Dwyer Origins

Dwyer family tree (PDF - 195k)

Dwyer CrestDwyer is the surname of our father, William Dwyer (1934-2001) who married Joan Rogers in 1956.

The O’Dwyers1 (Irish Ua Duibidhir or Ó Duibhir) were an Irish sept with an ancestral domain centred on the Barony of Kilnamanagh, an area of around 260 square kilometers in central western County Tipperary, bordering on County Limerick. The sept can be traced back to the 7th century. The O’Dwyers fought with Brian Boru, the first High King of the Irish, at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 against a Viking confederacy and the King of Leinster. The O’Dwyers also participated in Irish tribal warfare:

The Age of Christ 1093…Trenfhear Ua Ceallaigh [O’Callaghan], lord of Brega, was killed by Ua Duibidhir [O’Dwyer] in Daimhliag-Chanain2.

There are specific mentions of O’Dwyers’ involvement in killings in the Annals of the Four Masters  from 1473 (as victim) and 1503 (as perpetrator).

The O’Dwyers were not a particularly powerful sept, but in 1515 they were mentioned as being among “the King’s [Henry VIII] Irish enemies”. Between 1568 and 1640 they participated in numerous rebellions against the Crown, although O’Dwyer rebels were granted pardons after each rebellion.

When a major rebellion broke out late in 1641, however, Philip O’Dwyer of Dundrum attacked the town of Cashel, taking prisoner 300 of its English garrison and inhabitants. Unfortunately some of O’Dwyer’s followers, against his orders, killed fifteen of these prisoners the next day in an act of revenge for some earlier killings by the English3. By 1652 this particular rebellion was over and all of the Irish leaders had capitulated. This time a number of O’Dwyer leaders were exempted from pardon and subject to execution if captured. Also, in settling matters following the rebellion, Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth confiscated the estates of all who had participated, including most of the Kilnamanagh lands of the O’Dwyers which were parcelled out to English soldiers. Despite the O’Dwyers supporting the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Kilnamanagh was never returned to them, as were the lands of many Anglo-Irish families that had opposed Cromwell.

Many of the unpardoned Irish leaders and their military followers, including prominent O’Dwyers, fled to Europe and took work as mercenaries, mostly with France or Spain. These were famously known as “The Wild Geese”. There were also O’Dwyer officers in the Irish regiments of James II’s army fighting against William III in 1689. The defeat of James led to more O’Dwyers taking service in foreign armies. O’Dwyers appeared in army lists in Europe well into the 18th century.

Those O’Dwyers who remained in Ireland faced a series of anti-Catholic measures collectively known as the Penal Laws. These were designed to build a minority Protestant ascendancy by ensuring that Irish Catholics remained powerless, poor and uneducated. The Laws limited Irish Catholics’ economic and social rights, including the practice of their religion, ownership of land, education, culture and music, and participation in trade, the professions and government. Although enforcement of the Penal Laws was relaxed as the 18th century progressed, the measures were not fully removed until the first half of the 19th century, following the 1800 Act of Union which made Ireland part of the United Kingdom.

Tipperary itself remained troubled. Agrarian grievances, mostly caused by evictions of Irish farmers from their rented land that were not redressed in the law courts led to ongoing violence referred to as the Land War. It is known that O’Dwyers and Dwyers were affected by evictions and were active in the disturbances.

It is likely that our 18th century Dwyer ancestors were poor farmers who rented the land that they farmed. Throughout the century their standard of living would have fallen, largely due to the surging population, which led to competition for land and higher rents. Their dwellings would have been basic, perhaps as basic as mud cabins, and their furniture may have been just a table, some stools and a cooking pot. They may have had beds or just slept on straw.

1 Most of this background on the O’Dwyers is taken from: O'Dwyer, Michael Francis. (2000). The History of the O’Dwyers. Second Edition. Limerick :  The Celtic Bookshop.

2 O’Donovan, John, trans. (1856), Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Vol.II, p. 945.

3 Many other English were saved by the inhabitants of Cashel. When the English under Lord Inchiquin recaptured Cashel is 1647 some 800 Irish men and women were killed in the Cathedral where they had taken refuge – these presumably included people who had saved English lives in 1641. Philip O’Dwyer died in 1648, but other prominent participants in the capture of Cashel, including Philip’s brother Donough, were subsequently tried and hanged. [O'Dwyer, Michael Francis. (2000)].


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