Iveagh Ancestry

  Unlocking the past


The Barony of Iveagh

Origins and location of Iveagh

Iveagh Ancestry takes its name from the ancient name given to the part of south west County Down in which I and my ancestors lived.  The present name, ‘Iveagh’ (pronounced ‘I-vay’), is the anglicisation of ‘Eachach Cobha,’ the legendary ancestor of the prominent Gaelic families of the area.  In some texts, the more ancient name Magh Cobha, meaning ‘plain of Cobha,’ is used in reference to the area.  The castle of Magh Cobha is traditionally believed to be in the vicinity of Seafin Castle, in the parish of Drumballyroney, although no evidence has been found to substantiate the link.  

The district of Iveagh occupies much of the southern and western part of County Down.  It stretched from just south of Lough Neagh to the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.  By the seventeenth century, the barony was divided into two distinct parts: Upper and Lower Iveagh.

Baronies of County Down

Iveagh: From c.1000 – c.1700

In the early Middle Ages, Iveagh was one of many small kingdoms in Ireland, as the country was not at this time a single political entity.  In common with many of these small kingdoms, Iveagh’s boundaries changed according to the fortunes of its rulers.  The main threat to its security came from the west and the lands controlled by the increasingly powerful O’Neill family.  A number of references to Iveagh at this time are in relation to the violent deaths met by many of the chieftains during this period, indicating the transitory nature of power at this time.  By the twelfth century, the kingdom of Iveagh had fallen under the control of the Magennis family, who were to dominate the area for the next five centuries.  They were styled as ‘Lords of Clann-Aodha of Iveagh’ and they claimed descent from the original Cobha.  From the eleventh century onwards, surnames begin to be formalised and names such as McCartan, McGivern, Rooney and O’Shiel appear and remain fairly common family names until the present day.  During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the chieftains of the Magennis clan allied themselves with the English crown and received recognition of their overlordship from Queen Elizabeth I and her successor, James I.  By 1623, the Magennis chief had been created Viscount Iveagh and various other Magennis grandees had been given lesser titles.  All of this was to change in 1641, as the Magennis family sided with the rebels in the Great Rebellion.  As a result of their disloyalty, the Magennis estates were forfeited to the crown and a new chapter in Iveagh’s history began.

From the reign of King James I, Scottish and English settlers had been arriving in Ulster with the greatest concentration being in the counties of Antrim and Down. The tumultuous events of the second half of the seventeenth century accelerated this immigration and gave Iveagh a distinctive character, inhabited by families of Irish, Scots and Gaelic stock.  By the end of the century the land was controlled by an emerging class of Anglo-Irish magnates including the Hill family (later to become the Marquesses of Downshire) the Hawkins-Magill-Meade families (later Earls of Clanwilliam), the Jocelyns (Earls of Roden) and the Annesleys of Castlewellan.  However, the vast majority of people living in Iveagh during this period, the ancestors of most of those who live here now, were tenant farmers, rather than gentlemen proprietors.  A clue to the ancestral background of most families can be deduced from surnames.  In addition to Gaelic surnames such as those noted above, Scottish and English family names such as Trimble, Clydesdale and Porter (to name but a few) are common throughout Iveagh.  Most civil parishes contain Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic places of worship reflecting the local diversity of Iveagh.  By the early eighteenth century, the regional identity of baronies such as Iveagh diminished as they ceased to be functioning political and administrative districts, as government became increasingly centralised.  Nevertheless, the parishes and townlands that constituted Iveagh retained strong and distinctive local identities which have been retained to the present day.  

By the nineteenth century, agriculture, which supported the majority of Iveagh’s population was supplemented by the linen industry which encouraged the growth of towns including Banbridge and Lisburn, as well as supporting numerous smaller scale concerns in the surrounding villages and hamlets.  The increased prosperity of Iveagh saw a new middle class emerge, eventually eclipsing the gentry families who had dominated the area for so long.  Other changes, too, were to alter the character of the area forever.  The extension of the railway network to the Iveagh area meant that populations were less isolated, while universal education meant that by the latter half of the nineteenth century most people were literate.  Of course, like in so much of Ireland during the nineteenth century, development meant that many of the distinctive local linguistic and cultural customs of Iveagh disappeared.

The nineteenth century also saw record keeping systems being developed for the first time throughout Ireland.  The first ordnance survey was started during the 1820s and the Ordnance Survey Memoirs (Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland (Belfast, 1992) which were produced for the northern counties provide much data on the customs and occupations of the people of Iveagh during this period.  Boundaries of baronies, civil parishes and townlands are formalised, together with the names of all local districts.

The first successful census was taken in Ireland in 1821 but records prior to 1901 have been mostly destroyed.  The 1901 and 1911 census data is now available online:  http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/.  Although church records for some Church of Ireland and Presbyterian congregations date back to the seventeenth centuries, the nineteenth century marked the official re-emergence of the Catholic Church in Ireland and with it their parish records.  From the mid-twentieth century, state departments required the registering of births, deaths and marriages.  Unfortunately, many of the Church of Ireland records were destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922 but nevertheless much invaluable record information does survive in other archives.  


As well as census and parish records, the land valuation survey of Sir Richard Griffith provides a remarkable snapshot of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century (http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/index.xml).  Conducted between 1848 and 1863, the purpose of this monumental task was to assess the value of Ireland’s land as well as recording the names of landlords and tenants throughout the country.  Griffith’s assessors also mapped each landholding enabling genealogists and family historians to locate with accuracy the whereabouts of ancestors during this period.  

The memory of Iveagh today exists mainly in the names of streets and buildings of its towns.  It ceased to play any role as an administrative entity long ago while its political importance has been removed to more distant urban hubs.  While allegiance to townlands, parishes and counties throughout Ireland is strong and visible, the regional identity of baronies such as Iveagh has largely vanished.  Nevertheless, these regions are still historically significant as they were for centuries the basis of power and control throughout the island.    

J O’Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Conor, Ancient and Modern, Vol I (Dublin, 1878).


S Lewis, County Down: A Topographical Dictionary (London, 1837)


Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of County Down, Vol III 1833-8, eds., A Day & P McWilliams (Belfast, 1992)


K Muhr, Place-Names of Northern Ireland, Co Down, Vol IV (Belfast, 1996)






Above: View of the Mourne mountains from Drumballyroney


Right: County Down and its baronies. Drawn by R Creighton and engraved by I Dower.  From Lewis’s Atlas (London, 1837)


Iveagh in the eighteenth century: The Establishment of the Ascendancy

Iveagh: From c.1800 to the Present

Ballyroney KnockIveagh

Above: View of the Motte and Bailey castle in Drumballyroney, once the seat of the O'Rooney family.


Left: Knockiveagh or 'the Hill of Iveagh.'  According to local tradition, this was where the Lords of Iveagh were inaugurated.