Updated 22 EanŠir 2004 2000

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Glossary Useful for Irish Genealogical Research


Adventurer: A person who subscribed ('adventured') a sum of money for the equipment of an army to suppress the Rising of 1641 on the security of lands to be confiscated from Irish proprietors.

antiquary: a collector or student of antiguities.

armiger: a squire carrying the armour of a medieval knight.

Aspiration: the addition of the letter H to a consonant, thereby modifying its sound, e.g. BH = V

attaint: to convict of a crime punishable by foreiture of estate and extinction of civil rights.

Barony: A territorial division next in order of size to the county, each county comprising from five to twenty baronies according to its extent.

bawn: a fortified enclosure.

Brehon: The terms Brehon Law and Brehon System refer to the Gaelic legal system in force before the Norman invasion; this system was not completely superseded until the seventeenth century.

by-name: a sobriquet or nickname.

Cenel: Irish Gaelic, from cineal, meaning 'race' or 'family'. Cenel Eoghain, the 'race of Eoghan'.

Census: The so-called census of 1659 was not a complete census of population in the modern meaning of the word. There is a difference of opinion as to its exact purpose.

clan: from the Gaelic, clann which mean 'children'. 'Clan' generally refers
to the Scottish form of social organisation in the Highlands in which a
common ancestry was not essential. Sept is used more than clan in Ireland

clearances: the removal of tenants from estates in the Highlands to make way
for sheep farming. Mainly in the 19th century.

Co-arb: The following passage is quoted from J.F. Kenny's 'Sources for the Early History of Ireland'; 'by the eleventh century ... in the average church the abbot, generally known as the comharba (co-arb), 'heir', of the saintly founder, or, if it were not the saint's principal establishment, the airchinnech (erenagh), "head", had become a lay lord, whose family held the office and the church property from generation to generation ... In some cases, apparently, all trace of a church establishment had disappeared, except that the incumbant claimed for his lands the termonn of the ancient monastery, those privleges and exemptions which had from of old been accorded to ecclesiastical property; but generally the comharba or airchinnech maintained a priest.

crowner: a coroner. The Crown appointed coroners in Scotland from 1357 until
the 18th century. They held inquests into murders and had powers of arrest.

Cruthin: the Cruthin or Cruithne were the Pictish people that inhabited Ireland
before the arrival of the Gaels.

Cymric: relating to the Welsh people and their language.

Dalcassian: Dal gCais in Irish Gaelic. Dal mean 'tribe' or 'people' and the
Dalcassians included all the main septs of Munster.

Dalriadic: Dal Riada was an ancient kingdom of north Antrim from where a colony
was founded in Kintyre and Argyll, the origin of the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada.

diaspora: a dispersion or spreading, as of people originally belonging to
one nation or having a common culture.

diminutive: a word formed from another by the use of a suffix expressing smallness
as Rob-in, meaning 'little Rob.

epithet: descriptive adjective or name.

Eponymous ancestor: The individual from whom the family name was taken.

erenagh: airchinneach in Irish Gaelic, meaning 'hereditary stewart of church lands'.
A family would hold the ecclesiastical office and the right to the church or
monastery lands, the incumbent at any one time being the erenagh.

escheat: the reversion of ownership of property to the Crown, especially
subsequent to treason or rebellion.

Galloglass: A heavily armed mercenary soldier, usually, but not always, of Scottish origin.

Garda Siochana: the police force of the Republic of Ireland. Meaning 'guardians
of the peace'.

Gille: from the Scots Gaelic gille, meaning 'lad' or 'youth', 'devotee' or 'servant'.

Giolla: giolla in Irish, means 'lad' or 'youth', 'devotee' or 'servant'.

Kern: An Irish soldier, lighly armed.

laird: a Scottish word which means 'landowner'.

local origin: A surname is of local origin when it derives from a specific
locality, place or building.

Mac: this means 'son' in Gaelic.

Ollamh: A professor or learned man; a master in some art or branch of learning.

Palatines: Families from the Palatinate of the Rhine who settled in Co. Limerick early in the eighteenth century.

The Pale: The district centred on Dublin under the full control of the government of the King of England. It varied greatly in extent as the power of the English waxed and waned. At the end of the fifteenth century it comprised only Co. Dublin and parts of Louth, Meath and Kildare.

patronymic: a name deriving from a father or other male ancestor.

Pictish: pertaining to the Picts, pre-Celtic people of north Britain, from the
Late Latin Picti, meaning 'painted men'.

Picto-Cymric: Refers to the Pictish people of Wales also known as the Prydyn.

Plantation: the redistribution of escheated lands after the defeat of the Ulster
Gaelic lords and the 'Flight of the Earls' in 1607. Donegall, Derry, Tyrone, Armagh,
Fermanagh and Cavan were planted. Portions of land were distributed among English
and Scottish chief undertakers and undertakers. They were responsible for settling
English and Scottish families on these lands and for the building of bawns.

Planter: one who acquired lands during the Ulster Plantation Settlement.

progenitor: historically, the founder of a particular family.

race: a large group of people of common ancestry.

rapparee: ropaire in Irish, meaning 'highwayman'. Many of these belonged to Irish
families whose lands were taken from them by violence and force.

reive: to take away by force, expecially livestock.

riding-clans: the name given to a large group of families on both sides of the
English-Scottish Borders. They lived by a particular social system, the economy
of which was sustained by the rustling of cattle and other livestock. They were
thus also known as the reivers, rievers or reavers.

seneschal: stewart of a large medieval household.

sept: a family group of shared ancestry living in the same locality.

servitor: resident English administrative or military offical who was granted lands during the Plantation.

style: to call or name by a particular title.

Sodhan: A pre-Gaelic race in the Ui Maine country.

Tanist: tanaiste in Irish, meaning 'heir presumptive to the chiefly title'.
In Ireland the Tanist was not always the son of the chief but was elected by the sept.

territorial origin: a surname is of territorial origin when the original bearer
took the name from his own lands or the area which he ruled.

Toponymic: A surname formed from a place-name.

Townland: The territorial sub-division of a parish, each townland greatly varying in size, commonly averaging 250 to 400 acres. The term has no relation to a town or city, being derived from the Old-English word 'tun' signifying enclosure.

tributary: a sept subject to a larger sept which was required to pay tribute
to, and take part in, the wars of the larger sept.

Undertaker: A person, usually English, who, as a condition of obtaining a grant of lands confiscated from Irish proprietors, undertook to plant thereon English or Scottish settlers in place of the dispossessed occupiers.

vassel: a feudal tenant, bound to his superior by oath, and responsible for
military service on the superior's behalf.

vill: a village.

Wild Geese: A term applied to Irish exiles to the Continent of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally denoting those who became soldiers in continental armies it was later extended to refer to their descendants.


This page was added to this website on 4 April 2000.

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