The Mac Ceile sept, whose descendants bear the anglicized form of their name McHale, belonged to County Mayo where they were eranghs at Killal. McHale families were found exclusively in County Mayo until fairly recently. It has been noted that an immigrant Welsh family names Howell, which settled in Tirawley barony, County Mayo, the homeland of the Irish McHales, adopted the name of the neighbours as their own in leiu of Howell. The McHales who are descended from the ci-devant Howells cannot now be distinguished from the MacCeile sept. The surnames in Ireland originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept'; a group of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by dependents was not uncommon. Just over one hundred years after the Norman Conquest of England, the first Normans arrived in Ireland. Richard de Clare, Second Earl of Pembroke (died 1176), was known as Strongbow. He was invited to Ireland by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, whose daughter he married, to help him in his wars with his neighbours. He was accompanied by several retainers whose name, like his own, have become well established as surnames in Ireland. The Normans established themselves in Leinster and paid homage to Henry II of England. Some of the Norman settlers acquired surnames derived from the Irish. The maritime Connacht county of Mayo is bounded on the north and west by the Atlantic, on the south by county Galway, on the east by County Sligo and County Roscommon. According to the Ordnance Survey reports made in the decade prior to the famine years of the 1840's, about one-third of the land in the county, over 400,000 acres, was unprofitable mountain and bog; a further 57,000 acres under water. The appearance of the county varies from tracts of bleak rugged mountains, to lakeland, heath, flat rocky ground and fertile plains.
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