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The O'Davorens of Cahermacnaughten, Burren, Co. Clare by Dr. George U. Macnamara

Part II: Genealogical: Irish Pedigree-making

I feel tempted here to say a word on what might be called the philosophy of Irish pedigree-making. Any person who has studied, even in a moderate way, the history of this country cannot fail being struck with the great importance attached by the old Irish, and the Normans who adopted Brehon law, to the proper recording and preservation of their true descent in the male line, the female descent being to all intents and purposes a negligible quantity. It could hardly be otherwise, for every adult male member of the fine or ruling family of a clan or sept was rioghdhamhna or ‘King Stuff,’ entitled to his proper share of the tribe-land, and was a possible chief. He never knew the day nor the hour when cut of sword, or thrust of lance, or the coming of the dreaded plague, might not open up a gap for him to power, with all its privileges, by the sudden removal of his seniors. Hence it was of the highest importance that a man, apart altogether from any feelings of pride of birth, should have incontestable proof of his right of succession. On this account the making and recording of genealogies became one of the most important duties of the tribal historians. The custom of genealogy - making in the end became by long use so ingrained in the minds of the upper classes that, even when nothing was left to be inherited owing to confiscation, pedigrees continued to be carefully copied and preserved, and that well into the 18th century. Many examples of these, corrupt sometimes through repeated copying, lie on the shelves of the Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College, and elsewhere.

The peculiar combination of a long pedigree and a short purse appeared highly amusing to the new landed proprietors, most of whom cared little for ‘blood,’ the solid pleasures of good living appealing more to their taste. Hence such sarcastic sayings as:

                  ‘The Galway portion,
                  Pride, Poverty, and Devotion.’

to which the dispossessed fiercely retorted with another just as cutting:

                  ‘Castles are falling,
                  But dunghills are rising.’

The following old doggerel - probably of North Munster provenance - shews very plainly the strained relations which existed up to rather late times between the two sets of men (the old and the new), and is an excellent sample of race-calumny unrestrained:

                  ‘All Ryans all rogues,
                  All O'Briens cut-throats,
                  Mac Owens and Kanes
                  Are murthering names.’

Many descendants of the new proprietors, however, after some years of increasing prosperity actually commenced to make pedigrees for themselves, and gradually blossomed into what, in the days of Charles Lever and Carlton, was called the ‘quality,’ a status to which perhaps their wealth, political power, and monopoly of higher education (but certainly not their long descent) gave them a more or less valid claim.

But what of the dispossessed, and what became of their pedigree making? Well, some of the more spirited youths flew south to the continent as ‘wild geese,’ where history says they gave a good account of themselves, and they still kept up the fashion of making pedigrees in a desultory way. As for those who remained at home in Ireland - the deprivation of education, together with a precarious diet of porridge and potatoes, interrupted now and then by actual famine, soon curbed their family pride. The ‘thing-to-eat’ and the ‘thing-to-keep-out-the-cold,’ not the care of the family tree, became the most pressing things in life, and any genealogical records that survived the wreck of their fortunes were neglected, and ultimately met their fate in the dungheap or the fire. Two or three generations of this sort of thing transformed the great majority of the old stock into peasants. Yet strangers from all parts of the world who have come in contact with their descendants attest, that there is a natural sense of courtesy and an inborn refinement of thought deep in the soul of the Irish peasant, rarely to be found in a similar class elsewhere. This is nearly all the proof he now has of his once gentle blood, for few of them can count beyond their grandfathers.

Some of the dispossessed, however, in spite of everything managed to keep their heads above water until the times improved. A few, somehow or another, accumulated considerable wealth, and, notwithstanding the law, even acquired landed property. The O'Davorens belonged to this class. James Davoren, of Lisdoonvarna (ob: 1725), though a ‘papist,’ became a very wealthy man both in land and stock, the former of which he could not possibly have held without the connivance of his good-natured protestant friends; and his wealth, if not altogether a blessing, enabled his relations to weather the storms that wrecked so many of the old families of Ireland. The O'Davorens, too, had not undergone, like some others, the process of complete anglicisation, nor had they entirely lost their family pride - in a word, they had not become mamelukes - to which is probably due the preservation of the annexed pedigree, the only one, as I have previously stated, now in existence.


More on Location of Páirc;
Tuamard; Lettermoylan


Chart Pedigree of the O’Davorens