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Flaherty Family "Lore"


Myths and Stories Surrounding the Name "Flaherty"
The name "Flaherty" goes back centuries in Irish history. This page will trace some of the ancient historic and mythic associations of the name. While I can't say for sure if ANY of this relates in ANY way to our family (and in some cases even if it's true), odds are that there is some connection back in the dim reaches of history, and this just makes interesting reading. For a more personalized recounting of our family history, see the "Flaherty Family History" section.


The family motto of the Flaherty clan is "Fortunas Favet Fortibus", which translates to "Fortune Favors those with Fortitude" (or inner strength).

Now, don't hold me to this, because I'm not 100% sure. I couldn't find the blazon or description of our family crest (pictured at left) anywhere, but based on stadard heraldric format, I believe it would be Argent a hand scarlet, between two lions combattant, above a boat sable, meaning "White/silver shield with a red hand between two lions facing each other, over a black boat."

One story that I read about the meaning of the hand (especially when combined with the boat) is that at some point in distant history, there was a boat race to claim land; the chieftan who touched the shore first would claim the area for his clan. When it looked like he might lose the race, the cheiftan of the O'Flaherty clan cut off his hand and threw it to the shore, ahead of his opponents. While the veracity of this story is HIGHLY doubtful (it is actually very similar to a story from ancient Celtic mythology), it is a great story to tell your friends!

Quite often, the crest is capped by a helmet upon which is a small lizard. The legend behind this is that an ancient warrior of the tribe found himself separated from his people and pursued by the enemy. For days, he dodged his pursuers as he worked his way through the ancient forests towards home. At one point he couldn't stay awake any longer and fell asleep in the brush. As his enemies closed in, a small lizard ran across the lad's face, waking him and allowing him to escape capture and death. When he reached his home again, he told his family about what had happened. In order to remind them and their descendants that all life (even that of such small creature) must be honored, the lizard was added to the crest.

This history of the Flaherty/O'Flaherty name begins in the 10th century AD, around a Prince of Connaught who was a member of Hy Briuin race (the descendants of King Bryan of Connacht). He was named Flaithbertaig Mac Ermin (Flaherty, son of Evin). Flaithbertaig means "bright ruler." In the 11th century, when surnames came into usage, this clan took the name O'Flaithbertaig, meaning "the descendant of the bright ruler." When converted from Gaelic to English, it becomes "O'Flaherty."

The clan had emerged from the Viking wars of the previous two centuries as a dominant force in the area, well-known for both great skill in combat and hospitality. Muireadhach O'Flaherty was the high chief of the clan, and united many of the local tribes in Muntermorroghe on Ireland's west coast, around Loch Corrib and Galway Bay (in the area shown in the map at the right). They were technically subject to the O'Connor's but maintained a fierce independence.

For centuries, the bards stressed two main charactristics of the O'Flaherty clan. First was their courage in battle, which earned them the title of "O'Flaherty of the Sword." For example, the O'Flaherty chieftan Eamon Laidir (Strong Edward) could reportedly slice his way through an entire battalion of armed men. Since the O'Flahertys were patrons of ancient Celtic culture (and not happy with the coming of the Normans with their ways), this battle prowess is the reason many Norman litanies included the line, "From the ferocious O'Flahertys, O Lord, deliver us." The other major characteristic of the family is their hospitality. Perhaps this is why they became such patrons of the arts.

In 1092, Flaherty O'Flaherty seized the Kingdom of Connaught, and named himself High King (Ard Ri) of Ireland. He later chose not to keep the throne, turning it over to the O'Connor's before dying in battle in the year 1098. The two clans remained close, and when the Normans tried to invade Connought, the O'Flahertys were among the clans chosen by King Roderick O'Conner for his council of war. While the Normans won (of course), Connaught was the last of the Irish Territories to fall, and won many concessions from the Normans to maintain peace. As a result, the area was able to maintain it's Gaelic roots.

For 400 years, the O'Flahertys held Connaught with such dominance that in 1585 the Englishman Sir John Perrot reffered to it as "O'Fflahertyes Contrey" in his history of the area. This time period was something of a Renaissance for the clan, and brought forth such illustrious personages as Murrough of the Axes, Donnel of the Wars and Grace O'Malley the Pirate Queen. During the 16th Century, the stronghold of "the Ferocious O'Flaherties" was Castle Aghnenure (pictured at the left). From here, they ruled their area (Iar Connaught), which included the baronies of Moycullen and Ballinehinch, as well as the half-barony Ross. During this medieval period, they were known as Lords of Iar Connacht.

In one of the darkest parts of O'Flaherty history, they were held responsible for the 17th century massacre at Shrule, where dozens of English Protestants were murdered. While some family members were probably involved in this activity, many historians believe that the event was blown out of proportion by the English as a means of demonizing their enemies. Thus began a campaign of propaganda and harsh restrictions agains the Irish by the English. Following the Treaty of Limerick, the O'Flahertys (and all the other Irish families that fought for the Stuarts) lost everything they owned. In spite of this treatment, the Irish (and the Flaherty clan) survived. Rory O'Flaherty wrote "The History of Pagan Ireland," a book which is STILL considered one of the best source-books on Irish history. Then, in the 19th century, the family began to prosper again, actually having members in Parliament. Like many Irish families, there were also many members of the Flahertys who left their ancestral home land for the new world. And, maintaining their combination of strength and hospitality, they have continued to prosper.

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