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O’Flaherty – descendants of a bright prince

The name O’Flaherty has two separate ancient origins, one in Connacht and the other in Ulster.

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There are several variations including Flaherty, Laverty and O’Laverty. In Ulster the usual variation of the name is either Laverty or O’Laverty as they used to speak a different form of Irish in the north of the country. The name is derived from the old Gaelic name O’Flaithbheartaigh.

The ‘O’ prefix in the name O’Flaithbheartaigh meant ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. The name Flaithbheartaigh is made up of two separate Gaelic words – ‘flaith’ which meant ‘prince’ or ‘ruler’ and ‘beartach’ which meant ‘bright’. So O’Flahertys are descendants of a bright prince.
History of the Irish name O'Flaherty. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Family had many enemies

The Connacht family’s genealogy goes back at least 3,000 years and they were once the enemies of the elite ’14 tribes of Galway’.

They were sea faring people who were known in Connacht as the ‘Ferocious O Flahertys’. The motto on the O’Flaherty coat of arms says ‘Fortuna Favet Fortibus’ ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’.

The O’Flahertys were constantly at war with both the Burkes and the O’Connors. They eventually overpowered the Burkes and took their territory. They went on to control much of the area between Lough Corrib and the west coast line. They became Lords of Iar, which meant Lords of the West.

They were a ferocious family and are thought to have carried out several revenge killings around Aughnanure Castle. The ruins of the 16th century castle still stand in Oughterard, Co Galway.

Travelled west following Anglo-Norman invasion

In the 13th century they were forced to move to the west side of Lake Corrib after the Anglo-Normans arrived in Connacht. They expanded their territory from Killary Harbour to the Bay of Galway and even travelled to the Arun Islands.

Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh was married to pirate Queen Granuaile – Grace O’Malley. However it was a short lived marriage as Dónal was a warrior and died early in battle.

They had three children, Owen, Margaret and Murrough. Owen was the eldest and like his father he died early when he was betrayed and murdered by Robert Bingham who seized his castle.

His brother Murrough was a warrior but didn’t seek to avenge Owen’s death. Instead he joined forces with Bingham causing O’Malley, his mother, to never speak to him again.

Notable O’Flahertys

During World War II a priest named Hugh O’Flaherty helped allied soldiers escape German occupied Italy. He was nicknamed the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican’ thanks to his knack of avoiding falling in to traps set by the Gestapo.

In total he is thought to have saved around 6,500 allied soldiers and Jews during the war.
Hugh O'Flaherty. Photo copyright Moliere CC3

The first ever commercially successful feature length documentary film was directed by American Robert Joseph Flaherty. The film was Nonook of the North which was released in 1922.

It was about the life of an Inuit and his family. In 1989 the film was one of the first 25 to be selected for preservation by the US National Film Registry.

Famous O’Flahertys

Eric O’Flaherty is an American Baseball player. He has played for the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics. He is Major League Baseball’s first reliever to ever record a sub-1.00 ERA having made at least 70 appearances in a season.

Joe Flaherty is an American actor and comedian. He has appeared in movies such as Back to the Future II, Happy Gilmore and Anchorman. He also spent eight years working as a writer and performer on the Canadian comedy sketch show SCTV.

Liam O Flaherty was an Irish playwright and novelist born in 1896. He is remembered as one of the key figures of the Irish literacy renaissance. His best known works include The Informer and Thy Neighbour’s Wife.

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Lanny Flaherty is an American actor. He has appeared in movies such as Natural Born Killers, Men in Black 3 and Signs. He also appeared in the TV series Lonesome Dove and White Collar.

Daniel Flaherty is an American actor. He has appeared in TV shows such as Nurse Jackie, Law & Order, The Americans and Skins.


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