O'Higgins family

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O'Higgins (Irish: Ó hUigin) is an Irish noble family descended from Shean (Seán) Duff O'Higgins (fl. 1600 C.E.), Gaelic Baron of Ballynary, who was married to a daughter of the royal family of O'Conor at Ballintuber Castle in Connacht. Shean Duff O'Higgins himself claimed descent from King Niall of Tara (d. 450 C.E.).[1][2][3] The family enjoyed the patronage of several chiefly families including O'Conor Don, MacDermott, O'Doherty, O'Gara, and MacDonagh.

O'Higgins are counted among the Gaelic nobility as a sept of the royal house of O'Neill.[4][5] Members of this family were further ennobled in 1724 by James III (pretender to the throne of England and Ireland) during his in exile in France, and again in 1795 and 1796 by Charles IV of Spain.

Family name[edit]

Earlier scholars traced the origin of the name from the word "knowledge" in Irish, possible linked to the family's early prominence as bards to the Gaelic Kings.[6] However, more recent scholars have identified that "uigin" refers to a Norse seafarer or Viking.[7] In Gaelic times the prefix Uí before a name was used to signify descent from a grandson, this family are said to have descended from the grandson of Uiginn who lived in the 11th century or possibly from a previous Uiginn who was a grandson of King Niall of Tara. In modern times the surname has often been translated from Irish into "Higgins" in English although the most senior branches of the family continue to use "O'Higgins".

Family history[edit]

The O'Higgins family originated in the Kingdoms of Mide and Brega which equate to the modern Irish counties of Meath and Westmeath. As a sept of the Southern Uí Néill their roots in these areas can be traced at least to the 5th century and possibly even earlier. By the 12th century the senior branch of the family had migrated into the Kingdom of Connacht where they settled and were granted large estates by the O'Conors in Sligo at Dooghorne and Monteige in the Barony of Luighne under the protection of the O'Hara Chiefs and at Ballynary in the Barony of Tir-Errill under the protection of the MacDonagh Chiefs.

From the Council of Drom Ceat in 574 AD up to the end of the Gaelic era in the 17th century the O'Higgins were hereditary poets (filés in Irish) in the courts of Irish Princes and Chiefs.[8][9] As hereditary poets they were accorded a status of nobility equal to the King and were entitled to wear the same amount of colours in their robes. Members of this family came under the patronage of other Irish noble houses particularly Ó Conor, Ó Neill, MacDonagh, Ó Rourke, Maguire, Ó Doherty, Mac Dermot and Ó Gara. From the 14th to the 17th centuries the O'Higgins were among the most prolific poets in the courts of the Irish Princes.:[10]

Notable members of the family[edit]

  • Tadhg Mór Ó hUiginn (d.1315)
  • Giolla na Naomh Ó hUiginn (d. 1349)
  • Raghnall Ó hUiginn (d. 1325)
  • Niall Ó hUiginn (d. 1340)
  • Tadhg Óg mac Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn (d. 1391)
  • Uilliam Ó hUiginn (d. 1378)
  • Fercert Ó hUiginn, Irish poet, died 1419.
  • Ruaidhri Ruadh Ó hUiginn (d. 1425)
  • Fearghal Ruadh mac Taidhg mheic Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn
  • Tadhg Óg mac Taidhg mheic Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn (d. 1448)
  • Tuathal Ó hUiginn (d. 1450), Brian Ó hUiginn (d. 1476)
  • Domhnall mac Briain Uí Uiginn (d. 1502)
  • Pilip Bocht Ó hUiginn (d. 1487)
  • Seán mac Ruaidhri Uí Uiginn
  • Bernard O'Higgins, Bishop of Elphin, (d.1564).
  • Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1550–1617).
  • Shean Duff O'Higgins, fl. 1600, Baron of Ballynary.[11]
  • Sir John Higgins of Montoge, d. 1729, Knight, Baronet and Counsillor of Castille.[12]
  • Don Ambrose O'Higgins d. 1801, Knight, 1st Marquess de Osorno, 1st Barón de Valenar.[13][14]
  • Don William (Guillermo) O'Higgins, b. 1725, Spanish Colonial Administrator in Paraguay.[15]
  • Don Bernardo O'Higgins, d. 1842, 1st Head of State of Chile.
  • Pedro Demetrio O'Higgins Puga, d.1868, industrialist and Chilean politician.[16]
  • Joyce Ginatta O'Higgins, South American business woman and public figure[17]
  • Dr. James O'Higgins Norman, b. 1968, Irish academic and author at Dublin City University.
  • Pearse Higgins, former President of North America Caribbean Rugby Association.

Recent history[edit]

After the fall of the Gaelic Order in the 17th century various branches of the O'Higgins family suffered for their loyalty to the Irish way of life and were evicted from their estates at Dooghorne, Monteige and Ballynary in Sligo and at Kilbeg in Westmeath by forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell.[18] The Barons of Ballynary in Sligo[19][20] migrated to Summerhill in County Meath where in 1721 a relative had become the Roman Catholic Parish Priest.[21] Other members of the family fled to Spain and France where they entered the service of Catholic monarchs sympathetic to their plight.

Ambrosio O'Higgins, Bernardo's father.
Bernardo O'Higgins, 1st Head of State of Chile.

In 1751 Ambrose O'Higgins (b. 1720 d. 1801) left Summerhill in Co. Meath for Cadiz in Spain from where he went to Peru and Chile. In 1788 he became Governor General of Chile. He was ennobled by King Carlos IV of Spain initially in 1795 as 1st Barón de Ballinar and again in 1796 when he was raised to Marqués de Osorno.[22] His son Bernardo O'Higgins became the first Head of State of Chile in 1818.

Sir John Higgins Bt of Monteige was knighted and ennobled by King James III in 1724 in return for his services to France.

The Ballynary line of the O'Higgins family continued at Summerhill in County Meath until 1947. Thomas O'Higgins of Cheshire in England now represents the family title.


The O'Higgins family are armigerous in the Kingdom of Ireland and in the Kingdom of Spain.[23][24]

The earliest known coat of arms was recorded in 1724 by Sir John Higgins Bt of Montoge with Sir James Terry, Athlone Herald in the Court of James II at St. Germaine. Sir John Higgins's branch of the family moved to Limerick after they lost their lands at Monteige in Sligo and eventually relocated in France and later in Spain where John Higgins was knighted and became personal physician to the King of Spain.

The descent of the Arms of Shean Duff O'Higgins, Baron of Ballynary were recorded in the Office of Ulster King of Arms in 1788 having existed for at least the previous 200 years.[25] and were later recorded in the same year with the Cronista Rey de Armas in Madrid eventually descending to Thomas O'Higgins of Cheshire.[26][27]

In 1788, Don Ambrose O'Higgins obtained a certificate of descent and the right to use the Ballynary Arms with due difference from Ulster King of Arms (Kingdom of Ireland) and subsequently received a grant from the Cronista Rey de Armas (Kingdom of Spain).[28] His Coat of Arms was then adopted in 1796 as the official emblem of the city of Osorno in Chile after which he had been ennobled as Marquis of Osorno.

Dr. James O'Higgins Norman recorded Arms in 2011 with the Cronista Rey de Armas de Castilla y León before being admitted as a Caballero in La Casa Troncal de los Doce Linajes de Soria.[29]


  1. ^ The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  2. ^ Annals of the Four Masters M378-405
  3. ^ Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.48, 1.49, 1.50, 51, 52
  4. ^ The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  5. ^ Genealogy of Ó hUiginn from O Clery Book of Genealogies (based on edition by Séamus Pender, Analecta Hibernica 15, 1951)
  6. ^ letter from Prof. Eóin Mac Neill to Prof. Knott written in December 1919.
  7. ^ The bardic poems of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1550–1591), Eleanor Knott (ed.), London, 1920 and 1926
  8. ^ The Book of Glendalough Rawlinson MS B 502 Oxford, Bodleian Library c. AD 1130
  9. ^ Keating, G. The History of Ireland. Section 10.
  10. ^ Eleanor Knott, Bardic Poems of Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1922), I, xx–xxii:
  11. ^ National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  12. ^ The pedigrees and papers of James Terry, Athlone Herald at the court of James II in France(1690–1725)" edited by Charles Lart
  13. ^ (Ricardo Donoso, El Marqués de Osorno: Don Ambrosio Higgins, Santiago, Publicaciones de la Universidad de Chile, 1942 p.53.
  14. ^ National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  15. ^ Velilla, Benjamín, Parentesco de Bernardo O'Higgins Con Los Yegro del Paraguay en el "Anuario del Instituto Paraguayo de Investigaciones Históricas" Vols. 6, 7 (1962). La versión en línea incluye una entrevista con la señora Candida O'Higgins en Última Hora periódico (Asunción), 6 de febrero de 1985, página web(http://usuarios.lycos.es/fulgencioyegros/parentesco.html), citado 06 de febrero 2007.
  16. ^ Demetrio O'Higgins by Jorge Ibañez Vergara.
  17. ^ Montaner, C.A. Twisted Roots, A Look at the Historical and Cultural Influences that Shaped Latin America.
  18. ^ O'Rorke, T. (1889) "The History of Sligo Town and County Vol. II – Conclusion" (Dublin: Duffy & Company).
  19. ^ Ricardo Donoso, (1941) "El Marquis de Osorno, Don Ambrosio Higgins" (Santiago: University of Chile Press).
  20. ^ The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399
  21. ^ O h-Uigin, Padraig. (1956). A note on the boyhood of Ambrose O h-Uigin,in Ríocht na Mídhe I: 2. pp.13–14.
  22. ^ Letter Patent from King Carlos IV 27 January 1796 in Archives of the Indies.
  23. ^ The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  24. ^ Archivo del cronista de armas de Castilla y León, Registrada al Número 31 del año 2011.
  25. ^ Genealogical Office, Dublin MS 165. p. 396-399.
  26. ^ The National Genealogical Office (Dublin), MS 165. p. 396-399.
  27. ^ Archivo del cronista de armas de Castilla y León, Registrada al Número 31 del año 2011.
  28. ^ Genealogical Office, Dublin MS 165. p. 396-399.
  29. ^ Quedó Inscrito en el Libro General de Linajes, Libro I, Asiento N° 82.