Families of this TIERNEY name are found in all four provinces of Ireland, but more frequently in Leinster and Munster. They are descendants of the O'Tighearnaigh septs, unless they bear the surname as a variant of Tiernan. The most prominent sept held sway in the barony of Carra, County Mayo. Other septs of the name were located in County Donegal and County Westmeath. The Munster Tierneys seem to have originated in County Tipperary but may have been a branch of one of the three known O'Tighearaigh sept. Early records of the name mention Aldricus le Tierney, 1379 Ireland. The Irish prefixes of Mac (son of) and O (grandson or descendant of) gave rise at an early date, to a set of fixed hereditary names in which the literal patronymic meaning was lost or obscured. These surnames 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' 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 their dependents was not uncommon. Later, nicknames were in some cases to supersede the original clan names. Hereditary surnames were originally imported from France into England during the Norman Conquest of 1066. In the two centuries or so after the Conquest surnames were acquired by most families of major landholders, and many landed families of lesser importance. There appears to have been a constant trickle of migration into Britain between about the years 1200 and 150O, mostly from France and the Low Countries, with a small number of migrants from Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and the Iberian peninsular, and occasional individuals from further afield. During this period groups of aliens settled in this country as for example, the Germans who from the late 15th century onwards settled in Cumbria to work the metal mines. Immigration during this time had only a small effect on the body of surnames used in Britain. In many cases, the surnames of immigrants were thoroughly Anglicised. The late sixteenth century saw the arrival, mostly in London and the south-coast ports of large numbers of people fleeing from the war regions of France.
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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