History of the O'Dalys

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Cead Mile Failte! Welcome to a history of the O’Daly Sept!

The O’Daly Sept

The O’Daly Sept is one of the larger family groupings of Irish origin. Genealogists generally refer to these Irish family groupings as “septs” rather than as “families” or “clans.” Genealogists seem to consider the term “family” to small to describe the grouping, and they seem to view the term “clan” as denoting a sense of rigid organization which is present, for example, in Scots clans, but which is not the hallmark of Irish family groupings. The O’Daly sept descends from King Niall of the Nine Hostages, the Monarch of Ireland from A.D. 379 to A.D. 405. It is during this period of Irish history that many scholars believe that Irish historical records emerge as accurate. Records and information prior to the reign of Niall is often treated as mythological material. The O’Dalys are only one of many families which trace their roots to King Niall. All of the families and septs which descend from Niall have traditionally been called “Ui Niall” families, where the phrase “ui Niall” means “with Niall.”


The O’Daly Name

The O’Dalys take their name from their ancestor Dalach, a poet of the 5th century. The name “Dalach” derives from an Irish word meaning “blind.” The name “O’Daly” indicates descent from this ancient poet. In medieval Irish, the name appeared as “Ó Dálaigh.” The Ó Dálaigh developed into Ireland’s finest poets. In the 11th century, Godfrey Ó Dálaigh recorded a legend describing Dalach’s friendship with Colman. According to the legend, God so loved the pure heart of St. Colman that he granted to Colman the gift of poetry. This, according to the Irish legend, was the first time poetry had entered the world. Moved by the favor God had shown him, Colman decides to enter the monastery and devote his life to prayer. Colman is aware that by entering the monastery he will be hiding God’s gift of poetry from the world. Before entering monastic life, Colman taught poetry to his friend Dalach. Dalach not only learns but continues to compose, recite, and teach poetry. Dalach passes the gift along from generation to generation of his own family. Dalach’s son, Cuconnachta-na-Scoil O'Daly (or "Cuconnachta of the Schools“) was the first of this family that assumed the Ó Dálaigh surname.


Who is an O’Daly?

In modern times, the O’Dalys spell their names with seemingly infinite variations. All however, are believed to descend from a common ancestor. While the Irish were ruled from the United Kingdom, the Ó Dálaigh faced the same pressure as other Irish to adopt anglicized spellings of their name, and the spelling of “O’Daly” emerged. Ireland’s former president, Charles O’Daly, was also known by the more Irish form of the name: Carroll Ó Dálaigh. During the 20th century, a number of Irish people resumed the Irish spelling of names to help nurture the Irish identity following Irish independence. The Irish Diaspora also left its mark upon the way modern Ó Dálaigh spell the name. In the United States spellings like “Daley,” “Daily,” and “Dailey” are commonly found. “Daly” is found both with and without the prefix “O’.” Other variations are also commonly found. Spelled phonetically, the name may be found as “Dawley,” or it may appear as “Dealey,” “Dayly,” or some other variation. It was also common for immigrants to the U.S. to use various spellings for themselves. In the late 19th century, the idea of standardized spellings of surnames was still emerging. If you carry the O’Daly name (no matter how it is spelled) you are among the descendants of Dalach.