The Irish Chiefs and Clans in Brefney[1]

THE chiefs and clans of Brefney and the territories they possessed in the twelfth century, are, according to O'Dugan, as follows:—

1. O'Ruairc or O'Rourke;

2. O'Raghallaigh or O'Reilly: these were the princes of the territory of Brefney.

3. MacTighearnain (tighearna: Irish, a lord or master), anglicised MacTernan, McKiernan, and Masterson, were chiefs of Teallach Dunchada (signifying the tribe or territory of Donogh), now the barony of "Tullyhunco," in the county Cavan.

4. The MacSamhradhain (anglicised MacGauran, Magauran, and Magovern) were chiefs of Teallach Eachach (which signifies the tribe or territory of Eochy), now the barony of " Tullaghagh," county Cavan. This sirname is by some rendered "Somers," and "Summers," from the Irish word "Samhradh" [sovru], which signifies summer.

5. MacConsnamha (snamh: Irish, to swim; anglicised "Ford" or "Forde"), chief of Clan Cionnaith or Clan Kenny, now known as the Muintir Kenny mountains and adjoining districts near Lough Allen, in the parish of Innismagrath, county Leitrim.

6. MacCagadhain or MacCogan, chief of Clan Fearmaighe, a district south of Dartry, and in the present barony of Dromahaire, county Leitrim. O'Brien states that the MacEgans were chiefs of Clan Fearamuighe in Brefney: hence MacCagadhain and MacEgan may, probably, have been the same clan.

7. MacDarchaidh or MacDarcy, chief of Cineal Luachain, a district in the barony of Mohill, county Leitrim, from which the townland of Laheen may be derived.

8. MacFlannchadha (rendered MacClancy), chief of Dartraidhe or Dartry, an ancient territory co-extensive with the present barony of Ross-Clogher in Leitrim.

9. O'Finn and O'Carroll,[2] chiefs of Calraighe or Calry, a district adjoining Dartry in the present barony of Dromahaire, and comprehending, as the name implies, an adjoining portion of Sligo, the parish of "Calry" in that county.

10. MacMaoilliosa or Mallison, chief of Magh Breacraighe, a district on the borders of Leitrim and Longford.

11. MacFionnbhair or Finvar, chief of Muintir Gearadhain (O'Gearon or O'Gredan), a district in the southern part of Leitrim.

12. MacRaghnaill or MacRannall (anglicised Reynolds), who were chiefs of Muintir Eoluis, a territory which comprised almost the whole of the present baronies of Leitrim, Mohill, and Carrygallen, in the county Leitrim, with a portion of the north of Longford. This family, like the O'Farrells, princes of Annaly or Longford, were of the race of Ir or Clan-na-Rory; and one of their descendants, the celebrated wit and poet, George Nugent Reynolds, Esq., of Letterfian, in Leitrim, is stated to have been the author of the beautiful song called "The Exile of Erin," though its composition was claimed by Thomas Campbell, author of "The Pleasures of Hope."

13. O'Maoilmiadhaigh or Mulvey, chief of Magh Neise or Nisi, a district which lay along the Shannon in the west of Leitrim, near Carrick-on-Shannon. The following clans in the counties of Cavan and Leitrim, not given by O'Dugan, are collected from other sources:

14. MacBradaigh or MacBrady, was a very ancient and important family in Cavan; they were, according to MacGeoghagan, a branch of the O'Carrolls, chiefs of Calry.

15. MacGobhain, MacGowan, or O'Gowan (gobha: Irish, a smith), a name which has been anglicised "Smith," etc., were of the race of Ir; and were remarkable for their great strength and bravery. Thus Smith, Smyth, Smeeth, and Smythe, may claim their descent from the Milesian MacGowan, originally a powerful clan in Ulidia.

16. MacGiolladuibh, MacGilduff, or Gilduff, chiefs of Teallach Gairbheith, now the barony of "Tullygarvey," in the county Cavan.

17. MacTaichligh or MacTilly, chief of a district in the parish of Drung, in the barony of Tullygarvey.

18. MacCaba or MacCabe, a powerful clan originally from Monaghan, but for many centuries settled in Cavan.

19. O'Sheridan, an ancient clan in the county Cavan. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, one of the most eminent men of his age, as an orator, dramatist, and poet, was of this clan.

20. O'Corry was a clan located about Cootehill.

21. O'Clery or Clarke was a branch of the O'Clerys of Connaught and Donegal, and of the same stock as the authors of the Annals of the Four Masters.

22. O'Daly and O'Mulligan, were hereditary bards to the O'Riellys.

23. Fitzpatrick, a clan originally of the Fitzpatricks of Ossory.

24. Fitzsimon, a clan long located in the county Cavan, are of Anglo-Norman descent, who came originally from the English Pale.

25. O'Farrelly, a numerous clan in the county Cavan.

26. Several other clans in various parts of Cavan, as O'Murray, MacDonnell, O'Conaghy or Conaty, O'Connell or Connell, MacManus, O'Lynch, MacGilligan, O'Fay, MacGafney, MacHugh, O'Dolan, O'Drom, etc.

27. And several clans in the county Leitrim, not mentioned by O'Dugan, as MacGloin of Rossinver; MacFergus, who were hereditary erenachs of the churches of Rossinver, and whose name has been anglicised "Ferguson;" O'Cuirnin or Curran, celebrated bards and historians; MacKenny or Keaney, MacCartan, O'Meehan, etc.


[1] Brefney: In Irish this word is "Breifne" or "Brefne," which signifies the Hilly Country; it was called by the English "The Brenny," and has been Latinized "Brefnia" and "Brefinnia." This ancient territory comprised the present counties of Cavan and Leitrim, with a portion of Meath, and a part of the barony of Carbury in Sligo; O'Rourke being prince of West Brefney or Leitrim; and O'Rielly, or O'Reilly, of East Brefney or Cavan. Brefney extended from Kells in Meath to Drumcliff in the county Sligo; and was part of the Kingdom of Connaught, down to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when it was formed into the Counties of Cavan and Leitrim, and Cavan was added to the province of Ulster. In this territory Tiernmas, the 13th Monarch of Ireland, was the first who introduced Idol worship into Ireland; and set up at Moy Slaght (now Fenagh, in the barony of Mohill, county Leitrim) the famous idol, Crom Cruach, the chief deity of the Irish Druids, which St. Patrick destroyed. Brefney was inhabited in the early ages by the Firvolgians (who are by some writers called Belgae and Firbolgs), who went by the name of "Ernaidhe," "Erneans," and "Ernaechs;" which names are stated to have been given them from their inhabiting the territories about Lough Erne. These Erneans possessed the entire of Brefney. The name "Brefney" is, according to "Seward's Topography," derived from "Bre," a hill, and therefore signifies the country of hills or the hilly country: a derivation which may not appear inappropriate as descriptive of the topographical features of the country, as innumerable hills are scattered over the counties of Cavan and Leitrim.

On a vast number of these hills over Cavan and Leitrim are found those circular earthen ramparts called forts or raths, and some of them very large; which circumstance shows that those hills were inhabited from the earliest ages. As several thousands of these raths exist even to this day, and many more have been levelled, it is evident that there was a very large population in ancient Brefney. The erection of these raths has been absurdly attributed to the Danes, for it is evident that they must have formed the chief habitations and fortresses of the ancient Irish, ages before the Danes set foot in Ireland; since they abound chiefly in the interior and remote parts of the country, where the Danes never had any permanent settlement.

Ancient Brefney bore the name of Hy Briuin Breifne, from its being possessed by the race of Brian, King of Connaught, in the fourth century, brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages, and son of Eochy Moyvane, Monarch of Ireland from A.D. 357 to 365, and of the race of Heremon. That Brian had twenty-four sons, whose posterity possessed the greater part of Connaught, and were called the "Hy-Briuin race." Of this race were the O'Connors, kings of Connaught; O'Rourke, O'Rielly, MacDermott, MacDonogh, O'Flaherty, O'Malley, MacOiraghty (MacGeraghty, or Geraghty), O'Fallon, O'Flynn (of Connaught), MacGauran, MacTiernan, MacBrady or Brady, etc. In the tenth century Brefney was divided into two principalities, viz., Brefney O'Rourke or West Brefney, and Brefney O'Rielly or East Brefney. Brefney O'Rourke comprised the present county Leitrim, with the barony of Tullaghagh and part of Tullaghoncho in the county Cavan; and Brefney O'Rielly, the rest of the present county Cavan: the river at Ballyconnell being the boundary between Brefney O'Rourke and Brefney O'Rielly; the O'Rourkes being the principal chiefs. "O'Rourke's Country" was called Brefney O'Rourke: and "O'Rielly's Country" Brefney O'Rielly. The O'Rourkes, and O'Riellys maintained their independence down to the reign of James the First, and had considerable possessions even until the Cromwellian wars; after which their estates were confiscated.—CONNELLAN.

[2] O'Carroll: According to the De La Ponce MSS., "O'Carroll" of Calry, has been modernized MacBrady.