Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel

The Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel is a dynastic and nobiliary association whose aims are to promote historical research into matters pertaining to the ancient Kingdom of Oriel, into Carroll of Oriel family history and to award achievements throughout the island of Ireland in matters pertaining to medicine, science and the arts. The Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel also strives to create a meaningful role within the modern Irish State for those people who are the direct lineal descendants of ancient Irish Chiefs. This role is envisaged as being both cultural and political. The Irish Monarchist Group is supportive of the Companionate in these latter aims. Membership of the Companionate is discretionary and is confined to those who are sympathetic to the aims of the Companionate and can show an interest or a connection with the ancient Kingdom of Oriel. The Companionate is also active in educating the public in matters relating to Gaelic titles and of the situation and problems which have arisen regarding their recognition due to over 400 years of suppression.

In 1541, King Henry VIII of England declared himself to be King of Ireland. Previous to this he had claimed to be “Lord of Ireland”. This change came about as a result of his dispute with the Pope regarding his proposed divorce. This change was of course not accepted by the Irish aristocracy, but through military aggression many Irish Kings were persuaded to surrender their crowns to King Henry VIII and in return to have their lands granted back to them and to be granted an English title. The difficulty was that Irish aristocrats had no authority to do so, as the land was held in common by the clan. King Henry VIII did not understand this, or chose not to. Of those Kings that accepted a new title, many were banished by their clans. This often created a wedge between Gaelic aristocrat and clan members. The purpose of this procedure which was known as “surrender and re-grant” was to create Ireland as a mirror image of feudal England. An Act of the English Parliament of 1587 made Irish Gaelic titles extinct. English Common Law replaced Irish Brehon Law. Similar Acts of Parliament over the next 100 years reinforced the Act of 1587. By the end of the Williamite period of the late 17th Century Gaelic Ireland lay in ruins, its laws had been totally abolished, its aristocracy driven underground or abroad to serve in the armies of the Continent, and all other aspects of Gaelic life were totally suppressed. Major land confiscations also occurred and, in 1702 the North Louth Land Confiscations confiscated all Carroll lands.

King Henry VIII’s “Kingdom of Ireland” was replaced in 1801 by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This was commonly called the Act of Union. In 1921 Saorstat Eireann came into being. The new Irish State adopted English Common Law as the basis of its legal code, probably out of convenience. However with the adoption of English Common Law, Irish titles remained suppressed. This is the situation as it exists today.

In 1552 King Henry VIII authorised the establishment of a Heraldic Office based in Dublin. The first person to hold this office was Bartholomew Butler. The purpose of the Heraldic Office was to draw up Coats of Arms for English people now resident in Ireland and to confirm titles. Irish Gaelic titles, which of course had been abolished by English Common Law were naturally not considered, nor were Gaelic genealogies. The crown’s Heraldic Officer in Ireland was called the Ulster King of Arms. In 1949 the Irish Republic was declared and, at this point, Ireland was considered to have left the Commonwealth. The English Crown then ceased to have any authority in the affairs of Ireland, but by then the Ulster King of Arms had been removed to London where he continues to have heraldic jurisdiction over the partitioned north east of the Island of Ireland.

In March 1943 the Office of the Ulster King of Arms was taken over by the Irish Government and a new Heraldic Office was established as a branch of the National Library of Ireland. Article 40.2 of the Irish Constitution states that titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State and that no titles of nobility or honour may be accepted by any citizen, except without the prior approval of the government. These are matters pertaining to the modern Irish State. Gaelic titles arose from a predecessor state which existed prior to 1541 and therefore it is the position of the Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel that the Heraldic Office of the modern Irish State has no authority over the ancient titles which were awarded by Kingdoms which are no longer in political existence.

Since the 1940’s the Chief Herald has taken it upon himself to grant courtesy recognition to the holders of some Gaelic titles and to refrain from offering courtesy recognition to others. It is the position of the Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel that the Chief Herald, who as a Civil Servant, is obliged not to do anything that infringes any article of the Constitution, should not involve himself or his office with the granting of or the refusal to grant courtesy recognition. The same position is taken regarding titles of nobility or indeed the recognition of lineal descent. This should not be a matter of concern for the modern Irish State until such time that the very laws which abolished such titles are themselves abolished by an Act of Parliament. Holders of non-Gaelic titles resident in the modern Irish Republic do not consider the Chief Herald to be an authority on their title and neither should the holders of Gaelic titles. The Companionate of the Royal House of Oriel recognises the excellent work carried out by the National Library of Ireland and by the Chief Herald’s Office, but feels that in this particular area of activity regarding the recognition of title, neither the expertise nor the legal framework exists for the Office to have a meaningful role.