Threatened by the strength of the Gaelic natives, the Galway
citizens walled off their city, and on the wall placed the
"From the Ferocious O Flaherty's O Lord deliver us".
The O'Flaherty get their name from a descendant of Murchada,
Flaithbhertaig Mac Ermin (Flaherty, son of Evin), a Prince
of Connaught. Flaithbhertaig was a popular name in Ireland
in the 10th century a.d. Today it is translated into "bright
leader." The clan, during these pre-Norman times, had
emerged from the Viking terror of the previous two
centuries, becoming known for two seemingly contradictory
traits, its warlike prowess and its amiable mansions.
The first O'Flaherty, known in the Irish as ua
Flaithbhertaig, is mentioned in the annals of Ireland in the
year 1034 - Muireadhach Ua Flaithbheartach, Lord of
Ui-Briuin-Seola, a descendant of the Muinter Murchada and
the O'Brien clans.
Muireadhach O'Flaherty ruled his clan as a high chief and
claimed his royal blood through many an Irish hero. He
united many of the descendants of the the Ui Briuin (O'Beien)
tribes in the area east of Loch Corrib.
These O'Flaherty tribes were nominally subjunct to the tribe
O'Connors, but they were also fiercely independent. The
O'Flaherty tribes who dominated the area around Galway Bay
served as the Admirals in the forces of the O'Connor dynasty
during the 11th and 12th centuries. In the year 1092,
Flaherty O'Flaherty briefly siezed the Kingdom of Connaught
from Ruadri O'Connor, and proclaimed himself High King of
Ireland. However, discovering the better part of valor, he
chose not to hold the throne, eventually conferring the
Kingship on Muirchertach O'Connor. Flaherty O'Flaherty died
in battle in the year 1098.
In 1124 the O'Flaherties built one of the first castles in
Ireland, the original Castle Galway. The Norman use of
castles to subjugate the Saxons in Britain had upgraded the
science of war. The O'Flaherty clan, with their capital at
Enach-dun, controlled Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, Bay
of Galway, Connemara and the "half barony" of Ross.
In 1169 Dermott MacMurrough was dispossessed of his
territory, and lost his legal appeal. The treacherous
Dermott offered his daughter to a Norman general named "Strongbow."
Strongbow was a restless warrior under the thumb of
England's Henry II, and he wasn't making much booty in
impoverished Wales. MacMurrough had been ostracized by his
people, and he wanted revenge. In return for his own child,
MacMurrough brought the Normans into Ireland. MacMurrough
had his revenge when he and the Normans with Strongbow
brought their chain mail and armor against the bare chests
of the Irish warriors to conquer Ulster, Munster and
Leinster in Eastern Ireland. The price of MacMurrough's
treachery would be paid in centuries of blood.
The Ard Ri at the time, High King Roderick O'Connor in
Connaught, ceded his claim to Ulster, Leinster, and Munster
to the Normans, and held to himself the province of
Connaught. The Normans wanted more, and soon planted a
castle in Connaught.
O'Connor summoned his councils and called the other clans
into action as described in a poem of the time:
But the castles, chain mail, the armour, and the other
advantages the Normans held in the Science of War proved too
much for the Tribal Irish. O'Connor and O'Flaherty,
MacDermott and MacGeraghty fell victims to the whims of war.
The Normans under Strongbow, Hugh de Lacy, Hubert de Burgh
and their armored knights conquered Ireland and claimed it
for the Norman Empire.
Because Connaught was the last of the four Irish territories
to fall, because O'Connor had won some brief concessions
from the Normans while they plundered Ulster, Leinster and
Munster, the O'Flaherty baronies in Clare on Galway Bay were
temporarily left in peace. This ended in 1201 when O'Connor
turned over to the Normans, Rory O'Flaherty. By 1235, the
clan, then under the leadership of Hugh O'Flaherty, suffered
great defeats with the rest of the Connaught Irish, and the
O'Flaherty clans were pushed across the Galway River into
the Connamara regions, at the brink of the Atlantic.
Connemara, Gnobeg and Gnomore united as
and the half-barony of Ross, would become O'Flaherty
territory for the next 450 years.
The Galway river, and the linking lakes Corrib and Mask,
eventually became the boundaries that separated the Norman
territories in Connaught held by the Burkes, and the Gaelic
areas in Western Connaught held by the O'Flaherty, and to
the north by the O'Malley clan. Inside an area bounded to
the north, by the O'Malley's in Mayo, to the east the lakes;
the south, Galway Bay; to the west, the Atlantic Ocean, this
region called Moycullen, Connamara, and the half barony of
Ross, - lumped into one name,- Iar-Connaught - was
considered one of the most desolate lands in Ireland.
But, the O'Flaherties survived, and maintained their Gaelic
heritage against the onslaught of fate. The Normans, led by
Burgh family, took control of the town of Galway, whose
citizens would one day erect a wall that bore the plaintive
prayer, "From the ferocious O'Flaherties, Good Lord protect
In this territory of West Connaught rose the family's most
illustrious Renaissance characters, including the
Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley, Murrough of the Axes, and
Donnel of the Wars.
The O'Flaherty's were to hold their country for 400 years.
ruling with only occasional obeisance to the English King,
presenting an impregnable frontier to the Norman Lords and
their client City of Galway. In those centuries the
O'Flaherty adapted much from the Normans, building castles,
churches, towns and growing rich on the commerce of the day.
The O'Flaherty should be credited also with helping to
preserve the essence of the Gaelic-Celtic-Irish heritage to
the point that when the Irish chief Murrough O'Flaherty died
in 1626 it was written that he still practiced the ancient
In the turbulent 17th Century occurred the singular most
notorious event in O'Flaherty history: "the massacre at
Shrule." At Shrule, dozens of English Protestants were
murdered. While the exact murderers are unknown, it was said
the English protestants were executed by the wrath of the
O'Flaherty in 1641. This event helped lionize Britain's
revenge on the island. Edmond O'Flaherty, a colonel in the
Irish army was blamed for these events and executed by the
conquering army in 1653. Most historians agree, that while
the tragedy was egregious, the events were exagerated and
propagandized by the British Puritans to mobilize their
armies against Ireland.
Partially as a consequence of anti-gaelic prejudice among
the Anglo-Norman royalist aristocracy, the English completed
their reconquest of Ireland in 1653, when they finally took
Inisboffin Island in O'Flaherty territory.
In the nineteenth century, the family again began to forge
its way into the modern world. After the Act of Union, the
O'Flaherty saw family members in Parliament, and prominence
in the City of Galway loomed. But the desolation inflicted
on Ireland by the famine of the 1840's destroyed the chance
for many to escape the poverty of British domination ....
unless they fled the island.
And, like their Milesian ancestors, many sought adventure
beyond the seas. During the nineteenth century, O'Flaherties
of Ireland began building clans all over the world.