The McFerbis or Forbes Family

McFerbis or Forbes family crest

(Crest No. 239. Plate 53.)

THE McFerbis or Firbis family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founder of the family was Fiacha, ancestor of the Southern Hy Nials, and son of Nial the Great, or Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379.

The ancient name, Ferbis, signifies “The Swift.” The head of the McFerbises was styled Lord of Leacan, and the sept held possessions in the present County of Sligo. The McFerbises, or Clan Firbisigh, were a branch descended from the same stock as the O’Dowds, Princes of Ui Fiachra. Their original territory was Magh Brion, in Tyrawley, in the County of Mayo, but they afterward settled in Rosserk, between Balina and Killala, and lastly at Leacan, in the parish of Kilglass, barony of Tireragh, east of the River Moy, where they had estates and a castle, the ruins of which still remain.

The McFerbises held the office of ollamhs, that is, of historiographers and poets of Ui Fiachra, a territory comprising the present Counties of Mayo, Sligo, and Galway, and at one time of all Connaught. This name has been Anglicized into Forbes.

Duald MacFirbis, born in Lecan, County of Sligo, toward the close of the sixteenth century, was a famous historian and chronicler. He is the author of a valuable volume of Irish pedigrees, known as the “Book of MacFirbis,” and he compiled a glossary of the Brehon laws, besides transcribing many ancient glossaries. Having lost his property in the war of 1641-52, he was engaged by Sir James Ware, to whom he rendered invaluable assistance in the preparation of his Irish works. McFirbis was the last of a long line of historians, ollavs, and learned men of the same family.