Pedigree of the More O’Ferralls

Descended from two great Catholic Irish families, the More O’Ferrals combined with the marriage in 1751 of the Balyna heiress Letitia O’More and the Dublin banker Richard Ferrall. At the close of the 18th century, Richard and Letitia’s sons played a prominent role on the battlefields of Europe. During the 1840s, Sir Richard More O’Ferrall emerged as one of the great champions of religious toleration and independence. Latter members of the family include the police commissioner John, the film director George, the horse trainer Roderic, the de Beers marketing guru Rory and the unfortunate Richard, murdered by the IRA in 1935. Kildangan is now the property of Sheikh Maktoum whilst Balyna is an exclusive hotel.

The More O Ferralls descend from the House of Mordha (Moore or More) who populated the Irish midlands in the early Christian period. During the mid 16th century, English Adventurers seized the family lands in Co. Laois as part of the first plantation of Ireland. Rory Og O’More spearheaded a rebellion against the Dublin government of Queen Elizabeth in the 1560s and 1570s. The insurrection was unique for the age in that it involved a coalition of Irish clans, headed up by the O’More and O’Byrnes. On New Year’s Eve 1577, the government invited the O’Mores to a peace conference in the ancient rath of Mullaghmast near Ballitore, Co. Kildare. Shortly after the forty O’More delegates arrival, the English opened fire with their muskets and killed them all. The brutality of the Mullaghmast massacre stunned the native Irish. Rory Og, who had sagely avoided the conference, rapidly launched a major campaign against the colonists but was hunted down and executed three months later. In an attempt to quell the ongoing violence, Queen Elizabeth subsequently granted an estate at Balyna, Moyvalley, Co. Kildare, to Rory’s younger son, Calaogh (or Charles) O’More. Balyna was to be the home of the O More chieftains and their descendants for the next 400 years.

In October 1641 Rory O More, a cousin of Calaogh, joined forces with Conor Maguire, Baron of Enniskillen, in a plot to seize Dublin Castle. Betrayed by Owen O’Connelly, Rory just managed to escape but the others were executed. Rory was hiding in the thick woods of Balyna when a small force of English soldiers surprised him. He plunged his walking stick into the earth and made for the hills.[1] The stick took root and evolved into a conifer. Family legend had it that when the tree died, the O’More family would leave Balyna. In 1957 the tree, a Scots Pine, died and fell in a storm. Balyna passed from the More O Ferrall family shortly afterwards.

Amongst those who fought with Rory O’More in his subsequent war against Cromwell were his cousins Roger and Lewis, sons of Calaogh O’Moore by his wife Margaret Scurlock.[2]. Colonel Roger O’Moore married Jane Barnewall, daughter of the Catholic hero Sir Patrick Barnewall of Turvey.[3] His brother Colonel Lewis O’Moore married Mary, daughter of Philip MacHugh O’Reilly. Two sons became priests while the third, Anthony, succeeded to Balyna and married Anne Hope, daughter of Alexander Hope of Mullingar.

Anne O’More gave Anthony two sons Roger II (d. 1746) and Lewis II (1674 – 1737) and a daughter Mary who married Captain Conor O’Reilly. The family was much involved with Spain during the early 18th century, presumably through their continuing adherence to Roman Catholicism. Roger II’s eldest son Anthony became a General in the Spanish service. Lewis II’s daughter Mary was Maid of Honour to Queen Isabella Farnese of Spain. Their cousin, another Mary, married Tirogh O’Neill and died in Madrid.

Lewis II succeeded to Balyna and married Alicia, a daughter of Con O’Neill. He died on 15th February 1737 and was succeeded by his only son James, the last in the male line of the O’Moores of Balyna. In 1731, James married Mary, daughter of Ambrose Madden of Derryhoran, Co. Galway. Upon James’s death in the winter of 1779, Balyna passed to his only surviving child, Letitia O’Moore. In April 1751, the teenaged Letitia had married 22-year-old banker Richard Ferrall (1729 – 1790).[4]

The Ferralls claim descent from Ir, the second son of Milesius of Spain who came to Ireland in the 4th century BC. In the early 18th century, Richard O’Ferrall, a Dublin brewer, married Catherine Ambrose, daughter of William Ambrose, also a wealthy Dublin brewer. In 1728, Richard’s son Ambrose O’Ferrall married Anne Dillon, daughter of Theobald Dillon, founder of Dillon’s bank, the only Catholic bank in Ireland at this time. In 1748, the above-mentioned Richard Farrell [sic] joined his brother-in-law Thomas in Dillon’s Bank in 1748 to form “Thomas Dillon, Richard Farrell & Company”. Three years earlier, a failed rebellion in Scotland spear-headed by Bonnie Prince Charlie, was still causing havoc with the Irish economy, resulting in a serious increase and over-circulation of paper money. In 1754 three prominent Irish banks fell – Dillon & Farrell was the first to fall. The partners absconded to France where Thomas Dillon died in 1764. Richard returned to Ireland some years later and, in 1779, he moved to his wife’s childhood home at Balyna.

Richard and Letitia had three sons, Ambrose, James and Charles, and six daughters. The girls married into relatively affluent gentry families from Cavan and Longford such as Nugent, Palles, Bolger and Taylor. The three sons all sought military careers on the continent.

The eldest son Major Ambrose O’Ferrall (1752 – 1835) was educated at Dublin’s Fagan’s Academy before going to the Jesuit College in Bruges. In 1770 he entered the Military Academy in Turin, where he was taught to ride by the famous Chevalier Capitolo. The Academy was founded by King Carlo Emmanuelle II of Sardinia in 1739 and is regarded as the cradle of Italy’s military traditions. He subsequently served with the Royal Sardinian army prior to becoming a Cornet in the Duke of Savoy’s Dragoons in 1772. He remained in the service for 18 years, rising to the rank of Major, but returned to manage the family estate in Ireland on learning of his father’s death in March 1790. In 1815 he commissioned the construction of a new big house at Balyna, which remained the family headquarters until its destruction by fire in 1878.

The middle brother Major General James O’Ferrall (1753 – 1828) entered the Austrian Service in 1773 and served in the Revolutionary Wars in Turkey and Italy. From 1792 to 1814 the French Revolutionary armies completely overran the German states, occupying Munich and securing Bavaria as an absolute vassal of the French. James served for the Austrian army against the French but was wounded and taken prisoner at Landsberg in Bavaria on 11th October 1805. After his release he served as Chamberlain to the Emperor Franz I of Austria. He later returned to Ireland and settled at Balliane House, County Wexford. The house was left to him by a distant cousin, Miss Susanna Ambrose, a celebrated beauty known as “the dangerous papist”. In order to inherit, he was obliged to take the name and arms of Ambrose. He died unmarried in 1828.

The youngest brother Adjutant General Charles O’Ferrall (1768 – 1831) was educated at the Jesuit College in Liege. In 1791, the 23-year-old Kildare man became a soldier in the Piedmontese army of the King of Sardinia. When the Sardinian monarchy was overthrown by Napoleon in 1798, Charles relocated to northern Italy where he seems to have operated on a rather more mercenary basis. In August 1799 he commanded a cavalry unit during the Austro-Russians shock defeat of Napoleon’s army at the battle of Novi Liguri. He was subsequently made 1st Equerry, gentleman of the bedchamber, major-general of cavalry and adjutant-general. Charles was evidently very close to the Italian Royal family for when his wife, Margaret Whyte of Leixlip, gave him a son in 1812, the child was named for his godfather, King Victor Emmanuel I. He retired to Ireland where he died at his brother’s Wexford house, Balliane, in 1831. His son Victor returned to Ireland to manage the Balliane estate but ultimately his mismanagement was so chronic the property had to be sold. Victor Emmanuel More O’Ferrall emigrated to America and died alone and unmarried in Albany in September 1864.

Major Ambrose O’Ferrall married twice and had ten children. In 1796 he took as his first wife Mary Anne, only child of John Bagot, patriarch of another prominent Catholic family based at Castle Bagot, Co. Dublin. She gave him five sons and five daughters before her death in the winter of 1810. [5] The sons were educated at Downside and Stoneyhurst with the exception of the fourth, Robert , who was ordained a priest in 1832 but died of cholera two years later, and Charles, the youngest, who went to Clongowes Wood and founded the Kildangan branch. One daughter, Letitia, a nun in the Sisters of Charity, gave £3,000 for the purchase of a house in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, which grew to be one of Dublin’s largest hospitals, St Vincent’s. She later transferred to the Order of Saint Francis de Sales and died in Brussels in 1859.[6]

Major O’Ferrall was succeeded at Balyna by his firstborn son, the Right Hon. Richard More O’Ferrall, MP, DL, JP. Born on 10th April 1797 and educated at Downside and Stonyhurst, Richard was elected MP for Co. Kildare in 1830, a seat he retained until 1847 when appointed Governor of Malta. When a Royal Commission was issued in 1833 to investigate the condition of the poor in Ireland, Richard and the Archbishop of Dublin were its two Catholic members. He was an adviser to the Catholic University, a friend of Cardinal Wiseman and a supporter of Daniel O Connell. In 1835, under the administration of Lord Melbourne, he became Lord of the Treasury, First Secretary of the Admiralty and, in 1841, Secretary to the Treasury. In 1847 he was the first civilian to hold the post of Governor of Malta. As such he helped develop the island into one of Britain’s most important strategic naval bases. He also secured the passing of a new Constitution for Malta in 1849, which effectively allowed for Maltese home rule. In 1851 he resigned in protest against the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, who had spoken out against a papal bill seeking to restore a Catholic hierarchy in England. In 1856 he won the parliamentary seat of Co. Longford which he held until 1865. In September 1839 he married Matilda (d. 1882), daughter and co-heir of the 3rd Viscount Southwell. They had a son, Ambrose, and a daughter, Maria who married the Crimean War hero Sir Walter Nugent, 2nd Baronet, of Donore, Co. Westmeath.[7]

In 1878, the house at Balyna was badly burned in a fire. Richard died in Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) in October 1880 and was succeeded by his 34-year-old son Ambrose More O’Ferrall, DL, JP, High Sheriff of Counties Kildare (1876) and Carlow (1887). In October 1872 Ambrose married Jessie Gordon-Canning, daughter of Patrick Robert Gordon-Canning of Hartpury Hall in Gloucestershire.[8] Shortly after his inheritance of Balyna, he recruited the ecclesiastical architect WH Byrne to design a new Italianate style house at Balyna. Ambrose died in April 1911 leaving two daughters – Mabel who married Major Edmund Dease, MP, of Rath House, Ballybrittas, Queen’s County and Alice who married Alexander Lattin Mansfield of the Morristown Lattin family (qv).

As such the Balyna estate passed to Ambrose’s cousin Edward More O’Ferrall. Born in 1846, Edward was the son of Major Ambrose O’Farrell’s second son, John Lewis More O Ferrall who had been appointed Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police on its establishment in 1871. Edward’s mother Clare was a daughter of Thomas Segrave of Cabra.[9] John and Clare lived between Granite Hall in Kingstown, Co. Dublin and Lisard in Co. Longford. Edward was a magistrate of some influence in Longford but his ownership of Balyna was short-lived as he died three years after the inheritance. Balyna duly passed to his eldest son John by his wife Juliana, daughter of Henry Lambert, MP, of Carnagh, Co. Wexford.

John More O’Ferrall was born in February 1872, the eldest of six sons and two daughters.[10] His brother Dr. Lewis More O’Ferrall had a distinguished career in World War One and was father to the film and theatre director George More O’Ferrall. George’s only son Rory is presently Director of Public and Corporate Affairs for the De Beers Group in London. Another brother Gerald More O’Ferrall inherited Lisard and married Geraldine Fitzgerald, granddaughter of the 4th Duke of Leinster (qv). Like so many of his forbears, John evidently had a flair for all things Mediterranean and, in October 1901, he married an Italian girl Cesira Maria, daughter of David Polenghi of Milan. By this marriage he had two sons, Gerald and Charles, and five daughters.[11]

Upon John’s death in October 1925, his 21-year-old son Gerald Rory More O’Ferrall (1904 – 1976) succeeded to Balyna. Gerald was educated at Clongowes Wood and, on 7th January 1930, married Maureen, daughter of Denis Kennedy, FRCSI, of Hollywood, Carrickmines, Co. Dublin.[12] They had five sons and two daughters who in turn had some 26 children.

Balyna was sold in 1960 and was owned by Bewley’s Oriental Cafes Ltd until 1983.


[1] Rory went on to become one of the principal leaders of the Confederate Army in Ireland, rallying both Gaelic Irish and Old English under his banner, assuring them his ambition was to defend the King and preserve Catholicism. His initial campaigning resulted in victory over the English at Julianstown, Co. Meath. As the war ran on, the Confederation collapsed. Rory was last heard of in 1652 escaping from Boffin Island, Co. Galway, disguised as a fisherman.

[2] Their cousin Colonel Charles O’More commanded a troop of horse in Owen Roe O Neill’s army. In 1688 Colonel O’More raised a regiment of foot in which all barring two of its members were natives of the Queen’s County. All the officers, except these two, were killed at the battle of Aughrim on Sunday 12 July 1691.He died in 1601, leaving a daughter Margaret who married Thomas Plunkett of Clonebraney.

[3] Roger’s only son Charles was a Colonel in the Jacobite army but was killed at Aughrim on 12th July 1691. Of his four daughters, Eleanor married Daniel McMurrough Kavanagh, Mary married Tirogh O’Neill and died in Madrid, Elizabeth married Christopher Bealing and died in 1729 in her 100th year and Anne married Patrick Sarsfield of Lucan and was mother to the famous Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan.

[4] Richard’s younger sister Catherine married George Lattin of Morristown (qv).

[5] In 1811 the Major married secondly Margaret Dunne (d. 30 July 1830), youngest daughter of Francis Dunne of Brittas, Co. Laois.

[6] St. Vincent’s has since been relocated to Donnybrook. The More O’Ferralls are also credited with introducing the Sisters of Bon Secours to Ireland in 1861 with the establishment of a community on Dublin’s Grenville Street. Today, Bon Secours is the largest private healthcare provider in Ireland.

[7] Maria’s son Sir Walter Nugent, 4th Bart, was sometime Senator of the Irish Free State and President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

[8] Jessie died in April 1934.

[9] Edward’s sister Ellen married, as his second wife, Charles Owen O’Conor, PC, MP, the O’Conor Don of Clonalis House, Co. Roscommon.

[10] John’s younger sister Ellen married Charles Hugh O’Connor, KM, President of the Irish Branch of the Knights of Rhodes and Malta, and was mother to the Rev. Charles Denis O’Conor, the O’Conor Don.

[11] The second son, Charles, married a Scottish girl, Ivy Officer and settled in the Cape Province of South Africa where, I believe, he still has descendents living.

[12] Maureen died on 11th December 1971


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