The name is one of the very few to be clearly identified with the Erainn, or Fir Bolg, Celts who were settled in Ireland well before the arrival of the Gaels. Although the evidence is sparse, before the eighth century A.D. what is now Co. Cork appears to have been populated mainly by tribes of Erainn descent, including the Corca Laoighde tribal grouping of whom the Ui hEidirsceoil were the chief family. The encroachment southwards of the Gaelic Eoghanacht of Cashel from the eighth century on resulted in the assimilation or displacement of all of the original Erainn tribes. In the case of the Corca Laoighde, this displacement was towards the south-west of the county, into an area which later became part of the diocese of Ross, roughly defined by the modern towns of Roscarbery, Skibbereen, Schull and Baltimore. Baltimore was the seat of O?Driscolls, and gets its name ("Baile an Tighe Mor") from their castle or great house.
From the twelfth century, the Annals describe the O?Driscolls as kings of the Corca Laoighde. A further indication of their power comes in their inclusion in the Gaelic genealogies; although they were not ethnic Gaels, a lineage was produced for the family to connect them to Lughaidh Laidhe, a supposed descendant of Milesius, the progenitor of the Gaels. Such was respectability in medieval Ireland.
Given the nature of the land they occupied, with its wild twisting coastline, and their constant fight against the encroaching pressures of the Eoghanancht, the Anglo-Normans and the English, it is not surprising that the O?Driscolls became expert seafarers with a reputation for ferocity. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries they struck an alliance with the Powers of Co. Waterford in their long feud with the burgesses and merchants of Waterford city, and many of their leaders were killed in battle on land and sea. One of the best known incidents occurred in 1413, when the Mayor of Waterford, Simon Wicken, arrived in Baltimore on Christmas Day and was invited to join in the Christmas festivities. He did, and enjoyed the company so much that he took O?Driscoll and his family back to Waterford, as prisoners.
From the fifteenth century on, the family struggled to retain their lands and power against the English. By 1610, Baltimore had become an English port and there is some evidence that the family may have had a hand in the notorious pillage of the town by Algerian pirates in 1631; a year earlier there had been reports of one Cornelius O?Driscoll "an Irish pirate with his rendezvous in Barbary".
Despite the struggle, the O?Driscolls, like so many others of the old order, were ultimately completely dispossessed, though the family and the name remain inextricably linked to their old homeland. Some indication of the strength of awareness of the past can be found in the history of the surname itself: in 1890, over 90% of those bearing the name recorded themselves as "Driscoll" while today, in a remarkable reversal of the nineteenth-century trend, virtually all are called "O'Driscoll".
Their arms reflect the family's traditional prowess as seafarers, developed during their long lordship of the sea-coast around Baltimore.
Dr. Kieran O?Driscoll (1920 - ) was master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin from 1963 to 1969 and devised and introduced a system ,The Active Management of Labour, now widely followed throughout the world.
Dennis O?Driscoll (1954 - ) is one of Ireland?s best-known contemporary poets. Apart from his four volumes of wryly personal poems, he has published much criticism and is a former editor of Poetry Ireland Review.
T.J. O?Driscoll (1908 - ) was one of the most influential Irish civil servants in the years after 1950. He played many roles, including Irish Minister to the Netherlands (1955-1956), Director-General of Bord Failte, the Irish Tourist Board, from 1956 to 1971 and vice-president of the Institute of Public Administration.