The O’Dubhda clan is particularly fortunate that the ceremonies associated with the installation of the chief were recorded in the Great Book of Lecan and have survived and been noted by generations of historians.


According to Brehon Law, a chief was succeeded by the oldest and most worthy descendant of the direct line of the original chieftain – in the case of the O’Dubhda, this was Fiachra Ealgach. There were several conditions:that had to be met by the candidate:-

1. he had to be a descendant of the blood of the original chief:

2. he must be free of defects or deformities:

3. he must be of age to lead the clan in battle:

4. he had to have the support of the majority of the clan’s sub-chieftains and freeholders.

Thus it was unusual for a son to succeed his father, and it also happened that some chiefs did not have the support of all their clansmen – a situation referred to as “Chief, with opposition.”


Every clan had an appointed place where the chief was installed, in the case of the O’Dubhda, there were two such sites – Carn Amhalgaidh in Tirawley (Mayo) and Carn Inghine Briain in Tireragh (Sligo). At the designated place there was a stone with the imprint of two feet,reputedly those of the original chief (ie. Fiachra Ealgach for the O’Dubhda). The presence of two sites could be the result of the civil war between the Sliocht Ruairi and Sliocht Bui in the 15th century, or a geasa (taboo) about crossing the River Moy in ancient times, or perhaps something that was forced on the clan as the territory it held was reduced to Tireragh and the original site at Carn Amhalgaidh was lost.


1. The hereditary historian, MacFirbis, would read to the Taoiseach-elect the laws relating to his conduct and he, after listening to them, would swear to observe the laws and customs of the territory.

2. After taking the oath, the taoiseach-elect would put aside his weapons and the brehon would pass a white rod over the chieftain’s head. The rod would then be handed to the chief to symbolise his authority and that he required no weapons to ensure the loyalty of his people. In the case of O’Dubhda, his weapons and battledress were given to O’Caoimhin, the senior sub-chieftain and hereditary marshal of the army of Tireragh, and the battledress and weapons of O’Caoimhin were given to MacFirbis, the historian, to stress that they too were of the race of Fiachra.

3. The new chief was proclaimed by having his name shouted by those present, starting with O’Caoimhin and MacFirbis, and with others joining in according to their rank, until the whole counytryside reverberated to the cry of “O’Dubhda! O’Dubhda!

4. Finally, the chief turnd round sunwise, three times to view his people and his territory. After the arrival of Christianity, this was said to be done in honour of the Holy Trinity.


In Christian times, the formal ritual was followed by the celebration of Mass, and then a banquet. There, “the priviledge of first drinking at the banquet was given to O’Caoimhin by O’Dubhda, and O’Caoimhin was not to drink until he first presented it to the poet, ie MacFirbisigh.” (The Great Book of Lecan) As well as showing honour to the marshal and the historian and emphasising their royal lineage, this also was a security measure to prevent the chief being poisoned.


It as not unusual to choose a Tanaiste or heir at the same time as the chief was elected. This was a sensible precaution in troubled times as it prevented the clan being left leaderless should anything happen to the chief. The tanaiste did not have to undergo the ceremonies described above, but he was required to take the oath, with one foot on th einauguration stone. The inauguration of a chief was a serious and solemn event, that required to be performed precisely according to the law, otherwise serious consequences could follow. “And every king of the race of Fiachra that shall not be thus nominated, he shall have shortness of life, and his race or generation shall not be illustrious, and he shall never see the kingdom of God. Finit. Amen.

(The Great Book of Lecan, p. 73)

(Sources: J O’Donovan, Tribes and Customs of the Hy Fiachrach, C MacHale, O’Dubhda Family History, K Simms, From Kings to Warlords)