History Behind the O'Byrne Name
O'Byrne is in Irish O Broin I.e. descendant of Bran (earlier form Broen), King of Leinster, who died in 1052. With the O'Tooles and the O'Byrnes were driven from their original territory in the modern Co. Kildare at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion and settled in the wilder country of south Wicklow about the year 1200. There were two main branches of the O'Byrnes of which the senior soon sank into obscurity, but the junior line, which occupied the country between Rathdrum and Shillealagh, became a sept of great importance and, like their neighbours the O'Tooles in north Wicklow, were particularly noteworthy for their persistent and largely successful resistance to English aggression. They continued regularly to inaugurate chiefs of the sept up to the end of the sixteenth century. The seat of their chiefs was at Ballinacor and their territory was called Crioch Branach, the sept itself being known as Ui Broin or Branaigh. Many of these were renowned in the military history of Ireland, the most famous being Feagh or Fiacha MacHugh (or son of Aodh) O'Byrne (1544-1597) who, though he was prominent in rebellion and was killed in battle, is perhaps best remembered for his part in the escape of Hugh Roe O'Donnell from his prison in Dublin Castle in 1591. His son Phelim O'Byrne was the victim of one of the many unscrupulously trumped-up charges which disgraced English seventeenth century administration in Ireland: the Viceroy Falkland was in turn disgraced, but notwithstanding that the O'Byrnes lost the greater part of their estates in consequence of his action. The celebrated "Leabhar Branach" or "Book of the O'Byrnes" is a collection of Gaelic poetry by some thirty-five different authors, dealing for the most part with the exploits and personalities of the O'Byrnes in the sixteenth century: it was made about 1662. In the next century O'Byrnes were prominent in the 1798 insurrection, notably the brothers Garret O'Byrne (1774-1830) and William Byrne (1775-1799), the latter of whom was hanged; and Miles Byrne (1780-1862), who subsequently distinguished himself in France and was awarded the Legion of Honour. Other O'Byrnes have been notable in France: one branch, which was admitted to the ranks of the French nobility in 1770, was a leading family of Bordeaux before the Revolution and Garret Byrne, mentioned above, was among the distinguished exiles to that country; while in America, Irish-born Most Rev. Dr. Andrew Byrne (1802-1862), first bishop of Little Rock, is remembered as a pioneer Catholic in Indian territory. In recent times one of the best known and most popular figures in the life of the Irish capital was Alderman Alfred Byrne (1882-1956), who was ten times Lord Mayor of Dublin. The Byrnes, who in recent generations have increasingly resumed the discarded prefix O, are very numerous in Ireland to-day, the name being in the seventh place in the list of Commonest Names. The great majority of these were born in Dublin, in Co. Wicklow and adjacent counties.
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