The surname Barrett came to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invaders at the end of the twelfth century, and, in due course, became hibernicized, though not to the extent that some others such as Fitzgerald and Burke did, inasmuch as Barrett is still a common name in England. Though they came to Ireland at the same period, the ancestors of the Irish Barretts were of two quite distinct families whose names were at first different and who settled in widely separated parts of the country. The surname Barrett to-day is most numerous in Co. Cork and in the Mayo-Galway area, in fact approximately where their forefathers established themselves more than seven centuries age. The former were Barratt (in Irish Baroid), the latter Barrett (in Irish Baireid). O'Donovan states that both lines were Welsh; Woulfe, who writing sixty years later usually accepts O'Donovan's opinions, disagrees and regards Baroid as of Norman origin (from the Norman French name Baraud) and Baireid as Anglo-Saxon. The Munster Barretts, though numerically stronger than those of Connacht, were of less importance in the medieval or Gaelic period; nevertheless they were influential enough to give their name to an extensive territory, viz. Barrett's Country, I.e. approximately the present barony of Barretts in Co. Cork. They did not, however, become entirely gaelicized like their Connacht namesakes. Those Barretts who early acquired a large part of north Mayo were lords of Tirawley and founded there a sept on the Irish model. The chief of this sept was known as MacWattin - it is spelt MacVaittin by O'Donovan in his translation of the four Masters, and it so appears in the Annals at various dates in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the sixteenth, however, the "Compositon Book of Connacht" (1585) which includes the names of many Mayo Barretts, as do the Fiants of approximately the same date, describes the then Chief of the Name as Richard Barrett, alias MacPadine; and it is interesting to note that the surname MacPadden is found in Mayo to-day, while MacWattin is unknown. It must also be remembered that the name MacPadine was adopted by certain families of the Stauntons, another of the Anglo-Norman invaders. Some of these again adopted as their Gaelic surname Mac and Mhileadha (anglice MacEvilly), so that confusion may easily arise, especially as there is an Ulster name MacPhaidin (MacFadden, MacFadyen, etc.) and this is also found in Gaelic Scotland. The Munster Barretts, in spite of their somewhat dishonourable treatment by Sir John Perrott and later by John St. Leger, managed to retain the bulk of their property until 1691 when the Williamite confiscation deprived Col. John Barrett, the head of the family at that time, of 12,000 acres. This Col. Barrett had raised a regiment of infantry for King James's army in Ireland, and subsequently was killed in the French service at the battle of Landen in 1693. In the eighteenth century Richard Barrett (c. 1740-1818), "the Poet of Erris", was also a prominent United Irishman, and George Barrett (d. 1784) was a celebrated landscape painter. Rev. John Barrett (1753-1821), of Dublin (1753-1821), of Dublin University, was a noted Hebrew scholar. In the nineteenth century Michael Barrett, the Fenian, condemned for the attempt to blow up Clerkenwell Prison, was executed in 1868 - the last public execution in England. Laurence Barrett (1838-1891), a leading American actor, was the son of an Irish emigrant, but the other Barrett family of American actors were of English Extraction.
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