Genealogical Office

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1998), Letters, Letters, Volume 6

Sir,—The series of sometimes romanticised narratives about our Gaelic past that have been passed down to us are fun to read. The bardic accounts of raids and battles, the many chronicles of fratricidal fights for power, the stories of passionate love affairs of kings and princesses from rival clans, are timeless and colourful narratives that give a true perspective about the values that mattered to our brave and grand ancestors. Many of these stories, once rewritten in a language accessible to today’s public will no doubt become best selling books or scripts for blockbuster films. However, despite the fine work exhibited in the New History of Ireland, Irish Historical Studies and your own magazine, genealogical and historical fantasies concocted by unscrupulous pseudo-historians, continue to be sold to the Irish and their descendants in the rest of the world, taking advantage of their natural urge to learn about their heritage.
I wrote sometime ago to the Irish Times and was surprised to receive a considerable number of letters supporting my demand for an independent Genealogical Office. By keeping the genealogical records of the great Gaelic chiefly and royal families, the Office is a source that may enable the decoding of Irish history. In fact, unlike what occurs elsewhere in Europe, rather than one uniform history of Ireland there are several sometimes contradicting histories of Irish kings. More often than not each relevant historical event is described by the chroniclers according to what was for them politically correct and the key to reach a more uniform view lies therefore in the compared investigation of genealogies and other records kept at the Genealogical Office.
Lest it be thought that the Genealogical Office represents the interests of the dispossessed Gaelic aristocracy and of their followers in Europe, forced to flee after the battle of Kinsale and the treaty of Limerick, let it not be forgotten that, in these times of proliferating unscrupulous genealogical tradesmen, the Office is the pillar of seriousness allowing all those immortally dubbed by Flann O’Brien ‘cois muintir na hÉireann’ (‘the plain people of Ireland’) to find the roots linking the Irish of Ireland with the Irish of the rest of the world. These range from American presidents to all persons of Irish descent.
The interests of the ancient Gaelic aristocracy are represented by the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains of which I am a founder member. The council was established in 1992 on the initiative of The Maguire of Fermanagh and gathers all the Chiefs of the Name recognised as such by  Clár na dTaoiseach, the official register of Chiefs of their Name in the Genealogical Office. One of the council’s main objects is to promote and preserve the Gaelic heritage of Ireland. In this context, a prize has now been instituted for scholarly essays on the Gaelic history of Ireland, Irish kingship, lordship, land-holding, genealogy and family history.
The reconciliation of the Irish of today with their true historical heritage is of vital importance to consolidate an Irish national identity. As custodian of historical records, the Genealogical Office is the government institution with the most relevant role in this respect and although the National Cultural Institutions bill appeared to affirm recognition of the position of the Chief Herald as its head, as yet there appears to be no confirmation of such a position.
Considering the importance of the Office’s social, political and diplomatic role I hope that its independence from the National Library will be finally established, allowing the appointment as Chief Herald of a suitable successor of the calibre of Edward MacLysaght, Gerald Slevin (the designer of the European Union logo) and Donal Begley who all brought honour and many skills to the Office.—Yours etc.,

HUGO O’NEILL
Mac Uí Neíll Bhuidhe
The O’Neill of Clanaboy
Setubal
Portugal

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