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The Ancient Origins of the Clan Ó Brólaigh


By Edgar M. Bralley 2010


Through the Gap


Through the Gap - Ballybrolly, Northern Ireland – Photostream 16 March 2010


This article seeks to explore the early history and possible origin of the family of Ó Brólaigh of Ulster.  According to traditional annalistic sources, the Ó Brólaigh are a sept of the great Uí Néill federation of clans who conquered the north in the late 3rd century.[1]

Nial Noígíallach

The first semi-historical ancestor of the Ó Brólaigh is said to be Niall Noígíallach or Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was the son of Eochaid Mugmedón “Slaves Lord,” a powerful tribal chieftain and petty king of the northern Irish in the 4th century.[2]  This line of early Irish kings claimed descent from their ancestral god-spirit Conn of the Hundred Battles.[3]  Often reputed to be a “high” king of Ireland, the name Eochaid Mugmedón is not actually found on the high king lists in any of the annals or records.[4]  He is not mentioned in the list of kings of Tara in the Baile Chuind (The Ecstasy of Conn); but is included in the synthetic lists of high kings in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Irish annals, Geoffrey Keating's history, and the Laud Synchronisms.  His family expanded from an historical base in the general vicinity of Connacht in western Ireland.

His son Niall was also a semi-mythical king of the Irish of the north; the eponymous ancestor of the Uí Néill kindred who dominated Ireland from the 6th to the 10th centuries.[5]  The rise of the Uí Néill dynasties and their conquests in Ulster and Leinster are not very reliably recorded but they have been the subject of considerable studies and attempts to reconstruct them, and it appears that Niall was a real historical personage.  However, very little can be said of Niall's life with confidence. The usual sources for details concerning his life are the genealogies of kings, the "Roll of Kings"[6] section of the Lebor Gabála Érenn; Irish annals, such as the Annals of the Four Masters; chronicles such as Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, and legendary tales like "The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedón" and "The Death of Niall of the Nine Hostages".[7]

Of particular note, it was probably this Niall who kidnapped and brought the shepherd boy Patrick to Ireland as a slave after one of his raids on the British or French coast.  Of course, Patrick would later escape, become a priest, go to Rome and return to Ireland, becoming the famous patron of Ireland, St. Patrick.

Recent technological discoveries have allowed genetic scientists to analyze Y-DNA and to determine which Haplogroup the descendants of Niall belong to. Haplogroups are the branches on the tree of early human migrations and genetic evolution. Haplogroups are defined by genetic mutations or "markers" found in Y chromosome and mtDNA testing. These markers link the members of a Haplogroup back to the marker's first appearance in the group's most recent common ancestor. Haplogroups often have a geographic relation.[8]  In February 2006 Trinity College in Dublin released the results of a DNA study of Irish men, which found that a certain pattern of markers was common in northwest Ireland and in men with surnames associated with the Uí Néill sept or clan.[9] They postulated that this could be due to what's been dubbed "the Genghis Khan effect" - where a powerful ruler or conqueror leaves a legacy of many thousands of descendants because of his many sons, some of whom retain power and have many sons of their own, for generation after generation. In this case, the legendary Irish high king Niall of the Nine Hostages may be the progenitor of millions of these.[10]

Niall is persistently placed in the traditional list of high kings of Ireland. His reign is dated to the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The Annals of the Four Masters dates his accession to A. D. 378 and death to A. D. 405. Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn broadly agrees again associating his raiding activities in Britain with the kidnapping of St. Patrick (ca. A. D. 390-461).[11]  In reality, the high kingship did not actually become a reality until the 9th century, and Niall's legendary status has been inflated in line with the political importance of the dynasty he founded.  Based on Uí Néill genealogies and dates given for his supposed sons and grandsons, modern historians believe he is likely to have lived some 50 years later than the traditional dates, dying circa A. D. 450. Though he might not have really been high king, he occupied a huge presence on the historical stage of Northern Ireland.

Keating credits Niall with two wives;  Inne, daughter of Lugaid, who bore him one son, Fiachu; and Rignach, who bore him seven sons, Lóegaire, Éndae (Enna), Maine, Eógan, Conall Gulban, Conall Cremthainne and Coirpre.[12]  These sons are the eponymous ancestors of all the various Uí Néill regional dynasties  - Eógan of the Cenél nEógain (purported ancestor of the Ó Brólaigh) and Conall Gulban of the Cenél Conaill; Fiachu of the Cenél Fiachach[13], Lóegaire of the Cenél Lóegaire, Maine of the Uí Maine, Conall Cremthainne of the Clann Cholmáin and the Síl nÁedo Sláine, and Coirpre of the Cenél Coirpri, altogether creating a vast, constantly changing and moving tribal confederation roughly coexistent with parts of modern Northern Ireland.   Niall was a pagan all his life and never became a Christian in spite of the strong presence of St. Patrick and the growing Christian community in Ireland at the time. However, several of his children and grandchildren apparently did.

The manuscript Rawlinson B. 502 in the Bodleian Library at Oxford[14] gives the following descendants of Niall:

§763: Niall Noígiallach m. Echach .xiiii. mc leis .i. Conall Err Breg nó Cremthainne nó Cerrbél, Conall Gulbain Guirt nó Foibni, Éogan, Cairpre, Láegaire, Fiachra, Maine, Énna, Óengus Ulderg, Fergus Antoit nó Antem, Fergus Mátlorg, Trian, Cóeldub, Uaithgein. Conall Err Breg a quo Clann Colmáin & Síl n-Áeda Sláine. Conall Gulbain Guirt a quo Cenél Conaill. Láegaire a quo Cenél Láegaire. Maine a quo Úi Maine & Fir Thethba. Cairpri a quo Cenél Cairpre. Énna a quo Cenél Énna. Óengus Ulderg a quo Cenél n-Óengusa.

Translation:  Niall 'of the Nine Hostages' son of Eochu, 14 good sons, i.e., Conall Err Breg or Cremthainne or Cerrbel, Conall Gulbain Guirt or Foibni, Eoghan, Cairpre, Laegaire, Fiachra, Maine, Enna, Oengus Ulderg, Fergus Antoit or Antem, Fergus Natlorg, Trian, Coeldub, Uaithgein

The entry goes on to state that the Clann Cholmáin and Sil n-Áeda Sláine descended from Conall Err Breg (or Cremthaine), i.e., the main line of the southern Uí Néill; the Cenél Conaill in Donegal descend from Conall Gulban Guirt; from Laegaire descend the Cenél Leagaire (southern Uí Neill); from Maine,  the Uí Maine and Fir Thethba (men of Teffia.)  The Ó Brólaigh are enumerated among the descendants of Eógan mac Niall.


Eógan mac Niall

Niall’s son Eógan was a king of Ailech, a major principality seated in Donegal, not to far west of the present City of Londonderry.  He is reputed to have been a close friend of St. Patrick, who personally baptized him, calling him “the lion Eógan mac Niall.[15] With his brother, the high king Lóegaire mac Niall (d. A. D. 462), he was one of the judges in a dispute over the succession to Amalgaid (d. A. D. 440), king of Connacht among his sons competing to rule their territory of Tir Amalgaidh in northwest Connacht.

Eógan, king of Ailech and Tír Eoghain (Eógan’s territory), is buried near St. Patrick's Church in Iskaheen, Inishowen, Donegal.  A plaque in the cemetery states "Eoghan, Prince of Iniseoghain, Son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, Died 465 of grief for his brother Conall. Baptised by Patrick and buried in Uisce Chaoin."[16]  Tir Eoghain or “Eoghain’s Land” lives on in the county named Tyrone.

Eógan supposedly had numerous progeny, including Muiredach, his successor in the kingship of Ailech; Fergus, founder of the Cenél Fergusa; and Echach Bindech[17], founder of the Cenél mBinnig, Eanna, founder of the Cenél Enda, Fiachra, who was bishop of the Cenél nEógain and seven other sons who lived in Donegal in an area called the Bredach, namely, Fedlimid, Ailill, Cormac, Elann, Dallan, Echen and Oengus. 

At this point the sources offer conflicting information.  According to the most of the great annals, the clan Ó Brólaigh descends from Oengus, son of Eógan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.[18]  Dubhaltach MacFhirbisigh, in his genealogical tracts, states in one place that the Ó Brólaigh descend from Oengus and in another from Echach Bindech. Modern genetic testing has revealed that there were two distinct clans of that name.  One family tested I2b1 and the other R1b, so there seem to have been at least two clans bearing the same surname.  Both branches were associated with the coronation seat of the Uí Néill at Tulcha Óg (Tullyhoge) and resided at some point on the eastern shore of the River Foyle, in County Derry, i.e. the Barony of Keenaght and the areas surrounding present-day Londonderry.

The manuscript Rawlinson B 502[19]: §764 gives the following genealogy for Eógan’s progeny:  Éogan immorro m. Néill .x. filios habuit id est: Muiredach a quo Cenél Muiredaich, Binech a quo Cenél m-Binnich, Fergus a quo Cenél Fergusa, Óengus a quo Cenél n-Óengusa, Dallán a quo Cenél n- Dalláin, Cormac a quo Cenél Cormaic, Feideilmid a quo Cenél Feideilmid, Ailill a quo Clann Ailella, Echen a quo Cenél n-Echin, Illann a quo Cenél n-Ellaind, Eochaid a quo Cenél n-Echdach.

Here we find listed most of the major branches of the Cenél Eógan, who, like the Cenél Conaill, were northern Uí Néill – an aggressive people who originally stormed out of the general vicinity of Connacht and settled on the conquered lands of the northwest of Ireland in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone.

Oengus mac Eógan

According to the O Clery Book of Genealogies, M. 790, lines 714 to 718; (Linea Antiqua, Royal Irish Academy MS 23D17, circa 1642), Eógan mac Niall's sons first conquered and held territory in the Bredach in Inishowen.  They are enumerated in the following manner:

It e annso tellaighe na Bredchha

714. O Fheidlimid, cedus, muinter Ruarcan et muinter Treallan et muinter Slebhin et muinter Muirdelbaigh et clann Cumuscaigh et clann Narchon c: teallach Tuathail et clann Forcheirnn.

715. O Corbmac, uero, muinter Chele, ocus clann Minghoile, ocus clann Cerdan, ocus .h. Mail, et .h. Ultain et .h. Ruaigne.

716. O Dallan, .h. Eircinn, ocus .h. Cuiliun et .h. Reodan, .h. Ceallaigh, .h. Meran, ocus clann Cuan.

717. O Oilill, muinter Forceallaigh et muinter Mail raifthi, ocus .h. Rosaigh et .h. Gillagan, .h. Donnan, .h. Corpmaic, ocus sil meic Gluais, .h. Follamain, .h. Minain, .h. Uidir, .h. Fercumais,.h. Galan, .h. Donnugan uel .h. Branugan, .h. Ceallaigh, .h. Duibne et clann Filgaile.

718. O Oenghus, .h. Mail phoil, ocus .h. Brolaigh et cenel Oenghusa tulcha og (.i. mic Aini et mic Ecruiti). Et asd e an t-Aenghus sin do-choidh in echtra co righ Temra co nderna a muinerus fris, ocus cor fer comlann tar a chenn .i. cath mullaig Fedha et ba coimdith don chath, ocus d'Aenghus cor gair a cu .i. guan ar na cengal do chloich an atha co tainic ba guth an tigerna an cu .i. goan co ro-muigh an cath iertain co tucadh crich imdha, ocus erannus do, cor dhedhail da seacht macaib iertain; mac do, Echrach o tait clann Aenghusa eachrach i nn-ibh Uais breagh; mac ele do a crich fer Cul re Tulen atuaidh o ta clann Aenghusa cul et alii multi.

[Translation of Line 718: “From Oenghus [are] Ua Mael Phóil and Ua Brolaigh and Cenél Oenghusa of Tulach Óg (namely, Mic Aini and mic Ecruiti). And it was that Oenghus who went on an expedition to the King of Teamhair (Tara) so that he formed a friendship with him and he fought a conflict on his behalf, namely the battle of Mullach Feadha; and there was destruction as a result of (?) the battle and to Oenghus until he called his hound, namely Guan [which] had been tied to the stone of the ford, so that the hound, namely Guan, came at the call (voice) of his master, so that he won the battle afterwards, so that he was given many territories and land, so that he divided it between (?) his seven sons afterwards. One of his sons [was] Echrach from whom are the Clann Oenghusa in Uibh Uais Breagh; [there was] another son of his in Crích Fer Cúl re Tulen in the north from whom are Clann Oenghus Cúl and many others.”

719. O Echin, uero, atait .h. Ogan et .h. Ruanaigh et .h. Raiten et meg Comaltan.

Muintir Tech na Comairce

Where did the ancient Ó Brólaigh live?  Oengus mac Eógan, grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, held various lands in Inishowen after the Uí Néill conquered that area and his tribe lived in and around Bredach Glen.  Eventually, they moved outwards from there with the advance of the Cenél Eoghain, with various clans settling elsewhere at an early date.

 If we trust MacFhirbhisigh (1650), Ó Ceallaigh and later writers, such as Rev. T. H. Mullin and Rev. J. E. Mullan, authors of The Ulster Clans, they may have been located near a place (later parish) called Muintir Tech na Coimairce, which was under the dominion of the Cenél mBindech at the time.  It is unclear what the source is for the attribution that these Ó Brólaigh were descendants of the Cenél mBindech.  MacFhirbhisigh calls them “Cenél mBindech Tulcha Óg.”  It is Archbishop Colton (1373-1404) who tells us more about Tech na Coimairce:

“The parish of Taghernegormerkie (now a part of Clonleigh) conteyninge in all twoe quarters, whereof there is one quarter of erenagh land in the occupation of Finin Ó Bogan, herenagh of that place who paid thereout yerely unto the lord busshop of Derrie, 13s, 4d.  The patent confirmed to the see the herenagh land contained in “the quarter of Bogan, otherwise Taghcumrick.”[20]

A little more is learned from The Martyrology of Donegal under the feast day of “the Seven Holy Bishops of Tigh-na-Comairce”, where we find: “There is a Tigh-na-Comairce in Tir Conaill, near unto Loch Feabhail, dedicated to the Seven Holy Bishops.”[21]  Their feastday is given as May 28th and The Martyrology of Gorman, written “circum annum 1167,” states the following:

The excellent Pope Johannes, Priamus, Lucianus, an ample gem: Steadfast amiable Felix, Eugan, Aemilius I; I reckon: seven bishops from Tech na Comairce, pure abundance; Their piety under a full star.[22]

A note from the Ordnance Survey states:  “Tachnegormeryk - In Irish, Teac na Coimirce, “house of the sanctuary.”  The Taxation of 1300 calls it “Tegnagomark.”  The word “cumric” is still used in the sense of “protection” or “asylum.”  It was called “Tachnekomeryke” in 1397; and marked “the Sanctuary” in Mercator's two maps. (See Colton's Visitation, p. 71; and Martyrology of Donegal, pp. 140-141; Ordnance Survey, Sheet 79).  “This small benefice, which has now merged with Clonleigh, is represented by the townlands of Churchtown and Ballybogan in the north of the parish.  The cemetery is situate in the former of these, close to Ballybogan National School.[23]

Clearly, the tribal descendants of Oengus were expanding out of Inis Eoghain (Inishowen) at this time[24] and Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, writing in the late 1600’s, says that the tribe was then residing on the shores of the River Finn in Clonleigh Parish and along with Ó Bogan, Ó Breen and Ó Toner.[25] 

In A History of the Diocese of Derry, Jeffries and Devlin refer to that ancient parish and assert that the four families mentioned living there, including Ó Brólaigh, mutually held a sacred hereditary office of erenagh (or herenagh), or custodian of church lands or of a monastic school.[26]  There are no other historical references to support this assertion, at least regarding the Ó Brólaigh as erenagh’s. By the 12th century many early church sites had no monks or clergy.  Instead hereditary tenants farmed the church lands, under lay abbots known as “erenaghs” - Irish “oirchinneach” or “superior” - in the case of smaller church sites; and “coarbs” - Irish “comharba” or “heir” - who were parochial farmers taking care of the church lands and the principal shrine in a network of church sites dedicated to a single saint.  Colonists reallocated these “termon-lands” - or “sanctuary-lands” - to parish priests, or new monastic orders like the Benedictines, or the barons simply annexed them. Meanwhile in Gaelic Ireland the “termon-men” realized they needed a new legal status inside the church to avoid being taxed as ordinary laymen by the chiefs. They transferred ownership of their lands to the diocesan bishops.  Those remaining on the lands were now the bishops' tenants. “Erenaghs” and “coarbs” functioned as stewards, collecting rents and tithes. This revenue went to the rector and vicar of each parish, the bishop and the erenagh himself, who spent some on the maintenance of the church buildings. Most of the tithes were “in kind,” and went to the erenagh, who paid the Bishop out of farming profits.  Lay erenaghs knew Latin and still claimed spiritual powers of blessing and cursing as guardians of the relics of their founder saints.  Ulster parish clergy were recruited from erenagh families, making the clerical profession hereditary.  Bardic poets, historians and judges were often drawn from erenagh families also.  Clonleigh was dedicated to “the seven holy bishops,” an expression often found in Irish literature for a number of places in Ireland.

“The parish, which is also called Clonleigh, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 12,517 1/2 statute acres, of which 153 are in the tideway of the river Foyle, and 12,227 are applotted under the tithe act and valued at £8520 per annum. There are remains of three religious houses, at Ballibogan, Churchminster, and Clonleigh; the monastery of Cluanleodh, according to Archdall, was founded at a very early period by St. Columb, and St. Carnech was bishop and abbot of this establishment in 530.” [27]

The site of the little known battle of Mullach Feadha mentioned in the Ó Clery genealogies involving the Ó Brólaigh ancestor Oengus and his marvelous fighting hound, Guan, is probably near the two modern townlands of Mullyfahbeg and Mullyfamore, located in the parish of Termonamongan, Barony of Omagh in western County Tyrone, a mere 20 miles or less to the south of Clonleigh/Teach na Coimairce.  The location has been recorded variously in the source materials under such names as “Summit of the Wood”, Mullyfabeg, Mulaigh fheadha, Summit of the little wood; Mullach Feadha Móir - "Summit of the Wood (Great);"  Mullyfa ; Mullyfamore ; Mulaigh an fheadha moir.[28]

A Man Called Brólaċ

Our family name, Bralley, is a patronymic surname – and most of us who claim Irish ancestry are the descendants of a man (or men) who actually once lived, probably somewhere in Northern Ireland.  This ancestor would probably have lived during the period approximately A. D. 900 to 1200, the time which saw the slow rise of permanent family names.  He was probably called Brólaċ.  Brólaċ, Brolaiġ, Bróllach, Brólaigh, Brólaich (all etymologically the same) and its several dozen modern variants are somewhat rare early Irish Christian names that appear infrequently in the annals and records of ancient Ireland.  It might  have been Brólaċ’s grandson or another descendant, who first took the name as a surname, with the addition of the “O” and the name would have been handed down from that time to honor the memory of the man to the present generation.  “Mac” or “mic” means son of and “O,” grandson or descendant of the original named ancestor.

There is no other specific evidence regarding the historical Brólaċ.  However, there is one intriguing early reference to the son of a man named Brólaiġ - Mail Brigte meicc Brolaiġ.  His name translates “Servant of (or devoted to) St. Bridget, the son of Brólaiġ (Brolly).”  One wonders if  he was the son of our original ancestor.


Mail Brigte meicc Brólaiġ

The Annals of Inishfallen and the Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, make an early reference to this name in a memorial entry upon the death of “Mail Brigte meicc Brólaiġ, abb. Inise Cathaig” in the year A. D. 901.[29]  The Irish name Brólaiġ would have been pronounced “Brōleh” - the dot over the “g” aspirates it and makes it sound like the final “y” in Bralley.   Without the dot, it would be spelled Brolaigh – exactly the same way the name Bralley is spelled in Irish today, but pronounced the same.  Mail Brigte meicc Brólaiġ was abbot of the monastery of Inishcathy on Scattery Island in the mouth of the River Shannon in County Clare.  It was founded by St. Senán in the 6th century.  The first entry shows he obtained the abbacy in A. D. 894, according to The Annals of Inishfallen, and held the office for about ten years.


AI 894.2.  Repose of Flann son of Forbasach, abbot of Les Mór. Mael Brigte succeeded him in the abbacy.


The second reference records his death and reads as follows:


Bissextile. K1.  Repose of Mael Brigte son of Brólach, abbot of Inis Cathaig.[30]


St. Brigit and a Certain Leinsterman of the Uí Brólaiġ


In the most ancient of Irish mythologies, Brigit or Brighid ("exalted one")[31] was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán. She had two sisters, also named Brighid, and is considered a classic Celtic Triple Goddess.[32]  She was assimilated into the early Irish Christian tradition as St. Brigit.

A curious, ancient Uí Brólaiġ association with Brigit is mentioned in the Life of St. Brigit.  The name Uí Brólaiġ is found in Bethu Brigte (The Life of St. Brigit), a very early text, whose author is anonymous. As everyone knows, the famous St. Brigit is one of the three patron saints of Ireland and she is affectionately called the “Mary of the Gaels.”  According to Ussher, she was born in A.D. 453 and she died 1 February 525.[33]  The following interesting excerpt in Irish from the Life of St. Brigit contains a reference to her visit to the dwelling of “a man of the Uí Brólaiġ:”


Bethu Brigte (The Life of Saint Brigit) Section 29, page 10 in Irish/Latin:


Dia Lúain Minchasc iarum luid Brigit ina carput & a ingena ina coemthecht & in da epscop Mel & Melchu in Campum Mide dochum lego, & co n-dichsidis iarum in Campam Tethbæ do athrius luic boe and do Mhel & do Melchoin. Tertiaque feria in nocte ad dommum devertunt Laginensis cuiusdam viri de Nepotibus Brolaig.   Ille eos sussepit & respiciens benigne pavit sanctam cum episcopis Brigitam. Ar-ces an fer maith h-i-sin & a aithech tige. Uxor inquid: ‘Quotquot genui defuncti sunt præter duas filias quæ & ipse muttae sunt a die nativitatis’. Illa vadit ad Vadum Firgoirt. Sancta caidid Brigita im medio vado, nesio qua causa paventes euui, illissumque lapidi sanctum in vertique vulneratum caput aquasque cum sanguine cruentavit largiter perfusso. Sanctaque Brigita at alteram locuta est mutam filiam: ‘Aquam sangine permixtam circamfunde tuo collo in nomine Dei’. Et sic fecit, & illa dixit: ‘Sanasti me; gratias ago Deo’. ‘Gair do siair’, ar Brigit frisin n-ingin sláin. ‘Tair le, a fiur’, ol-si. ‘Veniam dano’, ar a setig. ‘Am slan cia thiasu. Ru-slechtus i n-eis in charpuit; am slan iarum’. ‘Argib tra’, ar Brigit frisin n- ingin, ‘dofor tig &, a n-at-rubalt duib do fer-chlandaib, con berid in lin cetnae iterum’. Batir falti i s-sudiu. Et lapis ille memorabilis sepe sanat plures. Na cend co cend-galar suidigther do is slan du-n-intai h-uath. Is and sin con rancatar frisin suid-liaig, fri Æd mac Bric. [gap: missing words]ar epscop, ‘cend na næb-ingine’. Tetigit, & talibus verbis virginem compellat: ‘A medico tacta est tui, virgo, vena capitis qui me est melior satis’. 


English translation:  “On the Monday after Low Sunday, Brigit went in her chariot (cart) and her maidens along with her and the two bishops and Mel and Melchú into the plain of Mide to a physician, and that they might go afterwards into the plain of Tethbae to visit a foundation which Mel and Melchú had there. On Tuesday at nightfall they turn aside to the house of a certain Leinsterman of the Uí Brolaig. He received them and out of respect and kindness and entertained the holy Brigit and the bishops. That good man and his wife complained. The wife said: “All the children I have given birth to have died, except two daughters and they are dumb since the day of their birth.”  She goes to Áth Firgoirt. The holy Brigit falls in the middle of the ford, the horses being frightened for some unknown reason, and the saint's head was dashed against a stone and was injured on top, and it richly stained the waters with the blood, which was shed. The holy Brigit said to one of the two dumb girls: “Pour the water mixed with blood about your neck in the name of God.” And she did so and said: “You have healed me. I give thanks to God.” “Call your sister,” said Brigit to the girl who had been healed. “Come here, sister,” said she. “I shall come indeed,” said her companion, “and though I go, I have already been healed. I bowed down in the track of the chariot and I was cured.” “Go home,” said Brigit to the girl, “and ye shall again bring forth as many male children as have died on you.” They were delighted at that. And that memorable stone often heals many. Any head with a disease of the head, which is placed on it, returns from it cured. It was then they met, the learned leech (physician,) Áed mac Bricc.[34] [Missing], said the bishop “the head of the holy maiden.” He touched it and with these words addresses the virgin: “The vein of your head, O virgin, has been touched by a physician who is much better than I am.”


Who were the Uí Brólaiġ of Leinster?  There are no additional references to them as a tribal unit or clan.  Could this simple reference somehow be related to descendants of Oengus mac Eógan, who were granted land in Crích Fer Cúl re Tulen near Kells in Leinster?  It is Tuilane or Dulane and dedicated to St. Carnech.  Oengus was considered progenitor of a sept of Ó Brólaigh.  Could this be the homeland of one of the branches of the Ó Brólaigh?


St. Brelach mac Fithchellaigh

The Martyrology of Donegal, The Martyrology of Aengus the Culdee and The Martyology of Tallaght[35] include a notice regarding St. Brelach, son of Fithchellaigh and gives his feast day as February 17th.[36]  The word brelach may actually be an attenuated variant of the word brolach (brollach) and would be pronounced “brelah.”  In parts of Ireland, words are attenuated or lengthened by the local dialect.  For instance, the Rorie O’Broly of the 1663 Hearth Money Rolls of Derry is the very same Rory Brelagh mentioned in the 1655 and 1656 register entries of Derry Cathedral.[37]  In this instance Brelagh is obviously a variant of Brolly and it may be assumed that individuals in the records of Derry during this period are actually Brolly’s.  The little-known St. Brelach left no historical trail in the annals and efforts to research him turned up no additional data.

Martain Ó Brólaigh

A major attribute of Irish monasticism from the eighth century on was extraordinary scholarship.  Irish monasteries became large centers of European learning.  Many foreign princes and scholars traveled to Ireland to attend Irish schools for their education.[38]  At the height of its influence, the monastery at Clonmacnoise had 2,500 students.[39] 

The first entry for the year A. D. 1188 in The Annals of Ulster is a memorial record of the death of the venerable scholar Martain Ó Brólaigh, who was called “the chief sage of all the Gaels and chief man of learning at Armagh.”  The entry in Irish reads as follows:

“Martain h-ua Brolaigh, ard-ecnaidh Goeidhel uile & ard-fher leiginn Aird Macha, do ecc.”

He is one of only a few men ever mentioned in the annals referred to as fer leiginn.  According to P. W. Joyce, after the 8th century when a college or place of learning was associated with a monastery or religious house, the abbot would appoint a deputy or head professor to preside over the academic portion of the monastery.  No one but a druim cli – a man who had mastered the entire course of learning - could be appointed.  He was called a fer-leginn – a man of learning, chief lector, scholasticus or principal, having all the other professors and teachers under his authority.[40]  The Annals of the Four Masters records the death in A. D. 1056 of Aedh Ua Foirreidh, “aird-fher leiginn, & sui—epscop Arda Macha”; the death of Corbmac Ua Maol Duin, “aird-fher leiginn & sruith-senóir Ereann,” in the year A. D. 1072.


The school of the monastery at Armagh claimed to have been founded by St. Patrick himself in the 5th century.  By the end of the 7th century, there were 45 monastic schools in Ireland.  Grammar was considered important in these schools and in many the teachers compiled Latin grammatical treatises for the use of their students.[41] 

Fer-leginn were not always in religious orders.  At Monasterboice, Flann the Annalist, a layman, the most distinguished scholar in Ireland of his time, was appointed fer-leginn.[42]  About a century earlier the lay ollave or doctor-poet Mac Cosse held a similar position in the great school of Ros-Ailithir, now Ross Carbery in Cork.  It is worthy of remark that many of the learned men commemorated in the annals were teachers in colleges for life or for some time, either as fer-leginn, or in some other capacity.[43]  The Annals of Loch Cé also records his death in AD 1188, as follows:

Age of Christ 1188

“Martain h-ua Brolaigh, ard-ecnaidh Goeidhel uile & ard-fher leiginn Aird Macha, do ecc.”[44]

This same entry is found in several other great Irish annals, such as The Annals of the Four Masters:


A.D. 1188: Martain Ó Brólaigh, chief sage of all the Gaeidhel and chief lector of Ard Macha, died.[45]

In 1833 Sir Flinders Petrie gave a drawing of an ancient bronze altar vessel to the Royal Irish Academy, which had an Irish inscription around its neck in a beautiful, square Irish character, which reads:

Do or Martain hu Brol ~

It has been translated as “Pray for Martain Ó Brólaigh.”  The vessel is 3 inches high and 2.5 inches in diameter.  It was found in the ruins of a church on Island Magee, County Antrim, and was apparently used to hold sacred oil or chrism.[46]  Edward Rogers also mentions Martain Ó Brólaigh in his Memoirs of Armagh Cathedral, published 1881.[47]

Baile Uí Bhrolaigh

With this evidence in mind, it seems possible that the present little townland of Ballybrolly, in the County of Armagh and about 1 mile west of the Primatial City, one cannot help but conjecture that it was the physical location of Martain Ó Brólaigh’s residence and school.  It lies in Eglish Parish and is considered part of the greater Navan Cultural Site.  Since 1609 the location has been identified as:

1609    Ballyrolly

1609    Brollie

1615    Ballybrolly, 1 bal.

1615    Ballerolly

1615    Ballyvroly

1620    Ballybrolly, 1 ball.

1620    Ballyvrolly

1633    Ballyborolly, 1 balliboe

1633    Ballybrolly

1633    Ballyrolly

1657    Ballybrolley

1657c  Ballybrolly

1659c  Ballybroly

1661    Ballybrolly

1664    Ballybrolly

1672c  Ballibrolly

1830c  Ballybrawley

1835    Baile Ui Brollaigh "O'Brolly's town"

1835    Ballybrolly

1999    Baile Uí Bhrolaigh " Bradley's townland"

2004    Baile Uí Bhrolaigh "O'Brolly's townland"


The records of the Armagh Natural, History And Philosophical Society mentions a visit to Ballybrolly in 1893.[48]

“June 6th. — Field excursion to Ballybrawley stone circle and Navan Fort. In spite of the great heat, the few members that assembled determined to carry out the programme. On arriving at Ballybrawley it was observed with regret that one of the large boulders forming the circle was being broken up. If this course be persevered in there will soon be no stone circle left. Proceeding from Ballybrawley to Navan Fort, the party took a line across the country. Arrived at Navan Fort, much speculation was indulged in as to the disposition of the ancient town, if such it can be called. On the way home specimens were met with, on the old road to Armagh, of Geranium pratense, and its handsome purple flowers were much admired. On the railway bridge at Ballybrawley, a quantity of the pretty little Wall-rue (Asplcnium rtita-muraria} was observed. Various insects were captured, the most noteworthy being the Hemipteron, Calocoris roseomaculatns and the Orthopteron, Lalria minor.”

In olden times a balliboe was approximately 509 acres.[49]  In later historical times it became smaller and smaller.

According to the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, “here one also finds an early Christian stone enclosure and settlement site, possibly a religious house or abbey.”  As previously stated, Ballybrolly lies only about one kilometer north from the legendary Navan Fort, the hilltop location of Emain Macha of Irish legends and site of the Iron Age kings of Ulster.  Ballybrolly was the location of an early Christian site called “the Abbey,” and a stone circle, the “Druid’s Ring,” both destroyed by agriculture.  The Early Medieval Archeology Report #2.3, “Database of Early Medieval Archaeological in Ireland 1930-2004”, by University College, Dublin, School of Archaeology/School of Geography, Palaeoecology, refers to Ballybrolly as a “significant early Christian site.”  The “Druid’s Ring” is described as a circle of stones of varying sizes, about 70 feet in diameter, with a dolmen grave in the centre. Most of the stones lie horizontally in the line of the circle.[50]  It is considered a Bronze Age structure.

Emain Macha, the capital of Ulster in the tales of the Ulster Cycle, is today represented by a complex of earthworks and other structures in and around the townland of Navan.  Over the years farming in the area has turned up archaeological artifacts in huge numbers, dating from the Middle Stone Age to the late Middle Ages, but concentrated in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.  At the centre is the mound known as Navan Fort, a circular grassy mound covering six hectares on top of a low hill.  To the west is a hill fort known as Haughey's Fort. Between them is a hill called Creeveroe, derived from Cráeb Ruad, the illustrious home of the famous “Red Branch Knights”, most famous of Conchobor's royal houses.  In B. C. 95, a circular building 40 metres across was built at Navan, covered in turf, and apparently burnt down, presumably for ritual purposes. The complex seems to have fallen into disuse until the early Christian period, but from then on continued to be used for ceremonial purposes into the middle ages.

Armagh itself, derived from Ard Macha meaning “Macha’s Height,” is named after a legendary pagan queen who built a fortress on the central hill of Armagh.  It is referred to in the annals as “the city of scholars and saints.”  Although the major pre-Christian power center of Ulster was nearby Navan Fort, the settlement of Armagh grew in prominence after Navan’s destruction in A. D. 332.  In his mission to convert Ireland to Christianity, circa A. D. 445, St. Patrick arrived in Armagh and chose it as the center of the new religion; he declared that it should take precedence over all other churches in Ireland and from that time it has been the ecclesiastical capital of the whole country.  It is the power center of the Primate of Ireland.  In the following centuries Armagh developed into an important center of religion and learning under teachers such as St. Malachy, St. Celsus and St. Concord, and of course, Martain Ó Brólaigh.  Its reputation was such that during Martin Ó Brólaigh’s own lifetime an ecclesiastical synod (The Synod of Clane A. D. 1162), which he probably attended, decreed that only those who had studied at Armagh could teach theology elsewhere in Ireland.[51]  This clearly strengthened his position as “chief man of learning of all the Irish.”  In A Social History of Ancient Ireland, P. W. Joyce writes,  “It is worthy of remark, that, so far as theology and sacred learning in general were concerned, the University of Armagh seems to have been regarded as the head of all the other schools and colleges; for in the synod held at Clane (County Kildare) in the year A. D. 1162, where twenty-five bishops and many other ecclesiastics of high rank attended, it was decreed that “no person should thenceforward be permitted to give public lectures in the sacred scriptures or in theology in any part of Ireland until he had studied for some time at Armagh.”  It seems probable that this was merely rendering compulsory what had long been the custom.”[52] 

According to an article in the Belfast News Telegraph on 20 May 2002, a 1,000 year-old cross was accidentally found by a farmer plowing his fields at Ballybrolly.  Below is the newspaper article in its entirety.

1,000 Year-old Cross Found at Ballybrolly Site[53]

A bronze cross dating back 1,000 years has been unearthed near Armagh city, the Ulster Museum announced today.  The small medieval cross was found by a local man at Ballybrolly, at the site of the famous Navan Fort.  Negotiations are underway to reach a settlement over the future of the ancient discovery.  The cross shows Christ crucified in the upright, lifelike pose which was a popular image in medieval Ireland.  It compares to the figure of Christ carved on the high cross similar to the figure on the high cross in Armagh's Church of Ireland cathedral.  Ulster Museum curator Mr. Cormac Bourke said it was made locally and was probably used in one of the churches in the city in the years before the Norman invasion.  He also pointed out that holes in the arms were for attachment to a wooden background, such as a shrine or an altar.  Stressing the importance of the Ballybrolly find Mr Bourke said: "Nothing quite like this has previously been reported.  "Unfortunately the cross has been retained by the man who found it.  "But we are confident of reaching a settlement and that will ensure that the cross won't leave the country," he said.

What follows is an e-mail to the author from Mr. Cormac Bourke, Curator of Medieval Antiquities at the Ulster Museum in Belfast:[54]

Dear Mr. Bralley,

            Belated thanks for your email, which has been forwarded to me.  There might be some connection between the loss or burial of the bronze cross and the Ó Brólaigh family, if we could be sure when the townland name, Ballybrolly, was formed.  But one can’t demonstrate any specific link with the site termed the ‘Abbey’, which lies 0.8 km south-west of the find-spot and in the same townland.  Excavations here suggest early medieval secular occupation. (C. J. Lynn, “An Early Christian period site site in Ballybrolly, County Armagh”, Ulster Journal of Archeology #46 (1983), pp. 47-51).  On the other hand, Reeves has shown that the archbishops of Armagh held the lands of the parish of Eglish (in which Ballybrolly is included) in the later middle ages, and the loss or deposition of the cross might be somehow connected (W. Reeves, The Ancient Churches of Armagh (Lusk, 1860), pp. 37-40 (Reprinted in Ulster Journal of Archeology, 2nd Series, #5 (1899), pp. 220-227, (at pp. 221-222).  I have submitted (long since) an account of the cross for publication in a volume of studies in memory of Ann Hamlin, and I won’t neglect to send you a copy if and when it appears.

Yours sincerely,

Cormac Bourke

The Seventeenth Century

History falls silent for 421 years before the next historical reference to the family occurs.  The 1609 Pardon List of the English King James 1st includes the names of men living in Donegal and the name Patrick Ó Bróloe is on in the long list of general pardons.  Woulfe gives Ó Bróloe as an 16th or 17th century variant of Ó Brólaiġ or Ó Brólaigh.[55]

Other 17th century references to the family include The Hearth Money Rolls for the County of Londonderry of 1663, which lists the following:

Shane O’Brolly

Balteagh Parish

Barony of Keenaght


Rorie O’Brolly

Drumachose Parish

Barony of Keenaght


Shane O’Brolley

Bovevagh Parish

Barony of Keenaght


Patrick O’Brolly

Bovevagh Parish

Barony of Keenaght


Rorie O’Brely, 1 hearth

Clondermot Parish

Waterside, Derry


Built in 1633, the Anglican St. Columb’s Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Diocese of Derry and the vibrant Parish Church of Templemore.  The Catholic Cathedral is St. Eugene’s.   The Registry of the Cathedral of Derry (St. Columb’s) 1665-1662, contains the following:[56]

Birthes and Baptismes in May 1655:

Hugh, the son of Donnagh O Brally of Anagh, bap. the 6th.[57]

Birthes and Baptismes in December 1656:  Anne, the dau. of Rory Brelagh of Clendermot, bap. the 26th.[58]

Baptismes in June 1662: Margarett, the daugh: of Dennis McKall of Faughan Valle, bap. 1st, Donnagh O Brally, Kath: Mullan and Kath: ----, Hallowed Gossips.[59]

Marriages 1660: James O Derry and Katharine O Brally married by pub. August 7th.[60]

            In 1630 Donaghy O’Brawly is listed among the residents of Derry at Faughnvale Parish, in the townland of Ardinagonnage.  This is probably the Donnagh O Brolly of Anagh, since Ardinagonnage is so close to Anagh.[61]  Also, Anagh was the original name of Coleraine barony – now Tirkeeran.

 Anagh mentioned as the home of Donnagh O’Brally and his son, Hugh, is also called Enagh.  It is a small townland on a lake of the same name located in the present barony of Tirkeeran and civil parish of Clandermot, to the north and east of the City of Derry.  It was the site of a castle, built by the O’Cahan’s in the 13th century.  The locations given are generally all close to each other and near the City of Londonderry.  Note the two spellings for the same individual: Rorie O’Brely in the 1663 Hearth Money Rolls and Rory Brelagh in the 1656 registry entry.  I am convinced they are the same person.  The name is reminiscent of St. Brelagh mac Fithchellaigh.  There are no entries for any variant of the surname in the registers for the period 1703-1732.

The Subsidy Roll of 1663[62] mentions Patrick O Brelly and wife, farmers, in the townland of Corballytakan in County Tyrone.

            From The Primates and the Church Lands, (Seanchas Ard Mhaca: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1970, pp. 370-397), “O Neill’s Rents – Secular and Laws, Section B, Catholic Sub-Tenants in 1714,” provides us with the names of tenants in Armagh in 1714, including Hugh Brally at Drumcree.

Is this Hugh Brally the same individual as the son of Rory O Brolly, baptized at Derry Cathedral in 1655?  The Parish of Drumcree is a Church of Ireland rural parish on the northern side of Portadown in County Armagh, Ulster.  A Hugh Brawly left a will in Cork in 1732.  Did his descendants make their way to Maryland and Pennsylvania, where the name resurfaces in the mid-1700’s?

            The following were found on a List of Protestant Householders for the Parish of Drumcree for the Year 1740:[63]

Browlee, George, Hugh, Thos, Alex, Thos

             The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland provides the following:[64]

Name:              John Brawley

Parish:              Aghanlow and Carnteel

Diocese:           Armagh (The Archdiocese of Armagh)

County:            Tyrone

Religion:           Catholic


Sir Arthur Dawson, one of “HM Barons of the Court of Exchequer in Ireland” left a will dated 11 August 1774 in which he mentions “my honest servant, Pat Brolly” among others with regard to the settlement of his estate.  The name Brolly is found on the Irish Flax Grower’s List of 1796 in Ulster, Northern Ireland.  The 1831 Census Returns for the parishes of Aghanloo and Tamlaght Finlagan, Barony of Keenaght, County Londonderry include:[65]

William Brolly, Tamlaght Finlagan, Townland of Crindle

John Brolly, Aghanloo, Townland of Cressy Crib.

A List of Emigrants from the Parish of Bovevagh to New York for the Years 1833-34 includes Pat Brawley, 32,  Roman Catholic, from Muldoney to New York.:[66]  A List of Emigrants from Drumachose and Limavady in 1833 and 1834 to New York, includes John Brawley, 24, Roman Catholic, from Drummond to New York.  The Muldoney mentioned above is more properly Muldonagh.  Drummond is in the civil parish of Drumachose and lies very near Bolea, where Brolly’s were also settled.

            Taken altogether, these references help us to generally pinpoint the location of this family at specific times in history.  It is clear that the family lived in Ulster, near Derry City and had branches extending outwards in several directions.  Brolly’s are found today in all major towns and areas of Ulster, although the family is still rather small.  I believe they came across Loch Foyle from The Bredach/Moville area to Magilligan Point and generally located in the Limavady District, where they remain.

From various other civic, parochial, and diocesan records examined firsthand by the author in the Public Records Office, Dublin, April 1985:

1763    Mary Brolly and Duncan McDonald were married 15 December 1763, Donaghedy, Tyrone.

1816    John Brolly was christened 7 November 1816, Ballymoney, Tyrone, the son of Jeremiah and Margaret Brolly.

1824    Margery Brawley married Thomas Waugh 21 march 1824, Knockbreda, County Down.

1824    Alexander Gillian/was christened 7 November 1824, Lower Cumber, Derry, the son of Alexander Gillian and Margery Brawley.

1830    Robert Darragh was christened 12 January 1830, Ballymoney, County Antrim, the son of James Darragh and Margaret Brolly.

1845    William James Brawley was baptized 1 April 1845, Drumachose, Derry, the son of William Brawley and Catherine McMinony.

1860    Bessie Brolly and Thomas Fleming were married 10 May 1860, Tamlaght, Tamlaghtfinlagan, Derry.

            The National Archives of England, Wales and the United Kingdom contains an enormous collection of data, some of which makes additional confirmation of the family’s presence in Northern Ireland: War Office, Records of the Royal Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals, Royal Chelsea Hospital: Soldier’s Service Documents, Royal Artillery Soldiers Service Documents [WO 97/1215/130]:

1807-1816 – John Brawly, born Drumglass, Tyrone, served in the Royal Sappers and Miners, discharged from hospital at age 32.

            When I was in Ireland in April 1985 performing research for this book, I obtained the following deed from the Registry of Deeds in Dublin, which I have transcribed from the handwritten copy:

No. 168055     To the Register appointed by Act of Parliament for the Registering of Deeds, Conveyances and Lesses:

A Memorial of an Indented deed duly Executed bearing date the Twenty third day of February in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and fifty seven & Made Between William Brolly of Bolea in the County of Londonderry Farmer of the first part & James Hopkin of Bolea aforesaid of the other part, Whereby after Renting as therein Recorded recded, the said William Brally for and in considerations therein mentioned, Did Grant & bargain Sell & confirm unto the said James Hopkins All his the said William Brollys Right with Interest & Claim in & is the one full half of a sixteenth part of the Lands of Bolea with the Right Members & Appurces & Buildings thereon to belonging To Hold unto the said James Hopkins his heirs & Assigns for & during the Continuance of the orig. lease by which the said William Brawley holds said Lands from the Earl of Tyrone.  Which said Deed was suly executed by all the Partys thereto & Witnessed by Dennis Brolly of the aforesaid, Sam Waller of Ballykelly in the County of Londonderry & this Mem. Is duly recorded by the sd. Jas. Hopkins in the presence of the said Saml. Waller & Dom. mCausland of the City of Dublin, Gentlemen.

[Signed]  Jeames Hopken

Signed and Sealed in Presence of:[Signed]   Sam: Waller, Dom. MCausland

In margin: Brolly to Hopkins

Regd. 18th Novr. 1767

At 12 noon

The above named Samuel Waller on a --- hath Oath that he is a Subscribing Witness to the Deed of which the above writing is a memorial –the same duly executed by all the partys thereto before Presence of the other subscribing Witnesses & Saith he saw the above named Jas Hopkins Sign & Seal the above meml. & that the name Saml. Waller Subscribed as a Witness thereunto & to the Sd. Deed is their  --- Proper have sworn before me at Newtown Limavady in the Count of Londonderry this 27 day of Oct 1767 by virture of a --- directed for taking affed. & known the deponents.

[Signed} George Ogil

Book 250 Page 120

Present Two of His Majestys Justices of the Peace for County:  [signed] Connolly McCausland [signed] Manus McCausland.[67]

[Signed] Saml. Waller

            The register wrote the surname Brolly, Brawley and Brally in the deed.  There are two candidates for the townland of Bolea.  One is in the parish of Drumachose in the barony of Keenaght, near Limavady, and is written Bolea.  The other is in the parish of Faughnvale, barony of Tirkeeran and is called Bolie.  It will be noted that Brolly’s have lived in both parishes since the beginning of record-keeping.  The earlist references to Bolea (in Keenaght) are in 1613.[68]

            The Register of St. Columb’s, Derry for the period 1703-1723 makes reference to individuals bearing the surnames Hopkins and MaCaslan.  Pender’s 1659 Census of Ireland fails to include any of the surnames in the deed above as tituladoes in Bolea.  However, Derry records do mention that one Robert Hopkins, 21 years old and a laborer from Bolea, Londonderry left Derry for Philadelphia onboard the Ship Mohawk, John Barry, master, on 23 April 1803.  Certainly he was a child or grandchild of the James Hopkin, who took over the Brolly lease mentioned above.  Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864) records the following:

Alexander Hopkins

Main Street, Newtown Limavady, Drumachose



David Hopkins





Mark Hopkins





Mark Hopkins





            Clearly, the Hopkins family resided on the old William Brolly property for a very long time after they acquired it and they may still be there.  It should be noted that Bolea lies very near the City of Derry and with the Limavady and Bovevagh, forms the triangle where most Brolly’s have lived for hundreds of years.  Anyone researching this family should familiarize themselves with this area.  The following map indicates the location of Drumachose Parish in County Derry.

Modern Genetic Science and the Y-DNA Project

How can we trace our ancestry with DNA? We each have 23 pairs of chromosomes. The last pair is X-Y for men and X-X for women. The Y-chromosome is the only part of the DNA that does not recombine in children. This is because the chromosomes X and Y are of different length, and cannot merge with each other. A man therefore has the exact same Y chromosome as his father, and also inherits the two X-chromosomes from his mother. A woman, on the other hand, inherits one X-chromosome from each parent, which then merge together and become unique, like all the other pairs of chromosomes. Any man will have the same Y-DNA as his father, brothers, sons, paternal grandfather, etc., back through time. This is why all men descending from a same patrilineal ancestor (and therefore having the same surname) share the same Y-DNA. Small mutations occur every few hundreds or thousands of years. Geneticists have classified the Y-DNA of all humans on earth based on these mutations (called SNP's or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). People sharing the same unique mutations belong to the same Haplogroup, and descend from the same ancestor.  The males in our particular family have been tested and are descendants of a Haplogroup I2b1 male.  Six participants in the Y-DNA study turned out to belong to Haplogroup R1b.  Clearly, this suggests two distinct origins for bearers of this surname.


The Ó Brólaigh heritage is linked to SNP M223-Continental 2b, Haplogroup I2b1 - called the Stonemasons or Megalith Builders.  The Continental clades seem to have had their beginnings some 9,000 years ago in Germany on the north German plain, and it appears that our heritage is pre Celto-Germanic or indigenous to Donegal, with the possibility that we are Finnish or Danish.  In other words, Viking. According to The American Journal of Human Genetics, SNP M223 occurs in over 5% of the population of Southern France, German, Dutch, & Moldavia.


Haplogroup I2b1 Brolly’s

Scientists believe that Haplogroup I originated with the Gravettian culture of Paleolithic Europe. A newly identified subclade, I2b1, occurs in parts of Northern Ireland and Western Scotland, as well as in the Northern Germanic parts of Europe.


Many of the Celts who colonized the British Isles from continental Europe may have belonged to Haplogroup I. They may even have come to the British Isles far earlier than the historical invasions reported in the annals. The Caledonians, a Pictish tribe that was defeated by Agricola at the battle of Mons Graupius, were described as Germanic in appearance. Other tribes were described as dark and Iberian. This anecdotal evidence of an ethnic difference among the aborigines of Britain does suggest a mixture of Haplogroups in their ancestry.  It also supports the coexistence of both "Iberian" R1b and "Germanic" I on British soil prior to either Roman or Anglo-Saxon colonization.[69]

My marker alleles and corresponding Y-STR values are as follows.[70]  All male descendants in our family share these exact markers.

dys 19


dys 385a


dys 385b


dys 388


dys 389 i


dys 389 ii


dys 390


dys 391


dys 392


dys 393


dys 426


dys 437


dys 438


dys 439


dys 441


dys 442


dys 444


dys 445


dys 446


dys 447


dys 448


dys 449


dys 452


dys 454


dys 455


dys 456


dys 458


dys 459 a


dys 459 b


dys 460


dys 461


dys 462


dys 463


dys 464 a


dys 464 b


dys 464 c


dys 464 d


dys 635


gata a10


gata h4.1


ggaat1 b07


yca ii a


yca ii b



The distribution of Haplogroup I2b1 is closely correlated to that of Haplogroup I1 except in Fennoscandia, which suggests that it was probably harbored by at least one of the Paleolithic refuge populations that also harbored Haplogroup I1 during the last glacial maximum; the lack of correlation between the distributions of I1 and I2b1 in Fennoscandia may be a result of Haplogroup I2b1's being more strongly affected in the earliest settlement of this region by founder effects and genetic drift due to its rarity, as Haplogroup I2b1 comprises less than 10% of the total Y-chromosome diversity of all populations outside of Lower Saxony. The distributions of Haplogroup I1 and Haplogroup I2b1 seem to correlate fairly well with the extent of historical influence of Germanic peoples. Haplogroup I2b1 has been found in over 4% of the population only in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, England (not including Wales or Cornwall), Scotland, and the southern tips of Sweden and Norway in Northwest Europe; the provinces of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Perche in northwestern France; the province of Provence in southeastern France; the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, and Latium in Italy; and Moldavia and the area around Russia's Ryazan Oblast and Republic of Moldavia in Eastern Europe.


 One subclade of Haplogroup I2b1, namely I2b1a (M284), has been found almost exclusively among the population of Great Britain, suggesting that the clade may have a very long history in that island. Of historical note, both Haplogroups I1 and I2b appear at a low frequency in the historical regions of Bithynia and Galatia in Turkey, possibly descendants of the ancient Gaul’s of Thrace, the numerous Celtic tribes which are recorded to have immigrated to those parts of Anatolia at the invitation of Nicomedes I of Bithynia.[71]


The Book of Invasions states frankly that the Irish came from Greece through Europe to Galicia on the Iberian Peninsula and across the sea to the “Isle of Destiny.”  It is the story of the origin of the Gaels as the descendants of the Scythian prince Fénius Farsaid,[72] one of seventy-two chieftains who built the Tower of Babel. His grandson Goídel Glas,[73] whose mother was Scota, supposedly a daughter of a Pharaoh of Egypt, who created the Irish language from the original seventy-two languages that arose at the time of the dispersal of the nations.  His descendants, the Gaels, underwent a series of trials and tribulations which parallel those of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They flourished in Egypt at the time of Moses and left during the Exodus; they wandered the world for four hundred and forty years before eventually settling in the Iberian Peninsula. There, Goídel's descendant Breogán founds a city called Brigantia, and builds a tall tower from the top of which his son Íth glimpses Ireland one night. Brigantia can probably be identified with A Coruña,[74] north-west Galicia, known as Brigantium in Roman times;[75] A Roman lighthouse there known as the Tower of Hercules has been claimed to have been built on the site of Breogán's tower.[76]  

The Uí Brólaigh homeland in the parish of Clonleigh near Derry in Northern Ireland, was anciently called Magh Ítha, or the “plain of Ith”.

Perhaps the ancient oral traditions are proven by modern genetic testing.




In spite of all the evidence given in the great Irish annals concerning the tribal origins of the Ó Brólaigh, contemporary genetic evidence reveals a bloodline that traces back to an indigenous people, probably Vikings or a Germanic people, who were assimilated into the Uí Néill federation at a very early date.

The family is not descended of Niall of the Nine Hostages, unless our ancestor was the result of an extra-paternal event; but probably joined forces with that dynasty for political purposes and was assimilated into the political realty of the time.

In all likelihood, the ancestors of the Ó Brólaigh were in Northern Europe or Scandinavia soon after the last glacial maximum (circa 12,000 BCE) and witnessed or participated in the arrival of the waves of newcomers for thousands of years.


1.      Although a member of the Uí Níall federation of clans, genetic testing does not associate the clan Ó Brólaigh with the direct bloodline of the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

2.      The clan Ó Brólaigh conforms more likely to an indigenous group who predate the historical invasion of the Celts, possibly Cruithin, Saxon, Pictish or Viking.

3.   Further genetic identification with Haplogroup I12b1 suggests very ancient indigenous racial stock, which predates the mythical and historical stock of Northern Ireland.

4.   Like many ancient Irish, the Ó Brólaigh were a warrior and intellectual caste, who claimed descent from the Cenél Oengusa of Northern Ireland.

5.   By the Middle Ages, some of the Ó Brólaigh became famous as leaders or teachers of the monastic college of Armagh and appear to have been associated with the monastic lands in Clonleigh Parish, possibly as hereditary stewards.

6.   Ballybrolly, a small townland in Armagh, might be associated with Martain Ó Brólaigh’s school.

7.   Modern members of the family in Ireland live in close proximity to their ancestral homelands.

8.   Modern male members of the family who descend from John Bralley of Wythe County, Virginia and John Braly of Rowan County, North Carolina, virtually worldwide share the same Y-DNA, regardless of spelling of the surname.

9.   Y-DNA samples place our family in Haplogroup I12b1.

[1] MacFhirghisigh, Dubhaltach, Book of Genealogies; Laud 610 Genealogies (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud 610, fo. 75a 1, fifteenth century); O Clery Book of Genealogies [Story of the Irish Race] Royal Irish Academy, M.790, lines 714 to 718. (Linea Antiqua, RIA MS 23D17, circa 1642).

[2] O’Donovan, John (ed. and tr.), Annála Rioghachta Eireann. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Edited from MSS in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy and of Trinity College Dublin with a translation and copious notes, 7 vols., (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy 1848–51)

[3] Moncrieffe, Sir Ian, of that Ilk, Albany Herald, The Highland Clans, (London: Barrie and Rockliff  1967.) frontispiece.

[4] MacAlister, R. A. Stewart, ed., Lebor Gabála Érenn, Part V, Irish Texts Society, (London: Irish Texts Society 1956), 345-347.

[5] MacKillop, James, A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1st Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press 2004.)

[6] O’Hart, John, Irish Pedigrees; or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, "Roll of the Monarchs of Ireland, Since the Milesian Conquest," Volume I, Limited American Edition, 1923, p. 56.

[7] Cross, Tom Peete and Slover, Clark Harris, eds., Ancient Irish Tales, "The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon", (New York: Barnes and Noble 1936) pp. 508-513.

[8] Definition provided by the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Society, Washington, DC 2010.

[9] "Insights Into the O'Neills of Ireland from DNA Testing", Journal of Genetic Genealogy, Vol. II, No. II, 2006, p. 18.

[10] A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland by Laoise T. Moore and Brian McEvoy, with Eleanor Cape. Katharine Simms, and Daniel G. Bradley, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 78, number 2, February 2006 (electronically published December 8, 2005).

[11] Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (Groundwork of Knowledge of Ireland), the most influential of all works of Gaelic historiography, written by Geoffrey Keating between c.1618 and 1634. Keating's account of the history of Ireland from earliest times down to the coming of the Normans and the death of Rory O'Connor in 1198 draws upon the annals, medieval Irish synthetic history as in Lebor Gabála, and the lore of the Ulster, mythological and historical cycles. Mixing legend and history, he provides a coherent narrative based upon traditional materials. His intention was to vindicate Gaelic society against the ignorance of Tudor historians such as Spenser and Stanyhurst [see Anglo-Irish chronicles]. His clarity of style and story-telling ability are everywhere in evidence. A Latin translation was published at St. Malo by John Lynch in 1660, while an English version was issued in 1723 by Dermod O'Connor.

[12] Keating, Rev. John, A History of Ireland from the earliest period to the English Invasion, Noted by John O'Mahony (New York: 1857).

[13] Fiachu mac Néill (flourished 507–514) was a king of Uisnech in Mide of the Ui Neill dynasty.  According to the king list in the Book of Leinster, he succeeded his brother Conall Cremthainne (died 480) as king of Uisnech. According to The Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, Saint Patrick visited Fiachu and his brother Éndae at Uisnech. Fiachu refused baptism from the saint who put a curse on Uisnech. Tírechán gives a different account stating that Fiachu's son killed one of Patrick's followers during the visit causing Patrick to curse his descendants. Fiachu appears as the conqueror of Meath in the annals with Failge Berraide, the ancestor of the Leinster dynasty of Uí Failgi, as his opponent. In 507 Fiachu was defeated by Failge at the Battle of Frémainn (Frewin Hill, near Mullingar, County Westmeath).  Fiachu had a false prophecy that he would win this battle and desired revenge. In 514 he achieved this revenge by defeating Failge at the Battle of Druim Derg. By this victory the plain of Mide was taken away from the Laigin.  Fiachu was ancestor of the Cenél Fiachach whose lands extended from Birr to Uisnech in southern Westmeath and part of Offaly and their southern territory became known as Fir Cell (land of the churches). His son Túathal established a northern branch and his son Úathnemgenn a southern branch. Another son Crimthann was great-grandfather of a local saint Áed mac Bricc (died 589). The O'Higgins sept which produced a number of filí or poets in later generations is said to be descended from his son Uigín.

[14] Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B 502 is a medieval Irish manuscript which presently resides in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.  It ranks as one of the three major surviving Irish manuscripts to have been produced in pre-Norman Ireland, the two other works being the Lebor na hUidre and the Book of Leinster. Some scholars have also called it the Book of Glendalough, in Irish Lebar Glinne Dá Locha, after several allusions in medieval and early modern sources to a manuscript of this name.  However, there is currently no agreement as to whether Rawlinson B 502, more precisely its second part, is to be identified as the manuscript referred to by that title.  It was described by Brian Ó Cuív as one of the "most important and most beautiful ... undoubtedly the most magnificent" of the surviving medieval Irish manuscripts.  Pádraig Ó Riain states "... a rich, as yet largely unworked, source of information on the concerns of the community at Glendalough in or about the year 1131, and a magnificent witness, as yet barely interrogated, to the high standard of scholarship attained by this monastic centre."


[15] Byrne, Martin, A New History of Ireland, "Cenel nEogain Kings of Ailech 700-1185", Vol. IX, (Moody: 1984) 194-195.

[16] Charles-Edwards, T. M., Early Christian Ireland, (London: Cambridge University Press 2000.)

[17] Cenél mBinnig, of the Cenél nEóghain, descendants of Eochu Binnigh, son of Eoghan, included the O'Hamills, who advanced into Airghialla territory, northwest of Lough Neagh, as early as the 6th century.  According to The Book of Ballymote, their branches included Cenél mBinnig Glinne (valley of Glenconkeine, barony of Loughinsholin, county Derry), Cenél mBindigh Locha Droichid (east of Magh Ith in Tyrone), and Cenél mBindigh Tuaithe Rois (east of the Foyle, in ancient Tyrone). Several branches of the Cenél mBindigh Locha Droichid are noted, in the Index to the Four Masters, in the north of the barony of Loughinsholin, Co. Derry.

[18] Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings, (London: Batsford 1972.)

[19] Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B. 502, The Book of Glendalough (written c. AD 1130. For a description of the manuscript and a lits of its contents see Kuno Meyer (ed.), Rawlinson B 502, a collection of pieces in prose and verse in the Irish language compiled during the eleventh and twelfth centuries now published in facsimile from the original manuscript in the Bodleian Library with introduction and indexes (Oxford 1909); see also F. J. Byrne, 1000 years of Irish script (Oxford 1979), 13 (section 4); Pádraig Ó Riain, The Book of Glendalough or Rawlinson B. 502, Éigse 18 (1981) 161–76; Pádraig Ó Riain, NLI G 2 f.3 and the Book of Glendalough, “Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie #” 39 (1982) 29–32. The genealogical texts have generally not been translated, apart from short excerpts.

[20]  Reeves, Rev. William, The Acts of Archbishop Colton in his Metropolitan Visitation of the Diocese of Derry, AD 1397, (Dublin: Irish Archaeology Society 1850)  69.

[21]  O’Clery, Michael, The Martyrology of Donegal: A Calendar of Irish Saints, (Dublin:, 1630) 141, reprinted in 1864 by Drs. Reeves and Todd, translated by O’Donovan.

[22]  Stokes, Whitley, ed., Felire Hui Gorman: The Martyrology of Gorman (London: Henry Bradshaw Society Publications, 1895) 325.

[23]  Ordnance Survey, Donegal, Sheet #79.

[24] Mullin, T. H. and Mullan, J. E., The Ulster clans O'Mullan, O'Kane and O'Mellan, (North-West Books: Limavady, Northern Ireland 1984).

[25] MacFhirbhisigh, Dubhaltach, Leabhar Genealach. The Great Book of Irish Genealogies; Ó Muraíle, Nollaig, ed, (Dublin: DeBurca 2003-4). (Alternate names by which it may be referenced include Leabhar Mor nGenealach, and Leabhar Mor na nGenealach).

[26]  Jeffries, Henry A. and Devlin, Kieran, eds., A History of the Diocese of Derry, Studies of the Church from earliest times, (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1999).


[27] Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.

[28] Mullyfabeg:  The Northern Ireland Place-Name Project, material online at Placenames NI Internet – Crown Copyright,  2009.

[29]   McAirt, Sean, ed., The Annals of Inisfallen (MS. Rawlinson B. 503), (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1951) 141.

[30] Hennessy, William M. and MacNiocaill, Gearoid, eds., Chronicon Scotorum, A Chronicle of Irish Affairs from the earliest times to A.D. 1135 with a supplement containing the events from 1141 to 1150,  (London: Longmans Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866) 152.

[31] Campbell, Mike, “Behind the Name.” See also Xavier Delamarre, “Brigantion : brigant-,” in Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003) pp. 87–88: "Le nom de la sainte irlandaise Brigit est un adjectif de forme *brigenti… 'l'Eminente'." Delamarre cites E. Campanile, in Langues indo-européennes, edited by Françoise Bader (Paris, 1994), pp. 34–40, that Brigid is a continuation of the Indo-European goddess of the dawn like Aurora.

[32] Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. (Dover Publications) 21, 25.

[33]   Bethu Brigte, Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition, University College, Cork, Ireland.

[34] Martyrology of Donegal: 10. F. QUARTO IDUS NOVEMBRIS. 10. AEDH, son of Breac, Bishop, of Cill-Air, in Meath, and of Sliabh Liag, in Tir Boghaine, in Cinel-Conaill. He was of the race of Fiachaidh, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The age of Christ when he sent his spirit to heaven was 588.

[35]     Best, R. I. and Lawlor, Hugh J., The Martyrology of Tallaght: from the Book of Leinster and MS. 5100-4 in the Royal Library, Brussels, (London: Henry Bradshaw Society,) 68.

[36]   Ó Clery, Michael, The Martyrology of Donegal, Dublin, 1630: A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland, Edited by Drs. Reeves and Todd, translated by John Ó Donovan, reprinted 1864.

[37]    1655 - 1662, Registry of the Cathedral of Derry (S. Columb’s,) Parish of Templemore, Londonderry, 1642-1703, Parish Registry Society of Dublin, Preface: Ricard Hayes, BD, Canon of Derry Cathedral, 1910.

[38] Eaton, Leo and McCaffrey, Carmel, In Search of Ancient Ireland; the Origins of the Irish from Neolithic ties to the Coming of the English, (Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2002) 170-172.

[39] Ibid

[40] Joyce, P. W., A Social History of Ancient Ireland, Vol. 1, (New York/London: Benjamin Bloom, 1968) 416-417.

[41] De Breffney, Brian, ed., Ireland: A Cultural Encyclopedia , (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983) 156.

[42] Ibid

[43] Ibid

[44] O’Donovan, John, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Vol. 3, (Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Company, 1854, Reprinted New York, 1966) 80-81.

[45]  Hennessey, C. W, Annals of Loch Ce: A Chronicle of Irish Affairs from A.D. 1014 to A.D. 1590, Volume I, (London, 1871) 177.

[46]   Ni Brolcháin, Dr. Muireann, Donegal Annual, #38 (1986), p. 9, (citing The Dublin Penny Journal, Volune I, Number 50 (1833), pg. 412, and Doherty, W. J., Inishowen and Tirconnell (1875), p. 34; and Petrie and Stokes, Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language, Volume II (1878), pg. 119.

[47]  Rogers, Edward,  Memoirs of the Armagh Cathedral  with an account of the ancient, “The Book of Armagh,” (Belfast: W. & G. Baird, 1881)

[48] The Irish Naturalist, Volume 2, 1893, p. 225.

[49] Hill, George, An Historical Account of the Plantation of Ulster, (Belfast: M’Caw, Stevenson and Orr 1950) 97 (footnote)

[50] Government of Northern Ireland, Ministry of Finance, “Monuments of Northern Ireland,” Volume II, Not in State Care, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office: 1963 by W. & G. Baird, Ltd., Belfast.


[51] Michelin Guide to Ireland, Michelin Tyre, Michelin Guide to Ireland (Harrow: Public Limited Company, 199) 171.

[52] Lanigan, IV, 178; Lynch, Cambr. Ev., II, 383, 427; and F. M. O”Flaherty, Ogyg., III, xxx.  See also Joyce, P. W., 412.

[53] Belfast News Telegraph, “1,000 year-old Cross Found at Ballybrolly Site, Coleman, Margaret, 20 May 2002.

[54] Correspondence from Cormac Bourke, Curator of Medieval Antiquities, Department of Archaeology & Ethnography, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB, Northern Ireland, 29 March 2006.

[55] Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada (Kathleen M. O'Brien); 16th & 17th Century Anglicized Irish Surnames from Woulfe, material online at http://medievalscotland.org/kmo/Woulfe/SortedByAnglicizedSpelling_O1.shtml..

[56]   1655 - 1662, Registry of the Cathedral of Derry (S. Columb’s) Parish of Templemore, Londonderry, 1642-1703, Parish Registry Society of Dublin, Preface: Ricard Hayes, BD, Canon of Derry Cathedral, 1910.  This data was also obtained by a personal visit to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Library in Kingsport, Tennessee on 26 June 1982.

[57]   Ibid, p. 26

[58]   Ibid, p. 34

[59]   Ibid, p. 84

[60]   Ibid, p. 98

[61]  The Men of Londonderry, 1630 and 1636.  By the later date the land was held by Andrew Wilson.l

[62] Subsidy Roll, A.D 1666 ( Public Record Office)
(14th & 15th Chas. II., c. 7 (1662). Enacts eight subsidies to be paid in four years, each to amount to £15,000 English, the first on or before 24th June, 1665, the second 24th December, 1665, &c., to 24th December, 1668. Every person, corporation, &c., worth three pounds - for every pound, over their debts (excluding money due, apparel, except jewels, gold, silver, stone, and pearl, and including debts due to them), to pay 2s 8d. - aliens and strangers to pay double.  Persons holding in fee-simple, &c.; to the value of 20s. yearly, to pay 4s. for every pound - aliens, &c., to pay double)

[63]   All Ireland Sources Newsletter: A Monthly Newsletter, ed. Terry Eakin, 334 Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove, NSW 2066 Australia.

[64]   The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, The Tennison Groves Papers on microfilm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS Family History Center, 100173, 1766; and Reakes, J., Ireland 1766 Religious Census [database online] Provo, Utah; Ancestry.com, 2001.

[65]   Martin, Samuel, Historical Gleanings from Derry, (Dublin, 1955) pp. 18-19.

[66]   Begley, Hon. Donal F., Chief Herald of Ireland, Handbook of Irish Genealogy, 6th Edition (Dublin: Heraldic Artists Ltd., 1984) p. 102.

[67]  Bell, Robert, p. 139:  “The MacCauslands of Dreenagh, Co. Derry, descend from the Macauslans of Dumbartonshire (Scotland) and have had an unbroken connection with Limavady since 1729.”

[68]  The Charter of Londonderry, 1613, ed. Rev. George Hill, “An Historical Account of the Plantation in Ulster,” (Belfast 1877) pp. 387-392, where it is written “Boleah,” and 'Schedules of the lannds in Ulster alloted to the London Livery Companies, 1613,' ed. TW Moody in Anal. Hib. 8 (1938) pp. 299-311, where it is written “Bolliagh.”


[69] International Society of Genetic Genealogy (2010)

[70] Testing and results courtesy of Vern Braly, Redmond, Washington, 2008, through the auspices of  Family Tree DNA, Houston, Texas.

[71] Memnon, History of Heracleia, 20.

[72] Calder, George, Auraicept na n-éces: the scholars' primer; being the texts of the Ogham tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow book of Lecan, and the text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster, (Edinburgh: J. Grant 1917.)

[73] Broun, Dauvit, The Irish Identity of the Kingdom of the Scots in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, (Boydell: Woodbridge  1999.)

[74] Fernández , José Ramón Barreiro, Historia de la ciudad de La Coruña, Biblioteca Gallega, p 509.

[75] Encyclopaedia Britannica, "A Coruña".

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