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Supported by the Probus Club, Ballycastle, County Antrim.

Images of the manuscript courtesy of Frank Boyd.

The discovery a hand written, eighteenth century manuscript relating to the genealogy of the ancient Irish House of O’Reilly is an amazing story and deserves a book in itself. All we know for certain is that it was discovered at an auction in Munich by the renowned musician and book collector Nikolaus Grüger, but who the seller was, and how the manuscript travelled from Spain to Germany remained a secret known perhaps only to the seller and the discreet auctioneer.
We do, however, know a bit about its origins. It was commissioned by Count Alexander O'Reilly in 1790 in order to emphasize his family’s ancient lineage on the eve of his eldest son’s marriage to the aristocratic Countess Buenavista. It was researched and written by the Chevalier Thomas O’Gorman, who was paid the sum of 1,000 guineas to research the pedigree of the House of O’Reilly.
The first full sized vellum copy was written in Latin in the 1780s and deposited in the archives of Spain. Copies in English were sent to relatives of Count Alexander O'Reilly who had commissioned the work. An English translation of smaller folio vellum followed and was sent to Alexander Count O'Reilly for his own library. Another copy of the English translation was deposited in the office of Arms in the Birmingham Tower of Dublin Castle and two copies were also made for the O'Reilly family in Ireland.

All images of original manuscript in this video and website courtesy of Frank Boyd.

Count Alexander O'Reilly

Count Alexander O’Reilly's grandfather like so many of the Gaelic nobility, had fled Ireland at the time of the Wild Geese after the catastrophic defeat of the Jacobite armies in 1691. He and his descendants were made welcome in the Spanish court and many of them served the Catholic cause with distinction in Europe, while proudly holding onto their Gaelic identity and aspirations despite the loss of their Irish estates.

Alexander himself was born in 1722 in County Meath and enrolled in the Hibernia regiment in Spain fighting alongside his exiled countrymen.  His military excellence earned him the rank of Field-Marshal and he he set out to remodel the Spanish army,

As second in command he served in the Spanish crown in Havanna and Louisiana earning him the title of Condé de O’Reilly (Count O’Reilly), the Governorship of Madrid and Cadiz and Captain-General of Andalusia.

In order to establish his aristocratic credentials  and secure his daughter's marriage he commissioned Chevalier Thomas O’Gorman to research the pedigree of the O’Reilly clan and preserve its history and mark its eminence. The Genealogy of the House of O’Reilly is the product.

The Manuscript itself

Chevalier Tomas O’Gorman was one of the foremost genealogist of his day and a collector of Irish manuscripts. He was responsible for the acquisition of the Book of Lecan by the Royal Irish Academy and he also donated the Book of Ballymote to the RIA. Thus he was in a position to draw upon a considerable range of sources

The genealogy covers almost 1,000 years of the House of O’Reilly, the ruling family of Bréifne. The territory they occupied was known as Bréifne now anglicised as ‘Breffny’ and ‘Brefnie’, incorporating County Leitrim and Cavan and beyond and where the name is still widely found.

His account is much more than a record of births, deaths and marriages. It is very much a document of its place and time, and goes beyond enumerating military exploits and political alliances. It describes how the family acquired a reputation as astute financiers, coining their own money, which was suppressed by the English Crown.

It gives valuable insights into the the political expectations and attitudes of the exiled Irish nobility whose  experience and loyalties are evidenced in comments on military and political leadership, particularly as it applied to Ireland and its fraught relationship with is colonising neighbour. The result is more much more than a table of generations and events and should prove of considerable interest to Irish genealogists and historians alike.

All images of original manuscript courtesy of Frank Boyd.

Chevalier Thomas O'Gorman

The role and life of Thomas O'Gorman has been much neglected despite his contributions to the preservation of some of Ireland's most important documents and the fact that he was person of interest in his own right and lived in very interesting times. A native Irish speaker, he was born in Clare into a prominent family who had occupied the territory of Drumelihy and Cahermurphy in the Burren. Like Count Alexander, he was an exiled Irishman barred from advancement in Ireland by the Penal Laws. He studied medicine in Paris and entered military service in France, earning the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, and the title Chevalier.

As a tall, imposingly handsome medical student, he caught the eye of Marguerite Françoise-Victoire d'Éon de Beaumont of Burgundy and they apparently eloped. This is supposed to have so outraged the young woman’s father that, in order to thwart O’Gorman’s possible inheritance of the family estates, he claimed his androgynous younger 'daughter', Charles-Geneviève, was a man, and therefore his heir, and sent him off on a military career. 

This was the start of O'Gorman's relationship with Chevalier Charles-Geneviève d'Eon, now an icon of the LGBT community and the subject of many sensationalised biographies. Whatever the truth of stories of the 'elopement', we do know that d'Eon became an important spy and diplomat in the French court where his transgender identity played an important part in international intrigues. It also led him into trouble with his superiors resulting in him having to sign a "Transaction" imposed by Louis XVI declaring he was female, and therefore virtually disqualifying 'him' from professional life. So after a life of intrigue and duplicity d'Eon returned home to Burgundy to join his brother-in-law, O'Gorman, running the family vineyards. 

Whatever problems may have arisen over the 'elopement', O'Gorman and his wife had apparently been reconciled to her family and O'Gorman ran the successful family wine business. His connections in Ireland meant he had wealthy clients whom he visited frequently, gathering important Irish historic documents and gaining a reputation as a professional genealogist.

Thus when Count O'Reilly approached him to compile the O'Reilly genealogy, O’Gorman was well qualified to do so. He had played a significant role in the foundation of the Royal Irish Academy and was of central importance it its acquisition of at least two of its most significant annals: The Annals of Ballimote and the Book of Lecan. This expertise was valued by the exiled Jacobites who wished to demonstrate their right to preferment and, as in Count O’Reilly's case, to be recognised as exiled nobility in the Catholic Courts of Europe.

However, the upheavals of the French Revolution meant connections with the aristocracy became particularly perilous and O'Gorman returned to Ireland where he died in poverty in Dromahilly, County Clare in 1809.

The O'Reillys of Brefne

The name O’Reilly is intimately associated with Breifne, County Cavan. To this day its people and landscape proudly proclaim the name and bear witness to the significance of the O’Reillys.

Cloughoughter Castle. Rising from an island in Lough Oughter are the magnificent remains of the great O’Reilly stronghold.
Overlooking  town of Cavan is the ancient tower of Cavan Friary which is  intimately associated with the O’Reillys.
Castle Saunderson  stands on the site of another O’Reilly stronghold formerly known as Breffni Castle. It remains another sad reminder of the overthrow of the ancient Gaelic order of which the O’Reillys were such a prominent part.

Our new affordable editions of this great manuscript

Both editions contain an introduction by Frank Rogers and two pieces written by Nikolaus Grüger outlining the manuscript's background and history.  

Parts of the manuscript in Medieval Latin have been translated; we think for the first time.

These are of considerable interest regarding:

  • the contribution the O’Reilly clan made to the Irish Church, especially its bishoprics
  • the O'Reilly connection with “the most noble Irish Family MacDowell” and the MacDonnells of Antrim.

126 pages. Hardback, black and white with colour plates.
Modern format.
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128 pages. Hard-backed Presentation edition, resized facsimile of the complete manuscript, enhanced to improve legibility.
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