Gaelic - Ó Raghallaigh
Riley Coat of Arms [Ireland]
Gaelic - Ó Raghallaigh - (O) Reilly - Co Cavan - Uí Briuin Breifne
O'Reilly: Rulers of East Brefine:- AD1161-1607
Gaelic Prefixes: O or Oi & Mac or M = son of... - Au = grandson of...
Inheritance of the Name, from excerpts from The Annals of the Four Masters.
Social Structure of the Ancient Irish Clans & Rights of the Clansmen.
Heraldry: The right to use the Family Coat of Arms
O'Reilly Coats of Arms: O’Reilly ie.O Raghallaigh Coat of Arms:- Symbols, Interpretation and Legends
The Defeat of the O'Reilly Clan at the hands of their cousins the O'Rouke Clan
The O'Reilly Clan and the Norman Knights post 1066. Regain their former power.
The O'Reilly Clan defeat the Normans and rule Brefine for the next four hundred years.
Whilst our Legacy of Irish Legends and Mythology recorded in various manuscripts in amazing detail purported
to date back to before the Deluge, never ceases to hold fascination, the Ancestry of the O'Reilly [Riley] Sept
among others are said to derive from the first High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles, around AD100,
who they claim as their Progenitor. These stories are well documented online and in the Annals of the Four Masters.
The Annals Record the details of many Irish Royal Families who ruled Kingdoms or Territories in Ireland during
the Legendary Periods spanning many centuries BC. There were Chiefs or Lords of their People and Territories.
One such cited Royal Family was that of Raghallaigh the forebearer of the Clan of the O'Reilly Breifne.
In contrast to the English Family names which sometimes took on the name of their village of Origin, Irish Family
names were entirely taken from descent. Thus the name in any variation or anglicized version were said to be
linked genetically to the original Raghallaigh.
The Ancestry of Raghallaigh and their blood cousins the O’Rourkes, is well documented and dates back to about the
third Century AD and a small part is depicted below.
For further Study - Irish History in Maps has an extensive coverage of these families.
Around the beginning of the new millennium the O’Rourke and O Raghalliah Clans were ever battling for supremacy.
The O Rourkes, the then more powerful Sept gained dominance and ruled for some generations. The O’Reilly Sept
eventually regained their former power in AD1126, ruling over East Breifne for the next four hundred years to AD1607.
Records subsequent to this time were kept at the Four Courts in Dublin, Ireland’s Repository of Ancient Records.
Many of the records were destroyed in the fire at the Court House in 1920. Many Ancient Documents, Wills, Land Titles
and Census were lost, although some Catholic Registers retained by various Parishes have survived. These however
are extremely difficult to access and most being still untranscribed and most of these Parish Records only date from the
early 19th Century. It is therefore extremely difficult to prove direct lineage.
ANCIENT SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF THE CLANS
Unlike English Monarchy, Kings of Ireland were not born to the Title, from the earliest history they were Elected.
The ancient sacred place of Election in early times was at Tara. At the death of an Irish King, the Sept would gather
at their ‘Scared’ Place and the contenders who fulfilled the mandatory prerequisites, normally 'elected' from any
one of the males comprised in the "deirbhfhine" i.e. the descendants of a deceased Chief to the fourth generation.
Any would-be king must be the son of a king and/or the grandson of a king i.e. Brothers, Nephews, Cousins were
eligible and they must the comply with the Old Law tract;
'The Five Paths of Judgment' one of which that he be physically unblemished.
The abhorrence of the Irish towards any physical deformity in their Rulers is Legendary.
[Should a King be disfigured in battle or any other cause, he was considered unfit to Rule].
Several other pre-requisites also applied;
From an early third century, well-known piece of Irish literature:
'Cairbre, afterwards King of Ireland, is depicted asking his father Cormac Mac Airt the question;
"For what qualifications is a king elected over countries and tribes of people?"
"He is chosen", said the king, "from the goodness of his shape and family,
from his experience and wisdom, from his prudence and magnanimity,
from his eloquence and bravery in battle, and from the number of his friends.
He is however, always chosen from the near kindred of the reigning chieftain."
Cormac, in his answer embodied the views of practically every Clan in Ireland up to the beginning
of the seventeenth century.
The would-be King or Chief would then be chosen after successfully combating his opponents.
Full Version of Pre-requisites - the Brehon Laws
Excerpt: Mandatory Prerequisites;
A curious Irish social unit was the fine (finna), consisting of one group of five persons and
three groups of four, all males. The head of the family, called the ceann-fine (Kan-finna),
and four members made up the first group, called geil-fine, the other three groups of four
each were called deirbh-fine (true family), iar-fine (after family), and inn-fine (end family).
On the birth of a new male member in the geil-fine the eldest member of the group was
moved up into the next four (the deirbh-fine), and one out of that four into the next four,
and one out of the last four was moved out of the fine altogether, into the Clan or Sept,
this last male thereby ceasing to be a member of the Family or Fine.
The sept, to use the English term, sprang from the family, or the family after some
generations grew into the Sept and then into the Clan, contracting a greater share of
artificiality in proportion to its enlargement. Because, while all the members of the Sept
could actually point to a common descent, the descent from a single ancestor in the case of
the whole tribe was more or less founded upon fiction*. The portion of territory ruled over
by a sub-king was called tuath (too-a) and contained within it, at all events in later times,
members of different descents. The chief, both of the tuath and the sept, was elected by the
tribe or clansmen. The law of primogeniture did not obtain in Ireland, and the selection
was made of the man who being of the chieftain's near blood could best defend the tribe
and lead it in both war and peace.
The head of every tribe, says the Brehon Law tract the Cain Aigillne,
"should be the man of the tribe who is the most experienced,
the most notable, the most wealthy, the most learned,
the most truly popular, the most powerful to oppose,
the most steadfast to sue for profits and to be sued for losses.
Source: Catholic Encyclopedia : The Brehon Laws.
RIGHTS OF THE CLANSMEN UNDER BREHON LAW AND CRIME
Under Ancient Irish law the land did not belong to the king or the chief, but to the tribe, and the lowest of the
free-tribesmen had as much an inalienable right to his share as had the chief himself. In process of time parts
of the tribal territory appear to have formed sub tribes or families, and the chief, who always exercised certain
administrative duties with respect to the land, appears to have had certain specific portions of the tribal land
allotted to himself for his own use and for the maintenance of his household and [immediate] relatives.
He was in no sense a landlord, although the whole tendency of later times was to increase his power at the
expense of his tribe or vassals.
The great bulk of Irish Tribesmen were cultivators known as the Féine (Faina) or free-tribesmen from whom
the Brehon law is called Féineachas, or the" Law of the Free-tribesmen". In progress of time many of these
men in hours of distress naturally found themselves involved in something like pecuniary transactions with
their head-chiefs, and owing to poverty or for some other reason, were driven to borrow or accept cattle from
them, either for milk or tillage. These tribesmen then became the chieftain's céiles (kailas) or vassals.
However they retained their tribal rights, always most carefully guarded by the Brehon law in their integrity.
In the case of a crime committed by an individual, ALL the Sept were liable.
If the offence were one against the person and the criminal happened to die, then the liability of the Sept was
wiped out, for, according to the maxim, "the crime dies with the criminal ".
If, however, the offence had been one causing damage to property or causing material loss, then the Sept
remained still liable for it, even after the death of the criminal. This Regulation resulted in every member
of the Sept having a direct interest in suppressing crime.
Differing from the Heraldry of England in that while English Coat of Arms was allocated to a specific person
and was only legitimate during the recipient's lifetime, in Ireland, Coats of Arms were allocated to Noble Septs,
the namesakes of which in any generation could lay claim for all time being blood kin of the Tribe.
Some argue that the Chief Herald has no right to take such liberties with the ancient tradition of Heraldry,
which was introduced to Ireland (and England) by the Anglo-Normans. However, it should be remembered that
the ancient Irish Septs had their own form of Heraldry and Symbols such as the 'Red Hand' of the Uí Neill Clan,
the stag of the MacCarthy Clan, the oak tree of the O'Connor Clan and so forth and these emblems were borne
by the Chieftains and their followers in pre-Norman times.
Therefore, the Chief Herald is merely reclaiming an ancient Irish tradition.
Burke's General Armory, a bastion of English heraldic tradition, lists many Irish Coats of Arms belonging
to a Sept rather than an individual. It is thus by genetic right that the individuals of each Clan by Name alone
can lay Claim to their Coats of Arms as an Historic Record of their Family's Achievements, crafted in the
ancient Symbols and synonymous with oral history handed down in Ireland from it’s Ancient Beginnings.
O Raghallaigh [O'Reilly - Riley] Coat of Arms
O'REILLY BLAZON: Vert two lions rampant combatant supporting a dexter hand couped at the wrist erect, amputee bloody proper.
CREST: None recorded.
MOTTO: None recorded.
The two Lions imply a Royal Sept, the Lion universally meaning Courage and Royalty.
That the beasts are drawn within the Shield rather than ‘supporters of’
i.e. drawn either side of the shield or supporting it from without,
[as in the case of English Heraldry Blazon by a Royal Family the latter would
point to some deed or accomplishment]
The placement of the Figures describes an independent Royal Sept in it’s own right.
The severed red right hand [dexter hand couped at the wrist gules] is a feature of many
coats of arms for families of the legendary Uí Neill [i.e. descendants of Niall]
of which the O Reilly clan is purported to be descended, as is the O Rourke Clan.
The symbol is associated with the province of Ulster where these Clans were prevalent.
This is an ancient Clan Symbol dubbed 'The Red Hand of Ulster' appears on the Arms of that Province
and was included on the modern flag of Northern Ireland for a short period around the 1960's.
Here are two explanations for the symbolism;
1) The first relates to the ancient legend of Nuada, King of the Tuatha Dé Danann,
who, the Saga tells, was of the owner of an invincible sword, who had his right hand
severed by Sreng during a great battle with the Fomorians [one of the earliest
Legendary Tribes of Ireland].
No imperfect man being allowed to hold the throne, Nuada was forced to abdicate
in favour of Bres. However, a silver hand was fashioned for him from the power of
ancient magic but still the people would not accept him as their King.
The new aperture began to fester and the severed hand of Nuada was eventually
exhumed and with the power of ancient magic caused flesh and sinew to grow back
around the prosthesis.
Bres had proved to be a tyrant and when the Tuatha de Danann exiled Bres,
Nuada resumed his position as King. Nuada was later killed by Balor but more of
this tale later.
2) The second, tells of another ancient Legend that relates a pact among the seven sons
of Miledh of Esbain, the Celtic king who sons conquered Ireland.
The rule of the new land would be whosoever among them first touched the soil of
the island. As the flotilla approached the shore, one of the sons took his sword, cut off
his right hand and threw it to land, thus claiming Sovereignty.
The story, if true, may relate to Erimhon who is reputed to have been the first Celtic
ruler of the northern part of Ireland. His brother Ebher ruled the southern half.
They were the only two of the seven brothers who survived the conquest.
As this story conflicts with the Laws of Ireland relating to physical imperfection of
kings, it would seem that this legendary king may perhaps have been the source of
this abhorrence for reasons lost in time.
The blood dripping from the Dexter hand: This symbolism is entirely unique to the O Raghallaigh [O Reilly] Sept.
The symbolism to date is unexplained.
Ancestry of O Raghallaigh
Progenitor: Con Cetchathach or ‘Conn of the Hundred Battles’.
This famed Warrior/King, was the purported 110th Monarch of Ireland who ruled from AD123-157.
Conn is also mentioned to be the 45th in line of descent from Milesius.
There are many stories of ancient tribes whose arrival outdated that of the Gael and their ancient
progenitor King Milesius (Milidh) who were said to arrive from Spain.
Prior to the arrival of sons of King Milesius the mythological tribes in Ireland were said to include
the the Fomorians (Fomhóire), the Partholonians, the Nemedians, the Fir Bolgs and the
Tuatha de Danann. Stories of these people are among the more prominent among the pre-historical
accounts of ancient Hibernia (i.e.Eire - later Ireland).
The division of Ireland by the sons of Milesius (the Gael) followed.
As the generations progress we come to the life of Conn of the Hundred Battles, a legendary
High King of Ireland was the son of Fedhlimidh Rachtmar and his mother was Ughna Ollchrothach.
He gained the throne of Connaught by overthrowing Mal who had killed Conn's father.
Con's rival for the kingship of Ireland was the King of Munster, Éogan Mór, also known as Mug Nuadat,
the son of Rochruidhe, King of Ulster, who defeated Conn in ten battles and took half of Ireland from
Mug was able to gain such power because his Druid predicted a famine, which he prepared for by
storing grain. Mug was killed when Conn led a night attack against his forces with all of his tribal
leaders save one behind him. Conn’s forces ultimately overwhelmed Mug’s army and Mug was killed
in the process.
Conn reigned 35 years until he was barbarously slain by Tiobraidhe Tireach, son of Mal.
This murder was committed at Tara, A.D. 157, when Conn chanced to be alone, unattended by his guards;
the assassins were fifty ruffians, disguised as women.
Brian, the son of Conn of the hundred battles was known to have had twenty-four sons
[records of how many were legitimate are lost].
Collectively, his descendants became known as Ui Briuin, or the race of Brian.
One of his sons, Dui Galach was the progenitor of not only the O'Reilly, but also of the O'Flaherty,
the O'Connor, and the O'Rourke Septs.
Over the generations the Direct Line moved in the direction of Dubhcren and Catalan Raghallaigh.
Their blood cousin was Niall of the Nine Hostages son of the king over Erin, namely, Eochaid Mugmedon.
Legend tells of Niall's perilous birth and his encounter with a seemingly loathsome hag at a Well in Erin,
who demanded a kiss in return for water. Whilst his brothers would take no part, Niall complied, no only
with a kiss but an offer to lie with her. The hag revealed herself as beautiful announcing;
“I am the Sovereignty of Erin.” She instructed Niall Neil to go to Tara where he was given rulership of
He owes his Title in later taking one high ranking hostage from each of the nine surrounding Tribes
thus forcing them into submission.
By the 10th Century he eventually became the High King of Ireland and the Septs under his rule paid him
his customary dues which legend states he used the money to re-build Churches destroyed in Conflicts
and on other projects.
One such register records O Raghallaigh [the ancestor of the O'Rielly Clan] who was blood cousin to Brian;
'Here is the account of the customary right and rent of O Neill from Breifne;
From O Raghallaigh that he come with his full muster, without considering any benefit or hardship
of his people;
twenty marks from Iochtar Tire;
twenty marks from the kin of Aodh O Raghallaigh;
twenty marks and five ounces from the kin of Aodh Caoch an Fheadha;
and ten marks of An Biatach;
and ten marks from the kin of Scon mac Toirdhealbhaigh;
and five marks on the country of Cathal mac Maolmhordha;
and five marks from the kin of Giolla Iosa Og;
and five marks and six ounces from the kin of Feidhlimidh mac Feaghail;
and the two and a half marks of Toirdhealbhach Og mac Glaisne;
the mark of Eoghan O Raghallaigh
Provision for one hundred and fifty men is the normal billeting to which O Neill is entitled from Breifne.
And twenty shillings from Domhnall O Raghallaigh,
and twenty shillings from Baile Trasna,
the mark of Seon O Raghallaigh
And it was 'narrow-cross money', or salfas which was due from everyone when the rent was first proclaimed.”
It is recorded that Raghallaigh died in the Battle of Contat in AD1014 but no proof of this event exists.
What is historically certain is that his direct descendants became known from this time on as ‘son of’ or ‘grandson of’
etc of Raghallaigh giving birth to the name O’Reilly.
The first references to the O’Reilly’s in official registers show them to the north, governing a small area of the
The Defeat of the O'Rielly Clan at the hands of their cousins the O'Rouke Clan
Their blood cousins, the O’Rourke Clan had grown to be a more powerful Tribe then governing Leitrem.
Conflict between the two tribes was inevitable.
Each tribe remained resolute and both population numbers waned and ebbed in the midst of constant battles.
In AD1161 a severe battle ensued which saw the O’Rourke Tribe, more powerful in numbers and by force
defeated the O’Reilly Clan, their King Godfraid [son of Raghallach] was massacred in the battle.
It took several years for the O’Reilly Tribe to recover, but the tide would soon turn.
The O'Rielly Clan and the Norman Knights post 1066.
Meanwhile across the sea the Normans, after Defeating the Armies of the Saxons at Hastings in AD1066 were
content to survey their new won Land and its Wealth but before long, their greedy eyes soon cast towards Ireland.
Some have said that the O’Reilly Tribe, knowing that they had little hope of defeating the O’Rourkes and regaining
their former lands, looked for an alliance. The Normans were a likely ally, they were not the only Clan to consider
such a proposal. This has never been proven although the O’Reilly's sudden rise to power over the O’Rourkes
during this era seems to indicate this alliance.
O'Reilly Clan Regain their Former Power
AD1169 the Normans began to count their allies in Ireland in readiness for the Conquest of Ireland.
For Political favours the O’Reilly clan may have joined forces with them as did other of the Gaelic tribes.
Some would argue that this was a wise choice.
The Tribes who had more to gain and little to lose thus compromised their native land for a regaining previously lost
The O’Rourke Clan stood firm.
Perhaps it may have been rather their lack of the allegiance of their kinsmen that led to their defeat.
The Norman conquest led to King Tieran O’Rourke eventually preparing to negotiate peace with Hugh De Lacy
the Chief of the Normans in 1172, when during the negotiations he died in an underhanded way.
This left the O’Rourke Clan without it’s leader and they fell into abandonment.
The O’Reilly Clan was gradually gaining more power.
An uneasy peace shadowed over Ireland, which lasted almost a generation.
AD1220 Annadh O’Reilly died. He was the last one of the ancestry to be traditionally crowned King.
It was also in this year that De Lacy [or more likely his son] returned to Ireland with his looting army thinking
he was facing a weak and inefficient enemy.
His arrogance was only exceeded by his dullness and his under-estimation of the O’Reilly Tribe who seeing the
greed and betrayal of the Norman began passing the time preparing for a war in retaliation.
AD1223 De Lacy launched an invasion on the County of Cavan, determined to erase completely the family of O Reilly
and to seize all it's lands.
O'Reilly Clan Defeat the Normans
AD1224 the O’Reilly Tribe raised the wall in Lough Oughter and in AD1226 they defeated the Norman battalion
in Kilmore. The Norman forces suffered a severe defeat in the battle in Bellavalley Gap.
The O’Reilly Sept were the clear victors, the Norman threat was then removed from Ireland.
The Victory also took a great toll on the Reilly Clan, many children were lost as were brothers.
The now modern day County of Cavan was from that time called Breifne o’Reilly and this Tribe ruled over that
part of Ireland for the next 450 years.
During this time they were said to have built their own mint and coined money in Ireland called 'The Reilly'.