The O'Raghailligh sept held sway over the east of Breffny extending its influence beyond County Cavan into County Westmeath and County Meath. The descendants of the sept are very numerous. They were the princes of East Breifne, a territory comprising a portion of the present Counties of Cavan and Leitrim. Over half of the Reillys and O'Reilly are in Leinster but a fair number still reside in the neigbourhood of the ancient ancestral lands of the sept in County Cavan, particularly in Clonmahon and Castleahan baronies. The tradition of surnames in Ireland developed spontaneously, as the population increased and the former practice, first of single names and then of ephemeral patronymics or agnomina of the nickname type proved insufficiently definitive. At first the surname was formed by prefixing 'Mac' to the father's Christian name or 'O' to that of a grandfather or earlier ancestor. 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. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way. An eminent member of the name was John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-90) the Irish-born American journalist, born in Dowth Castle near Drogheda, the son of a schoolmaster. In 1866 he was sentenced to 20 years transportation to Australia for spreading Fenianism in the army. He escaped in 1869 and fled to the United States of America, where he became known as an author of songs and novels. The arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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