Down in Limerick city for the afternoon, I was introduced to a young, off-duty policeman named O'Gara by a mutual friend and I surprised him inside the first five minutes of our meeting by saying that I would bet my bottom euro that either his father or his grandfather hailed from North Roscommon. It was actually his father and he hailed from the lovely gentle shore lands of Lough Key outside Boyle, a territory that I know well.

That meeting and my accurate placement of his genetic geography quite graphically underscores a beautiful and largely unreported reality in modern Ireland. It is that the clans, especially the smaller clans, but the larger ones too, are still very strong and very numerous in their traditional heartlands in all the counties and provinces.

There was an O'Gara player on the Dublin team which was victorious in the recent football All-Ireland epic in Croke Park and, while I have not bothered to check, I would bet my other bottom euro that his family originally hailed from Roscommon too.

We are treading in a compulsively complex and intriguing zone here. For immediate example, I have not contacted my lovely editor Debbie McGoldrick about this but I would also be prepared to bet my winnings from the O'Gara wagers on a bet that she, being a McGoldrick, has gallons of Co. Sligo blood from the other flank of the Curlew Mountains in her family. (Debbie might add a footnote to this piece confirming I have won my wager again!)

And in between the McGoldricks of Sligo and the O'Garas of Roscommon, right up on top of the Curlews is the heartland of the small clanlet of the McDermottroes (the redheaded McDermotts) and if ever you encounter a McDermottroe, no matter where, be advised that you are meeting somebody very special, be they male or female. They are the most shrewdly resilient and decent folk in the west.

I grew up in Fermanagh in the core territory of the Maguires, and that clan is still so numerous there that neighbors and communities still have to go back three generations in many cases to differentiate between one Paddy Maguire and many others.

Accordingly, you hear of Pat Joe John and Pat Joe Natty and, occasionally, because there might be two or three men whose fathers and grandfathers had the same Christian names, a switch to the distaff side so that one is known locally as Pat Joe Bridget. Believe it or not, those are the facts.

The O'Donnells still represent a significant segment of the population in Donegal and are still, especially late at night or during general elections, as fiery and determined as ever they were.

The O'Neills' heartland in Tyrone is still populated by thousands of members of that significant clan; the Bradys are a continuing powerfully throbbing artery in the life of Co. Cavan. If you meet a Hernon you can be certain there is a Galway background there, and, fundamentally the story is repeated right across the island, north and south.

The major clans, of course, reflecting their power down the centuries are spread strongly right across the provinces even though, as a general guide, the O's like the O'Sullivans for example, are still strongest in the province of Munster and the clans that are neither O nor Mac, like the Byrnes, more numerous in Leinster and right along the reach of the east coast.

It is still easily possible today though, if shown a county's GAA team lineout, without the county being identified, to accurately and quickly identify the county concerned. Take my word for it.

You will not, for example, find a player named Barden representing any county but Longford. Or a Considine playing his heart out for any county but Clare.

Finally, can I surprise you all by revealing that there were always notable Popes in Ireland who paid little heed to what was happening in the Vatican, always went their own way and, in my experience at least, thoroughly enjoyed a strong drink and a singsong.

They had a small heartland in West Munster, especially in Limerick and North Kerry and, when I checked the telephone directory five minutes ago they are still there in numbers, hale and hearty and going strong.

So what's your surname then?

(Footnote: Cormac, you’re spot on! Even with the McDermottroe connection!)

So! What's in your surname then?WordCloud.com