From the Preface to the Second Edition

At all times the subject of genealogies must command the respect and attention of both rich and poor; on account of the intimate bearing it has upon the individual, together with the tribes, people, nation, and family to which he belongs. So it was in the past; and so it ever shall be. The ancient Romans were fond of having the statues of their illustrious ancestors in prominent places, so as to animate themselves to deeds of virtue and valour; and also that the memory of them would shed lustre on their descendants. Even our blessed Saviour would condescend to have his genealogy, according to the flesh, traced up and left on record: the Evangelist St. Matthew traces it back to Abraham; the Evangelist St. Luke, back to our first parents. And we are told by St. Jerome that, in his own day, the boys in the very streets of Jerusalem could name their ancestors up to Adam.

The ancient Irish were not behind other nations in this respect; for, according to O'Donovan, in the Miscellany of the Celtic Society (1849) —

"Those of the lowest rank among a great tribe traced and retained the whole line of their descent with the same care which in other nations was peculiar to the rich and great; for, it was from his own genealogy each man of the tribe, poor as well as rich, held the charter of his civil state, his right of property in the cantred in which he was born, the soil of which was occupied by one family or clan, and in which no one lawfully possessed any portion of the soil if he was not of the same race as the chief."

Up to the end of the sixteenth century—or as long as the "Tanist Law"[1] remained in force in Ireland, collections of authentic Irish pedigrees existed; in one or other of which was carefully registered, the birth of every member of a sept, as well of the poor as of the rich, and by which was determined the portion of land to be allotted for the sustenance of each head of a family and of those dependent on him. All those local records have disappeared: when, by the conquest of Ireland, they ceased to be useful for their own special purpose, they would naturally be neglected; and, in all probability, have most of them perished. But, before they disappeared, they doubtless formed the basis of the genealogical collections made by O'Clery, MacFirbis, Keating, and O'Ferrall, etc.

"A time came," writes the author of The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Mór, "when it was of importance for the conquerors of Ireland to know something of the native families from whom they must expect irreconcilable hostility, or might hope for allegiance; and out of this necessity arose a new value for all genealogical records, present and past, which had not yet perished. The attention of English official personages in Ireland, towards the close of the sixteenth century, was, in a marked manner, directed towards the recovery of such documents; and able statesmen like Sir George Carewe, then President of Munster; Lord Burgley, and Sir Robert Cecyll; Irish supporters of the Government, like the Earl of Thomond; official legal persons, as Richard Hadsor; and, as Dr. O'Donovan asserts, paid spies, employed by the lord deputies, greatly contributed to the preservation of Irish pedigrees, and, truth to say, greatly also to the inaccuracies and confusion in which so many collections abound. From wills and lawsuits—customary sources of genealogical evidence, little information could be expected amongst a people who had no power of disposing of the portion of sept-lands which they held during life, and whose contentions when not settled by the sword, were pleaded and decided orally by Brehons on hill-sides under the open heavens, and which were little likely to be placed on permanent record: hence the more diligence would be needed by spies, or official persons, for acquiring the information, past or present, desired by the English Government."

In preparing the materials for this Edition I saw the great help it would render to the Science of Comparative Philology, were I to give in its correct orthography [2] each Irish proper name mentioned in the Work. With that view I revised, de novo, all my Notes; and, mistakes and errors excepted, have written the personal names and sirnames therein recorded as they were spelled in the Irish language. To the Philologist and Ethnologist the study of these Irish proper names will disclose a mine of antiquarian wealth more precious, in my opinion, than any of the rich antiquities lately discovered in Assyria, Mycenae, or the Troad.

Up to the eleventh century every Irish personal name was significant, and was sometimes rendered more so by the application of some additional sirname or epithet. The English meaning of the Irish name or epithet, from which each Irish sirname is derived, is, in almost every instance, here given; and, in some cases, I trace the epithet or its cognate in others of the ancient languages, to show that the Gaelic Irish speech is connected in sisterhood with the most venerated languages in the world.

The reader who looks through the "Index of Sirnames" will find in the body of the work (where I give the derivation of the names), that many families are of Irish descent who have long been considered of foreign extraction: for, dispossessed in former times of their territories in Ireland, by more powerful families than their own, or by the Danish, or English, invasion, members of some Irish families settled in Great Britain, or on the Continent; and, from time to time afterwards, descendants of such persons, with their sirnames so twisted, translated, or disguised, as to appear of English or Anglo-Norman origin, came to Ireland in the ranks of its invaders—in the hope that, if they succeeded in its conquest, they would, as many of them did, receive from the conquerors some of the Irish estates confiscated in those unhappy times in Ireland.

It may be asked—Why trace in this Work the genealogy of the present Royal Family of Great Britain and Ireland; since Queen Victoria's immediate ancestors were German Princes who were in no way connected with Ireland. I would reply that, as Queen Victoria is of Irish lineal descent, I have traced in Irish Pedigrees Her Majesty's Lineage. And it is satisfactory to me to have to record that the Queen's Irish lineal descent, as I trace it down from Heremon, son of Milesius of Spain (a quo the Milesian Irish Nation), is the same as that compiled by the Rev. A. B. Grimaldi, M.A., and published [3] within the last month or two in London.

Scholars who are best acquainted with them contend that the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, compiled by the "Four Masters," are more reliable than even those of Greece, which have been accepted because of the accident of the Greek language having been studied and encouraged by the Romans, who led the mind of Europe so long before and after the Christian era. Therefore it was that, through conquest, most of the countries of Europe, including Britain and Gaul, were forced to receive the Roman civilization. But, with Pagan Rome Ireland had no dealings: "She was," writes De Vere, "an eastern nation in the West; her civilization was not military, it was patriarchal—whose type was the family, and not the army; it was a civilization of Clans." Claudian, speaking of the battles of the Roman general Stilico with the Britons and Picts, and the Scots of Ireland, in the latter end of the fourth century, says:

——Totam cum Scotus Iernem,

Movit et infesto spumavit remige Tethys;

which may be translated, as follows:

When the Scot moved all Ireland against us, and the ocean foamed with his hostile oars.

"Leagued with their countrymen in Scotland, and with the Picts," continues De Vere, "the ancient Irish had repeatedly driven back the Romans behind their further wall, till they left the land defenceless."

Therefore it was that Pagan Rome hated Ireland and its belongings; and, following in the footsteps of their masters, the Roman-conquered nations learned to frown not only on the language of Ireland, but on Ireland's admirable Philosophy:

Long, long neglected Gaelic tongue,

Thou'st died upon our Irish plains,

Save some lingering sounds that stay,

To tell us that a wreck remains.

Our "hundred hills" each bears a name—

An echo from each vale is wrung

Upon our ears—these bring with shame

Remembrance of our native tongue.


Ringsend School, Dublin,

August, 1878.


[1] Tanist-Law: See "The Laws of Tanistry," in No. 1 Appendix, of Vol. II.

[2] Orthography: It may be well to mention that the word in [bracket] in any page in this work is meant to approximate the pronunciation of the Irish word precedes it.

[3] Published: The Leaflet in which Queen Victoria's lineal descent is traced by the Rev. Mr. Grimaldi, M.A., is published in London by W. H. Guest, 29, Paternoster Row.