This surname and its many variant spellings, derive from the sept Mac Duinnshleibhe, which belonged to south-eastern Ulster, where they were displaced at the end of the 12th century and re-established themselves in County Donegal. The heaviest distribution of the Dunleavy families is in North Connacht, particularly in County Mayo and County Sligo, whence it spread to County Galway. County Galway acquired a seperate identity from the rest of Connacht when that province was divided and shired in 1585. The country is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by the waters of Galway Bay and a land boundary with County Clare. To the north lie the counties of Mayo and Roscommon, the later also flanks County Galway to the east. The walled city of Galway, which contained about one-tenth of the population of the county before the famine of the 1840's, was of prime importance in the county with a flourishing commercial port and the handsome dwellings of the merchants. County Galway has long remained an Irish speaking region and the language has survived as a first language in the remoter parts and in the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway Bay. Old customs too, such as the wake and keening at funerals, died out slowly in this area. In the past the fine lobsters from Connemara, abundant on the coast, were a food eaten by the poor. They were a royal family of Ulidia until the 12th century, thence they migrated to Tirconnel under the O'Donnells and followed those who went to north Connacht in 1602. 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.
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