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Some Historical Notes on the Guerin Surname in Co. Clare by Pat Guerin
Irish/Gaelic Origins: Co. Clare Clans and Septs

The history of Co. Clare in the late middle ages is one long saga of intra- and inter- tribal struggle; in the first instance for clan leadership and then for power and control over other clans and ultimately over land. Major players in the field were the O’Briens, the McNamaras (Clan Culéin), the O’Deas, the O’Gradys and many others with the O’Briens, historically at the top of the pyramid as hereditary Kings of Thomond (North Munster).

This whole period is very well covered by James Frost M.R.I.A. in his book on the history of Co. Clare.[3] One epic struggle in the period 1242 – 1318, between two O’Brien contenders for the clan leadership and the Kingship of Thomond, had the clans split into two opposing camps; it culminated in two decisive battles, Loghraska in 1317 and Dysert O’Dea in 1318 [4], with Murrogh O’Brien emerging victorious.

Frost’s sources are the manuscripts ‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’, or the ‘History of the Wars of Turlogh O’Brien’ written in 1459 and also the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’. The author of ‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’ was John, son of Rory McGrath; the McGraths were hereditary historians and scribes to the O’Brien clan. The manuscript records the history of Thomond or North Munster for over 200 years from the time of the arrival of the Normans in Ireland in 1169. It is accepted by most authorities as a true and reliable account of the history of Thomond over the period. The literary style according to Frost is bombastic, full of hyperbole and heroic descriptions. Others excuse this as being in the classic style of the bards, more intended for oral transmission by way of recitation to an audience of fellow clansmen than for individual private reading

Frost quotes from McGrath’s manuscript a list of the clans and septs, which came to the aid of Murrogh O’Brien. These were:

“the O’Hehirs, the McGraths, the O’Dubhduins, the Mac Gormans, and the following septs of the clan Culéin (the MacNamaras), viz. – The MacInerneys, the clan Lorchain, the O’Claras, the clan Meanman (Mannions ?), the clan Giolla Maoel Domhnaigh (O’Moloneys), the clan Alivaren (O’Hallorans), the clan Comhremaigh (O’Currys), the O’Slatterys, the O’Hassetts, the O’Malleys, the O’Hartigans, the O’Cindergains, the clan Aillie (O‘Haleys), the O’Conways (Conduibh), the O’Meehans: then came the M’Mahons, of Corcabaskin, under the command of Donagh, son of Rory, son of Rory; the O’Lynches, and the O’Kellys (Caolaidhe), of Galway; the MacRegans, the clan Mahowna, the O’Griffeys, the O’Howards (Muintir Iomhair), and the MacEncroes (Mac Con Cros) of Inagh; the O’Galvins (Muintir Chealbhain), the O’Liddys, the O’Doyles, the O’Kellihers, the O’Cuinin (Cuneens) and the O’Gerans.”

The part of the Gaelic manuscript (‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’) from which this list was compiled was in the form of a roll of honour of those of the victors who fell in battle. In compiling the list Frost strips from the manuscript the descriptive text which accompanies each of the named fallen and which laments their passing and extols their valour and heroic deeds.

While the original manuscript of John, son of Rory McGrath, has not survived, its contents fortunately have by way of a number of (partial) copies and translations (into English) made over the years, some as late as the 1700s. Chief amongst these are:

  • a large fragment on vellum written in 1509 and held in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA); manuscript reference No. 23 Q 16.
  • a transcription on paper of the original manuscript; this was made in 1721 by Andrew McCurtin (Aindreas Mac Cruitin) of Ennistymon. Frost rates the transcription as excellent and describes McCurtin as one of the best Irish (Gaelic) scholars of his day. This document is now deposited in the library of Trinity College, Dublin (TCD); library reference No. H 1 18 No. 1292.
  • a translation into English of part of the original manuscript; there is some confusion as to the author(Peter O’Connell/Theophilus O’Flanagan) and the date(1798). It is held in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA); document reference No. 24 D 12.

As stated earlier Frost, in compiling his list, stripped away all of the descriptive text that accompanied the list of clan and sept names in the original manuscript. However the second of the above source documents (TCD H1 18 No. 1292) re-supplies the missing text. A transcribed copy of the O’Geran entry, taken from a photostat copy of this document, is shown below:

The actual O’Geran reference in this extract begins in the middle of the second line and in modern Gaelic text (Roman characters) reads as follows:[5]

“agus aonfer d’úib garga gusmara Géráin .i. mac Conchobair.”

The last of the three source documents mentioned earlier (RIA document 24 D 12)[6] provides the English translation of this line:

“and one of the fierce and strong Ibh Gearain, viz. the son of Connor(O’Gearain).”

This O’Gearain reference in ‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’ is the earliest recorded manuscript reference we seem to have to the O’Gearain sept. It provides documentary evidence that the O’Gerans were a sept of the Clan Culéin (the MacNamaras) and that they have been in Co. Clare since at least the early 1300s and most likely even earlier. Their near neighbours in the list (compiled by Frost) – the O’Kellihers – afterwards moved to Co. Cork and a similar movement by some of the O’Gerans may account for the different pockets of the name to be found in parts of counties Cork and Kerry to-day.

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