This family O'MELIA are the descendants of the County Mayo sept of O'Maille, who were famed for their maritime exploits on the Atlantic coast. They were considered to be expert seamen. The name Malia is a variant. At the end of the last century at least half of the families in Ireland were still living in County Mayo, and many still reside in the baronies of Murrish and Burrishole, the territory of their ancestrial sept. The maritime Connacht county of Mayo is bounded on the north and west by the Atlantic, on the south by county Galway, on the east by County Sligo and County Roscommon. According to the Ordnance Survey reports made in the decade prior to the famine years of the 1840's, about one-third of the land in the county, over 400,000 acres, was unprofitable mountain and bog; a further 57,000 acres under water. The appearance of the county varies from tracts of bleak rugged mountains, to lakeland, heath, flat rocky ground and fertile plains. Near Westport, there was a brewery established in 1826, a second brewery, a tannery, corn-stores, salt-works, oat-mills and flour mills, and, in the neighbourhood, slate quarries, a linen factory and two cotton factories, but all these enterprises were mostly in one area and all together provided but scant employment for a population which was around a quarter of a million in the early 19th century.
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. 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.The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884
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