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 The O'Reilly's (Ó Raghallaigh) were Lords of East Bréifne,
( Muinter Maoil Mordha)

O Raghallaigh (O'Reilly) over Muinter Maoilmordha,

Ó Raghallaigh - (O) Reilly - Co Cavan - Uí Briuin Breifne (East Kingdom of Breifne)



Cabra Castle, Ireland
Cabra Castle


The Castle and the land surrounding it is believed to have belonged to the O'Reilly Family until it was confiscated in the mid 17th century on Cromwell's orders and given to Colonel Thomas Cooch.




Symbolism in garments


The hand knit O’ Reilly sweater has a basket centre panel, flanked by cable, honeycomb and moss stitches on either side. The basket stitch represents a wish for a full catch for the fisherman, cable symbolises good luck, honeycomb is representative of work and moss stands for nature. Sweaters were knitted in the traditional báinín (pronounced ‘baw neen’) colour, the natural white of the wool.





O'Reilly  History


(Raghailligh) The name O'Reilly comes from the Irish chieftain Ragheallach (rag means a race, and ceallach means gregarious) who lived at the time of Brian Boru and, like him, was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. He was a great-grandson of Maomordha, a descendant of the O'Conors, kings of Connacht. At one time they ruled the network of lakes around Lough Erne, where their chieftains were inaugurated and they had their fortress at Lough Oughter. As they multiplied, they spread out to County Longford, Meath, and Cork.

Their chief was named "Breffny O Reilly". When they were driven from their lands in the seventeenth century, their aristocratic genealogies assured them of seniority in the armies of Europe, and their name took on a variety of spellings including Orely in Spain and Oreille in France. At one time there were no less than thirty-three O Reilly officers under the command of an O Reilly.

They commanded armies in Spain and South America, where they also governed. There are still streets bearing their name in several Spanish cities, and also in Havana. In fact, descendants of theirs can still be found in Cuba.

The O Reillys were clever financiers. In the fifteenth century they devised their own coinage, which probably gave rise to the saying, "living the life of Reilly". Conversely, there were those who "hadn't a Reilly to their name".

The O Reillys in the Middle Ages were good churchmen and built abbeys and held many bishoprics. They also boasted relationship to Saint Oliver Plunkett.

In the nineteenth century some were poets and many were politicians, often punished for their patriotism by transportation to Australia, where, they contributed to local administration and to politics.

In Ireland, they became successfully involved in the native whiskey distilling business.

Today, it is one of the most numerous names in Ireland, especially so in Co. Cavan and Meath.

Co. Cavan is a particular stonghold of the name. Myles "The Slasher" O'Reilly was the heroic defender of the bridge at Finea in Co. Cavan in 1646 where he and a force of one hundred held out against a 1,000-strong Cromwellian army. O'Reilly is commemorated by a cross in the main street of Finea, a pretty village on the banks of the River Inny. One County Cavan town in the heart of O'Reilly county was immortalized in Percy French's ballad, "Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff".

The most famous holder of the name today is Dr. A.J.F. (Tony) O'Reilly, the wealthest man in Ireland. He is the head of the Heinz Corporation in the USA and he is also involved in many other consortiums, including newspapers. He is a former rugby hero, who played for Ireland.

The prefix 'O' has been widely resumed in the anglicized form.



Ireland 1300 A.D.
Kingdom of Bréifne


Bréifne (or Breffny, Brefnie, Brenny, ...) was held by the clans of the Uí Briúin Breifne, descendants of Aodh Fionn, from the 7th century up to the time of Cromwell in the mid 17th century.
At its maximum extent Bréifne extended from Kells in Meath to Drumcliff in Co. Sligo and was part of the Kingdom of Connacht until the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1565), when it was split into the Counties Cavan and Leitrim. The O'Rourke's (Ó Ruairc) were early Kings of Bréifne, and later Princes of West Bréifne, an area which corresponds roughly to present day County Leitrim., an area which was centered in present day County Cavan, a county which became part of Ulster by the 16th century. Bréifne (or Breffny, Brefnie, Brenny, ...) was held by the clans of the Uí Briúin Breifne, descendants of Aodh Fionn, from the 7th century up to the time of Cromwell in the mid 17th century.
At its maximum extent Bréifne extended from Kells in Meath to Drumcliff in Co. Sligo and was part of the Kingdom of Connacht until the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1565), when it was split into the Counties Cavan and Leitrim. The O'Rourke's (Ó Ruairc) were early Kings of Bréifne, and later Princes of West Bréifne, an area which corresponds roughly to present day County Leitrim., an area which was centered in present day County Cavan, a county which became part of Ulster by the 16th century.

Ui Briuin: Dynastic ancestors

Eochaidh Mugmedon was king of Connacht at the end of the fourth century. In early historical times his offspring: Brioin, Fiachra and Ailill separated into three dynasties -- the Ui Briuin, ancestors to the Sil Murray (O Conors and MacDermots); the Ui Fiachra, ancestors to the O Dowds and O Heynes; and the Ui Aillela, whose descendants left little mark in history, except their name is perpetuated in the barony of Tir-Errill in County Sligo. In the seventh century the Ui Briuin began separating into three branches -- Ui Briuin Seola (O Flahertys), Ui Briuin Breffney (O Rourkes and O Reillys) and Ui Briuin Ai (O Conors, MacDermots and others). The Ui Fiachrach formed a Northern sept, known as the Ui Fiachrach Muaide in County Sligo, and a southern sept known as the Ui Fiachrach Aidne in south Galway.
Source: http://www.thecore.com/~efinn/let_ros/plavin/

A Brief Genealogy


The O'Reillys trace their ancestry back to Conn Ced-catchach ( Conn of the hundred battles). One of his descendants was Brian, King of Connaught, and in the 4th century, his descendants became known as Ui Briuin (the race of Brian). Brian had 24 sons, and from one came a son called Dui Galach who was ancestor of the O'Connors, the O'Flahertys, the O'Rourkes and the O'Reillys. He had a son Fergus, whose own son Feargna, was ancestor to Ui Briuin Brefnie (the O'Reillys and the O'Rourkes).  

Sometime round the 6th century Feargna migrated north, and was succeeded by a son Aedh Finn (Hugh the fair) who died in 611 A.D. Aedhs son Maelmorda was ancestor of the O'Reillys. This is why for much of the time they ruled what is now county Cavan, it was known as Muinter Maelmordha (The country of Maelmordha's people). From Maelmordha through Dubhcren and Cathalan came Raghallach, who was reputedly killed at the Battle of Clontarf. From him all the O'Reillys are named. Such is the ancient genealogy of the O’Reillys.



O'Reilly Coat of Arms / Irish Family Crest


O Reilly: O Raghailligh. One of the most numerous names in Ireland,especailly in Co. Cavan. The prefix O has been widely resumed in the anglicized form. The head of this important sept was chief of Bernie O' Reilly. Map Cavan-Meath.

John O'Hart was born in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, in 1824. He received an excellent education with the intention of joining the priesthood. However, he instead spent two years in the constabulary (the police), after which he was employed by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland from 1845, the first year of the Famine. He became an Associate in Arts at the Queen's University, and thereafter he was an active member of several scholarly societies. He was an avid genealogist and took a keen interest in Irish history, despite never receiving formal training as an historian. Politically he was an Irish nationalist, and in religious matters, a committed Catholic. Both of these factors permeated his work. He died in 1902 in Clontarf, Co. Dublin, at the age of 78.

O'Hart used many sources to compile the information that appears in his major work. His principal sources were Gaelic genealogies, like those of O'Clery, MacFirbis and O'Farrell. Along with the Gaelic annals, especially the Annals of the Four Masters, O'Hart was able to 'reconstruct' the medieval and ancient pedigree that appears here. He also used later sources, like the works of Burke, Collins, Harris, Lodge and Ware to extend these lineages into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But arguably the most important information contained in these genealogies came where O'Hart gathered the details directly from the families concerned, often from private papers or family tradition.

Irish mythology records that every family was descended from a certain Milesius of Spain who in about 500 BC led his followers to invade and conquer Ireland. The Christian monks who wrote these genealogies down in the 9th century, 2,500 years after Milesius, also added their own beliefs. So they recorded that Milesius was the 36th in descent from Adam! O'Hart, being both an ardent believer in the Gaelic myths and Christianity, followed their example. In his Gaelic genealogies a number representing the generation of descent from Adam precedes every generation. O'Hart showed, probably incorrectly, that every Gaelic family was descended from four of Milesius's family. These were his three sons, Heber, Ir and Heremon, and his uncle Ithe. These four were considered the 'stem' lines of the genealogies that followed. The latest scientiific evidence suggests that while the Celts had an overwhelming cultural influence on Ireland, the numbers of them that invaded Ireland were not all that huge and from the genetic point of view they are just a part of the mix that made up the Irish population.

While he undertook a great deal of research, using the majority of available published sources, many Gaelic scholars have superseded his work over the last 100 years. He was not familiar with the abundant unpublished Gaelic manuscript sources available. These have shown that many of his genealogies are incorrect for the years prior to 1600 AD. Furthermore, O'Hart was not a professional historian or genealogist, and had little training in using the esoteric sources he consulted. As a consequence he misunderstood a great deal about Gaelic society and culture, a world which had largely disappeared from Ireland long before he put pen to paper. He was also credulous in using the sources he did consult, believing that the myths were fact.

More Background
   

O'Reilly is the most common surname in Cavan. The O'Reillys trace their ancestry back to Conn Ced-catchach ( Conn of the hundred battles). One of his descendants was Brian, King of Connaught, and in the 4th century, his descendants became known as Ui Briuin (the race of Brian). Brian had 24 sons, and from one came a son called Dui Galach who was ancestor of the O'Connors, the O'Flahertys, the O'Rourkes and the O'Reillys. He had a son Fergus, whose own son Feargna, was ancestor to Ui Briuin Brefnie (the O'Reillys and the O'Rourkes).

Sometime round the 6th century Feargna migrated north, and was succeeded by a son Aedh Finn (Hugh the fair) who died in 611 A.D. Aedhs son Maelmorda was ancestor of the O'Reillys. This is why for much of the time they ruled what is now county Cavan, it was known as Muinter Maelmordha (The country of Maelmordha's people). From Maelmordha through Dubhcren and Cathalan came Raghallach, who was reputedly killed at the Battle of Clontarf. From him all the O'Reillys are named. Such is the ancient genealogy of the O’Reillys.

The Norman Invasion

When the O'Reillys first appear in the Irish Annals they ruled a small area north of Lough Ramor, but shortly after they were crushed by the growing power of their western cousins the O'Rourkes who ruled what is now Co Leitrim. In 1161 Godfraid, great grandson of Raghallach, was killed in a battle near Kells, Co Meath, by Melaghin O'Rourke. The O'Rourkes under a strong King, Tiernan, were expanding into Meath. The situation was transformed with the arrival in Ireland of the Normans in 1169. The O'Reillys were one of the few Gaelic families to stand with the invaders during the critical early years, but then they had no stake in the old order. By 1172 Tiernan O'Rourke was dead - killed at a parley by Hugh de Lacy, and the O'Reillys again gained a degree of independence.

This cosy relationship with the newcomers seems to have continued until the early 1200s. In 1220 Hugh De Lacy invaded central Brefnie and captured the O'Reillys crannog at Lough Oughter. By 1224 the O'Reillys were besieging Lough Oughter. In 1226, they dismantled the Norman motte at Kilmore. In 1233 a De Lacy invasion of Cavan was repulsed with heavy casualties, at a battle in the Bellavalley Gap. It was the last serious challenge to the O'Reilly power until the Tudors came to power in England. The O'Reillys suffered a serious defeat at the hand of the O'Rourkes, and the O'Connors at Maigh Sleacht in 1256, in which Cathal, the Chief and many of his sons and brothers were killed. The battle was lost but they won the war and this was the last serious attempt by the O'Rourkes to dominate East Brefnie.

The Peak of O'Reilly power in Ireland

The power of the O'Reillys was secured by Giolla Iosa Rua, who became chief in 1293. In 1300 he granted land for an abbey at Cavan. His chieftancy lasted till 1330, and his sons extended their power by raiding widely into Meath. Thomas, grandson of Giolla Iosa, pushed O'Reilly power into modern county Meath, as far as Fore and the Lough Crew hills. He also built Crover castle to hold the new land.

In the late 1300s the O'Reillys shifted their seat of power from Clogh Oughter castle to Tullymongan, on the hill above Cavan town. O'Reilly power was at its height. They were an unusual Gaelic ruling family in many ways. Cavan is a medieval Gaelic town. It was a thriving market centre, and the O'Reillys even minted their own money. They were also known for the quality of their horses, and the ability of their cavalry. But the annals are full of accounts of war, raiding, and murder. The O'Reilly occupied the border between two worlds, the Gaelic and the Norman. They were able to exploit the advantages that living on the border provided, to trade as well as to raid.

The Decline of the O'Reillys in Ireland

In the 1500s the Tudor state was exerting its power all over Ireland and a border region like Brefnie was among the first to feel the pressure. The Anglo Norman Nugents and Plunketts from Meath, began to assert their power in Brefnie, on behalf of the English Crown. In 1553 Sir Thomas Cusack, Lord Chancellor of Ireland wrote "next to Annalie (Longford) is a large country called the Brenny wherein O'Rail is chief captain who has seven sons. He may make four hundred horseman of the same name and one thousand Kern (irregular soldiers), and two hundred Gallowglass (mercenary soldiers). The county is divided between them, which joinet to the English pale and upon a country called Plounketts country, betwixt which has been divers, murders, stealths, and robberies, by day and night committed".

As the century progressed the pressure became greater and in 1566 they signed the humiliating treaty of Lough Sheelin with the Earl of Sussex. In 1584 Brefnie was shired and became the county of Cavan. O'Reilly power finally collapsed in the wake of the Nine Year War (1594-1603). In 1600 Lord Mountjoy took Cavan town and placed a garrison there. In 1601 Edmund O'Reilly (of Kilnacrott) was killed in Cavan, he was the last of the family to hold the title "The O'Ragahallie", there were many claimants later, but none would ever be Chief of Brefnie.

The Plantation of Ulster and After

Some members of the family did receive substantial grants of land in the Plantation of Ulster (1611), but dispossession in subsequent confiscations, an inability to balance the books in the market economy that followed Plantation, and many members of the family choosing emigration to Catholic countries in continental Europe resulted in the social decline of the O'Reillys in Ireland.

One branch of the family that did hold out for longer was the Baltrasna O'Reillys. They were descended from Edmund of Kilnacrott. Myles O'Reilly is a semi-mythical figure, a cavalry officer in the 12-year war, he was known as Myles the Slasher. His son John fought with the Jacobites in the Williamite war (1689-91), and only saved his land because he was specifically mentioned in military articles of the Treaty of Limerick. John's grandson Alexander had a distinguished military career in the Austrian and Spanish army, and gave his name to O'Reilly St. in Havana, Cuba.

 

Published by: Local Ireland
Year written: 1999
Copyright owned by: Kevin Sweeney
   
   
   
The Celtic origin of Cavan is "cabhán," meaning "hollow" or "little hill", an apt description of the countryside, especially towards the northwest, where the landscape is covered by drumlins -- oval clay hills of glacial origin between 80 to 100 feet high. In between these rolling hills, the valleys are poorly drained, with extensive bogs, swamps and lakes. This corrogated geography means that visibility is frequently limited, often no more than a few hundred yards, giving the countryside an intimate feel.

This geography also helped the O'Reilly Clan retain control in County Cavan even after the Norman arrival in Ireland in 1169. The difficulty of traversing the Cavan terrain, with its many thick forests, hidden valleys, watery bogs and lakes, combined with the skill of the O'Reilly cavalry, and the intractability of the local residents, kept the Norman invaders successfully at bay for several centuries. In fact, the O'Reillys maintained their independence from later English rule until the rebellions of the early 1600s.

When the Catholic Confederacy was finally defeated by Cromwell in 1649, the Catholic lands in Cavan were confiscated and given to English soldiers and others loyal to the British crown. In the midst of these battles, the famine swept through County Cavan. In 1841, the population in Cavan was 243,000, and by 1851 it had dropped to 174,000. With emigration, famine deaths, and occupation by the British, the population of Cavan would drop to a low of 55,000. However, the census of 1861 shows that it was still overwhelmingly Catholic (81 percent) with the remaining population divided between Presbyterians and members of the Church of Ireland.

http://members.tripod.com/~Scott_Michaud/Cavan-history.html


Historical research is ongoing and subject to change.
Copyright 2003 Robert Reilly. All rights reserved.