Families and clans are troublesome and volatile animals. Especially in Ireland.

We had cause this week to hold an emergency clan meeting to expel forevermore our former blood brother Sean MacConnell of The Irish Times.

The bastard broke a sacred tradition of ours. He revealed to the entire world that the MacConnells are all bastards, all tracked with the heraldic “bar sinister,” that we came down the wrong side of the blanket, as they say, from the aristocratic O’Donnell clan of Donegal.

It was about as foul a deed as a clansman ever executed against his own. We were all very angry at the clan meeting. We felt betrayed and hurt.

If we lived in different times you can be sure there would be one less real bastard in Ireland by now.

As it was the decision to expel Sean MacConnell from Clan MacConnell was totally unanimous. Even his younger brother Mickey pointed the thumb downwards in that sharp decisive gesture.

We have conveyed our decision to our former brother through the Irish Times since direct contact will never occur again.

I need to put the matter in context. Our family has always known that we are bastard descendants of the O’Donnells of Tir Conaill. But we never ever admitted this publicly and never ever talked about it, even among ourselves.

And generations of our ancestors have gone to their graves denying any possibility of the bar sinister on our crest. The cover story has always been that the O’Donnells are our first cousins on the distaff side and, for that reason, we always sided with them in the past battles both with other clans and the English.

Those who defended our honor down the generations included no less that seven Sandys (including our venerable father), three Seans, a Cormac or two and clan notables including the great Stuttering Mickie of two centuries ago and Leppin’ Larry of the 17th century who stabbed a man to death after that worthy had insulted our family tree in his time.

And our former brother Sean’s crime was that he confessed the dreadful truth publicly in print to the whole world a month ago by totally losing the run of himself and broadcasting our shame five or six days running in The Irish Times.

He has lost contact with his parochial roots since he became a leading correspondent with that paper, of course, and that is sad.

But far worse was the fact that when he went to Donegal to join the crew of the Jeannie Johnston sailing ship and voyage to France in the recreation of the Flight of the Earls, he began his series with the raw and horrific confession: “We MacConnells are bastard descendants of the O’Donnells!”

We have suffered sorely since, about every day and night. Copies of the bloody paper are being stuffed under our noses in pubs. Sly and cruel remarks about the value of good breeding are our daily audio diet.

We are the subjects of the ancient Irish custom of “taking them down a peg or two,” and all our neighbors and acquaintances are joining in the sport with rare gusto and fluency. The Fermanagh graveyards are disturbed by all the Sandys and Seans and Stuttering Mickies turning in their old graves in mortal agony.

At the expulsion meeting we all confessed that none of us had enjoyed a decent night’s sleep since our dreadful exposure. We all looked and felt wretched.

Worse still, many of us have children of an age when they are involved in the mating game with marriage in mind. Several of them have reported to us that their prospective partners have put their relationships on hold after reading about the clan disgrace in The Irish Times.

One young lady has apparently ended the relationship with a MacConnell man altogether because of the exposure, and was explicit about her reason for so doing. This is heavy stuff indeed.

We’ve always been able to trade as respectable and well-bred citizens all our lives. Now this shame is reaching into the next generation and beyond.

Down the years I’ve encountered many men and women from the Irish diaspora who were interested in tracing their roots. Hiding my own secret all the while, like all my forefathers, I always gave them as much assistance as I could.

I’m now forced to advise such good folk that they should desist from the exercise immediately because, if they go back far enough, they are likely to encounter the dreaded bar sinister like we did. And the family will be shaken to its foundations.

Especially if its members include a right proper bastard like our former clansman Sean MacConnell. The Irish Times are welcome to him. And his editor has been asked to advise him that any bar in which he might encounter any of us for the rest of his days will be a bar sinister indeed!

* Cormac is off this week. This is a column he wrote in October of 2007.

"Our family has always known that we are bastard descendants of the O’Donnells of Tir Conaill."Caty Bartholomew