Recorded as MacErlane, MacErlean, McErlane, McErlaine, McErlean, McNerlin, McNirlan, and possibly others, this is an Irish surname of great antiquity. It derives from the pre 10th century Gaelic Mac Firleighinn, and means 'The son of the learned man'. This may have been a reference to a teacher or scholar or to a preacher, perhaps a holy man. Irish and Gelic surnames do tend to originate from the name or nicknam for the first chief of the clan. These names tend to the more warlike or personal, such as MacEvilly, meaning the son of a warrior, or O' Kennedy, which means the male descendant of the ugly headed one! Ireland has a fine reputation for early scholars, and it may be that the holders of this surname were originally hereditary teachers.It is said that the clan originated in County Sligo but in the 16th century or thereabouts moved to County Derry in Ulster. Today almost all recordings are to be found in that county. Sadly the majority of early Irish records were lost in 1922, when the IRA destroyed the Public Records Office in Dublin. Examples from surviving registers include Alexander McNirlin, a baptismal witness at Ballykelly, on January 25th 1865, Eliza McErlane on June 14th 1866 at Toone, County Antrim, and slightly earlier that of William McErlean, at Bellaghy, County Derry on July 4th 1865
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