Irish Chiefs of the Name
Historically, in Ireland, there were hundreds of tribes/clans/families/septs/tuatha resident on the island. Each of these family groups had an Irish chief, or head of the family. Eventually, as groups of clans banded together (tuatha), there came to be somewhat of a distinction between a larger/regional group’s ‘Chief’, and a smaller/more local group’s ‘Chieftain’. Further, there were dynastic clan chiefs who were royalty, kings and sovereigns over their own family sub-groups, as well as other families such as O’Conor Don (of Connacht) ; MacCarthy Mór (of Munster and Desmond); O’Brien (of Munster and Thomond); O’Neill (of Ulster); and, MacMurrough-Kavanagh (of Leinster).
‘Courtesy Recognition’ of Irish Chiefs
With the destruction of the Gaelic system, history lost the vast majority of hereditary chiefs and chieftains. But with the coming of Irish freedom/independence in 1922 (and partially before), some chiefs began to come forward, to ‘proclaim’, and again use their historic Gaelic titles. Finally, in 1944, the successor Irish government (based then and now on English Common Law) authorized a form of recognition of the old titles/chiefships, which was referred to as ‘Courtesy Recognition’. This system operated until 2003.
However, under the constitution of the Republic of Ireland, this practice was (at least technically) illegal in the first place; which was finally recognized by the Irish government, and the ‘courtesy recognition’ business then stopped altogether. It had been abused with one totally false person being certified as a chief, and there were perhaps a few others whose claims were not studied carefully enough. In short, the system operating within the Office of Chief Herald was a mess, and this has brought great embarrassment on the Irish government and to many people who acted on its advice.
However, at the time this system was operating, it was considered ‘the approving authority’ for claims to a chiefship of name, and indeed its approval was taken as absolute proof of legitimacy. Certification/recognition by the Irish Genealogical Office (IGO)/Office of the Chief Herald entitled the person to automatic admission to the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains (SCICC), founded in 1990 in order to promote the interests of its members and Irish culture in general. So, as of 2003, with the Office of Chief Herald no longer being an approving authority, many naturally (though in ignorance) viewed the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains as the ‘new’ approving authority.
Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and
However, the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains CICC, has in fact NO approving authority over successions to Chiefships. It never did, never should, and never will. All it has is approval authority over its own admissions. Since 1999, it has admitted no one, even though there have been applications from at least four or five Chiefs who have proclaimed, based on their proofs and genealogical reports. In short, the Council has walked away from any responsibility to anyone attempting to be admitted. It appears to not want any accountability even for its own admissions, and a few people have reported that they haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply to their submissions.
The reputation of the Council has fallen significantly, and the only thing it appears to do is to offer an annual prize for an essay on a Gaelic subject. It maintains no website and, as said, seemingly gives out no information. Composed of less than twenty Chiefs of Name (and no ‘Chieftains’), most do not live in Ireland, and it is unclear how often they even meet anymore. Nonetheless, there are indeed some very, very qualified individuals who are still members. But, all in all, the organization has been invisible in terms of taking any position on a number of subjects, and has not responded to any of the attacks on its members which certain people have carried out.
Clans of Ireland Ltd.
One organization that does exist, and is public, and has a website, is Clans of Ireland Ltd., which is based in Dublin. This organization was started in 1989 with the help of the Irish government, and has done good work in helping clans organize (that is, people with a common surname). They have encouraged groupings, and clan rallies in Ireland, and the election of ‘honorary’ chiefs. ‘Honorary’ because those elected would not be of the derbhfine line, and would therefore not be hereditaries as on the SCICC. (Though an honorary Chief would almost certainly step aside if a true hereditary descent were to be proved in a given family.) It is not a practice or responsibility of Clans of Ireland Ltd to distinguish between hereditaries and honoraries.
Irish titles and inheritances are back (‘finally’, some would say); back to where they always were, and should have stayed: in the possession of the individual families – to settle their successions within the family (or, as was also the common Irish practice, to fight it out among rival claimants).
The key today is that the government of the Republic of Ireland is out of the ‘recognition’ business, over which it never had any authority in the first place. The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains – even if it ceases to be ‘invisible’ – is not, and never will be, an ‘approving’ authority. There is only one approving authority: the derbhfine of the individual family.
Yes, it is a shame that so many bloodline descents have been lost over the centuries, due to the destruction of records by the invaders, emigrations, and loss of ‘Irish identity’ as fostered by the imposed government of the British.
However, it is comforting to see that so many Irish families have taken to the clan movement, and many are indeed searching for their surviving chiefly lines, with a view to having an Hereditary Chief once again!
Reprinted, with permission, from the Doyle Clan website December, 2011