Irish Genealogy

Genealogy in Ireland has a long and disreputable history: large numbers of the surviving medieval Gaelic manuscripts consist of the pedigrees of the native leaders, invariably demonstrating impeccable ancestry. In one sense, this is just the universal practice of the powerful legitimising their power. Another characteristic of early Irish society may also have contributed, however. Under Brehon law, property rights did not lie with individuals or families, but with the derbhfhine, a large kin-group extending out to second cousins, descendants of a common great-grandfather. In other words, what you could own depended on who you were related to. Such a perspective on genealogy, using it mainly to establish present kinship, is still a deeply embedded part of Irish culture. In many parts of rural Ireland even today are people who have at the tips of their tongues their family’s connections out to second and third cousin level, and beyond. And many of them would still echo my own mother’s response to questions about her grandparents and great-grandparents: “What do you want to know about them for? Sure aren’t they all dead?” For all the changes in Ireland over the past twenty years, extended family connections are still of great importance.

 

About the author of the Irish Genealogy article



John Grenham is the author of of a number books, including Tracing your Irish Ancestors (3rd ed., Dublin, 2006), the standard guide, and Irish Ancestors (Gill & MacMillan, 2004), as well as the CD-ROM Grenham’s Irish Surnames (Eneclann, 2003). He was a founding member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland, is a Fellow of the Irish Genealogical Research Society, and was Dublin City Library and Archives Genealogist-in-Residence in 2005-2006.


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