The Lannins: my Mother’s Clan

Completed on 20/Marta/2014, on her 96th Birthday. An Dr Liam SS Ré amonn

1 Irish Surnames: general Introduction

Most Irish family names are today given in an anglicized form, sometimes having a number of versions. The original names have meanings and history which stretch back to the tenth century. They are oldest family names in Europe.

Anglicisation of Gaelic clans and of their names began in earnest in the 1600s, during the submergence of Gaelic, Catholic Ireland. Defeated Irish chieftains left for Europe and English landowners took over increasing stretches of territory throughout the country.

The operation of English law, during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, provides records of name forms of Irish people over the 1500s. Information on first names and surnames improved in the 1600s, as English law became more entrenched. With edicts, such as Elizabeth’s “everywhere you see a bard, hang him”, the availability of resources for preparing manuscripts in Irish diminished. The Tudor, Cromwellian and Williamite conquests were effective against a civilization of smaller size – without a steel industry. Maps of sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland rendered key Irish family names and territories in English. The renaming of people and of landscapes was underway.

Deeper anglicisation, at the very core of Irish society, spread during the Great Famine in the mid-1800s. Where the position of a clan was most undermined, acculturation was most severe. Even the hallowed Ó (Ní) or Mac (Nic), which call to mind our forbears, was dropped from surnames. Tradition has it that relinquishment of the Ó or Mac, at the core of our Gaelic identity, was the price for being admitted to a public soup kitchen. The provision of soup kitchens and minor relief works was ineffective. Soup does not sustain and money earned could not buy food which was not there.

The remaining Irish lords and small farmers (termed peasants or tenant-farmers by the English) switched cultural allegiance. Their survival demanded it: to their foreign rulers (the Nua-Ghaill) they were more acceptable if they spoke and acted like them. Anglo-Irish culture is comparable with provincial English culture. Gaelic culture, of unmixed Indo-European origins, is utterly different. By the early 1700s, English culture and laws had become dominant. Noble lineage had been a mainstay in Irish societal structures. A diversification of surname forms followed the shattering of surname structures.

2] Resumption of the ‘Ó’ and ‘Mac’

In 1890 only 14% of the MacCarthy name was rendered in the anglicised ‘Carthy/Cartie’ forms. A general regaelicisation of surnames, with the growing use of the ‘Ó’ and ‘Mac’ forms, underscored anew the persistent Irish identity in Cork and elsewhere. Notably, the resurgence occurred not long after the worst ravages of the Great Famine.

For all the deconstruction of the social and historic implications of Irish family names, when a person is nowadays introduced to another, the comment on his/her surname: “that’s a good name” may still be heard, a remnant of the more meaningful interactions of yesteryear.

3.1] Random Choice of first Names

First names given according to traditional practices connect the individual to other members of his/her family and clan (even where formal clan structures have ceased to be). The names so used generally have meanings and associations intended i) to hold up some ideal for the person so named and ii) to honour an elder member in the family.

In recent decades, more or less fashionable new names – from the world of television, football and popular music etc. – are given, with no particular relevance or meaning. First names chosen in this way show a weakening of the nuclear family bonds. The use of some first names, sourced eg from the international media, sits uneasily even with anglicized Irish surnames. Names which reflect passing fashion now often replace those which celebrate the many generations of a family.

3.2] Do Names matter?

Strong cultures uphold family and personal strengths, inter alia. Such cultures adopt, widely enough, identifiable first- and second-name nomenclatures. In the digital age, cultures have less immediate relevance. A consequent loss of an identity and of cultural inheritance more characterizes populations in the growing mega-cities. Such effects are unlikely widely to be debated.

4] The Lannins of Schull: Ancestry

n 1923, Rev. Patrick Woulfe published the following information, summarised hereunder.

Co. Cork: Ó Lonáin – anglicised to O’Lonane, O’Lonan, O’Lonnan, O’Lannan, O’Lennane (with severe anglicisation to Lenane, Lannan, Lannin, Lennon, Leonard etc.). The name means ‘descendant of Lonán’ (a diminutive of lon, blackbird) and was borne by a Cork family, from Rosscarbery. They were followers of the O’Learys in Cork, where the name appears to have been pronounced Ó Lionáin. There was also a Wicklow branch.

Cos. Fermanagh, Mayo and Galway: Ó Leannáin – anglicised to O’Lennane, O’Lennan (severe anglicisation to Lannan, Lannen, Lannon, Lennon, and Leonard. The name means ‘descendant of Leannán’ (diminutive of leann, a cloak or mantle) and was borne by at least three distinct families, in counties of Fermanagh, Mayo and Galway. The O’Leannáins of Fermanagh were erenaghs of Lisgoole [mentioned in M1445 of Pt 8 of the Annals of the Four Masters.]. Those of Mayo are a branch of the Ui Fiachrach and they lived near Killala. The Galway family were followers of O’Kelly of Ui Maine.

Edward MacLysaght says that Ó Leannáin was used as a synonym of Ó Luinín. He does not avert, however, to the different meanings of these names. He goes on to ascribe the derived names (O) Lennon and Lenan to septs in Cork, Fermanagh and Galway, where he infers that the innumerable other forms of these names recorded cannot be identified as adhering to a particular clan.

The commercial website puts the Ó Leannáin clan in Cork, saying (incorrectly) that Ó Lonáin and Ó Luinín are other spellings of the same name. The Parish of Clooney in Co. of Clare (bounded by the Parish of Kilfenora) is said to contain Tobar Lonáin – indicating that a saint once bore the name. The commercial website records that the Annals of the Four Masters refer to Ó Leannáin (Lennan) six times. Other records, from later times, are quoted – and they put this family in several places.

On the website, a description: “the shield argent, on a mount in base vert, a buck browsing proper”, is given of the Coat of Arms of the Ó Leannáin (Lennan) clan of Fermanagh, Mayo and Galway. The family motto is Prisco Stirpe Hibernico (of ancient Irish stock).

It appears that commercial vendors have varied the Ó Leannáin heraldic description to provide Coats of Arms, of dubious validity, for the many variants of Lennon, correct or supposed. Not every clan had a coat of arms or can show record of one, even if it did. The Ó Leannáin clan certainly had the position to warrant gaining a coat of arms from the Crown. The Ó Lonáin clan did not have a leadership role: they were skilled in crafts, providing services (such as sword-making) to the powerful Ó Laoghaire clan. No Ó Lonáin coat of arms has survived.

On, a commercial website, it says the name O’Lennon is yet to be researched – but gives the coat of arms anyway.

Most tenants were ‘tenants-at-will’, which meant that the landlord could evict them at any time. Some had a lease, for the life of the father and the eldest son, and so they were relatively safe from eviction (as long as they could pay the rent). The potato formed the main part of their diet. Herring, oatmeal, and milk (if they had a goat or cow) were occasional supplements.

5] How the Lannins of Schull lived

The Lannins, from the late 1600’s to the early 1700s, were tenant farmers in the Schull and Skibbereen areas of West Cork. There are two major spelling variants. Lannins around Schull were Roman Catholic and Lannans, around Skibbereen, were Church of Ireland. With the changing fortunes of Protestants and Catholics in England, it was known for some Irish clans to have a foot in both camps. Depending upon who was in power in England, in the time of Protestant ascendancy, one side of a clan would affect to protect the other.

The tenant farmers’ lot was hard: they lived at the mercy of their Protestant landlord or (if he lived in England) of an agent. They lived in one-roomed botháns, with just holes in the roof or with chimneys of wicker-work, plastered over with mud. The walls consisted of mud or sods of grass. Windows were open to the elements all year round.

A pig was a most valuable possession and was kept in the house, to be sold for cash, at the local market. The main items in the house were a potato pot and a water bucket. Mothers, fathers, children and grandparents all lived in the one room. They would sleep on the floor on rushes or straw.