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Ó Broin - anglicised widely as Byrne, and occasionally Burns and Byron. From 'bran' or raven. This is the numerous Leinster sept.
Ó Birn - anglicised Beirne, Byrne, Burns, Byron. According to Woulfe ('Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923) this is a variant of Ó Beirn, and means descendant of 'Bjorn', a Scandinavian first name. It is largely a Connacht name.
Ó Beirn - anglicised Beirne, Byron &c. is a variant of Ó Birn.
The vast majority of (O) Byrnes are Ó Broin, which is a patronymic derived from chieftain Bran Mac Maolmorrdha, King of Leinster (d. 1052). The original patrimony was of the Uí Faolain, according to Woulfe, in northern Kildare, from where they were driven into the Wicklow Mountains by the Cambro-Normans mercenaries in the 1170s. From their mountain fastnesses they harassed the 'Pale' colonists during the Elizabethan 'expansion'. Even during Cromwell's brutal Expugnatio they hit back, with their allies the O Tooles, with effective guerrilla style raids into enemy territory.
Ó Birn or Ó Beirn was the name of two distinct septs in Connacht: of Siol Muireadhaig (Silmurray), stewards to the O'Connors in Co Roscommon, and of a sept of Co Mayo. The name was found around Ballinrobe in the latter county by the 19th century antiquarian, O' Donovan.
In Sir William Petty's 1659 'Census' we still find Byrne as a 'Principal Irish Name' in considerable numbers in Co Kildare:
Birne (26 families) in Ophaley Barony; Birne (40 families) in Naase Barony; Birne (6) in Clane Barony; Birne (13) in Connell Barony; Birne (28) and Bryan (9) in Salt Barony; Burne (24) and Brin/Brinne( 5) in Lebban and Narragh Barony; Birne (31) in Kikea and Moone; Birne (10), and Daniell Birne is listed as a 'gentleman titulado', in Ikeathye Barony; O Bryne (7) and Birne (5) in Carbury Barony.
Unfortunately, the returns for Co Wicklow are missing; perhaps the Cromwellian bureaucrats were reluctant to follow the O Byrnes into the Wicklow Mountains.
By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of Irish Households in the 1850s, most Byrnes are in Co Wicklow 1203 followed by Dublin 893, Carlow 572, Wexford 535, Kildare 392, Louth 335, Kilkenny 316, Donegal 228, Meath 212 and Down 158. Byrne was the most common spelling at 6470; the nearest variant was Burn at 66.
The Registrar's Report on Births in 1890 has the highest numbers of Byrne in Leinster at 583, the next highest being in Ulster at a mere 53. The most populous counties were Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford and Louth. It was actually the most numerous to occur in Wicklow and Louth, and the seventh most numerous in all Ireland.
Two Formidable Byrnes:
Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne (Ó Broin) was Chief of the Wicklow Byrnes in the time of Elizabeth 1st,, and a suitable scourge of English expansionism in Ireland.
Emmet Francis Byrne (1896-1974) was born in Chicago and served as the Republican Representative for the third District of Illinois 1957-59. He was an alumnus of Loyola University, Chicago.
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