The Doherty Family
Céad míle fáilte—A hundred thousand welcomes!
If you're curious about your Doherty family history, proud of your family's heritage, or want to discover your Irish roots, you've come to the right place! Welcome to the O'Doherty Heritage site! Here you'll discover the meaning and pronunciation of our Doherty surname, explore medieval Doherty castles in our Irish homeland, and learn about our family's exciting history–including the 1608 O'Doherty Rebellion! Use our genealogy tips to get started exploring your own Doherty family tree, connect with a network of your fellow clanfolk across the globe, and get your free download of the Doherty family crest. Finally, if you like your heritage, subscribe to our blog, below, to get the latest on all things Doherty!
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The Doherty Surname
Doherty is, by far, our family's most commonly used spelling–out of the over 300 anglicizations of our one surname. In its original Irish, the name is Ó Dochartaigh – which, despite the spelling, is actually pronounced something like 'Oh-DAH-her-tee'–probably not far from how you pronounce your own variant of our family name!
The name Doherty is a phonetic anglicization of Ó Dochartaigh–meaning that around 500 years ago when the Anglo-Irish government began formal record-keeping, the officials heard our ancestors say 'Ó Dochartaigh' in Irish, then spelled out what they heard in English characters–though they had a nasty habit of dropping the 'Ó'. Historically, spelling was phonetic rather than standardized, so many times our ancestors two and three centuries ago may well have even used a different spelling of our name than our individual families do today. Sometimes one ancestor or family members would even use different spellings. Regardless of they way we spell our variant, we're all really just part of one big Irish family called a clan.
So what does the name 'Doherty' mean? Our surname traces its origins back to our 9th century progenitor who was given the name Dochartach, which meant 'hurtful' or 'obstructive'–likely in honor of valiant feats in battle. Across the globe, today, there are over a quarter of a million people bearing a variant of our surname and countless millions who can claim descent from an ancestor belonging to the ancient and noble Clann Ó Dochartaigh.
Your Doherty Family Coat-of-Arms!
In medieval Ireland, each family or clan functioned as a form of government. Family crests and coats-of-arms were symbols used during this era to identify one clan or warrior from another when they went to battle–somewhat similar in nature to national flags today. The most well-known of the Doherty family arms, which includes a red stag, may be seen to the right and is available to download freely for personal, non-commercial use, by clicking the button. Visit our Heraldry page in the link below to learn about the different Doherty family crests and coats of arms used throughout the ages, the symbolism of the red stag, and the meaning and pronunciation of our Clan motto: Ár nDúthchas!
Doherty Family History
What makes you who you are? Find your answers by exploring the history of your Doherty family! The “ancient and valiant” Clann O’Dochartaigh was a powerful Irish family who, according to legend, was descended from a 5th century Irish high king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Legend continues that our ancestor Conall Gulban, was the first Irish nobleman to be baptized by St. Patrick. Our family was responsible for conquering and defending much of Donegal. In fact, our 9th century progenitor, Dochartach, likely earned his name for feats on the battlefield–a name which our family ultimately adopted as our surname, O’Dochartaigh. During the medieval period, the O’Dochartaighs assumed chieftainship over the fertile lands of Raphoe and founded the massive hill-fortress of Dunwiley. At the dawn of the 13th century two notable O’Dochartaighs ruled as kings of all Donegal. Soon afterward, the O’Dochartaighs, increasing in power and population, moved northward assuming the lordship of Inishowen, where they ruled for a number of centuries over its inhabitants. During this time, a network of castles and keeps were built to defend our territory and the strong Gaelic social order flourished.
The O'Doherty Rebellion: Our family was among the last to submit during the 16th century English conquest of Ireland. Despite this, we and our McDevitt cousins secretly made arms deals to import modern weaponry and prepared to receive Spanish soldiers for rebellion. After our chieftain died and the plot was revealed, in a stroke of political genius, his teenage heir Cahir Rua O’Doherty was allied to the English governor as a son, in attempt to protect our clanfolk and lands. Young chieftain was trained in warfare, administration, and civilities, was soon knighted for saving the governor’s life in battle, and was highly favored in the royal court at London. However, a new governor, challenged by Sir Cahir’s favor, began taking some of our family’s lands and assaulted our chieftain. After political methods failed, the O’Dochartaighs saw no option except rebellion against the tyranny. Sir Cahir O’Doherty and his army burned the English fortification of Derry to the ground on the 19th of April 1608 and then fought bravely, severely outnumbered against the powerful English forces. After 77 days our leader was shot, drawn and quartered, and his head displayed on a pike at the English Dublin Castle–a gruesome, yet romantic, story of our family's fight for freedom. When he fell in battle, the heroic Sir Cahir O’Doherty was the very last remaining Gaelic chieftain in all of Ireland.
In the centuries following, the Doherty family continued to grow, despite years of war, intense religious and sociopolitical oppression, and famine. Some Dohertys married into the Scots-Irish and sailed to America, again fighting the English in the U.S. War for Independence. While the majority remained in Ireland, holding firm to their traditions, many were forced to leave Ireland during the Great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. As immigrants, many faced discrimination, but worked hard on railroads and canals, building the economic backbone wherever they went. Over time, the Irish bought farms, became tradesmen, and became prominent in society. Today most of the Dohertys live in the United States, while others are in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, and elsewhere.
Join the O'Dochartaigh Clann Facebook Group!
The Clann Facebook Group is full of rich information about the Doherty family and includes engaging conversation from over a thousand of our Doherty/O'Dochartaigh cousins from across the globe.
There are over twenty medieval castles and fortresses associated with the Doherty family. While some are historic ruins, others have been preserved or are in the restoration process. Explore photos, videos, histories, archaeology, & visitor information for them.
The Doherty Homeland
Where do we come from? Explore the region once known as "O'Doherty's Country"–the beautiful terrain of Ireland's northernmost point, the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal, Ireland. Inishowen, a land where Doherty cottages are nestled among the fertile glens and Doherty castles perch atop rugged outcrops, has been the homeland of our clan for the last 8 centuries.
Your Doherty Family Tree
What are the stories hidden in YOUR Doherty ancestry? What's the legacy written deep in your DNA?
Learn the steps necessary to conduct a successful genealogy research project. Use our checklists, tips, and example projects to break past your brick-wall ancestors.
The Association of O'Dochartaighs maintains a genealogy database for the family trees of our clanfolk to facilitate collaboration & help break down brick-walls.
Search extracts of Irish genealogical records & historic sources mentioning the Doherty; including Annals, Manuscripts, State Papers, Censuses, Deeds, and much more! Start researching the Dohertys >>
Our Clan Y-DNA Project is one of the most developed DNA surname studies to-date. Learn how genetics can help find your Doherty ancestors and connect with experts on Doherty family DNA. Join the project >>
Plan your one-of-a-kind Doherty experience today to attend the international O'Dochartaigh Clan Reunion in Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland and Derry, Northern Ireland. The schedule of events includes dancing, storytelling, food, genealogy, a visit to the traditional market village fair, tour of archaeological sites, Derry tour, and much more! The reunion is organized by our clann association, the Association of O'Dochartaighs. It will be an unforgettable experience filled with Irish hospitality and fun for all, so mark your calendars, purchase your tickets, and begin planning today!