When the sparse Irish population began to increase it became necessary to broaden the base of personal identification by moving from single names to a more definite nomenclature. The prefix MAC was given to the father's christian name, or O to that of a grandfather or even earlier ancestor. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. At the beginning of this century Breens were to be found in the majority in Leinster. Some descend from the sept Mac Braoin, whose seat was in the Barony of Knocktopher, County Kilkenny, whence they were dispersed after the Anglo-Norman invasion, many seem to have settled in County Wexford. Breens not of the MacBreen stock would descend from the sept O'Braoin, whose territory was the Barony of Brawny in County Westmeath. The inland Leinster county of Westmeath was created late in the reign of King Henry VII by hiving off the western part of Meath. County Westmeath is thus bounded on the east by County Meath; its southern boundary is with County Offaly. On the north Westmeath is bounded by the counties of Meath, Cavan and Longford, and on the west by County Longford and County Roscommon. There was scarcely any commercial enterprise in the county a hundred years ago save for the sale of agricultural produce, and at Mullingar, two tanneries and a brewery and malting establishment. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames, they came into being fairly generally in the eleventh century and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000.
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