O'Kelley History

My goal is to rediscover the lost history of the O'Kelleys, I find evidence that they were a much larger and more powerful race than modern history records.  The Kelley DNA Project indicates there wasn't a single "Ceallach", pronounced "Kelley", ancestor that all O'Kellys descend, the O'Kelley surname is thought to have sprang up independently in many places in Ireland and as Kelley in England and McKelly in Scotland.  In the Kelley DNA Project there are more than 50 different groups that have different ancestors and that many more individuals also appear as ungrouped.  I have great doubts that they were independent, I suspect that a large number descend from men who were of Ui Maine either by blood or by loyalty and because "O'Kelley" became the most powerful of the hereditary Kings of the Ui Maine that some non related Septs took the O'Kelley surname and were likely considered as "O'Kelley" as those blood related to Maine Mor, that it was likely a way some Kings rewarded their most loyal persons, that some of these became O'Kelley via adoption, fostering, and because some sons selected their maternal name "O'Kelley" surname over their paternal name.  This is likely how it came to be believed that all O'Kelleys descend from Teige Mor O'Kelly who died at the Battle of Clontarf.

The most famous Irish O'Kelley Sept are the O'Kelly of Hy-Many or the O'Kelly of Connaught as I believe should be the more properly classified because to call their living descendants "Hy-Many" is to assume that they are the only descendants of Maine Mor to bear the "O'Kelly" surname and DNA seems to dispute that possibility.  My research suggest that they are famous mostly because living in the west the Gaelic Nobility of the "O'Kelly of Hy-Many" survived the 1172 AD English invasion of Ireland and Dr John O'Donovan immortalized them when he published his book "The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many: Commonly called O'Kelly Country".  It is easy to forget that what we think we know in the now, might not be how it was then and I think much of what we know is how it was after the English invasion in 1172 AD and Ireland was a much different place before that invasion and much of its history was lost because of the invasion.  The conquered is rarely remembered correctly by their conquerors, and while it took hundreds of years, Ireland was conquered because modern Ireland is nothing like the Ireland before the invasion.  England has retained its King and Queen and Nobile class to this day but they broke the line of Irish Kings long ago and did it so efficiently that I doubt they could be restored with any confidence or desire.  Ireland is so English in their thought that there are no more Gaelic Chiefs, no Gaelic order, no Brehon Law in Ireland, no Sept ownership of property, most Irish couldn't tell their line of grandfathers back more than a few generations but neither can American of Irish ancestry because everything is as the English influenced it to be.  They still cherish and document their descent back to their great kings while influencing their conquered subjects to abolish theirs so Ireland and most of our modern world was conquered or is influenced by the English, a tiny Island off the coast of Europe where even today is the place where "time" begins.   The new dawn of every day of our lives for most of the world begins at Greenwich London England.  The English influenced everything including how our O'Kelley history is remembered because only those published in the written English word are thought to have existed but I have doubts that was the way it really was as an 1889 Irish Times article doesn't mention the O'Kelly of Connaught, it only makes mention of the O'Kelley who was Lord of Bregia and his descent from Irish Monarch Aed of Slaine and this has caused me to suspect that maybe many of these different lines of O'Kelley were actually one large Sept in their "Glory" days and Irish Monarch Aed of Slaine was a descendant of Maine Mor and that the O'Kelley of Bregia living in the most productive area of Ireland and in the seat of Irish power were likely not just equal to the O'Kellys of Connaught but in those early years were likely greater because in that time the production of food was the "oil" of civilization and most of that production of food in Ireland occurred in Bregia something displayed on the O'Kelley of Bregia Coat of Arms, that is why the English desired Meath and took it and left most of Connaught for the Irish.  I think what has prevented many researchers from arriving at my conclusion that DNA proves Irish Monarch Aed Slaine was Ui Maine and the O'Kelleys were a much larger Sept is the belief that to be an Irish Monarch that Aedh of Slaine must be of the Southern Ui Neill and descend from what might be a mythical "Naill of Nine" so a Pedigree was created the so called "Southern O'Neill" but my DNA indicates that the O'Kelley fo Bregia were not O'Neill and for it me brings into question if there ever was a "Southern O'Neill" and Wiki also has doubts as it says:

"Áed and his kin were considered by later genealogies and histories to be members of the southern branch of the Uí Néill kindred, but this may be a later addition to include the descendants of Diarmait mac Cerbaill, supposed to be great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, among the ranks of the dominant Uí Néill. The other branches of the Uí Néill, the great Cenél Conaill and the Cenél nEógain, and the lesser Cenél Lóegairi, Cenél Maine, Cenél nÉndai, Cenél Coirpri and Cenél Fiachach, traced their ancestry rather to sons of Niall"

My distant DNA match to the O'Kellys of Connaught suggest that the O'Kelley of Bregia or my line of O'Kelley of Meath descend from Maine Mor something that noted Irish researcher Michael O'Laughlin of the Irishrootscafe.com published in 2002 "A Genealogical History of the Milesian Families of Ireland " and on page 7 he connects the O'Kelly of Hy-Many and the O'Kelley of Bregia as a single O'Kelley Ui Maine Sept and suggests that the "Chief of Hy-Many" came from both lines and he references them using the double "e" spelling of my name.  My family tradition is we come from Meath where we were "prominent", some claim we were "Ui Maine" and wrongly connected us to the O'Kelly of Hy-Many bloodline, but we also have a tradition that we spell our name with the two "e"s because that is the way the "old Irish O'Kelleys spelled it" and there could be truth to this story because those O'Kelleys who came in contact with the English early would have used an English spelling of our surname when names had lots of extra "e"s.  Is it possible that Connaught which included "Hy-Many" or "Ui Maine" as it was known in that time was once much larger and began at the bay in Galway in the west and extended east to the Irish Sea and include Bregia?  I find it possible that Connaught didn't exist at all and it was all Ui Maine but with the decline of Ui Maine the the rise of the Connors Connaught came into being with the assumption that it always existed.  What seems certain to me is the mathematics of the "O'Kelley" surname in it's many reduced forms suggest this was true, after all the name "Kelly" isn't numerous just because the O'Kelley's like to have children, it is numerous because they were once a much larger "Sept" and they are scattered throughout Ireland because they were once mostly seated in Meath and the English Invasion did to them what the Romans did to the Jewish Nation.  I think this is proven by the 1014 AD Battle of Clontarf where the King of Ui Maine Teige Mor O'Kelly commanded King Brian's first division and 1/4 of his army. I don't think that a minor King who ruled over what eventually became Co Roscommon and Galway would have such loyalty from the men of Connaught who lived under other Kings but a King Teige Mor O'Kelly who ruled over 1/4 of Ireland would have a large population of those he ruled over who under Brehen Law were duty bound to follow him into battle.  I believe he commanded that division because they were "Ui Maine" and many were not from within the modern borders of Connaught but from Westmeath and Meath so I think the mathematics prove that Ui Maine was a much larger place before the coming of the English to Ireland otherwise there would not be so many of the O'Kelley name throughout Ireland.  It was the English reduction of Ui Maine that created the different pockets we know today as Bregia, Hy-Many, Clann Kelly, and one of the seven tribes of Lexi.  This is what Michael O'Laughlin data suggest and John O'Dugan was the historian for the O'Kellys of Hy-Many and he recorded in a poem in 1392 AD the O'Kelleys of Tara who operated the Harbors. Dr John O'Donovan would write in the 1800s that these Harbors that the O'Kelley of Tara or Bregia pronounced "Brey" were on the river Shannon but that river is located far west of Tara and Bregia as it forms the more traditional eastern border of Hy-Many so maybe O'Laughlin has this right and a thousand years ago Hy-Many was a much larger place, might have included 1/4 of the Irish land mass and the O'Kelleys like the O'Neills were a collections of many related but powerful families of who the O'Kelleys were Chief and these O'Kelley often fought among themselves for control.  While it is easy to think of "Hy-Many" as a physical place, it serves the function of a surname because it describes the blood descendants of Maine Mor but it doesn't just describe "descendants of Maine" but also includes non-related families that are accepted members of the Sept and that is why it is confused to be a land, it is confused into being the land that the Hy-Many controlled so in many ways it was an early form of a "Nation" which is sometimes referred to as "Race".  What is more likely, that many different families living in the many petty kingdoms around Ireland independently decided to take the O'Kelley surname or that Ui Maine was once very large and ruled by a Sept who took the O'Kelley surname and they prospered and multiplied resulting in many descendants some paternal and some maternal because it seems likely that the children of the daughters of O'Kelleys may have also favored the maternal name of a great Chief Sept.  I think it was the death of Teige Mor O'Kelly at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 that started his Kingdom of Ui Maine on its decline and reduction until it eventually became the Hy-Many in Connaught that Dr John O'Donovan records in his book "The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many: Commonly Called O'Kelly Country". 

Maybe the O'Kelley history is so large that it has been overlooked in modern times, there should be no doubts that the English Invasion completely changed Ireland and its Gaelic Order but in the time of King Henry VIII the old Ireland might have been better understood.  Ulster controlled by the O Neills remained mostly outside of King Henry VIII control but he managed to force Conn O Neil "The O Neill" to submit, surrender his lands and have them regranted to O Neill as the 1st Earl of Tyrone.  This caused considerable contention between Conn and his son Shane O Neill who saw the creation of the Earldom as his father giving away his Irish birthright as an Irish King.  1st Earl of Tyrone Conn O Neill did an usual thing, he adopted Matthew O'Kelley as his son and named him to inherit the Earldom of Tyrone when Conn O Neill died over his blood son Shane O Neill.  The English accepted Conn O Neill's bequest likely because they saw the O'Kelleys as more accommodating than the O Neills and they saw this as a way to break the Gaelic Irish's control over Ulster.  While some have tried to rewrite history by claiming that Matthew was a blood O Neill, that he was an illegitimate son of Conn O Neill thus making his son the "Great" Earl, the 2nd Earl of Tyrone Hugh O Neill a true O Neill, Dr John O'Donovan wrote that he believed Matthew O'Kelley, the adopted son of Conn O Neill was an O'Kelley of Bregia and via his birthright from Irish Monarch Aed Slaine that Matthew O'Kelley's son, Hugh "O'Kelley" O Neill was more equal and maybe more qualified than the O Neills to rule Ireland so even in O'Donovan's time the memory of a greater O'Kelley nation was remembered.  If the 2nd Earl of Tyrone Hugh O Neill was an O'Kelley of Bregia as Dr John O'Donovan claimed, and Michael O'Laughlin is correct that the O'Kelley of Bregia was part of Hy-Many then for a brief time Ulster and almost all of Ireland fell under the control of an O'Kelley of Ui Maine via the 2nd Earl of Tyrone Hugh O'Kelley O Neill, one of Irish Monarch Aed Slaine's descendents, a descendent of Maine Mor. 


Some claim the O'Kelley of Bregia were considered equal to the O'Kelly of Hy-Many or Connaught before the coming of the English and if they were all one Kingdom of related families that would certainly have been true, they would have been equal, before William Boy O'Kelly I believe they would sometimes have been Chief of Hy-Many and I am reminded that until recent times it was widely believed that all O'Kelley descend from Teige Mor O'Kelly who died at the Battle of Clontarf and he commanded 1/4 of the army and that too would make good sense if he was King of one forth of the land in Ireland.  It is claimed the O'Kelley of Bregia didn't fight in 1014AD at Clontarf even though Clontarf was in their "backyard".  If the O'Kelley were like the O'Neill who ruled all the north of Ireland and the O'Kelley ruled over all the midlands of Ireland from east to the west coast of Ireland and the Chief if Hy-Many were as O'Laughlin claimed he was sometimes elected and came from Hy-Many and sometimes he was elected and came from Bregia and Teige O'Kelley of Hy-Many was the Hy-King of all the O'Kelleys when King Brian Boru called upon the Irish Chiefs to fight at Clontarf, the O'Kelley of Bregia would have followed him into battle because he would have been their King.  This could explain why the Coat of Arms for Bregia and Hy-Many share major elements.  Stone Tower houses didn't exist in Ireland until about 1400 AD so it might be that the Coat of Arms for all O'Kelleys was that of the O'Kelley of Meath, the Two Rampart Lions with a Garb of Barley between them and when William Boy O'Kelly became Chief his arms removed the Garb of Wheat and included the Stone Tower House and chains on the lions. 

In his 1843 book "The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many: Commonly called O'Kelly Country" Dr John O'Donovan reports that the borders of Hy-Many are not well known.  No true map of it seems to exists from the time when the O'Kelley of Bregia were powerful so he had to rely upon Denis Henry O'Kelly's account for Hy-Many which places the O'Kelly of Hy-Many in a Kingdom that included Co Roscommon and much of Co Galway in western Ireland.  The O'Kelly of Tara or of Bregia are said to have lived north of Dublin in an area that covered much of northern Co Meath and portions of Co Westmeath, Co Cavan, and Co Monaghan.  I now believe that it unlikely these two groups of O'Kelley could live side by side and not be part of a larger O'Kelley Kingdom and the history of that Kingdom has been lost due time, a lack of records, and to the English invasion and the reduction of this once great Sept much the way the history of many native America tribes in North America has been lost.  Almost everything we know about the O'Kelleys and Hy-Many dates to near the time of the English invasion which was two centuries after Teige Mor O'Kelly would have been King of this much larger Ui Maine or well after the invasion.  If one were to compare the world map from 200 years ago to the map of today they would find great change in the size, shape, and number of nations and I have no doubt that this was true for Ireland and it's many petty kingdoms so it seems very unlikely that a description given by Denis Henry O'Kelly in the 19th century about the location, shape, and size of Hy-Many or Ui Maine resembled how it appeared in the time of Teige Mor O'Kelly in 1014 AD.

The O'Kelley of Hy-Many make the claim that their ancestors moved from Ulster into western Ireland because of the conflicts among their kinsmen.  I am going to suggest that a general migration of these related families moved from Ulster southward and that is what links the O'Kelly of Hy-Many and O'Kelley of Bregia together, they are kinsmen, they are Ui Maine because they share Maine Mor as their ancestor and they moved from Ulster into the midlands of Ireland and their combined power allowed them to conquer and maintain their Kingdom of Ui Maine but when surnames were established about 500 years after migration they didn't all become O'Kelley, there were many different surnames within these cousins of different degree of kinship, only the family of some of its "Princes" appear to have became O'Kelley and this seems supported by DNA testing.  It does seem clear that the O'Kelleys were senior and the Kingly line of Ui Maine but that too might only appear that way because they survived, there could have been other more senior lines that died out and their history was lost.   Ireland had an order, Lords were men of property, wealth and power, they elected the Chiefs from among themselves but the Kings were elected from the families that were hereditary "Princes" and my research indicates that some lines of O'Kelleys in Meath and Connaught were "Princes" of Ui Maine thus Kings were elected from them.   What I suggest also seems proven by Dr John O'Hart's Irish Pedigree as at #110 we find Teige, of Talten.  The writers of the Annuals of Ireland used great economy in their words so if they went to the trouble to record Teige was "of Talten" they had a reason.  Tailtean is not a common name in Ireland.  In the time of this Teige it was the Palace of Tailtean, the place of the Tailteann Games and it was located on the River Blackwater between Kells and Navan in Co Meath and that is a great distance from Co Roscomman, Galway, and Clare the place considered to be Hy-Many.  Clearly if Teige was of Talten, he was an O'Kelley of Bregia or Meath or Tara and this makes perfect sense because the O'Kelley of Bregia descend from the 141st Irish Monarch Aedh of Slaine, Slaine is only about 15 miles east of Tailteann and a coronation stone was located there. Congall O'Kelley was the 172nd Monarch of Ireland also an ancestor of the Bregia O'Kelleys.  The invasion may have pushed Teige and his family out of Co Meath and into the west where they were slaughtered by the Connors in 1180 AD and #111 Donal wasn't the son of this Teige, he was the son of the O'Kelly cousins who lived in Connaught and the power of Kingship over Hy-Many or Ui-Maine shifted to this line where it remained.  My research is supported by Wiki where Donal is given as Domnall Mór Ua Cellaigh and it is said:  "Domnall Mór is notable for the claim, noted by John O'Donovan as recorded in a Trinity College Dublin pedigree of the Mac Eochadha (Keogh) family, that he was the common ancestor of all the extant branches of the Uí Cellaigh Uí Maine. This may simply mean that, while other lines had lost lands and status and became peasants, most of his bloodline continued to exist among the gentry after the collapse of Gaelic Ireland. It further states that he was the ancestor of all subsequent kings and chiefs, bar four". Clearly there was a change in power and family which hasn't been recognized by other researchers.  A nice history that included Teige of Talten.

A real "Cold Case" mystery develops with the death of Domnhall Mor Ó Ceallaigh, the only son given in the Pedigrees for Teige O'Kelly of TaltenThe Four Masters record Domnhall's death in 1224 but his son Connor Mor doesn't become the next Chief until 1247.  According to Dr John O'Donovan on page 102, Connor Mor was Chief of Hy-Many 21 years and the Four Masters reports his death in 1268 so he didn't become Chief until 1247.  The Four Masters reports in 1225:  "The residence of Conor, son of Teige O'Kelly (lord of Hy-Maine), and of Ardgal, his brother was attacked and set on fire by the sons of Teige O'Kelly; and both perished in the flames".  So according to the Four Masters a different Connor was Chief, a Connor who was the son of Teige and had a brother named Ardgal and both Connor and Ardgal died in a fire in 1225 and the Four Masters and O'Donovan are silent as to who was Chief of Hy-Maine after 1225 until 1247 when Connor Mor the son of this Domnhall Mor Ó Ceallaigh becomes Chief.  The Connor son of Teige who died in the fire isn't found or acknowledged in any traditional pedigrees, his only mention comes from the Annals of the Ireland of the Four Masters

The forename Ardgal doesn't appear in any of the traditional Hy-Many genealogies that have found.  My research indicates it is a name mostly found in Ulster and Meath and I haven't found it in use in Connaught.  I believe the above Ardgal O'Kelley must be of Tadhg of Tailtean Ua Ceallaigh and he was of the O'Kelley of Bregia and not of the O'Kellys of Connaught and this is a 790 year old "Cold Case".

This war among the O'Kellys didn't end as in 1368 the famous and celebrated William Boy O'Kelly who was Chief of Hy-Many was according the the Annals of Ireland taken prisoner by O'Maddens, the Clan Mac Eogain, and by Donal the son of Conor O'Kelly.  Donal and his father Conor O'Kelly do not appear in the traditional Pedigrees and this causes me to suspect that they are of a rival "Princely" line of O'Kelly, likely descendents of the O'Kelley of Bregia still fighting over the Kingship of Hy-Many but William Boy O'Kelly did have a brother named Conor and his line isn't given so this might have been a nephew who aided in taking his uncle captive but the Annals are silent as to how to was released but William Boy gave up his title to his son in 1375 and I believe the traditional O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms was the personal arms of Maeleachlainn Ó Ceallaigh the son of William Boy O'Kelly for it was in his lifetime that Stone Towerhouses were introduced in Ireland.

There is an 1889 Irish Times Article that makes the claim that the "original Kelly" was descended from Aedh Slaine 141st Irish Monarch and its last representative was "Congalack O'Kelley, Lord of Bregia" who died in 1292.  This article opens the door of possibility that the O'Kelley of Bregia existed before the O'Kelly of Hy-Many and the Ceallach from which the O'Kelley of Bregia took their surname lived before the Ceallach said to be the ancestor of the O'Kelly of Hy-Many.  Dr John O'Hart puts Ceallach of Bregia at generation 98 and Ceallach of Hy-Many at generation 103 so it is likely the O'Kelley of Bregia became O'Kelley a full century before the O'Kelly of Hy-Many became O'Kelly making the claim in the 1889 Irish Times Article valid.

My interest in "Tailteann" came in the fall of 2014 when I received notification of a second 36/37 DNA match to the Talty surname.  Tailteann is pronounced "Talti".   On page 102 of Dr O'Donovan book Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many he states that Roger O’Farrell’s 1709 "Linea Antiqua" manuscript as his source “Teige of Tailtean O’Kelly was the last of his name that was styled King of Hy-Many…” .  As one can see in the above image taken from Dr John O'Hart book Irish Pedigrees listed at #110 Teige of Talten.  The Taltys have a tradition that two brothers and a sister left Co Cavan in the 1500s and traveled to Co Clare under the O'Reilly banner where they did an act of kindness and received a division of land and they took the "Talty" surname meaning "Division of Land" and "tate" was a measurement of about 60 acres of land in Ireland at that time but I suspect like Teige they were from Tailteann and my DNA match to them suggest they are O'Kelley of Bregia.  Poor Irish peasants didn't travel under a Chief's banner, I suspect their mother was an O'Reilly and their maternal grandfather was of some importance.  The place of the Tailteann games on River Blackwater set only a few miles from the modern Co Cavan border.

But just because DNA testing proves some with the "O'Kelly" surname are not of the Hy-Many bloodline, that doesn't prove they were not part of Hy-Many.  Blood wasn't the only test for "kinship".  Our ancestors had customs of fostering and adoption providing ways that someone from German blood could become a Hy-Many O'Kelley.  Most Hy-Many O'Kellys today couldn't identify their great, great grandfather when they began their genealogy interest.  DNA testing can groups families into bloodlines, but it can't tell the complete story, that when surnames were adopted that some were simple Sept names that became surnames.  It would be like everyone living in a community taking their community name as their surname so there a many Kellys in the Kelley DNA Project whose ancestors could have been of the Hy-Many O'Kellys and they were just not blood kin to William Boy O'Kelly the most famous Hy-Many O'Kelly of recent times.  

Conclusion - I believe that Maine Mor and his followers moved into Meath Ireland, and in time the families became crowded and some moved into western Ireland and the Chief of Ui Maine ruled over a large kingdom 1/4 the size of Ireland, mostly the midlands that extended from Galway in the west to the Irish sea north of Dublin.  Like all migrations they were a collection of families, some blood related, some foreigners who had been accepted into the Sept but when the choosing of surnames came about 900 AD that the ruling family in Co Meath took the surname of Ua Ceallaigh (pronounced O'Kelley) and a century later the ruling line in Connaught also took the suranme Ua Ceallaigh from one of their ancestors and  just as we have a president and governors they had "The O'Kelley", the "Chief of Hy-Many" and many sub chiefs as they were needed to rule over such a large expanse of land.  Sometimes they ruled all of Ireland but most of the time they ruled over Hy-Many.  With the coming of the English, the sub septs were reduced and Hy-Many lost the eastern lands and some of its western land pushing it back to mostly Co Roscommon and as the centuries passed the knowledge of Hy-Many's "Glory Years" were lost until Dr John O'Donovan published "Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many" in 1843 and a new history about this much smaller Hy-Many was fabricated from recent knowledge.   What Dr John O'Donovan published isn't inaccurate, it isn't complete because it doesn't tell the much larger O'Kelley story. 

I also believe that the above O'Kelley of Bregia Coat of arms was the O'Kelley Ui Maine Arms from about 1100 AD until about 1400 AD and  Maeleachlainn Ó Ceallaigh the son of William Boy O'Kelly created the O'Kelly Arms that displays the "stone tower house" and the use of the older arms has become lost.