O'Maoilmhichi Clan

Wednesday 25 August 2010 at 6:09 pm. Used tags: , , ,

Perhaps no personal name in the Early Christian Period of Celtic Ireland was more evocative of the Period than MaoilMhichil. Meaning, literally, “bald Michael”, it’s colloquial interpretation was as “servant” or “devotee” of Saint Michael. The “Saint Michael” was, of course Michael the Archangel of the Old Testament - the warrior of God.©

According to the ancient texts, the first adoptee of the name was, paradoxically, the brother of Ona, archdruid of the Ui Briuin clan, in about 460 AD. The choice of the name MaoilMhichil to proclaim his new faith thus underlines the speed with which the transformation was spreading, as well as the environment in which it was proceeding. What could be more befitting to a newly baptized Warlord than to evoke the image of God’s principal and most terrifying warrior.©

Given that this period is far too early to expect the hereditary application of surnames, the mention of MaoilMhichil might be considered coincidental. However, as we’ll see in the Historical period, the memory was preserved at least into the 12th Century. The exploits of later MaoilMhichils, and their continuing association with the Corca Achlann tribe, although sparse in the record, bespeak continuity if not absolute hereditary implications. It must be recognized, however, that the name may have been adopted by various unrelated, or at best, distantly related, individuals over the course of several hundred years leading up to the formal adoption of surnames in the 10th Century. Ultimately, however, the consolidation MaoilMhichil into a hereditary surname, and the further Anglicization of the name to Mulvihill and Mitchell appears to be securely established.©

No more can be said of these tales than that penned by the 9th Century Irish Monk who wrote it all down:

“I, who copied this history down, or rather this fantasy, do not believe in all the details. Several things in it are Devilish lies. Others are the inventions of poets. And others again have been thought up for the entertainment of idiots."


©Courtesy of James M. Mulvihill

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