The surname of WHILLENS is the anglicized form of the Irish O'Faolain, and ranks amongst the fifty most common surnames in Ireland. Whelan was the form adopted more frequently in County Wexford and County Carlow. The O'Faolain sept from which they descend originated in the baronies of Decies in County Waterford, whence a branch went into Iverk barony in County Kilkenny. 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 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.
The name is found in Scotland as Whelans, where it was derived from the old lands of Quheillands, and Thomas and William Querland are mentioned in 1505 and appear to be the first of the name there on record.
The family are originally believed to have been of Welsh origin and settled in Antrim soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. The greater part of their lands were forcibly taken from them by the Macdonnells towards the close of the 16th century, completely reducing them to a subordinate position. This probably led some of the name to seek a new home on the opposite shore of Argyllshire. In many parts of central and western Europe, hereditary surnames began to become fixed at around the 12th century, and have developed and changed slowly over the years. As society became more complex, and such matters as the management of tenure, and in particular the collection of taxes were delegated to special functionaries, it became imperative to distinguish a more complex system of nomenclature to differentiate one individual from another.
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. Granted in Ulster in 1831 to Sir Thomas Whelan, Knight
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