A Short History of the O' Carroll Family Name

The surname Carroll appears to be patronymical in origin, research indicates that it can be associated with the Irish meaning grandson of Cearbhaill (stag), but more likely interpretation is war like champion. Cearbhaill was slain at the battle of Clontarf in 1014, Maonuigh was the first member to assume surname O' Cearbhaill, and he was slain in 1022.

Hereditary names were first used in Ireland in the 12th century. Because ownership of land was determined by family relationships, pedigrees were accurately maintained from early times.

This interest in decent is also the reason why most Irish names are patronymical, which are signified by either O or Mac. O stands for old Gaelic word Ua meaning "Descendent from" while Mac means son of or sometimes abbreviated to Mc or M. Because of persecution many people dropped the O and Mac but in modern times the use of this prefix has been resumed.

Ancient Ely was established in the 3rd century by Odioll Ollum King of Munster, Son of Eoghan who had fled to Spain after an agreement to divided Ireland (with a line from Dublin to Galway) between himself and Con Of The Hundred Battles collapsed. Eoghan married a Spanish Princess named Beara. Their son, the aforementioned Odioll Ollum later entered into an alliance with Con Of The Hundred Battles and married his daughter Saba, and succeeded in becoming King of Munster. He lived until 232 AD and divided his territory of Munster into three divisions. Desmond-South Munster to his son Eoghan, 2nd division Thomond to his son Cormac, and the third division in the East ie. Ormand was given to Cian and from that third son descended the clan Cian who's ruling family was the O' Cearbhaill (O' Carrolls) princesses of Ely.

It's suggested the name Ely or Eile derived from Eile the seventh son of Cian. However there is also document evidence which would support the theory that it was named after one of two of Eochaid, son of Leichta, King of Munster who lived at the time of the incarnation. In any event their chief residence was in Birr, quite possibly Loretto Castle (our present homestead) which is situated in the parish of Birr but most importantly in the townsland of Ballinree ie. Baile an Ri - Town of the king and the circular ditch which enclosures forty acres/16.2 hectares would lead one to believe that it was a place of some prestige and importance in ancient Irish history.

The year 432AD saw the arrival of Christianity, which grew rapidly. The monastic idea quickly took root with 800 monasteries established by the 6th century. It also influenced place names ie. Cill-Church, Domhach-Sunday where older place names came from features ie. Cnoc-Hill, Drum-Height, Tullach-Mound, later we get Gort-Field, Rath-Fort and probably at this time Baile an Ri - Town of the King

. For fourteen hundred years the civilisation had remained Celtic, then in 797AD came the Vikings which lead to two centuries of attack and invasion.

It was 1014 at the battle of Clontarf that Brian Boru defeated these growing forces with the support of the O' Cearbhaill (Carroll) clan. However, after the death of Brian Boru undisputed High King they continued internecine warfare between provincial kings with always at least two claiming the High King throne.

This lead to the Norman invasion of 1169 which lead to foreign domination and local resistance by Irish chiefs of which the O' Cearbhaill played a leading role for 800 years. The 17th century saw a number of the plantation of Laois/Offaly. Under this process lands held by the native chieftans was declared forfeit to the crown, the O' Cearbhaill suffered under this decree.

It was during this period that Roger O' Carroll attached himself to the party of Charles 1st and was deprived of his estate by Cromwell and the o' Carroll castles fell wholesale into the hands of the soldiers of Cromwell. Twenty one O' Carroll castles came under the control of Cromwell; many were plundered and destroyed including Fortal, Loretto and Ballyknocken.

After the restoration of Charles II and during the reign of James II, Roger son and heir of Charles O' Carroll was held in great favour but was not returned his estates or castles forfeited from his father, however, he was granted 60,000 acres in Maryland to where he immigrated in 1688, it was his descendant Charles O' Carroll of Carrollton who signed the American Declaration of Independence.

An international register has been developed to determine where O' Carroll family has migrated to and where they live throughout the world today. These are estimated to be over 6,000 O' Carroll households in Ireland and ten times that number in the United States. There are over 800 households with the O' Carroll surname in Maryland; Carrolls are also to be found in Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and continental Europe. In the eighty years before 1926 Ireland lost 4.3 million to immigration, including many O' Carroll families. Our family tree brings us to the parish of Kilcolman, which includes Ettagh, and Aghancon, which holds the sites of four castles, Ballybrit, Rathmore, Clonbeg and Ballyknocken.

The oldest and most famous and the only one occupied is The Leap which presently is occupied by renowned musician Sean Ryan. This castle built by the O' Carroll in the 12th century "enabled the O' Carroll to hold their area against the Butlers and to maintain the splendid struggle for five centuries against the English forces, which mark out the O' Carroll of Ely as one of the bravest and gifted of the Milesian clans", - Father Gleeson history of the Ely O' Carroll Territory. Our research for our own roots leads us to Ballyknocken castle and the one John Carroll late proprietor of the land of Ballyknocken, Monnyfada, Ballinloughnane, Curragh, Corren, Lissen, Crannagh, Coolderry and notably Cloghan. He was stripped of his possessions with the other o' Carroll in May 1664 and Cromwell allotted his lands to Major Vicars later possessed by John Eyres. It is most likely John Carroll became a tenant of the lands in Cloghan and the family survived there for five or six generations until John Carroll who was born at the end of the 18th century and who was a direct legitimate decent of the O' Carroll of Ely (see territory Ely O' Carroll) succeeded in establishing one of his sons John in Fortal a former O' Carroll castle, his second son William O' Carroll established home at Ross House, Lorrha, Co. Tipperary. John's son Denis married into the Horan family at The Ring on the site of Loretto Castle in the early 20th century.