An internet interview by Stephen Vincent O’Rourke with G. Philip O’Rorke of London, recognized Chieftain of the O’Rourke line and direct descendant of Lord Brian Ballaigh O’Rourke.


How does one become a Chieftain?

To go back to Gaelic Law, Kingship was confined to a particular family within the tribe. This family was a large agnatic kindred group. For most practical purposes the real kindred were the derbfhine – literally the ‘certain’ family group. This included first cousins and extended over five generations. The successor to the Kingship came from within this circle and was by election.

However the existing King would normally appoint his tanaiste (heir-designate) during his life. Primogeniture was not recognised in Irish Law, but seniority in the male line was the normal criterion for headship of the kindred. In practice, the eldest son was usually appointed tanaise unless he suffered from some illness or infirmity. In the medieval period a sort of ‘de facto’ primogeniture developed. Since the Elizabethan conquest Chiefs or Chieftains have normally been eldest sons or the nearest senior blood relative.

As to recognition, the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland recognises the title by courtesy, as does the Ulster King of Arms of the College of Arms in London and the European Almanack de Gotha. The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs (of which I am a member) also recognises the titles.

The 19th century Volume of O’Hart’s Pedigrees contains a list of several O’Rourke lines; are you descent from any of these?

I’m afraid I do not have O’Hart’s Pedigrees so cannot answer this question. However I must be descended from one of the lines listed. I descend from Tighernan, King of Breifne (ca 888 ad), via Brian Ballach Mor (last King of Briefne, died 1562 ad).

Was O’Rourke history a big part of your upbringing?
Yes. Particularly the stories of my great aunts who lived in Dublin.


Does your family have any ancient artifacts from the medieval O’Rourke estates?
No. The destruction of the O’Rourke castles and the dispossessions during the Elizabethan conquest and plantation period was pretty thorough!

.Why is it important for us to remember our O’Rourke roots; is it still relevant to care about all of this history?

I could write and essay on why it is relevant to care! In a time when we are increasingly losing our identities (as individuals and countries) it is more than ever crucial that we hold on to our inheritance, even more so in a family like ours that was torn from its roots and spread around the globe. The Ua Ruairc sept was one of the great septs of Ireland with a history and tradition going back over 1,400 years. We must not allow this rich history to disappear.