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The O'Dalaigh Surname History

Some of the hereditary Gaelic surnames took form at periods as early as the ninth and tenth centuries. These names are the earliest substantiated European records of family names. The majority however, like the surnames met in France and Italy, appear to have been adopted in the eleventh or twelfth centuries as in the case of the family name O'Dalaigh. The earliest recording of the name was Cuchonnacht O'Dalaigh, who lived in Teffia, in what is now the County of Westmeath. Being noted for his learning, he was called "Cuchonnacht na Sgoile," meaning "Cuchonnacht of the School." He died in the year 1139. The "O" prefixed to the name "Dalach" or "Dalaigh" signifies grandson or male descendant of Dalach in contrast to the prefix Mac or Mc which would mean son of the ancestor specified. The modern Anglicised versions of the ancient Gaelic family name Ua Dalaigh or O'Dalaigh, pronounced "O'Dhaulee," came about as a result of tyrannical laws, designed by the English rulers, which outlawed Gaelic names and customs as a means of penalizing the Irish people into a state of subjugation. Beginning with the reign of the English King Edward IV (1465), the law demanded that every Irishman living within the territory known as the "Pale" take an English name and comply with other English customs or forfeit his possessions. Most families resisted and it wasn't until the close of the Seventeenth Century, after constant persecution and ridicule that the Gaelic forms nearly dissapeared. In many cases the Anglicised forms were actually closely related to the basic Gaelic surnames minus the "Macs" or the "O's" as in the case of the name Daly. The final doom of the Gaelic surnames came as a result of the widespread establishment of the English language among the Irish. This circumstance caused the English form of names to be taken for granted and considered as natural. In recent times, the Gaelic original has been re-adopted by some of the families. This trend back to the Gaelic will naturally spread as the ancient language gradually resumes its old dominant position in Ireland.

The Surname Meaning

The common definition of the O'Dalaigh surname today is, "deriving from Dalach meaning 'one who is present at assemblies'; the root word is Dail, now the official title of the parliament of the Republic of Ireland". A connection is also possible to the long tradition of scholarship and poetic achievement associated with those who bear it, since the ollamh of Gaelic Ireland had a place of honor at the tribal dail as a man of learning and a poet. Other evidence points to an even older more significant meaning, based on the claim by the pagan Irish that they were offspring of their gods. This evidence is found on several Ogham stones which contain the oldest known form of Irish writing. An example from the Gowran Stone; DALLO MAQA MUCORI MAQI ERACIAS MAQI LI and one from the Dunbell Stone of Kilkenny BRANITTOS MAQI DECARI DDALLOS These inscriptions appear to invoke either pagan gods or mythological figures with names similar to the ancestral "Dalach". A third ogham, Monataggert II further specifies the Dalach (Dalagni) as sons of the eponymous ancestor (Dali). In many cases the mythological ancestor was female. DALAG N I MAQ I DALI From this evidence and other data associated with times of antiquity in Ireland, it would appear that there are reasonable grounds for assuming the family name "O'Dalaigh" has a godly or mythological significance.Indeed, it provides a more logical probable meaning of the name O'Dalaigh than the more popular versions built almost entirely on definitions given in modern dictionaries for supposed parts of the family name.

From "History of the O'Daly's, The Story of the Ancient Irish Sept, The Race of Dalach of Corca Adaimh" by Edmund Emmett O'Daly (Chicago, 1932).

The O'Dalaigh Crest and Motto

Almost without exception the armorial motto of the O'Dalaigh has been featured as "Deo et Regi Fidelis". However, the O'Dalaigh had used a Gaelic motto prior to the adoption of "Deo et Regi Fidelis" by those O'Dalaigh who wished to signify their loyalty to the reigning English monarchs. Around the turn of the century, an Irish motto: "Laudir Agus Mir", meaning Swift and Strong, was found to have existed among the O'Dalaigh's of Galway and it's origin being very old. Indeed, "Laudir Agus Mir" is clearly descriptive of the O'Dalaigh crest whereas the usual one "Deo Et Regi Fidelis", i.e. Faithful to my God and King is neither descriptive of the crest nor of the (mostly) disloyal family of O'Dalaigh's.

From "History of the O'Daly's, The Story of the Ancient Irish Sept, The Race of Dalach of Corca Adaimh" by Edmund Emmett O'Daly (Chicago, 1932).

Genealogy of the O'Dalaigh

The O'Dalaigh are one of many of the clans of Ireland that trace their heritage to a single common ancestor. The accepted O'Dalaigh ancestral records beginning at the earliest reliable historical period center on King Niall of the Nine Hostages (pictured here). Niall (pronounced Nall) reigned as Ireland's high king from A.D. 379 to 405. The O'Dalaigh ancestry of times more remote than the age of Niall is linked to the "House of Heremon" by Ireland's ancient bardic genealogists. Heremon, the seventh son of King Milesius of Spain, ruled in the 17th century B.C.


HEREMON (Irish tradition holds that Heremon lived in the seventeenth century before Christ and died in 1684 B.C.)
    i.e. King Niall of the Nine Hostages who reigned as Ireland's 126th High Monarch from 379-405, A.D.
  2. EOCAN:
    Eldest son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Eogban flourished during the time of St. Patrick.
    Son of Eoghan. Muiredhach III had twelve sons of whom the sixth was Dalach.
    Eldest son of Muiredhach III and the 131st Monarch of Ireland. Reigned twenty four years and died about the year 527.
    Eldest son of Muiredhach Mor and the 134th Monarch of Ireland. Died about the year 561.
    Son of Donnall and the 143rd Monarch of Ireland. Slain in the year 607.
    Son of Aodh. Maoilfitreac had two sons:
    1. Maolduin
    2. Maoituile.
    A Prince of Ulster and the eldest son of Maoilfitreac. Maoldhuin had two sons:
    1. Fearghal, 156th Monarch of Ireland who was slain in battle in year 718.
    2. Adaimh.
  9. ADAIMH:
    Youngest son of Maolduin.
  10. CORC:
    Son of Adaimh.
  11. FACHTNA:
    Son of Corc.
  12. DALACH:
    Son of Fachtna. Aquo O'Dalaigh.
    Son of Dalach.
  14. TADHG:
    Son of Gilla-coimhdheadh.
    Son of Tadhg. Tadhg means poet.
  16. DALACH:
    Son of Muireadhach.
    i.e. "Of the school" indicating that he was an outstanding scholar. Cuconnacht appears to have been the first O'Dalaigh ancestor to adopt the family name He died in the year 1139.
    Son of Cuconnacht. He was known as the Prince Poet of Ireland.
    The common ancestor of all the O'Dalaighs extant.
From "History of the O'Daly's, The Story of the Ancient Irish Sept, The Race of Dalach of Corca Adaimh" by Edmund Emmett O'Daly (Chicago, 1932).

The Daly Stone of KillimorDaly 1624


The 'Daly Stone' is a unique and wonderful example of early 17th century stone art. With extraordinary relief writing and detailed decoration, it is still well preserved four centuries on. Needless to say it is the most ancient written record extant in the locality once proudly known as KillimorDaly or Killimor of the Dalys. The most immediate and striking impression, presented by this old echo of the past, is that it is written in English, again reinforcing O'Daly loyalty to the Protestant Stuart Dynasty of England and his commitment to English as the language of "Civility". Sadly it also marks his abandonment of the language of his noble Gaelic forefathers and signals the decline of the Irish language among the local peasantry. Paradoxically and even more obviously the stone records the strength of O'Daly’s Catholicism at a time when Protestantism would have been the easy and the more lucrative option! The inclusion of religious symbolism clearly demonstrates the success of counter-reformation forces (Jesuits) and the disdainful rejection of the imposed state religion (Church of Ireland) by the O'Daly Family of Killimor Castle.

The Primary Message:

It is generally held that the 'Daly Stone' was originally part of an elaborate mantelpiece located in the ‘Main Hall’ of Killimor Castle and that the Stone's primary function was to commemorate the construction or possible reconstruction (atchivment) of the castle by Teige O’Daly and his wife, Sisily Kelly in 1624. The 'Fitz*Dermot' means son of Dermot O'Daly who died in 1614). Teig(e) ODaly was Dermot's eldest son and heir. However, lest the mighty O’Daly be accused of gender discrimination, let the reader take note of the equal prominence given to Sisily O’Kelly’s name on the right hand side of the memorial, thus bearing witness to this important O’Daly/O’Kelly alliance. Up to this point, the O'Kelly chieftains must have resented the O'Daly's growing importance and wealth, yet O'Daly had become acceptable enough for integration with the once powerful princes of Hymany. Sisily Kelly/O'Kelly was the daughter of a Gaelic chieftain named Conor O'Kelly of Gallagh, (modern Castleblakeney) and she, no doubt, added to the growing wealth of Teige, with a generous dowry of livestock, which as we all know, is (was!) the only yardstick of real wealth!!

Religious Symbolism:

The icons located at the extreme top left and right hand corners are meant to induce imagery of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ: a mocking crown of thorns for the King of the Jews; an armoured flail for flogging; a ladder to remove the body from the cross; claw hammer with spike and pincers all help to focus the distracted Catholic mind on Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humankind. The IHS icon represents Jesus (from Classical Greek) but was commonly and erroneously interpreted as Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Saviour of Mankind). This icon occupies the highest position and the significance of this may be related to Christ's Resurrection and triumph over death. Under the 16 an unusual rectangular box encloses 30 parallel lines that are said to represent Judas's purse with thirty pieces of silver -- his reward for betraying Jesus. A similar box under the 24 contains many more parallel lines and nobody has come up with a plausible explanation, -- unless this box represents inflation! Notice the prominence given to Maria and the unusual design of the A; devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus, is another strong characteristic of Catholicism. Mary's Immaculate Conception (i.e. conceived without Original Sin) is symbolized by a highly symmetrical thornless rose (under Sisily). A bunch of grapes attached to their vine probably signify the mystery of wine transformed into the Blood of Christ (Transubstantiation) during the Catholic Mass, a cornerstone of Catholic Faith and a major doctrinal difference with Protestantism. It should be pointed out that it was illegal for Catholics to publicly practice their religion during this period and also that all their churches with glebe lands had been 'lawfully' transferred to the Established Church of Ireland. The O'Daly family would have worshipped in the privacy of their own home and relied on infrequent and irregular visits of itinerant priests to administer sacraments and celebrate the Mass. During such intervening periods of deprivation the Stone was a constant reminder of the main tenets of their faith as well as providing spiritual sustenance for the family. (Further reading Killimordaly Cemetery by Jim Higgins)

O'Daly Coat of Arms:

Strategically located at the centre of the stone is a shield bearing a rampant lion and two right hands; the lion signifies leadership and deathless courage whilst the two right hands represent faith and justice. A helmet perched on top of the shield (a little indistinct) symbolises security in defence. The shield is symmetrically surrounded by a luxuriously decorative mantle once again drawing the viewer's attention to the importance of this family and the pride taken by Teige O'Daly in his family's atchivment. A large dog (hound) forms the crest and exhibits detail so perfect that its maleness is chauvinistically obvious.

The Daly Stone's Travels:

No less interesting is the story of the stone's departure from Killimor Castle, its travels, exile and the coincidences which led to its eventual return to its current home near the original site of Killimor Castle. Sometime after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691, Killimor Castle was dismantled and replaced by a more modern and comfortable residence. This new house was renamed Killimor House but local people still called it Killimor Castle and the name stuck. Our ‘Daly Stone’ was preserved by insertion in the wall above the main entrance during this late 17th century/early eighteenth century reconstruction. Teige and Sisily O’Daly’s line became extinct, circa 1820, on the death of Hyacinth Daly Esq., of Killimor, who was, for many years, Mayor of Galway. Hyacinth’s second daughter, Anstase Daly, married a John Devereux Esq., of Ballyrankin, Co. Wexford and Killimor Estate passed into the hands of the Devereux Family of Wexford. The Devereux's leased Killimor House (orse Castle) and Demesne to Burke Esq. of Slatefield. The Rev. Nicholas Devereux (son of John and Anstase Devereux) eventually sold his unprofitable interest in the KillimorDaly Estate in 1860 to a very distant and rich relative ----- yes to that affluent powerful peer, Denis St. George Daly, 2nd Baron Dunsandle and Clanconal. Dominick J. Browne-Burke's (last Burke of Killimor Castle) lifetime lease of Killimor House lapsed on his death in 1879 and it is thought that Lord Dunsandle caused one bay of the house to be dismantled and left roofless so as to save on rates. But he also recognised the historical significance of the 'Daly Stone' and had it removed from Killimor to Dunsandle House circa 1880 before placing a stockman named Dobbyn in mutilated Killimor House and converting the demesne to a grassland farm. Sometime during the late 1930’s, Patrick J. Kennedy of the Real Estate Company, Joyce Mackie & Lougheed was in Dunsandle House on business with the then master of Dunsandle, Major Denis Bowes Daly MC (a grandson of the 2nd Baron Dunsandle and Clanconal). Kennedy's gaze was instantly riveted on an unusual stone tablet ornamenting the grounds. A lifelong historian PJK was aware that Teige O’Daly and Sisily Kelly were of the Killimor Daly line. In 1954, Major Daly sold the family seat (Dunsandle House and Demesne) to the Irish Land Commission and took up residence in Cloghan Castle, Co. Offaly. Luckily he brought the ‘Daly Stone’ with him, otherwise the stone might have been dumped or used for road fill! It remained at Cloghan Castle until Major Daly moved to another home in Co. Limerick. But Major Daly wearied of carting his limestone burden (and remembering Kennedy's unfeigned interest) allowed the return of the ‘Daly Stone’ to Killimordaly. Circa 1980, Sean Connaire, Alfie Burke, Tommy Mooney and Larry Kennedy (all employees of Galway County Council) transported this priceless historic record from Lusmagh (near Cloghan Castle) to Killimordaly Parish Churchyard. The stone is now set in concrete to the left of the stepped entrance to the ''Old Graveyard'' and attracts worldwide interest.


At the request of Mrs Avia Riddle-Martin (formerly Daly of Russborough House, Co. Wicklow and a great-granddaughter of the 2nd Lord Dunsandle), I have revised (about the fourth rehash) the short one page article first published in G. Ahern's Attymon Times c.1995 and a few years later on Yet another revision found its way into the millennium publication, History of Kiltullagh/Killimordaly. This (final!!) revision is dedicated to the perseverance of local historian and genealogist, Patrick J. Kennedy (d.1971 before he could publish his History of Killimordaly), who was principally responsible for the location and return to Killimordaly of the “O’Daly Stone" and also to the generosity of Major Denis Bowes Daly (formerly of Dunsandle) who died 1982).

James N. Dillon

This article is used with the kind permission of the author