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Clans of Ireland (in Irish, Finte na hÉireann) is an independent organisation established in 1989 with the purpose of creating and maintaining a Register of Irish Clans. The Patron of Clans of Ireland is Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland.
The growing influence of the Gaelic League at the turn of the twentieth century rekindled an interest in Gaelic culture and prompted a cultural revival and interest in Irish Clans. In the 1940s Edward MacLysaght, the Chief Herald of Ireland, drew up a list of Irish clans (see MacLysaght, Irish Families) and began to publish a number of works on the history and background of Irish families. The first modern Irish “clans“ were established in the latter half of the twentieth century. Today such groups are organised in Ireland, the USA, Australia and mainland Europe.
Scholars sometimes disagree about whether it is better to use the terms "sept" or "clan" when referring to traditional Irish family groups. Historically, the term 'sept' was not used in Ireland until the nineteenth century, long after any notion of clanship had been eradicated. It is often argued that the English word 'sept' is most accurate referring to a sub-group within a large clan; especially when that group has taken up residence outside of their clan's original territory. (O'Neill, MacSweeney, and O'Connor are examples.) Related Irish septs and clans often belong to larger groups, sometimes called tribes, such as the Dál gCais, Uí Néill, Uí Fiachrach, and Uí Maine. Recently, the late Edward MacLysaght suggested the English word 'sept' be used in place of the word 'clan' with regards to the historical social structure in Ireland, so as to differentiate it from the centralized Scottish clan system. This would imply that Ireland possessed no formalised clan system, which is not wholly accurate. Brehon Law, the ancient legal system of Ireland clearly defined the clan system in pre-Norman Ireland, which collapsed after the Tudor Conquest. The Irish, when speaking of themselves, employed their term 'clan' which means "family" in Irish.
In 1989 Rory O'Connor, the elected Chieftain of the O'Connor Kerry Clan, set out to bring about a revival in the organisation of the Irish Clans. It was his intention that there would be a branch of each Irish clan organised in every county in Ireland and in every continent around the world. It was also his ambition that once the individual clans had been organised there would be a mass gathering of all of the clans at the Hill of Tara, the symbolic seat of the Irish High King. To this end, he wrote to newspapers, cultural organisations and individuals across Ireland encouraging people to begin to organise themselves in clan associations. He was successful in requesting and obtaining support from Mr. Martin Dully, then Chairman of Bórd Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board), and the Minister for Tourism at the time as well as the Chief Herald of Ireland. The response from the general public in Ireland and oversees was quite positive and on the 6th of November 1989 a press conference was held in Dublin to announce the opening of the office of Clans of Ireland which was to be initially located at the Genealogical Office in Dublin. The purpose of Clans of Ireland was to support and co-ordinate the activities of the various clan organisations in Ireland and around the world and to create and maintain a Register of Clans. In 1990, Clans of Ireland obtained charitable status and also became a limited company.
Today, Clans of Ireland maintains a presence on the internet and its board of directors meets six times per year at the Chapter House in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, a location chosen for its historical significance for Irish Clans. Once each year Clans of Ireland holds a national general meeting, usually in Dublin, and otherwise continues to support and maintain the Register of Clans. In 2010, the 21st anniversary of its foundation, Clans of Ireland instituted the Order of Clans of Ireland, an order of merit established to honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to Irish culture and heritage or who have brought conspicuous honour to their Clan. In 2012 Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland became Patron of Clans of Ireland and the organisation also received recognition from the United Nations as a civil society organisation.