The descendants of the O'Ruairc sept of Breffny were widely scattered after the confiscation of their ancestral lands in County Leitrim, although some are still living in that county in the region of the ancient seat of the chiefs of the sept at Dromahire in the barony of the same name. Most of the descendants of the sept lost the prefix 'O'. It was Dearbhforgaill (Dervorguila), wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, the ruler of Breffny, whose elopement, or abduction by, Dermot, King of Leinster, caused a power struggle which resulted in the involvement of Anglo-Norman knights in Ireland and the takeover of the country by the English crown. Sir Brian-na-Murtha O'Rourke (d.1591) was the Irish chieftan in Galway, Sligo and the West of Ulster. He was in frequent collision with the English authorities, sheltered the Spaniards of the Armada wrecked on the Irish coasts, and in 1591 went to Scotland to seek support from James V1. and 1. who handed him over to the English. He was tried and executed at Tyburn in 1591. 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. Many factors contributed to the establishment of a surname system. For generations after the Norman Conquest of 1066 a very few dynasts and magnates passed on hereditary surnames, but the main of the population, with a wide choice of first-names out of Celtic, Old English, Norman and Latin, avoided ambiguity without the need for a second name. As society became more stabilized, there was property to leave in wills, the towns and villages grew and the labels that had served to distinguish a handful of folk in a friendly village were not adequate for a teeming slum where perhaps most of the householders were engaged in the same monotonous trade, so not even their occupations could distinguish them, and some first names were gaining a tiresome popularity, especially Thomas after 1170. The hereditary principle in surnames gained currency first in the South, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it. By the 14th century however, most of the population had acquired a second name.
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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