Now, just to confuse things a little, there was an erenagh family of UaBranains who were attached to St. Patrick's church in Elphin. These were almost certainly an off-shoot from the main MacBranain family. Since "Ua" means "grandson of" or "descendant of," this is perfectly proper. In the late middle ages at least one other branch of the family began to call themselves O'Brennan. They probably took the "O" to somehow distinguish themselves from the main family branch, which continued to use the "Mac" until Cromwell's time. O'Brennan is also shown on many of the "clann maps" of Ireland. These are based on work done in Elizabethan times where the MacBranans were (more or less) incorrectly shown as O'Brennan.
My (very rough) best guess on the relative contribution of these various septs to the current population of present-day Brennans is as follows.
Although in modern times most of the Brennans have standardized the spelling of their name, throughout history it was spelled in many different ways. Most of the variations apparently originated from creative translations from the original Irish. In the course of research, I have found the name spelled in each of the following ways:
Obviously, there is no "correct" way to spell the name, unless you go back to the original Gaelic, "MacBranain, UaBranain, or UaBraonain.
The MacBranan's claimed descent from Eochu Muighmheadon who seems to have been an actual historical person who ruled Ireland around 358AD. The genealogy of Eochu includes many of the ancient, legendary (and probably mythical) kings of Ireland, including two of the most famous, Conn of the Hundred Battles and Cormac MacArt. According to tradition, Eochu Muighmheadon's son Brian had 24 sons (from several wives) and the MacBranans were descended from one of them. The following genealogical information was saved over time because of the importance of some of Brian's other descendants.4 The MacBranans were chiefs or sub-kings of a small, not terribly important region and we probably would not have this type of information on them if they didn't share the genealogy of more prominent families.
|65||Miledh of Spain|
(from whom "Milesian" comes)
|64||Erimhon||37||Olild Cas Fiaclach|
|63||Irial the Prophet||36||Eochaidh Folt-lethan|
|62||Ethrial||35||Aengus Tuirmech of Temhair|
|58||Smirgoll||31||Esamhain of Emhain|
|57||Fiacaidh Labranai||30||Rioighnen Roadh||circa 250 BC|
|56||Aengus Ol-macaidh||29||Finnlogha||circa 200 BC|
|55||Maen||28||Finn||circa 175 BC|
|53||Dain||26||Finn (there were three brothers known|
as the "Three Finns of Emhain,"
sometimes called the three fair sons
|52||Sinorna Saeghalach||25||Lughaidh Riabhdhearg|
(grandson of Eochaidh Feidhleach)
|51||Olild Olcaein||24||Criomhthann Nia Nair||circa 7 AD|
|50||Gaillcaidh||23||Feredach Finn Feachtnach|
|49||Nuadha Finn Fail||22||Fiacha "of the White Cows"|
|48||Aedgan Glas||21||Tuathal Teachtmhar||circa 76 AD|
|47||Simeon Brec||20||Feidlimid Reachtmhar||circa 111 AD|
|46||Muredach Bolgrach||19||Conn Ceadchathach,|
Conn of the Hundred Battles
|45||Fiacaidh Tolgrach||18||Art Aenfer||circa 166 AD|
|44||Dauch Laghrach||17||Cormac MacArt||circa 227 AD|
|43||Eocaidh Buadach||16||Cairbre Lifechair||circa 268 AD|
|42||Iugani Mor (also Ughaine)||15||Fiachu Sraibhthine||circa 286 AD|
|41||Cobhthach Cael-Breagh (400 BC?)||14||Muiredach Tirech||circa 327 AD|
|40||Melgi Molbthace||13||Eochu Muighmheadon||circa 358 AD|
|39||Iarann Gleo-fathach||12||Brian (from whom all the UiBriuin descend)|
Also brother to Naill of the Nine Hostages
According to the 19th Century's greatest expert on all things Gaelic, John O'Donovan, the ancestry that was particular to MacBranan was as follows. It picks up with Brian (number 12 in the list above). It is obvious that this list is not complete. Unless these people were all remarkably long lived, there are nowhere near enough people to fill the time-span between Ona (circa 460) and Echthighern (circa 1060). We do have corroboration on the existence of Echthighern, Gillachrist and Branain from the Irish annals.
|410||Ercus Ruber||(from whom the Cenel MacErca descend)|
|460||Flahnia||Also spelled Flaithniadh.|
|460||Mailmichil||Name means "devotee of Michael."Possibly the|
progenitor of the Mitchells and/or Mulvihils
|460||Uroon (or Uromain)||Either his brother, Mulvihill or Mailmichil (above) was|
probably the progenitor of the O'Mulvihills.
|460||Adith||Name sometimes also spelled Aidit.|
|1060||Echthighern||Name means "Lord of the Horses."|
|1088||Gillachrist||Name means "servant of Christ."|
|1043 - 1120||Branain||From whom the name "MacBranain" comes|
Ona was of royal blood. Like most of his class, he could trace his ancestry back to the Milesians invaders from Spain who (if the ancient stories and genealogies are correct) conquered Ireland around 500 BC. Ona was the great-grandson of Brian. This Brian was at one time the king of Connacht and was the brother of the famous Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages. (This Naill is famous as the king who kidnapped St. Patrick and brought him as a captive to Ireland.) Through Brian, Ona was descended from the most illustrious high kings of Irish history, including Cormac MacArt and Con of the Hundred Battles.
Ona And Saint Patrick. According to The Book of Armagh, one of the most ancient books in Ireland, Ona made a present of his residence, called Imleach-Ona, to Saint Patrick. The tale of Ona and Patrick is given in greater detail in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, written around 600 and attributed to St. Evin (Tripartite Live of Saint Patrick, (Stokes trans, 1887). Following is the story:
Saint Patrick was on one of his rounds of Connacht and came into the territory of Corca Achlann. "Two brothers were biding in that place, namely Id and Ona. Wizards were they."
Saint Patrick decided that this would make a good location for one of the churches he was founding. When Ona saw his intention, he asked Saint Patrick what he would pay him for the land. Saint Patrick answered that he would repay Ona a portion of heavenly country for that earthly country.
"But Ona, esteeming this exchange at a small rate, refused to consent to the wishes of the Man of God. Said Ona, 'Thou hast gold, give some to me for it.'"
Saint Patrick explained that he had already spent all his money on the erection of churches and the necessities of the poor. However. Saint Patrick was sure that God would provide and said, "God will give me other gold." He then went to a nearby place which had been rooted up by pigs and immediately found a lump of gold which was as large as the amount that Ona had asked for in exchange for his land. Patrick gave Ona the gold in exchange for the land.
"Because Ona had thus tempted the Lord and had preferred fleeting gold to eternal riches, Saint Patrick said to him, 'Thou shalt not be a king, nor any of thy seed forever.'"
Ona was highly upset at this prophecy and began crying and begging for forgiveness for his offence. St. Patrick took pity on Ona and told him, "'There will not be a King in Connacht whom your progeny will not assist and promote to the throne.' And experience proves this to be fulfilled. For the Cinel MacEarca are the mightiest and firmest in Connacht, but kings are not taken from among them, nor do they rule like over-kings." (Byrne, 1987, says that this passage means that the rulers of Corca Achlann were not harsh in the manner in which they ruled.)
"This Ona, now being by the Grace of God changed into another man, voluntary offered to St. Patrick his own fort, which was formerly called Imleach Ona, but from this day, on account of the church built there by St. Patrick, is called Ail-finn."
(The place is named Ail-Finn from a stone (Ail) from which water flowed. It is called Finn (fair) from the water. The name of Imleach was preserved in the name of the townland of Emlagh, near Elphin.)
"St. Patrick then blessed Ona and his posterity on account of his penance and liberality, promising, and in promising having the power of an oracle, foretelling for certain that from Ona's seed many men distinguished in the arts of war and the sacred pursuits of peace would be descended. Patrick said, 'Thy seed shall be blessed, and there shall be victory of laymen and clerics from thee forever, and they shall have the inheritance of this place.'"
Patrick's Prophecies Verified. In accordance with St. Patrick's prophecy, none of the descendants of Ona ever became a king. However, the MacBranans did become trusted vassals to the O'Connor kings of Connacht who, in the 10th through the 14th centuries, the MacBranans assisted and promoted to the throne.
Certainly any Brennan or MacBranan, living or dead, would attest to the accuracy of St. Patrick's second prophecy: That there were many of the family distinguished in the arts of war and peace.
A branch of the MacBranans were Erenaghs (hereditary lay abbots) of St. Patrick's church at Elphin until at least 1362. This fact could be considered to be a fulfillment of Patrick's third prophecy, "...and they shall have the inheritance of this place."
The Three Tuathas. Na Teora Tuatha, The Three Tuathas, were Tir-Briuin na Sinna, Cenel Dobtha and Corca Achlann. The Three Tuathas were located in the east of County Roscommon. Tir-Briuin na Sinna and Cenel Dobtha border on the Shannon. Corca Achlann is inland, to west. Corca Achlann (The People of Achlann), was ruled by MacBranan. At one time the clann of O'Mulvihil (sometimes also called O'Mailmichil or O'Mailmiadaig) were probably co-chiefs of Corca Achlann with the MacBranans. Apparently they were from the same stock (see Mulvihill in the MacBranan Genealogy above).5 The MacBranans probably drove them out.6 The MacBranan family are documented as chiefs of Corca Achlann from the time of their ancestor the noble Archdruid Ona,7 son of Aengus, about 460 AD, until 1526. It is probable that the family ruled the area before Ona, but there are no confirming records.
The Name Corca Achlann. The first mention of Corca Achlann is found in the Book of Armagh as the name of the territory and the tribe of Ona in the story of Ona and St. Patrick. As stated above, this was written around the seventh century, but may have been based on earlier works that were more contemporary with Saint Patrick. This early reference means that the name "Corca Achlann," must go back to at least to the mid-seventh century. It may have even predated Ona and St. Patrick. If so, it could go back into the era of the Celtic conquest. Conversely, it is also very possible that the seventh century writer was not using an ancient name and, writing for a contemporary audience, used the name by which the region was called at the time that he was writing.
Where does the name "Corca Achlann" come from?8 First, the word Corca means "race of" and seems to always be put together with a personal name. Therefore, Corca Achlann means "Race of Achlann." It is the name of a greatly extended family (sept) and is used in the same way as Clann, Cenel or Muintir. Scholars of early Ireland believe that these sept names were dynastic in origin and were used to delineate the descendants of an important person. Most of them seem to have originated around the fifth and sixth century and replaced earlier tribal names based on collective nouns (e.g., Osraige, meaning "deer-people" or Cerdraige, meaning "smith-folk").9 Following this logic, we have a date between 400 and 600.
It is unlikely that we will ever know the answer to the origin of Achlann. Whoever he was, whatever his original name was, Achlann was almost certainly a chieftain whose identity has now been lost in the mists of time. The name Corca Achlann continued to be used to describe both the people and the territory of the MacBranans throughout the middle ages. It is last used in the Annals in 1526.
The Territory Of Corca Achlann. According to the Annals, the MacBranans were hereditary Chiefs of Corca Achlann. The spelling of the name of the territory of Corca Achlann is a problem. It has appeared with numerous different spellings in the various sources. It has also been called Cora Seachlann. Spellings include Corcoachland, Corchlann Corco Ochlann and Cora Eachlinn. For an extreme example, D'Alton (1845) quotes "the rectory of Corcoghlan or Ardcoghlan..." Vestiges of the name have been retained in the names of Clooncullaan Lake near Kilcooly, in Corker and in Bumeachlinn.
Corca Achlann appears to have been roughly centered on the present-day town of Strokestown and was similar in extent to the modern Catholic parish of Strokestown. At one time Corca Achlann probably extended from Elphin to the western slope of Slieve Bawn Mountain (about 15 miles). The other side of Slieve Bawn was the tuath of Cinel-Dobtha, O'Hanly's land. (The O'Hanlys, the Cinel Dobtha (i.e., the race of Dobtha), were descended from Dobtha, who was the brother of Ona.) The ridge of the mountain was the dividing line. According to the old tradition, there was once a series of standing stones and crosses on the ridge of the mountain to mark the dividing line. The parishes of Bumlin, Kiltrustan, Cloonfinlough, Lissonuffy and Templereagh (now all part of the modern parish of Strokestown) were in Corca Achlann.
There are a number of place names in the region that reflect the influence of the MacBranans. Cloonybrennan is a townland just to the south of Elphin. Cluane is Irish for "meadow," so this spot marks Brennan's Meadow. Rathbrenan is a townland located about 2 miles west of Roscommon town. A rath is a ring fort and would probably be very old, probably built between 500 and 1,000 AD. Rathbrenan could be translated as Brennan's Fort. There are additional Brennan place-names in Galway and Mayo.
Until the noble Shannon cease to flow,
Until the old Baghna's Mount shall sink
Below the level of Conacia's rich green plain,
May Ona's heir be ever seen to reign.
- Topographical Poems of John O'Dubhagain, circa, 1320.
The word "bran" means raven in Irish. This was a common man's name at the time and may have been given to those with dark hair. Branian indicates small or little. Its use can be literal or it might also used in an affectionate manner. Therefore Branain can be literally translated as "little raven." The descendants of Branain took the surname "MacBranain," meaning "son of Branain." The Old-Irish form "MacBranain" is transcribed as "MacBranan" by the translators of the ancient documents.
The name MacBranan appears frequently in The Annals of Connacht, The Annals of Ulster, Annals of Lough Ce and The Annals of the Four Masters. These are among the earliest histories of Ireland. These Annals tell us that a number of MacBranan chiefs were buried at the cathedral in Elphin and that others were interred in the Friar's monastery in Roscommon.
The MacBranans and The O'Connors. For most of the middle ages the MacBranans were under-lords of the O'Connor Kings of Connacht. Although the MacBranans are not important enough to appear in most general history books on Ireland, it is possible to follow the fortunes of the O'Connors and thereby infer much about the events that affected the MacBranans.
In 1201, Cathal Crobhderg (red hand) O'Connor was inaugurated King of Connacht at Carnfree (Rathcroghran, near Tulsk, County Roscommon). The records of his inauguration list the major nobility and outline their responsibilities to the king. "MacBranan is his henchman and chief of his kern (i.e., light infantry), and the caretaker of his hounds. MacBranan has the perquisites arising from O'Connor's marchership (i.e., frontier region) from Curragh-Kinnetty (near Roscommon) to Kells in Meath."
In the late 14th and early 15th century, the O'Connor family permanently split into two groups. These were called the O'Connor Don (i.e., brown) and the O'Connor Roe (i.e., red) after the color of the hair of the two contesting leaders. These two factions fought each other, more or less continually, for the next two hundred years. As vassals to the O'Connors, the MacBranans were unable to keep themselves from becoming embroiled in the wars between the two factions. This ultimately led to a split in the MacBranan family as well.
MacBranan vs. MacBranan. In 1410 things came to a head when, upon the death of the chief, Teige MacBranan, the two family factions could not agree upon a successor. Ultimately, each proclaimed its own leader. The tuath was not big enough for two chiefs. In the summer of 1411, the two factions met at a small river ford in the middle of Corca Achlann to settle the issue. According to the Annals:
"The battle was won by Conor, son of Sean MacBranan, over the descendants of Conor MacBranan. Here were slain Conn and Maine, sons of Hugh, son of Conor MacBranan, William Finn, son of Conn, and others. This was on a Monday, according to the day of the week. Conn was carried severely wounded to Grencha, and I do not know the manner of his death afterwards. They buried them in the monastery of the friars at Roscommon. These great deeds were done a month before Lammas. And the chieftainship remained with Conor afterward."
As a consequence of the battle, the ford where the fight took place was afterwards called Beal Atha na mBuille. This is literally, "the mouth of the ford of the strokes (i.e., the strokes of battle)." The town that was later built there is called Strokestown.
The two MacBranan factions continued to fight with each other for the chieftainship off and on for the next century. Each faction seems to have been supported by one of the O'Connor groups. It is likely that the much more powerful O'Connors encouraged and used the MacBranan split for their own purposes. In any event, all this ultimately resulted in the loss of the chieftainship. In 1526, according to the Annals, "Hugh, son of Teige, who was MacBranan (i.e., the chief), was driven out of his land" by the O'Connor Roe. O'Connor was actually aided in this by some of the MacBranans from the opposing faction. After 1526, there was never again a MacBranan chief, and the name of Corca Achlann disappears from the records.
|circa 430||Archdruid Ona||Gave St. Patrick the land for the Cathedral of Elphin.|
|circa 430||Flahnia||(or Flaithniadh)|
|circa 430||Nuadat||(or Nuadhat)|
|circa 430||Mailmichil||Possibly also the progenitor of the Mitchells.|
|circa 430||Uroon (or Uromain)||His brother, Mulvihill, was possibly the progenitor|
of the O'Mulveys.
|circa 430||Adith||Name sometimes also spelled Aidit.|
|circa 1060||Echthighern||Name means "Lord of the Horses."|
|1088||Morough||Brother of Branain, killed by Rory O'Conor.|
|1088||Dunshee||Another brother of Branain?|
|circa 1088||Gillachrist||Name means "servant of Christ"|
|? to 1120||Branain||From whom the name MacBranan comes.|
|1120 to 1150||Diarmait MacBranan||Blinded by Turlough O'Conor.|
|1150 to 1159+||Gilla-Crist MacBranan||"The Stooping Gillie" ?|
|? to 1186||Gilla-Patraic MacBranan||Killed by the direction of the Muinter-Branain|
|? to 1225||Echmarcach MacBranan||Name means "horseman." Killed at Kilkelly.|
|? to 1256||Ragnall MacBranan|
|1256? to 1260||Conor MacBranan||Killed on a raid.|
|1260? to 1295||Conn MacBranan||Killed by O'Kelly's.|
|1295||Tomaltach MacBranan||Lasted less than a year. Killed by O'Conallains.|
|1295? to 1319||Eachmarcach MacBranan||Died of battle wounds.|
|1319? to 1333||Conor MacBranan|
|1333 to 1377||Diarmait MacBranan||"Diarmait the Lame"|
|? to 1396||Conn MacBranan||Killed at Creaga by Diarmaid O'Conor Roe|
|1396 to 1401||Cormac MacBranan||1 of 2 chiefs at this time. Teige (below) was the other.|
|1396 to 1410||Teige MacBranan||Buried in Friar's Monastery in Roscommon.|
|1411||Conn MacBranan||One of two contested chiefs. Killed by Conor.|
|1411 to 1447||Conor MacBranan||Killed kinsmen in 1401 & 1411 to get chieftainship.|
|1477 to 1462||Tomaltach Carrach MacB|
|? to 1469||Teige MacBranan||Murdered by brother and nephew (Domnall).|
|1469 to 1471||Domnall MacBranan||Killed in revenge by Conn, the son of Teige (above).|
|1469? to 1488||William MacBranan||Buried at Elphin.|
|1489 to ?||Sean MacBranan|
|? to 1526||Hugh MacBranan||Son of Teige. Driven out by O'Conor Roe and sons of|
Echmarach MacBranan. Last "chief of the name."
It is well known that, after the victory of Cromwell and his successors, the Catholic gentry from Ulster, Munster and Leinster were forced to give up their lands and "go to hell or Connacht." Only a relatively small percentage of these transplanters were Gaelic Irish. The Gaels were mostly left on the land as peasants. The transplanters were mainly old Anglo Norman stock. In order to make room for these transplanters, the Catholic landowners in Connacht (like the MacBranans) had to give up most of their lands.
The winter of 1653-54 was chosen by the English as the time for the exiles throughout Ireland to move on to their new lands in Connacht. The idea was for the new transplanters to make the move during the slack time of year, without disrupting the harvests. Since the Brennans had to get out to make room for the transplanters, they too probably moved sometime between 1652 and 1654.
When the MacBranan landholders lost their land, their tenants were probably allowed, even encouraged to stay behind and work for the new landlords. Those tenants who were not themselves MacBranans may have stayed in fairly large numbers. Where the tenants were family members or where the lands had been held by brothers or cousins in common, the whole extended family may well have moved out together.
2,302 English acres, more than one-third of all the land that the MacBranans lost, ultimately were granted to Nicholas Mahon by Charles II after the restoration. The Mahon's huge Hartland Estate also included thousands of acres which had formerly belonged to the O'Conor Roe family. In total, the Mahons acquired almost 30,000 acres, becoming one of the great landed families of Ireland. However, they did not enjoy their gains with impunity. In the 1830's Lord Hartland went insane and subsequently died without a heir. The estate passed to his cousin who then met an untimely death.
Not quite all of the MacBranans lost their land at this time. O'Donovan reports that the ancestor of Hubert Brannan of Lissonuffy was allowed to retain about 350 acres. O'Donovan does not say if he was forced to become a Protestant to accomplish this. A handful of the MacBranans who lost most of their lands, were still allowed to remain in Corca Achlann during the Cromwellian Transplantation. These individuals are listed as "local transplants." In other words, they were forced to move from their original lands into new sites within the same barony.
It was about this time that the family dropped the "Mac" and became simply Brennan. One of the last documented uses of the "Mac" is in 1649, when Rory Oge MacBranan is included in a list of Irish Officers who served Kings Charles I and Charles II.
What happened to those who lost their lands? Some may have remained as tenants on their own lands. Most probably left to eke out an existence elsewhere. The census taken in 1659 indicates that, by that date, there were not many Brennans left in the barony of Roscommon.
Census of 1659. The Census of 165910 counted only those "rated farmers, gentry or aristocracy." Amongst those counted, it lists only the most common names in each barony. Following is a breakdown of the Brennans from Roscommon and the surrounding counties that were listed in the Census of 1659.
|Roscommon||Roscommon||Brennan & Branan||7|
|Roscommon||Boyle||O'Brennan & Brenan||30|
|Westmeath||Corkerie||Branan & Brenan||5|
|Kings Co.||all others||-||-|
Corca Achlann was in Roscommon Barony. Almost certainly, more than just these 7 Brennan families remained in Roscommon Barony, but either their numbers had dropped to insignificance or their social/economic status had dropped to the level that they were not counted.
There were no data for the County Roscommon baronies of Castlereagh or Frenchpark because they did not exist yet in 1659. They were still part of Boyle and Ballintobber.
The differences in spelling of Brennan may be significant, but probably only reflect different people compiling the data. Note that there are no Mac or McBrennans.
Data from the Census indicates that most of the Brennans had moved away from the Corca Achlann region by this period. It seems that most of the Brennans had dispersed toward the north into Boyle Barony and into southern County Sligo.
The question of exactly when they moved from Corca Achlann remains. Most likely there was a mass movement directly after, and as a result of, the Cromwellian confiscations. It is possible however, that, over time, here had been a gradual dispersal out of Corca Achlann. These dispersers would probably have been people who were no longer in the senior branch of the family and so had little vested interest in the chieftainship. A further possibility is that some family members may have moved out of the homeland when the Chieftainship was lost. At this distance, it is impossible to be sure.
MacLysaght and Woulfe11 recognize a distinct Brennan sept in Westmeath and another in Galway that are unrelated to the MacBranans of Roscommon. Presumably this would account for the 12 Brennan families in Westmeath. If there were Brennans in Galway at this time, they were either not prominent enough or not populous enough to be recognized in the census of 1659.
MacBranan and O'Brennan. According to MacLysaght, in about 1360 a few of the MacBranans began to substitute an "O" for the Mac. The reason for this is not known. How many changed to the O is also unknown.
English maps made around 1610 show the clan as O'Brennan. The best known of these maps was made at the request of Queen Elizabeth by Baptista de Boazio in order to show the locations of the various Irish clans. The map's purpose was primarily military. De Boazio may have used the O in the old Irish manner, to mean "descendants of" Brennan. Or, he may have simply made a mistake. It is obvious that many, if not most of the family, were still using the Mac at the time this map was drawn. Certainly the most prominent part of the family was still using the Mac. It is possible, however, that the lower classes within the family called themselves Brennan or O'Brennan, while those who still had pretensions to nobility retained the Mac. The leading members of the family (those eligible for the chieftainship) retained the Mac until the general submergence of the Gaelic order in the mid-1600's.12
MacLysaght says that most Irish families that dropped the O or the Mac from their names, did so around Cromwellian times, or shortly thereafter. This is consistent with the fact that the Mac in MacBranan had disappeared by the time of the Census 1659.
It is interesting that, in the 1659 Census, the O'Brennan only shows up in the Boyle/South Sligo area. This could indicate a local trend or it could indicate an idiosyncrasy of the census-taker in the region. It seems likely that only a small percentage of Brennans ever used the the form "O'Brennan." These were centered in the South Sligo and Boyle region. The fashion didn't last. By the mid-1800's all seem to have dropped the "O."
By the time of Griffith's Valuation, spellings have become standardized. There are no MacBrennans or O'Brennans in Roscommon or in any of the surrounding counties. 95.5% of those recorded are using the spelling "Brennan." The only other spellings used are Brannan (3.4%), Brannon (0.9%) and Brennon (0.2%).
With the resurgence of national pride in the later 1800's many of the Gaelic families began to re-assume the O and the Mac which had been dropped by their ancestors. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a single instance of a Mc or MacBrennan in Ireland or America, regardless of spelling. It seems that the illustrious name of MacBranain has been permanently lost to posterity.
The Brannan/Brannons from Ulster were mostly from Donegal. The other Brennans were from Kilkenny, Dublin, Sligo, Mayo, Carlow and Roscommon - in that order of frequency.
Obviously a single year's data may not be representative. However some tentative conclusions can be based on this data.
|1.||Most of the Connacht Brennans were originally MacBranans.|
|2.||At least some of the Ulster and Dublin Brennans were also probably originally MacBranans.|
|3.||Consequently, when considering the total of all the Brennan's in Ireland (regardless of spelling),|
|it seems reasonable to assume that approximately 1/4 to 1/3 originated as MacBranans.|
In Ireland, there is some controversy about the ownership of many arms. In some cases, it is quite probable that the arms were the property of the clan or sept and not the individual. (For purposes of discussion, a sept is a group of people whose immediate ancestors had a common surname and inhabited a common territory.) The first records of heraldic devices used by the Irish seem to go back to the Battle of Magh Rath in 637AD. (Since the Norman/English tradition of heraldry seems to originate with either the Carolingians14 or the Vikings, it seems quite likely that the Gaelic Irish tradition of heraldry may actually be more ancient.) The Irish didn't paint their shields like the Normans. They used battle standards, banners or flags. The chief of the sept would use the clan symbols, but would not necessarily pass them on to his sons. In fact, the chief might not pass the chieftainship to his sons either. Upon a chief's death, the sept would choose his successor. Frequently it would be a brother or cousin of the old chief. The sept's heraldic arms would then pass to the new chief.
In the later middle ages, many of the more anglicized Irish adopted Anglo-Norman customs regarding heraldry. Consequently, many of the Irish armorial bearings (i.e., coats of arms) can be traced to English grants of arms to certain chiefs during the late medieval or early Renaissance period.15 Many of these chiefs are probably the ones who also bought into the English "surrender and regrant" policy whereby the English law of primogeniture was used to secure their position and estates for their heirs, but disenfranchised their own fellow clan members. This was illegal under Brehon Law and Gaelic custom because the chief had no power to surrender lands that were not his, but which belonged to the sept in common. At any rate, the grant or confirmation of arms was part of the government's policy of anglicization. By the mid-1600s, the power of the Gaelic Irish had been truely broken. In an attempt to display what status they retained, it seems that a fair number of these Gaelic Irish started to display arms in the English manner. Apparently many of them simply continued using the same long-standing clan symbols for their new, "English-certified" arms.
To conclude: Unlike the British system where arms are granted by the King, ownership of Irish heraldic devices were based on use. The arms were owned by the clan. Although some of these arms were recognized by the English as the personal property of certain individuals, this was not necessary appropriate, since neither the chief nor the government had legal title to these arms. Consequently, MacLysaght (the great Irish authority on these things) has argued that, uniquely in Heraldry, in Ireland the coat of arms can belong to the sept and not just one individual. Following this reasoning, it is proper for anyone who is truly a member of a sept to display the arms of the sept. (Conversely, it is not appropriate for members of other septs, even if they carry the same surname, to use this coat of arms.) The controversy seems to be whether one wants to abide by the common, widespread English custom which was imposed on the clans (although, unfortunately, sometimes welcomed by the chief) and possibly illegally promulgated, or whether one prefers to follow the, possibly more ancient, Gaelic custom which was outlawed (or at best ignored) by the English conquers.
The Brennan Coat of Arms.16 About 1650 the MacBranans dropped the "Mac." They are recorded in the Census of 1659 as Brennan, Branan, O'Brennan, etc. Ireland was going through severe cultural changes at this time. Names were changing and spellings were not yet standardized. It was also at this time that most of the coats of arms for the Gaelic Irish families were recorded by the Ulster King of Arms in Dublin. There is no coat of arms recorded for MacBranan. MacLysaght attributes these arms to "O'Brennan Connacht." Other authors attribute them to "O'Brenon of Ulster and Connacht."
Since the MacBranans and their descendants were, far and away, the most prominent sept of the name in Connacht, it is highly probable that these are the appropriate arms for the descendants of Branain. The blue lion is also an indicator that these arms belong to MacBranain. This blue lion is used almost exclusively by families from North Roscommon and Sligo.
The arms consist of "argent, a lion rampant azure, in chief two dexter hands couped at the wrist apaumee gules. The crest is described as "out of a ducal coronet or, a plume of five ostrich feathers alternative azure and or." In plain language, the coat of arms consists of a blue lion standing its hind legs and facing toward the viewer's left. Above and to the left and right of the lion are two red hands. Each is a right hand, cut off at the wrist. All of this is presented on either a white or grey background. Above the "arms" is the crest. The crest consists of a simple gold crown from the top of which five ostrich feathers stick out. The feathers are colored alternately blue and gold.
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|1||MacLysaght, 1957 and Woulfe, 1923|
|3||Much of the information on Ona and his ancestors comes from O'Flaherty's Ogygia (compiled in 1685, but not published until 1793). Some information comes from MacFirbisigh's Genealogies and from Keating.|
|4||Notably the O'Connors who were high kings in the 12th Century.|
|5||The Brennan coat of arms and the Mulvihill coat of arms have a lot in common. Both prominantly feature the Blue Lion and the Red Hand. This seems to be further evidence that the two families are related.|
|6||The last reference to Mulvihill in the Annals is in 1189 when they killed the son of the king of Connacht. Sometime after that (maybe because of that) they seem to have been driven out of Corca Achlann by either the MacBranains or the O'Conors. They are later found in Longford and County Clare.|
|7||In more modern times, the feminine version of the name Ona is spelled Una. Una has sometimes been anglicized as Winifred.|
|8||Sharkey (1927) quotes a Walter Jones translating Corca Achlann as meaning "'The North Swampy Plain' because it abounded in lakes, marshes and bogs." This may correctly identify the location and topography of Corca Achlann, but it is certainly not correct literal translation of the words.
||9 ||Patterson, 1994||10 ||Pender, 1939||11 ||Woulfe, 1923||12 ||MacLysaght, 1957||13 ||Matheson, 1909||14 ||O'Shea, 1996||15 ||O'Shea, 1996||16 ||The Brennan coat of arms which is most commonly seen in souvenir stores (two lions and a sheaf of wheat on a red background) are the arms of the O'Brennans of Kilkenny. It is not appropriate for members of other Brennan septs to use this coat of arms.|