posse, attacked and drove the Irish out of the area. This was in 1353. The settlers were ordered to return upon pain of loosing their lands, and some did. The lands of those who did not were granted to city merchants, such as the Lombards, who obtained the Blarney area (and built the first castle there). The problem was that such royal armies were expensive to organize and normally disbanded after the campaign was finished. The Normans did not keep large standing armies in the area. So after 1353 the Irish again attacked the remaining colonists, who once again fled into the city. The whole process was repeated again in 1366, when a second royal army again drove the Irish westwards. After this the Norman Barretts obtained a grant of the valley on the basis that they would resettle it. These, however, were Norman renegades who, although they did keep the Irish out, drove out those settlers who had returned and took over the entire area for themselves. The government’s efforts to restore order saw the Barretts burn the very suburbs of Cork itself, although they eventually agreed to a peace settlement which saw them agree to pay a fine of one thousand cattle. The English administration made one final effort to regain control of the valley during the early 1390s, when King Richard II came to Ireland and invested money in castle building. We know Ballincollig Castle was built at this time by Roger Cole, a Norman knight whose family came from Devon. It is likely that other similar castles were also built then, such as the original slim tower at Blarney, and another castle at Grange, a few miles west of Ballincollig. By the early 1400s however the MacCarthys finally and permanently overran most of the valley, leaving the Barretts only the few miles of territory immediately west of the city of Cork. Where did the Norman settlers go? Many probably returned to England, where they were responsible for the formation of a new surname, ‘Ireland’. This is because the English called them something like ‘John from Ireland’ which soon became a surname. For a recent newspaper article featuring an interview with me on this subject see and

john saul

Saul commemorative tablet, BF Saul Company building, Washington

saul co lib

At the launch. With Conor Nelligan, county heritage officer, Dave and Liz Maddox, county mayor, county librarian.

The story of a remarkable Irish emigrant Irishman John Saul was one of America’s leading horticulturalists during the second half of the 19th century. He created the White House gardens and numerous public spaces in WashingtonDC, such as the Mall, the Smithsonian Grounds and Lafayette Square. His story, and that of his ancestors and descendants, is a reminder that not all Catholic Irish who emigrated to America were poverty-stricken potato farmers (a common myth). Many were men of education and means, and Saul’s story is a wonderful example of this. Recently his horticultural archive, a wonderful historical and scientific resource, was donated to the Cork County Library by Saul’s descendant, Mr. B.F. Saul II of Washington. This donation was facilitated by Dave and Liz Maddox of the Castlemartyr Community Association who have maintained a link with the Saul family for several years. These may be seen in the picture above along with Conor Nelligan, heritage officer, Cork County Council, the CountyLibrarian, and the present and past CountyMayors, as well as yours truly. The second photo is of an engraving of John Saul on one of the BF Saul Company buildings in Washington, and is based on an actual photograph of Saul. A replica of this engraving was unveiled at Castlemartyr Resort by President Bill Clinton in 2012. The genealogical research here was carried out by me some years back. I found that John Saul had been born on the Carews Wood estate in 1819. His father, James Sall (note the older spelling), had been the chief gardener on this estate for some years. Carews Wood was the dower estate of the earls of Shannon, whose main house was nearby Castlemartyr House. James had in turn inherited this job from his father, Barnaby Sall, who died aged 80 in 1821, and who had been employed as gardener on the Castlemartyr estate since the 1770s. Family tradition remembered that the Salls had come from the town of Cashel in Tipperary, and I was able to establish that Barnaby was in turn the son of a John Sall of Cashel, living in 1766. The Cashel Salls were Anglo-Norman oligarchs of the town of Cashel, first recorded there in 1287. They ultimately hailed from Salle in Norfolk, England. Long one of the town’s leading families of merchants and bankers, they were among the leaders of the Catholic cause in Tipperary during the 17th century, and several were among the leading Catholic clergy of the diocese. Adhering strictly to the Catholic cause, several Sall families were dispossessed by the English after the defeat at the Boyne in 1690, and took up other careers in medicine and pharmacy, moving to Dublin and other places. By 1699 Cashel had become a rotten ‘Orange Borough’ ruled by a clique of recent Protestant settlers, and where its ancient Catholic gentry had no place. This attitude was even seen in relation to the dead. The town’s parish church of St. John had contained many ancient gravestones of Salls and others, but the Protestants, when renovating the church in the 1750s, removed these and made a footpath of them outside in the cemetery, thus literally walking into dust the record of those of a different political persuasion who had gone before. Today the surname is extinct in Cashel, although some Dublin Sauls appear to be descendants. The name Sall/Saul is now quite forgotten in the town, unlike in Castlemartyr. Returning to John Saul, after serving his apprenticeship with his father in Castlemartyr he moved to England and, in 1851, America, all the time developing his horticultural skills. His parents lived on for many years at Deerpark near Castlemartyr, on the Shannon estate, and some descendants remain in the east Cork area. In America Saul, who had been ‘headhunted’ by a leading native horticulturalist, became one of the leading horticulturalists in WashingtonDC. To quote the Smithsonian Library, “John Saul came to Washington on May 5, 1851 to take charge of the improvement of “Public Grounds” which included The Mall, Smithsonian Grounds, the Capitol and the White House. He remained with that position until 1853. He began his seed business in 1852. He laid out ‘Harewood’, the country residence of W. W. Corcoran that later became the “Soldiers’ Home.” In May 1854, he purchased “Maple Grove Farm,” eighty acres, on Seventh Street Road to use as a nursery. In 1872, his growing business necessitated purchasing more land, a farm at Brightwood. He published eight catalogs, offering fruits, evergreens, ornamental trees, shrubs, roses and greenhouse plants.” Many of these plants were new cultivars. After his death in 1897 his son, Bernard Francis Saul the first, founded Washington’s first mortgage bank, partly through the sale for building land of his late father’s nurseries. Today the BF Saul Company is a major banking, property and hotel group. This is remarkable, given that the ancestral Salls of Cashel were leading bankers and merchants in the town for four hundred and fifty years until the politics of sectarianism drove them out. There is an old saying, ‘cream always rises to the top’. (My paper on the Salle family of Cashel was published in Irish Genealogist in 1999.)   medieval dublin 001 Fifth journal paper published this year! My paper, ‘The Churchlands of the diocese of Dublin’ has just been published in the latest volume of Medieval Dublin (volume XIII). This deals with the early history of church estates and also a more general history of the key churches of the diocese of Dublin, such as Tallaght, Shankill, Swords, Lusk, Finglas and so on. There is some genealogical interest in the paper as well, as a number of local ecclesiastical families are traced. These include surnames such as Colgan, Ronan, Casey, and Maguire. A number of Anglo-Norman families also feature, such as the Butlers of Ormond and the Cooks. The volume itself has a number of interesting papers apart from my own. These cover such subjects as Viking coinage, the early development of government in Dublin, Dublin’s trading links with Bristol, and archaeological investigations in TrinityCollege. This is my thirty fifth journal paper published since 1993 and the fifth this year. Who says Irish academics are lazy!     newgrange November and Christmas in Irish History November in Ireland is a grey time, overcast skies, cool temperatures, rain and frost. Vegetation dies back, trees loose their wonderful Autumn colours, dark mornings and even darker evenings creep in to oppress the spirit. The ancient inhabitants of Ireland were knowledgeable in matters of calendars and seasons. We know, for example, that the great megalithic burial complex at Newgrange in Meath was oriented to allow a shaft of the mid-winter sun to penetrate into its deepest recesses on December 21st, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Recent investigations into ancient stone and timber circles in Ireland and Britain have shown that these were essentially huge model calendars laid out on the ground, especially marking mid-winters day. The culture involved in this was actually spread throughout Western Europe. The great English stone circle at Stonehenge, for example, was also oriented to the mid-Winter solstice. So, four thousand years ago, in Ireland, Britain and the Continent, mid-Winter’s day was a very special time, probably the most important day of the year. Why? The ancient people of Western Europe were farmers, and having a calendar to know when to sow and plant crops was vital to their culture. So the days to planting could be counted from the great mid-Winter festival on what we call today December 21. Remember, all of this was four thousand years ago! And these people were our ancestors. The idea of a ‘Celtic’ invasion of Ireland is now well-discredited among historians and genetic genealogists. What we now know is that Ireland was first inhabited maybe 9,000 years ago, and a later wave of invaders, the first farmers, came a few thousand years later. Both of these groups combined are the real ancestors of the Irish. Later invaders, such as the ‘Beaker People’ the ‘Celts’, ‘Vikings’ and English just topped up the stew. So the people who worshipped whatever God they believed in on December 21 were our ancestors. The Celtic feast of Samain, November 1, was the feast of the death of the year, to be reborn again on February 1, the feast of Imbolc. The eve of Samain was, of course, Halloween, and in which the old pagan tradition of worship of our dead ancestors survives. In the middle of the season of Samain there occurred the special feast of the mid-winter’s solstice, which in time became Christianised as the feast of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. Originally, this had been celebrated by the Romans as the feast of Saturnalia, a mid-winter festival of partying when many candles were lit to brighten the winter gloom. In the later Empire, this changed to the feast of Sol Invictus, ‘the Invincible Sun’, and the pagan Irish had a similar festival. This festival is likely to be similar to that celebrated in the Neolithic period at Stonehenge, a winter solstice festival when people gathered from all over Britain and partied for days, mainly on pork. And this is not all. When Christianity arrived in Ireland the Roman church adopted elements of the old pagan traditions that the people still respected. All the great Christian feasts were preceded by times of fasting and abstinence, and the season of Advent was that which preceded Christmas. This began on ‘All Souls Day’, November 1, in which the Christians cleverly kept the disguised feast of Samain as a feast of the dead. In traditional Irish Catholicism, whose practices have only waned in the last thirty years, Advent was rigorously followed, with no feasting or partying until Christmas Eve itself, when the twelve-day festival of Christmas began. And if the Romans and Irish could get in on the act, so could the Germans. Experts believe that Santa Claus himself is merely a modern representation of the pagan Germanic God of thunder and fertility, Thor (after whom Thursday is named: Thor’s Day). The modern Santa Claus, Christmas tree and all, is really an American invention based on the Dutch and German traditions of Saint Nicholas, in turn based on those of Thor. So when your enjoying your Christmas dinner in a few weeks time next to your Christmas tree, spare a thought for your pagan Irish ancestors and their mid-winter feasting on pork pies!

Irish kings and peasants in genealogy

genealogy manuscriptThe Irish have been composing written genealogies for 1500 years, and the Irish genealogical collection is one of the oldest in Europe. Originally composed and transmitted orally, the earliest were written down during the seventh century. These were records of the upper classes: the mark of a peasant in 17th century Ireland was that ‘he didn’t know his grandfather’s name’. Over time huge collections were built up by professional genealogists or bards, and would be recited at the inauguration ceremony of kings and leading chieftains. As well as containing accurate descents, many of which probably date back to the 500s AD, the genealogies go back much further in an artificial schema which traces all the Irish back to Míl Espáine or Milesius of Spain, the mythical ancestor of the Irish nation, who is in turn traced back via the biblical Old Testament genealogies to Adam himself! Such ‘roguery’ was not limited to the early genealogists: many later bards happily altered genealogical records to give a false ancestry for paying clients. In this way, for instance, the O Donoghue lords of the Killarney area, who only moved in there from west Cork in the mid-1100s, were given a false pedigree linking them back to the older O Moriarty kings of the district. This fiction, of course, thus validated their presence as local kings. (The picture is of an ancient genealogical manuscript in the RoyalIrishAcademy, Dublin.) These written genealogies traditionally took two styles. Firstly there was the geinealach, tracing the single ancestral line of an individual, secondly the craobhsgaoileadh, listing the offspring of a single individual. Of the great genealogy books only six or seven collections survive, and much of the contents of these remain unpublished, and only accessible in facsimile or by reading the original. Just two main collections and several minor later collections have been published. The bardic class of professional genealogists continued to record genealogies of upper class families until most of these lost their lands under the conquest of Oliver Cromwell during the 1650s. The trick for the modern genealogist is to be able to bridge the gap from the upper limit period of regular genealogy, say 1800 or so, back to the 1650s. This might sound impossible, but it has been done more often than one would imagine. I personally had a client, a carpenter, whose family genealogy could be traced back to the early 1800s, albeit of wealthy ancestors. The family had lost all their money having invested it in pre-revolution Russia. There was also a tradition in the family that they were descended from the ancient chiefs of the clan. By doing some research I was able to link the man living in the early 1800s back to his grandfather, of the 1770s, and then found a local history book which in turn traced the man of the 1770s directly back to the last chieftain of the clan, a man who had died around 1600. Once we had him we could, using the genealogies, in turn take the line back to the sixth century. This is, of course, where one needs the skills of a medieval genealogist such as myself!

Irish Genealogy and being clever with sources

Irish genealogical Due to the loss of Irish genealogical records experienced in the 20th century by the destruction of the Irish Public Record Office, much work has gone in to trying to find substitute records. One of the most interesting of these sources are census copies extracted from now lost census records by civil servants looking for evidence of age when granting old age pensions. These pensions were introduced in 1909 to people aged 70 or over, that is, born in or before 1839. The trouble was that as Civil Registration of BDM’s only began in 1864, the government needed to use some other method of establishing the age of claimants. They did this by searching the census returns for evidence of age and address. These returns were later destroyed by the government, and so these census records used to grant old age pensions preserve a unique record of long lost census data.

Irish genealogical records search

The chosen method of searching Irish genealogical records was for officials to search the 1841 and 1851 censuses (both still in existence when the Pension was introduced) for evidence of the claimant’s age. The claimant had to provide the names of their parents and the address where they were living in March 1841 or 1851 (when the censuses were taken). They also had to state the age they believed themselves to have been in the appropriate year. Pensions Officers sent the particulars of the claimant on a Form 37 to be checked against the census for the townland or address provided to see if the claimant (many of whom were children or young adults at the time) could be discovered and his/her eligibility confirmed. Both the 1841 and 1851 censuses were held at the Public Record Office in Dublin, where officials carried out the checks and returned their findings to the local Pensions Board. When, as frequently happened, a search could not find the claimant, the form 37 was returned with ‘not found’ or ‘no trace’ written on it. But many searches were successful, and these can often provide outstanding genealogy material. Some officials added the names and ages of every person living in the claimant’s household at the time of the census. Others, unfortunately, merely confirmed the recorded age of the claimant. These records are held today in Dublin and Belfast. For details on how to access them, and other interesting information, visit the Irish Genealogy This is a website hosted by Claire Santry and is a wonderful source of information on Irish genealogy by a talented genealogist. If you enjoyed this post on Irish genealogical records please feel free to share.

Irish Conference of Medievalists, July, 2013: the Irish sense of place

Irish Conference of MedievalistsThis conference has just been held in University College Dublin. The Irish Conference of Medievalists is an annual conference where academics and independent scholars gather for two or three days to give talks, meet each other, socialise, and keep up with the latest research. The UCD campus is located on the south side of Dublin, about three miles from the city centre. It’s a large campus, with some lovely buildings located throughout the grounds, as well as an ornamental lake and a walking/running cinder track which gives nearly four miles of distance, often through the mature woodland which is found along the edges of the campus. Unfortunately, the main buildings complex, in the centre of the campus, was designed by a Polish architect who had studied in the Stalinest style in Poland, and this series of concrete bunkers would look more at home in Donetsk than in Dublin. The student accommodation which most attendees book into is rather soulless as well, not to mention the breakfast, which is a self service affair in the main ‘restaurant’, a vast hall capable of seating hundreds of people, and which in summer is largely filled with endless queues of adolescent foreign students in UCD on summer English language courses.

Irish Conference of Medievalists Committee

The Irish Conference of Medievalists is organized by a voluntary committee of scholars and post-graduate students from the Department of History and elsewhere in UCD, who put much time in over several months, and this pays off in a smooth running event. I won’t list all of the speakers here, but the program can be accessed by googling ‘Irish Conference of Medievalists 2013’.  Speakers come from universities in Ireland, Britain, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, and the USA. I was particulary interested in talks given on the Irish annals, on Irish women in the Viking era, on clan links between Ireland and Scotland during the 15th century, on early Irish religious relics, and so on. There were several interesting archaeological papers, on subjects such as pilgrimage, and there was even a paper on transexualism in early Irish law. ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ perhaps! There was also a very interesting paper on early links between Ireland and Scotland. My paper was on the tuath, an early parish-like unit of community organization which was pretty unique to Ireland. These were very old, and dissappear when the Normans arrived during the 13th century, to be replaced by the local parish. Irish people will be familiar with the great sense of place and pride rural people have in their local parish, and I argue in my paper that this sense of place is very old indeed, in fact going back to the very dawn of history in the 5th century, as shown by the tuatha we can trace right back to then. Such conferences always have a dinner or banquet on the last night. This year the Irish Conference of Medievalists was held in O’Connells, a restaurant in Donnybrook, a Dublin suburb which was once a lovely rural village. As usual, there was much banter and conviviality, as one always gets at such events, but this year the oppressive heat, at 28 degrees celsius, made things a little difficult for attendees in our finery. As soon as possible after the meal everybody adjourned to the street below, where we conversed into the small hours, in temperatures still hovering around the twenty mark. All in all a good experience at the Irish Conference of Medievalists!

Maps and Spaces in Irish Genealogy

Most Irish genealogical records are organized around certain spatial divisions, such as civil parishes, townlands, district electoral divisions, and so on. Understandably, these confuse those interested in Irish genealogy, as such divisions are unique to Ireland. The subject is complex, and what I want to do here is give brief explanations of these units, a sort of idiots guide to Irish genealogical spatial divisions   19th century Irish maps represent a hierarchy of spatial divisions, and the same divisions are used in such important sources as Griffiths Valuation, the Tithe Applotment Books, and so on. This is especially so in the case of the townland and the civil parish. The key set of relationships can be represented as follows, from small to large:   Townland – Civil Parish – Barony – County – Province   Remember this and you won’t go wrong. The county is the biggest practical unit, and there are thirty two of them in Ireland. Twelve of these date back to the 13th century and were erected by the Anglo-Normans, the remainder were organized in the later 1500s. Some of these are based on ancient kingdoms, such as for instance Fermanagh and Wexford, while others were arbitrary creations of the Tudor administrators, such as Wicklow, a dogs-dinner of a county made up of what was left of the surrounding counties. Counties are grouped into provinces, of which there are four, Munster (south), Leinster (east), Connacht (west) and Ulster (north). These are ancient divisions going back to pagan times, and have little practical relevance for the genealogist, although Irish people are very attached to the concept.   Each county is divided into a number of baronies. You will come across such units in Griffiths in particular. Baronies are simply administrative units erected by the Tudor administration upon the outlines of Irish lordships and clan territories. They were ‘tidied up’ in the early 1800s with many changes to their shapes. Certain classes of legal and genealogical records are arranged by barony. The barony ceased to have any importance during the 19th century.   The Civil Parish was ‘created’ by the Ordnance Survey mappers of the early 19th century, and was based upon the Church of Ireland parochial structure. Parishes in Ireland are very old, and the main period of parish organization was during the 13th century. The Church of Ireland, and thus civil parish, structures are based on these medieval parishes. These Protestant parishs, of course, descend from the earlier Roman Catholic parishes, for the Protestant Reformation in Ireland merely took over the existing church network from the Catholics. Therefore such parishes, and their ancient rural graveyards, are neither Catholic nor Protestant, but served as burial places for the entire population. Since the 1830s the Protestant parish structure has altered greatly, while at the same time the Catholic parish structure, which emerged from state persecution during the 18th century, has boundaries which often differ from the older medieval ones. In other words, Irish ‘parishes’ can be Catholic, Protestant, or Civil.   The town land is the basic or primary unit of Irish countryside organization. There are over 60,000 of them, and the average size is about 400 acres, or about 160 hectares. Town lands are the descendants of ancient farms held by nuclear families of a clan or sept. In other words, when the clan divided its territory among its families it used the town land as the unit of division. These were in turn grouped into ‘quarters’, four of which made up a baile, the basic estate of ancient Ireland. Normally there were sixteen town lands in each baile. While town land borders changed somewhat over the years, many still retain their ancient shape, and the name of the family who once lived there.   The Irish Ordnance Survey sell digital maps online which show these various historical divisions, especially town land and civil parish boundaries, and which are invaluable for the genealogist. Visit,591271,743300,0,10 to check these out. The sample reproduced above shows Lough Leane (Killarney) as mapped around 1840, with town land boundaries shown in red, civil parish boundaries in blue, and barony boundaries in orange. For any further information on such units please contact me by email.

DVD’s of  clan history project launched with the O’Sullivan DVD!


As part of my service to those interested in their Irish surnames I’m going to make available at a modest cost a series of DVD’s giving a full account of the histories of the major Irish clans and surnames. This will be based on the latest and most up to date research, beginning with the remote origins as found in the ancient Irish genealogies. A detailed account will follow, illustrated by maps, pedigrees, coats of arms, and photos of the main castles and other sites associated with each surname. As a leading Irish surname expert, medieval historian, and talented public speaker I can deliver a product that will fascinate, charm and humble those interested in the real stories of their Irish ancestors. Ordering details will shortly appear at


The first offering concerns the O’Sullivan clan. This DVD consists of a video recording and a pdf file containing maps, pedigrees and photographs. The video was filmed at the recent O’Sullivan clan gathering in Sneem, Co. Kerry, where the climax of the week was my talk on O’Sullivan clan history, attended by nearly one hundred O’Sullivans and friends from all over, and which lasted for about one hour, followed by a long question session.


O’Sullivan (or Sullivan, the ‘O’ is an integral part of the surname, often dropped by American O’Sullivans) is among the top ten Irish surnames in terms of numbers. The Uí Shuilleabháin, to give them their Gaelic form, descend from a man who lived in the mid 900s AD, at Knockraffon in southern Tipperary. They were a minor branch of the great Eoghanacht dynasty of Cashel, descending from a king of Munster who had died in 619. Súldubán, or hawk-eye (a nickname), and his immediate descendants appear to have sided with the winners in a local civil war which raged during the 11th century. These winners were the McCarthys, and henceforth the O’Sullivans and McCarthys would be allies. Eventually, under pressure from the O’Briens, the McCarthys and their various followers, including the O’Sullivans, were forced southwards to Lismore in west Waterford. After half a century here the English invaded Ireland, and the O’Sullivans were driven further west, eventually coming to settle in south Kerry. Here they divided over time into several main branches, the O’Sullivan Mor residing in their castle at Dunkerron on the Ring of Kerry and the O’Sullivan Bear migrating into west Cork and having their chief castle at Dunboy. Several other branches were scattered around the area, and some ‘new’ surnames were created by offshoots of the O’Sullivans, such as McGillycuddy and O’Sugrue. After centuries of secure occupation of these peninsulas, the 17th century English land confiscations under Cromwell finally dispossessed the O’Sullivans, reducing them largely to the class of tenant farmers, now laboring for a new, alien English planter class.


The most famous tale concerning the O’Sullivans is that of the great march to Leitrim. In the winter of 1601 the O’Sullivan Bear chief, with one thousand of his followers, was forced to leave Beara and travel in dead of winter to Leitrim, at the other end of Ireland, by the threat of English massacre. At this time the Irish resistance had collapsed in the face of English atrocity, and an edict was promulgated that anybody who helped the O’Sullivans on their march would be harshly dealt with. Of the one thousand, only four hundred were soldiers, the others women, children and the elderly. Ruthlessly attacked in the snow by the clans whose territories they passed through, the O’Sullivans finally arrived in Leitrim three weeks after leaving Cork only 34 of them left alive. This, and other historical stories, feature on the DVD.with

Genealogy festival in Cork, Ireland, this July!

University College Cork is offering a wonderful summer school in genealogy festival in Cork during the first week in July this year. This event features Ireland’s leading genealogists covering a broad range of genealogy-related topics over the course of a full week. An accommodation based package is available for the full week or part of, and people can also attend individual sessions. A number of field trips and excursions are also offered, guided by course lecturers, to the highlights of Cork and Kerry, visiting, among other sites, Killarney and Cobh, the port from where most Irish immigrants left for North America. All aspects of genealogy are covered, here is just a sample: BMD records, genetic genealogy, Irish maps and administrative divisions, census records, Irish surnames and genealogy, land records, online sources for Irish genealogy, Irish newspapers and archives from a genealogical viewpoint, medieval genealogy, the Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora, Irish church records. These presentations will be given by Ireland’s leading genealogists. These will include Eileen O’Duill, Ireland’s only chartered genealogist, Nicola Morris of Timeline, Brian Donovan of, Fiona Fitzsimons of Eneclann, Ireland’s leading genealogy company. (Fiona welcomed Michelle Obama and her two girls to Trinity College a few days ago. Eneclann performed the genealogical research into Barack Obama’s Irish ancestors.) Also presenting are two of Munster’s leading genealogists, Dr. David Butler and Lorna Moloney. David is, like myself, a leading historian as well as being a genealogist. And, of course, there’s me as well, presenting a number of papers, one jointly with Lorna, who is a leader in the field of promoting Irish genealogy as a third level college subject. Nothing like this has happened in Ireland for many years, since the Irish Genealogical Conferences of ten years ago and more. UCC is to be congratulated for taking the initiative in holding such an event, promoting Irish genealogy as it does, and offering a very valuable learning experience to those interested. Check out the event at

y-Chromosome, A New Breakthrough in Genealogy

One of the most exciting developments in genealogy in recent years has been the advent of genetic research. In particular, the ability to read the y-chromosome has revolutionised both genealogy and family history. The y-chromosome is the male marker, a component of DNA passed down from father to son over many generations. The implications for genealogy and even medieval history is staggering. Theoretically, all men descended from a common ancestor who may have lived two thousand years ago or more will share similar y-chromosomes. I say ‘theoretically’, because what geneticists have found is that, while many men sharing the same surname do indeed also share similar DNA, just as many don’t. The problem is compounded by the historical pattern of Irish surnames. Most Gaelic Irish surnames preserve the first name of the remote ancestor, who will have lived anywhere from the 8th to the 12th century. In some cases, there were several ancestors bearing the same first name, while in others there will only have been one historic ancestor. Take, for example, the O’Connors. The most famous line of this surname were kings of Connacht, the last high-kings of Ireland. In addition, there were completely unrelated and distinct O’Connor septs in Derry, Offaly, and Kerry. On the other hand, we find surnames such as O’Toole, which clearly had only one historic root, as one of the royal lines of Leinster who later came to settle in Wicklow. Thus historical knowledge and expertise is important when decoding surname DNA patterns. In other words, the history can help interpret the science. In general, where a surname appears to have had just one historical root, up to 50% of its members share the same y-chromosome. What of the others we might ask? American family geneticists have coined the phrase ‘non-marital event’ to account for some of these cases. In other words, the legal father was not the actual father. Another scenario developed to explain such cases is where, in medieval Ireland, the servants and followers of famous or powerful men took their surnames for protection against enemies and threats. Then there was the medieval custom of women ‘naming’ their children after important men on their (the mother’s) deathbed. This was where the mother stated in front of witnesses that her child had been fathered by some powerful individual, rather than by the legal father. The Irish Brehon law code had no concept of illegitimacy, and normally such powerful men were loath to deny a ‘naming’, so, whether the child was really the son of the lord probably did not matter. One famous case involved Mathew Kelly, a blacksmith’s son from Dundalk. On her deathbed his mother ‘named’ him as the son of Con ‘The Cripple’ O’Neill, lord of Tyrone, whom she claimed had been sired by O’Neill one night outside a tavern in the town. O’Neill accepted the boy, whom he renamed Fear Dorcha, and this man in turn became the father of the great Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, defeated at the battle of Kinsale in 1601. (So much for the O’Neill y-chromosome project).

y-Chromosome, Research has already given Spectacular Results

Returning to the y-chromosome, research has already given spectacular results. Historically, the O’Shea surname occurs in three different parts of Ireland, Kerry, Clare, and south Tipperary/south Kilkenny. Genetically, each of these groups may be identified and shown to have been unrelated. Of particular interest to historians are how the genetics can validate or disprove the ancient genealogies. Ireland has the greatest collection of genealogies in Europe, in many cases spanning the period from 400AD down to the 17th century or even beyond. The two main clans of Sligo and east Mayo were the O’Hara’s and the O’Gara’s, said in the genealogies to be descended from brothers who lived during the 10th century. Genetic research confirms this. At the same time the same process shows us that the O’Callaghans and MacCarthys, said to descend from two brothers who lived around the year 1000, are unrelated! I’ll return to this interesting subject in future blogs over the next few weeks. If you wish to know more on this subject you can contact me

Irish Census Records

Ireland, like most western European countries, had regular Irish census records’. While official state census taking began in 1821, there were a number of earlier, religions census’ taken. The principle one was that of 1766, but this varied greatly in quality, and so has limited use. Again, the original was destroyed in 1922 and only copies survive. While generally only random parishes tend to survive, in a few dioceses, such as Cashel and Cloyne (parts of Tipperary and Cork), the entire returns were copied. Of especial interest here is the census of Elphin diocese, taken in 1749, which has been published in hardcopy. Elphin covers Roscommon and parts of surrounding counties, and the returns are rich in data. The earliest state census’ were those taken every ten years from 1821 to 1851. These were destroyed in the Four Courts fire in 1922, and only fragmentary copies survive. For details of what does survive see John Grenham’s latest edition of Tracing Your Irish Ancestors under the relevant counties. Those of 1861 to 1891 were destroyed by government order shortly after being taken, and so the earliest full Irish census is that of 1901, and this, along with the next census, that of 1911, are both available online. Searches may be made by personal name and placename. The online search tools are powerful, but have some problems. In the case of the first note that there is no surname variant function on the site, so the searcher should be aware of possible variants from family tradition. Sometimes the placename function malfunctions, and it helps to know the DED in which the relevant townland lay. DED is ‘District Electoral Division’ and the ‘browse by place’ function on the site is organized under these local political units. Some areas have online lists of DED’s and matching townland names, but one has to get hold of the 1901 Townland Index to match DED’s to townlands in many cases. These Irish census records contain much interesting information. In addition to the usual census information (listing people, their relationship to the head of the house, their age, occupation, religion, county of birth, and so on) the 1901 census lists the number of rooms in each house, whether the roof is of slate or thatch, the number of windows in the front of the house, the number and function of outbuildings, and the owner of the house. The 1911 census adds the number of years the couple were married, number of children born to the couple, and the number of these still living. Probably the best thing about these records is that they have been digitally photographed and the original returns can be viewed on the website. In this way, for instance, it is possible to view the actual signature of one’s ancestor. People sometimes forget that there are a number of ancillary forms which can also be viewed online, and much of the date described above is found in these forms. The next Irish census records after that of 1911 is that of 1926. Detailed plans were drawn up some years ago to also digitise and make available this record, but these have run into some difficulties largely revolving around the traditional ‘one hundred year’ rule used to release such personal documentation. This is due to an interpretation of current Irish data protection legislation. It is to be hoped that these difficulties can be resolved soon, and the records released. One suspects that most 87 year olds will not mind too much having the details of their early childhood available online!

Conferencing in Dublin

I attended a couple of conferences in Trinity College last weekend. It is interesting to note how this cosmopolitan city is becoming increasingly so. It seems that every second person one meets on the street is a tourist or other foreigner, and this was markedly so in the hotel I stayed in, which had a mixture of Polish, Lithuanian and Chinese staff (all of whom were helpful and friendly). When one visits Trinity, Ireland’s oldest university and a major tourist draw (Book of Kells and so on), it is hard not be impressed with the flow of people from all over the world enjoying the lovely Georgian architecture and beautiful grounds of this university, founded by Elizabeth I in 1595. I was there as an academic, however, so it was into darkened lecture theatres for hours of lectures of varied interest. On Friday, genealogical research finished, I managed to get the last lecture of the ‘Space and Settlement’ conference, where I was privileged to hear Chris Dyer speak on the subject of the origins of the English Village. It appears that in many parts of rural England there were no villages, and the population lived in well-scattered houses, just like in rural Ireland. In these areas traditional ‘villages’ only came into existence in the 19th and 20th centuries, when urban planners built villages where none had existed before! Then it was off to the Bull and Castle pub for some pleasant imbibing and finger food. This sits across the road from the impressive Christchurch Cathedral, Ireland’s oldest cathedral, parts of which date to the eleventh century. The Saturday was the annual Medieval Dublin Symposium, again in Trinity. Conference host Prof. Sean Duffy had lined up an excellent array of talent (if I say so myself), and we began with Mathew Stout’s interesting talk challenging the notion that, in early medieval Ireland, ‘all roads led to Dublin’. Stout rather suggested that ‘all roads led to Tara’, although his contention did not go unchallenged. Next came a rather technical paper on early Dublin combs (as in combing your hair) and then it was on to Pat Wallace, the recently retired director of the National Museum, who spoke of the role of women in Viking Dublin. A number of interesting papers followed on such subjects as the Battle of Clontarf, the medieval food ‘industry’ surrounding the great Dublin Cistercian abbey of St. Marys, and a very interesting archaeological excavation report by Alan Hayden. This concerned medieval properties lying along the River Liffey, and how climate change after 1200 AD led to rising river levels and increasing rainfall and flooding, which affected parts of Dublin. Shades of today!! Finally it was my turn to speak, on the medieval church-lands of the diocese of Dublin. I won’t go into much detail, but suffice it to say that my main theme was that church estates can be shown to have existed in the centre of Viking Dublin from at least 600 AD and which remained church land down to the 17th century. In other words, the presence of the ‘fierce and pagan’ Vikings made little or no difference to the lands and churches of the Church, contrary to the traditional belief that the Vikings eradicated and took over the lands of the Church when they settled Dublin in the 800s. It seems that the ‘horned and horny’ Vikings were actually nicer guys then they have traditionally been thought to have been!

The Blarney Stone: a load of old cobblers

The most commonly googled place in Ireland is ‘Blarney Stone’.  Blarney is a small village and now dormitory town five miles north of Cork City. A village with some pleasant walks, nice pubs, restaurants and hotels, with some modern housing estates on its outskirts. It has a lovely village square, more reminiscent of an English rural village than an Irish village. The main attraction of Blarney is, of course, its famous blarney stone, perched high up in the battlements of the equally famous Blarney Castle on the outskirts of the village. This appears to have been attracting visitors to kiss it since the late 18th century. Various legends surround the stone. One story concerns Cormac Laidir McCarthy, who is said to have built the castle in 1446. McCarthy being involved in a lawsuit, he appealed to the goddess Clíodhna for her assistance. She told MacCarthy to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court, and he did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won. Thus the Blarney Stone is said to impart ‘the gift of the gab’, having been later placed in the castle by McCarthy. Another legend makes the stone a piece of the Scottish stone of Scone, the inauguration stone of the kings of Scotland, said to have been given to an early McCarthy by Robert Bruce, a king of Scotland (as in the film Braveheart). Needless to say, the whole business of the stone is harmless nonsense with no historical background whatsoever. So should you come to Blarney? Well yes, Blarney Castle is an impressive example of a medieval Irish tower-house located within lovely woods and parkland, and worth a visit. At the same time there are several other equally impressive Irish castles, some even more impressive than Blarney in fact, such as Caher, Co. Tipperary, Trim, Co. Meath, Barryscourt, 15 miles east of Blarney, and others. Blarney is perhaps one of a dozen or more really impressive Irish castle ruins.

The ‘history’ surrounding the Blarney Stone castle is also a load of cobblers

The ‘history’ surrounding the blarney castle is also a load of cobblers, by the way, and the real story is much more interesting. The Lee Valley, in which the castle stands, was heavily settled by Anglo-Norman settlers in the early 1200s (people of English, Welsh and French extraction). One of the biggest strongholds in the valley was Cloghroe, the ‘red castle’, three miles west of Blarney. During the 1320s the settlers began fighting among themselves, with the local lords, the Cogan lineage, being attacked by the Barrys and Roches, two Norman lineages from other parts of Cork. Seeing their chance, a branch of the McCarthys, living further west in the agriculturally poorer part of the valley which the Normans had not settled, began a campaign of ethnic cleansing, attacking and killing the settlers, stealing their cattle, and burning their corn. Over a twenty year period the McCarthys had driven the settlers out of most of the valley, and the Anglo-Norman government responded by sending a large army from Dublin which drove the McCarthys back west. However, the local lord of the Blarney area, Ralph de Guines of Cloghroe, had died without heirs, and the government granted the area to John Lombard, and the settlers returned. Lombard was a descendant of an Italian family, the Donati del Papa family, who had come to Ireland late in the 1200s as tax collectors for the king (of England). As late as 1479 his descendant, David Lombard, still held Cloghroe and Blarney. (Blarney is first mentioned in Lombard’s will of that year.) This shows that the tradition that the castle was built by a McCarthy lord in 1465 cannot be so. Now the interesting thing about Blarney Castle is that it is really two castles. The first was a tall narrow tower, and this was later greatly extended when the main tower-house was attached to it. This can be seen clearly in pictures of the castle. The narrow tower is of a kind built in the 1390s at a time when King Richard II of England was in Ireland trying to bolster the English colony there. At the time the McCarthys had returned to attacking the colony in the eastern Lee Valley, and major efforts were being made to repel them. It seems clear therefore that the original Blarney Castle had been built by one of the Lombards in the 1390s. When it eventually fell to the McCarthys is unclear, probably during the last years of the 1400s, and surely it was the McCarthys who greatly extended the castle, probably in the early 1500s. Genealogically, Blarney Castle should be of interest to McCarthys and Lombards, as well as those with the other surnames associated with the castle and its McCarthy lords, such as Riordan, McSwiney or Sweeny, Murphy, Kelleher, and others. Anybody interested in the subsequent history of the castle should read James Lyttleton’s fine book Blarney Castle: An Irish tower house.

Castles and Clans and Gatherings

    Many Irish clans had chieftains who once lived in castles. These varied in size and age, but most belong to the category of castles called ‘towerhouses’, built during the   1400s and 1500s. Several thousand of these structures are know to have been built, and, although the majority of them are now in a ruined state and often partly demolished, some remain largely intact. Probably the most famous Irish castle of all is, of course, Blarney. While the ruin itself in its lovely grounds is impressive, much of the history surrounding the castle is unclear or mistaken, and I will return to Blarney Castle in my next post. A small number of castles have been fully restored, such as Cahir Castle, Co. Tipperary (the Butlers), or the MacCarthy Reagh castle at Kilcoe in West Cork, lovingly restored by actor Jeremy Irons. Another fully restored castle is Ross Castle, on the shores of Lough Leane, the biggest of the ‘Lakes of Killarney’. This was the chief seat of the O’Donoghue kings of the Killarney area. Another such was the castle called Thoor Ballylee in Co. Galway. This was restored by the poet, W.B. Yeats, who lived there for a time. It was originally a Burke castle and, sadly, has recently been damaged by floods. In recent years many surname societies or ‘Clan Associations’ have been formed, and some of them have arranged ‘gatherings’ or conferences where people can learn about the history of the surname and share genealogy. For example, I’m speaking next month at an O’Sullivan ‘gathering’ in Sneem, Co. Kerry, and at a McCarthy gathering in Dunmanway, Co. Cork. I’ll be giving some history of the respective ‘clans’ at these events. Many surnames have yet to organize themselves in this way, however, although there is an organization which facilitates the creation of such clan associations, called Finte na hEireann – Clans of Ireland. An ideal site for such a clan gathering in Co. Cork is yet another wonderful restored castle, indeed, one which was never abandoned. This is Blackwater Valley Castle to give it its modern name. It is located in Castletownroche in north east Co. Cork. It was originally the castle of the Roche lords of Fermoy and was built upon an ancient Irish dún or fortress dating back to the early medieval period. Archaeologically the site is wonderful, with remains of the original dún, the later towerhouse, and an 18th century ‘big house’ attached. (See the pictures on this page). It lies in a wonderful setting above a bend in the Awbeg River amidst woods, and is available for hire. Its complex has accommodation for several dozen people and has good conference facilities, ideal for clan gatherings or other historical events. This part of Co. Cork was home to several important ‘clans’. As well as the Roches there are the Condons, O’Keeffes, Hennessys (of cognac fame), FitzGibbons, Barrys, Duggans, Magners, and several others. I’m hoping to examine the possibility of holding some clan rallies in the castle, and there are also plans to hold heritage weekends at the castle where guests can learn about surnames, history, archaeology, folklore, and other heritage subjects in this historically rich and beautiful part of Co. Cork. Check out the castle at

What are the Tithe Applotment Books?

This source has recently been made available online, so what is it and how can it help with family tree and ancestry research? Tithes were an ancient system of supporting parish clergy with roots in the Early Church. Theoretically, ten percent of the income of Christians was paid each year to their parish priest for his support and for other charitable purposes within each parish. Hence the word ‘tithe’, literally, a ‘tenth’. In Ireland this originally laudable system had become corrupted in various ways by the early nineteenth century. The main problem was that tithes only supported clergy of the Established Church, the state Protestant (Episcopalian) Church which later became the Church of Ireland. That is, there was only one ‘official’ or state supported church in Ireland, and the entire population, whether members of that church or not, had to pay tithes to it. In this way Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists and all others had to pay these tithes, which were supported in law, even though the only clergymen to benefit were those of the Established Church. Even more unfair was that, in many parishes, up to one half or more of the tithe income was paid to so-called ‘lay impropriators’. These were the descendants of men who had been granted the tithe income of the monasteries when these had been suppressed by the English during the sixteenth century Reformation in Ireland. The root of this situation lay in the fact that, in the medieval period, monasteries were often given care of parishes and so became entitled to their tithes. By the 1820s tithes had come to be seen as merely another British tax on Ireland, and caused resentment, especially among the tenant farming population, who paid the bulk of the tithes. This had led to what was called ‘agrarian unrest’, as, if tenant farmers refused to pay, so-called ‘tithe proctors’ had the legal right to confiscate livestock in lieu of payment. In an effort to resolve the situation the government, in 1823, passed an act commuting tithes to a cash rent based on corn prices. As part of this process one or more ‘tithe applotment books’ for each civil parish were used to compute the total tithe due under this new system. Incidentally, this new system did not satisfy the tenant farmers, and a long period of rural disturbance followed, the so-called ‘Tithe Wars’ of 1831 to 1838. In one year alone (1831), there were 242 murders, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 280 cattle maimings, 161 assaults, and 203 riots associated with tithe collection. Eventually, in 1838, the government reduced the amount levied by about one-quarter, and made the landlord liable for collection. Tithe payment was finally abolished with the ‘dis-establishment’ of 1869, from which emerged the Church of Ireland. For genealogists the value of the Tithe Applotment Books (TAB) lies in the fact that they are basically a register of farmers in Ireland taken at various periods between 1825 and the early 1840s. As such they represent the earliest ‘census-substitute’ in Ireland. Note, however, that, generally, only farmers are recorded and not other members of the rural population. Generally, each book will contain the name of the farmer, location and acreage of the farm, the quality of the farmland, the annual income of the land, and the amount due in tithe. Details of to whom the tithe was paid are also included. Sometimes the acreage is given in statute (modern) acres, sometimes in plantation acres (1.6 statute acres to one plantation acre). Sometimes, the townland name featuring in TAB will have disappeared by the time of the first Ordnance Survey mapping of the 1840s, giving additional difficulties. (See image.) TAB are now available online. There are, however, several problems with this source. There are frequent mis-transcriptions, sometimes whole parishes are wrongfully included in others, often the dates of the books are wrong, where terrier maps are included in the originals these are not reproduced in the online version, some of the scanned pages are illegible, where two books are reproduced this is not stated and the dating is often wrong, and townland names are not standardised. There is an email link where mis-transcriptions can be reported, but anecdotal evidence suggests that these are not being corrected. It would appear that the scanned images available on the website are not fresh scans but taken from the microfilming of TAB made during the 1960s. Nonetheless, the National Archives of Ireland and the Church of Latter Day Saints are to be commended for making this valuable source available. No doubt in time the glitches will be sorted out. However, genealogists should note that in many cases there is relevant information in the originals which is not reproduced in the online version, and to be fully satisfied one should consult the microfilm version or hire a genealogical researcher (such as myself) to do this.

Irish Family Coats of Arms: a sham!


In recent decades the fashion of people purchasing their Irish family coat of arms has become widespread. Heraldry began in the middle ages, and that which was eventually exported to Ireland from England had its origins in the 1100s. The herald was originally a military officer resonsible for alloting distinguishing marks to his knights when they were going into battle, as their faces were normally covered by visors, and so some way had to found to identify friend and foe. Soon the coat-of-arms was developed to fuilfill this function, and was painted on to the knights shield. In time such devices were hung on castle walls and eventually engraved into the walls themselves. Heraldry has its own language of symbols and signs, and in this way distinguishing features of the Irish family coats of arms in question can be represented in a form of art. Books and online tutorials are available to teach the principles of heraldry, but my concern is for the more general usage of coats-of-arms. As heraldry developed coats-of-arms which had been granted to specific individuals became heritable, that is, they were passed on from father to son, or inherited. Of course, in those days illegitimacy was important, and the arms were only inherited by sons born within wedlock, ‘bastards’ being excluded. In time the granting of arms became purely a social phenomenon, essentially a status symbol of the upper classes, as well as a nice pictogram to hang on your castle wall. As such the granting of coats-of-arms became tightly controlled by government, who charged a nice fee for such grants.

In England the granting of arms was regulated

In England the granting of arms was regulated by the various county heralds at the College of Arms in London, and something similar occurred in Ireland. Here the office of Ulster King of Arms was created in Dublin, in 1552. All ‘armorial bearings’ granted in Ireland come from this office, which became the Genealogical Office in 1943. It is attached to the National Library, and its records can be consulted. The nub of the thing is this: arms can only be born by the direct legitimate descendants of the person to whom the grant of arms was made. Yet many businesses in Ireland and abroad have hit on the scam of pretending that arms belong to all people bearing the same surname. Thus, in the case of my own surname, (Mac) Cotter, the coat-of-arms was granted in the 1680s to Sir James Cotter, a leading supporter of King James II in Ireland. Correctly speaking, only the direct descendants of Sir James can use his arms, and that does not include me. His descendants, the Cotter baronets of Rockforest and their cadet lines, are widely distributed in Europe and America, but I am not one of them. So, I have no right to this coat of arms, its not mine. Yet today the business of selling wall-plaques with the arms of Irish families is booming like never before. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, beyond the slightly silly snobbery behind the whole concept. And also the little detail that often the arms of the wrong family are presented. This is when two unrelated septs bearing the same surname have different coats of arms, but the wrong one is chosen. For example, there were seven O’Connor septs in Ireland, all descending from different and unrelated men bearing the same first name, and several of these have their own arms. Surnames and clans do have features which all members can take pride in, such as castle ruins, mottos, and even military marches played on the pipes, but the coat of arms aint one of them. So the next time you feel tempted to buy a nice wall plaque bearing ‘your’ coat-of-arms, don’t be a thief!

What is Genealogy?

The history of your family perhaps, or maybe the study of your ancestors! Certainly not to be confused with Foucault’s idea of genealogy, which is a name given to a method used in philosophy and has little to do with what most people consider to be genealogy. Everybody knows what is genealogy really, it’s just that when put on the spot it can sometimes be difficult to come up with an exact definition. Irish genealogy, of course, has its unique features, not least of which is the loss of records due to Ireland’s troubled history of British conquest and occupation. In order to understand how to compensate for this loss it’s a good idea to educate yourself by study, and there are lots of genealogy courses available in Ireland to help with this. These range from simple ‘night classes’ to certified diplomas and certificates offered by the Irish Ancestry Research Centre in University College Cork and the University of Limerick. If you are an overseas visitor you might consider the top of the range Genealogy Summer School being held in University College Cork in early July next.

Another good place to learn about what is genealogy?  is in the many genealogy forums available. Some of these are internationally hosted, such as the Irish Genealogy Forum at also host an interesting genealogy forum. Irish based genealogical societies and clubs, such as the Cork Genealogical Society, host especially good forums. You will, of course, have to put much time into this interesting and compulsive way of learning about genealogy.

Finally, of course, there is the concept of hiring a professional, such as myself, to perform research on your behalf. This is professional genealogy. This is particularly suited to those of the Irish Diaspora who may be coming to Ireland for a visit or holiday, and require the work done on their behalf so that when they arrive they can visit their ancestral sites and places of family interest. The option of hiring a professional should also be considered by those with an interest in their family tree but who do not have the time to spend literally years on research that can be done by a professional in a matter of days.

If you are looking to trace your past it might be well worth your while to get in contact with me  Paul Cotter

Genealogy summer school in UCC, Cork!


Details have just been announced of a genealogy summer school  in UCC running from June 30 to July 6 next. This is an exciting new venture offering a range of genealogy lectures and workshops designed to cater for all interest levels from beginner to advanced. Ten excellent speakers will feature, drawn from among the leaders in Irish genealogy. I will cover such subjects as ‘Maps, Spaces and Places’, census substitutes, surname and clan history, and yDNA studies. Well-known genealogist and lecturer with IARC Lorna Moloney, will join me in one of these presentations, as well as giving separate talks on digital genealogy and military genealogy. Lorna is also the event co-ordinator. Dr David Butler of UCC and IARC will talk on his specialities, church records, the Great Famine, and the Irish Diaspora. Then we have the contributions of the well-known Eneclannduo Brian Donovan and Fiona Fitzsimons, who will talk on online sources and the website. Eileen Ó Dúill , Ireland’s only chartered genealogist, will give an introduction to Irish genealogy and discuss how ‘planning is the key to success’. Dr. Sarah Anne Buckley will speak on the subject of family genealogy, and Dr. Mathew Potter  on the use of Irish archives in genealogical research. Then we have Nicola Morris’   exciting contributions on genealogy in newspapers and estate papers. David Enright, an expert on digital genealogy, will speak on cloud computing and genealogy. Adding more than a whiff of scholarship to round off proceedings, we have Kenneth Nicholls’ contribution on medieval genealogy.

            Its not all work, of course. A number of optional trips are planned, including an evening tour of Cork City  (‘The Venice of Ireland’), an evening tour of Kinsale  to include the town and its surrounding military architecture, and an afternoon tour to East Cork, where sites to be visited include Barryscourt Castle  and the Cobh Heritage Centre . There is also an optional tour to Killarney and its many beautiful attractions. I will be providing a full historical guided tour on some of these outings, helping to interpret and bring out the most attractive features on route. All in all, this looks like an event not to be missed this summer Irish Conference of Medievalists, July, 2013: the Irish sense of place This conference has just been held in University College Dublin. It is an annual conference where academics and independant scholars gather for two or three days to give talks, meet each other, socialise, and keep up with the latest research. The UCD campus is located on the south side of Dublin, about three miles from the city center. It’s a large campus, with some lovely buildings located throughout the grounds, as well as an ornamental lake and a walking/running cinder track which gives nearly four miles of distance, often through the mature woodland which is found along the edges of the campus. Unfortunately, the main buildings complex, in the centre of the campus, was designed by a Polish architect who had studied in the Stalinest style in Poland, and this series of concrete bunkers would look more at home in Donetsk than in Dublin. The student accomodation which most attendees book into is rather souless as well, not to mention the breakfast, which is a self service affair in the main ‘restaurant’, a vast hall capable of seating hundreds of people, and which in summer is largely filled with endless queues of adolescent foreign students in UCD on summer English language courses. The conference itself is organized by a voluntary committee of scholars and post-graduate students from the Department of History and elsewhere in UCD, who put much time in over several months, and this pays off in a smooth running event. I won’t list all of the speakers here, but the program can be accessed by googling ‘Irish Conference of Medievalists 2013’.  Speakers come from universities in Ireland, Britain, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, and the USA. I was particulary interested in talks given on the Irish annals, on Irish women in the Viking era, on clan links between Ireland and Scotland during the 15th century, on early Irish religious relics, and so on. There were several interesting archaeological papers, on subjects such as pilgrimage, and there was even a paper on transexualism in early Irish law. ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ perhaps! There was also a very interesting paper on early links between Ireland and Scotland. My paper was on the tuath, an early parish-like unit of community organization which was pretty unique to Ireland. These were very old, and dissappear when the Normans arrived during the 13th century, to be replaced by the local parish. Irish people will be familiar with the great sense of place and pride rural people have in their local parish, and I argue in my paper that this sense of place is very old indeed, in fact going back to the very dawn of history in the 5th century, as shown by the tuatha we can trace right back to then. Such conferences always have a dinner or banquet on the last night. This year it was held in O’Connells, a restaurant in Donnybrook, a Dublin suburb which was once a lovely rural village. As usual, there was much banter and conviviality, as one always gets at such events, but this year the oppressive heat, at 28 degrees celsius, made things a little difficult for attendees in our finery. As soon as possible after the meal everybody adjourned to the street below, where we conversed into the small hours, in temperatures still hovering around the twenty mark. All in all a good conference!