One St. Patrick’s Day back in the early 1980s, I came home from school in tears of shame because “Everyone else is Irish and I’m not!” My mother had to explain to me that a “Dailey” is about as Irish as one can be without being an actual leprechaun.
As a freelance writer, I toyed with different business names, but I am glad I chose to slap the name “Dailey” on it. Because as it turns out, down the ages, the name Dailey, O’Daly, O’Dalaigh or Ua Dalaigh has been inextricably linked with the literary arts in Ireland, and among Irish people everywhere. It is the Emerald Isle’s greatest export, and contribution to the modern world.
Not just writers. Daileys.
Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Bram Stoker were Irish. But they weren’t Daileys.
The first Ollamh of poetry in Ireland was Cu Connacht Ua Dalaigh in the 1100s. The Ollamh was the royal poet who was just beneath the King on the social ladder. They apparently held their own court! The name means “Son of Dalach” which suggests descent from the mythical figure, Dalach, but more generally refers to the descendant of a councilman or professor. They were teachers, and founded schools, and throughout the later Middle Ages and Renaissance period, a string of Ua Dalaighs were Ollamhs, or Chief Poets of Ireland, the royal poets. That person, of all of the members of the O’Dalaigh family, was known as “the O’Dalaigh.”
As in, you may be a Dailey, but are you the Dailey?
These poets were perhaps given such a high position of power because of their reputation for vicious satire. One poet, Aonghus Ruadh O Dalaigh, reportedly reamed a rival so badly in verse that the guy packed up his life and moved to another county. The Irish are a superstitious people, and legend has it that if an O’Dalaigh took aim at you poetically, it would physically manifest as boils on the victim’s skin.
You don’t mess with a Dailey with a pen.
Aonghus O’Dalaigh, grandson of Cu Connacht, is the common ancestor of all Daileys today. By his time, the name was usually “O’Dalaigh” since English rule outlawed Gaelic names. It seems names like Ua Dalaigh or Ui Dalach were a grave threat to the Empire. So the prefix O’ that we associate with Irish names today came from a decidedly anti-Irish attitude. It is a contraction of the English “of Dailey.”
By the mid 1400s the names O’Daly, O’Daley and O’Dailey were starting to show up and eventually some dropped the “O” altogether. Being that “Ua Dalaigh” referred to the son or grandson of Dalach,” the change symbolizes a line of poets bent on making a name for themselves.
Poets struggled to find steady employment by the 1600s. When Angus O’Daly was commissioned by the British to satirize Irish Chieftains of the day, sadly he went where the money was. The acerbic Dailey wit being what it is, he quickly raised many of the wrong eyebrows. He was murdered for his efforts. Around the same time, Lochlann Óg Ó Dálaigh was writing poetry lamenting the loss of the old culture of Ireland to the constant waves of invasion. His work inspired a new wave of affinity for Irish cultural identity in Ireland, hence the incredibly Gaelic name.
The bardic O’Dalaigh tradition is a legacy to be proud of, but even a millennium of family history does not make one a good writer. Maybe it is in the blood to some degree, but one has to put in the work. You know, actually be a good writer. Anything less is stolen valor. So all of my writing is just a humble offering to the memory of the Ua Dalaigh poets of old Ireland. Call it a humble pride.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.