© Donal G. Burke 2013

The Uí Geibhendhaigh or O Keaveneys of east Galway are 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 in the eastern region of Connacht by about the end of the fifth century.[i]

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.

This family, within the wider Uí Maine family group, are said to descend from Geibheannach son of Aedh, lord or chief of Uí Maine. This Geibheannach was killed at the battle of Ceis Corainn, fought in 971 between Murchadh O Flaherty and Cathal, King of Connacht.[ii] The same annals however, give a Geibheannach son of Aedh, lord of Ui Maine, as having been slain by the Uí Maine themselves in 1015.

In 1018 the tanist or successor designate to the chieftain of the Ui Maine territory was given as Ó Geibheannaigh. ‘Ó Geibheannaigh,’ translating as ‘descendant or grandson of Geibheannach’ could refer to either a particular grandson of Geibheannach or an early member of his descendants being identified as a descendant by the use of a common surname. The antiquary John O Donovan took this individual to be a descendant of the Geibheannach son of Aedh killed in 971 and an early member of this particular family at a time when families were beginning to identify themselves from surnames often derived from a common ancestor. (The Geibheannach son of Aedh killed in 1015 would appear to be a near contemporary of a similar generation.)

If this is a reference to an early member of this family name he would appear to be one of the last holding a position of power in the Gaelic territory as the name does not appear often thereafter in the annals. The Gaelic manuscript known as the Book of Lecan, wherein were recorded the ancient customs and duties of the various families within Uí Maine and their relationship to the O Kelly chieftain records the Uí Geibheannaigh among six families who were identified as ‘lucht coimhicca’ or ‘people owing payment or tribute’ to the O Kelly.[iii]

O Donovan, writing in the early nineteenth century, says of the family that he ‘found several of this name in Hy Many, but all reduced to poverty.’[iv] While the name was not found among the landed proprietors of county Galway in the mid seventeenth century or among the landed gentry of the two succeeding centuries, it is unlikely that there was not among those of the name at least a small number of comfortable means in the county in that period.


[i] 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.

[ii] Annals of the Four Masters.

[iii] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 62-3.

[iv] O Donovan, J., Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 62-3.