From the 13th until the 16th centuries, Gallowglass mercenaries (including the later group known as "redshanks") journeyed in large numbers from the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland to Ireland. Particularly notable Gallowglass are Clan Sweeney who are the first recorded Gallowglass, are arguably the most prominent, and share a common paternal line ancestor with County Kerry Griffins circa 550 CE (i.e., Y haplogroup R-S764). Another notable Gallowglass family are the Sheehys whose surname was adopted in Ireland and who also descend from the same R-S764 Y haplogroup paternal ancestor that Clan Sweeney and County Kerry Griffins descend from.
The second half of the 16th Century was a period of almost continuous warfare in the Province of Munster, starting with a battle between the Fitzgeralds and the Butlers of Ormonde in 1565 and continuing with the first Desmond Rebellion in 1569. Gallowglass were employed by all sides, but I will show in the next section that the Griffins were allies of the O’Sullivan Mór, powerful chief of one of the two principal O’Sullivan septs (the other being the O’Sullivan Beare).
The Desmond Rebellions of 1569-73 and 1579-83 ended with the death of the Earl of Desmond in 1583, but the Gallowglass warriors in County Kerry had no need to fear unemployment, thanks to Hugh O’Neill of County Tyrone, in Ulster. The Nine Years War that he unleashed in 1593 soon spread to Munster.
Owen O’Sullivan Mór, Lord of Dunkerron and the northeastern part of the Beare Peninsula, stood clear of this latest conflict while his cousin, the O’Sullivan Beare, continued to resist the Crown forces. Owen O'Sullivan Mór negotiated a pardon, which was duly issued by Queen Elizabeth I in the form of a "fiant." His cousin, the O'Sullivan Beare, was instead exiled to Spain.
Fiants were named after the first words of the Order in Chancery "fiant litterae patentes...", or "Let letters patent be made...". This particular fiant, issued in the year 1601, is a long one, beginning as follows:
"Pardon to Owen O’Sullivan, alias O’Sullivan More, Seely Cartie his wife..." and continues with the names of some hundreds of his followers, among which are five "Griffens", namely:
Donell, son of Donogh Griffen,
Dermond, son of Maurice Griffen,
Donogh, son of Giollo Griffen,
Maurice, son of Shane Griffen and
Shean [sic], son of Teig Griffen.
There is also an indication of where these Griffins lived in 1601: Castledrom and Kilcalloe.
The fiant ends with the conditions of the pardon: "... provided that they appear and submit before the president of Munster, N. Welsh knt, Chief Justice of the common bench ... within three months, and be sufficiently bound with sureties ... If any fail to find the required surety within three months, the pardon as regards them to be void. The pardon shall not extend to any in prison or bound for appearance at sessions; nor to any Jesuit, seminary or mass priest ..."
Castledrom is the townland which is now called Castledrum in Kilgarrylander Parish, near Castlemaine on the south side of the Dingle Peninsula, but Kilcalloe is not so easy to identify. It could be what are now the abutting current townlands of Keel and Laghtacallow which are near Castledrum.
This fiant proves that the Griffins were retainers and allies of O'Sullivan Mór (and not of his kinsman O'Sullivan Beare, who was not pardoned and eventually had to flee to Spain). Several recognizable Gallowglass names also appear in the list (McCoy, McSweeny, McRory), which strengthens our belief that the Griffins were also Gallowglasses.
Since Ballygriffin was located in O’Sullivan territory – only 5 miles distant from Dunkerron Castle, the seat of O’Sullivan Mór, and protecting its southern approaches, in fact – the fiant also establishes, for the first time, a firm connection between Ballygriffin and the Griffins of the Dingle Peninsula.
Ballygriffin is a scenic, but rather barren valley tucked between bare hills – a modest reward for faithful military service, if that is what it was. No Griffins were reported in the whole barony of Glanarought in 1659 (Pender’s census) and none were recorded anywhere in the neighbourhood of Ballygriffin in the early 1800’s, confirming that the Griffins did not live here long enough to leave descendants, before the whole family group (perhaps including their cattle and pigs) undertook the 40-mile trek to Castledrum, around the year 1600.