Mac MaolŠin

Origins of the surname "Mac Maoláin"


Mac Maoláin

Mac Maoláin as a surname evolved from the old Irish Gaelic root form "Maelan", a forename in use circa  700-900 AD.

Later middle Irish variant forms of Maoláin; Mailin; Maellain would come into use circa 900-1200AD.

All of these variants are verified in numerous Irish "annals", with entries spanning hundreds of years.

A less certain possibility predates written monastic entries, found in the translation for an Ogham narrative cut in to the Aghascrebagh Standing Stone found in Co,  Tyrone.

One of the very few Ogham stones in the north of Ireland, it was almost certainly a standing stone before Ogham was cut into it. Standing 1.2 metres high, it appears to be from about 500AD, the much worn inscription interpreted as Dottetto Maqi Maglani.

MAQI according to experts analyzing the stone, was an earliest form of Mac=son of, leaving some convinced this is referencing an individual recorded as son of Maelan

These "original variants" would eventually become anglicized in the modern era as Mullan/Mullen/Mullin and "son of"= MacMullan, MacMullen, MacMullin and MacMoylan.

Later they were shortened to the more common variants in use today of McMullan, McMullen, McMullin and McMoylan.

Existence of the early Irish variant forms Mac Maoláin, Mic Maoláin, Mhic Mhaoláin, Mec Mellain and Mec Maoilin, are verified by:

1.Ancient Irish townland's established in the locales these families inhabited;

2. Diversified Irish annal entries recorded by scribes who were located in different areas and spanning several centuries;

3. Specific hand written notes found in the charter section of the "Book of Kells"; and

4. Surname's of individuals identified in the ecclesiastic histories of Irish dioceses.

These diverse resources highlight the factual reality of several unrelated families eventually adopting this forename as their surname in Ireland.

More importantly they exposes the simplistic research efforts adopted by consumer crest marketing companies, who cobble together questionable analysis about where a specific surname first emerged (based on who they are marketing), and ignore the vast amount of modern updated research input even when they are provided that evidence.

The forenames Maelán, Maolán, Maoláin, Meallain and collateral medieval surname Mac Maoláin (son of), surface in terms of historic identification, in some of the very earliest locational records of populations and tribal clusters identified in Irish historical research.

Extracted from these ancient texts, affiliated references to a significant chieftain using this forename include's entries found sequentially:

*the early chiefly families of Ui Bairrche which included their mercenary allies the fianna of  Clanna Rory (the Laighsi);

*downstream families of the Laigin (pronounced Lein/Lyne), within dynastic pedigrees posted for: Ui Failghe; Ui Dunlaigne; Ui Fergusa, and Clan Donnchada; plus

*the genelach (pedigree) of the Luighne/Gaileanga alliance of Mide and Brega.

Territorial dynasties emerging over periods in excess of several thousand years, were reshaped by conquest and defeat. This produced several diverse variants of an original variant Maelan, recorded in different locations, for clearly unrelated families (septs)

The forename is found also in diverse monastic sites such as Ceanannus (Meath), Clonmacnoise (Offaly), Clones (Monaghan), Swords (Dublin) Clonfert (Galway), Kilnamanagh (Roscommon), Kilmactranny (Sligo), Daire (Derry) Collumcille and Ahoghill Kilconway (Antrim).

It was these monastic occupational records and the form selected by scribes for individuals recorded in them, which contributed to the later more frequent transcribed selection of a tonsured form (Maolain= bald) versus Maelan (=of the hillock or height) when identifying individuals of this forename.

The variant forms Maolain (Mullan, Mullen Mullin) and Mac Maolain McMullan, McMullen, McMullin) eventually became the most common form used in Ireland by dispersed regional scribes, who were recording the historic events of their day.

Tracking ancient pedigree's and territorial population groups where a prominent individual named Maelan & Mc surfaced,  will confirm as mentioned, several different cultural and topographic tribal clusters and tributary relationships.

Where tribal references appear in historic renderings, they often include a mention of ancient pagan dieties, such as Lugh, Nauda and the mystic Tauth De Dannan.

Specific surname families identified in more recently published genealogical and antiquarian research works include:

Irish Genealogical Society's history of Clanna-Rory, identifying the seat of MacMullen on page 16 and migration of Fergus Gaileang to "Teffia" (modern day Westmeath) on page 86;

Ethnology of the Gael  project by  C. Thomas Cairney, listing  O'Mullan on pages 78, 82 and 87, suggesting his descent as from families linked earlier to Cahair Mor and the Laigin.

O'Hart "Irish Pedigrees (Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation) suggesting descent from a Connor brother of Dathi (#102 on the Concannon pedigree), his son Donall, his son Maolan, also suggestive of earlier Laigin origins.

O’Growney, in his research provides examples of sites connected to the very early ecclesiastic tradition and use of the variant Maelán (Daire Maelain Fermanagh, and Cell Maelain Limerick/Killmoylan Galway).

Widely dispersed sites where a variant emerged include several in county Laois, one of which may have been according to O’Growney, the vey 1st to house a monastic given the forename of Maelan:


These different pedigrees and topographic suggestions verify as modern genetic studies have, that several separate families in different locales, adopted this forename as their surname over many centuries.

Most modern historians wisely caution that ancient pedigrees conceptually should be read with the view of topographic alliances versus agnatic descent (e.g. the Ui Bairche/Laighsi cluster) with chiefly families tacked on to dynastic pedigree's to ensure participation in the Brehon competition for tigernach=king or territorial lord.

Generally antiquarians consider these ancient pedigree's as only completely reliable from about the 9th century onward, due to the constant shifts in dynastic affiliations of earlier times.

Many families (septs) now present a pedigree that was either assigned, or in some cases a false/corrupted version.

Below are listed ancient pedigrees found back on Irish evolutionary pathways where a prominent male forename in that particular territorial cluster, may have spawned a later descendant surname of Mullan, Mullen, McMullen. (note three of them suggest common descent from a Munster Ailella Auluimm)

Luigni of Connacht:   (Rawlinson)

Diarmait m. Fínnachta m. Cobthaich m. Máel Dúin m. Cind Fáelad m. Taiccthich m. Cind Fáelad m. Diarmata m. Findbairr m. Brénaind m. Nad Fróech m. h-Idin m. h-Idchuir m. Niad Chuirp m. Luí (a quo Luigni) m. Cornáin m. Taidgc m. Céin m. Ailella Auluimm

Sil Cormaic Gaileng:  (Leinster)

Clothna m. Colggan m. Móenaich m. Crunnmáel m. Báetáin m. Báeth m. Findich m. Gossa m. Tálgluind m. Brócáin m. Cormaicc m. Taidgc m. Céin m. Ailella Auluimb

Gailenga Teffia:   (Clana Rory) 

Lughaidh m. Fergna m. Gillacha m. Ronain m. Oiliol m. Donchada m. Saoi Mor m. Oildgoid m. Gailne m. Cormac m. Blathnaine m. Felim m. Oiliol m. Fergus [Gaileang] m. Rosa m. Rory

Luighne & Gaileang Mora: (Cavan/Meath...Rawlinson)

Léocán m. Laidgneáin m. Máeláin m. Éicnich m. Dúnchada m. Cináeda m. Léocáin m. Donngaile m. Conchobair m. Moínaich m. Máel Mórda m. Adamra m. Dechraich m. Dergscáil m. Leae nó oe m. Cormaicc [Gaileang] m. Taidg m. Céin m. Ailella Auluim


The 1st family recorded with the surname "Mac Maoláin" emerged in annalistic records early 10th and 11th century. They were identified as associated at that time with the Mide & Brega tribal clusters of Luighne and Gaileanga. 

A map of the "Breifne Region"(circa 700AD) predating arrival of Ui Briuin O'Rourke and O'Reilly clans, illustrates the topographical locales that were occupied by Gaileanga Mora and Mide/Brega Luighne families (Castlerahan & Clankee Cavan; Lune Mide; Upper & Lower Kells, Fore & Morgallion Meath. (Map compliments of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland)

Notices are found in diverse Irish Annals relating to Maelan, Maoláin, Mic Maolain, identifying them as of the Gaileanga and Luighne as of those tribal clusters they were aligned with, and had ecclesiastic links to the monastic site of Kells (Ceannanus) and "Alumnus of Columcille".


Sequential annals, reveal the wider involvement of these tribal elements with the monastic communities and conflicts of the era: 


809, Foircheallach of Fobhar, Abbot of Cluain Mic Nois, one of the Gaileanga Móra died.

848, Maelan, son of Cathmogha, lord of Ui Briuin of South Connaught, was slain by the foreigners.

855, Maeleona son of Olbrann, one of the Luighni of Connacht, Lector of Cluain Mic Nois, died.

884, Dunacan, m. Tauthcair, dux Galeng Collumrach 

929, Maeleoin, bishop and anchorite of Ath-Truim, died,, after a good life.

953, Ruadhacan mac Eitigen ri Airthir Gaileng.

978, The battle of Teamhair was gained by Maelseachlainn, son of Domhnall, over the foreigners of Ath-cliath and of the Islands, and over the sons of Amhlaeibh in particular, where many were slain, together with Raghnall, son of Amhlaeibh, heir to the sovereignty of the foreigners; Conamhail, son of Gilla-Arri; and the orator of Ath-cliath; and a dreadful slaughter of the foreigners along with them. There fell also in the heat of the battle Braen, son of Murchadh, royal heir of Leinster; Conghalach, son of Flann, lord of Gaileanga, and his son, i.e. Maelan; Fiachna and Cuduilich, the two sons of Dubhlaech, two lords of Feara Tulach; and Lachtnan, lord of Mughdhorn-Maighen. After this Amhlaeibh went across the sea, and died at I-Coluim-Cille.

991,  The Fox, grandson of Leochain, King of the Gaileanga, died. 

993,  Eicnech Ua Leochain, king of Luighne, was killed by Mael Sechnaill in the abbot's house of Domnach Patriac.

994,  Conghalach, son of Laidghnen, king of the Gaileanga, died.

1002, Repose of Colum Ua Laigenáin, coarb of Ailbe.

1003, Madadhan, mac Aenghusa, toiseach Gaileng m-Becc, & Ferc-Cul was slain.

1005, Cathal, mac Dunchadha, tigherna Gaileang Mor.

1009, Maelan, .i. in Gai Mor, ri Ui Dorthaind ("Maelan" i.e. of the large spear king of Ui Dorthainn").

1017, Maolán, mac Eccnígh uí Leochain, tigherna Gaileng & Tuath Luicchne (Luigne) uile, do mharbhadh dona Saithnibh.

1032, Donnghal mac Duin Cothaig, ri Gaileang

1037, Laidhgnen Ua Leocain, tigherna Gaileng.

1048, Aedh, son of Maelan Ua Nuadhait, airchinneach of Sord, was killed on the night of the Friday of protection before Easter, in the middle of Sord.

1050, Maelan, lector of Ceanannus, who was a distinquished sage; died.

1051, Laidcnen, son of Maelan Ua Leocain, lord of Gaileanga, and his wife, the daughter of the Gott O'Maeleachlainn, went on a pilgrimage to Rome; and they died in the east, on their return from Rome.

1060, Leochan mac maic Maelan, king of Gaileanga.

1060, a defeat was inflicted by the men of Brega, i.e. by Gairbeid ua Cathasaigh, on the Gaileang, i.e. on Leochan grandson of Maelan, and on the Cairpre.

1065, Leochan, i.e. the son of Laidhgnen, lord of Gaileanga, was slain by Conchubar Ui Maeleachlainn.

1076, Amhlaib, mac mic Maoláin, king of Gaileanga

1077, the grandson of Maelan, king of Gaileanga, was killed by Mael Sechlainn king of Temair.

1091, Laidgnen .i. An Buidhenach h-Úa Duinn Cathaig, rí Gaileng.

1091, Laighgnen, lord of Gaileanga, was slain by the Ui Briuin.

1097, Maelan Ua Cuinn, airchinneach of Eaglais-Beag at Clonmacnoise.

1124, the finishing of the cloictheach of Cluain-mic-nois by Ua Maeleoin, successor of Ciaran.

1127, Gillachrist Ua Maeleoin, abbot, successor of Ciaran of Cluain-mic-nois, fountain of the wisdom, the ornament, and magnificence of Leath-Chuinn and head of the prosperity and affluence of Ireland, died.

1134, Maelciarain, a son of Cormac, a noble priest, prop of piety and wisdom, noble head of CLuain-mic-nois, died on MIchaelmas NIght, and it was in Imdhaigh Chiarain he died. Mael Ciaran ( a quo muinter Maelán).

1144, Mac Mic Maoláin, tigherna Gaileang Breagh, was slain.


Mac Maoláin (Gaileanga Mora and Brega) 

A Chieftain forename Lorcan or Leochain  (Larkin or Loughan, Logane, Lohan) circa 10th Century, is identified in the Irish Annals as Lord of the Luighne/Gaileanga of Mide, Cavan and Brega.

1037AD, Laidcenn (variant Laidhgnen anglicised Lynan), is listed by scribes who are located in different monastic locations and identified as the son of Maolán, and grandson of Eccnigh Ui Leochain (translates as Lohan) or Ui Lorcan (translates as Larkin).

Lynan became  the king of the Luighne/Gaileanga Mora,  married the daughter of the Gott (son of Conchhubar Maelseachlain) king of Uisneach=Westmeath Southern Ui Neill) and travelled with her to Rome on a pilgrimage.

Lynan was earlier taken prisoner 1037 in the annals is also recorded in the charters to the "Book of Kells"as both laity (alumnus of Kells) and  witness to the freedom of Kildalkey (land transfers to the church of Columcille (circa 1025-40 AD) by Conchubar Maelseachlain.

His brother Maelan d.1050, was a lector in the monastic site of Ceanannus (Kells), dedicated to the kin of Columcille.

Lynan and his wife died in the east while they were returning from Rome. His son is elected successor as lord of the Gaileanga (but not of the Luighne) and recorded in 1060AD as Leochan mac maic Maolán (Loughan Mac Maolain).

Territorial references like Leochain/Lorkin are no longer used by scribes from this point forward. Subsequent entries attach the verbal identifiers of mic, maic and Mic Maoláin, verifying the collateral evolution based on marriage to royalty (Southern Ui Neill (the Got) Clann Cholmain) of the surname and family of Mac Maoláin, tigherna Gaileang Breagh slain 1144AD.

Authors note: Locales of Mide and Brega during the dynastic era of Clann Cholmain and Sil nAedo Slaine (the Mael Seachlain kings of Mide and Tara (Brega) are illustrated on the map below. When reading the annals, this clarifies that the modern day county of Meath (Irish Mide) was then referenced as Brega, and Westmeath referenced as Mide (Meath).

Middle Irish Gaelic (c900-c1200) nominative form: