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My attention having been drawn to a rather distasteful newspaper article attacking The MacCarthy Mór, I feel that as one of the few people still living who were actively involved in his official recognition some twenty years ago I would like to clarify the validity of his title, and express my disgust at his detractors.
Over my thirty-two years of military service, however, I learnt that in evaluating any such report one must first consider who initiated it - and why? The answer appears to be a certain Mr. MacMillan - who was largely instrumental in setting up an "Order of the Red Branch," purporting to be an Order of Chivalry representing the semi-mythical Red Branch Knights of ancient Ulster of more than a thousand years ago. The MacCarthy Mór pointed out that lacking the requirement of long-standing uninterrupted tradition, it could not be accepted as such, and it was renamed as a Companionship, to MacMillan's extreme mortification.
His associates are a Mr. Murphy, a local independent Genealogist, and a Mr. Way of Plean, an Edinburgh Solicitor representing Mr. Barry Trant-McCarthy, a retired Accountant living in Wiltshire who claims to be the true MacCarthy Mór. Strangely enough the article, written by a Journalist named Mr. Burns, only refers to Mr. Trant-McCarthy as "the great nephew and senior heir of the last recognised MacCarthy Mór," who, in fact, adopted the title by Deed Poll, having failed to prove his right, and was denounced in a contemporary article. The remainder of the article is devoted to the denigration of The MacCarthy Mór and his Family, to the extent that its real aim appears to be one of character assassination, rather than a case for Mr. Trant-McCarthy.
Even if his Great Uncle had established his case to be The MacCarthy Mór, Mr. Trant-McCarthy would still have no claim to the title, as while Primogeniture normally applies to English titles, including those in Ireland, Gaelic Irish Chiefs can only be chosen by Tanistry, from and by a limited circle of blood relations, and with its obvious advantages in providing for the best possible leadership this principle remains.
It is further established in International Law that where a Ruling Dynasty is replaced by such as a Republic it retains the right to govern its own affairs and grant its traditional honours, despite its loss of territorial power. Thus as Gerard Slevin, the Chief Herald of Ireland, pointed out in discussion with me, he recognised the then Terence McCarthy as The MacCarthy Mór by the principle of Tanistry, as properly applicable to this Gaelic Irish Title, and which, as an Official of the Republic, he had no power to change.
My involvement arose from my settlement in my ancestral County of Donegal on my retirement from the Army in 1971, and having Confirmed the Arms for my Wife and myself, and designed those of the County for his Grant, I was on good terms with Mr. Slevin, and we normally lunched together to discuss matters of mutual interest when-ever I was in Dublin. In particular I was the Irish Representative Member on the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry (ICOC).
At a later date an old Scottish friend who was due to spend the weekend with us telephoned to say that he had met a most interesting Post Graduate Student of the Queens University of Belfast, and asked if he could join the party, which my Wife agreed. This was the then Terence McCarthy, and on this and subsequent visits with other friends we hand many very interesting and enjoyable discussions on Chivalric matters in general.
After McCarthy had mentioned his Clan Title at a later meeting, I informed Lt. Col. Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, as Chairman of the ICOC, who expressed his concern that there should be no possible doubt in any case presented to the Chief Herald.
From his many published works Colonel Gayre was internationally recognised as an authority on chivalric matters, but one book in particular, The Knightly Twilight, was an exposé of bogus titles and Orders, and he was, therefore, very careful indeed to avoid any connection with titles and Orders from which he might himself be discredited. Hence his concern over the question of The MacCarthy Mór, yet he later accepted the Office of Constable of the Niadh Nask from him.
Being equally concerned to avoid any irregularity I much appreciated my long discussions with Gerard Slevin, as the most learned of Chief Heralds, renowned for the care he took over any decision, and having explained that this Gaelic Irish Title could only be recognised by Tanistry, he showed me the extensive MacCarthy Pedigrees in his office, and pointed out that there appeared to be no families other than that of Terence McCarthy who were eligible, although consideration had been given to a family in Montreal. He further explained that his recognition could be reviewed from a counter claim within three years, after which it would be inviolable.
I duly reported this to Colonel Gayre, who said that he had conducted his own investigations, and obtained legal assurances that that title of The MacCarthy Mór could not reasonably be challenged. In due course he submitted the case to a full meeting of the ICOC held in Washington, for recognition of the Niadh Nask as the Dynastic Order of The MacCarthy Mór, and after the evidence was examined by the Members this was approved and notified officially by the Hon. Secretary. As our President, HSH the Prince of Lippe pointed out, The MacCarthy Mór equated to many of the Heirs of the old Kingdoms of Europe who had likewise retained their Dynastic Orders, and with the history of the Niadh Nask during its exile on the Continent, where it was known as The Military Order of the Golden Chain, it was entirely appropriate that it should join their ranks.
The MacCarthy Mór was subsequently recognised as such by the Courts of Spain and Italy, to provide for the acceptance of the Niadh Nask as a true Dynastic Order in these countries; by the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, which is an independent body immediately concerned with the validity of these Titles, and by John Brooke-Little, CVO, KStJ, MA, FSA, who was then Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. A leading writer on Celtic history, Peter Berresford Ellis, BA(Hons), MA, FRES, FRSAI, FRHistS, whose work on Gaelic Chieftains is to be published shortly, is further Historian to the Eóghanacht Royal House of Munster, headed by The MacCarthy Mór.
It is questionable if Mr. Barry Trant-McCarthy could have any comparable support for his claim, but it is instructive to review the various points raised by Mr. Burns in the article which are clearly intended to denigrate The MacCarthy Mór and his family.
He is introduced as "the son of a Belfast Dance Teacher," which is surely meant to be disparaging, but Mr. Burns may not appreciate that as dancing is a part of Gaelic Culture its Teachers are highly respected, and apart from owning two Clubs, his Father was a Distinguished Fellow of the Imperial and National Societies of Teachers of Dancing, and a frequent judge at International Competitions.
The tendentious references to his Grandparents as a labourer and millworker ignore the fact that many of the old Gaelic Aristocracy were reduced to labourers by the confiscation of their lands, and punitive laws which, among other things, debarred Catholics from Universities or any official office. Sir Bernard Burke, as Ulster King of Arms, deals with this situation in his work of 1860, Vicissitudes of Families and Other Essays, with a whole chapter on the House of MacCarthy Mór. It was further common practice to describe Catholics of good Families as Labourers in official records if they opposed the rule of the Protestant Ascendancy, and, apart from the fact that a loss of material status does not invalidate hereditary honour, such descriptions have to be ignored in dealing with the history of Irish Catholic Families. As this background, together with the creation of six of the traditional nine Counties of Ulster as Northern Ireland to ensure Protestant Majority rule is the root cause of the continued "Emergency," is Mr. Burns trying to aggravate political differences?
Similarly the eldest brother of The MacCarthy Mór, who was shot dead in Northern Ireland, is described as a member of the INLA, a terrorist organisation, although both the Coroner and a Police Detective Inspector stated in Court that he had no connection with any terrorist organisation. Again the fact that a Kinsman of the MacCarthy Mór may have been foolish in the highly charged atmosphere of Northern Ireland has presumably been brought in to discredit him, whereas he surely deserves credit for not abandoning his Kinsman. Equally the use of Gaelic Irish Titles in an Orange dominated area would have been unwise, as this could well have been regarded as provocative, and while he has told me among others that the term "Royal Highness" is un-Gaelic and hence unsuitable, the fact remains that he is a Royal Highness to Europeans who are not concerned with English or Irish reservations.
To state that he has been given dozens of decorations as if they are to his discredit is not only an exaggeration but insulting to the donors, and objections to his Feudal Titles which were approved in writing by the Chief Herald of the time are simply further efforts to discredit him without any proper grounds - and the question is, Why?
The Edinburgh Solicitor for Barry Trant-McCarthy has said that he has no plans for the title if he got it, but how many MacCarthys would choose to be led by a retired Accountant in Wiltshire rather than the present MacCarthy Mór? And it is this question which should dictate who is to hold the title within the laws of Tanistry, to ensure that they have an effective Chief.
There can be no doubt that the present MacCarthy Mór has shown the Leadership required of a Chief in building up both his Clan and his Dynastic Order, and with his published works presenting an image of Gaelic Irish tradition of which all having an Irish descent can be proud, and with which those who believe in upholding all traditions of honour can be happily associated.
From this aspect he has done much for reconciliation in Ireland and among those of Irish descent in other countries, but this has involved making enemies, and his presentation of the Monarchist nature of Gaelic Ireland being fundamentally opposed to the Republican vision of the late President of Ireland, Eamon DeValera, he has consistently denied the right of his Political Party, the Fianna Fail, to represent Gaelic Ireland, while accepting its democratic right to rule the modern state.
Hence, while it is surprising that the present Chief Herald should even consider abrogating the decisions of two distinguished predecessors, which leaves all their many Grants open to question, the unfortunate fact is that he no longer has the authority of earlier Chief Heralds, but is simply on the Staff of the National Library. In fact, as legislation in the Republic of Ireland now stands, it appears that the Director of the National Library is automatically Chief Herald of Ireland, regardless of heraldic qualifications. In any event, Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue's superior is Ms. Síle DeValera, Minister of Culture of the governing Fianna Fail Party.
In conclusion, however, as Northern Ireland does not accept government by the Republic of Ireland, so those believing in Gaelic traditions, from the North to the South, do not accept their rejection by any Government, and The MacCarthy Mór will remain as such from the support of his Clan and his Dynastic Order. It is only unfortunate that some descend to vilification in pursuit of their aims, what-ever they may be, but it is instructive to consider the case of the former Taoiseach of the Republic, Mr. Albert Reynolds, whose writ for libel by the Sunday Times has developed into a case which has already cost over a million pounds.
O'Kelly de Conejera
29 July 99
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