This English surname may be borne in Ireland by some families descended from English settlers of that name but the majority of O'HIGGINS families in Ireland will be descended from the Irish sept O'hUigin which originated in the Irish midlands but established itself in Connacht in Sligo, mainly in the barony of Tirerril. By the end of the last century Higgins ranked among the hundred commonest surnames in Ireland and at that time one-half of the number bearing the name lived in Connacht, and about one-quarter in Leinster, with the remaining quarter divided between Munster and Connacht. At that time O'Higgins was rare, but nowadays a few families have resumed the prefix 'O'. 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. Francis Higginson (1586-1630) was a Leicestershire Puritan who emigrated to New England in 1629 as first minister of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Most of his descendants were merchants, including his grandson, Nathaniel, who returned to England in 1694. As an employee of the East India Company he became Lieutenant-General of India. Ambrosio O'Higgins, Viceroy of Peru was created Baron de Ballenary by the king of Spain in 1788, and Marquis de Ossorno in 1792. He usually styled himself O'Higgins of Ballinar. He founded among other towns in Peru, San Ambrosio de Ballenar. It has been frequently stated that he was born near Summerhill, County Meath, in which there is a vicinity called Ballina, but there is no authority for these statements. The belief is that this O'Higgins family had a connexion with Summerhill, and perhaps he was employed as a page or postillion by the Countess of Bective. There is no doubt that the O'Higgins family of Connacht was established at Kilbeg, County Westmeath as early as 1550.
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