Mac MaolŠin

Understanding The Ancient Irish Clan System

THE ANCIENT IRISH CLANN SYSTEM

From ancient times, Irish society was organised around traditional kinship groups or clanns. These clanns traced their origins to larger pre-surname population groupings such as Ui Briuin in Connacht, Dal gCais in Munster, Ui Neill in Ulster, Fir Domnann in Leinster and Gaileanga  (the case for Mac Maoláin).

Within those larger groupings there tended to be one sept (division) who through war and politics became more powerful than the others for a period of time and the leaders of some were accorded the status of royalty in Gaelic Ireland. Some of the more important septs to achieve this kind of power by the 2nd millennium were O'Conor in Connacht, O'Brien of Thomond in Munster, O'Neill of Clandeboy in Ulster and Kavanagh in Leinster.

Irish Kingship

How were Irish Kings selected? They were normally "elected" from any one of the males comprised in the "deirbhfhine", the descendants of a deceased chief to the fourth generation. Election frequently originated from a council of higher level kings and overlords, and these kings were often "selected" after battling with rival claimants. The old law tract " The Five Paths of Judgement" states that any would be king, must be the son of a king and the grandson of a king. A man whose father had ruled before him, but not his grandfather, was known as a middle ranking king. The candidate must also be of good legal standing, be not guilty of theft, be physically unblemished and also be a man of property.

In early Brehon law dating back to at least 200 AD, there were three grades of king: (1) of the local "tauth" or tribal kingdom; (2) of a larger territory and overlord of No.1 and senior of all (i.e. Maoláin, Lord of all Gaileanga and Luighne) and (3) king of a province.

At a later date in Irish history the term Ard-Ri became popular, indicating the king of all provinces. This High King was superior to all so as to distinquish his authority above that of lesser Petty Kings and Princes of provinces.

The largely symbolic role of High King tended to rotate among the leaders of these royal clans. The larger or more important clans were led by a Taoiseach (Chief) who had the status of royalty and the smaller, more independant, lesser clans by a Chieftain. Under Irish Brehon law the leaders were appointed by their kinsmen as custodians of the clan and were responsible for maintaining and protecting their clan and its property. This clan system formed the basis of society up to the 17th century.

Clan Structure

Often, clans are thought of as based on blood kinship alone; in fact Irish clans would be better thought of as akin to the modern day corporation. Their ruling structure, whether ruled by a single Chief or Clan Council, changed according to the needs and quality of their membership.

Historically the power of clans grew and shrank. Once powerful clans in time of decline or stature (decimated in battle) could be amalgamated with other ones (i.e. Machaire Gaileanga absorbed by O'Reilly). How this merger would be dealt with would be a matter of negotiation based on the power of the respective parties. Consequently, Irish clans were composed of those related by blood, but also by those who were adopted and fostered into the clan as well as those who joined the clan for strategic reasons such as safety or combining of land and resources (i.e the migration of Mullen and Lohan to the territory of Corca Mogh-Concannon in Galway 12th century-Ui Diarmada under protection of the King of Ui Maine, or MacMullen to BallyMcMullen Abbyleix under O'More).

Destruction of the Clan system and modern "Revival" 

The early 17th century was a watershed in Ireland, marking the destruction of the Gaelic aristocracy following the Tudor re-conquest and cleared the way for the Plantation of Ulster in 1607.  the senior Gaelic Chiefs left Ireland to recruit support in Spain but never reached their intended destination, instead eventually arrived in Rome where they remained for the rest of their lives. After this English authorities in Dublin established real control over all of Ireland, bringing a centralized government and disarming the native clans and their lordships.

However, despite the loss of their traditional lands and forced emigration , the spirit of the Irish clans remained. To this day the majority of Irish people in Ireland and around the world can tell you the name of the clan from which they descend. The growing influence of the Gaelic league at the turn of the 20th century rekindled an interest in Gaelic culture and prompted a revival. In the 1940's Edward MacLysaght, then Chief Herald of Ireland drew up a list of over 240 Irish clans. The first modern Irish "clans" were reformed in the latter half o the 20th century.  Today such groups are organized in Ireland and on every continent around the world.

Clans of Ireland Ltd.

 

In September of 2009 following submission of historic and genetic (DNA) documentation to the board of the Clans of Ireland, Clan Mac Maoláin was resurrected as an authorized Irish Clan.  A Clan Council was then formed and in the spring of 2010, the elected Chieftain Laighin Mac Maoláin (Lyn David McMullen) was inaugurated in the Keim cemetary of Carnaross (Parish of Castlekeiran-Loughan) incorporating the Stone of Lugh recovered in this gravesite 2006 (see the Castlekieran Ogham Stone page) and Termon crosses of Ciaran located in the cermony. These locale was chosen to represent our cultural connection back to the tribes of  Gaileanga and Luighne in Cavan and Meath, descendants of Maoláin Lord of all Gaileanga and Luighne 1018 AD and Mac Mic Maoláin. Lord of the Gaileanga Breagh slain 1144 AD.

Maureen McMullen Cathoirleach (Chair of Clan Council) and Lyn McMullen Ceann Fine (Chieftain) Clann Mac Maoláin.

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 The Stone of Lugh:  pictured, Michael McMullen Tanaiste (Chieftain elect) and Lyn McMullen Clan Chieftain.

 

 MacMaolain (McMullen) Kin Group

The basic social unit (family) in early Irish was the called the fine (kin group). This was futher defined by the “derbfine”,  a group made up of all those males who had a great grandfather in common in contrast to a possible wider kin group.

From this select group (the ruling kindred) would come nominations for Chieftain (kingship). Most successions passed to brothers or sons, with fewer historical examples of succession by grandsons or nephews.

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In the McMullen of Leinster Association, this "derbfine" line will be followed from Arthur W. McMullen born 1839 in Callan Co. Kilkenny.  All males sons descending from Arthur (including 2nd cousins) are eligible for nomination as Clan Taoiseach (Chieftain).

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