Recorded in the spellings of O'Clery, O'Cleary, Clery, Cleary, MacCleary, McCleery, the "English" form of Clarke, and many others, this long-established surname is of Gaelic origin. It has both original and recent royal associations, and can be either Irish or Scottish. However spelt it is a form of the pre 7th century word "chleirich", meaning a clerk or cleric, and originally had the prefix of either "Mac, Mc or O', although these are often omitted. It has been claimed by the late Edward Lysacht, the famous Gaelic etymologist, that as O'Clery it was one of the earliest of all surname recordings anywhere in the world, dating from the 10th century.Unfortunately he does not give any examples, and we have not been able to find a definitive recording. The Irish nameholders descend from one "Cleireach", born in 820 a.d., and who it is claimed, was a kinsman of Guaire, the Hospitable, King of Connacht. Examples of the surname recording include in 1428, John Macclerich of Kilravock, Nairnshire, Scotland, and in 1636 Conary O'Clery of County Galway, one of the authors of the famous book of Ireland, the "Annals of the Four Masters". Other interesting recordings include the Rev. John Clarke, priest to the Irish Brigades of the the army of France in 1720, and Julia and Desiree Cleary, daughters of an Irish merchant in Marseilles, who married the brothers of Napoleon Bonaparte, and became the Queen of Spain and Sweden respectively. The first known and proven recording of the family name is that of Johan M'Cleri. This was dated 1376, in the "Ancient Charters of the Earldom of Morton", during the reign of King Robert 11 of Scotland, 1371 - 1390. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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