A lecture delivered in the Louth County Museum October 2004 by Dr. Vincent O’Carroll upon the occasion of a presentation of antiquities and family genealogies to the museum
It gives me great pleasure to be invited here this evening to formally present to the Louth County Museum a part of my families collection of antiquities which we have assembled over a long period of time. After careful consideration it has become apparent to us as a family that the most appropriate depository for this collection is in fact this museum because of the families long association with County Louth and its hinderland which goes back over one thousand years. Part of the collection includes copies of our genealogy chart and the Coat of Arms pertaining to this particular branch of the family but tonight I really want to concentrate on the actual antiquities which are now on formal display. They form a remarkable collection covering the worlds of ancient Rome and ancient Greece as well as the ancient civilisation of Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia.
They teach us about people, about history, about the lives they lived and the instruments they used. This brings to life civilisations that are now extinct and make us question why some civilisations survived and why some failed to do so and only exist through what the archaeologists may discover or just stumble upon. Perhaps there are lessons in this for ourselves and I will explore this shortly. Perhaps these artefacts speak out to us through the vale of time with a message, with a reminder, perhaps with an urgency that we dare not ignore.
It is important to place these artefacts from the ancient world within a specific context. Otherwise they are just a collection without a story or at best the story of other ancient civilisations and people, the story of how they lived, what they made and what they used to make life easier for themselves. But just as the ancient peoples of the middle and near east as represented in this collection were living their lives, so were our ancestors living similar lives.
Just as life in ancient Greece and ancient Rome continued, so did life in ancient Ireland. This is the context in which I wish to make this gift to the Louth County Museum, that there is a similarity between people and nations and just as people learned from each other in the past, people can learn from each other today.
Everybody in this room has an ancestral story worth hearing and recording and the Carroll family is no exception. Many people bear the surname Carroll but I can only refer to the Carroll of Oriel family. We claim a connected genealogy to King Donagh O’Carroll, the founder of Mellifont Abbey and the ancient scribes attributed a genealogy to him and his family from whom we are descended to Colla Da Crioch who died in 330 A.D. and back further to Hermeon the younger son of Millesius, the father of the original Celtic people who populated this island and through him back to Adam and Eve. Such genealogies were very important in medieval and ancient Ireland as family succession and kingship depended upon them. The Gaelic artistocracy was closed unlike anywhere else in Europe that I am aware of and entry to it could only be by birth. Monarchs could not confer nobility so genealogies were of supreme importance.
Part of the collection which I am donating includes a copy of my families genealogy chart and a copy of our Coat of Arms which was awarded by the Chief Heralds Office, an office which has been in existence since the sixteenth century. The Coat of Arms is a copy of the original Coat of Arms used by my family throughout the 18th century but never registered as Gaelic Coats of Arms were outside of the remit of the Chief Heralds Office at that time. They are only copies as the originals hang in the family home, Fairfield in Dublin. The Coat of Arms is interesting as it includes two lions holding a heraldic fountain, a reference to Mellifont Abbey, which means the fountain of honey which was founded by my ancestor King Donagh O’Carroll in 1142 A.D.
So as we were living our lives in ancient times, other people were living theirs, people who shared many similarities with us. But the story does not end here. This is also a story of struggle and survival. The arrival of the Normans altered my family’s entire way of life. After some initial success at keeping the Normans at bay through military action against John De Courcy at Glenridhe in 1177 A.D. and through negotiations with Henry II of England and his son Prince John we were eventually deposed and subjected to centuries of harassment where every effort was made to extinguish forever our heritage and traditions which saw Europe through its dark ages and brought learning and civilisations to the furthest outposts of the disintegrating Roman Empire. We eventually became tenants on our own land, but the efforts made to make us forget our own family history and indeed who we are and where we came from, failed. This knowledge and sense of place allowed us to survive throughout the bleakest of historical times. Having reviewed my family’s history I conclude that it is a miracle that I am here at all to make this gift and I am sure it is an equal miracle that many of your families have survived to allow you attend at this presentation.
Museums not only take artefacts into their possession but they also give meaning and context to their collections and this perhaps allows us to learn from the past so as to make the future a better place.
I claim no titles or special privileges, only that I am a link in a documented chain of people whose origins are from the earliest of times. I hope that this will give encouragement to other people and nations whose culture and way of life is under threat. Survival is possible. The planned destruction of the Gaelic way of life, its leadership and its entire heritage did not succeed and my presence here today in some small way testifies to this.
Ancient blood lines will survive but only if a knowledge of history is retained so that we can keep what is important, learn from it and move on. Families only disappear when their knowledge of themselves, their history and their heritage disappears and then nations disappear.
Most of the civilisations represented in the collection which I am donating are no more and can only be learned about from what they have left behind. In some cases this is the only evidence that they existed at all. But this need not be so and our countries history and survival has testified to this fact. A knowledge of your family history, your nations history, of who you are and from where you have come from can enormously increase the chances of a peoples survival.
So today is not just about the past, it is also about the future.
And as for the future it is the decision of my family to make a sum of money available on an annual basis to students and others who wish to carry out historical research pertaining to any aspect of the history of the House of Oriel. This fund will be administered by the Companionates of the Royal House of Oriel of which I am President and I am delighted to announce that the Louth County Museum is also making a sum available for a similar purpose.
I understand that representatives of the museum and of the Companionate will jointly decide upon which projects should secure funding. This is simply to encourage researchers and others to look into this much neglected area.
Finally, it remains for me to thank everybody who has been involved in this project for their enthusiasm and attention to detail and above all for the foresight needed not just to display antiquities from abroad in a sterile atmosphere, but rather by giving them life and meaning by incorporating genealogy and heraldry spanning the centuries from our own part of the world, the Kingdom of Oriel.