Chiefs of the Name

Chiefs of the Name

"For the Scottish form of Chief of the Name, see Scottish clan chief."

The Chief of the Name is the recognised head of a family or clan. The term is in use as a title in Ireland and Scotland where Celtic traditions still survive.

In Ireland

With a history going back over a thousand years, this unique Gaelic tradition has survived much of the turmoil of Irish history. Long ago, Irish leaders had titles like any other royalty in Europe, what makes a Chief different is the fact that his power was not a feudal hold on land, it was about his position within his clan. Even through the Elizabethan times, the position of Chief of the Name was more important to some Irish leaders than English titles. There are a number of instances (1) where Norman lords of the time, like FitzGerald, took to using the Gaelic style of "The" or "Mór" (great) to indicate that the individual was the primary person of his family in Ireland.

The downfall of the Gaelic order in the early 1600s led to a decline of the power of the Chiefs. Plantation efforts, the Wars of Cromwell and King James, meant that by the end of the 17th century, most of the Chiefships of the Name were living out of Ireland, lost, or reduced to poverty.

Thereafter the former kings or chiefs passed their titles down by primogeniture, whereas the usual practise in the Middle Ages was to elect a chief from a group of close cousins known as a derbfine. Their lineages were usually recorded by the Herald's Office in Dublin Castle, set up in 1552, not least because some clans in the 1500s and 1600s had been persuaded to enter the English-law system under the policy of surrender and regrant. Other manuscript genealogies were preserved and published in the 1700s by Charles O'Conor and Sylvester O'Halloran. The Irish nationalist and republican movements that developed after 1850 often harked back emotively to the former chiefs' losses, but without ever suggesting that they be reinstated.


The Irish Free State founded in 1922 gave no special recognition, but in 1948 the government suggested that there should be a "Council" of chiefs, accredited by the Herald, for emotive reasons. In Irish and English law a title is a possession, classed as an "incorporeal hereditament", but the 1937 Irish Constitution forbids the use of titles without permission of the government. Therefore the Council was also a means of allowing them to use their titles, but only as honorifics and without any political function. In 1943 the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) therefore agreed with Edward McLysaght, then Chief Herald of Ireland, that the titles would be known as "designations" made by the Herald's Office to avoid the constitutional ban. McLysaght deplored that anyone could legally describe themselves as chief of the name (such as the The O'Rahilly), without having, in some cases, any written proof of descent.

Effectively a dual system ran from 1948 to 2003, where the government recognised the chiefs as such, but not their other titles. In such a case, for example, The McDermot, Prince of Coolavin would only be known as "The McDermot" to the Chief Herald, but would be addressed also as "Prince of Coolavin" by his fellow-chiefs.

Until 2003 an Irish "Chief of the Name" was a person recognised by the Chief Herald of Ireland as the most senior known male descendant of the last inaugurated or de facto chief of that name in power in Gaelic Ireland at or before the end of the sixteenth century (See Irish nobility). The practice was discontinued in that year due to the "MacCarthy Mór" situation.

Abandonment: the MacCarthy Mór Scandal

After genealogical errors in the 1990s saw Terence Francis MacCarthy and several other impostors receive recognition, the Irish government decided in July 2003 to abandon this practice. This was partly because of concern that there was no proper legal basis for it. As this concern was backed by an opinion of the Attorney General, in 2003 the Genealogical Office discontinued the practice of recognising Chiefs.

This decision was criticised by some. It also caused some concern among the recognised chiefs.

Some modern Irish clan organisations have elected honorary chiefs, usually for a year, at a time where no hereditary Chief of the Name is known. This practice is done for fun and has no legal basis. Many are affiliated with the "Clans of Ireland" charity that was formed in by the irish government in 1980. [ [ Clans of Ireland website] ]

List of Ireland's Chiefs as at Abandonment, 2003

At abandonment of courtesy recognition in 2003, those previously afforded courtesy recognition were as follows:Fact|date=February 2007

;Chiefs of the Name
* O'Brien, Prince of Thomond - Conor O'Brien (Clare).
* O'Callaghan - Don Juan O'Callaghan (Spain).
* O'Donoghue of the Glens - Geoffrey O'Donoghue (Wicklow).
* O'Conor Don, Prince of Connacht - Desmond O'Conor (England).
* MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin - Nial MacDermot (Kildare).
* O'Donovan - Morgan O'Donovan (Cork).
* The Fox - John W Fox (Australia).
* McGillycuddy of the Reeks - Donough McGillycuddy (South Africa).
* O'Morchoe - David N. C. O'Morchoe (Wexford).
* O'Neill of Clannaboy - Hugo Ricciardi O'Neill (Portugal).
* O'Grady of Kilballyowen - Henry Thomas Standish O'Grady (France).
* O'Kelly of Gallagh - Walter L. O'Kelly (Dublin).
* Mac Morrough Kavanagh, Prince of Leinster - William Butler Kavanagh (Wales). []
* O'Donnell of Tyrconnell - Fr. Hugh O'Donel, O.F.M (An Irish Priest in Zimbabwe).
* Ó Dochartaigh of Inishowen - Ramon O'Dogherty (Spain).

;Designation dormant
* Ó Toole of Fer Tire.

;Designations with note
* O Long of Garranelongy.
* Maguire of Fermanagh.
* O Carroll of Eile O Carroll.
* O Ruairc of Breifne.
* Mac Donnell of the Glens.
* An Caisleanghearr.Fact|date=September 2007

Because of the current legal ambiguity, some have claimed that their ancestry allows them to be styled a chief of the name, but without Irish government recognition, such as The O'Carroll Eile. [ [ O'Carroll website 2008] ]

;Designation withdrawn
* MacCarthy Mor, Prince of Desmond - The recognition of Terence Francis MacCarthy (Morocco) was withdrawn in July 1999.

;Gaelic Titles with principal claimants/recognition pending
* Mac Carthy Mor, Prince of Desmond
* Mac Lochlainn
* Mac Sweeney Doe
* Ó Dowda
* Ó Hara, Lord of Leyney
* Ó Higgins, Lord of Ballynary
* Ó Meehan
* Ó Neill of the Fews - Claimed by Don Carlos Ó Neill, Marques de la Granja, Marques del Norte y de Villaverde de San Isidro, and Conde de Benagairde (Spain) but not applied for. {note the [,_1st_Baronet Sir William Johnson] line of Baronets of New York descend from the O'Neills of the Fews as well}. And the O'Neill's of Puerto Rico/O'Neill's of the Fews the descendants of the 2nd Marques del Norte Don Arturo O'Neill O'Keffe.
* Around one hundred chiefships attested in historical sources, many with modern, elected representatives. (See above reference for Clans of Ireland).

In Scotland

"see main article:" Scottish clan chief

In general, the same pattern holds true of the Clan Chiefs in Scotland as for Chiefs in Ireland. They have a variety of titles, but a Chief of a clan is still the recognised leader within a family. A difference is that in Scotland Clan Chiefs can be either "male" or "female" whereas in Ireland the Clan Chiefs are "male". In Scotland it is The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs; in Ireland it is The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains (Irish: "Buanchomhairle Thaoisigh Éireann").

ee also

* Scottish Clan

Further reading

* 1. State Papers of Ireland, Queen Elizabeth, 1210. vol. II
* "Burkes Peerage": See Irish and Scottish Chiefs; Peerages; and Titles
* Murphy, Sean J (2004) "Twilight of the Chiefs: The Mac Carthy Mór Hoax". Bethesda, Maryland: Academica Press. ISBN 1-930901-43-7.
* MacLysaght, Edward (1996) "More Irish Families". Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-2604-2.
* Nicholls, K.W. "Gaelic and Gaelicized Ireland in the Middle Ages" Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2003. ISBN 1-84351-003-0.
* "Vanishing Kingdoms - The Irish Chiefs and Their Families", by Walter J. P. Curley (former US Ambassador to Ireland), with foreword by Charles Lysaght, published by The Lilliput Press, Dublin, 2004 [ISBN 1-84351-055-3 & ISBN 1-84351-056-1] . (Chapter on O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, page 59).
* Nash, Professor C., "Of Irish Descent", chapter 4. New York, Syracuse University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8156-3159-0


External links

* [ The Clans of Ireland]
* [ Clans and Chieftains in Ireland] From More Irish Families by Edward MacLysaght, First Chief Herald of Ireland
* [ Termination of the system of Courtesy Recognition as Chief of the Name] Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland (.PDF file)
* [ List of Scottish Chiefs and Clans]
* [ Sean Murphy's website on the subject]
* [ Article on Irish Chiefs on the Burke's Peerage & Gentry website]
* [ Irish Chiefs at The Doyle Page (Australia)]

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