The surname McKEOWN and its variant McKeon (both found occasionally without the prefix Mac), belong in Ireland, both to descendants of early Scottish settlers who had established themselves in the Glens of Antrim in the 13th century, and who took the Irish name of MacEorin in lieu of their own surname Bissett, and of Irish septs named MacEoghain and Mac Eorin. 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. 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 flowing and draped garment worn over the armour. 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 names, 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. Notables of the name include James MacKowen (1814-1889) the poet born near Lisburn, and James C. MacCoan (1829-1903) was the political and historical writer, of Co. Tyrone.
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