This great and noble surname, with variant spellings Leary and Learie, is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'Laoghaire". The Gaelic prefix "O" indicates "grandson" or "male descendant of", plus the personal byname "Laoghaire", a compound of "laogh", calf, plus "aire", keeper; hence, "keeper of the calves". Laoghaire was the name borne by a 5th Century King of Ireland who reigned at the time of St. Patrick, circa 432, and it is from him that present day namebearers claim descent. The port Dun Laoghaire in County Dublin was named in his honour, the first element "dun" meaning "fort". The O'Learys were chiefly located in the ancient territory of Muscraidhe where they ruled as chiefs under the paramount MacCarthys. Their territory embraced north-west and central County Cork, and Inchigeela was their main centre; two places called Ballyleary (from "baile", a town or settlement) are located in County Cork. Famous namebearers were Peadar O'Laoghaire (1839 - 1919), called in his day "the greatest living master of Gaelic prose", and John O'Leary (1830 - 1907), the Fenian. The family Coat of Arms is a silver shield with a red lion passant in base, in chief a black ship of three masts sails set proper, from the stern the flag of St. George flotant. An arm in armour embowed holding a sword proper, pommel and hilt gold, emerging from a gold ducal coronet is on the Crest. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Mahon O'Leary, who went to Spain with d'Aquila, which was dated 1601, Participants in the Battle of Kinsale, County Cork, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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