Short Family History


1.The Tuatha De Danaan and Ugaine Mór

**The Nolan family whose roots are clouded by the mists of time has history spanning nearly two millenia.**

Early Irish annalists referred to the Ó Nualláins (the O’Nolans) as the “ancient ones of Leinster” . Oral tradition further holds that they were descendants of the Tuatha De Danaan, the mythical Tribe of Dan, who, in their early wanderings, gave their name to the “Danube” river and the country of “Denmark”, reaching ancient Ireland sometime before the 4th century BC when Ugaine Mór, a High King of Ireland and, according to early genealogies, an ancestor of the Ó Nualláins, lived.

According to historical writings and recent archeological discoveries, the homeland of the Tuatha De Danaan was Scythia, a vast region extending northwards from the Black Sea and covering most of the Ukraine.  Modern-day archaeology further states that the Scythians had a thriving agricultural economy supplying wheat to the Greek empire in exchange for wine and other goods. They were the first to domesticate the horse and perhaps even the first to use the horse in warfare. Already in the pre-Christian era, Scythian archers on horseback played a major role in military campaigns and were known throughout the Greek empire which extended into the Black Sea and all around the Mediterranean Sea. The Scythians were also renowned for their metallurgical skills, creating exquisite pieces of gold jewellery, tableware and even gold ornaments for their horses.

Based upon the foregoing, it is believed that the ancestors of the Nolans reached Ireland by a process of gradual seaward migration through the Black Sea, through the Mediterranean Sea and then finally into the Atlantic Ocean to Spain and Ireland. This is consistent with more recent archeological discoveries which suggest that the influx of Celtic peoples into Ireland was mainly through sea routes as opposed to land routes through Europe. Strong support for this theory is found in the simple fact that the celtic dialects of Ireland are known to be older than those of Britain and Europe.

Seaward migration would also be consistent with what is known about Ugaine Mór, the believed 4th century BC ancestor of the Nolans and contemporary of Alexander the Great, who ventured out by sea as far as the Mediterranean Sea, landing his forces in Africa and, from there, attacking Sicily then under Greek control.

2. Eochaidh Fionn and the “Seven Fothartas”

According to Keating’s History of Ireland, Eochaidh Fionn, son of Feidlimidh Reachtmhar, High King of Ireland, 111-119 AD, and descendant of the 4th century BC High King, Ugaine Mór, was called upon by his father to help Cú Chorb, the then King of Leinster, to halt the advance of invading Munstermen who, by then, had encroached far into Leinster territory.  Organizing and mobilizing a large army with the help of his foster son, Laoighseach Cean More, Eochaidh, after very many battles, successfully chased the Munstermen out of Leinster.

In recognition, the King of Leinster rewarded Eochaidh and his foster son with extensive lands in Leinster. Eochaidh received “in perpetuity” what later became known as the “seven Fothartas”, two of which survive in name as the modern baronies of Forth in Co. Carlow and Forth in Co. Wexford. For his part, Laoighseach  (the ancestor of the O’Mores) received what later became known as the “seven Laoighises”, lands in modern-day Co. Laois.

3. Cathair Mór, Conn of the Hundred Battles and Eochaidh Fionn

After the death of Feidlimidh around 119 AD, the kings of Ireland assembled at Tara, and elected Cathair Mór, King of Leinster, as the new Monarch of Ireland. This decision, however, does not seem to have pleased Conn of the Hundred Battles, who as eldest son of Feidlimidh, must have coveted the high kingship left vacant by his father’s death. Within three years, through battle, Conn had wrested the high kingship away from Cathair Mór who died in battle defending it.

'Stone of the Dead', Ballon Village, Co. Carlow; picture taken by Michael Martin

According to historians, Cathair Mór was buried on Ballon Hill. Supporting this belief is the fact that when Ballon Hill was excavated in the mid-1800s many prehistoric funerary urns were found. Most of the artifacts unearthed now reside in Dublin, but modern-day visitors to Ballon Hill can still observe a large triangular-shaped stone, standing eight feet above ground and known locally as the “Stone of the Dead” or Cloghan-na-Marbhan. Because of its shape local children also know it as the “sliding stone”.

So many years later, it is difficult to know exactly what role Eochaidh played in deposing Catháir Mor as high king. However, previous and succeeding events suggest that he sided with Catháir Mor or, at least, was not involved. As we saw earlier, Eochaidh led the high king’s armies against the Munstermen who had invaded Leinster, indicating that he was the leader of the Fianna, a warrior band charged with protecting the high king and the kingdom. Thus, around 120 AD, when the Irish chiefs elected Cathair Mór as the new high king, Eochaidh would have been duty bound to protect the new high king.  Furthermore, some historians believe that Eochaidh was the firstborn son of Feidlimidh and, as such, had his own designs on becoming, one day, high king. Lending credence to this belief is the fact that, in 157 AD, after the Battle of Moylena, Eochaidh, aided by a third brother named  Fiachaidh, killed two of  Conn’s sons, Conla and Crionna, and arranged Conn’s murder.

Upon Conn’s death, Conaire, one of Conn’s son-in-laws, became high king, and upon his death, some 8 years later, around 165 AD, Conn’s remaining son, Art Aoinfhear, assumed the high kingship. As High King, Art Aoinfhear (i.e. Art the Melancholy) could now exact revenge for the killing of his two brothers. Banning from Tara his two uncles, Eochaidh and Fiachaidh, he initiated a period of conflict which pitted, for many years, the forces of the high king against those of his uncles and the Leinstermen.

Over time, Eochaidh resettled in Leinster where he had earlier been granted extensive lands and became known to history as Eochaidh Fionn Fuathairt ( i.e. Eochaidh the fair, hateful towards Art).

Sometime in the last few centuries a family crest was granted to the noble family of the O`Nolans.

It is also a fact that all Nolans do not share a common ancestor but rather a common heritage. This is confirmed by current DNA findings which show that modern-day Nolans are divided into many DNA Nolan lines . The reasons for this are many and the beginnings of a rationale as to why this is so is offered on the webpage accessed by the preceding link.

With the increased use of the English language and migrations within and out of Ireland many new forms of the family name surfaced such as Nolan, Noland, Nolen, Nolin, Nowland, Nowlan, Nowling, Newland, Knowland, Knowlan, Knowling, Knollin, etc.

Today there are Nolans to be found far and wide, in a global diaspora.

To get a better sense of the context in which Nolan family history occurred the visitor to this website is encoraged to browse through various other websites dealing more generally with Irish heritage and history.


Family History: Nolans Migrate

With the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, Nolans began to wander farther afield. Some are believed to have distanced themselves ending up, for example, in County Galway, while others, especially in the context of the Crusades, may have sought closer ties ending up, for example, in France. The “De Nollent” family of Normandy which traces its ancestry back to the times of the Crusades is believed to be an example of the latter case but further research is required to establish a definitive link to the Nolans of Ireland.

Aside from these few possible early wanderings, the Nolan families and their ancestors lived, from time immemorial, in the province of Leinster, predominantly in County Carlow. It was only at the beginning of the 17th century that Nolans began to emigrate in large numbers to other parts of Ireland and beyond. This was largely precipitated by continuing troubles between, on the one hand, the native Irish and the Old English (i.e. the descendants of the early Anglo-Normans), and on the other, the English Planters and those who wished to impose Protestant parliamentary rule over Ireland.

In 1601, the Irish chiefs lost a major battle against the English in Kinsale. A few years later, in 1607, the northern Earls, unable and unwilling to live under English domination left for the courts and armies of Europe. Many accompanied them. This paticular event, now refered to as the Flight of the Earls, stripped Ireland of effective leadership for many years thereafter. At first slowly, then with more intensity, young men and families, following the example of the northern Earls, left their homeland seeking to improve their lot.

In the mid-1600’s came the Cromwellian land confiscations and then in 1691 the loss of a major battle by the Irish in Limerick. At this point in time, many officers and soldiers, now refered to as the “wild geese”, fled to the Continent in the hope of returning some day.

The last decade of the 1700’s saw the “transportation” of a large number of individuals to other parts of the world, e.g. Australia, brought on by the need to free-up space in overcrowded prisons and to reduce the amount of monies paid out in welfare.

The failed Rebellion of 1798 also resulted in more “transportations” for those who were lucky enough to be spared from a hanging. In the 1800’s, economic pressures in Ireland had reached the point where many more young men and families, seeing only a bleak prospect of making a living for themselves, opted to emigrate and to re-establish themselves elsewhere. The colonies in British North America and the newly independent United States looked particularly attractive.

In the mid to late 1840’s, failed potato crops several years in a row precipitated a massive outward flow of Irish people bound for America, however many of them never made it, dying on overcrowded, ill-equipped ships or while waiting in quarantine stations on the other side of the Atlantic.

Besides the direct emigration out of Ireland, there were also secondary migration patterns. Two patterns of note are the migration of Nolan/Nowlan loyalists from the US to Canada at the end of the American Revolution and, starting around the 1830s, the migration in the other direction as more and more Irish emigrants were attracted by the generally milder climate of the US and the many new jobs being generated by the US economy e.g. building the Erie canal.

Roger Nowlan, webmaster (Email)
and Nolan Clan member since 1997

supporting research into the history and origins of the global Nolan diaspora