Family Origins

The O Nolans of Ireland belong to one of the oldest families in Ireland, so old in fact that their origin is almost lost in the mists of time. Luckily the old druidic genealogists did preserve the line of descent of this family back to Eochaidh Fionn Fuathairt, the son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmhar, a 2nd century high king (Ard Rí ) of Ireland and even further back to Úgaine Mór (Hugh the Great), the first historically-verified high king of Ireland who was a contemporary of Alexander the Great, dying around 300 BC.

Known to history and the Romans as “Hugonius Maximus” (Hugh the Greatest) the latter is known to have sailed to and attacked Sicily in support of Greek merchants establishing trade outposts throughout the Mediterranean Sea. This fame is believed to be the reason why, sometime around the 10th century, a branch of Úgaine Mór’s descendants in Leinster adopted the family name “O Nualláin”, it being derived from the Gaelic word “nuall” mean famous. It is believed that, in adopting the family “O Nualláin”, Eochaidh‘s descendants were simply affirming publicly that their family line was descended from a very famous person who the druidic genealogists identified as being Úgaine Mór, a well-respected maritime trader and Ard Rí from the 4th century BC.

According to druidic accounts, Úgaine Mór was married to Cessair Chrothach, daughter of the king of the Gauls, who bore him twenty-two sons and three daughters.  At his death sometime around 300 BC, his two eldest sons, Laoghaire Lorc and Cobhthach Caol mBreag were given key lands in Ireland. Laoghaire Lorc, the eldest, received the lands around Tara and was appoi nted the new Ard Rí. Cobhthach received lands around Dublin but, being envious, soon murdered his brother Laoghaire at Dinn Rig and assumed the title of Ard Rí.

Cobhthach, as we have already seen, was the ancestor of the O Nualláins of Leinster. Lesser known, however, is the fact that the hUllachains of Ireland were also descended from Úgaine Mór, being descended from Laoghaire, Cobhthach’s brother, making it easy to understand why, in the late 1500s, when landlords were forced to adopt pronounceable English family names, Tomas O hUllachain of Ballinrobe adopted the Nolan family name, the same as for the O Nualláins of Leinster.

Even though some animosity is likely to have intially existed between the two lines of descent (the O Nualláins and the O hUllachains), after Cobhthach murdered his brother Laoghaire, it appears to have lessened by the 2nd century AD, Eoachaidh Fionn, ancestor of the O Nualláins, marrying the grand-daughter of Cathair Mór the king of Leinster and the recognized ancestor of the O hUllachains. Furthermore, the druids tell us that after the death of the high king around 300 BC, when Cathair Mór was appointed as the new high king (Ard Rí), Eochaidh and his brother Fiacha sided with Cathair Mór in his bid to retain his right to rule battling against their brother Conn who had contested Cathair’s right.

Things, however, did not work out for Cathair and Eochaidh and after many battles Conn won the right to rule as the new Ard Rí according to Brehon law. Not being welcomed at the new court Eochaidh and Fiacha relocated to Deici Teamhrach (now the barony of Desee in Meath) but that did not last, eventually being banished from Tara by Conn’s grandson, the monarch Cormac Ulfhada.

After many wanderings Eochaidh and his following settled on lands in Leinster (the Fohartas) granted to them in perpetuity by the king of Leinster. St. Brigid of Kildare (c. 451 – 525)) is known to have been `”of the Nolans” and, according to druidic genealogies, she was the gggg-grand-daughter of Eochhaidh.

Fiacha and his following settled in Munster on lands granted to them in the area of Cashel. Fiacha’s modern-day descendants include the families of O Dolan (Dolan), O Brick (????) of Dunbrick and O Faelan (Phelan) of Dun Faelan.

In pre-Norman days, Eochaidh’s descendants were concentrated in two main areas in Leinster, Mag Fea in Co. Carlow (the O Nualláins – Nolans- in the future barony of Forth in Co. Carlow) and the area around Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford (the Ó Lorcáins – Larkins – in the future barony of Forth in Co.Wexford). The O Nualláin chiefs also held high office under the Kings of Leinster, acting as organizers for large events, such as the Gaelic summer games or the investiture of a new King for Leinster.

With the arrival of the Normans in the 12th century, territories controlled by the Nolan Chief gradually diminished and, by the mid-1600’s, when Cromwell came, the Nolans of Leinster had lost much of their lands mostly through sale of their lands to other families such as the Kavanaghs. However, there were still a few large Nolan landowners most notably the Ballykealy Nolans (Ballon area) and the Shangarry Nolans (Drumphea area). The Ballykealy Nolans lost their lands through confiscation in 1652-1653 but the Shangarry Nolans of the Drumphea area seem to have hung on to their lands for much longer, apparently surviving the confiscations. It was also at this time that a few displaced Nolan families, having lost their lands, made their way to counties Galway and Mayo in Connacht to start anew.

The fact that, in Co. Carlow, local lore holds that Cathair Mór, ancestor of the O hUllchains, of Connacht is buried atop Ballon Hill at the heart of the ancestral lands in Co. Carlow attests to the close bond of friendship between the O Nualláins and O hUallacháins forged as early as the 2nd century when Eochaidh sided with Cathair in his bid to retain his right to rule as Ard Rí of Ireland . A more recent attestation to this friendship is the fact that, in the mid 1700s, Gregory Nolan, a Dublin lawyer, descended from Thomas Nolan of Ballinrobe, facilitated the recovery in Co. Carlow of some Nolan lands lost earlier through confiscation.

For a more extensive review of Nolan family history and stories from around the world you are invited to browse through the knowledge bases of Nolan-related information found at the NolanFamilies Archive website maintained by Roger Nowlan, a long-time clan member and newsletter editor (2004-2018).