Left and right: Statues of King Red Hugh O'Donnell 1st, Founder of Donegal Town and Builder of Donegal Castle (center)

Ancestry & Incorporeal Hereditaments

Genealogically certified as of direct patrilineal descent from the last family to rule as the undisputed dynasty of Kings, Princes, and Earls of Tyrconnell, the O'Donnells of Ardfert as also endorsed by several historians including kinsfolk, are directly descended from Sir Hugh Dubh MacManus O'Donnell, 23rd Ua Domhnaill, Lord and King of Tyrconnell, through his eldest heir, Sir Donal O'Donnell,  who served as Seneschal of Tyrconnell and Sheriff of Donegal until assassinated at the Battle of Derrylaghan, on the Feast of the Holy Cross, 14 September 1590.

His son, Donal Oge O'Donnell, deployed briefly to Lixnaw, Ballykealy and Ardfert by his uncle Red Hugh O'Donnell II, departed on the Flight of the Earls in 1607, but left a family in Ardfert, some of whose later descendants became the Jacobite O'Donnell Counts in France, now extinct.  The eldest of the surviving Ardfert line is also related through a maternal line as second cousin thrice removed of the late Cardinal Patrick O'Donnell, and also descended through mixed ancestry from Walter de Lacy, 2nd Lord of Meath and 1st Lord of Fingal.  

Registered in Ireland, in the Registry of Deeds and Titles, the eldest is Hereditary Seneschal of Tyrconnell, by inheritance from his late father,  as recognised  by letters patent in his father's name, from the Lord High Steward of Ireland by virtue of the royal authority of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second vested in him, and accordingly given and signed by him on 4 July 2002 at the House of Lords, London. Being thus inherited from his late father, as recorded in Blood Royal (2002) by Charles Mosley (editor of Burke's Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage), and detailed in his Directory of Some Lords of the Manor and Barons in the British Isles, London (2012), the Seneschal also holds title to the Paramount Barony of Fyngal (Lord of the County of Fingal), originally granted for grand serjeanty and confirmed to an ancestor in 1208 by Charter of King John (Chart. 9 John m.1), as transcribed in full in Rotuli Chartarum in Turri Londinensi Asservati, published in 1837; these titles are also registered as incorporeal hereditaments in the Registry of Deeds & Titles in Dublin, and also recognised by the Lord High Steward of Ireland & Premier Earl, and by the Premier Viscount of Ireland, and by the Crown Princes of Georgia and Lithuania. The holder has also been gazetted in The Gazette, the official public record in London, England, as Lord O'Donnell of Fingal, and is listed by the British Government as Lord O'Donnell of Fingal in his capacity as Trustee of a British charity (No. 1173608; company number 09958251).  An exclusive Royal Commission has also been received from the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and a senior knighthood from the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Several senior nobiliary knighthoods have also been received from the Holy Father the Pope, and the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the Grand Master of the Most Noble and Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. 

 The Seneschal is unusual in holding, by inheritance, titles corporeal or incorporeal, in all the Provinces of Ireland.

The Province of Ulster,   a map by John Speed, 1610.    This is how Ulster looked to the English shortly after the Flight of the Earls in 1607.  Prominent O'Donnell locations are mentioned, and Donegal as a county is shired, and also identified as "Dunghall" with "Tyr Connell". Inishowen is given as an island, as its name implies, and Derry is given on its shores, west of the Foyle, and not yet prefixed "Londonderry".   Kilmacrenan is also given as is "Kil O'Donel". 

Above: Letters Patent of the Lordship and Earldom of Tyrconnell, in favour of Sir Rory O’Donnell, with the Barony of Donegal in favour of his heir male, dated 10 February 1604, granted by King James I. The effective date of Rory’s elevation was 4 September 1603, and he was invested in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin on 29 September 1603, with the above formal letters patent issued thereafter. The seal is that of the by-then deceased Queen Elizabeth I, as King James’ own seal was not yet available.  The ultimate beneficiary in remainder was to his cousin Donal Oge Mac Donal O’Donnell, and his heirs. (Source:  vellum original in custody and courtesy of Count Douglas O’Donell von Tyrconnell in Hochkreut, Aurachberg, Austria; Photostat copy referenced D.6866 in Manuscripts Department of National Library of Ireland; English transliteration of the full text is available in G.O. Manuscript 169 in the National Library).


Above: Mural in the Sala Paolina of the Paul V Gallery in the Vatican and extract from extreme left side (on right here), showing the two Irish Princes, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, on 29 May 1608, at the Canonisation of Santa Francesca Romana by Pope Paul V.

Letters Patent of the Lordship and Earldom of Tyrconnell and the Barony of Donegal 

Incorporeal Hereditaments

  • Hereditary Seneschal of Tyrconnell  

    • Root: Letters Patent of 17 July 1442

  • Paramount Baron of Fingal (Fyngal)

    • ​Root: Letters Patent of 28 April 1208 
  • Lord of Fyngallestoun

    • ​Root: Letters Patent of 31 March 1318



Genealogically certified as of direct patrilineal descent from the last family to rule as the undisputed dynasty of Kings, Princes, and Earls of Tyrconnell, the O'Donnells of Ardfert are descended from the eldest heir thereof who served as Seneschal of Tyrconnell and Sheriff of Donegal until assassinated on the Feast of the Holy Cross, 14 September 1590. Eldest of the line, Ambassador F. M. O'Donnell is also related through a maternal line as second cousin thrice removed of the late Cardinal Patrick O'Donnell. Further details below.



The social utility of intangible cultural heritage

The preservation of cultural heritage in a context of globalization, immigration, and rapid social transformation is an important element of good governance in a mature democracy. It fosters acceptance and appreciation of historical diversity, and understanding of the tapestry of influences that shape identity today.   Cleansed of any archaic triumphalist or repressive elements that would impair the enjoyment of the rights of others, and assiduously cultivated in an environment that celebrates human dignity, freedom and rights, the residue of cultural heritage that can be shared in a pluralist society promotes inter-communal understanding and adds value to the quality of democracy. In so far as it recalls a diversity of foreign influences in history, it can serve to enrich the bonds that can be celebrated today with those communities of origin, and thereby form part of the fabric of trans-boundary and international relations.  The preservation and promotion of cultural heritage is therefore an important element of social cohesion and of the maintenance of mutual international confidence.  In fact, the ownership and display of archaic and obsolete objects cultivates the memory of the past and contributes to the preservation of culture and history – the very raison d’etre of many museums. Folklore and other elements of intangible cultural heritage are equally worthy of preservation and are the object of a UNESCO Convention.     The early efforts of the Irish Government to preserve recognition of ancient Gaelic chieftaincies by officially granting courtesy recognition of “Chiefs of the Name” to their direct descendants, including sometimes with territorial designations, are an example of such an effort to preserve intangible cultural heritage, even if the effort in recent years has led to some controversy over the basis (primogeniture rather than tanistry), and over the authenticity of genealogy and descent in some cases.
Nonetheless, the failure of honesty of some claimants or due diligence in a few cases is hardly a reason to suspend the practice or to de-legitimize the totality of bone fide cases.  One would hardly abolish national institutions on the basis that a few elements are found corrupt, but rather prosecute offenders so that the credibility of the institution and public trust are maintained following an independent investigation. 

One of the bigger challenges today however, is to peel away the onion-layers of archaic and sometimes conflicting laws, the quandaries of centuries of turmoil, the issues of desuetude and functional obsolescence, the clashes of culture and the residue of latent prejudice that often lies beneath the surface of an otherwise more egalitarian and democratic society.  A particular challenge is to know when analogies with law, heritage, and customary practice in England or Scotland apply, and when they frequently do not, even if for many centuries the same Crown reigned throughout these islands. A topic of historical research such as this almost becomes an exercise in Husserlian phenomenology, as one tries to bracket the non-essential in epoche, and get to the core of what was a historic title, how did it evolve, what is it today, what value can it have, and why should anyone pay the slightest attention to these matters?  It becomes an excursion into the museum of the intangible, a grail quest.  But if Percival remembers his purpose and asks the right question, what then for the Fisher King?  ​​More on this conundrum in the near future.... but for now, the accelerating pace of global change, erosion of old traditions and emergence of new "norms", as well as the socially-transformative effect of large-scale emigration, migration, and immigration, and the invasive impact of digital technology and social media, all represent forces that affect our ancient cultures and heritage. ​For this reason, I am a strong advocate of the adherence and ratification nationally of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). In the Irish context, this could include the preservation of our armorial and heraldic heritage; our ancient sports and music, the customs and ceremonies of our ancient clans, and of leadership and community exemplified in various noble, military, civic and spiritual traditions, and of family histories, pedigrees, charters, deeds, and other archives. 

In this regard, I am delighted that after some years of lobbying, including correspondence by myself, Ireland has ratified the UNESCO Convention on 22 December 2015, and has succeeded in obtaining the registration of the ancient Gaelic sport of Hurling, and the playing of the Uilleann Pipes, along with Irish Harping, and the monumental National Folklore Collection. Now, we can do more as I laid our in my presentation to the 2nd International Colloquium on Nobility in Madrid on 21 October 2017 hosted by the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España, and as I mentioned in my presentation at a seminar in the Sorbonne University in Paris on 17 October 2018.