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The O'Byrne Files © Genealogy -   My roots!

O'Byrne Family crest

Motto: Certavi et Vici
"I have fought and conquered"

O'Byrne Genealogy Site Map

A very brief history of the O'Byrne Clan

My Genealogical Search,
How I started, and went about tracing my family tree

O'Byrne related

Some Genealogical resources
Including links to help you trace your own family tree

A collection of O'Byrnes on the Web






Research Paper 1
The Byrnes of Ballymanus

Research Paper 2
Feagh McHugh O'Byrne, forgotten leader
Research Paper 3
The rise of Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne in Tudor Leinster

Research Paper 4
Battle of Glenmalure
Causes and course

Research Paper 5
Feagh McHugh O'Byrne the Ulster Princes & His Role in their Dublin Castle escape
Research Paper 6
Settlement and Social Life in Feagh McHugh O'Byrne's Ballinacor
Research Paper 7
Rise of the Gabhal Raghnall
Research Paper 8
Gabhal Raghnall connection to Ballymanus

The O'Byrne Clan

Early History

Most Irish names are of Celtic origin and have their roots in the 4th century B.C.     The Celts instituted a system of hereditary surnames by prefixing "Mac" (son of) or "O' " (grandson or descendant of) to their second name.  Celtic political structures were organised in protective clan units called "tuatha". The clan elected a king of known Celtic pedigree called the "Taoiseach". His successor, elected while the king lived, was called the "Tánaiste". These titles are still preserved in Irish political life.
The "O'Byrne" name and its related "Byrne", together the fifth most common surname in Ireland is derived from the name of an ancient Celtic chieftain, "Bran Mac Maolmòrrdha".    He was a king of Leinster who was deposed in 1018, and who died in 1052.    His father, Maelmorda, was King of Leinster (the Southeastern part of Ireland which includes Co.Wicklow) and died after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Maelmorda had led the Leinster Irish in alliance with the Norse of Dublin against Brian Boru. This battle is usually portrayed as the Irish united against the foreign invaders;  in fact it was a mere power struggle. After Maelmorda was killed in 1014, his son Bran became King of Leinster, but he only ruled for four years. In 1018 Bran was blinded by a rival named Sihtric. This disabling of Bran made him ineligible to be King, since under the ancient Irish Brehon laws only eligible family members who were physically unblemished could serve as leader (King or Clann chief).   Bran's descendants referred to themselves as "O'Bran" meaning grandson or descendent of Bran. "O'Bran" became "O'Broin" (pronounced "O'Brin") in Gaelic.  The current spelling and the variants derive from corruptions over time and Anglicised variations of the name since the eighteenth century.   The O'Byrne Family along with the O'Tooles originally came from the North Kildare part of Ireland.    The O'Byrne ancestors once ruled from their fort at Naas over the Liffey plain, the richest land of north Kildare.   A little over a century after the death of Bran, the O'Byrnes as well as their closely related allies the O'Tooles were forced to move from their homes by the Norman invasion of Strongbow and the English in the late Twelfth Century. This invasion was prompted by a struggle over the same Kingship of Leinster which previously been held by Bran, our ancestor. Strongbow's invasion route to capture Dublin was right through the territory of the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles who were easily defeated.  

Post Anglo-Norman decline

With the progress of the Anglo-Norman conquests, these clans were forced to migrate to poorer lands and to the mountains to the east   These mountains provided them the sanctuary which enabled them to increase in size and strength.   By the early 1200s the O'Tooles and O'Byrnes controlled most of what is today Wicklow.    The two clans frequently combined their raids against 'The Pale'.   For almost three hundred years the O'Byrnes and their allies the O'Tooles were the most powerful force south of Dublin. The O'Byrne's Country known in Irish as "Crioch Branach"   By the beginning of the Fourteenth century, there were two distinct branches of the O'Byrne clan.    The 'Crioch' branch ruled land to the east from Delgany to the outskirts of Arklow.    A semi autominous branch held the mountainous country east of Imaal, between Glendalough and Shillelagh and was known as 'Gabhal Raghnaill' (from which the name Ranelagh comes).   Its territory centred around the chief's principal residence at Ballincor.   In the Sixteenth Century the O'Byrne Chief, Thady O'Byrne, and the Clan leadership living on the plains near the sea submitted to English rule. The subordinate Sept of Ranelagh living in the mountains and led by Hugh McShane O'Byrne refused to follow their Chief and would not submit to English rule. Thady O'Byrne died in 1578 and was succeeded as Chief by Dunlaing O'Byrne who also was unwilling to resist the English. In 1580 both the new Chief Dunlaing and the mountain warrior Hugh McShane O'Byrne died. The relative strength of the two branches altered in the middle of the sixteenth century with the accession of Hugh McShane O'Byrne as chief of the Gabhal Raghnaill.   Under Hugh's leadership the Gabhal Raghnaill aggressively pursued a policy of resistance to the Anglicisation of Ireland, and the O'Byrnes became a formidable force.   They regularly raided and harassed the inhabitants of "The Pale" around Dublin   Hugh was succeeded as leader of the of the Gabhal Raghnaill Sept in 1579 by his son Feagh McHugh O'Byrne who became the greatest warrior ever to be called an O'Byrne. 

Exploits of Feagh

Feagh was not eligible to be Chief of the O'Byrnes and was not formally inaugurated. The last inauguration of an O'Byrne Chief was in 1578.  Nonetheless he was the undisputed leader of all the O'Byrnes, chief in effect, resisting English domination.  He assisted the powerful leaders in Ulster and aided Hugh Roe O'Donnell in his escape from Dublin Castle in 1591.  Feagh MacHugh O'Byrne was initially successful in battles against the troops of Elizabeth the first, and he quickly acquired a reputation as a redoubtable opponent of the Dublin regime. Feagh McHugh O'Byrne commanded his followers for almost two decades beginning with the victorious Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 and ending with his death. He was eventually captured in 1597 by troops of Lord Deputy Russell who described him as 'unwieldy and spent with years'.   He was executed on Sunday May 8th,1597 and his severed head was sent by messenger to Queen Elizabeth in London, where it was not well received    During that time Feagh led the O'Byrnes and their allies in numerous raids on Dublin, and many battles against the English. He assisted the powerful leaders in Ulster and aided Hugh Roe O'Donnell in his escape from Dublin Castle in 1591.  Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne still remains the most famous of the O'Byrne chiefs   He is also one of the most under-rated characters of Irish history   His legacy of enduring exploits have become immortalised in song and verse (see 'Follow me up to Carlow' below).    The final collapse of the old Gaelic order occurred a few years after Feagh's death with the Battle of Kinsale.    The O'Byrnes as a clan were never again to regain control of their traditional lands.

The new Stewart King, James I, who took the throne after Elizabeth's death in 1603 was intent on enforcing strict English control. This included forcing all of Ireland to abandon Gaelic language, customs and law and replacing them with those from England.   In order to preserve their control over Ireland, England destroyed the Clann system. Chiefs no longer served the same function as leaders, and all of the Irish Clans ceased to inaugurate their Chiefs by the early Seventeenth Century.  Clan owned lands were forfeited and given to English and Scots.

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Since Feagh

In 1641, 1689 and 1798 the Irish would rebel against the rule of England, and in every instance the revolts were effectively put down. The Byrnes of Ballymanus, Co. Wicklow played an important leadership role in the 1798 uprising. After each of the unsuccessful rebellions many Irish, Byrnes included, were forced to emigrate.   After the 1689 rebellion, many O'Byrnes went to France as part of the Irish International Brigade known as the Wild Geese. After the unsuccessful 1798 rebellion, Australia, and to a lesser extent, America, would become the recipient of numerous Byrnes. Unsuccessful rebellions were not the only cause of emigration for Byrnes. Economic conditions in Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, especially the Famine of the 1840's caused the greatest amount of emigration. In the Twentieth Century, Byrnes played their part in achieving the independence for Ireland in 1922.

Since the time of Feagh, several O'Byrnes have made it into the history books however; Billy Byrne, Garrett Byrne, Oliver Byrne, and Alfie Byrne, a much loved past Lord Mayor of Dublin City to name a few, and perhaps in the future, . . me!
In the period after the battle of Kinsale the O'Byrne surname became increasingly associated with the variant, 'Byrne' and to a much lesser extent 'Byrnes'   The surnames Burn and Burns are not as common in Ireland, they frequently being associated with past misrepresentations of the Byrne name at times of hardship leading to lodging in workhouses or emigration.

The surnames Beirne and O'Beirne are not related to the O'Byrne clan, and in Ireland this name is mostly found in the west. To find out more about O'Beirne take a look at The (O') Beirne World Page   or try   or  contact Sean O'Beirne

The O'Byrne surname is still very common in Wicklow and Kildare.

A Shamrock

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Research / Studies

I have not come across much research material on the O'Byrne or Byrne families in Wicklow.   I hope to find some and include it here.   For a start, here's an article on the Byrnes of Ballymanus.   Ballymanus is the neighbouring townland to where I've traced my great-grandfather.

Books that may interest:

War, Politics and the Irish of Leinster 1156-1606 by Emmet O'Byrne;308 pages, Four Courts Press, 2003, ISBN 1-85182-690-4

The Clan O'Byrne of Leinster AD 600-1700 by Paul J. Burns;61 pages, House of Lochar, 2003, ISBN 1-899863-83-4

"Feagh McHugh O'Byrne: The Wicklow Firebrand", Journal of Rathdrum Historical Society vol 1, 280p ill. maps, ISBN 0953482502.

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My experience with Genealogy - tracing my family roots!

The story so far - there is a lot more to come!

For the past 2 years I've been putting together my family tree.    I had two reasons to start.    First there was curiosity.    I was curious as to how much I could find out, and what the family tree might turn out to be.    Second, I was conscious that in Ireland today we are all survivors of the Great Famine that devastated the country in the last century.    I was interested to see if I could find out who were my ancestors that managed to survive this disaster.    Most of the people in Ireland at present, and many 'Irish' around the world are descendants of Famine Survivors.

Where did I start?

Fortunately my parents were still alive when I started (my father died May 2000).    I gathered as much information as I could from my parents.    This provided some hard facts, and a number of clues that had to be followed up.
The next stage was to find out as much as possible from close relations.    This is where I began to find relations I didn't know I had.    This stage added some facts and gave me more clues.    I was ready to piece together some of the clues and I had an idea where to go to get more facts or clues.    I knew that the family background was from Mayo, Leitrim and Donegal on my mother's side, and Wicklow and Kildare on my father's side (what a surprise for an O'Byrne!).

First stop

The Department of Health's Civil Registration records office in Lombard Street, Dublin was the first stop.    This is also where I had the benefit of help (thanks Marian!).    Armed with the names and townland address of grand aunts and grand uncles and their very approximate dates of birth (a range of 5 years) I got the birth details of people I was possible descended from.    This would have to be followed up by a visit to Leitrim.    Enough office work!

Second stage - Field work

The field work so far has been eight days in early September 1997 and several day trips to Wicklow from December 1997.    I started in Mayo.    I knew the Parish I was looking for.   I also new the name of the graveyard where some of my relatives were buried.    The graveyard, my first stop proved fruitless.   It is then that I encountered my first of many instances of good fortune.   The parish priest in the north Mayo parish was extremely welcoming and most obliging.    From the parish records (which unfortunately were not complete), I got details of births and deaths, (names, dates etc.).   These resolved some of my clues, but also gave me some new ones.    The priest also gave me the names of some people who might be able to tell me more.    My next good fortune came from the warmth and help I received from the people I called upon in my quest.   I was able to put together details of my great-grandfather's family, so on to Leitrim.
I arrived in Leitrim armed only with three possible birth records for three townlands from the Dublin office, my grandmother's name, the parish where she came from, and a clue that her father had red hair.
The first record was wrong - not the right parish, so on to check out the next record.    This is where I encountered my third good fortune.    I stopped outside a house of an elderly gentleman in the middle of the countryside to find out where the parish I was looking for was, only to be told that I was in it.    I then asked where the townland of my second record was, only again to be told that I was in it too.   So on for the jackpot.    I asked if he knew of the family I was searching for, and he did   He knew of my grandmother and her family.    He was able to tell me enough for me to be fairly certain that we were talking about the same family.    He sent me to a nearby house where I met another elderly gentleman who also knew my grandmother's family.   I got most of the names, including that of my great-grandfather   He also turned out to now own the house where my grandmother grew up.   He also gave me the name of someone living in the area who turned out to be a second cousin of my grandmother
The next day saw a visit to check the parish records.   This produced confirmation of some of the information I had been told by my parents, and the people I met from the area.   I also got details of my great-grandfather's wedding, his wife's name, and their parents (i.e. Great-great-grandparents) and where they came from.   This opened up the search into the previous generations.   The parish records also however contained a number of obvious errors, and other entries that are most likely to be errors, unless very strange things go on in Leitrim.   (e.g. All the children for a long period (years) were recorded as being born and christened on the same day, and there were a number of small variations in the names of people living in the same townland - i.e. a lot of people with similar names in the same area, or record errors?).
My search into earlier generations was boosted by finding out that there were still people from the family in the area.   The second house I called upon is where I encountered my next good fortune   Another elderly gentleman turned out to be another second cousin of my grandmother.   Age had not dimmed his memory… He recalled meeting my grandmother when he was young.   My good fortune came however from his having done his own family tree research.   He had traced his family back to pre-famine times in Tyrone.   His great-grandfather was also my great-great-great-grandfather.   I had the name of an ancestor who lived his life before the famine.

Next step

The story above relates to the maternal side of the family tree   So far I've had less success with the paternal side using this approach, so I found I needed to do more research and consult different sources   This involved detailed consultation of the Civil Registration records and an examination of census returns and other records from the National Archives   I recommend a visit to their site to find out more about what they have to offer.
Detailed examination of the Civil Registration records involved getting details of a number of people who may be paternal ancestors which then had to be checked later by more 'field' work (in 1998, 1999, and 2000).
The National Archives turned out to be pleasant and useful experience   The reading room is conducive to research and the staff could not be more obliging   The census records for 1901 and 1911 are available for inspection   You actually get to see the form filled in by your ancestor, detailing family members, and their age.  The National Archives also have Court, Education and Administrative records.   That is where I got details of my great-grandfather's affairs when he died in 1907.

Field work on the parental side of my family tree pointed at an early stage to Wicklow, where Byrne or O'Byrne are the most common surnames.   I knew it would not be easy.   The most useful information from my father was details of cousins who lived in Arklow, County Wicklow.  I met by chance people in Arklow who knew this family and were able to tell me about their relatives and ancestors.   As I made contact  with families that were related in turn to my father's cousins I obtained information of the wider family relationships.   In Wicklow there is a widespread awareness how the various O'Byrne families in Wicklow are related.   The different families are distinguished by 'nicknames' that relate to where they were originally from or some other characteristic.   Through field-work I have even encountered relatives of my father's cousins in Arklow who are my third cousins who have indicated that I bear a resemblance to members of their families.  I also encountered in the Autumn of 2000 totally by chance a man aged 96 who knew a young man who in 1914 went to fight in World War 1 and was killed.   This was most likely an uncle of my father after whom my father was named.   

The field work is on-going.   It unlikely that the information uncovered could have been obtained any other way.   The welcome and assistance I have received in Wicklow in following the trail of my family has been amazing.

From all of the above, I now have a family tree record of over 200 people which details amongst others, all my Great-grandparents, six Great-Great-Grandparents and one Great-Great-Great-Grandparent   I hope to continue to find more distant relatives and to expand the list of my known relatives.
I have as many Byrne relatives as O'Byrne (Perhaps I need to have a 'Byrne Files' homepage - on second thoughts I'll leave that to others! Other surnames in the family tree are McDonnell, McEnroy, Meehan, O'Hara, Kearney, White, and Owens
To compile this information into an easily understood format I'm using computer software called 'Softkey's Family Tree'. This is readily available, cheap, and easy to use. Entering the records are however is very demanding on information. Every individual entered has to be given a birth date, (naturally enough!), but I do not have the exact birthdates for many of the relatives I've traced. The answer is to cheat. I do know the year fairly reliably, so I've entered the first of January as the date, unless I know the exact date. This computer programme produces family tree diagrams so I can see hoe people are related. It also exports information to text files. Below is an example of such a file which traces the lineage between me and my great great grandfather based on the information I've collected so far and entered on the computer.


Tracing a family tree is like a detective story.   You know some of the story.   You can be told some more clues.    There are places you can get some more clues.   You can visit some of the scenes.   There may even be some witnesses.   You then put all the pieces together.    I would strongly recommend doing the job yourself.   I have met some wonderful, warmhearted and charming people whom I would not have met otherwise.   I have also actually met some relatives I did not know about   Finally there is the sense of achievement when you do the job yourself, and if you do it well you'll know it's right   There is always the risk however that you might uncover an unfortunate part of your family history, so be prepared   You will probably need some luck.   I think I have had more than my fair share.  So far I've been lucky, everyone I've found out about has turned out to be a fine upstanding citizen   The only interesting storey from the family tree so far is one elopement - ah! how romantic you say.
You can get help.   You can also get someone to do the job for you.   There are a number of Genealogical Research centres in the country and a few commercial organisations who are prepared to take your money to do the job   If you decide to use these, all I can tell you is be very careful.   I visited two.   The first in North Mayo was helpful, and most important, honest   They told me that they would not be able to find out more than I knew already, as they would be using the same sources as I did, and they knew that the parish records in the area I was interested in were incomplete.   As for Leitrim. I can only hope that the Heritage Centre I visited in Ballinamore was having a particularly bad day!    I found them rude, unhelpful and un-obliging.   I would not recommend anyone does business with them! Generally, if you can do the job yourself, it's the best way.

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