KERR FAMILY CHRONICLES© Christopher Earls Brennen
The history of the English speaking family whose surname is variously spelt Kerr, Ker, Karr or Carr is as old as the Norman conquest. One of the followers of William the Conqueror bore the name of Karre according to a charter in Battle Abbey. Early members of the family settled in the north of England and subsequent generations spread to both sides of the border between England and Scotland and later into the north of Ireland.
The original name was modified by the English and Irish branches of the family from the Norman French Karre or Carre to the modern Carr whereas the Scottish branch generally used either Karr, Kerr or Ker. Families with these names obtained large possessions in the Scottish lowland and border areas in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. Particular concentrations occurred in Selkirk and in Roxburgh though the surname became a common one throughout the border area. One of the great families is now represented by the Marquis of Lothian. The Ker family to which he belongs has the following coat of arms: Gules on a chevron argent three stars of the first, in base of stag's head erased or, guttee de sang proper within a border invected of the second, the Crest a dexter hand holding a dagger proper. The motto is ``Abest timor''. The basic arms of the Kerr clan are as follows:
The Scottish borderers played a major role both as chief landowners and as undertenants during the plantation of Ulster under James the First. Indeed in the Counties of Tyrone and of Fermanagh the borderers dominated the settlements and it seems probable that our Kerr ancestors were among these adventurers. The statistics of the distribution of names among the settlers clearly show that most of them came from southwest Scotland, from the eight Scottish counties which lie along the border with England or up the west coast to Argyllshire. The immigrants consisted of a cross-section of lowland and border society though the less affluent and less stable elements probably predominated. The surname Kerr is less common in Ulster than in the lowlands because Roxburgh and Selkirk are further from Ulster than the southwestern counties.
Families with the name of Kerr have lived in Dungannon and its environs in County Tyrone for at least 200 years. And though they may or may not be related individuals with the names Carr and Corr have resided in the area for even longer. For example, in the 1630 Muster Rolls for the Barony of Dungannon the muster of Alexander Richardson, esq., undertaker of 1000 acres in Craigbelle(?) includes Thomas Carr with his sword and pike. The muster of Robert Lyndsay, esq., undertaker of 1000 acres at Tullyhoge, includes George Carr with his sword and pike and Francis and George Carr who have no arms. We also note that in the 1664 Hearth Money Roll, John Corr is listed for Derryfubble in the parish of Clonfeacle.
Much remains that could be done in reconstructing the story of the Kerr family, an interesting project for the Dungannon area has a rich history and many of the events which shaped Ulster were reflected in local affairs. Unlike many other surnames common to the region, the Kerrs were not widely dispersed. Rather the Griffith Valuation of the early 1860s indicates that the farming members of the family were concentrated in the parish of Clonfeacle which lies to the south of Dungannon and includes the villages of Eglish and Benburb. A few farming Kerrs also lived in the parish of Drumglass which includes Dungannon. The parish church of Drumglass, the church of St. Anne, still dominates the skyline of Dungannon as it has done for centuries. By comparison with other institutions in Ireland, the parish of Drumglass is truly ancient for it was valued at One Mark in the taxation of 1302-1306 and its list of Rectors in the Diocesan Register dates back as early as 1378, admittedly with a number of gaps. The early Rectors all had very Irish names. After about 1620, the names become English and the written records much more extensive. An interesting but brief account of the history can be found in ``A History of the Parish of Drumglass'' written by E.W. Monteith and published about 1970 by the church itself. A thorough review of the Minutes of the Select Vestry and the Birth and Death Registers could add significantly to our knowledge of the Kerr families.
It should however be emphasized that the greatest concentration of farming Kerrs was not in the parish of Drumglass but in the parish of Clonfeacle to the south of Dungannon. It is among these families that we find our earliest known Kerr ancestor, James Kerr, who was a farmer in the townland of Drumnastrade just outside Eglish. Contemporaries of his with the same surname lived in the nearby townlands of Mullycarnan, Mullaghdaly, Dunseark, Moygashel, Drumgold, Drummond, Culkeeran, Gorestown and Sanaghanroe.
The lack of diaspora suggests that these Kerrs may have been among the later settlers in Tyrone.
Last updated 7/30/99.
Christopher E. Brennen