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There is dispute as to whether McCann comes from the Irish Mac Anna, "son of Annadh", or Mac Cana, from cana, meaning "wolf cub". At any rate, the major family of the name were known as lords of Clanbrassil, an area on the southern shores of Lough Neagh in the modern Co. Armagh, which they conquered from the O'Garveys. They appear to have been a branch of the Cenel Eoghain, the large group of families claiming descent from Eoghan, one of the sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the fifth century founder of the Ui Neill dynasty. The death in 1155 of one of their chiefs, Amhlaoibh Mac Cana, is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters with praise for his chivalry, his vigour, and the fine strong drink he made from the apples in his orchard. Armagh apples are still renowned for their flavour. The last recorded Chief of the name, Donall MacCanna, was still known as lord of Clanbrassil as late as 1598.

Today, the surname is found principally in counties Armagh, Tyrone and Antrim, though it has also spread southwards into the provinces of Leinster and Connacht.

The family name is recorded in the townland of Annagh McCann's in Louth parish in Co. Louth.

.Patrick McCanna was a member of the United Irishmen in Paris during the Terror. He accompanied Wolfe Tone on his expedition to Ireland and went on to become successful merchant in Boulogne.

Tomas Mac Anna (1920 -) was artistic director of the Abbey theatre for many years. His son, Ferdia Mac Anna is well-known as a novelist, particularly for The Last of the High Kings (1992), despite an earlier incarnation as Rocky De Valera, leader of the proto-punk Rocky De Valera and the Gravediggers.

John McCann (1905-1980) was an extremely popular playwright in his day, as well as pursuing a successful career in politics. His son Donal McCann (1943 - 1999) had international success as a stage and film actor.

McCann households by county in the Primary Valuation property survey of 1848-64.
Click on a county name for a parish breakdown(paying).
Antrim 146
Armagh 333
Belfast city 94
Carlow 3
Cavan 86
Clare 2
Cork 7
Cork city 1
Derry 95
Donegal 49
Down 140
Dublin 73
Dublin city 28
Fermanagh 25
Galway 6
Kerry 1
Kildare 29
Kilkenny 1
Laois 18
Leitrim 17
Limerick 27
Limerick city 3
Longford 62
Louth 99
Mayo 73
Meath 49
Monaghan 18
Offaly 5
Roscommon 30
Sligo 30
Tipperary 8
Tyrone 212
Waterford 6
Westmeath 20
Wexford 14
Wicklow 7