Back to Homepage
In response largely to the Mac Carthy Mór hoax and its own entanglement in same, the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland in July 2003 terminated the procedure of recognising Gaelic chiefs by courtesy, abandoning genuine and bogus claimants alike. This decision has created a vacuum in which more bogus and questionable claimants to chiefship have emerged to declare themselves, free from the necessity to produce rigorous genealogical proofs. Before his retirement in 2003, the Chief Herald of Ireland solemnly conferred upon the writer the title of 'self-appointed saviour of Irish genealogy', and in accordance with the duties which accompany this appellation, the following profiles are offered. Any demonstrated errors of fact will be speedily corrected, and the writer may be contacted by e-mail at sjbmurphy@SPAMOUTeircom.net (remove 'SPAMOUT' from address).
Mac Sweeney Doe
Historically there were three branches of the MacSweeneys of County Donegal, Fanad, Doe and Banagh, each with its own chief. Since 1979 the titles of Mac Sweeney Fanad and Banagh have been claimed by two individuals who have not presented any serious pedigree evidence. Since 1999 or thereabouts Thomas Sweeney has claimed to be Mac Sweeney Doe, not in any honorary or self-appointed sense, but insisting that he is the senior descendant of the last chief appointed under the Gaelic system. This claim has given rise to controversy, and such pedigree evidence as has been presented has been challenged by the present writer. Indeed in October 2005 the claimant quietly rewrote a section of the pedigree he had been advancing for some years, altering his purported line of descent from the Chiefs of Doe. Mr Sweeney has made a most extraordinary series of charges against my character and professionalism, which even if they were true, and they are not, would not prove his entitlement to be recognised as a chief. Mr Sweeney also states that he has a report commissioned from professional genealogist Máire Mac Conghail which adequately proves his claim to chiefship but has declined to release this into the public domain. On account of the issues raised, the continuing involvement of the Office of the Chief Herald, and because this is now the most debatable claim to chiefship post-Mac Carthy Mór, a separate webpage has been devoted to the Mac Sweeney Doe chiefship.
The following 'legal notice' was published on the web at http://hometown.aol.com/dolmenx/Page5.html on 11 January 2005:
Leonard M. Keane, Jr., of Wakefield, MA, USA, publicly-declared sole claimant to the Chiefship of the Ulster Irish Family of Ó Catháin (O'Cahan) since 1984, has asserted his succession by salic tanistry to that Chiefship, in compliance with applicable Brehon Law. Parties having an interest may reply with full details within 90 days of the publication of this notice to: Keane, Box 1923, Wakefield, MA 01880.
A pedigree supporting this claim appears at http://hometown.aol.com/dolmenx/index.html, but no sources are cited for same, and in particular adequate documentary proof would be required to show that the claimant is descended from Sean O'Cahan, The O Cahan, died 1498, and his alleged great-grandson Daniel O'Cahan, who is stated to have settled in County Clare about 1525. It would appear that some of this information may derive from O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees (volume 1, pages 495-97), which alas by itself cannot be considered to be a reliable source. Of course, it seems strange as well that the headship of the Ulster sept of O'Cahan should be claimed by one descended from a County Clare branch. Furthermore, it should be noted that while the surname Keane in Munster and Connacht may indeed refer to O'Cahans from Ulster, the form is also used as an anglicisation of the distinct septs of Ó Catháin of Galway and Ó Céin of Waterford (Edward MacLysaght, Irish Families, 4th Edition, Dublin 1985, page 110).
Following a trend among 'clan' groups, there is also a page containing DNA information at http://hometown.aol.com/dolmenx/Page2A.html, which provides nothing in the way of evidence in relation to the claim of chiefship. In any case, the claimant's case appears to be based less on documented senior descent from the last duly inaugurated O'Cahan chief, than on an historically debatable reinvention of Tanistry. Tanistry, whereby a chief's successor was appointed by a derbfine, or male descendants of a common great-grandfather, was in fact a political process largely outside Brehon Law (Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin 1988, page 26). Tanistry was alternately suppressed and exploited to create divisions by the English, and following the collapse of the Gaelic order in the early seventeenth century, the small number of families maintaining chiefships turned to male primogeniture or succession of the eldest son.
The current revival of Tanistry as a means to lay claim to long dormant chiefships owes much to the efforts of Terence MacCarthy, whose spurious claim to be MacCarthy Mór was exposed by the present writer in June 1999 (see report at http://homepage.eircom.net/~seanjmurphy/chiefs/maccarthy.htm, with sources cited).While Mr Keane has renounced all association with MacCarthy, it is reasonable to point out that his exposition of 'salic Tanistry' bears a strong similarity to that of the latter. Compare for example the following passages:
The Irish mode of succession is tanistry, a concept that the English conquerors tried very hard to suppress, offering Irish princes English Earldoms governed by primogeniture in exchange ("Surrender & Re-grant") for abdication of their ancient royal and princely ranks governed by the old Gaelic form of Salic tanistry. (Leonard M Keane, now styled The O'Cahan, 'Practical Application of Gaelic Irish Tanistic Succession', http://hometown.aol.com/dolmenx/Page4.html.)
While the crown of Desmond was vested by hereditary right in the royal house of MacCarthy Mór it devolved according to the Gaelic principles of salic tanistry rather than by primogeniture. (Terence MacCarthy, styled The MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond, Historical Essays on the Kingdom of Munster, Kansas City, Missouri, 1994, page 213.)
There is no evidence that MacCarthy or any other 'Tanistic' chiefly claimant ever assembled a full derbfine including cousins to ratify their appointments, and even if they did, this exercise in romantic revival could not overcome the want of proper genealogical evidence of descent from the last duly inaugurated chief. Of course, documentary evidence, properly cited so that it can be checked, remains the key in these cases.
A webpage at http://www.clanmcshane.org/ declares the existence of a 'McShane-Johnson Clan', a branch of the O'Neills of Ulster, whose current chief is Jameson Riley McShane Johnson. It is observed, 'The Irish Clans are only starting down the road the Scots Clans have already paved', and to underscore this point an illustration of a McShane tartan is provided. Now while it is true that there was a branch of the O'Neills called MacShane, anglicised Johnson, there is no evidence that it continued into modern times as a 'clan' or that it has a recognised chief. It should be noted that there have been other and unrelated MacShanes in Ireland, one a branch of the O'Farrells in Longford, another a branch of the Fitzmaurices in Kerry. Furthermore, the surname can mean simply 'son of Seán/Shane', hence its translation as Johnson, which is best known as a Scottish surname, and it has sometimes also been assimilated to the distinct English surname Johnston. What we have here is another example of an artificial Irish 'clan', complete with chief and Scottish-style accoutrements. Again, if such organisations are presented simply as convivial associations with 'honorary' chiefs, then there should be no problems, but if there are pretensions to 'real' or 'bloodline' or 'Tanistry' chiefships, then this blurring of the distinction between fantasy and history needs to be challenged.
In November 2005 a Wikipedia article on Irish Chiefs of the Name was featuring an entry for one Anthony Michael Hanlon, claiming to be 'O Hanlon, Prince of Ulster': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiefs_of_the_Name (webpages subject to periodic revision). No evidence proving senior descent from the last duly inaugurated O Hanlon has been presented, and it would seem that this claimant is merely self-styled. The last chief appears to have been Sir Oghie O'Hanlon, who was living in 1605. The O'Hanlons were known as Lords of Orior, but certainly not Princes of Ulster.
The 'Hon' Michael McMahon lays claim to be 'MacMahon of Thomond' and 'Prince of Corcabaskin and of Thomond' on his website at http://www.orgsites.com/ca/clanmacmahon/_pgg1.php3 I have been assured that the webpage should have contained the qualifying word 'honorary' before the titles in question, and although the term appeared online for a while it has now been removed. The last duly inaugurated chief, Teige MacMahon, was slain at the Battle of Kinsale in 1602 (1601 Old Style dating), and no evidence has been presented to show that the current claimant is his senior descendant.
In or about the middle of 2006 there appeared on the Internet another claimant to chiefship, 'The Hon' Thomas O'Higgins, styled 'The O'Higgins, Lord of Ballynary', who is resident in Cheshire, England. Mr O'Higgins claims to be sixteenth chief in succession to Twohill Ó hUiginn, born 1460. It is candidly admitted that two names in the chiefly pedigree, Charles O'Higgins of Ballynary, County Sligo, born 1721, and John Higgins of Summerhill, County Meath, born about 1755, are 'based on family naming patterns as there is no known record of their first names'. However, it is stated 'that they existed, because their wives are named on the Higgins tombstone in Agher, Summerhill, Co Meath' (http://www.ohigginsclan.com/chief_succession.htm and http://www.ohigginsclan.com/chief's_family_tree.htm). It is obvious therefore that the pedigree on which the claim to chiefship is based is not fully documented, but contains an imaginative interpolation of names at a key point. This is a familiar technique in cases of this kind, and means that the claimant cannot be regarded as recognised, as he cannot prove definitively that he is the senior descendant of the last duly inaugurated O'Higgins chief. There is also a claimed connection with Bernardo Higgins, President of Chile, born 1783 and died 1869. Finally, it should be noted that there is a page on Wikipedia uncritically presenting Mr O'Higgins as a genuine chief (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_O%27Higgins), underscoring the necessity for extreme caution in utilising 'Wiki'-information.
Baron of Castleshort
In 1999 I had the honour to be warned that I had with others been placed under surveillance by the 'Royal Eoghanacht Galloglas Guard', sworn bodyguards of Terence MacCarthy 'Mór' commanded by 'Baron' James Shortt of Castleshort, being singled out for specific mention as a 'self proclaimed genealogist' (statement posted on rec.heraldry on 20 July 1999, archived at http://groups.google.com). Coming from an apparently paramilitary body, the warning was intended to and did intimidate, so that I did not pursue the case for some years. However, I observed that the Galloglas Guard has continued in existence as the Royal Galloglas Guard and is still commanded by the 'Baron of Castleshort' (http://home.earthlink.net/~rggsibiba/html/galloglas/galloglas.html). I noted as well that the aforementioned unreliable list of Irish Chiefs on Wikipedia as of August 2007 featured an entry for 'An Caisleanghearr', which appears to indicate that the Barony of Castleshort has been upgraded to a full chiefship (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiefs_of_the_Name, reference now removed). The Baron is Director General of the International Bodyguard Association and has also hinted at service with the SAS and Parachute Regiment. Another remarkable claim is that the Baron was 'created a Knight Commander of St Gregory by Pope John Paul II in recognition for his work in towards moving the Cold War to an end' (http://www.ibanagreatlakes.com/castleshort.html), but it has now been shown that the papal order in question is spurious (http://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/James_Shortt%27s_Dodgy_Uniforms_and_Medals).
Do you feel lucky today, punk?
The Baron is also listed as the head of the newly forged 'Clan MacShort', allegedly of Scottish Galloglas origin, which has been admitted to membership of the 'Ulster Clans' (http://www.ulsterclans.org/) and the 'Clans of Ireland' (http://www.theclansofireland.ie/registery.htm, later at http://www.clansofireland.ie/registry10.htm but omitted from http://www.clansofireland.ie/registry11.htm).
Extract from Register of the Clans of Ireland 2009
The Baron summarises the history of his 'clan' in the following terms:The family MacAngearr (Shortt or Short or MacGirr) were Galloglas (Gall Oglaigh) from the Western Scottish seaboard who settled initially in the Clogher Valley in South Tyrone and parts of Cavan and Monaghan. The MacAngearr were a sept that developed from the MacCathmaoil Clan, who in turn were a Galloglas family. Malachy (Maelechlainn Macanghearr MacCathmhaoil), it is recorded in gaelic annals, slew an O'Neill of Tir Eoghan in 1365 in battle. Malachy was son of Cu Uladh Mac Anghearr, who died in 1368 and is styled "cenn aicme a chinidh fein" - head of the family of his home tribe. The MacAngearr's of Munster were a branch of the Antrim sept. They settled in Desmond as Galloglas. After the destruction of the Gaelic Kingdom, they were to be found in Timoleague in west Cork, and then from the 18th century progressively in East Cork at Castlematyr and Carrigtoghil, and by the start of this century at Glenmore on Great Island. (http://home.earthlink.net/~rggsibiba/html/castleshort/castleshort.html)
Alas, this account is basically historical and genealogical nonsense, MacCathmhaoil being the name of an indigenous Irish sept whose heartland was in County Tyrone. The surname has been anglicised MacCawell but was sometimes also assimilated to the distinct Scottish surname Campbell, bearers of the latter of course having migrated into Ulster. The surname Short(t) in Ireland can be of two origins, straightforward English or an anglicisation of Mac an Ghirr, the second element being a form of the Gaelic for 'short', and hence we have the two forms McGirr and Short(t). There is no evidence that the McGirrs had Galloglas associations, and indeed Rev Patrick Woulfe has observed: 'The family is supposed to be of Scottish origin, but is, more probably, an offshoot of some native family' (Sloinnte Gael is Gall, page 314). The idea that there existed a 'clan' to which all Shorts belonged is clearly absurd. It is alleged that the 'Lordship of Castleshort' was created by King Tadhg II, The MacCarthy Mór, about 1390, and it would appear that the Castleshort title was one of the inventions of the hoaxer Terence MacCarthy 'Mór'. Certainly the good Baron's references to various places named Castleshort in Kerry and Cork do not show that they had any association with the surname Short, and his own claimed descent from the McGirrs is not proven.
On one of his webpages Mr Shortt indicates that his baronial title is hereditary: 'The present Lord of the Barony is James Shortt of Castleshort, confirmed by tanistry in the title on the feast of St Peter & Paul in June 1995' (http://www.ibabodyguards.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32&Itemid=47). However, an older version of the webpage dated about 2000 indicates that the title was acquired rather than inherited: 'The present Lord of the Barony is James Shortt of Castleshort, endowed with the title on the feast of St Peter & Paul in June 1995' (http://web.archive.org/web/20020809014244/www.ibabodyguards.com/Castleshort.html). Terence MacCarthy claimed that his own chiefly title 'Mac Carthy Mór' had been inherited by 'tanistry', that is, under the Gaelic system of succession rather than by primogeniture, but of course this like so many of his claims was complete fabrication. The following interesting photographs show Mr Shortt presenting a 'Gaelic chieftain's sword' to MacCarthy and receiving a 'Niadh Nask medal of merit' from him, probably in the 1990s:
Unfortunately, the passage of time since the above mentioned Galloglas statement was issued in 1999 has not caused Mr Shortt to mellow in his attitude to me, as shown by the following unkind comments in a letter dated 28 August 2008 posted at http://www.byronik.com/cqb.html:
I note your support for the self proclaimed genealogical expert Mr Murphy, whose actions resulted in an exasperated Irish Government abandoning courtesy recognition of the Gaelic titles. I suggest you read the MacSweeney Clan site very exact exposure of Murphy. If you still wish to quote Murphy or link him afterwards to your site that is your call: sweeneyclanchief.com/id27.htm.
Of course Terence MacCarthy's persuading the Office of the Chief Herald to rubber stamp his spurious pedigree, arms and title would have more to do with explaining the decision to abandon courtesy recognition, and the problematic Sweeney claim to chiefship is mentioned above.
The 'Baron Castleshort' and his military claims have been the subject of hundreds of pages of ongoing critical discussion on the unofficial (British) Army Rumour Service website at http://www.arrse.co.uk. The results of this investigation have been summarised as follows at http://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/The_Baron_of_Castleshort:James Gerard Richard Shortt, born Purley, Surrey, in the southern suburbs of London, on 17 September 1953 has never served as an operational member of either the Parachute Regiment, the SAS nor any other part of the British Army. He was enlisted as a recruit in the Territorial Army for less than six months, after falsely claiming to be an officer in the ACF, but did not undertake or pass basic training. He has not passed the British Army's Basic Parachute Course and is not entitled to wear any British Army parachute wings badge. He was discharged from the Territorial Army Services No Longer Required.
He has not served on any operation as a member of the British Army or any other recognised regular national military force. He has not taken part in any military counter-terrorist operations. It is highly unlikely that he has taken part in any other counter-terrorist operations. He has not received any counter-terrorist training within the British Army. He is not, in fact, a trained soldier at all.
James Shortt was dropped as a consultant to 'Eye Spy' magazine when they discovered that he had not served in the SAS.
James Shortt has never served as a member of any police force or other law enforcement agency in the United Kingdom or Irish Republic; and has not completed training as a police officer at any recognised police academy. He is not a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
He qualified as a nurse in the UK during the mid-to-late 1970s but his registration has lapsed. He has not passed any recognised paramedic training in the United Kingdom and is not entitled to call himself a 'registered paramedic' in the UK.
He appears to be reasonably proficient at martial arts (though this is debatable), but his 'higher' qualifications are self-awarded.
He does not possess any recognised title of nobility in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. He has not been awarded any genuine Papal honours. He is not a member of any order of chivalry recognised within the state from which it is claimed it was conferred.
The medals that he wears on his fantasy uniforms - other than the bogus orders of chivalry - are an odd mixture of pre-Second World War European veterans' awards - which he can't possibly have qualified for, and modern commemorative medals which are widely sold on the Internet. All of the uniforms he wears are 'self-awarded'.
In September 2009 Mr Shortt decided to answer ARRSE's criticisms on, of all places, a Finnish martial arts forum called Potku.net: http://www.potku.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=13209 ( items in English starting '32 years ago' and 'In 1980').
Interestingly, Shortt now admits that he owes his 'Baron Castleshort' title to Terence MacCarthy:However, during the period he was the MacCarthy Mor and prior to his abdication and self-imposed exile in Morrocco he received confirmation from the Chief Herald's office that he was able to grant the hereditary gaelic lordships listed under his charge. One of those is Castleshort of which University College Cork Historical department list 1 in Kerry and 5 in Cork in the former kingdom of the MacCarthy Mors. This is also listed in history of The MacCarthy Mor's written in 1912 by Samual Trant MacCarthy. I was recognised by Terence MacCarthy (during his time as The MacCarthy Mor, Prince of Desmond) as The Baron of Castleshort. That document is viewable in Gaelic and references are also available in English.
In the course of his reply Shortt also devotes some space to myself, recycling the charges of the claimant to the Mac Sweeney Doe chiefship and making the following observation:In addition to MacCarthy Mor, Sean Murphy has attacked the legitimacy of at least 3 other Irish Chieftains of the name - The O'Long, The Maguire and the MacSweeney Doe. He has been proven wrong in every case, but has refused to apologise.
As Terence MacCarthy's claim to be a Gaelic chief was entirely spurious, it follows that the various titles he sold to or bestowed on followers are bogus as well, including 'The Baron of Castleshort'. As demonstrated clearly on pages on this site it is unfortunately and disgracefully true that retired Chief Herald of Ireland Donal Begley and present Chief Herald Fergus Gillespie both validated MacCarthy's spurious chiefly title in 1992, while Begley went further and in an infamous letter dated 16 June 1988 effectively rubber stamped MacCarthy's sale of bogus titles. If apologies are in order they should be made by these gentlemen for a start. Shortt's claim that I have been 'proven wrong in every case' is itself false. In the cases of Mac Carthy Mór and Maguire of Fermanagh reports by members of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland Gorry and Mac Conghail, obtained by me under the Freedom of Information Act, reject these claims to chiefship as I have done. In the cases of O Long of Garranelongy and Mac Sweeney Doe, it is claimed that privately commissioned reports by the same APGI members support the respective claimants, but there has been a refusal to release these reports into the public domain so that they can be compared with my published work. If these professional reports really do show my findings to be wrong I would have no trouble acknowledging this, but the continued refusal to release the said reports does not betoken any great confidence in their superiority to my work.
It beggars belief that such a fantasy/hoax as that of the 'Baron Castleshort' could be successfully sustained for so long, and even though Terence MacCarthy 'Mór' is over a decade 'abdicated' his former loyal bodyguard is still active. However, it would appear that Mr Shortt has now met his match in the no nonsense squaddies at ARRSE and he will hopefully soon retire from the scene without issuing any further threats legal or otherwise . . . oops, spoke too soon, in August 2011 an American lawyer acting on the Baron's behalf sent a letter to the dogged ARRSErs, who responded by opening another Castleshort thread. On 7 January 2012 the Mr Shortt's residence at Castle Cosey, Castlebellingham, County Louth, was unfortunately destroyed by fire, the Irish army bomb squad was called in to assist firefighters when military material was found, and it was reported that the cause of the blaze was being investigated by the Gardaí (police).
Mac Carthy Mór (Again)
Although I 'wrote the book' on the hoax of Terence MacCarthy (Twilight of the Chiefs, 2004), I did not think that this would be the end of the Mac Carthy Mór affair. A website has now been established, with the following welcome notice from a new 'Chief of the Clan':
Elsewhere on the site, the new claimant is named as Liam Trant McCarthy, 'an Irish citizen currently resident in suburban London' who in November 2009 'was proclaimed as MacCarthy Mór by his family derbhfine'. It should be pointed out immediately that unlike the hoaxer Terence MacCarthy, this claimant belongs to a venerable branch of his sept, the McCarthys of Srugrena, County Kerry, into whose pedigree Terence infamously intruded himself through forgery. However, a longstanding request of mine to the Trant McCarthys for proper genealogical evidence to suport their branch's claim to the chiefship has not been granted. It may be that the Trant MacCarthy claim to chiefship is the most plausible one, but that is far from concluding that it is definitely proven. It is additionally stated that the new Mac Carthy Mór succeeds both by the Gaelic system of Tanistry and by primogeniture, that he is also Prince of Desmond, that he has designated his son as his Tanist or successor and bestowed on him his secondary title of the 'Lordship of Kerslawny'. More disturbingly, it is alleged that the chiefship claim 'is supported by the June, 2009, verification of Liam Trant McCarthy’s pedigree by Norroy and Ulster King of Arms (in Ref. R.P. 09/192)', and it is difficult to believe that the College of Arms in London would agree to substitute in any way for the wretched Office of the Chief Herald in Dublin, which until its withdrawal from the game in 2003 had been rubber-stamping the pretensions of Terence MacCarthy and other spurious and questionable claimants to Gaelic chiefship. The new website has a link to a revised article on 'Tanistic succession' by 'The O'Cahan' (see entry above), and in general it is extremely disappointing that the claimant should have acquiesced in the adoption of so much of the exploded jargon and fantasies devised by Terence MacCarthy and his circle.
Sean J Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
Commenced 6 March 2005, last updated 12 January 2012