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CLARKE Family HistoryÓ Cléirigh- anglicised as (O) Clery, Cleary and Clarke. Derivation from 'cléireach', originally from Latin 'clericus'. The appellation denoted a man in minor religious orders who copied manuscripts, took statements etc.
As an Irish surname, it is one of the oldest, with references in the Annals ('Four Masters', 'Ulster' & c.) as early as the mid tenth century: ua Cléirigh. They were originally a sept of South Galway, Kilmacduagh has been quoted (this is the site of an amazing ecclesiastical settlement). The 13th century, that turbulent period of Cambro-Norman intervention, saw them scatter to Co Mayo (Tirawley), Co Donegal (Tyrconnell), Co Cavan and Co Kilkenny.
The O Clerys of Tyrconnell were compilers of the 'Annals of the Four Masters', completed at Donegal in 1636: a case of a name living up to its 'trade'. It was in Co Donegal that they became hereditary poets and genealogists of the O Donnells. The seat of this family was at Kilbarron.
In 'Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall' (1923) Woulfe writes that the name is 'often disguised, especially in Ulster, under the translated form of Clarke'.
In this article we shall look for all forms of the name as it appears in the 1659 'Census' of Sir William Petty, and then specifically the Clarke form in Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1847-60).
In the 1659 'Census' the following are found as a 'Principal Irish Name':
(Returns for Co Galway, Co Mayo & Co Cavan are missing).
O'Cleery is recorded, in TIrhugh, with 9 families.Co DerryColeraine Barony, 7 families of Clearke.
Barony of Tireragh, 6 families of Clery.
Barony of Gowran, Clere & Cleary, 7 families.
Lower Ormond, Cleary & Clery, 38 families; Iffa and Offa, Cleare & Cleary, 25; Eliogurty & Ikerryn, Cleare & Cleary, 10; Upper Ormond, Cleary, 10; Clanwilliam, Cleary, 10.
Duleek Barony, Clery, 9; Scrine Barony, Clery, 8.I
n Griffith's 'Valuation' the following counties contained the most Clarke households: Cavan 442, Antrim 169 + Belfast 95, Meath 246, Down 218, Mayo 196, Dublin 105 + city 90, Derry 179.
It would appear from the foregoing that the Clarke anglicisation of Ó Cléirigh is a late development. Of course, we must bear in mid the introduction of the name Clark(e) from Britain, although MacLysaght writes in 'The Surnames of Ireland' (1985) that Clarke 'usually stands for O'Clery in Ireland'. This seems to be borne out by the high figure in 1850s Cavan. Nonetheless, some bearers in the 6 counties would be of settler stock.
Clarke was the 32nd most numerous surname in Ireland in 1890. It was as common in England in the mid 19th century, and even commoner in Scotland.
In 1890 in the Registrar's records of births in Ireland, most Clarke births occurred in counties Antrim, Dublin, Mayo, Cavan and Louth.
Two famous Clarkes:
Thomas Clarke (1858-1916) born on the Isle of Wight, to Irish parents (his Leitrim father was a British Soldier). He was the great leader and inspiration of the Easter Rising in 1916. Republican par excellence, he spent 15 years in a prison in Britain, under a regime designed to destroy its captives, often in solitary confinement. He was executed immediately after the Rising on 3rd May 1916.
Darren Clarke (born 1968 in Dungannon, Tyrone) the class golfer who delighted his fans by winning the 2011 Open Championship at Sandwich, Kent. He has also won two World Golf Championships events, notably in 2000 when he beat Tiger Woods.
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