If your name is Duffy or Treanor or McMahon or ...

Prior to the seventeenth century demise of the Gaelic chieftains and ‘Gaelic Ireland’ Co. Monaghan was divided into five small kingdoms, or ‘tuatha’ as they were then termed. Four of these tuatha were ruled over by the McMahons, while the fifth, the one furtherest north, was the domain of the McKennas. With the coming of the English and the creation of the counties these five ‘tuatha’ became ‘baronies’ and it is by that title that they are still known today.

Names of the baronies or tuatha controlled by the McMahons were Farney, Cremorne, Monaghan and Dartrey, and the one controlled by the McKennas was Truagh, the smallest of the five and containing only two parishes, Donagh (on occasion called ‘Upper Truagh’) and Errigal Truagh (sometimes referred to as ‘Lower Truagh).

The McMahons, although not the most numerous name in the county, were still the dominant clan in four-fifths of the county down through the ages and so deserve special mention. Strongest in the centre and West of the county, the 1663 and 1665 ‘Hearth Rolls’ for the various parishes of the county list most McMahons in Currin parish (West) and Magheracloone, Donaghmoyne and Magheross (Carrickmacross) in the South. The lowest number of the McMahon name in both of those lists were in the two northern parishes, but also, and surprisingly so, in the parishes of Aughnamullen and Muckno (Castleblayney).

Probably the greatest of Co. Monaghan’s historians, Fr. Peadar Livingstone, of Castleblayney, in his mammoth publication ‘The Monaghan Story’ a Documented History of the County Monaghan from the earliest times to 1976’ published by Clogher Historical Society, Enniskillen in 1980 wrote the following - “The big majority of Monaghan people today are descended from families whose ancestors have lived in the area of the present county for well over a thousand years. Their surnames are those of the tenth and eleventh centuries when surnames began to be used for the first time. Many of them descend from the Ui Chreamthainn families: the MacMahons, Connollys, McArdles, Comiskeys, Cunninghams and many others. Though not belonging to the Ui Chremthainn, other families like the Duffys, McKennas, Treanors and Hanrattys have belonged to Monaghan for a very long time. The Gaelic families included others from the surrounding counties of Louth, Meath, Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh; the Bradys, Carraghers, Donnellys, Foxes, Maguires, O’Reillys and others. Then in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of settlers poured into Monaghan from Scotland and England; the Adairs, Allens, Armstrongs, Boyds, Brownes, Dixons, Dunwoodys, Elliotts, Irwins, Scotts, Thompsons and others. Although the numbers of these families have decreased in this century, they form a considerable proportion of Monaghan people today.’

Fr. Livingstone also gives a very interesting table of voters’ names from the ‘1970 Electoral Register’ in which he shows that the Duffys were the most prominent name that year with 1047 voters, the McKennas were second at 1014, the Connollys third at 662 and the McMahons fourth at 510. Completing the ‘Top 20’ from that same list, were the following - Smith, McCabe, Traynor (Treanor), Kelly, Hughes, Murphy, Keenan, McArdle, O’Reilly, Martin, Finnegan, Ward, Murray, McDonnell, McNally and Brady.

What a pity there is not a copy of Fr. Livingstone’s amazing book in every home in Co. Monaghan as it makes fascinating reading and is ‘the ultimate’ when it comes to finding out the history of this county and of the people who dwell therein. It has recently been re-issued by the Clogher Historical Society and is available in all good bookshops throughout the county.

In 2001 Mr Pat Holland of Derryolam Park, Carrickmacross, decided that an interesting ‘Millennium Project’ for him would be to do a compilation of family names in Co. Monaghan on the brink of a new millennium and to compare and contrast these new figures with those of 1963-64. This was quite a daunting task for anyone to undertake but Pat did it remarkable well and with that rare enthusiasm which one only finds in the real genuine historian. Even better, he published his findings and they are now available for all to see and examine.

The year 2001 ‘electors list’ had 41,697 names compared to 28,177 in 1963-64, an increase of 48% and this was due mainly to two factors - (1) the eligible age for voting had been reduced in 1972 from twenty-one years to eighteen years, and (2) an increase in the population of the county.

Pat Holland’s researches came up with some amazing statistics, not least of which was the fact that the McKenna surname had at that stage (2001) outnumbered all other single surnames within the county and also after stating that no less than 528 surnames had been lost to Co Monaghan between the two dates, but that a remarkable 933 new surnames had been added to same. He then put it quite bluntly on the page headed ‘Main Findings’ of his excellent book as follows: “McKenna is now emphatically the number one Family name within Co. Monaghan substantially increasing its lead over Duffy, Duffy increasing to 401, McKenna increasing to 601.”

In a county where the McMahons had always over-shadowed all others, this was truly a remarkable finding. And one which surely must have made the McKenna clan proudly sit up and take notice as did the editor of their biennial journal ‘Clann MacKenna (No 9) in 2004 (page 144) when (with permission) he promptly seized on Pat Holland’s findings and re-produced them in an article entitled’ ‘The McKennas are now Top Dogs in Co Monaghan.’

The figures for the ‘Top Ten’ surnames in Pat Holland’s survey for 2001 read as follows: 1st - McKenna 1,408; 2nd - Duffy 1,061; 3rd - Connolly 780; 4th - Treanor 697; 5th - McMahon 665; 6th - Murphy 491; 7th - Hughes 467; 8th - Kelly 463; 9th - McCabe 401; 10th - Smith 397. McKennas were also in first place in the 1963-64 registers, followed by Duffy, Connolly, McMahon and McCabe.

Dividing the county into its four electoral areas, Pat Holland pointed out that Connolly was at the top in the Clones area (West Monaghan), Duffy was number one in both the Carrickmacross (South Monaghan) and Castleblayney (East) areas, but, and as might be expected, McKenna was so far ahead in the Monaghan area (North) that it stayed out in front of all others for the entire county. And even in the North itself McKenna had increased from 715 in 1963-64 to 1,085 in 2001.

Pat Holland then added a very interesting statistic in his ‘Table 9’ where he showed that McKenna was far ahead of all others in 2001 with regard to Monaghan town, with these figures: - North Monaghan, excluding Monaghan town: 1st - McKenna 955; 2nd Treanor 476; 3rd - Connolly 162; 4th - McCarron 161; 5th - Sherry 155. Monaghan town itself (again for 2001): 1st - McKenna 130; 2nd - Treanor 97; 3rd - Hughes 80; 4th - Connolly 70; 5th - Clerkin 52.

Pat Holland’s excellent survey is entitled ‘Surnames of Co. Monaghan - Regional Frequency and Distribution’ and it is still on sale in all good bookshops throughout the county or direct from Pat himself at Derryolam Park, Carrickmacross. It is a book which is well worth having in every house in Co. Monaghan.

Prior to the McKenna name taking over the leadership in the ‘Surname Stakes’ in Monaghan , Duffy had led the way down through the years and the centre of the county is still very much a Duffy stronghold. Like the McKennas in the north, where ‘nicknames’ are a necessity in distinguishing families, the same ‘rule’ applies in mid-Monaghan with regard to the Duffys. These names should not really be termed ‘nicknames’ but rather ‘family names’ as they are invariably appellations derived from the first names of either the father or grandfather of the family in question. If we had not these ‘attachments’ the postmen of Co., Monaghan would otherwise have an absolute nightmare in sorting out their daily deliveries.

Proud bearers of so many of these Co. Monaghan surnames have distinguished themselves in our history down the years, and some even in world history. The McMahons can boast of the martyred bishop Heber McMahon, who led the northern Irish in the Confederate Wars, as well as a string of Clogher bishops; the McKennas will recall Don Juan McKenna of Chilean liberation fame and Fr. Charles McKenna, who was chaplain to the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fontenoy; the Duffy’s can record Charles Gavan Duffy of the Young Irelanders’ and Eoin O’Duffy of War of Independence fame; while the Connollys will surely lay claim to James Connolly of 1916 fame (even though he was born in Scotland, his parents came from Co. Monaghan).

McKenna, Duffy, McMahon and Connolly are names of which any county should justifiably feel proud and Monaghan in particular cherishes all four. From the GAA point of view all four of those surnames have been regularly listed on the county selections that have represented our county in the various competitions and in every single case, they have done both their county and their name proud. Long may such surnames survive.