Monday, 11 November 2019

The Black Book, DNA, & the O'Malley's of Limerick

I was recently in Limerick for a Medieval History Conference that formed part of St Martin's Fair. It was a hugely enjoyable event and was held in different locations on King's Island, including St Munchin's Church, St Mary's Cathedral, King John's Castle, the Absolute Hotel and the Curraghgour Boat Club. I also had the privilege of meeting up with several Limerick O'Malley's and we may have had a pint or two!

Warmly wrapped up at St John's Castle

St Martin's Fair was established by King John in 1204 and ran for 7 days starting from the vigil of St Martin (which is today, 11th Nov). The conference was sponsored by the Thomond Archaeological & Historical Society and highlighted how The Black Book of Limerick (one of Limerick's earliest medieval manuscripts) can inform us about life and society at a time when the Normans were establishing a firm foothold in the city, and elbowing out the Gaelic chiefs and the Viking settlers.

The panoramic view from St John's Castle of the Shannon at sunset

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation on building Viking ship replicas. This took place at the Curraghgour Boat Club where the Bjørkedal brothers (Dag Inge, Ottar, & Jakob) together with Jørn Olav Løset talked about how they constructed one of the biggest Viking ship replicas built to date - the Myklebus ship. This measures 30 metres long by 6.5 meters wide. It was a fascinating presentation with photos and videos that gave a unique insight into Viking shipbuilding.

The replica of the Myklebus ship (built by the Bjørkedal brothers)

The four shipbuilders from Norway present Cathy Swift (Conference Organiser) with
a souvenir bailing tool inscribed with their names

The Black Book was very helpful in establishing that there was a distinct and well-established clan of the O'Malley's in Limerick by the 1100s. This has been discussed at length in a previous blog post. I gave a 30-minute presentation at the conference that reviewed the various theories as to how the O'Malley's got to Limerick, what the Black Book says about the O'Malley's, and how DNA has allowed us to rule-out most theories and settle on a main contender. The YouTube video of my presentation is below and can also be found on YouTube here.



(Click to play)

I also produced a handy little chart summarising how all the O'Malley's in the project is related to each other. The Most Recent Common Ancestor of all the various O'Malley groups was born about 48,000 years ago! This chart is worthy of a blog post all on it's own and that should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

How all the O'Malley groups are related to each other
(click to enlarge)


Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2019






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