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 surname of O'BANION is of two distinct septs, one named O'Banain has its territory in County Tipperary, where families of the name reside today. 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.
The other, O'Banain sept was from County Fermanagh, and the name is also found in County Westmeath. The name in Irish is LEIM UI BHANAIN. 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. Most of the European surnames in countries such as England, Scotland and France were formed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The process had started somewhat earlier and had continued in some places into the 19th century, but the norm is that in the tenth and eleventh centuries people did not have surnames, whereas by the fifteenth century most of the population had acquired a second name.
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