The following was written by Sean Murphy of the Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies:
Much has been made – some will say too much – of US President Barack Obama’s Irish ancestry. After all, he is completely African on his father’s side and mostly English on his mother’s side. Yet in there among his maternal ancestors is that little bit of Irish, the Kearneys of Moneygall, Co Offaly, which entitles him to be called one of our own. The Queen is different, as there will be more reserve both on our part and on hers, and her visit is perceived primarily as a dutiful contribution towards normalising relationships between two nations with an unfortunate history of mutual hostility and sense of grievance.
It may come as a surprise to many, but not of course to informed genealogists, to find that Queen Elizabeth II has strains of Irish ancestry as well, which are in fact more numerous than those of President Obama. The largest portion of royal Irish, or more accurately royal Anglo-Irish ancestry comes via the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Thus 8 of the Queen’s 128 five-times great-grandparents resided in Ireland in the eighteenth century, namely, Francis Tucker of Dublin and his wife Dorothy Smith, John Baker of Co Kilkenny and his wife surnamed Bushe, Richard Colley, later Wesley, Baron of Mornington, his wife being Elizabeth Sale, and Arthur Hill-Trevor, Viscount Dungannon, and his spouse Anne Stafford.
The Queen’s grandson William, created Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus prior to his recent marriage to Catherine Middleton, is more ‘Irish’ still by virtue of his late mother Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. Diana’s mother was Frances Burke Roche, daughter of Lord Fermoy, the Roches being one of the great Irish Norman families. Other Anglo-Irish ancestors of Diana were her great-great grandfathers the Duke of Abercorn and the Earl of Lucan, with estates respectively in Cos Antrim and Mayo.
As our direct ancestors double in number every generation back, it is not surprising to find that there are other royal Anglo-Irish ancestors at a period more remote than the eighteenth century. Three of the leading Norman invaders of Ireland in the late twelfth century were Richard de Clare, nicknamed ‘Strongbow’, Hugh de Lacy and William de Burgh. All three were ancestors of King Edward IV, died 1483, and therefore have their place in Queen Elizabeth’s pedigree.
Thus far the links have been Anglo-Irish, but might there be any Gaelic Irish ancestors in the Queen’s family tree? As it happens, there are, via marriage alliances with some of the aforementioned Norman lords. As is well-known, Richard de Clare/Strongbow married Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, while William de Burgh is believed to have married a daughter (name not given) of Donal Mór O’Brien, King of Thomond and three times great-grandson of Brian Boru. It is right to be sceptical about claimed relationships at a remove of nearly a millennium, but the links outlined have been accepted by scholars such as Goddard Orpen and by modern authorities. It has not been possible to substantiate claims to the effect that the English royal family is also descended from the O’Neills and O’Connors, and indeed it is not certain whether the founder of the first dynasty, Niall of the Nine Hostages, was an historic or a legendary figure.
The concept of surviving Gaelic Irish aristocratic families admittedly received something of a dent as a result of the MacCarthy Mór affair in the 1990s, which saw a hoaxer from Belfast named Terence MacCarthy persuade nearly everyone from the President of Ireland down that he was the genuine Chief of the MacCarthys of Munster (see an article in the current issue of History Ireland for further details). Yet it remains the case that despite defeat at the hands of the English, some Gaelic families managed to survive, and today there are about fifteen ‘Chiefs of the Name’, who unlike the aforementioned Terence MacCarthy can produce documentary evidence to prove their descents from Gaelic kings and lords. The current acknowledged Chief of the O’Briens is Conor O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, who lives in Clare and can reasonably claim to be a cousin of the Queen, albeit somewhat distant at this stage.
The list of royal Irish ancestral connections outlined cannot be said to be exhaustive, so that it is likely that there will be others aware that they are related to the Queen, but of course it is not the done thing to trumpet this too loudly. At a time when the Irish and the English are seeking to emphasise shared history rather than the things which have divided us, it is interesting to reflect that there is in fact someone more Irish than Barack O’Bama, namely, Her Majesty the Queen.
As a footnote, there is one more element of the royal ancestry which may be of interest. Two of the Queen’s maternal four times great-grandparents were George Carpenter of Hertfordshire and Mary Elizabeth Walsh, who married in 1779. According to no less an authority than Anthony Wagner, Garter King of Arms, Mary Elizabeth Walsh was the 18 year old daughter of a London plumber (possibly called John) who had come to do some repair work for George Carpenter, and though he himself was more than 60, he obviously hit it off with the young girl. While the surname Walsh also arose in England (where the forms Welch and Welsh are much more common), it is particularly associated with Ireland, so that we are left with the intriguing possibility that Queen Elizabeth has at least a few Hibernian commoners in her family tree!
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