O'Higgins (Irish: Ó hUiginn) is an Irish noble family descended from Shean Duff O'Higgins (fl. 1600 C.E.), Gaelic Baron of Ballynary, who was married to a daughter of the royal family of O'Conor at Ballintuber Castle in Connacht. Shean Duff O'Higgins himself claimed descent from King Niall of Tara (d. 450 C.E.). Historically, many of their ancestors were poets and scholars who enjoyed the patronage of several chiefly families including O'Conor Don, MacDermott, O'Doherty, O'Gara, and MacDonagh.
O'Higgins are counted among the Gaelic nobility as a sept of the royal house of O'Neill. Members of this family were further ennobled in 1724 by James III (pretender to the throne of England and Ireland) during his in exile in France, and again in 1795 and 1796 by Charles IV of Spain.
Earlier scholars traced the origin of the name from the word "knowledge" in Irish, possible linked to the family's early prominence as bards to the Gaelic Kings. However, more recent scholars have identified that "uigin" refers to a Norse seafarer or Viking. In Gaelic times the prefix Uí before a name was used to signify descent from a grandson, this family are said to have descended from the grandson of Uiginn who lived in the 11th century or possibly from a previous Uiginn who was a grandson of King Niall of Tara. In modern times the surname has often been translated from Irish into "Higgins" in English although members the more senior branches of the family continue to use "O'Higgins".
The O'Higgins family originated in the Kingdom of Meath and Brega which equate to the modern Irish counties of Meath and Westmeath. As a sept of the Southern Uí Néill their roots in these areas can be traced at least to the 5th century and possibly even earlier. By the 12th century the senior branch of the family had migrated into the Kingdom of Connacht where they settled and were granted large estates by the O'Conors in Sligo at Dooghorne and Monteige in the Barony of Luighne under the protection of the O'Hara Chiefs and at Ballynary in the Barony of Tir-Errill under the protection of the MacDonagh Chiefs.
From the Council of Drom Ceat in 574 AD up to the end of the Gaelic era in the 17th century various members of the O'Higgins clan were hereditary poets (filés in Irish) in the courts of Irish Princes and Chiefs. As hereditary poets they were accorded a status of nobility second in rank only to the King and were entitled to wear the same amount of colours in their robes. Members of this family came under the patronage of other Irish noble houses particularly Ó Conor, Ó Neill, MacDonagh, Ó Rourke, Maguire, Ó Doherty, Mac Dermot and Ó Gara. From the 14th to the 17th centuries the O'Higgins were among the most prolific poets in the courts of the Irish Princes.:
Due to their loyalty to Gaelic culture and religion, the O'Higgins family of Ballynary suffered under the English Crown in Ireland and by 1654 had lost their lands in Sligo. While some members of the family remained in Sligo as tenants on their own lands, some members of the family migrated to Spain where they achieved high office in the service of the King. The O'Higgins of Ballynary migrated to Summerhill in Co. Meath where they lived at Clondoogan and Agher.
In 1751 Ambrose O'Higgins (ca. 1720-1801) left Summerhill in Co. Meath for Cadiz in Spain from where he went to Peru and Chile. In 1788 he became Governor General of Chile. He was ennobled by King Carlos IV of Spain initially in 1795 as 1st Barón de Ballinar and again in 1796 when he was raised to Marqués de Osorno. His son Bernardo O'Higgins became the first Head of State of Chile in 1818. His son Pedro Demetrio O'Higgins Puga (1818-1868) was a Chilean politician and entrepreneur. Ambrose O'Higgins' brother William (Guillermo) O`Higgins (1722 - 1772) was Captain of the Spanish troops and Colonial Administrator in Paraguay.
The Ballynary line of the O'Higgins family continued at Summerhill in County Meath until 1947. Karl Aiden O'Higgins of Cheshire in England now represents the family title.
Sir John Higgins Bt of Monteige, kinsman to the O'Higgins of Ballynary, was knighted and ennobled by King James III in 1724 in return for his services to France. He was senior physician to the King of Spain. His cousin Don Esteban de Iguiño (Stephen Higgins) was a General in the Spanish Colonial Army in the Philippines.Tadhg Mór Ó hÚigínn (died 1315)
Giolla na Naomh Ó hUiginn (died 1349)
Raghnall Ó hUiginn (died 1325)
Niall Ó hUiginn (died 1340)
Tadhg Óg mac Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn (died 1391)
Uilliam Ó hUiginn (died 1378)
Fercert Ó hUiginn, Irish poet (died 1419).
Ruaidhri Ruadh Ó hUiginn (died 1425)
Fearghal Ruadh mac Taidhg mheic Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn
Tadhg Óg mac Taidhg mheic Giolla Choluim Ó hUiginn (died 1448)
Tuathal Ó hUiginn (died 1450), Brian Ó hUiginn (died 1476)
Domhnall mac Briain Uí Uiginn (died 1502)
Pilip Bocht Ó hUiginn (died 1487)
Seán mac Ruaidhri Uí Uiginn
Bernard O'Higgins, Bishop of Elphin, (died 1564)
Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1550–1591)
Shean Duff O'Higgins (fl. 1600), Baron of Ballynary.
Sir John Higgins of Montoge (died 1729), Knight, Baronet and Counsillor of Castille
Don Ambrose O'Higgins (died 1801), Knight, 1st Marquess de Osorno, 1st Barón de Valenar.
Don William (Guillermo) O'Higgins (born 1725), Spanish Colonial Administrator in Paraguay
Don Bernardo O'Higgins (died 1842), first head of state of Chile
Pedro Demetrio O'Higgins Puga (died 1868), industrialist and Chilean politician
Joyce Ginatta O'Higgins, South American business woman and public figure
Dr. James O'Higgins Norman (born 1968), Irish academic and author at Dublin City University
Pearse Higgins, former president of North America Caribbean Rugby Association
The O'Higgins family are armigerous in the Kingdom of Ireland, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Jacobite) and in the Kingdom of Spain.
The earliest known coat of arms was recorded in 1724 by Sir John Higgins Bt of Montoge with Sir James Terry, Athlone Herald in the Court of James II at St. Germaine. Sir John Higgins's branch of the family moved to Limerick after they lost their lands at Monteige in Sligo and eventually relocated in France and later in Spain where John Higgins was knighted and became personal physician to the King of Spain.
The descent of the Arms of Shean Duff O'Higgins, Baron of Ballynary were recorded in the Office of Ulster King of Arms in 1788 having existed for at least the previous 200 years. and were later recorded in the same year with the Cronista Rey de Armas in Madrid eventually descending to Thomas O'Higgins of Cheshire.
In 1788, Don Ambrose O'Higgins obtained a certificate of descent and the right to use the Ballynary Arms with due difference from Ulster King of Arms (Kingdom of Ireland) and subsequently received a grant from the Cronista Rey de Armas (Kingdom of Spain). His Coat of Arms was then adopted in 1796 as the official emblem of the city of Osorno in Chile after which he had been ennobled as Marquis of Osorno.
Dr. James O'Higgins Norman recorded Arms in 2011 with the Cronista Rey de Armas de Castilla y León before being admitted as a Caballero in La Casa Troncal de los Doce Linajes de Soria.