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The Genealogies, Tribes, and Customs of Hy-Fiachrach, commonly called O'Dowda's Country (Author: Duald Mac Firbis)


Introductory Remarks

The following account of the families, districts, and customs of Hy-Fiachrach is printed from the Genealogical MS. of Duald Mac Firbis, — the original of which is preserved in the Library of the Earl of Roden, and a good copy in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy. The poem by Giolla Iosa Mor Mac Firbis, which will be found, p. 176, et seq., is edited from the Book of Lecan1. For a general account of the contents of Lord Roden's manuscript the reader is referred to a paper by Mr. Petrie, which was published in the eighteenth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, and to the Stowe Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 141, et seq., where a copy of the same work is described by Dr. O'Conor.

In the account of the families of the Hy-Fiachrach race this manuscript agrees very closely with the text of the Book of Lecan, excepting that the compiler has carried the pedigrees of some branches of the O'Dowds down to his own time, and has inserted here and there, from other authorities, some genealogical and historical facts not to be found in the Book of Lecan. These additions have been noticed in every instance in the notes to this volume.

Of the private history of the compiler of this manuscript but little is known. In the title of the work he calls himself Dubhaltach Mac Firbisigh of Lecan, in the year 1650; but though he may have been born there about the year 1600, when Lecan or Lacken was the freehold inheritance of his family in right of their profession as historiographers of their race, it does not appear that he was ever in possession of the castle or lands of the Mac Firbises, who were deprived by James I.; nor does it appear from the pedigree, as compiled by himself, that he was the head of the family, for his cotemporary and kinsman, Ferfeasa, the son of Ciothruadh Og, who was the son of Ferfeasa, who was the son of Ciothruadh, who built the castle of Lecan in 1560, would seem to be of an older branch. Be this, however, as it may, we have the direct evidence of an inquisition taken at Sligo, on the 22nd of August, 1625, that ‘Donnogh O'Dowde was then seized of the castle, towne, and quarters of Lacken M'Firbissy, and other lands which he had settled by deed, dated the 20th of August, 1617, to the use of his wife Onora Ny-Connor, for their lives, and then to the use of his own right heirs.’ It is quite clear that Donnoghe O'Dowde could not have settled Lacken in this manner in 1617, if it had been then2 the freehold inheritance of the family of Mac Firbis. The most that can be believed, therefore, is, that the Mac Firbises may have farmed the townland of Lacken,


or a part of it, from Donnogh O'Dowde or his successor till the year 1641, at which period it was forfeited by O'Dowd and granted to the family of Wood.

Charles O'Conor of Belanagare informs us, in a private letter, published by Dr. Ledwich in his Antiquities of Ireland, second edit., Dublin, 1804, p. 303, that Duald Mac Firbis was instructed in the Brehon laws by the Mac Egans of Ormond, who were hereditary Brehons, and professors of the old Irish laws; but he does not say whether he had acquired any other language besides Irish. The Editor, however, has been able to gather from his works that he was well acquainted with Latin and English, and that he had some knowledge even of Greek. It appears from his account of the Anglo-Norman and Welsh families of Ireland that he had read the works of Giraldus Cambrensis and Holingshed, and he quotes and refutes Verstegan's work, entitled Restitution of Decaied Intelligence. Also in his copy of Cormac's Glossary, preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, Class H. 2, 15, p. 161 et seq., he explains many Latin and Greek words in the margin, always writing the Greek in the original character: thus, in a note on the word crinda, he writes krinw, which he explains ‘judico .i. brethuigim,’ I judge; at cual he writes kwla .i. cuirp marbha, dead bodies; opposite the word carr, which is explained carruca in the original, he writes ‘carrum apud Liv. et carruca Mart., et cartus’, ‘.i. carr, cairt, no carbat tairngid eich, ar a m-bíd a do no a ceathair do rothaibh’, i. e. a car, cart, or chariot, drawn by horses, to which there are two or four wheels. Again, opposite the word folach, which is derived in the original from falus, Graece, custodia Latine he writes in the margin the correct Greek form of the word " .i. coimhed, no tairge, a watching, custody. From these and many other specimens of his Greek handwriting, in the same volume, it is quite evident that he had studied that language, but where he was taught it we have no means left us to determine.


He commenced his genealogical compilation in the College of St. Nicholas, at Galway, in the year 1650, and seems to have been adding to it and correcting and amending it till the year 1664, when he inserted the curious entry about the ancient celebrity of the Hy-Fiachrach race, which will be found at full length in this volume, p. 316–321.

Of this work and its author the venerable Charles O'Conor of Belanagare, writes the following notice in his Preface to Ogygia Vindicated, pp. ix, x:
Duald Mac Firbis closed the line of the hereditary antiquaries of Lecan, in Tirfiacra, on the Moy, a family whose law reports and historical collections have derived great credit to their country (many of which lye now dispersed in England and France). This last of the Firbisses was unfortunately murdered at Dunflin, in the county of Sligo, A.D. 1670, and by his death our antiquities received an irreparable blow. His historical, topographical, and genealogical collections (written by his own hand) are now in the possession of a worthy nobleman, the Earl of Roden, who added this to the other collections of Irish history made by his father, our late Lord Chancellor Jocelyn. Of that work Mac Firbis intended a second draught (as he intimates) with amendments and corrections, but whether he executed his design we cannot learn. As the work stands it is valuable, by preserving the descents and pointing out the possessions of our Irish families of latter times, very accurately; but it is particularly valuable, by rescuing from oblivion the names of districts and tribes in Ireland, antecedently to the second century; since which, the Scots have gradually imposed new names of their own, as they were enabled, from time to time, to expel the old Belgic inhabitants. It is a most curious chart of antient topography, and vastly preferable to that given by the Alexandrian Geographer Ptolemy, who must know have known but little of Ireland, wherein the Romans never made a descent.’

‘The last years of Firbis's life were employed in drawing up a glossary for the explanation of our old law terms, the great desideratum of the present age. Of the fate of this last performance we know nothing, but we may well suppose it lost, as the author lived without a single patron, in days unfavourable to the arts of which he was master.’

In 1666 he drew up an abstract of his larger work, containing


some additional pedigrees; of this abridgement there is a good copy in the Library of the Marquis of Drogheda, and another in the collection of Messrs. Hodges and Smith, but the Editor has never seen the original. In this tract Mac Firbis mentions his having been acquainted with Irish chieftains who governed their septs according to the words of Fithel3 and the Royal Precepts — (Do leanas do bhriathraibh Fithil gus do'n Teasgasc Rioghdha); and he also speaks of several Irish Brehons then or lately in existence, and of one in particular who was his own relative and acquaintance. He informs us himself, in the Preface to his larger genealogical work, that he wrote a copious Glossary of the Brehon Laws (which is referred to by O'Conor in the extract above given), and an account of Irish writers, but neither of these works is now known to the Editor, except a fragment or rough draft of the former, which is preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. If the Earl of Roden has either of them in his Library, his Lordship might render an essential service to Irish literature, by depositing it in some public Library, or permitting it to be copied, as he has already very kindly done with respect to MacFirbis's larger genealogical work. The Glossary would most undoubtedly save the translator of the old Irish Brehon laws much time and labour, although we may hope that their meaning is still recoverable by the aid of the copious glosses which accompany them in most of the copies.

From Harris's edition of Ware's Bishops4 we learn that Mac Firbis,


a short time before his death, had been employed by Sir James Ware to collect and translate Irish documents for him. Harris writes:
‘One John was consecrated about the close of the year 1441 (Sir James Ware declares he could not discover when he died, and adds, that some called him John De Burgo, but that he could not answer for the truth of that name). But both these particulars are cleared up, and his immediate successor named by Dudley Firbisse, an Amanuensis whom Sir James Ware employed in his house to translate and collect for him from the Irish MSS., one of whose pieces begins thus:’
This translation beginned was by Dudley Firbisse, in the House of Sir James Ware, in Castle-street, Dublin, 6th November, 1666, — which was twenty-four days before the death of the said Knight. The Annals, or Translation, which he left behind him begin in the year 1443, and end in 1468. I suppose the death of his patron put a stop to his further progress. Not knowing from whence he translated these Annals, wherever I have occasion to quote them I mention them under the name of Annals of Dudley Firbisse.’’

He also translated, during the short time he was employed by Sir James Ware, the Registry of Clonmacnoise, which translation is now preserved in the British Museum, No. LI. of the Clarendon collection. We learn from Charles O'Conor of Belanagare, in his Preface to Ogygia Vindicated, p. viii, that he was the Irish instructor of Roderic O'Flaherty, the author of Ogygia and Ogygia Vindicated, and it would appear from a list of tracts of Brehon laws which he furnished to Dr. Lynch, the author of Cambrensis Eversus, that he was intimate with that distinguished scholar5, but towards the latter end of his life he seems to have been in great distress, and we are informed by Charles O'Conor, in the passage already quoted, that he met a tragical death at Dunflin, in the county of Sligo, in the year 1670!

On the fate and general character of this remarkable man the


same writer speaks as follows in his Dissertations on the History of Ireland, Dublin, 1766, pp. 124, 125. — (See also first edit., Dublin, 1753. p. 155):
Duald Mac Firbis, the most eminent antiquarian of the latter times, was possessed of a considerable number of the Brethe Nimhe. He alone could explain them, as he alone, without patronage or assistance, entered into the depths of this part of Scottish learning, so extremely obscure to us of the present age. When we mention Mac Firbis we are equally grieved and ashamed; his neglected abilities ignominious to his ungrateful country! his end tragical! his loss irreparable!’

The learned Roderic O'Flaherty, the pupil of Mac Firbis, thus speaks of his learned tutor, in the Ogygia, p. 233:
‘Scoticis literis quinque accidunt, in quorum singulis ab aliarum gentium literis discrepant; nimirum, Nomen, Ordo, Numerus, Character et Potestas. Et quia imperiti literarum in charta, aliave ulla materia ad memoriam pingindarum harum rerum ignarus incaute effutiit Bollandus, de materia aliquid praefabor. Ea ante pergamenae usum tabulae erant e betulla arbore complanatae, quas Oraiun et Taibhle Fileadh, .i. Tabulas Philosophicas dicebant. Ex his aliquas inter antiquitatum monumenta apud se superfuisse, ut et diversas characterum formulas, quas ter quinquagenas a Fenisii usque aetate numero, et CRAOBH- OGHAM, .i. virgeos characteres nomine recenset, non ita pridem ad me scripsit Dualdus Firbissius rei antiquariae Hibernorum unicum, dum vixit, columen, et extinctus, detrimentum.’

Some particulars of the history of Duald Mac Firbis have been given in a small periodical called The True Comet, and other obscure publications in Dublin, in which it is stated that his remains were interred at the old church of Kilglass, near the castle of Lecan, and that a stone there, measuring six feet in length by three in width, exhibits on its head end, a device, representing a chisel, which was probably intended as the crest of the Mac Firbis family, and containing an Irish inscription, which states that Duald Mac Firbis died in the eightieth year of his age, and that he had spent thirty years


of his life in the castle of Lecan compiling the History of Ireland. But the Editor is sorry to be compelled to say, that no such inscription exists, nor ever existed at Kilglass. From a recent examination of Kilglass and an investigation of the local tradition connected with Duald Mac Firbis, and particularly from a copy of the real inscription and crest on the stone above alluded to, made by Dr. James Vippler O'Dowda, it appears that this stone, — exhibiting a chisel, as the country people call it, — under which, they say, many of the Mac Firbises lie interred, contains not an Irish inscription, but an English one, in the raised letter, to the memory of George Wood of Lacken, Esq.; and that what the country people take to be a representation of a naked child holding a chisel, is the crest of the family of Wood, namely, ‘a naked savage with a club resting on his shoulder.’ The inscription is now much defaced, and a great part of it illegible, but there never was any reason for supposing it to mark the tomb of the Mac Firbises except its exhibiting the name Lacken.

The Editor has to acknowledge the great assistance he has received from his friends in illustrating and editing the present volume. He is particularly indebted to James Hardiman, Esq., author of the History of Galway, and to Dr. James Vippler O'Dowda, the son and heir of the O'Dowda of Bunnyconnellan, for the use of many documents indispensably necessary to the illustration of the pedigrees of the O'Dowdas and other families of the Hy-Fiachrach race; and he has further to acknowledge his obligations to Dr. Todd of Trinity College, Mr. Petrie, and Mr. E. Curry, for much valuable assistance in translating and editing this work, which has been attended with much delay and difficulty, as it relates to a portion of Irish history and topography hitherto unexplored.

J. O'D