Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Gallóglaigh and their Surnames


a Gallóglach with his conical helmet

The Gallóglaigh are one of the most important phenomenon in Irish history and they had a profound effect on the survival of Gaelic culture into the modern period. They were a uniquely Gaelic warrior caste that were organised by kinship groups and they were the heart and backbone of almost all Irish armies in the long series of wars against the English.

Their name in the plural is Gallóglaigh which has been in the past anglicised as galloglass, the singular form is Gallóglach. Descendants of the Gallóglaigh families and clans are located throughout Ireland, but it was in Ulster that they were particularly numerous and active. Historians not familiar with Gaelic culture often pass them off as mere mercenaries who worked for various Irish chiefs and lords, but in reality they were much more than this. They were a hereditary warrior caste that functioned much like the Japanese Samurai. They were Gaelic families that originated in Argyll and the southern Hebrides, that moved to Ireland and settled circa anno domini 1200 to 1400. They were well paid and were given land for their service and were part of the upper levels of Irish Gaelic society. They were known by their unique dress and battlefield accouterments, which included a two handed axe, shirts of mail, and their stylised conical helmets.



Gallóglaigh with their trademark conical helmets and mailed shirts














The descendants of the Gallóglaigh are found in Ireland and throughout the Diaspora and a growing number are participating in the Ulster Heritage DNA Project. The great Gallóglaigh kindred groups include Clann Suibhne (MacSweeneys), Clann Dhómhnaill (Mac Donnells), Clann Sithigh (MacSheehys), Clann Ruaidhri (Mac Rorys), Clann Dhubhgaill (MacDowells), Clann Chába (MacCabes), Clann Chaimbeul (Campbells), Clann Mhic Giolla Eáin (MacLains). Each of these clans and kinship groups also had several well known septs and each one developed their own surname, for example many from Clann Chaimbeul carry the surname McAllen.

Like the Redshank families in Ulster, the Gallóglaigh families represent an aspect of Ulster Scot history not often written about. Their history is different that the Ulster Scot families that participated in the Ulster Plantation, because the Gallógaigh were very much part of the traditional Gaelic power structure and society. Y Chromosome DNA testing is allowing the descendants of the Gallóglaigh families to very effective research their history and to explore their deep past and clan connections.

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