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McCann Family History

Mac Cana- anglicised M(a)cCann, earlier M'Canna. The root is most probably 'cano' meaning wolf cub, possibly in the sense of young warrior. This is the derivation generally agreed today, and which you may find in MacLysaght's 'Surnames of Ireland', 1985. Howvere, Woulfe in 'Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923, gives the derivation as 'son of Annadh', i.e. the root being Annadh.

An early figure is one Cano mac Gartnáin, a king of the 7th century, who held territory in both Scotland and Ireland. The McCanns were lords of Clann Breasail or Clanbrassil, whose territory lay on the south shore of Lough Neagh in modern Co Armagh. An early reference to the sept in the Annals of Ulster in 1155 appears thus: 'Amlaim Mac Canai (steward of Cenel-[O]engusa), tower of the championship and activity of all Cenel Eogain, died'.

By the time of the 1659 'Census' undertaken by Commonwealth surveyor, Sir William Petty, the name is listed as a 'Principal Irish Name' in Co Armagh:
Lower Fewes Barony, McCane, 10 families; ONeyland Barony, Charlemount, McCann, 28 families.

By the mid 19th century the name had spread into many counties. Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1847-64) has most McCann households in counties Armagh 333, Tyrone 212, Antrim 146 + 94 Belfast, Down 140 and Derry 95.

The Registrar General's 'Special Report on Surnames...in Ireland' (R.E. Matheson, 1894) , based on the birth figures for 1890, shows most McCann registrations in counties Antrim, Armagh, Dublin and Tyrone. The total number was 175.

Two Notable McCanns:

Michael Joseph McCann (1824-1883) poet who wrote the stirring poem 'O'Donnell Abu!' originally called 'The Clanconnell War Song' (1843):
'Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding,
Loudly the war cries arise on the gale.'

Joe McCann (1947-1972) born in Belfast. Official I.R.A. volunteer, immortalised in the famous photograph where he kneels on one knee, rifle in hand, against the background of a burning building. Caught up in the early fighting, where Catholic areas were at the mercy of Loyalist gangs, indifferent and often hostile policing, and British Army intervention, he became an icon of resistance and a hate figure for the authorities. He was gunned down, unarmed, in the street by a team of R.U.C. Special Branch and British Army in April 1972.

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Areas of origin

  • Armagh, Ulster, Ireland

    Learn more about Armagh on Ireland101