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Statement on the Recognition of Gaelic Titles by Peter Berresford Ellis.
(July 25, 1999)

In view of the recent action of the Chief Herald of Ireland, which has preceded by a few weeks publication of my book Erin's Blood Royal, with a foreword by MacCarthy Mór, I have felt it advisable to make a statement on my position.

On July 21, 1999, MacCarthy Mór's solicitor, John G. O'Donnell, was informed by the Chief Herald of Ireland (Brendan O'Donoghue), that the "courtesy recognition" given to his title in 1992 by the former Chief Herald, Donal Begley, and countersigned by the Deputy Chief Herald, Fergus Gillespie, was now "null and void."

The Chief Herald insists that his social recognition of Gaelic titles are governed by primogeniture descent and he asserts that MacCarthy Mór's genealogy is "unconvincing" in that respect.  This much was already obvious, as MacCarthy Mór has never claimed to hold his title by primogeniture but by Gaelic law descent.

When MacCarthy Mór first wrote to me on December 30, 1992, concerning material in one of my books, my first question to him was the manner in which he claimed his title.  He responded that he had been duly elected by the derbhfine of his house on August 5, 1980, when his father had abdicated having held the title since 1947 on the death of his father, who had also held the title, having been elected by the heads of the MacCarthy family in Nantes in 1905.  I was sent copies of documents in evidence.  I would not have taken his claim seriously had he answered that he held his title by primogeniture.

My views on the matter of the recognition of Gaelic titles in this day and age, which titles were abolished and made "utterly extinct" by Statute and Common Law, enforced by the English Conquests between 1541-1613, remains the same now as I have continually expressed them for the last three decades.  It is the same view that I expressed to the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains on January 10, 1998, and again more fully in a lecture to the Council on July 17, 1998.  My views are those which are shared in International Law, supported by judgments in an Italian Arbitration Court and the German Supreme Court, and by Heralds of other jurisdictions, as well by the opinions of international lawyers, legal academics and Celtic scholars.

Gaelic titles arose and descended by the Gaelic Law system until the conquest and their abolition.  They can only pass on by taking the stand that force majeure cannot abolish those titles and the law system which governed them; therefore, they pass only through a recognition and continuance of the dynastic successional laws.  No successor state to the Gaelic kingdoms, such as the Kingdom of Ireland (declared by Henry VIII in 1541 and subsequently established by conquest), the United Kingdom (1801-1922), the Irish Free State (1922-1949) and the Irish Republic (1949-), can retrospectively change the dynastic laws of succession.  Likewise, no enabling legislation can also retrospectively change those laws of succession, although no such enabling legislation was ever passed by the emergent Irish state which inherited the English law system imposed in Ireland from the 16th Century.

Let it be emphasised that this same prohibition applies to every modern successor state in similar circumstances and not just to Ireland.

I have made no secret of my views from the time I began research on my book.  Anyone claiming a Gaelic title who does not acknowledge its origin and descent by Gaelic dynastic law simply does not possess any right to it, even if "recognised" by a veritable army of heralds.  If any Irish Herald recognises Gaelic titles under the law system which made them "utterly extinct forever" that Herald is simply "reinventing" the titles and, thereby, creating new titles contrary to the Irish Constitution (Article 40.2.1).  It follows that those claiming to hold titles under such a "reinvented" system would be living in a Disneyland with absolutely no attachment at all to the Gaelic culture they purport to represent.

It was at the persuasion of MacCarthy Mór that I agreed to write a book on the current claimants to Gaelic titles.  MacCarthy Mór believed that his fellow Chiefs would be receptive to the historical and international legal reality of the titles that they were claiming.  That was why I made my views abundantly clear at the start of commencing to write the book.  No one can claim not to know my views.

Speaking personally, as well as in my capacity as an historian, in my opinion MacCarthy Mór has done considerable and laudable work for Gaelic Chiefdom over the years, for which he has received several international accolades, including an honorary doctorate, in addition to promoting several MacCarthy Clan associations, publishing clan journals, patronising charities and furthering the cause of Gaelic scholarship by establishing organisations to promote it, even endowing a museum with a collection of his family artifacts.  He is the author of several polemic books on Gaelic Munster.  I do not think that any member of the Standing Council can challenge me when I observe that no one else on the Council of Chiefs has done as much in this respect.

I speak only as an informed observer in this matter, but it is my personal opinion, that the Chief Herald has become the harbinger of the final death of Gaelic Chiefdom.  If, the Standing Council accepts that the Chief Herald is the sole arbiter of their titles and the only magistrate as to who, or who should not hold them, and go so far as to expel MacCarthy Mór from the Council, then the Standing Council will lose its most dynamic and outstanding representative.  His departure will mark, in my estimation, the "utter extinction" of Gaelic Chieftainship as expressed in the very 1aw which is now used in an attempt to deprive him and his family of his title.

It is obviously not my place to advise the Council, but I do not shirk from expressing my opinion.

The principle of legal basis for the recognition of all and every Gaelic title is the fundamental issue, not the personal animosities which have been so prevalent during the two year period that I have been proceeding with this book and to which I, to my utmost surprise, have been subject to.

In my lecture to the Council of July 17, in Dublin, I quoted a 16th Century poem Fubun fuibh, a shluagh Gaodheal.  I would sincerely regret it if the sentiments of the O'Carroll poet railing against his Chief's surrender may now, finally, be the epitaph of Gaelic Chiefdom:

Shame on you, oh men of the Gael,
not one of you has life in him
evil is your change of dignity.
O ill-guided cowardly host henceforth say nothing but "shame!"

Peter Berresford Ellis
July 25, 1999

ERIN'S BLOOD ROYAL: THE GAELIC NOBLE DYNASTIES OF IRELAND by Peter Berresford Ellis, Foreword by The MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond, Constable & Co Ltd, London, £20.  340pp + 12pp illustrations, ISBN 0-09-478600-3.  It has been made a choice by the Ancient & Medieval History Book Club in the UK.

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