The 25 July 2023, was the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.  

Ambassador O'Donnell set up this Facebook page on Intangible Cultural Heritage in October 2015.  Because of the creeping erosion of cultural heritage, and the rapidly-changing nature of society in this era of accelerating globalisation, when traditions are also frequently overhauled, it is very important to recognise the uniqueness of particular national or local inoffensive heritages as treasures, and to have them preserved and indeed supported. He became particularly aware of this having worked for 32 years abroad for the United Nations (1976-2009), latterly in Ukraine (2004-2009), which is now suffering so much from destructive if not genocidal aggression by Russia.

For this reason, the Irish Government was successfully urged to sign and secure ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Ireland ratified and became a state party to the Convention in December 2015, after long correspondence on O'Donnell's part dating back to 2009.  A list of over 18 Irish cultural practices for consideration was submitted. The traditional playing of Uilleann bagpipes (2017), the Gaelic sport of hurling (2018) as well as Irish harping (2019), have now been registered with UNESCO, from the list of proposals he submitted and with the subsequent support of their respective communities of practitioners/stakeholders.

Irish harping is at the heart of the identity of the people of the country of all Ireland. The harp is Ireland’s national symbol and has been played for more than 1,000 years; its bell-like sounds and music captivate all those who hear it and are celebrated in Irish mythology, folklore and literature. Nowadays, instead of a harp hewn from a single piece of willow, strung with wire strings and played with the nails, most contemporary harps are made with various types of hardwood, strung with gut or nylon, and played with the finger tips. While some men and boys play the harp, women, girls and children are the primary practitioners. Related skills are transmitted both aurally and/or by notation in the art music style, and contemporary exponents of the early wire-strung harp are bearers of a precious legacy of music. Contemporary gut-strung harpers have safeguarded the old repertoire and ensured its continuity while responding to evolving harp styles. There has been a major resurgence of interest in harp playing over the past sixty years thanks to a growing appreciation of the harp’s role in Irish identity, language and culture and bearers and practitioners now number around 1,500, a number that is growing steadily. Harp playing has also helped people to embrace diversity and bridge divides.

Ireland still has a way to go, as do other countries. Others on Ambassador O'Donnell's 2015 list included: the cultural space of the Gaeltacht, St. Patrick’s Parades, Feis Ceoil, and Sean-Nós singing, the manufacture of currachs, etc., the ancient traditions of inauguration ceremonies for clan chiefs and chieftains; Irish heraldry; and the folkloric roles of the Kings of Dalkey and of Tory Island as well as the Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, etc. In principle, each practice requires a community of practitioners/stakeholders to advance or support it. Once registered by UNESCO, the nominating government commits to investing in its preservation. A benefit, or return on such investment if you wish, in addition to the preservation of the heritage, is the added value that the UNESCO “brand” can bring to tourism.

In some cases, a practice may be nurtured in more than one country, hence Ireland is amongst other countries, European, Arab and Asian, that have registered falconry in 2021. In this regard, heraldry is a good example of another that Ireland could take a lead on. Ambassador O'Donnell recommended such in his presentation and paper on Irish armigerous families at the 2nd International Colloquium on Nobility, Madrid, 20-21 October 2017, hosted by the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España (RAHE), co-sponsored by Fundación Cultural de Hidalgos de España (FCHE), the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry (ICOC), Famiglie Storiche d’Italia (FSI), and the Instituto Internacional de Genealogia y Heráldica (IIGH). The paper was published in Actas 2019, II Coloquio Internacional sobre la Nobleza (Madrid, 20-21 de octubre de 2017). The paper can be found amongst others on Ambassador O'Donnell's Academia page here:

The theme of Intangible Cultural Heritage was also resonant in the first webinar of the Irish College in Leuven/Louvain (ICL), which Ambassador O'Donnell co-organised with its Chief Executive, David Grant in October 2020. It was the first webinar of the ICL and was held under the commemorative theme "Memorialising Emigré Dignity", to mark 400 years since the first burial in the Chapel of St. Anthony in September 1620, that of Amb. O'Donnell's family’s direct ancestor Donal Oge O'Donnell (nephew of the famous Red Hugh O’Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell, d.1602 in Simancas) and who participated in the Flight of the Earls in 1607 as part of the entourage of his other uncle and successor as Prince of Tyrconnell, namely, Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell (d.1608 in Rome). Donal Oge was the ultimate beneficiary-in-remainder to the Lordship of Tyrconnell in the Letters Patent of King James I for the Earldom of Tyrconnell, but died prematurely of wounds inflicted in 1620. 

The webinar also held to honour the 250 Irish emigré friars, scholars, soldiers and friends interred or associated with the College over the centuries, and brought out the cultural and social richness of the diverse personalities associated over the centuries, many famous in the annals of Irish history, and reflecting a great number of Irish clans and historic families. The webinar was hosted and moderated by David Grant for ICL, and the speakers were Dr. Katharine Simms, PhD, Fellow of Trinity College Dublin and member of the Royal Irish Academy, who spoke on the theme of “Queens in later medieval Ireland”; Count Mag. Douglas O’Donell von Tyrconnell, M. Phil., who addressed the subject of “The Wild Geese and the Holy Roman Empire”; Prof. Fr. Mícheál MacCraith, OFM/NUI (Galway) of the Franciscan House of Studies in Dún Mhuire, Killiney, who treated of “The re-fashioning of the exiles in the continental culture of national and religious identity”; Baron Bernard Snoy et d'Oppuers, who gave his exposé on how his family helped give sanctuary to “The Irish in exile with the persecution of the Irish friars in Leuven in occupied Belgium”; Prof. Johan Verberckmoes, KU/Leuven, who talked about “The four Irish Colleges in Leuven in the 17th and 18th centuries”, concluding with Ambassador O'Donnell's presentation on “An O’Donnell Odyssey - Preserving intangible cultural heritage: emigrés, allies and patrons in sanctuaries abroad”. A book marking the webinar and narrating its content will shortly appear, being published by the Irish College in Leuven.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO Convention  on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage

(text of the convention: see tab on right)

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

After some lobbying to the Irish Government by Amb. Francis M. O'Donnell, Ireland eventually ratified the ICH Convention on 22 December 2015, and in the years that followed, it registered as World Heritage the following items that he had recommended, having secured the support of the communities of stakeholders involved: Uilleann Piping (2017), Hurling (2018), and Irish Harping (2019).

But there is much more work to be done, e.g. to preserve Ireland's heraldic heritage, traditional music, sean-nós singing, dance, and other folkloric rituals, customs and traditions. Effective registration commits a requesting government to preservation, and to the measures necessary to enable that.

Christians in the Holy Land

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre

Back in late 1965, at the young age of eleven years, Francis M. O'Donnell was schooled in Collège des Frères in the walled Old City of Jerusalem. During his lunch breaks I would regularly wander the streets of the Old City, and usually end up in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. On one occasion, he bumped around a corner (quite literally) into two Cardinals, Heenan and Conway,  who took him by the hand and went together to the great Basilica. They were amused to encounter a little Irish boy wandering. Both were on pilgrimage in their new capacities as Cardinals. As years went by,  O'Donnell's father took his wife and  their three children to   to visit all the holy sites in the Holy Land, as they lived later in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and later still in Damascus. As a family they were also quite close to the local Franciscans, especially Fathers Peter and Godfrey, OFM, custodians at Capernaum.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a lay institution placed under the protection of the Holy See. Its main aim is to strengthen among its members the practice of Christian life, to sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, particularly those of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which also includes Cyprus and Jordan, thus supporting the Christian presence in the Lands of the Bible. The historical origins of the Order are somewhat obscure, although according to an undocumented tradition they are traced back to the First Crusade. In fact, the first documentary evidence of an investiture of Knights referred to as "of the Holy Sepulchre" dates to 1336. The Order is a legal, canonical and public personality, constituted by the Holy See. 

You can find out more about the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre

by clicking on this button:


And about its Irish Lieutenancy here:



The Church and the United Nations 

Some personal reflections

The Feast Day of that great Saint Columba, patron saint of his kinsfolk, the Cenel Chonaill and in particular their descendants, the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, comes on 9 June every year.  In 2022 we marked the 1,500th anniversary of his birth. Here, the author uses quotes from Columba's biography by King Manus of Tyrconnell, 21st O'Donnell, exhorting the greater accountability of those in power, to bring out the observations of various Popes on the role of the United Nations and the challenges of globalization that demand of us to work together for the dignity of life and every human being.

IHSV - A Constantinian and Patrician vocation

The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George is a dynastic order of the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies, and in the spirit of noblesse oblige, undertakes spiritual, humanitarian, hospitaller and charitable initiatives across Ireland, Great Britain and its dependant territories, and the world.  It has the same motto as the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell: In Hoc Signo Vinces, hearkening back to the conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine the Great, which inspired Saint Patrick ih his evangelisation of the Irish to assign the Cross to the shield of Conall, ancestor of the Cenel Conaill, and the O’Donnell dynasty.  The Constantinian Order is actively involved in the defence and promotion of the Roman Catholic religion and in various charitable activities.

You can find out more about the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George,

by clicking on this button:



The Global Fund for Forgotten People 

The hitherto forgotten and untold stories of the first family of the last ruling dynasty of the King and Princes of Tyrconnell, their descendant generations of Counts in France, and their surviving descendants, has been brought forth on the multiple occasions mentioned on this website (see tab: Webinar, and since the research of the book on this hidden legacy. Our recent webinar on Memorialising Emigré Dignity, commemorating Donal Oge O’Donnell’s interment 400 years ago in the Chapel of Saint Anthony in the Irish College Leuven, also brought out the broader commemoration of the 250 Irish emigré friars, scholars, soldiers and friends interred or associated with the College over the centuries. They are also part of our cultural heritage. But so many others have left no trace – they are the forgotten, but we can pray for them, and support today’s people in need.

We would now like to bring to your attention the Global Fund for Forgotten People. The Global Fund for Forgotten People embodies the Sovereign Order of Malta’s ethos of caring for those who need it most, whoever and wherever they are. Like many of our ancestors at home or in exile, the Forgotten People are the persecuted, the elderly, the homeless, refugees, prisoners, abandoned and disabled children,  people with diseases that most of us think have been cured long ago.

These people do not grab the headlines, and may not be priorities for government institutions. They have no recourse, no support network, and no resources. They are The Forgotten. Many of these people face a host of challenges by nature of their circumstances, and can be left lonely, isolated and hopeless. The Order of Malta works to restore their dignity and alleviate suffering wherever it exists. It is almost as old as the millennial history of the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, and it is the world's oldest continuing humanitarian organization. Run and staffed by volunteers, all donations go directly to the vulnerable beneficiaries. The last O’Donnell Countess in France, who died in 1908, came from a family that were devoted to that Hospitaller tradition of the Knights of Malta, and her funeral to repose in her Château de Souhey, described in my book, emulated the charism of the Order: tuitio fidei and obsequium pauperum

Find out more about the Global Fund, and 

make a donation online here:   

You can find out more about the Sovereign Order of Malta

by clicking on this button:

And the Order of Malta in Ireland,

by clicking here:

  Noblesse Oblige - Deus Caritas Est