Dr. Michael McManus
School of Applied Social Sciences
Durham University, UK


For centuries the historical record has held it to be a well-founded proposition that the family names O’Conor and McManus of Connaught, Ireland, are mutually inclusive – they are one family, not two given by the impression of two different names. The clear reasoning for this has come down primarily from the evidence available in the old annals and genealogies written by clerics, often many years after the event had taken place. Accordingly, the authenticity and historical truth of the annals and the political independence of their writers has been widely challenged. And rightly so. The challenge is summed up briefly by the notion that:

...…genealogy is at once ideology and history (Krader, 1963:157).

Indeed, it is with great difficulty that any one of us comes to reporting an event from an entirely independent position – we all bring something of ourselves, our politics and ideology to the record. How then can the historical truth be identified? As any police detective will testify; bringing ‘scientific’ (forensic) evidence to the enquiry will enhance the truth and ensure a strong conviction - so too in any form of historical study.

Forensic evidence was not always available to the family historian, however, history research has been transformed in recent years by the introduction of DNA testing. No longer need we depend entirely on documentary records to find our ancestors because in the relatively new science of DNA we have a great research tool that can complement the documentation. This scientific advance has the potential to penetrate the notion that genealogy contains untruths of both an historical and ideological nature. I seek here to provide increased reliability for the proposition that McManus and O’Conor of Connaught are effectively the same family. I have done this through the combined use of historical and genealogical records and the genetic data from a group of relevant individuals.


The historical record for my proposition of ‘one family’ draws heavily on the old annals. The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, or The Annals of the Four Masters (hereafter AFM) as they are also known, were compiled between 1632 and 1636 under the direction of Michael O'Clery, a Franciscan priest in County Donegal and later translated by O’Donovan (1856). They are a yearly chronicle of events relating mainly to the more celebrated members of society in Ireland until the year 1616. Likewise, the Annals of Lough Ce (hereafter, ALC) describe events between 1014-1590 and were copied mainly by the O’Duignan family of Kilronan on behalf of the MacDermot family and translated by Hennesy (1871).

It is necessary from the start to distinguish the O’Conor McManuses from the Maguire McManuses, for it is the former family that I am focusing on here. There is clear historical record that the name McManus designates genealogically from two separate individuals called Maghnus, namely, Maghnus Maguire of County Fermanagh, Ulster and Maghnus O’Conor of North County Roscommon, Connaught. There is not room here to illustrate these distinctions in detail, suffice to know that the evidence available in the old records has been studied in detail by Edward MacLysaght, formerly Chief Herald of Ireland and Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He concurs in his seminal work that there are two distinct and mutually exclusive families (MacLysaght, 1978:222).

We leave the Maguire McManuses at this point and turn fully to the McManuses of North Roscommon. The records are clear that these McManuses are descended from Conor, King of Connaught. The O’Conor (Irish = Ua Conchobair) family, of the Province of Connaught, Ireland, were for centuries, the leading family of the province and their name is written deep in the history of the area and of Ireland generally. They were Kings of Connaught, continuously, from the eighth century and Kings of Ireland for many more centuries. In his accredited work, Byrne (1973:301) sets out the O’Conor Kings of Connaught from the year 925 until the last High King, Roderick or Rory (Ruaidri=Red) who was deposed of the High Kingship by the Treaty of Windsor, 1175. Under this Treaty Rory was to hold Connaught as his vassal and exercise lordship over all the native kings and chiefs of Ireland after agreeing that he pay an annual tribute to the English King.

By the 14th century, the primary stronghold of the O’Conors’, until the army of Oliver Cromwell took it in 1652, was Ballintober Castle, County Roscommon. The castle was later restored but after the Battle of the Boyne, in 1690, it was taken by William of Orange and left to ruin. By the end of the fourteenth century the head of the O’Conor family was being termed as ‘O’Conor Don’, which, according to O’Donovan and O’Conor (1891:152) means ‘O’Conor King or Lord of Connaught’. The present O’Conor Don is Desmond Roderic O’Conor, who lives in Sussex, England. Unlike many other contemporary Chieftains who have claimed succession, his genealogy and claim is absolutely undisputed. His pedigree was extracted by Sir John-Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms and Principal Herald of all Ireland, from the records preserved in Ulster’s Office, Dublin Castle. According to the Irish Times of 22nd. July 2000:

..…it is generally acknowledged that the holder of the title would be the foremost claimant to the Irish throne, if one were proposed.......

Turning to the ancient annals; they tell us that the McManuses of North Roscommon are descended from the family of O’Conor Don and his ancestor Conor, King of Connaught, who reigned seven years and died A.D. 973:

From him descended Tirlagh Mor O'Conor, the 48th King of Connaught and the 181st elected Monarch of all Ireland in 1136. After fifty years reign, twenty as High King of Ireland, he died in 1156. Tirlagh Mor O'Conor had several wives and eighteen sons (AFM).

We learn that the ninth son was Magnus O'Conor of Tir Thuathail (Kilronan), whose sons, in the year 1225, took the surname MacManus. (The Book of Lecan (Folio 72, Column 4). O’Donovan and O’Conor (1891:44) qualify the record:

 .....Turlough which of his wives it is not stated........Manus, ancestor of the Clanmanus......

Magnus' brother, Cathal Crobhdearg, was the fifty eighth King of Connaught.  In 1186, when the Mulveys and the Sheridans had been expelled, the McManus family had been given the territory known as Tir-Tuathail, which forms the north-eastern portion of the contemporary Barony of Boyle in North Roscommon. This area can now be identified as the Parish of Kilronan. Tir-Tuathail gets its name from Tir-Tuathail-Maoilgairbh, i.e. 'the country of Tuathal Maelgarbh' who was monarch of Ireland from the year 533 to 544 (O'Faherty's Ogygia part 3 Column 93).

The MacManus line continued in North Roscommon for many centuries but by the eighteenth century the pedigree was lost, mainly through dispossession by dominant English conquerors.

From the Annals of The Four Masters there is some evidence that O’Conors and McManuses resided in the Corann (South County Sligo) before they resided in Tir-Tuathail. This is now Coolavin. In the year 1212 the annals tell us that:

Dermot, the son of Roderic O'Conor, forcibly took the house of Hugh, the son of Manus O'Conor, at Kilcolman-Finn, in Corran. Thirty-five men were burned in the house on this occasion.

There are many examples which can be taken from the annals providing testament to the status of the McManuses of Tir Thuathail and their connection with the O’Conors. In 1181 the death of Manus O’Conor and his brother Brian is recorded as being at The Battle of the Royal-Heirs (AFM). By 1249 MacManus of Tir Thuathail becomes a settled reference in the annals and it is recorded that:

Brian An Doire (an oak wood) MacManus, son of Manus O'Conor, was killed fighting against the English and was one of the army, ‘…..led by the Roydamnas (heirs presumptive) of Connaught, Turlough and Hugh (two sons of Hugh, the son of Cathal Crovderg) to Athenry (County Galway), on Lady Day in mid-autumn, to burn and plunder it.’ (AFM).

There are several references to family feuds with the McManus family and their O’Conor cousins. For example, in 1308, when Hugh, the son of Cathal O'Conor attacked his brother, Rory and in the process Manus MacManus O'Conor, and others, were killed. (AFM). A disastrous moment occurred eight years later for the O’Conors and McManuses at the Battle of Athenry in County Galway:

In 1316  ‘A very great army was mustered by Felim O'Conor and the chiefs of the province of Connaught…….Melaghlin Oge MacManus’ and many others were slain at the Battle of Athenry. This was a disastrous battle for the O’Conor men and, ‘In short, it is impossible to enumerate or tell all the chiefs of Connaught, Munster, and Meath, who fell in this battle. This terrible battle was fought on the festival day of St. Lawrence, 10th of August. Felim O'Conor was twenty-three years of age at the time. Rory na-bhFeadh, the son of Donough, son of Owen, son of Rory O'Conor was then inaugurated King of Connaught’. (AFM).

In 1318 family in-fighting continued when a large group moved to attack Cathal, son of Donnell O'Conor. Amongst the attackers were Turlough, son of Hugh, son of Owen O'Conor. Cathal was no shrinking violet however and resisted fiercely and with valour. Brian, the son of Turlough O'Conor, heir presumptive to the kingship of Connaught and his cousin Brian MacManus, and many others were slain by Cathal O’Conor. (AFM).  Family feuds continued and we see that in 1411 Fergal MacManus, Lord of Tir-Tuathail and his son Hugh were slain by Roderick MacManus. (ALC). The annals contain many reports of intrusions by families into other’s lands to steal cattle and in 1460 the McManuses were forced to defend their herd when:

Mac Manus of Tir-Tuathail, Rory, the son of Owen Roe Mac Manus, fully worthy to be Lord of that territory, was slain by Con, the son of Niall Garv, son of Turlough-an-Fhiona O'Donnell, and Teige, the son of Teige O'Rourke, while in pursuit of the spoils of the territory. O'Donnell's people carried the spoils with them to Airged-glenn; but, after the killing of Mac Manus, the chiefs of the Clann-Manus deprived them of their preys in that valley (AFM).

That the seat and land of the McManuses was Kilronan is beyond doubt. Accordingly we find several references to Tir-Tuathail (Kilronan) and reports of deaths. In 1382 Murtough Oge McManus whose father is shown as Mac Manus of Tir-Tuathail passed away and Manus, the son of Owen Roe MacManus of Tir-Tuathail Maoilgairbh, died in 1495 (AFM). In 1586, ‘Toirdhelbhach Buidhe MacMaghnusa of Tir-Tuathail’ was hanged on the 3rd. of March at Cruachan by the Sheriff of Roscommon. Apparently, a pardon which he had been granted was disregarded (ALC). Tirlaghe Boy McManus and Brian mac Fergananym McManus, both horsemen of ‘Tyrhoyle’ were more fortunate in 1585. As the fiants of Queen Elizabeth show they were granted a pardon (Commissioner of the Public Records of Ireland, 1966).  

The various historical records  referred to in this section have provided ample evidence of the genealogical connection between the O’Conor Kings of Ireland and the princely family of McManus of Kilronan. In the next section a scientific element is brought to bear on our genealogical project. Using genetic genealogy and the science of YDNA, any doubts held on the authenticity of the annals are redressed and the accuracy of the historical record as it applies to McManus/O’Conor is established.


This is part one.

Part two

Part three