Cassidys in early years were the doctors
to the Maguires, very proud name.
A Cassidy is a great name, the name gets
a welcome anywhere."
Pat Cassidy, Rest in Peace
in Co. Fermanagh where Cassidys
Ancient Irish Name
- Ó Cassidy - Ó Caiside
is an ancient Irish name. In
the United States, many Cassidy
variations exist, including Cassity, Cassedy
All Cassidys originate from County Fermanagh, Northern
Ireland, where for centuries they were prominent
in the arts and fields of medicine and religion.
Like other professional families, over time they
moved out to other parts of Ulster province and
all of Ireland.
The origin of Ui Caiside, the Cassidys, remains
unknown. There is a dispute as to whether
they belonged to the Fir Manaigh, the first Celtic
settlers of County Fermanagh, or migrated to the
area in the sixth century A.D. during the time of
St. Molaise who founded the monastery at Devenish
Island. Ui Caiside was closely linked to the
monastery and had access to its school at a time
when education was denied to most.
his analysis of the family, Father P.O. Gallachair,
a historian of the region, states, "Soon the
Ui Caiside name was renowned, but unlike most ancient
Irish families their fame was never won in mere
physical feats of arms, in blood and tears.
Theirs was a higher, more noble fame. They
were men of peace, culture and scholarship."
1995, President Clinton visited Cassidy's
Pub in Dublin.
Co. Fermanagh, post office.
From the very earliest times the Irish physician
was attached to the clan or house of a chieftain,
and the profession of the physician passed from
father to son just as did the profession of the
other arts and crafts in the country. While
this hereditary character of medical practice existed
in other countries, in Ireland, it persisted until
comparatively recent times. Thus, there were
Cassidys of Fermanagh, the Ó
Callenans of Desmond, the Ó
Lees of Connaught among the leading Irish medical
served as hereditary
physicians to the Mac Uidhir (Maguire
of Fermanagh), the chieftains of Fermanagh.
Cassidys are recorded as physicians to the Maguires
between 1300 and 1600, and were also found practicing
in the midlands of Ireland. For
example, the Annals of the Four Masters notes
the death in 1504 of Pierce Ó
Cassidy of Coole in Fermanagh, "the son of
Thomas, chief physician to Maguire, a man profoundly
versed in literature and medicine, and who kept
a house of general hospitality." Other principal
Ui Caside physicians were
Finghin (d. 1322); Gilla na nAingel (d. 1335); Tadhg
(d. 1450); Feonis (d. 1504) and Feidhlimidh (d.
1520). All are mentioned in the Annals of Ireland
as ollamh leighis or professors of medicine.
death of Feoris is recorded somewhat fully in the
Annals of Ulster: "O'Cassidy of
Ceul died this year-that is Maguire's Ollave physician
and a well tried doctor in learning and physic in
theory and in practise and a man who kept a house
of general hospitality for every one and he died
of Cruith an Righ." This latter was a
sickness of unknown identity which is mentioned
several times in the Annals as occurring in epidemics.
The name (King's Game in English) may arise from
the belief that, like the King's Evil, it was curable
by a royal touch.
Although the hereditary nature of the profession
created pressure for medieval Irish physicians to
reside close to their patron chieftain, Irish physicians
traveled extensively. In the 14th and 15th
centuries, many went to continental Europe for training
and brought back medical texts used centuries later.
They also frequently traveled around Ireland to
exercise their skills and extend their knowledge.
In the 16th century it was more typical for Irish
doctors to study in schools established in Ireland
or Scotland. Often each medical family compiled,
and handed down to succeeding generations, medical
manuscripts for their own use and for fellow doctors.
From this period, Cassidys are identified as the
authors of many medical tracts. One manuscript,
written by An Giolla Glas Ó Caiside between 1515
and 1527, still exists and is in the library of
Corpus Christi College, Oxford. It contains
scientific commentary on a wide range of topics
including medicine, philosophy, astronomy and botany.
Later famous Cassidy physicians include Dr.
Felix Cassidy, who served in the Jacobite Court
See also Cassidys Today
for a profile of Dr. Sheila Cassidy.
Heritage as Priests and Scholars
Cassidys were noted as "a most prominent, and
is some ways a unique house, a people apart."
This acclaim stemmed in part from their long
history as priests and scholars in the Diocese of
Clogher, especially during the suppression of the
Roman Catholic Church under the Penal Laws of the
18th Century. As explained on the Irish
terminology page, Catholic church divisions
did not conform
to county boundaries. The Diocese of Clogher
contains most of County Fermanagh, all of Monaghan,
parts of Donegal, Tyrone, and a small piece of Louth.
important early Irish Cassidy priest and scholar
was Ruaidhri Ó Caiside (Rory Ó Cassidy, died 1541),
the archdeacon of Clogher. In 1525, Ó Caiside
compiled the "Register of the Diocese of Clogher."
He also carried on the work of Cathal Óg MacManus,
who died in 1498, in the compilation of the "Annals
The Annals are one of the most significant Irish
texts from the later middle ages, containing a reliable
record of events of local and national significance
along with information on family relationships,
men of learning, and social development. In
the entry for 1541, it reads, "Rory Ó Cassidy,
this is the Archdeacon of Clogher, died this year.
And it is he who wrote the greater part of this
book [the "B" copy of the annals], a man
who was full of knowledge in every science, both
law and divinity, medicine and philosophy, to the
time of his death."
Less noteworthy, but certainly colorful (and possibly
bearing traits found within a Cassidy you might
know today), was Maurice Cassidy, a Franciscan born
in 1745. A contemporary claimed he was "a
boisterous, fire eating Ulsterman who was not above
using fisticuffs to emphasize his commands, and
who was left in office only one year."
Graves on Devenish Island, including grave
of Cassidy priests from the 17-18th centuries
on the left and center. See two enlargements
of the grave of Cassidy priests.
contribution of the Cassidys to the priesthood originated
from their position as one of the hereditary "church
families" in County Fermanagh. Prior
to 1600, large parts of Ireland, including one-sixth
of the county in the Maguire period, were owned
by the church. Local families, however, possessed
the estates surrounding the churches and monasteries.
The chief of the family bore the title of "erenagh."
A single church with extensive lands might have
several erenaghs, each erenagh controlling a separate
part of the church's lands.
The inhabitants of the church lands were accorded
many of the privileges of the clergy, such as immunity
from secular taxation, neutrality in time of war,
and freedom from military service. With the
transformation of the Irish church in 12th century
from a monastic church to one based on a diocesan
and parochial system, these lands vested in the
In return for continuing possession of the lands,
the erenaghs paid the bishop an annual rent, many
specific tributes and services, including a night's
lodging and entertainment for the bishop and his
train, helped maintain the local church and were
obligated to maintain hospitality for "pilgrams,
strangers and poor travelers." The members
of erenagh families enjoyed a quasi-clerical status,
and a greater part of the clergy was recruited from
For a profile of Cardinal Edward Cassidy, arguably
the most prominent Roman Catholic Cassidy priest
in history, see Cassidys
The earliest renowned Cassidy poet was Giolla Mochuda
Caiside (also identified as Gilla Mo Dutu ua Casaide).
Before the Maguires assumed control of Fermanagh,
Ó Caiside was famed among
the lir léighinn, the men of learning of
Ireland "for all that was superior in Gaelic
Caiside wrote in 1147 the poem Banshenchas
(The Lore of Woman), which tells the history of
women of the world.
showing influence of learned families in
southeast Ulster, including County Fermanagh.
Still widely read and sung is the poetry of Tomas
Cassidy, "An Caisideach Ban" or the
fair-haired Cassidy. Ó Cassidy
was an 18th Century Augustian friar expelled from
the friary, in his own words, "on account
of a bad senseless marriage." He spent
the rest of life wandering across Ireland and
Europe as a poet and renegade priest.
Ó Cassidy's most famous
poem is An Caisideach Ban, which, as
stated on one Irish album, is "sung the length
and breath of Ireland. It is the story of
Cassidy, a priest, who lusts after a fair maiden
and his final wish on his death bed would be to
get a kiss from her."
For more commentary on the Cassidy heritage as poets,
see Irish Poetry &
The Cassidy Contribution.
Former President Bill Clinton is a Cassidy, as his
mother's maiden name was Virginia Dell Cassidy.
President Clinton has Irish ancestry from both parents.
His Cassidy roots in America date back five generations
to Levi Cassidy (c1790-c1850) of Chesterfield, South
President Clinton, whose father died before he was
born, lived with his maternal grandparents for several
years as a childe while his mother attended nursing
school. President Clinton credits his grandfather,
James Eldridge Cassidy, with instilling in him a
love for learning and teaching him to read
by age four.
On his 1995 visit to Ireland, former President Clinton
in a speech at College Green in Dublin observed,
"My mother was a Cassidy and how I wish she
were alive to be here with me today. She would
have loved the small towns and she would have loved
Dublin. Most of all, she would have loved
the fact that in Ireland, you have nearly 300 racing
days a year. She loved the horses."
December 12, 2000, during his final visit to Ireland
as President, he observed, "When I started
come here, you know, I got a lot of help in rooting
out my Irish ancestry. And the oldest known
homestead of my mother's family, the Cassidys, that
we've been able to find is a sort of mid 18th century
farmhouse that's in Rosleigh and Fermanagh.
But it's right on the - literally right on the border.
And in my family, all the Catholics and Protestants
intermarried, so maybe I was somehow genetically
prepared for the work I had to do. Maybe
it's because there are 45 million Irish Americans,
and I was trying to make a few votes at home.
The truth is, it just seemed to me the right thing
profiles of prominent Cassidys, see Cassidys
Surname Ó Caiside provides an explanation
on the origin of Cassidy surname by
a leading professor on the Irish language.
wonder why there are so variations of Cassidy
in the United States? See the discussion