The barony of Kiltartan, County Galway, was the territorial homeland of the O'Seachnasaigh sept, the forebears of the O'Shaughnessy and Shaughnessy families. Those of the name who left County Galway, generally tended to migrate southwards through County Clare and Limerick. A distinguished member of this family was Sir William Brooke O'Shaughnessy (1809-1889). He was born in Limerick but belonged to the County Clare-Galway family of the name and was grand nephew of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Killaloe. He went to India as a surgeon, but was knighted there in 1856 for his services in laying down the electric telegraph service. 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 main branch of the once-powerful O'Shaughnessy clan died out in the 18th century. The early 16th century head of the clan, Dermot O'Shaughnessy, had been knighted by Henry VIII in 1533, and confirmed in possession of his lands, but just over a century later these were confiscated by Cromwell. The clan had these lands returned to them in 1660, on the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, but finally lost them in 1697 for supporting the Stuart cause. The last chief, Colonel William O'Shaughnessy, died in France in the year 1744. 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. The associated coat of arms is recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. (A Tribe who possessed a territory comprising the eastern half of the diocese of Kilmacduagh, County Galway, deriving their name from Seachnasach, Chief of the Sept, AD 1100).
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