The Gaelic form of this name MacSEANLAOICH, originally meant 'the son of the old hero'. The name occurs quite frequently in the Annals up to the 15th century as that of a sept located in the MacBrennan country in east Roscommon and Leitrim. The Four Masters describe Donnacahy son of Murray MacShanly, who died in 1404 as 'a wealthy farmer and chief servant of trust of the King of Connacht'. In the 1659 census the name (and its variants) is one of the principal names in County Leitrim, where it is still most numerous today. Ireland is one of the earliest sources of the development of patronymic names in northern Europe. Irish Clan or bynames can be traced back to the 4th century B.C. and Mac (son of) and O (grandson or ancestor of) evolved from this base, the original literal meaning of which has been lost due to the absence of written records and linguistic ambivalences which subtly but inexorably became adopted through usage. Genealogists and lexographers accept that the patronymic base does not refer to a location, quite the contrary. The use of the prefix 'Bally' (town of) attaching to the base name, identifying the location. The base root was also adopted by people residing in the demographic area without a common ancestor. These groups called 'Septs' were specially prevalent in Ireland. The first Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries to form an alliance with the King of Leinster. Under Elizabeth I in the 16th century, settlers from England established themselves around Dublin, then under English control and Presbyterian Scots emigrated to Ulster, introducing English and Scottish roots. Three of the name served as officers in the regiment of King James III's Irish army, and about the same time William Shanly was M.P. for Jamestown, County Roscommon in the 'Patriot Parliament' of 1689. Like so many other leading Catholic families they sank into comparative obscurity in the 18th century and have not been prominent in the public life of Ireland. In America, Dublin-born Charles Dawson Shanly (1811-1875) had a considerable reputation as a poet. Ballymacshanly in County Leitrim is named from a leading family of the sept. Patrick Ganly (1809-1899) was a distinguished geologist who did very valuable work.
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