Families of this name MULKEEN descend from the O'Maolagain sept which held sway in County Donegal over a territory in the baronies of Boylagh and Raphoe. 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. Their dispersal at the time of the confiscations and the plantation of Ulster has resulted in their now being found in almost equal numbers in Ulster, Connacht and Leinster, with a notable concentration in County Monaghan in County Mayo, and in the capital. The inland county of Monaghan, in the south of Ulster province, is bounded on the south by the Leinster county of Meath, on the east by County Armagh and on the west by Fermanagh and Cavan. Originally the name was also a topographic name for someone who lived in a damp area overgrown with weeds, or a metonymic personal name for someone who gathered reeds which were widely used in the Middle Ages as a floor covering and for weaving small baskets. Occupational surnames originally denoted the actual occupation followed by the individual. At what period they became hereditary is a difficult problem. Many of the occupation names were descriptive and could be varied. In the Middle Ages, at least among the Christian population, people did not usually pursue specialized occupations exclusively to the extent that we do today, and they would, in fact, turn their hand to any form of work that needed to be done, particularly in a large house or mansion, or on farms and smallholdings. In early documents, surnames often refer to the actual holder of an office, whether the church or state.
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