For a detailed family historical perspective of the Revival of the O'Donnell Clan, Clann Dálaigh, and emergence of the O'Donnell Clan Association in various iterations since 1954, in 1989, 1997, and up to recently, including , gatherings, and activities, see the article "The O'Donnell Clan Revival" in the Journal of the Genealogical Society of Ireland, 2021:  click on this link:

The  O'Donnell  Clan  Renewal 

Promoting Clan Renewal

Historical background

In ancient times Ireland had a quasi-democratic form of political leadership by chiefs and chieftains of clans, many considered as kings in their own right, under the Gaelic Brehon laws. Even before the completion of English conquest in the 17th century, for its heraldry, kings of arms existed since 1392. The Ulster King of Arms was established on 2 February 1552 by King Edward VI, who recorded in his diary: There was a King of Arms made for Ireland, whose name was Ulster, and his province was all Ireland; and he was fourth King of Arms, and first Herald of Ireland. Sometime after independence a century ago, Genealogical Office and the position of Chief Herald of Ireland were created on 1 April 1943, and were pivotal in reviving the Gaelic Clans heritage of Ireland. While the office of Norroy and Ulster King of Arms continues under the College of Arms in London for Northern Ireland and England north of the Trent, the Chief Herald of Ireland absorbed Ulster’s functions and role in the newly independent Ireland, and the contents of that office, including all the Registers of Arms, were absorbed by the State. They are now an invaluable resource for the study of our genealogical and heraldic heritage, whilst the College of Arms also maintains further detail on armigers’ family members.

About a hundred years ago, Constance Countess de Markievicz in her pamphlet “What Irish Republicans Stand For” evoked Padraig Pearse’s vision of an Ireland “not merely free, but Gaelic as well”, and James Connolly’s invocation of “an ardent Irish patriot in his lavish expression of admiration of his Celtic forefathers, who foreshadowed in the democratic organisation of the Irish Clan, the more perfect organisation of the free society of the future”. She credited historian Alice Stopford Green with being “the great pioneer” of the work of scientifically “bringing to light all that she had gleaned from the old documents that survive the systematic destruction of the records of Ireland’s greatness by the English”.

The revival of the various Clans and their democratic ethos was to stand against the overly hierarchical “feudal” nature of the imposed social order that devastated Gaelic society centuries before. But this required bringing forth the prominence of leaders who could be regarded as stewards of our vestigial Gaelic heritage, i.e. by the only practical means of identifying the premier surviving lineages, and recognising their contemporary heirs. This led to the gazetting in Iris Oifigiúil of the then-known/traced principals, i.e. those whose genealogical seniority seemed proven sufficiently for them to be recognised as “Chiefs of the Name”. But this was only to be the social catalyst for revival. Once those rare nominal chiefs had been identified, the challenge of rebuilding clans remained, requiring not only the mobilisation of prospective members, but the legitimisation of chiefs by recourse to elective tanistry, i.e. the nominal chief still had to be inaugurated in the traditional manner by acclamation of a putative derbfine and the wider clan. For that, the members of the inner circle, the elective derbfine (or indeed as wide as indfine), and a prospective assembly of the clan Oireacht had to be mobilised.

This led to the first Rally of the Clans, with the O’Donnell Clan in premier place: it was the last to fold to English domination, and would be the first to arise phoenix-like. Thus the O’Donnell Clan Association was born out of the O’Donnell Clan Rally at the Rally of the Clans under the auspices of An Tóstal, in Donegal, at Easter 1954. At the time, this was under the patronage of the Lord Bishop of Raphoe, whose own appointment used to be subject to the Jus Patronus of the O’Donnell kings and princes of Tyrconnell. The sanctifying role of the Church had always been a crucial element of inaugurations. Thus after 350 years, a new Chief of the Clan John O’Donel of Monkstown, was inaugurated in 1954 with the derbfine concurrence of Count Gabriel O’Donell von Tyrconnell, et al. and having been already gazetted as Chief of the Name in 1945. This is the legacy we now renew, and mark for its 70th anniversary this year. Back in 1954 a similar inauguration, of Geoffrey O’Donoghue of Enniscorthy, took place in Killarney, County Kerry, in the shadow of Ross Castle.

Current revival and Interim Council

The ODCA has been re-formed and renewed again in 1989, and in 1997, and now in 2024 (process underway). Following consultations between the historic principal branches of the O’Donnell Clan, and several others who had manifested continuing commitment to its renewal, agreement has been reached in the past week on a way forward.

This has included renewal of the membership of the ODCA in the encompassing Clans of Ireland organisation, following negotiations with that body. Accordingly I am pleased to announce that the ODCA membership in Clans of Ireland has been renewed on 29 February 2024, after an extended hiatus of absence. During the past years since the passing of the late Vincent O’Donnell in 2021, the ODCA had effectively ceased to function. This was partly due also to the decease of former members of its “Committee”, and other factors.

An ODCA Interim Council has been formed, to replace the former ODCA Committee. As it turns out, for the first time, it includes most representatives of the principal branches, i.e. not just a “Derbfine” but wider circles of agnatic kinship (i.e. as in the 17th century), Iarfine and Indfine.

Interim Council meeting 5 April 2024

Following the renewal of the membership of the O’Donnell Clan Association (ODCA) in the Clans of Ireland on 29 February 2024, based on agreement by representatives of the principal historic lineages, and its subsequent reinstatement on the Register of Clans, an Interim Council was formed representing the principal lineages.

The Interim Council held its first meeting online on 5 April 2024, the International Day of Conscience, and, based on the mandate given at the ODCA Gathering in Donegal on 8 August 2013, namely to develop a new Constitution, adopted the new Constitution of the ODCA, with minor modifications, and subject to ratification at the Extraordinary General Meeting scheduled for 9 June 2024, St. ColmCille/Columba’s Day.

The Interim Council elected Amb. Francis M. O’Donnell in the Chair, and Seán O’Donnell as its Secretary. Other members participating including Maria Angeles O’Donnell-Olson, Mary Louise O’Donnell, Frank Hannigan, J. Hugh O’Donnell, and John McCaffrey. As he had done over a decade ago, Amb. O’Donnell represented the ODCA at the Clans of Ireland Cultural Summit on 12 April and at the Clans of Ireland AGM on 13 April in Dublin.

In advance of the ODCA’s own EGM on 9 June, when a new leadership and Council will be elected, the Interim Council is identifying ODCA members eligible to participate in the AGM on the following bases: (a) members with a membership certificate and number; (b) members who were subscribers to the former O’Donnell Clan Association Newsletter “Ô Domhnaill Abú”: (c) persons who participated in previous ODCA clan gatherings/tours; (d) persons who are distinguished by the special contribution they have made to the heritage of the O’Donnell Clan. An information circular and application/registration form are being circulated to encourage broad participation in the EGM in June. 

The reformed clan association aims to sustain the global community of Irish and diaspora kinship around the heritage of the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, building on its previous iterations in 1954, 1989 and 1997, and provide a platform for Clan community renewal and promotion, including establishment of chapters in Ireland and in the diaspora, cultural events, and publication of a new newsletter and annual journal.

It will support historical and genealogical research, and the preservation of clan tangible and intangible cultural heritage, including historic monuments, artifacts, customs, practices, and records. It also aims in due course  to sponsor scholarships, and promote related academic courses. Most of all, it will foster an inclusive culture and common celebration of Irish and other European heritage and traditions, with other clans, and relevant heritage, historical, and cultural institutions, especially those with whom the O’Donnell diaspora has held a significant historic relationship at home and abroad, e.g. in Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

This year, a special focus will be given to marking the Feast of Domhnall (à quo O’Donnell) on Friday, the 26 April, as per the Martyrology of Donegal; and commemorating 11 July, the date of the death in 1505 of King Aodh Ruaidh Ua Domhnaill (Red Hugh the First), founder of Donegal Town, builder of its Castle and Donegal Abbey, where he is buried in the crypt. The renovation of the Jacobite wing of Donegal Castle could serve as a Heritage Centre, in cooperation with the Country Donegal Librarian, the County Donegal Historical Society, and Ballyshannon Museum.

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