Erin’s Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties Of Ireland, by Peter Berresford Ellis
This is a fascinating book for several reasons. Among the reasons is that the place of the Irish nobility within Irish society has been a contentious one, and it is an issue that the author deals with over and over again as there are some serious struggles that Ireland has to face regarding its elites. The Irish elites in many cases made compromising deals with the English or fled overseas and avoided the worst of the effects of English rule, and in either case a certain degree of bad blood resulted from the disconnect that often existed between the senior lineages of Irish noble houses and the opinions of the rest of their families, to say nothing about the rest of their people. Ireland at present is technically a republic, and a republic with a large number of noble and royal descendants, some of whom have been guilty of a bit of airbrushing of their lineages and others of which have to struggle with the aftereffects of centuries of English domination, including the domination of English law and ideas of primogeniture that are contrary to the tanist principles of Irish royalty. The resulting muddle is perfect for a book and the author provides a good one, provided the subject matter is of interest.
This book is a bit more than 350 pages long in its core material and it is divided into three parts and fourteen chapters. The author begins with a foreword on the shenanigans of a man who would be prince, as well as an introduction and a note on the complexities of Irish Gaelic names. The first part of the book looks at the extinction and survival of the Irish nobility in the face of centuries of harsh English/British rule (I), including a discussion of the Gaelic aristocracy (1), the tanist dynastic laws of Gaelic succession (2), the “utter abolition” of Gaelic titles in the sixteenth century and afterward (3), the struggle for survival among Irish elites (4), the thought that such family lineages were “extinct forever,” although many weren’t in abeyance (5), and a conflict of perceptions in what it means to give “courtesy recognition” (6). This is followed by a detailed discussion of the lineage of various Irish lines (II), divided by kingdom into the Kingdom of Munster (Desmond) (7), Munster again (Thomond) (8), Connacht (9), Ulster (10), and Leinster (11). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of rank and merit (III) in the Irish nobility system, including the MacCarthy Mor affair (12), the issue of Gaelic knights (13), and the question of the future of the Irish native aristocracy (14), after which there are acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, and an index.
In reading this book I was struck by how entertaining I found the book despite the fact that I had no personal stake in its family history as I have plenty of Scot-Irish and English ancestry but do not know of any Irish ancestry at all. One of the clan chiefs had been a member of Worldwide Church of God and an early graduate of Ambassador College–I am sure there is a story there that would be suitable for this blog and for many who share that background. Other clan chiefs were part of the Portuguese or Spanish nobility and one was a longstanding Baron in the British nobility as well as being The O’Neill. And the book deals thoughtfully with the problem of lineages and the need to verify where people are really descended from, or to scrap the whole interest in primogeniture and get the ancestral lineages of the noble houses of Ireland working again, which would make Ireland a nation with a rather high degree of nobles, for all of its protests that it does not grant, only recognize, noble lineages in their republic. An Irish republic full of active noble houses would be among the strangest republics than one could imagine, but this book encourages the reader to do just that.