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MacDermott Roe

The MacDermots Roe are perhaps the best known branch of the MacDermott Sep. The progenitor of the MacDermots Roe was Dermot Dall (Dall meaning blind). Dermot Dall was the son of Conor and the grandson of Cormac, King of Moylurg (1218-1244). He was in the fifth generation of descent from Dermot, King of Moylurg (1124-1159) from whom the MacDermot clan took its name.

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, in the year 1266 Dermot Dall was blinded by Aedh O'Conor, King of Connaught (potentially under tanistry, the Gaelic law governing the succession of kings and chiefs, a person could not succeed to the kingship if he suffered from a significant physical defect). The sept is believed to have taken its name from Dermot Dall's grandson, named Dermot Roe, hence MacDermot Roe. (Curiously, in the Annals of Loch Ce, Dermot Dall is referred to as Diarmaid Ruadh - anglicized "Dermot Roe").

It is unknown why the separate branch formed, however, it is highly likely that it had something to do with the fact that the blinded Dermot Dall could not inheritance the title of King of Moylurg, so was likely provided with his own land. History does however indicate that the split was amicable and the MacDermots Roe - unlike the MacDermot Gall sept - were always supporters of the MacDermots of Moylurg.

It appears that in their early years, the The MacDermott Roes stayed in Co. Sligo area. We know that in the 1300s the family took control of the Tir Tuathil from the MacManuses. Tir Tuathil is an area of impressive natural beauty situated in the furthest northeasterly point of County Roscommon where the Arigna mountains host the meeting of the three counties of Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo. It is most likely that this acquisition started in 1296 when there was a fierce battle at Keadue (in the heart of the Kilronan Parish) between the MacDermott Roes and an allied O'Conors and Farrels. It was called the Battle of "Ceite Tir Tuthall" and the O'Conors were annihilated.

The family initially ruled from Coolavin, near Ballyfarnon, while the lands continued to be tenanted by the MacManus clan. They built Alderford House at Camagh (later called Ballyfarnon) in Kilronan, Roscommon and ruled from there for centuries.

During the 16th century the MacDermots Roe expanded beyond Tir Tuathail into other parts of Moylurg. By the 17th century, the MacDermots Roe had substantial holdings as far south as Ballinahow, present day Cavetown. There is evidence of a large MacDermot Roe presence in Ardcarn parish south of the Boyle River. Additionally, the MacDermots Roe had land as far west as Tibohine parish in what was the MacDermot Gall country.

Alderford House

While there are not many details known about the early years of the MacDermots Roe, we do know that the MacDermots Roe split with their "followers" during the great Irish rebellion against Queen Elizabeth led by Red Hugh O'Donnell and Hugh O'Neill. It appears the main family removed itself to the Abbey of Boyle, an English stronghold during the rebellion (however MacDermots were principle patrons of the Abbey) and sought the protection of Clifford. The families followers fought alongside O'Rourke and in support of the forces of Conor Og MacDermot at the Battle of the Curlews on August 15, 1599. The MacDermots played a leading role in this great victory over the English. Clifford was killed and buried by the MacDermots on Trinity Island in Loch Ce. The Battle of the Curlews proved to be the last great victory for the Irish. The MacDermots Roe decision to side with the English turned out to be a smart one (definately not very loyal or courage one) The rebellion was crushed on December 24, 1601 with the great defeat of the Irish and their Spanish allies on the Cork coast at the Battle of Kinsale. On March 30, 1603, Hugh O'Neill submitted to the English. Eventually, O'Neill and many other Irish leaders fled the country in what became known as "the Flight of the Earls".

The defeat saw the end of the ancient Gaelic legal system (known as Brehon Law or tanistry), as the Stuart Kinds sought to convert Irish land ownership to an English model and in doing so undermine the Irish social, economic and political systems. The Clan system was based on two key principles : The Chieftan did not own outright the clan country, but rather was supported by its tributes (food, rent and military service) and had a duty of communal stewardship of clan lands; and secondly the election of chiefs - rather than primogeniture sucession (ie eldest son gets the lot) - this election meant that a chieftan derived his power from the clan since their support was essential for success. As a result of the defeat, the new English King, James 1, instituted a program of "surrender and re-grant". This model mean that the land was granted on a temporary and revokable bases to a clan 'chief'. This model ensured the loyalty of the 'chief' to the Crown (because his power came from the government, not his family) and it changed the power structures within the families as the 'chief' now owned the land outright - making the clan relationships ones of Landlord/tenant rather than familial benefit - and he had to pass it to his eldest son under the newly imposed rules of primogeniture,

Subsequent to the Irish defeat Conor MacDermot Roe (who it appears was not even recognised as a chief by the MacDermots Roe) submitted a petition to the new English King for a surrender and re-grant of the historic MacDermot Roe country. He apparently managed to convince the King that he possessed a sufficient claim to sept leadership to bind the family, because the petition was granted on November 20, 1605 and confirmed by the King on June 18, 1607. The substantial grant of land to Conor included a large portion of the MacDermot Roe property in Tir Tuathail. Among that property was the family headquarters at Ballyfarnan.

In the 1617 the King James I Grant to Brian Og MacDermot there were 19 MacDermot Roe familes that received grants totalling of 3,000 acres with the stipulation they pay ground rent to Brian MacDermot. This most likely related to those members of MacDermot Roe who supported the Irish Rebellion. The properties covered included a castle and very large parcel leased to Cormac MacDermot Roe in Ballinahow.This line expired with Cormas son Henry. Conor was succeeded by his grandson Henry Baccach.

In 1667, young Henry Baccach received confirmation of his estates from King Charles II of England under a "Declaration of Innocence" which preserved part of the original 1607 land grant. The Declaration was issued on proof that Henry had not participated in the Irish rebellions against England during the English Civil War.

The family continued to prosper through the early 1700s. Henry Baccach MacDermot Roe and his wife Mary Fitzgerald were principle patrons of Ireland's most renowned composer, Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738). He was crucial to the preservation of the Gaelic musical tradition during the harshest days of English colonialism exemplified by the Penal Laws. The main Alderford MacDermott Roe family continued to be practicing Catholics, and there is no historical indication that that they were forced to cease being Catholic in order to secure their land, in fact one of their sons Thomas became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ardagh.

Henry's second son John, became a Protestant and after his elder brother - Henry - died, he inherited the family line - at that point approximately 2,300 acres. It appears he like Conor was not recognized as chieftain of the MacDermots Roe during his life. Nonetheless, it was he and his descendants who inherited the family Seat in Kilronan until the last member of this line, Ffrench Fitzgerald died an expatriate in Monaco in 1917.

During the late 18th and 19th centuries the MacDermots Roe grew steadily in wealth and power. John was succeeded by his second son, Thomas who re-built Alderford in 1777. Thomas' great-grandson, Thomas Charles, became Justice of the Peace for Counties Sligo and Roscommon and High Sheriff for County Roscommon. However, as John's Protestant descendants prospered, they, also, became completely anglicized. No longer do we see the MacDermots Roe of Alderford intermarrying with ancient Irish families like the O'Conors and the O'Donnells. Rather, we see alliances with Lloyds, Whites, Swifts, Thompsons and Reids. Through these marriages, they became well integrated with the Anglo-Irish establishment. The extent to which the MacDermots Roe of Alderford identified with the English is illustrated by Ffrench Fitzgerald's entry in Who Was Who.14 Ffrench describes himself as "Lord of Moylurg… (and) head of the Protestant branch of the MacDermot sept". He claims his ancestor to be not the Dermot Mulrooney or Teige of the White Steed the Kings of Connacht, but rather "the Princes of Leinster" through the marriage of Princess Eva, daughter of Dermot, Prince of Leinster to Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke. Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, led the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170 and received Princess Eva and Leinster as his reward.

Given their close identification with English colonial rule of Ireland, it is not surprising that the last two MacDermots Roe of Alderford became expatriates as the tide of Irish nationalism rose. Thomas Charles collected his rents in Monaco where he died in 1913. His younger brother and successor Ffrench did likewise and died there in 1917. Thomas Charles was never married. Ffrench married twice and had two daughters but no son to succeed to the Irish title "The MacDermot Roe". Ffrench had three younger brothers: Fitzgerald, William Andrew and Edward Charles who are said to have immigrated to America. They apparently did not seek to continue the title. According to MacDermot of Moylurg, Alderford passed out of the family in 1926.

An interesting parallel development in the family during the period that John's Protestant descendants occupied Alderford was the dramatic decline in the number of families identified in public records as MacDermots Roe. In the early 1600's, 19 MacDermots Roe appeared on leases in the barony of Boyle in County Roscommon. By the time of Griffith's Valuation, 1848-1864, there were only three entries of MacDermots Roe in all of Ireland. They were Henry and John of County Sligo, and Patrick of County Roscommon. It is thought that the reason for the decline might be found in the anglicizing of the MacDermots Roe of Alderford and their isolation socially and genealogically. The family at Alderford was, not only, Protestant and anglicized, but also, held high office in the unpopular English colonial regime. Additionally, due to chance the only male line to descend to the 20th century from John was that of Thomas Charles and his brothers. When Ffrench died in Monaco in 1917, his closest male line relatives were descendants of Charles of Alderford. These would have been fourth cousins who had little social or emotional connection to Ffrench, and probably did not realise that the title line had expired.

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Page Last Updated: June 13, 2006

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