An Overall View of the MacClerkens/O'Clerkins

It is certain that MacClerkens were associated with the Church in the tenth through twelfth centuries.  There was a least one MacClerken who was a territorial king.  In addition, there were O'Clerkins who were kings in Limerick and in Meath.  It is tempting to think that there was one long continuous line of MacClerkens from Scolaighi MacClercen to Adam MacClerken, but there is no evidence of this.  It is well known that O' and Mac' were used interchangeably in families.  The Census of 1659 has no Mac's, but we know there was a Nil (Niall) McClurkan in Antrim in 1631 (Muster Roll for Antrim).  Whether he had been a MacClerken, or was a Clerkan, who added Mc' to his name, we don't know.  It seems reasonable to suppose that Nil may  have changed the name from MacClerken to McClurkan.

The  name O'Clerkin still exists, as does O'Cleireachain and O'Cleireacain, but most of the descendents of the O'Cleirchen seem to have the name Clerkin or Clerihan, or Clarkin.  The O' was probably dropped after the advent of Cromwell in the seventeenth century.  Neither branch of the O'Cleirchens seems to have come to terms with the Normans.  They did not apply for a coat of arms  when there was an opportunity to do so, and thus there is no registered coat of arms.  Patrick Kelly in  Irish Family Names appropriated a coat of arms for the Clerkins from a Settler family named Clarke (information courtesy of Eddie Geoghagen).  Kelly says that the Clerkins had a coat of arms with four horses heads each in a section of a St. Andrews Cross, signifying a readiness to serve.

The variations of the name which are listed in records of the Church of Latter Day Saints include: Clarken in Cavan, Meath, and Dublin; Clarkin in Limerick, Monaghan, Dublin, Sligo, and Leitrim; McClarkin in Antrim; Clearken in Monaghan and Sligo; Clearkin in Monaghan,  Sligo, and Cavan; Clerican in Monaghan and Sligo; Clerihan in Limerick; Clerkan in Londonderry; Clerken in Cavan, Monaghan, and Fermanagh; Clerkin in Monaghan, Londonderry, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Mayo, and Sligo; Clerkon in Fermanagh; McClurkan in Antrim and McClurkin in Antrim.

The name MacClerken seems to have survived fairly well and today appears as McClerken, McClerkin, McClurkan, McClurken, McClurkin, McLurkin, etc.  It is in northern Ireland that many of them are today and where some them probably always were.  However, some MacClerkens, or Clerkins, who may have added Mc' to the name, apparently went to Scotland after their lands and positions were lost with the coming of the Normans in the twelfth century.  In Scotland, the name may have taken the form of McClorkan/McClorgan in Ayr and McLergen, on the island of Islay in the Hebrides.

A great many of the McClerkins, McClurkans, and McClurkins of both Ireland and Scotland emigrated to the United States, Australia, and Canada.  Some of the Scottish MacClerkens appear to have gone back to Ireland in the seventeenth century and then on to America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Other McClurkins emigrated from Ireland to Scotland in the late nineteenth century where they lived in the vicinity of Dundonald , Glasgow, and Ayr.  The story is told today in Scotland that the McClurkin family came originally from Ireland and that an ancestor changed the name slightly after marrying a Protestant. This may have been Nil (Neill) McClurkan who is listed in the Muster Roll of County Antrim in 1631. There was however, a Roger McClorkine who married Jane Stockes at Derry Cathedral, October 27, 1665. Some of the MacClerkens who were in Scotland in the seventeenth century believed in the reform of the Church and became Covenanters and some of the McClurkins who went to South Carolina in the eighteenth century were Covenanters. There is a memorial to Thomas McClorgan in the Parish of Dailly in Ayshire. He was a Covenanter who was martyred in 1685.    Not all Covenanters, or "Dissenters," were from Scotland, however.  A casual glance at the Religious Census of 1766 in Ireland will show names such as O'Hagan, O'Hara, Galway, Neill, etc. with the letter "d" for dissenter beside them.  (Presbyterians are included under "d" also, without distinction from the Covenanters.)  Other "Irish" names are found with the letter "p" for protestant (Church of Ireland) beside them:  Reily, O'Caine, Hagarty, etc.

The early MacClerkens were priests, scholars, and teachers as well as chieftains.  Interestingly, many of their descendants have followed in their footsteps as printers, editors, teachers, and ministers, and others have become chieftains in businesss and industry.  The name MacClerken is an old one, one of the first surnames in Ireland.  It is also a name which played a part in church history as well as in ancient kingdoms in Meath and Limerick, and later in Scotland and America.

V.McClurkin Jones

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