- For other uses, see O'Donnell (disambiguation).
Armorial of O'Donnell (one of several)
|Country||Kingdom of Tyrconnell|
|Ancestral house||Cenél Conaill / Uí Néill|
|Final sovereign||Rory Ó Donnell, King of Tyrconnell|
|Current head||Fr. Hugh Ambrose O'Donel, O.F.M.
Heir apparent: The 7th Duke of Tetuan
|Founding||13th (5th) century|
|Cadet branches||O'Donell von Tyrconnell|
The O'Donnell family (Irish: Ó Dónaill or Ó Domhnaill; derived from the forename Domhnall, meaning "world ruler", Dónall in modern Irish) were an ancient and powerful Irish family, kings, princes and lords of Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill in Irish, now County Donegal) in early times, and the chief allies and sometimes rivals of the O'Neills in Ulster.
|This section requires expansion. (January 2011)|
Like the family of O'Neill, that of O'Donnell of Tyrconnell was of the Uí Néill, i.e. descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High-King of Ireland at the beginning of the 5th century; the O'Neill, or Cenél nEógain, tracing their pedigree to Eógan mac Néill, and the O'Donnells, or Cenél Conaill, to Conall Gulban, both sons of Niall. Conall was baptised by St. Patrick.
Arms and motto 
The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity after a vision before the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge, having seen a chi-rho in the sky, and thence the motto In Hoc Signo Vinces, telling him he would be victorious with the sign of the cross. The chi-rho was adopted on a banner, the labarum, upheld on a vexillum, which resembled a Christian cross, and in time the motto became associated with the Cross all over Europe. Legend has it that St. Patrick struck the shield of Conall, son of King Niall of the Nine Hostages, with his crosier, called Bachall Isa (the staff of Jesus) inscribing thereon a sign of the cross and told him the same, and baptized him. According to the Life and Acts of Saint Patrick (chapter 138), commissioned by Sir John de Courcy and written by Jocelyn of Furness (c. 1185 AD), St. Patrick took his staff, known as the staff of Jesus, or Bacall Iosa, and struck the shield of Prince Conall, rendering a sign of the Cross on it, “et mox cum baculo suo, qui baculus Jesu dicebatur Crucis signum ejus scuto impressit, asserens neminem de stirpe ejus in bello vincendum qui signum illud”, and thus indicating that that he and his offspring would henceforth be victorious in battle if they followed that sign This legend is also described several centuries later in the Lebhar Inghine i Dhomhnaill. His land became Tír Chonaill, Tyrconnell, the land of Conall.
Conall's Constantinian shield, and this motto, have been the main O’Donnell arms in various forms, through the centuries. The motto also appears prominently placed as a motto on a ribbon unfurled with a passion cross to its left, beneath a window over the Scala Regia, adjacent to Bernini's equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine, in the Vatican. Emperors and other monarchs, having paid respects to the Pope, descended the Scala Regia, and would observe the light shining down through the window, with the motto, reminiscent of Constantine's vision, and be reminded to follow the Cross. They would thence turn right into the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, ostensibly so inspired. In an earlier version (before Bernini's renovations in the mid-17th century), something similar may have resonated with and been observed by Prince Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell following his visit to Pope Paul V (at the Palazzo Quirinale) in Rome, just prior to his death in 1608. It would certainly have resonated with and been observed by Cardinal Patrick O'Donnell.
Tyrconnell, the territory named after the Cenel Conaill, is the vast territory where the O'Donnells held sway, comprised the greater part of the modern county of Donegal except the peninsula of Inishowen. But it also included areas outside Donegal, such as the baronies of Carbury in County Sligo, Rosclogher in County Leitrim, and Magheraboy and Firlurg in County Fermanagh, and part of southern County Londonderry, hence it straddled the modern Republic of Ireland and also part of Northern Ireland in the UK. The jewel in the O'Donnell crown was Donegal Castle, one of seven O'Donnell castles, and now a national monument partially restored by the Office of Public Works. Tyrconnell also therefore bordered on territory ruled by the O'Neills of Tyrone, who were periodically attempting to assert their claim of supremacy over it, and hence the history of the O'Donnells is for the most part a record of clan warfare with their powerful neighbours, and of their own efforts to make good their claims to the overlordship of northern Connacht, and a wider swathe of Ulster. Nonetheless Tyrconnell existed for a period as an independent kingdom, recognised by King Henry III of England (see Close Roll, in the Tower of London, 28 Hen. 3m.7).
Goffraidh Ó Dónaill, the first chieftain, was son of Dónall Mór Ó Dónaill. In 1257, Goffraidh was victorious when he went to battle at Creadran-Cille against Brian Ua Néill. Upon Goffraidh's death, subsequent to wounds incurred during battle against Ó Néill, he was succeeded in the chieftainship by his brother Dónall Óg, who returned from Scotland in time to withstand successfully the demands of Ó Néill.
Later, the O'Donnell rulers aided Templar knights fleeing to Scotland via Tyrconnell and Sligo, where a Templar priory existed at Ballymote , a Percival family estate for the last 300 years. The O'Donnell King of Tyrconnell became known as the Fisher-King, on the Continent, ostensibly due to the export of fish traded for wine in La Rochelle.
Royal Household 
The Royal Household was known in Gaelic as "Lucht Tighe" and comprised several offices that were performed on a hereditary basis by the heads and members of particular other families, for over four centuries.
- Lector & Inaugurator of the Chieftaincy - O’Friel (Ui Firghil)
- Gallowglass Marshalls & Standard –Bearers - MacSweeney (Mac Suibhne)
- Commanders of Cavalry - O’Gallagher (Ui Gallchobhair)
- Custodians of the Cathach of St. Columba - McRoarty (Mac Robhartaigh)
- Historians and Scribes - O’Clery (Ó Cléirigh), formerly kings of Uí Fiachrach Aidhne
- Brehons or Judges - Breslin (Ui Breisléin)
- Bards & Poets - Ward (Mac a’Bháird)
- Physicians - Dunleevy (Mac Duinnshléibhe), formerly Kings of Ulster (Dál Fiatach of Ulaid)
- Stockmen/Cattle Drivers - Timoney (Ui Tiománaigh)
Later struggles and diaspora 
The O'Donnells defeated the O'Neills in the 1522 Battle of Knockavoe. In 1541 Manus O'Donnell took part in the "Surrender and regrant" process. In 1567 the O'Donnells won the Battle of Farsetmore against the O'Neills, reconfirming their autonomy in Ulster.
During the Nine Years' War of 1594-1603, the O'Donnells of Tyrconnel played a leading part, led by the famous Prince Red Hugh O'Donnell. Under his leadership, and that of his ally Hugh O'Neill, they advanced to Kinsale and laid siege to the English forces in anticipation of a Spanish invasion. En route, they implanted some O'Donnell kinsmen in Ardfert and Lixnaw to protect the territories of their ally, FitzMaurice, Lord of Kerry. The Battle of Kinsale was lost in 1601, heralding the end of the Gaelic order and Brehon Laws in Ireland, and the completion of the Elizabethan conquest. Following the Treaty of Mellifont of 1603 the new KIng James I pardoned Rory O'Donnell and created him Earl of Tyrconnell in the Irish peerage.
Rory then unfortunately joined in the Flight of the Earls in 1607, which led to the title becoming attainted in 1614, and Tyrconnell and Ulster being colonised in the Plantation of Ulster. He died in exile in Rome in 1608.
The head of the dynasty was traditionally also called "The O'Donnell", and inaugurated as Chieftain in an elaborate ceremony, under the Laws of Tanistry, part of the ancient Brehon Code of Law. Since the collapse of Gaelic Rule and the Brehon legal system, the succession of the "Chiefs of the Name" has followed the principle of male primogeniture.
On this basis, the current nominal head of the O'Donnell Clan (Clann Domhnaill), who bears the courtesy title of "The O'Donnell", i.e. the latest in the line of Chiefs of the Name of O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, customarily recognised as a Prince, is Fr. Hugh O'Donel, O.F.M., a Franciscan priest in Dublin who recently retired from missionary work in Zimbabwe. His widely-recognised Tánaiste (or heir apparent) as The O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, Prince and Chief of the Name of O'Donnell, is S.E. Don Hugo O'Donnell, Duke of Tetuan, a Grandee of Spain. He is known as S.E. Don Hugo O'Donnell y Duque de Estrada - the latter appendant Duque de Estrada is not a title but a maternal family name. Don Hugo is an active member of the Clan Association of the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell, and a member of the nobiliary Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, i.e. a Knight of Malta.
Descendant nobility 
- Manus O'Donnell (1490–1564), The O'Donnell, 21st Chieftain, King of Tyrconnell, and biographer of Saint Colmcille or Columba
- Calvagh O'Donnell (d. 1566), The O'Donnell, 22nd Chieftain and Lord of Tyrconnell
- Niall Garve O'Donnell (1569–1626), Prince of Tyrconnell
- Hugh Roe Ó Donnell (1572–1601), The O'Donnell, 24th Chieftain, Prince and Lord of Tyrconnell
- Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell (1575–1608), The O'Donnell, Prince and Lord of Tyrconnell
- Elizabeth O'Donnell (1604–c.1630), daughter of Rory, Prince of Tyrconnell
- Hugh O'Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell (1606–1642), Prince and Lord of Tyrconnell
- Karl O'Donnell (1715–1771), Count of Tyrconnell
- Henry O'Donnell (1769–1834), Count of La Bisbal, Irish-Spanish nobleman (de:Joseph Heinrich O’Donnell)
- Maurice O’Donnell de Tyrconnell (1780–1843), of Pressburg, also known as Moritz Graf O’Donnell von Tyrconnell, an Irish-Austrian Count
- Maximilian Karl Lamoral O'Donnell von Tyrconnell, (1812–1895), Irish-Austrian Count, son of Maurice/Moritz
- Jean Louis Barthelemy O’Donnell (1783–1836), Irish-French Count, member of Napoleon's Conseil d’État and Légion d'honneur
- Leopoldo O'Donnell, 1st Duke of Tetuan (1809–1867), former Prime Minister of Spain
- Carlos O'Donnell, 2nd Duke of Tetuan (1834–1903), Minister of State for Spain
- Hugo O'Donnell, 7th Duke of Tetuan (b. 1948), a Spanish naval historian and Knight of Malta
Recent times 
Cardinal Patrick O'Donnell was probably the next famous O'Donnell to emerge in Ireland after the exile of Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell. Thomas O'Donnell (MP) for West Kerry (1900–1918) was a leading agrarian reformer, and the first Member of Parliament to address the House of Commons in Westminster in the Irish language (Gaelic), but was called to order by the Speaker, but not without having made his mark with John Redmond's support. There is currently an Irish Senator from County Donegal named Brian o Domhnaill (o Donnell).
- The Life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell (Beatha Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill) by Lughaidh O'Cleirigh. Edited by Paul Walsh and Colm Ó Lochlainn. Irish Texts Society, vol. 42. Dublin: Educational Company of Ireland, 1948 (original Gaelic manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin).
- Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (Annála Ríoghachta Éireann) by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616, compiled during the period 1632-1636 by Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, translated and edited by John O'Donovan in 1856, and re-published in 1998 by De Burca, Dublin.
- Vicissitudes of Families, by Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, published by Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, Paternoster Row, London, 1861. (Chapter on O’Donnells, pages 125-148).
- A View of the Legal Institutions, Honorary Hereditary Offices, and Feudal Baronies established in Ireland, by William Lynch, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, published by Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row, London, 1830 (O’Donnell: page 190, remainder to Earl’s patent).
- The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile, by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, M.R.I.A., 2nd edition, James Duffy, London, 1870.
- The Fighting Prince of Donegal, A Walt Disney Film, made in 1966 about the life of Prince Red Hugh O’Donnell (i.e. Hugh Roe), starring Peter McEnery, Susan Hampshire, Gordon Jackson, and Andrew Keir.
- Erin’s Blood Royal – The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland, by Peter Berresford Ellis, Constable, London, 1999, (pages 251-258 on the O’Donel, Prince of Tirconnell).
- Blood Royal - From the time of Alexander the Great to Queen Elizabeth II, by Charles Mosley (genealogist), published for Ruvigny Ltd., London, 2002 (O'Donnell listed as Baron, page v) [ISBN 0-9524229-9-9]
- History of Killeen Castle, by Mary Rose Carty, published by Carty/Lynch, Dunsany, County Meath, Ireland, April 1991 (ISBN 0-9517382-0-8) - page 18 refers to Elizabeth O'Donnell as 1st Countess of Fingal, by marriage to Lucas Plunkett, 1st Earl of Fingall.
- Vanishing Kingdoms - The Irish Chiefs and Their Families, by Walter J. P. Curley (former US Ambassador to Ireland), with foreword by Charles Lysaght, published by The Lilliput Press, Dublin, 2004 [ISBN 1-84351-055-3 & ISBN 1-84351-056-1]. (Chapter on O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, page 59).
- A Political Odyssey - Thomas O'Donnell, by J. Anthony Gaughan, Kingdom Books, Dublin, 1983.
- Sir Iain Moncreiffe made the case that Crinan of Dunkeld and thus the House of Dunkeld were of Cenél Conaill extraction. The Highland Clans. Part II. 1982. p. 236
- Life and Acts of Saint Patrick, by Jocelyn of Furness (chapter 138)s:The Life and Acts of St. Patrick/Chapter CXXXVIII.
- Lebhar Inghine i Dhomhnaill (The Book of O'Donnell's Daughter), a medieval Gaelic manuscript finished in the early 1600s in the Irish Franciscan College in Louvain, and lodged today in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels (Ms reference 6131-3). . Examples of the arms registered date back to 1567 at least, when Sir Hugh Dubh O'Donnell was knighted by Sir Henry Sidney (see Genealogical Office Manuscript "Knights Dubbed" no.51, page 115)
- An exemplification can be found in those of Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, in Manuscript 34 of the Genealogical Office under the Chief Herald of Ireland
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.