|Origins of the Mac an Bháird (Ward) Sept|
|Written by Administrator|
|Tuesday, 30 November 1999 10:00|
The Ward family sept had its origins in Ulster, but would migrate to the sub kingdom of Uí Maine in central Ireland where it would remain for centuries.
In the first few centries AD, Ireland was made up of five major kingdoms some having a number of sub-kingdoms:
The five kingdoms were also ruled, probably only mythically, by a High King whose seat was at Tara, County Meath. It was not until the ninth century that the fragmented kingdoms were aligned under a High King in a political sense.
In the third century AD, the King of Ulster was Fiacha Araidhe. His son was Sodhán Salbhuidhe na Sreath who in turn had a son Eocha. The Mac an Bháird (Ward) Sept originated in Ulster during the third century about this time, but migrated around 350 to 400 AD under the leadership of Eocha as one of the Tribes of the Six Sodháns to an area known as Uí Maine or Hy Many in the kingdom of Connacht. Within Uí Maine, the Mac an Bháirds occupied an area within Muine an Chasáin, which would later be part of a parish named after the Mac an Bháirds, namely, Ballymacward (Baile Mhic an Bháird). This is believed to be the parent sept of all Ward septs.
Although their land holdings within the Uí Maine were recognised by the chieftans of the Uí Maine, the Sodhán were generally less favoured than other septs within the region. The O'Kellys were very influential in the area and held the cheiftan positions of the sub kingdom. The O'Kellys appear to have been strongly aligned with the Wards who consequently ended up being one of the few original Sodhán tribes to retain land holdings around Ballymacward and influence up until the 16th century. The Wards were employed as bards by the dominant families within Uí Maine, including the O'Kellys and O'Connors. Professions within Ireland were often a hereditary right.
The history of the region is documented in the Book of Hy Many completed in 1394. It contains a record of the Ward family commencing with the sept leader at the time, Seán Mac an Bháird, and confirms the existence of the sept back to about 900 A.D. The Mac an Bháird surname was adopted from the eleventh century. It is not known on what basis families would have adopted the surname. Given the occupational nature of the bardic surname, it may be hoped that a large proportion of those adopting it would claim lineage to the Mac an Bháird sept. There were some comventions and rules surrounding the creation of surnames. The O' prefix tended to be used for septs descended from eponymous ancestors who were influential kings, whereas Mac tended to be used for septs reknown for their contribution to the arts, professions or trades.
By the 15th century, the Mac an Bháird sept had stretched out of Galway. The most significant sept was situated in County Donegal, near Lettermacaward (Leitir Mac a’Bháird). By the time of the Griffiths Valuation circa 1850, there would be more Ward households in Donegal than in any other Irish County. The following map indicates the number of Ward households in each County at the time of the Griffiths Valuation.
Red: >200 Households