This fine Irish surname, chiefly recorded in the Munster counties of Tipperary and Limerick, is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'Maoilriain", descendant of Maolriain, a male given name, the first element of which has two possible interpretations. Firstly, "maol" may derive from the pagan Irish "mal", chief, related to the Welsh "mail", hero, and secondly, it may stem from "maol", literally meaning "bald, tonsured, but probably used here in the transferred sense of "devotee". The second element "rian" is so ancient that its meaning is obscure, however, it is believed to come from "rian", an Old irish word for "water", thus connecting the name with the cult of a water deity; hence, "heroes of Rian", or, "worshippers of Rian". The "O'Maoilriain" sept was located in Owney, formerly called Owney O'Mulryan, which forms two modern baronies on the borders of Counties Limerick and Tipperary. Mulryan and Ryan are now usually written as "O'Riain" in Gaelic, however, this is more accurately the name of a Leinster sept who descend from Lathaoir Mor, 2nd Century King of Leinster; the chief of this sept was lord of Ui Drone in County Carlow. The Ryan (O'Mulryan) Coat of Arms is a red shield with three silver griffins' heads erased. On September 1st 1865, the birth of Cornelius, son of John and Mary Ryan, was registered at Inishannon, County Cork. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of O'Maoilriain, which was dated circa 14th Century, in "Medieval Records of County Tipperary", during the reign of Gerald, Earl of Desmond, 1369 - 1374. 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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