The O'Daly Sept

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Cead Mile Failte! Welcome to the History of the O’Dalys!

The history of the O’Daly sept has been dominated by poets. Poetry and language have always had a special place amongst the O’Daly. In turn, the O’Daly poets have dominated poetry and the preservation of Ireland’s ancient history, mythology and traditions. Donogh (also spelled Donchadh and other variations) Mor Ó Dalaigh became known as “The Ovid of the Irish.” A monument stands in his memory stands in Finerva, County Galway. The poet, Godfraidh Fionn (or Godfrey) Ó Dalaigh, celebrated the family’s poetic tradition with a song of thanks to the septs patron, Saint Colman.

Above, a sketch of the monument in memory of Donogh Mór Ó Dálaigh at Finerva, County Galway. Donogh has been called the “Ovid of the Irish.” Colman of Cloyne is considered the patron saint of the O’Daly Sept. St. Colman’s relationship to the sept is based upon his friendship with Dalach from whom the sept takes its name. It is St. Colman who is said to have given the gift of poetry to the O’Dalys. The poet, Godfraidh Fionn (or Godfrey) Ó Dálaigh, recorded the legend which is set out below:




Great Colman, son of Leinin, / melodious sage of smooth/ bright hand, the O’Dalys are bound to love thee, thou art/ our share of the Colmans.

Herein is the key of profit: remember the branch of/ kinship; suffer thou not,/ O friend, thy art, our craft,/ to spring away from thy stock.

Thou were the fosterer of the / poet from whom we come, thou/ patron whose name is Colman./ ‘Tis a tale that must be/ told (the tale of), Co1má n / whose fosterling was Dalach.

Dalach would not have studied/ the craft had not Colman been/ by his side: it was clear/ from his training that Colman / was guiding him at every step.

Whoever says that poetry/ merits nothing—how clerical— / poetry is no art opposed to/ God, it was He who helped / Colman

Colman, to whom all love was / due, was long devoted to/ poetry: it were not likely/ that he should have professed / it if God had not wished him/ to do so.

Upon Colman of lofty Cloyne / was put the first compact (?)/ therefore did he renounce/ poetry—better was the yoke / (of piety) for which it was/ changed.

Saintly Colman loved perfect / faith for what he got in/ heaven: he bequeathed the / art apart from which he/ obtained help.

We must set forth the ground / of our friendship for great/ Colman son of Leinin: the / bequest of his art by Colman / through the discontent of/ the white-footed red-lipped one.

Colman left the art of poetry/ to a beloved fosterling of/ his, the first man from whom/ we were surnamed, an ollav/ to whom reverence were due.

His fosterling was Dalach,/ to him he gave his blessing:/ to the true race of his old/ fosterling, ever since, the/ blessing of the righteous man has brought profit.

The chiefs of Dalach’s race—/ their strength is in legacies:/ upon the sods of the brown/ earth it was Colman who/ left them to us.

It were fitting for the/ race of Dalach, to whom he/ gave the profitable craft,/ to spread some verses of/ their art before Colman, patron of Cloyne.

As thou hast given us our art,/ O mighty Colman, find for us/ a city like the fort of God,/ when we have spent our first/ life.
Have regard to us, O fosterer/ of our ancestor, concerning/ that high and pleasant city:/ take me in charge above all/ others for my kinship to/ him whom thou hast chosen.

Refuse me not! I pray that/ thou wilt show to the seed/ of thy dear pupil, for love’s/ sake, the power of thy help,/ O Colman.

(From Studies—Dublin, Vol. VII—No. 25—March 1918. Reprinted from History of the O‘Dalys, by Edmund Emmet O‘Daly, 1937.)

This account by Godfraidh Fionn undoubtedly comprises a remarkable ancient testimony associated with the surname O’Dalaigh. By some scholars Godfraidh Fionn’s contentions are classified as a bardic fiction; others apparently accept them as factual.

Edward MacLysaght (Ireland’s first Chief Herald) and other scholars came to believe that many of the heraldic achievements associated with Irish clans, families, and septs have their origin in ancient times. MacLysaght and others have theorized that the heraldic devices are derived from ancient battle or sept banners. The exact origins and meanings of the symbols in these heraldic images are lost. The theory also supposes that the mottoes of many modern Irish heraldic achievements were derived from ancient battle cries. Edmund Emmet O’Daly concluded that the motto usually associated with the O’Dalys (Deo et Regi Fidelis) was a relatively modern invention, and that the ancient battle cry of the sept was more likely “Laudir Agus Mir!” (Swift and Strong!) Some ancient legends speak of O’Daly and Ui Niall ancestors using battle banners that were blazoned with “lions rampant” and others that were blazoned with “the bloody hand.” The symbols may be references to ancient ancestors of the sept, but this cannot be known for certain. Clicking on the illustration of the sept’s banner will take you to heraldic artist Eddie Geoghegan’s webpage where more information about the O’Daly sept will be found.

NIALL OF THE NINE HOSTAGES. The O’Dalys descend from Niall of the Nine Hostages (Irish: Niall Noigíallach) also known as Niall Mór (or Niall the Great). Niall was the Ard Ri (High King of Ireland) from 379 A.D. to 405 A.D. The O’Dalys are part of the Ui Niall Dynasty which descends from Niall.

Niall was the son of the High King Eochaid Mugmedon and his second wife, Cairenn. Eochaid's first wife, Mongfind did not want her sons to face any rivals to Eochaid’s throne. Using her position as the first wife, Mongfiind treated Cairenn like a slave. She set out impossible tasks for Cairenn during her pregnancy. Mongfind hoped that Cairenn’s child would die in utero. Soon after his birth, Niall was taken and fostered by the poet, Torna, to protect him from Mongfind. When he achieved adulthood, Niall rescued his mother from Mongfind’s continuing mistreatment.

Mongfind intensified her efforts to secure the kingship of Ireland for her son’s. Eochaid consulted the druid Sithchenn, who created a challenge to determine the succession. Niall and Mongfind’s sons were shut in a burning forge and told to save what they could. Mongfind’s sons saved a sledgehammer, bellows, weapons, a pail of beer, and a bundle of firewood. Niall left the forge carrying the anvil, and the druid deemed him the wisest, strongest, and most worthy.

Mongfind insisted one of her sons be recognized. Another challenge was devised. Niall and Mongfind‘s sons were each sent to a different well to obtain water, only to find the wells defended by hags - women of great age, ugliness, strength, and power. At each well, the hags demanded a kiss for the water. Mongfind’s sons felt the price beneath their princely status. Niall paid the price, and the hag became transformed into a beautiful maiden representing the kingship of Ireland. She granted Niall both the water and the kingship. Another legend reports that Mongfind, determined to put one of her own sons of the throne attempted to poison Niall, but drank the poison herself, thus ending her opposition to Niall.

There are alternate explanations for referring to him as “of the Nine Hostages.“ In the older, Niall is said to have consolidated his power as Ard Ri by taking hostages from each of the nine kingdoms (tuatha) which were then coalesced (and known as the Airgialla) under the Ard Ri at Tara. The later explanation identified the hostages as coming from the five principle kingdoms of Ireland, and from the Scots, Saxons, Briton, and French. During his reign Niall is said to have made expeditions into all of these areas.

A legend evolved later that Niall captured a young French boy who was taken to Ireland as a slave, and is now known to us as Saint Patrick. Patrick was certainly enslaved in Ireland during Niall’s reign, escaped, and returned as a missionary after Niall’s death. There seems no reason to believe that the two great men ever met. From Niall descended the Ui Niall dynasty. The dynasty divided into the Northern Ui Niall and the Southern Ui Niall, and the high kingship alternated between the two branches until the rise of Ard Ri Brian Boru of the Dal Cais dynasty hundreds of years later.

Niall, like his successors and his predecessors, was inaugurated as Ard Ri at Tara, which itself is said to take its name from an ancestor of Niall’s. The inauguration ceremony, in part, required the nominated king to place his hands on the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny, sketch above). If the stone shrieked the new king was acknowledged. A false king was said to fall dead upon touching the stone. According to one legend, the stone went silent after the conversion of Ireland, though O’Brien legend tells a story of the stone shrieking for the inauguration of the Boru as Ard Ri.

Above: a sketch of Dunsandle Tower, Loughrea, County Galway. Dunsandle Tower house dates to the 15th century. Dunsandle has a number of associations with the O’Dalys. James Daly of Dunsandle, a descendant of the Dermot O’Daly line of Killimer, was a member of Parliament for Galway. He was created Baron of Dunsandle on June 6, 1845. He died Aug. 7. 1884. The barony has since become “extinct.” Also associated with the O’Dalys in Dunsandle is Dunsandle House. In modern times Dunsandle House stands in ruins. The house and surrounding property were owned by Denis Daly during the early nineteenth century. By any account, Denis Daly was not a well liked man. The local residents still recall the alliterative curse “Devil Damn Denis Daly, Dunsandle Demon”. The government has long since divided the land among local farmers.

In addition to the royal palace on the Tara plain, there have been several places associated with the O’Daly’s over the centuries. The O’Dalys were said to have been the “Lords of Corca Adaimh, which is said to be in Beare, County Cork. The ruins of Castledaly in Loughrea, County Galway may raise many romantic images among modern O’Daly descendants. The castle is a later “castellated” country house which was built around a “keep” that dates back several centuries. Peter Daly of Galway, a descendant of Godfrey O’Daly the fifth son of Dermot O’Daly of Killimer, settled in Jamaica about 1782 where he distinguished himself by outstanding civil, philanthropic and religious activities. He returned to Ireland and purchased Corbally from the Blakes in 1820, naming it “Castle Daly.” He obtained Dalysgrove from Frank Daly his brother, in 1828. Peter Daly died in 1844. (From” “History of the O’Dalys” by Edmund Emmet O’Daly.) The land stayed among Peter’s descendants until the 1940’s. Clicking on the image will take you to a webpage created by the school children of Kilchreest parish with more of the local history and a modern photo of the ruins of Castledaly.

Killimer, too, has a long association with the O’Dalys. Dermot O’Daly of Killimer was the builder of the original O’Daly homestead in Galway. He died in 1614 leaving five sons. In 1624 Teige O’Daly and his wife Sisily O’Kelly built Killimer Castle. To commemorate the construction of the castle the couple commissioned a carved lintel to be placed above the entrance. The stone remained above the entrance of Killimer Castle until 1880. The castle was renovated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries into a more comfortable home. In 1820 Hyacinth Daly, Esq., the last of Teige and Sisily’s descendants died, leaving the line extinct. In 1860, the house passed into the hands of Denis St. George Daly, 2nd Baron Dunsandle and Clanconal, a very distant cousin to the descendants of Teige and Sisily.

Denis St. George Daly had the stone removed from Killimer Castle to Dunsandle House around 1880. Major Denis Bowes Daly, a grandson of Lord Dunsandle, brought the marriage stone with him to Cloghan Castle. The marriage stone was moved subsequently, but in 1980 it was returned to Killimordaly where it was placed at the entrance of the Killimordaly Graveyard.

The marriage stone is significant as the oldest written record now existing in Killimordaly. The stone reflects the influence of several conflicts experienced by Teige and Sisily. Teige O’Daly’s wealth and influence in the area were relatively new, making him an unlikely husband for a daughter of the powerful O’Kellys. Prior to the marriage of Teige and Sisily, the O’Kellys had been the dominant family in the area. The stone also reflects the religious divisions of the time. Incorporating the symbols of Christ’s passion and crucifixion into the stone sets Teige and Sisily apart as determined Roman Catholics in the face of Protestant influences. Source: “Kiltullagh/Killimordaly on-line Click the image to visit the Kilimordaly webpage.