The names Dempsey and O‘Dempsey are popular throughout the world. They originated in Co Offaly, in the centre of Ireland and have spread the globe as a result of Irish emigration at various points in history.
The names are derived from the ancient Gaelic name Ó Diomasaigh. The prefix ‘O’ means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’ while ‘Diomasaigh’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘díomasach’ which means ‘proud’.
Irish clans usually took their name from their leader. Therefore Dempseys would have been descendants of a proud leader.
There are numerous variations to the name including Dempsay, Dempsie and Dempsy.
Fighting for and against the English
The family had territory in Clanmalier which was on the border of what is now Co Offaly and Co Laois. In 1169-71, Ireland was invaded by the Normans. The Normans took the Leinster towns of Dublin and Wexford as well as Waterford in Munster.
The Dempseys were one of the few Irish clans to fight off the Norman forces and keep their land. Perhaps this is thanks to their territory being in the centre of Ireland and harder to reach.
However, as the years passed the Dempseys formed an alliance with the English rulers. They joined forces in the massacre of the O’Lalor and O’Moore clans in Co Laois in 1577. King James I granted Terence Dempsey the title of ‘Viscount Clanmalier’.
The slaughter of these clans is thought to have hurt the Dempsey’s standing and reputation as a great family. They lost support and many historians believe this contributed to their eventual downfall.
Decline in power
Nearly 100 years later, the Dempseys fought alongside the Irish against the English in the Williamite War of 1689-91. The war was between the Protestant William of Orange and the Catholic James II.
Following William’s victory, many Irish noblemen and soldiers, including the Dempseys, were forced to flee the country. It was known as the ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’ and saw many head to European countries and serve with foreign armies.
Land was confiscated from all families who fought against William. The Dempseys along with many other noble families lost their power.
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