The Gallagher Clan
“Clann” means family grouping in the Gaelic language. The Gallaghers can trace their family roots back to the early centuries A.D.. “The O’Gallaghers are the senior and most royal family of all the Kinel-Connell (the ancient rulers of what is today the greater part of Co. Donegal, Ireland)", said John O’Donavan, the great Irish historian of the nineteenth century. (See HERE for his Gallagher Lineage). He based his belief on his study of the old Irish genealogies which had been passed down by word of mouth, from generation to generation, over the centuries and which had been written down for posterity in the seventeenth century by those who could see the possible end of the Gaelic tradition.Also in a fragment of an earlier manuscript presently in the Royal Library of Brussells (Brussels MS 3410 (http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G302014.html), Royal Library, Brussels) we are introduced to the “muintir Ghallchubair”, i.e. the Gallaghers, as we call ourselves today. The story belongs to the Middle Irish period. Date range: Between 1050 and 1150.
The Brussels text reads (in Gaelic):
202] Gacha ní chena do fíoradh fáistine Máol Cabha, óir
203] ro tionóiledh Bretnaigh, Albanaigh, & Saxanaigh le
204] Congal do thabairt catha don rígh amhail innister 'san
205] leabar darab ainm Cath Muighe Rath. Ro baoí mac don
206] Máol Cabha so adubhramar ag cuidiugadh le derbráthair
207] a athar .i. rí Érenn an cath do chur .i. Ceallach mhac
208] Máol Cabha 'sa shliocht ara bfuilit muinntir Gallchubhair,
209] & as é an tres gaisccedhach as ferr aderar do bheith 'san
210] chath é .i. ei-siumh & Congal Cláon rí Uladh & Conán
211] Rod mac Rí Bretan. Ocus do bí an Ceallach so féin & a
212] dherbráthair Conall Cáol trí blíadhna dég i ríghe n-Érenn,
213] & do bí an Máol Cabha cléirech dob' athair dóibh ceithre
214] blíadna i ríge n-Érenn do réir na réimenn ríograidhe & na
215] n-dúantadh senchais ina bfuil coiméd ríograidhe Éirenn &c
The bold section translates as:
205……………..For there was a son of this Maol Cabha, that we have mentioned, helping his father’s brother, i.e. the King of Ireland, do battle, i.e Ceallach, son of Mael Cabha from whose line are the descendants of Gallchubhair.”
Our line can thus be traced back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, who is reputed to have brought St. Patrick to Ireland as a slave. The family tree then ascends through further High Kings of Ireland to he who was known as Gallchobhair, around the 8th-9th centuries. One possible understanding of the name is “Helper of the Foreigner” but whether, in those days of poor communication, that meant a stranger from other parts or, as some say, a helper of the Norsemen, who were then attacking the coast, we do not know. We do know that the O’Gallchobhair (meaning descendants of Gallchobhair) were accepted as one of the high born families of the Donegal region with blood ties to most of the other ruling families of the area. They were entitled to be part of the inauguration of the Chief of Tir Conaill, which latterly was the O’Donnell. Their horsemen provided the backbone of the O’Donnell cavalry.
Gallaghers were even more strongly represented in ecclesiastical matters, supplying a number of bishops and abbots to the Church and Gallagher families also held hereditary stewardships of church lands before the English took control in Donegal at the start of the seventeenth century.
The Clan was originally based in what today is County Donegal, but which in earlier times was known as Tir Chonaill, which is situated in the northwest corner of the island of Ireland and which today is politically in the Republic of Ireland. One group was to found in the south of the county adjacent to what is now Donegal Town. (This is generally translated as the fort of the stranger but should it be better translated as the fort of the Gallaghers. The lack of the aforementioned "-chobhair" can be explained by our inclination to shorten many words in both Gaelic and English).
Their main strongholds were in the baronies of Banagh (south west Donegal), Raphoe (east Donegal) and especially Tir Hugh (south Donegal). After the defeat of the Irish forces by the English at the start of the 17th century, the native inhabitants were forced from their lands. Many were driven west into the poorer lands of Co. Donegal and Co. Mayo. Some may also have followed Rory O’Donnell of Lifford into Mayo. This may have been at the time of the Cromwellian transplantation around 1654 but this is not verified. As the battle arm of the O’Donnells a great many Gallaghers would have fought in the Nine Years War in Ireland leading up to the Battle of Kinsale in 1603. During the many battles that happened across Ireland it is probable that some of these fighting men, for various reasons, found themselves dislocated from their home territory. For example, I have been informed that family lore in at least one Cork family, who can trace their roots back into the eighteenth century, has their Gallaghers “coming down to Kinsale with O’Donnell”. After the defeat of the Ulster chieftains at the Battle of Kinsale and the routing of their army, some of the Gallaghers must have homes in Co. Cork. It is interesting that in Griffith’s Primary Valuation (see below) Cork, with 58, has the largest counts of Gallagher households outside the north-western counties. With the passage of time large populations of Gallaghers are now to be found in counties adjacent to Donegal - from Co. Derry in the north to Tyrone, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo and Co. Mayo.
Down through the centuries and for many reasons, we Irish have had to emigrate and the Gallaghers were no different. Today large numbers are to be found in England, Scotland and Wales, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However there are few countries on Earth that have not had a few of the Clan make their mark in one way or another. We hope to gather all our family stories together.
In earlier times members of the Clan were renowned as both church and military leaders and they can be found today in all walks of life - worldwide.