This notable Irish surname, chiefly recorded in the Munster county of Cork, is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'hIarfhlatha" (modern Irish "O'hIarlatha"), descendant of Iarfhlaith, a personal byname describing a feudal underlord. Traditionally, Irish family names are taken from the heads of tribes, revered elders, or some illustrious warrior, and are usually prefixed by "Mac", denoting "son of", or "O", grandson, male descendant of. This family were erenaghs or comharbas of St. Gobnait's Church in the parish of Ballyvourney near Macroom in County Cork. Comharba families held church property from generation to generation, and usually maintained a priest. Several County Cork "O'hIarlathas" (Oherlihy) had their name changed to O'Muirthile or Hurley, as a result of early confusion between the Gaelic forms of the name, the O'Muirthile sept being located in the neighbourhood of Kilbritain, also in County Cork. The earliest recorded namebearer (below) was Bishop of the diocese of Ross until 1570 when he was incarcerated in the Tower of London until his death ten years later. In the modern idiom the surname takes the variant forms: O'Herlihy, Oherlihy, O'H(i)erlehy, Herley and Hurley. On February 11th 1787, Henry, son of William O'Herlihy, was christened at Macroom, County Cork. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas O'Herlihy, which was dated 1562, in "Ecclesiastical Records of 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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