"A princely Milesian line" - that is how Reverend Charles O'Conor (1764-1828), churchman, historian and librarian for the Duke of Buckingham, described the MacDermot family in his 1796 biography of his grandfather Charles O'Conor (1710-1791) of Belanagare, founder of the Catholic Rights Association.
Everyone knows what a prince is, but what is a Milesian? A Pacific islander? An extra-terrestrial?
A Milesian family is an Irish family that can trace its ancestry back to Milesius of Spain whose children were the first Gaels to arrive in Ireland. Since Milesius's children arrived in Ireland no later than the first millennium before Christ, descendants of Milesius can claim a pedigree reaching over 2,000 years to the beginning of Gaelic history in Ireland.
Milesius, whose name means soldier in Latin, was the leader of the Gaels in northern Spain. According to the ancient Irish histories, the Gaels, a branch of the Celtic peoples, migrated from the Black Sea area where they are believed to have originated to Libya in North Africa and then on to Spain. The region of Spain in which they lived is now called Galicia due to the Gaels long presence there.
Milesius was a professional soldier who according to the Irish annals fought as a general in the service of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Nectanebo ( Nekhtnebf I). Although some authorities place Milesius in the second millennium before Christ, Nectanebo, the last native pharaoh of Egypt, was pharaoh from 379 B.C to 361 B.C.. From this, we could place Milesius and his children in the fourth century B.C. rather than the much earlier dates.
During the fourth century Egypt was beset with attacks from foreign aggression. When Nectanebo came to the throne, the Persians were about to invade Egypt with an army of 220,000 soldiers. After initial reverses, the Egyptians and their allies defeated the Persian army under Pharnabazus at a pitched battle near Mendes in 374 B.C. and Egypt was saved. A general of Pharaoh Nectanebo, Milesius may have fought in this crucial battle.
As a reward for his military service to Egypt, Pharaoh Nectanebo gave Milesius the hand of his daughter Scota in marriage. Scota returned with Milesius to Spain where he was chief of the Gaels. They had many children including Heremon, Heber, Ir, and Amergin.
Thus, the Milesians can claim descent from Nectanebo, the last native pharaoh of Egypt. Additionally, Alexander the Great, conqueror of Egypt, was popularly believed to be an incarnation of the Egyptian god Amen who took the form of Nectanebo. In his form as Nectanebo, Alexander seduced the wife of Philip of Macedon to conceive Alexander making Alexander the son of Amen. After conquering Egypt, Alexander is said to have journeyed to the temple of Amen at Siwah in order to be acknowledged the son of the god.
During his time in Egypt, Milesius had his most able Gaels instructed in the trades, arts and sciences of Egypt so that they could teach them to the rest of the Gaels when they returned to Spain. In particular, the Gaels may have improved their knowledge of building since Nectanebo was famed for building splendid temples throughout Egypt.
Following the death of Milesius in Spain, the sons along with Scota sailed to Ireland where they struggled with the Tuatha De Danaan for control of the island. The Gaels prevailed and Heremon and Heber became the first Gaelic kings of Ireland. It is said that the Irish became known as Scots after Scota. Until the Middle Ages, the name Scot applied to the Irish. It later became applied to their Gaelic cousins in what is now called Scotland.
Heremon is the ancestor of the MacDermots Roe. The descent from Heremon through centuries of early kings of Ireland is set forth in John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees, a great 19th century work of Irish genealogy. Many of the early ancestors could be described as mytho-historical. That is there is some basis in history for their having lived, but the details of their lives as set forth in O'Hart should not necessarily be taken as fact.
However, in the early Christian era, the ancestors take on a more historical aspect. For example, our ancestor Tuathal Teachtmar who became King of Ireland in 76 A.D. was in exile in North Britain before he became king. Tacitus writes that during this period an Irish Prince, presumably Tuathal Teachtmar, visited Agricola, a Roman general campaigning in Britain, to ask for Roman military assistance in recovering the Irish throne. The Roman "assistance" would likely have led to a Roman occupation. Fortunately for Ireland, Agricola declined Tuathal Teachtmar's request.
The Milesian descent continues through more early Irish kings until we pick up the trail of ancestors on the pedigree of the O'Conors from whom the MacDermots spring. The first person on the O'Conor pedigree is Achalus Moighmeadhin, King of Ireland who died in 365 A.D.
From Achalus, d. 365 A.D. until the 10th century we follow the line of our ancestors through a succession of O'Conor Kings of Connaught. Their kingdom included what are now the counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim. The O'Conor's themselves were located in central County Roscommon.
Our O'Conor ancestor Tadhg of the Towers was King of Connaught 923-956. Among Tadhg's children were Conor who succeeded Tadhg as King of Connaught and Mulrooney Mor (Mor=the great) who became King of Moylurg in 956. Moylurg was an ancient semi-autonomous kingdom in what is now northern Roscommon. From Mulrooney Mor, we continue our Milesian ancestry through the MacDermot pedigree. See MacDermot of Moylurg, Sir Dermot MacDermot (1997) for an excellent history of the MacDermots.
As shown on the MacDermot pedigree, Mulrooney Mor became the ancestor of the MacDermots. The clan was first known as the O'Mulrooneys until the surname MacDermot was adopted in honor of the great warrior Dermot, King of Moylurg, 1124-1159. For centuries the MacDermots ruled as Kings of Moylurg while, also, serving as hereditary marshals, that is military commanders, of the Kingdom of Connaught.
From Dermot, King of Moylurg (KM) 1124-1159 our ancestry continues with Conor, KM 1186-1197. Conor retired as king and died as a monk at Boyle Abbey and was buried there. The MacDermots were the principal patrons of Boyle Abbey having donated the land for the abbey to the Cistercians in 1161.
Conor's son was Tomaltach 'of the Rock' KM 1197-1207. Tomaltach is credited with building the first stone castle on MacDermot's island in Loch Ce. The fortress on the Rock was the MacDermot stronghold and headquarters until the 17th century.
Tomaltach was succeeded by his son Cormac, KM 1218-1244. Cormac was the last person in the MacDermot Roe line to be King of Moylurg. On his death, the kingship passed not to his son Conor, d. 1251 but to a second cousin, Muirchertach, KM 1244-1265.
Conor d. 1251 had a son Dermot Roe who became the ancestor of the MacDermots Roe. The ancient Irish annals only mention Dermot Roe once. In 1266, Dermot Roe was cruelly blinded by the Aedh, King of Connaught.
Since Muirchertach died in 1265, it may be that King Aedh blinded Dermot Roe in order to prevent him from attempting to return the Kingship of Moylurg to his line. As the grandson of a King of Moylurg, Dermot Roe was eligible to become king under the Gaelic law of succession. However, blind, he became disqualified since a candidate for king could not have a physical defect. Despite his disability, Dermot Roe, now known as Dermot Dall (Dall=blind), was to become the ancestor of an important new family, the MacDermots Roe.
In 1293, the kingship of Moylurg returned to the line of Cormac, KM 1218-1244. The new king was Dermot Dall's nephew, Mulrooney, KM 1294-1331. Dermot Dall's son Cormac was the last in Dermot Dall's line to be eligible to be King. Cormac may have vied with Mulrooney to become King of Moylurg or perhaps he died before 1294.
Cormac's son was, also, named Dermot Roe. He was evidently a man of great importance in Moylurg as he was buried in Boyle Abbey in 1341. It was after Dermot Roe, d. 1341 that the family adopted the name MacDermot Roe to distinguish the family from the other MacDermots.
Mulrooney was a very wily and successful king. During his reign, there was tremendous infighting among the O'Conors who competed to be King of Connaught. Mulrooney became the effective Connaught kingmaker as he threw his support from one O'Conor rival to another.
It was against this backdrop that Dermot Roe rose to prominence. The annals indicate that Cormac MacDermot Roe, his son died in battle in 1365, while serving as Biatach General for the Kingdom of Connaught. See North Roscommon - its people and past, Cyril Mattimoe, 1992 at page 74. Since the position would have been passed down in the family, it seems likely that Dermot Roe was Biatach General before him.
The Biatach General was responsible for the welfare of the poor and homeless and for the provision of food and shelter for travelers throughout the Kingdom of Connaught. Thus, his responsibility extended far beyond the borders of Moylurg.
The fact that the MacDermots Roe were entrusted with such a great responsibility indicates that family possessed several qualities. First, the family must have had considerable wealth in order to ensure that the duties were fulfilled. Second, the MacDermots Roe must have gained a high level of trust among the people. In a time of frequent internecine warfare, the MacDermots Roe could be relied upon to maintain important social services and to distribute charity in an impartial manner. Third, it indicates that the family placed care for the poor as a high priority in its activities.
The Biatach General's responsibility for providing shelter strongly suggests that the MacDermot Roe tradition as builders goes back to at least the 14th century. The most ancient authority states that the Dominican Priory of the Holy Cross at Cloonshanville near Frenchpark completed 1385 was almost certainly built by the MacDermots Roe and given to the Dominicans. Since religious establishments provided charity for the poor and shelter for travelers, the construction of this priory and other projects by the MacDermots Roe could have been undertaken in connection with the family's responsibilities as Biatach General of Connaught.
Although the MacDermots Roe are famously associated with Kilronan Parish where they owned iron foundries and were the patrons of Irish composer Turlough O'Carolan, the family, in fact, spread throughout northern Roscommon. A very large branch was established in the vicinity of Frenchpark. It is conceivable that the Frenchpark branch was established before the Kilronan branch since the MacDermots Roe did not take over northern Kilronan parish until the early 1400's.
The descendants of Dermot Dall are shown on a MacDermot Roe pedigree stored at the National Library of Ireland. Another MacDermot Roe pedigree was prepared by Sir Dermot MacDermot and appears on page 294 of MacDermot of Moylurg. The information on the pedigrees is consistent.
The two MacDermot Roe pedigrees end about 1600 except for one branch. However, modern MacDermot Roe descendants have made great strides in updating the family pedigree. To date, about 20 different branches of the MacDermots Roe have been identified. For most branches, MacDermot Roe family historians have traced their ancestry back about 200 years. With continued work, more generations will be rediscovered.
Every MacDermot Roe descendant should rightfully take pride in his descent from this princely Milesian line of over 2,000 years. Every descendant can, also, take pride in the family's unique tradition of charity and leadership embodied in the MacDermot Roe service as Biatach General of Connaught. It is a great legacy, not only, to preserve, but also, to renew.
Copyright Biatach 2014