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The Normans first arrived in Ireland in 1169 beginning a succession of military expeditions.  With the death of Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Munster, in 1194 they were able to take advantage of the situation and establish themselves as the ruling power of not only County Limerick but also large parts of Munster as well.  They soon became completely Gaelicized and ruled like independent monarchs over their Irish subjects.  They intermarried freely with the Irish.  They adopted Irish customs and language and as the saying goes they eventually “became more Irish than the Irish themselves.”


Although dispossessed of much of their lands by the Normans and no longer “semi-sacred” chieftains many O’Ciarṁaics nevertheless remained on their ancestral lands in the “demoted” position of “Tigerna” which means a lord.  This arrangement of Gaelic lords subordinated to Norman overlords would continue on for more than three centuries and during this period the O’Ciarṁaic people and the O’Ciarṁaic surname would undergo changes of note.


As already mentioned the O’Ciarṁaics were dispossessed of much of their lands by the Normans.  While the dominant O’Ciarṁaic lineages were able to remain on their Knockainy lands a number of the lesser lineages dispersed to other parts of Munster and even as far away as the Leinster province (Kilkenny).  Several centuries later these “dispersed O’Ciarṁaics” would resurface under the name of Kirby throughout Munster and Kerwick/Kervick in County Kilkenny and County Waterford.  The Ó Ciarṁacáin surname was yet to have come into usage and so the Norman dispossession and the O’Ciarṁaic “diaspora” had no effect on it.  The fact that some lineages split away from their native territory and were able to coalesce elsewhere deserves explanation and the short explanation is cattle.


Ireland at this time was a semi-nomadic land and although land was invaluable, cattle was the “portable wealth” which allowed a number of  O’ Ciarṁaics to  relocate  elsewhere.  Cattle  and  clients were  two very important ingredients of how lords became lords.  New “lords” from “elsewhere” could control farmers through their ability to enfeof them with cattle, making them “clients.”  Cattle clientship was the key to a new lords ascendancy and a principal explanation of how outsider lineages ( i. e. dispossessed O’ Ciarṁaics) came to thrive in and even dominate other territories.  For example near Macroom, County Cork in the Donaghmore Parish there exists a town called Ballykerwick, meaning Kerwick’s town, and so evidently one of the “dispersed”  O’ Ciarṁaic lineages settled and thrived there.


For the O’ Ciarṁaics who did not take their cattle (portable wealth) and coalesce elsewhere they next appear in Knockainy history in the year 1309.  As the story goes, Hugh O’Grady, Chief of the Limerick O’Grady’s married “the daughter and heiress of O’ Ciarṁaic” and it was through her that the rich pasturelands of Kilballyowen (Knockainy parish) came into possession of the O’Grady family.  The O’Grady’s eventually would eclipse the O’ Ciarṁaics and become the ruling lords of Knockainy and environs by two centuries later.


A century later the celebrated Irish poet O’huidrin, listing the old Gaelic ruling families of Ireland in a poem written about 1420, wrote of the O’ Ciarṁaics:


“Of Eoghanact Ani of wealthy lands

O’ Kirwick is the mainstay of the territory,

A country inhabited by the noblest tribes,

They are Ui Enda, Ani, Auluim.”


Although this poem was written about 1420 the references to “the most noble tribes…  Ui Enda, Ani, Auluim” reach back to Eoghanacht dynastic times and merit an explanation.  First of all, before explanation, the “Ui Enda, Ani, Auluim” mentioned by O’huidrin would be,   to  postulate   alternate  spellings  and  without  the “Ui” omitted, “Ui Enna, Ui Ainy, and Ui Olom.”


In explanation the name Eanna, Enda and Enna (all spellings) is an old Irish personal name and as far as the Eoghanacht of Ainy is concerned the name Enna is clearly of dynastic derivation.  The connection of Enna to the Eoghanacht dynasty is as follows:  Corc McLaire, one of the early day founders of the Eoghanacht dynasty, was descended from Nad Fraich (King of Munster) and from him descended Ailill and descended from him was Crimthann (King of Cashel) and from him came Enna from whom the Ui Enna (descendants of Enna) took their tribal name.  The Eoghanacht of Ainy is alternately known as the Ui Enna Ainy.


Next the Ui Ainy (descendants of Ainy) was that noble tribe whose chieftain originally called himself “The Ciarṁac” and ultimately came to become the hereditary surname O’ Ciarṁaic.  They claimed to be the original and therefore the oldest inhabitants of Aine Cliach (Ainy’s territory).


The Ui Olom (descendants of Olom) was that noble tribe who were the hereditary poets of the Eoghanacht Ainy.  The word “Ollaṁ” in Irish means a chief poet and the word “Eolum” and the root “Eol” means knowledge which indicate wisdom or a sage.  The Ui Olom (Ui Auluim) therefore monopolized the office of chief poet (Ollaṁ) in the Eoghanacht Ainy polity and it was their primary power base.  Also King Ailill Olom was believed to have been a poet in addition to being the King of Munster.  The Ui Olom claimed descent from the poet-king Ailill Olom who was also the consort and mate of goddess Ainy.


Lastly it is probable that the chieftaincy of the Eoghanacht Ainy was alternated between these three “noble tribes” with, as per O’huidrin’s poem, “O Kirwick as the mainstay.”


Although there was a marked dispersal of O’ Ciarṁaics following the Norman’s arrival they still nevertheless remained numerous on their ancestral Knockainy lands.  As their population continued to grow the use of various nicknames was adopted to distinguish different families in the area where the surname came to be very common.  Some of these nicknames at first temporarily and then permanently replaced the principal parent surname.  The Irish surname system at this time admitted, with considerable latitude, of the substitution of one for another of different forms of the same surname.  It was about this time (15th Century) that O’ Ciarṁaic gave rise to a diminutive form by the addition of “áin” at its end (Ó Ciarṁacáin).  This additional “áin” when originally added had the force of a new patronymic surname and meant “son of.”  Therefore Ó Ciarṁacáin meant the son (áin) of O’ Ciarṁaic (O’ Ciarṁac being the hereditary surname prior to the formation of the new surname of Ó Ciarṁacáin) and became the hereditary surname of this newly formed lineage.


Thus we see that it was during the Norman period that the surname O’ Ciarṁaic  first came to be dispersed throughout Munster and also that a cadet branch (Ó Ciarṁacáin) was established.  But there would be more changes to come in both surnames with the reassertion of English rule and the process of Anglicization.

From the 7th century until Norman times (13th Century) the Ui Ciarṁaic monopolized the chieftaincy of the Eoghanacht Ainy and remained on their ancestral lands.  This was due, in no small part, to the structure of the early Irish family.


The large extended Irish “family” of old can best be referred to by the Irish term “Fine” which can be translated as “Kin-group” or “Kindred.”  It included much more than the conjugal family of parents and children.  It was rather a group made up primarily of all males who had a great grandfather in common, that is up to and including second cousins.  This was called the “derbfine.”  The “gelfine” was a kin group in the male line of a common grandfather.  The “iarfine” was a kin group in the male line of a common great great grandfather.  The “indfine” was a kin group in the male line of a common great great great grandfather.


On the “Fine” pivoted the greater part of one’s claims, obligations, and loyalties.  Each generation gave rise to a fresh “Fine” and so there was a constant hiving off process of eligible male descendants for the chieftaincy.  Any member in the narrower kin group (derbfine) could be eligible for chieftain on the condition that one of his kin group (within his derbfine) was chieftain.


Kin relations of the wider kin group (iarfine and indfine) became ineligible for the chieftaincy but nevertheless, as members of the extended kin group (fine), were still entitled to remain and share in common their ancestral lands.


The Irish “Fine based” society was characterized by expansion from the top downwards.  As sons and families of the ruling “fine” multiplied, so their subjects, clients, and followers were squeezed out and withered away.  This constant displacement of commoners and of collateral royals by royals of the direct line of the ruling chieftain was, during this period, an Irish-wide phenomenon.


Also the rate at which the Irish “Fine” multiplied itself must not be underestimated.  It was not uncommon for a chieftain to have twenty sons by ten different women and 60 grandchildren also.  Irish society at this time was sexually permissive and Irish law drew no distinction in matters of inheritance between legitimate and illegitimate.


And so by Norman times (13th century), the O’ Ciarṁaic remained on their ancestral lands in ever-growing members.



Gerald the Earl Fitzgerald

Gerald the Earl Fitzgerald (1338-1398), leader of the Munster branch of the Geraldine’s, was a leading example of the Gaelicisation of the Norman lords.  The center of his earldom was his castle at Lough Gur (several miles from the Hill of Knockainy).  As the new Norman overlords of Desmond (south Munster) the Fitzgerald’s were not slow to expropriate to themselves the Gaelic tradition of Ainy as the goddess of Munster sovereignty.


Thus we find the poet Gofraidh Fionn O’ Dalaigh who was in the employ of the Fitzgeralds in the 14th century, referring to Gerald’s father, Maurice the lst Earl, as “Ainy’s King” and to Gerald himself as “the son of Ainy’s Knight.”  He (the poet O’Dalaigh) accordingly composed a story appropriate to the Fitzgerald’s attainment of political eminence in Munster.


The story goes that Maurice was walking one day by the shore of Lough Gur when he saw the beautiful Otherworld woman, Ainy, bathing.  He seized her cloak which act magically put her into his power and then lay with her.  In this way Gerald the Earl, was conceived and when he was born Ainy appeared at the castle of Maurice the Earl to present the child to him.  Thus the Fitzgeralds, as Ainy’s offspring, claimed the right to the sovereignty of Desmond (south Munster).



Septal Arms of Ó Ciarṁaic


“Arms” first arrived in Ireland with the Normans.  Up until then heraldry, in the true sense, did not exist there.  As time progressed Irish heraldry differentiated into three differing heraldic traditions:  The Norman tradition, the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and the Gaelic-Irish tradition.  Norman heraldry shows clearly its military origins with a preponderance of clear simple devises designed for easy military recognition.  Anglo-Saxon heraldic practice was characterized by great elaboration with individual shields often containing as many as a dozen emblems reflecting their preoccupation with family relationships and status in a subjugated society.  Gaelic-Irish heraldry tends to relate to ancient myths and legends, which established their authority and hegemony over their ancient territories.


The arms of the Gaelic-Irish have a number of common features.  In part this is due to the role of genealogy in early Irish society.  The myth of a common origin (Milesians) was a potent means of unifying the different Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland.  And the enormously elaborate Gaelic pseudo-genealogies, tracing every Gaelic family in the country back to the same individual, were designed to reinforce that myth.  In addition the nature of Gaelic law meant that, in effect, what you could own depended on to whom you were related.  These two factors:  The importance of the origin myth and the property rights of the extended family are reflected in the Gaelic-Irish heraldic tradition.


The nature of property relations within the large extended Gaelic-Irish family meant that arms were used in quite different ways from those practiced amongst the Normans and Anglo-Irish.  In particular most arms were regarded as the property of the sept.  And a sept, briefly defined, is a group of related people having a common ancestor, inhabiting the same locality, and bearing the same surname.  Conversely Normans and Anglo-Irish considered the right to use arms as strictly hereditary within a single family.  It is in this context that the O’Ciarṁaic arms came to become the septal arms of families, who, post surname anglicization, came to be called Kirby, Kerwick, and Irwin.


All arms, regardless of tradition, are, simply stated, composed of two parts:  The arms (shield) portion and the crest (top) portion.  The O’ Ciarṁaic arms (shield portion) simply described is as follows:  “An argent (silver) shield with two horizontal bars gules (red) and a lions head or (gold).  The crest (top portion) simply described is as follows:  “Out of a crown or (gold) and argent (silver) an elephants head tusked gules (red).”  These heraldic symbols, just described, have a meaning and tell a story.


The lion’s head on the arms (shield) can be explained in the context of their (O’ Ciarṁaic) subordination and military service to their Dalcassian dynastic overlords (O’Brien’s).  The lion’s head is undoubtedly a borrowing from the O’Brien arms.  As chieftains, subordinated to the O’Brien’s, the O’ Ciarṁaics were called, at various times (c. 1,000-1200), to military service and fought under the O’Brien banner which, according to legend, bore three lions (king of beasts).


To explain the elephant head requires a more complicated explanation reaching back into more ancient times.  The elephant head is quite simply a heraldic way of conveying the meaning of “Ciarṁac” (Black Son) and it denotes the otherworldly source of the O’ Ciarṁaic chieftain’s power.  Firstly the elephant is known for its exquisite memory.  Even today we use the expression “he has the memory of an elephant” when referring to those endowed with superior memories.  The elephant therefore represents memory and, by extension, wisdom.  The fact that the elephant head rests upon a crown of gold and silver is clearly a reference to the O’ Ciarṁaics royal status as chieftains of Eoghanacht Ainy.


The red tusks of the elephant also denote an otherworldly source of the O’ Ciarṁaics chieftaincy.  The ancient Irish people believed god made four chief winds and four subordinate winds and four other subordinate winds so that there were twelve winds in all.  Furthermore to each wind was ascribed a specific color so that all colors of all the winds were different from each other.  The wind of the southeast was given the color red and on the druidic circle of the year red is the color of that portion of the year called Beltane.  Beltane represents “youth” and in ancient Ireland youth and wisdom were interconnected because true wisdom and knowledge was understood as being inspirational rather than gradually acquired.  This concept was often expressed in the imagery of a divine and youthful child (as in Ciarṁac…Black Son of Ainy) who personified the fullness of wisdom inspirationally from the very beginning.


Thus the red-tusked elephants head, as mentioned previously, is a heraldic way of portraying the meaning and significance of the chiefly title “Ciarṁac” (Black Son).

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