Recorded in several spellings including O'Rourke, O'Rorke, McRoric, McRoarke, Drouke, Groarke, Grorke, Roarke, Roark, Rouark, and possibly others, this is a famous and noble Irish surname of great antiquity. Translating as 'The descendant of Ruairc', the lattter being a Norse-Viking pre9th century personal name, the family originally were one of Ireland's great princely families, holding large estates in Breffny, now the counties of Cavan and West Leitrim. The clan was long noted for its military leaders, many of whom left Ireland to serve in the armies of Russia, France, Poland and Austria. These famous exiles included Prince Joseph O'Rourke, who became General-in-Chief of the Russian Empire in 1700, and Count Owen O'Rourke, who served Empress Maria Teresa of Austria (1750-1780). Of those who went to France, possibly the most noteworthy were Colonel Count John O'Rourke (1705-1786), and Father Manus O'Rourke (1660-1741), who during a lifetime as an exile wrote voluminously in the Irish language. The coat of arms granted to the clan has the blazon of a gold field, charged with two lions passant in black, the crest being an arm in armour grasping a sword, issuing from a gold crown. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Tiernan O'Rourke, the prince of Breffny, and dated 1172. He was killed in battle, during the reign of Rory O'Connor, the High King of All Ireland, 1166 - 1198. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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