© Donal G. Burke 2015
Edward MacLysaght, sometime Chief Herald of Ireland, in his ‘Irish Families’ stated that ‘the O Downeys were of some importance in early medieval times, when there were two distinct septs of Ó Dúnadhaigh. That of Síl Anmchadha, of the same stock as the O Maddens, several of whom are described in the Annals of Innisfallen, Four Masters, etc., as lords of Síl Anmchadha, became submerged as early as the twelfth century: their descendants are still found in quite considerable numbers in that county (ie. Co. Galway).’[i]
MacLysaght made the distinction between the O Downeys of Síl Anmchadha or east Galway and other, similar surnames, such as MacEldowney, Doheny and Muldowney, and the Downeys or Ó Dúnadhaigh, this latter of whom was established in the Gaelic territory of Luachair in Munster in the south of Ireland. While he gave MacEldowney as a County Derry name, he gave Downey as also occurring in Ulster as an abbreviation of Muldowney. Doheny he gave as a sept of the Corca Laoidhe, native to County Cork and surrounding areas. Of the Downeys of Luachair, a district on the borders of Counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick, these he stated were more important than the Downeys of east Galway and were chieftains of that district.
As MacLysaght described the Downeys of east Galway as ‘of the same stock as the O Maddens,’ they were held to be, by implication, an offshoot of the wider Uí Maine family group, whose ancestor has traditionally been held to be one Maine mór, son of Eochaidh feardaghiall, chief of a tribe of people who established themselves as the dominant group in the eastern region of Connacht by about the end of the fifth century.[ii]
Maine mór and his descendants appear to have subjugated many of the existing tribes and peoples that inhabited their new land and established a petty kingdom, covering much of the later east Galway named from their progenitor as Uí Maine (later Anglicised Hy Many). The senior-most family descended from this Maine was the O Kellys, from whom the rulers or chieftains of Uí Maine were drawn.
It has been claimed that, within the greater Uí Maine kin group, the Downeys were part of the group of families who composed the Síol Anmchadha, the ‘seed’ or progeny of Anmchadh.’[iii] Descended from Anmchadh, son of Eoghan buac, son of Cormac, son of Cairbre crom, this last, from whom most of the senior families of the Uí Maine claim descent, was reputed to have flourished about the early or mid sixth century A.D. and to have been a fifth generation descendant of Maine mór.[iv]
The principal family of this family group, the O Maddens, came to rule a part of the eastern region of Uí Maine, to be known thereafter from their common ancestor as Síl Anmchadha or ‘O Madden’s County’ and later as the barony of Longford in east Galway.
The description of the Downeys of east Galway as a once leading branch of the Síl Anmchadha, and the original form of their name given as Ó Dunadhaigh, indicates an assumed descent from one individual named Dunadhach, who flourished in the mid to late tenth century and from whom descended either directly or co-laterally the O Maddens.
References to one named Dúnadhach
A number of brief references in the Gaelic annals mention Ua Dunadhaigh or Ó Dunadhaigh as ‘tigherna Síl nAnmchadha’ or ‘lord of Síl Anmchadha.’ These have been taken by some to suggest that, for a period, early members of the O Downey family held the chieftaincy of the territory of Síl Anmchadha before the O Maddens.
In 1006, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, ‘Cú Chonnacht mac Dunadhaigh, taoiseach Síl nAnmchadha, do marbhadh le Murchadh macBriain’ while the same annals relate that in the year 1032 ‘Mac Con Connacht, i. Ua Dunadhaigh, tigherna Síl nAnmchadha, do mharbhadh.’ While the former individual, killed by Murchadh the son of Brian Borumhe (ie. son of Brian Ború) has been taken to be Cú Chonnacht son of Dunadhach, chieftain of Síl nAnmchadha, the latter has been taken by some to translate as ‘MacConConnacht, that is to say, O Downey, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, died.’
The same annals relate that in 1045 ‘Cluain Ferta Brenainn cona doimh liacc do loscadh la h-Uibh Maine. Cú Chonnacht, mac Gadhra uí Dunadhaigh, do marbhadh ann.’ This has been translated as ‘Clonfert Brendan, with its church, was burned by the Uí Maine. Cú Chonnacht son of Gadhra Ua Dunadhaigh was killed there.’
Clonfert Cathedral in the parish of Clonfert in east Galway, described in the Annals as the ‘damh liac Cluana Ferta Brenainn’ or the ‘stone church of Clonfert Brendan’ about which Cú Chonnacht, mac Gadhra uí Dunadhaigh was killed when it was burned by the Uí Maine in 1045. The Annals of Innisfallen describe his being taken out of the church and killed ‘i faithche na cille’ or ‘on the lawn of the church.’
Another reference by the Annalists in 1069 to ‘Mac mic Gadhra Uí Dunadhaigh, i. tigherna Shíl n-Anmchadha, do marbhadh d-Ua Matadhain’ has been taken as another reference to a member of the O Downeys as ‘tigherna’ or Lord of Síl Anmchadha. On that assumption this has been translated as ‘the grandson of Gadhra Ua Dunadhaigh, ie. lord of Síl Anmchadha, was killed by Ua Madadhain (ie. O Madden).
It would appear more likely that this may be a misreading of the original texts.
Alternative understanding of ‘Ua Dunadhaigh’
Surnames as understood in the late medieval and modern period were still in the process of development in the eleventh century, during which these deaths took place.[v]
In the Irish language ‘Ua’ or ‘Ó’ originally signified a ‘grandson’ or ‘an immediate descendant’ of a particular individual. ‘Ua Dunadhaigh’ or ‘Ó Dunadhaigh’ in the context of the annalist’s tenth and early eleventh century references, in the above cases, is more likely to mean ‘grandson’ or ‘immediate descendant’ of one whose personal or Christian name was Dunadhach, rather than an individual surnamed O Downey or Ó Dunadhaigh. ‘Mac’ indicates a son of an individual.
The Dunadhach whose name occurs frequently as immediate ancestor of various chieftains of Síl Anmchadha about the early eleventh century would appear to have been father of at least three chieftains of that territory.
The earliest reference in the Annals of the Four Masters occurs when the annalists record for the 998 that ‘Diarmait mac Dúnadhaigh, tigherna Síl n-Anmchadha, do mharbhadh le Mac Comhaltáin Uí Chleiricch, tigherna Aidhne.’ (O Clery, however, is held to be among the earliest recorded surnames, dating from the middle of the tenth century).[vi] Diarmait would appear to have been the senior-most son of Dunadhach, given that his other brothers attained the chieftaincy after his death.
The Gadhra mentioned in the annals as the father of the Cú Chonnacht killed at Clonfert Brendan in 1045 was in all likelihood that Gadhra, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, son of Dunadhach (in the Irish language ‘Gadhra mac Dunadhaigh’), killed in battle in Ossory in 1027. He appears to have been brother of Diarmait mac Dunadhaigh or Dermot, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, son of Dunadhach,’ killed in 998 and brother of Cú Chonnacht son of Dunaghaigh (ie. Cú Connacht mac Dunadhaigh) killed in 1006. This Gadhra was identified elsewhere as Gadhra mór, ie. ‘the great’ or ‘senior’, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, an ancestor of the O Maddens and a son of Dunadhach.
The reference of the annalists to the death in 1032 of one ‘Mac Con Connacht, ie. Ua Dunadhaigh’, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, may be a reference to one named MacConConnacht, chieftain of that territory or to one chieftain of Síl Anmchadha who was a son (ie. ‘mac’) of ConConnacht and grandson of Dunadhach. As the Gaelic word ‘Con’ (meaning ‘hound’) was also rendered ‘Cú,’ it is possible that the individual who died in 1032 may have been a son of that Cú Chonnacht son of Gadhra who would be killed later in 1045. It is more likely that he was a son of the chieftain who was killed in 1006 and O Donovan held him to be a son of that Cú Chonnacht mac Dunadhaigh killed in 1006 and therefore a nephew of Gadhra son of Dunadhach.[vii]
In the case of the individuals who deaths occurred in 1032 and 1045 the term ‘Ua Dunadhaigh’ at this time may have simply been intended to indicate an ‘immediate descendant of Dunadhach’ as opposed to one bearing the modern surname O Downey. As such these individuals would simply have been members of the extended ruling house from whom descended the later O Madden chieftains as opposed to a separate and distinct family known as O Downey who ruled for only a few generations and who then suddenly disappeared into political obscurity.
Non-exhaustive pedigree showing prolific late tenth and early eleventh century members of the Síol Anmchadha, reflecting MacFirbisigh’s identification of Madagán reamhar. O Donovan held Madagán reamhar to have possibly been a son of Diarmuid son of Madagán son of Gadhra mac Dúnadhaigh.
The 1069 reference to the slaying of ‘Mac mic Gadhra Uí Dunadhaigh’, Lord of Síl Anmchadha, by one identified as ‘Ua Madadhain’ may also be read as the killing of the grandson of (ie. ‘mac mic’, literally ‘son of the son of’) Gadhra, immediate descendant or grandson of Dunadhach by the grandson or immediate descendant of Madadhan. O Donovan considered this ‘Mac mic Gadhra Uí Dunadhaigh’ to have been Diarmuid son of Madagán son of Gadhra son of Dúnadhach, which Diarmuid was killed O Donovan believed by his own nephew.[viii]
O Donovan believed, however, that Madagán (or Madadhan) son of Gadhra was not Madagán Reamhar as given by MacFirbisigh but rather was father of Diarmuid father of Madagán Reamhar. MacFirbisigh gave Madagán Reamhar as father of Diarmuid and son of Gadhra son of Dúnadhach.
All of the available pedigrees and Gaelic historical tracts agree that from Dunadhach’s descendant Madagán (or Madadhan) descend the O Madden chieftains of Síl Anmchadha. Given that this Dunadhach was a known ancestor of the O Maddens at this time, prior to the introduction of Gaelic surnames, it would therefore appear that those given in the annals as Ua Dunadhaigh appear to have been the immediate descendants or grandsons of the O Madden’s ancestor Dunadhach rather than a separate line of the tribe of Síol Anmchadha known as the O Downeys.
Dúnadhach in O Madden pedigrees
Various Gaelic manuscripts give contradictory descents for the O Madden chieftains of Síl Anmchadha. Both of the seventeenth century scholars; Dubhaltach MacFirbisigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, agree on their pedigree of the O Maddens.[ix]
MacFirbisigh gave the descent of Madagán Mór as son of Diarmuid son of Madagán Reamhar son of Gadhra son of Dúnadhach son of Diarmuid son of Aodh son of Oilill son of another Dúnadhach son of Gadhra son of Loingseach son of another Dúnadhach son of Cobhtach son of Maol Dúin son of Donnghalach son of Anmchadh ‘from whom derived the Síol Anmchadha’ son of Eóghan Buac.’[x]
The nineteenth century antiquary John O Donovan in his ‘Tribes and Customs of Hy Many’ preferred the authority of the pedigree given in a fourteenth century poem addressed to the chieftain Eoghan O Madden, who died in 1347, son of Murchadh of Magh Finn, son of Cathal. The pedigrees given by Dubhaltach MacFirbisigh and by O Clery he regarded as erroneous. O Donovan’s preferred poem gives that Eoghan who died in 1347 as son of Murchadh, son of Cathal, son of Madadun mór, son of Diarmaid, son of Madadun, son of Diarmaid, son of Madadun, son of Gadhra mór son of Dunadhach, son of Gadhra son of Loingseach, eldest son of another Dunadhach, directly descended from Anmchadh son of Eoghan buac, from whom the tribes known as the Síol Anmchadha derive their name.[xi]
In either event, both MacFirbisigh’s and Ó Cléirigh’s genealogies and O Donovan’s preferred pedigree agree on the presence in that line of a Gadhra son of Dunadhach. This does not preclude the possibility that there may have been omissions or errors in one or all of those pedigrees. Given that the chieftaincy did not descend by primogeniture from father to son but was open to close kindred of an incumbent or recent chieftain, it is also possible that the chieftaincy became distanced over succeeding generations from those O Maddens who were descended of that Gadhra who died in 1027 and that neither he nor his father were the Gadhra or Dunadhach given in the pedigrees as the lineal ancestors of those later O Maddens who attained the chieftaincy and whose lineal ancestors were recorded by later genealogists.
Later references in the medieval or early modern period
That the O Downeys may not have been rulers of Síl Anmchadha in the early tenth century is further suggested by a lack of any significant reference to an individual of that name holding power locally or noteworthy lands in the early medieval period.
The name was not prolific in the late medieval and early modern period in east Galway, with scant reference to individuals of the name in the pardons issued to individuals of east Galway by the Crown from the 1570s to the final years of the late sixteenth century.
There is no reference to a landed proprietor of the name Downey among those confirmed in possession of lands in east Galway in the early seventeenth century in the early years of the reign of King James I. As such those of the name would appear to have rented or held their lands from others. Neither was there any landed proprietor of the name in 1641 in east Galway (owning lands as opposed to renting lands) prior to the land confiscations undertaken by the Cromwellian authorities.
No Downey or O Downey occurs in the index of family names of County Galway landed proprietors compiled by the editor of the ‘Books of Survey and Distribution’ and evidence suggests that references to individuals such as Teige mcDowney mcTeige O Maddin, holding a half cartron of Incherke in the parish of Meelick in 1641 or Teige McDuny McHugh O Maddin holding one sixth of a quarter of Doonecunarum alias Doone mcNerane in the parish of Doonanoughta in that year in the ‘Books of Survey and Distribution’ relate to individuals whose father’s personal names were Donagh son of Teige O Madden and Donagh son of Hugh O Madden rather than individuals bearing the surname Downey.[xii] As such no specific ancestral territory may definitely be ascribed to the family within the territory of the O Maddens.
While the O Downeys of east Galway would appear by virtue of their name to be descended from one bearing the Gaelic personal name Dunadhach, there is little evidence to confirm that they descend from that Dunadhach whose immediate descendants ruled Síl Anmchadha in the eleventh century. It may, however, be said with what certainty is possible, that from him did descend the O Madden chieftains of the later medieval period. This, however, does not preclude the possibility that the same Dunadhach is that individual from whom the Downeys derive their name.
[i] MacLysaght, E., Irish Surnames, Their Names, Arms and Origins, Fourth Edition, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1985, pp. 78-9.
[ii] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: part 1, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, p. 349; Mannion, J., The Senchineoil and the Sogain: Differentiating between the Pre-Celtic and early Celtic Tribes of Central East Galway, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. 58, 2006, pp. 166, 168; O Donovan, J. (ed.), Leabhar na g-ceart or The Book of Rights, Dublin, M.H. Gill, for the Celtic Society, 1847, p. 106.
[iii] MacLysaght, E., Irish Surnames, Their Names, Arms and Origins, Fourth Edition, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1985, pp. 78-9; O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 39-41.
[iv] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 24-59.
[v] Simms, K., Medieval Gaelic Sources, Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History: No. 14, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2009, p. 56.
[vi] MacLysaght, E., Irish Surnames, Their Names, Arms and Origins, Fourth Edition, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1985, p. 56.
[vii] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 142-3.
[viii] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 142-3.
[ix] Ó Muirile, N. (ed.), MacFirbhisigh, D., Leabhar Mór na nGenealach, The Great Book of Irish Genealogies, compiled (1645-66), Vol. II, Dublin, de Búrca, 2003, p. 61. Nos. 327.1, 327.2; Pender, S., The O Clery Book of Genealogies, Analecta Hibernica, No. 18, 1951, p. 123. No. 1676.
[x] Ó Muirile, N. (ed.), MacFirbhisigh, D., Leabhar Mór na nGenealach, The Great Book of Irish Genealogies, compiled (1645-66), Vol. II, Dublin, de Búrca, 2003, p. 61. Nos. 327.1, 327.2. O Clery gave Donnghalach son of Anmchadh as Dungal son of Anmchadh.
[xi] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 129-133.
[xii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 189, 195. Shane roe mcTeig of Dwnmacmerran was among those pardoned by the Crown in 1586 (Fiants Eliz I). One Donogh boy mcHugh ‘of Downvickberra’ was among those pardoned in 1585, while Richard mcDonnogh boy O Madden held land in the townland about 1641, as did Donnogh Mc Brassell O Madden of Lismore and Teige Mc Downy Mc Teige and John Duffe Mc Rory O Madden, when it was given as ‘Doonecunaram’, parish of Doonanoughta. In the mid 1650s Donagh O Madden was ordered to transplant from ‘Downimarrane’ by the Cromwellian authorities and allocated 28 profitable Irish acres in the parish of Ballynakill in Co. Galway. (Siminton, R.C., The Transplantation to Connacht 1654-1658, Dublin, Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1970, p. 159.)