Families of this name, in Irish Mag Fhearadhaigh, are found in almost equal numbers in Ulster, Connacht and Leinster, and it is not clear whether they share any common origin, although within each of those provinces they are clustered in a given area - the Leinster McGarrys live mainly in the capital, the Ulster McGarrys live mainly in Antrim, and the Connacht McGarrys are mostly in Co. Leitrim. The Connacht county of Leitrim is all but landlocked, having a coastal outlet to the Atlantic only two miles in length on Donegal Bay between the boundaries of Co. Sligo and Co. Donegal. It was once a country town, has the remains of a castle and some other ancient buildings, but has lost its former importance and dwindled to a village. Anciently the county formed part of the kingdom of Breffny whose overlords, the O'Rourkes, retained some power until the 16th and 17th centuries. The country, in the medieval period, was thickly forested and five great forests endured into the 17th century, but they have now disappeared leaving bleak tracks of country. The tradition of surnames in Ireland developed spontaneously, as the population increased and the former practice, first of single names and then of ephemeral patronymics or agnomina of the nickname type proved insufficiently definitive. At first the surname was formed by prefixing 'Mac' to the father's Christian name or 'O 'to that of a grandfather or earlier ancestor. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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