Learn About Irish Surnames

Written By: Mike Collins.

Covered In This Lesson:

  • Introduction: What is important to know about Irish Surnames.

  • 920 AD–1200 AD: Irish Gaelic Surnames.

  • 795 AD: Hiberno-Norse (Viking) Surnames.

  • 1200 AD: Norman and Norman Derivative surnames.

  • 1200 AD – 1550 AD: Early English Surnames.

  • 1250 AD -1550 AD: Galloglass surnames.

  • 1550 AD -1700 AD: English and Scottish Planter Surnames.

  • 1660 AD: Surnames associated with Cromwellian Soldiers.

  • 1550 AD – 1700 AD: Anglicisation of Irish Gaelic Surnames.

  • 1685 AD to 1720 AD: Palatine and Huguenot Surnames.

Introduction: What Is Important To Know About Irish Surnames.

Looking at Irish surnames today, it’s easy to get confused as you see several different spellings for the same surname. Some of these variant spellings look very English or Scottish – how could they be Irish you ask? Other surnames appear to randomly have an “O” or “Mac” in front of them – who decided on that convention?

In order to understand the origin and place of your own surname in Ireland, it is important to understand three major points:

  • Ireland has one of the oldest surname systems in the world. Surnames are first recorded in use from the 900s. However, these surnames originated at a time when Irish Gaelic was our primary language across the island of Ireland. As a result – many of the Irish surnames that we see today are the later “anglicisations” of these earlier Irish language surnames.
  • At the end of the last ice-age about 10,000 years ago, Ireland was unpopulated. Since then, many settlers/ traders/ mercenaries/ refugees/ invaders/ planters have come to our shores. While many brought their own culture and surnames with them, a majority were assimilated into the Irish Gaelic culture and language as they settled down and intermarried with the local population.
  • Following the great waves of emigration from the island of Ireland (starting in the late 1700s), many Irish surnames had their spelling and pronunciation further modified as these illiterate immigrants landed on foreign shores.

One further point to bear in mind is that while you may believe your family name underwent change ONLY after migration – this may be incorrect. Many “O”s and “Macs” were already removed from Irish surnames BEFORE migration – and were in general use in Ireland in this “O-less” and “Mac-less” form.

Also, there can be specific Irish regional differences in spelling to what is often the same surname. An example? Well, the surname Keogh was typically spelled in that manner across much of Counties Limerick and Tipperary. However, it is more often spelled Kehoe in the south-east of the island. So, the spelling of your Irish surname after immigration can give clues as to a more exact location in Ireland.

Bearing these three points in mind, the following is an outline of the main periods and “waves” of settlers that arrived on the shores of Ireland in more modern times. I hope it will give you a clearer idea of the origins and development of your own Irish surname – and where your surname fits into this timeline:


920 AD–1200 AD: Irish Gaelic Surnames.

The first recorded surname in Ireland is O’Clery (Ó Cléirigh) and originated in the area of modern County Galway about 920 AD. The creation of surnames in Ireland continued slowly over the next three hundred years. However, by the end of the eleventh century the main families of Ireland had taken on many of the surnames we know today.

These names were constructed using either an “Ó” (short for Ua – “descendent of”) or a “Mac” (“son of”) followed by a personal name of an illustrious ancestor.  The surnames of Ireland’s ruling families can typically be tracked down to one single individual e.g. the O’Neills of the Northern Uí Neill in Ulster take their surname from one of their kings –  Niall Mac Aoidh (Niall son of Aodh) who died in 917 AD.

Let’s take a trip around the nine early Gaelic kingdoms of Ireland and look at the surnames associated with each. By the way, I have used the “anglicised” versions of the original Irish Gaelic surname so it would be more recognisable to you.


The Kingdom of Connaught.

The modern province of Connaught covers the counties of Galway, Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo and Leitrim.

By the 1100s, the King of Connaught was “Turlough O’Connor” and his kin were from the  “Síol Muireadaigh” tribe. Turlough and his kin had taken on the surname O’Connor from this Gr, Gr, Gr Grandfather – “Conchobar mac Taidg Mór” (Conor son of Tadhg senior)  who had died in 882.

Beside the O’Connors – the other leading families of Connaught at this time held the surnames:

Boland, Brennan, Cahill, Canavan, Cannon, Carney, Carney, Clancy, Clery, Coffey, Coleman, Conlon, Conneely, Connelly, Conroy, Conway, Coogan, Coolihan, Cosgrave, Coyne, Cunneen, Curran, Devlin, Dolan, Donlan, Donohoe, Dowd, Downey, Duggan, Egan, Fahy, Fallon, Fannon, Feeney, Finn, Finnegan, Flannery, Gaffney, Garry, Gaughan, Glavin, Hanley, Henaghan, Horan, Hynes, Keane, Kelly, Kenny, Keogh, Kilkelly, Lavin, Lynch, Mannion/Manning, McDermott, McDonagh, McGann, McHale, McManus, Molloy, Moran, Morris, Mullally, Mullan, Murphy, Murray, O‘Malley, O’Donnell, O’Gara, O’Hara, Quigley, Ratigan, Shaughnessy, Tarpy, Tierney and McHugh.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Tuadh Mumhan (North Munster or “Thomond”).

Tuadh Mumhan (nowadays known as Thomond and covering the north Munster counties of Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary and North Kerry) became a separate Kingdom within the province of Mumhan (Munster) as the powerful tribe of the Dál gCais rose to power. The most famous member of this tribe was Brian Boru who became the first High King of Ireland in real terms (there were many previous claims to this title but all were disputed).

His family, the O’Briens (descendants of Brian) were the ruling family of Tuadh Mumhan by the 1000s. Other leading families that came out of this area (many of them migrated to other parts of the country in future centuries) include:

Ahern, Bannon, Boland, Buckley, Cahill, Carroll, Clancy, Collins, Conway, Corcoran, Curry, Dinan, Dooley, Drennan, Dwyer, Fennessy, Flaherty, Flanagan, Flannery, Fogarty, Galvin, Gilroy, Gleeson, Grady, Halloran, Hannon, Heffernan, Hehir, Hickey, Hogan, Honan, Houlihan, Hurley, Kearney, Kelleher, Kennedy, Kiely, Loughlin, Maher, Malone, Maloney, McConsidine, McDonnell, McEnery, McGann, McGrath, McInerney, McMahon, McNamara, Meagher, Melody, Mulcahy, Naughten, Nestor, O’Connor, O’Dea, O’Donovan, O’Meara, O’Neill, Quirke, Reddan, Regan, Reidy, Ryan, Sexton, Shannon and Sheehan.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Deise Mumhan (South Munster or “Desmond”).

The Kingdom of Deise Mumhan (Desmond/South Munster) covered the modern counties of Cork, South Kerry, Waterford, South Tipperary and parts of Limerick.

It was ruled by the McCarthys. The Kingdom was created in the 1100s – when the McCarthys ruled all of Munster – with the rise of the Dal gCais to the north and the division of the province in a northern part (ruled by the O’Briens) and this southern part (ruled by the McCarthys).

Other leading families that came out of this area (many of them migrated to other parts of the country in future centuries) include:

Brosnan, Cagney, Cahill, Callaghan, Canty, Carey, Coffey, Coffey/Cowhig, Collins, Connell, Connolly, Cotter, Coughlan, Cronin, Crowley, Cuddihy, Cullinane, Dennehy, Dillon, Dineen, Doheny, Donegan, Donoghue, Dorgan, Downey, Driscoll, Duggan, Dullea, Dwane, Falvey, Field, Flynn, Foley, Foran, Forde, Garvey, Green, Griffin, Harrington, Hea, Healey, Hennessy, Hurley, Kennedy, Leahy, Lehane/Lyons, Mannix, McAuliffe, McGillycuddy, Meehan, Moriarty, Mullane/Mullins, Noonan, O’Connell, O’Driscoll, O’Keeffe, O’Leary, O’Mahony, O’Neill, O’Shea, O’Sullivan, Phelan, Quill, Riordan, Scanlan, Tracy and Twomey.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Laighin (Leinster).

The Kingdom of Laigin (or Leinster – but it was significantly smaller than the current province of Leinster) – was ruled over by the Sil Fáelchán tribe of the Uí Cheinnselaig (descendants of Kinsella).  It covered what are now the counties of Wexford, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Wicklow and parts of Laois. Diarmait Mac Murchada (McMurrough and later Murphy) was the King of Leinster in the mid 1100s. However, Diarmait was deposed as King and this act played a pivotal part in triggering the invasion of the Anglo-Normans in 1169AD when he invited the Cambro-Norman knights of South Wales to assist him in regaining his throne in exchange for land in his Kingdom.

His family, the McMurrough/Kinsellas were the ruling family of Laighin in the 1100s. Other leading families that came out of this area (many of them migrated to other parts of the country in future centuries) include:

Breen, Brennan, Carey, Cosgrave, Coveney, Cullen, Dempsey, Devoy, Doran, Dowling, Duff, FitzDermot, Fitzpatrick, Gorman, Kavanagh, Kelly/Kealy, Larkin, McKeogh, Moore, Murphy, Nolan, O’Byrne, O’Carroll, O’Neill, O’Toole, Phelan, Rafter, Ryan and Tracy.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Midhe (Meath).

Midhe (covering the modern counties of Meath and Westmeath ) held the ancient capital – Tara. However, by the 1000s the effective capital had become the city of Dublin. The main tribe and family of this area by the 1100s were the Mac Laughlins of the Clann Cholmáin tribe. Other leading families included:

Breen, Carney, Casey, Connolly, Conway, Curry, Daly, Devine, Dooley, Fox, Gaffney, Hart, Hennessy, Higgins, Keary, McAuley, McCoughlan, McGee, McGeoghegan, Molloy, Mulholland, O’Brennan, O’Carroll, O’Donoghue, O’Farrell, O’Hea, O’Houlihan, Quinlan, Regan, Ronan and Scully/Scally.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Breifne (Breffny).

The Gaelic kingdom of Breifne covered the modern counties of Leitrim, Cavan and parts of Sligo. The Kings of Breifne in the 1100s were the O’Rourkes and other leading families included:

Bannon, Boylan, Brady, Carolan, Carroll, Cassidy, Connolly, Corcoran, Corrigan, Farrelly, Finnegan, Gaffney, Heany, Kenny, Maguire, McCabe, McClancy, McDonnell, McElroy, McEnroe, McGovern, McGowan, McManus, McMurray, McShanly, McSharry, Muldoon, Roddy and Tiernan. The second leading family of the area were O’Reilly.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Airghialla (Oriel).

Airghialla (later also known as Oriel in English and covering Counties Armagh, Louth and Monaghan) was really a federation of smaller kingdoms rather than a kin group. The kingship rotated among the various tribes and in the 1100s was held by Donnchadh Ua Cearbaill (O’Carroll). Other leading families of the Airgialla included:

Callan, Casey, Cosgrave, Creehan, Crehan, Crilly, Cullen, Fagan, Finn, Flanagan, Garvey, Gillespie, Hanlon, Hare, Hayes, Keelaghan, Keenan, Loy, Lynn, McArdle, McCann, McConville, McMahon, McNally, Quaid/Wade, Rogan, Scanlan, Sherry and Traynor.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Northern Ui Neill.

The Northern Ui Neill (not to be confused with the surname O’Neill) was a kin group who were descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages – legend was that his sons Eoghan, Conall and Enda moved into modern county Donegal in the 5th century. From these individuals came the tribes of Cenél Eóghain and Cenél Conaill who established themselves as lords in northwestern Ulster.

Over time, the Cenél Eóghain gained prominence and they expanded into what are modern counties Derry and Tyrone. By the 1100s, the leading family of the Cenél Eóghain, were the Mac Lochlainn (McLoughlin) – but they ruled the Northern Ui Neill alongside the O’Donnells and O’Dohertys of the Cenél Conaill. Other leading family names were:

Begley, Bradley, Breslin, Boyle, Cannon, Carolan, Cole, Colgan, Cooney, Corr, Coyle, Crean, Donnelly, Doohan, Duffy, Fannon, Farren, Ferry, Flanagan, Friel, Gallagher, Gildea, Gilmartin, Gormley, Hagan, Hamill, Harkin, Hegarty, Hoban, Hunt, Kane, Kearney, Kelvy, Laverty, Lunney, McBride, McCaffrey, McCann, McCluskey, McCusker, McDaid, McGarvey, McGee, McGonigle, McGrath, McGuigan, McIlhoyle, McMurphy, McNamee, McRory, McSweeny, Mellon, Muldorey, Mullen, Mulligan, O’Neill, Peyton, Quinn, Roddy, Scully, Toland/Tolan and Ward.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


The Kingdom of Ulaidh (Ulster).

Ulaidh (from which modern Ulster gets its name) was the area in the north-east of Ireland and occupied by counties Antrim and Down today. Their main ruling tribe were the Dál Fiatach who were based in Downpatrick (which gives County Down its name). The King of Ulaid in the 1100s was Cú Ulad mac Conchobair Chisenaig Mac Duinn Sléibe (there’s a mouthful) and his family were later known in English as McDunleavy or Dunleavy. Other leading families included:

Coulter, Flattery, Greene, Haughey, Hughes/Hayes, Kenny, Lavery, Long, Magennis, McAteer, McCarroll, McCartan, McConnell/McDonnell, McKenna, McNiece, Miller, O’Flynn and Rooney.

These were the main surnames of the area – other Gaelic surnames are in the area but not included above.


795 AD: Hiberno-Norse (Viking) Surnames.

The first recorded Viking raid on Ireland was at Lambay Island in 795AD – near to where Dublin City stands today. Over the following decades, they established “Longphorts” in Ireland as bases to support their raiding. These camps eventually led to the founding of the cities of Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Wexford.

Initially, the native Gaels fought back – and over time the “settled vikings” fought alongside Gaelic Chieftains as mercenary armies.  The native Gaels traded and intermarried with the “settling Vikings” in the main cities around our coast. These city dwelling vikings were later labelled as “Hiberno-Norse”.

The Irish Gaelic surnames are structured as either “son of a given name” (Mac) or “descendant of a given name (O). Many of the given names of Norse/Viking origin worked their way into a number of surnames that we consider Irish today. These include:

  • McAuliffe – “son of Olaf”.
  • O’Rourke/Groarke – “descendent/son of Ruarc”
  • McCotter – “son of Otir”
  • McManus – “son of Magnus”
  • McGettrick – “son of Sitric”
  • McIver – “son of Ivor”
  • O’Loughlin/McLoughlin – “son of Lochlann”

Other Irish surnames that have similar roots in a given Norse name include:

Arthur, Bligh, Boland, Broder, Broderick, Harold, McBirney, O’Beirne, O’Gohery/ Godfrey, O’Henrick, O’Hever, Reynolds, Sugrue, Sweetman, Toner, Tormey and many more.

Then, we have the general descriptive name for a person of Danish origin: “Dubhghaill” – meaning “dark foreigner” and which was anglicised as “Doyle” and sometimes “McDowell”.


1200 AD: Norman and Norman Derivative surnames.

In October, 1066 AD – the forces of William, Duke of Normandy, were ready to invade England and take what he considered to be his rightful place on the throne of England. They met the English army at Hastings on the 14th of October and after a full day of fighting, William had won the crown of the King of England. A hierarchy of just ten thousand Norman knights went on to replace the aristocracy of England – with “William the Conqueror” at their head.

Five generations later, the descendents and vassals of this aristocracy formed the main part of the invasion of Ireland from Wales in 1170 AD. The Normans brought their fighting, farming and feudal technology with them and shaped much of what we see around us in the Irish landscape and politics to this day.

Norman naming conventions were typically the same as many Irish and English naming conventions – only using the French language:

  • “Son of” – “Fils de” in French – became “Fitz” e.g. Fitz Gerald
  • Of/From – “de”, “du” or “de la” in French – e.g. de Bari – became “de Barra” and eventually “Barry”.
  • A nickname/profession – “le” in French – e.g. le Gros (the fat one). Another famous Irish role name was FitzWalter “le Boteler” which assumed the surname of Butler in Ireland.

The Norman-derived surnames found in Ireland today include:

Archdeacon/Cody, Aylward, Barrett, Barron, Barry, Bermingham, Blake, Bluitt, Bonds, Bourke, Brannagh, Brett, Brew, Britt, Britton, Brown, Browne, Bryan, Burke, Butler, Campion, Cantillon, Cantwell, Carew, Chambers, Clare, Codd, Cody, Cogan, Colfer, Comerford, Condon, Cooney, Courcey, Crosbie, Crozier, Cullen, Cummiskey, Cusack, D’Arcy, Dalton, Darcy, Day, Dillon, Fagan, Fanning, Field, Fitzgerald, Fitzgibbon, Fitzhenry, Fitzsimmons, Fitzsimons, Fitzstephens, Fleming, Flemming, Francis, French, Furlong, Gibbons, Grace, Griffin, Griffith, Hackett, Hays/Hayes, Hussey, Jordan, Joyce, Keating, Lacey, Lawless, Liston, Logan, Lovett, Lucey, Lynch, Lyons, Marshall, Martin, McQuillan, Molyneux, Morris, Morrissey, Nagle/Nangle, Nugent, Plunkett, Power/Powers, Prendergast, Prior, Punch, Purcell, Redmond, Rice, Roach/Roche, Roberts, Rochford, Russell, Savage, Sinnott, Wade, Wall, Walsh/Welsh, White, Wolfe, Wyse, Stapleton, Stephens,Talbot and Tyrrell.

There is a whole other class of Norman surnames that formed as they splintered off from the main family – assuming the patronymic title of a new family head. An example of this are the McAndrews of County Mayo – who were a later branch of the Norman Barretts.


1200 AD – 1550 AD: Early English Surnames.

When the Norman lords were awarded lands across the new “colony” of Ireland, many established walled towns to protect the soldiers and workers that they imported from their estates in England and Wales.

An example of one of these early walled towns was Athenry in what is now County Galway – founded by the Norman lord Meyler de Bermingham – and built about 1240 AD to protect the inhabitants from the local Gaelic clans.

Many of these early settlers brought in by the Normans were craftsmen or farmers. They carried surnames that reflected the trade of their ancestors back in England e.g. Cooper or Carpenter or locative surnames such as Wickham or Fullam. They arrived as Roman Catholic and these early settlers are often differentiated from later English and Scottish settlers as they typically fully assimilated into the Irish Gaelic culture, language and religion.

Ambrose, Archer, Ashe, Austin, Beckett, Blackburn, Carter, Coll, Cooper, Devenish, Dollard, Dobbin, Fitton, Flint, Foyle, Frizzell, Fullam, Furlong, Galwey, Gaskin, Glanville, Gough, Hall, Hamlin, Harpur, Jermyn, Kennefick, Kent, Landy, Leeper, Liston, Mason, Mansell, Martell, Morton, Nesbitt, Newman, Noble, Norman, Palmer, Porter, Preston, Pratt, Prout, St. John, Sheppard, Shorthall, Sinnott, Stack, Stanley, Sutton, Taaffe, Terry, Wade, Walton, Wells, Wickham and Whitty.

Above are all examples of this type of surname found in Ireland.


1250 AD -1550 AD: Galloglass surnames.

The term “Gallowglass” comes from the Irish “Gallóglaigh” which translates from the Irish as “young foreign warrior”. This was the name given to Norse-Scottish mercenaries who appeared on Irish shores for the first time in the 1200s. They came from the part of Scotland that was once the Kingdom of the Dal Riada – a kingdom that spread between the north of Ireland and the islands and mainland of the west of Scotland.

As Scots, they were Gaelic sharing a common culture and language with the Irish. But since they had intermarried with the Norse settlers in Scotland, the Irish called them Gall Gaeil (“foreign Gaels”). Many of the families in this area had become effective warriors, developing superior fighting methods and technology to that of the Irish of the time.

The first record of Gallowglass presence in Ireland was in 1259, when the King of Connacht was provided with one hundred and sixty of these soldiers. The Gallowglass were provided with land and received supplies from the local lordships.

Some of these Gallowglass families were on the losing side of the Scottish wars of independence at the time and this meant the complete loss of their lands. When they were offered alternative lands in Ireland in return for service, many decided to migrate as a full family group. The first of these clans were the McSweeneys, who settled in Donegal. These were followed by MacDonnells/McDonalds into Antrim and the McCabes in what is now County Cavan.

By 1512, there were about 60 Galloglass groups around the country under various Irish chieftains and settled over time to intermarry with the native Irish.

Although some of these surnames originated in Scotland, many are now considered as Irish as they are Scottish. The surnames include:

McCabe, McCallion/McCallan, McColl/McColley, McConnell, McCoy, McCrory/Rogers, McDowell, McGill, Gallogly/English, McGirr/Short, McGreal , McNeill, McSheehy, McSorley  and McSweeney/McSwiney.

Above are examples of this type of surname found in Ireland.


1550 AD -1700 AD: English and Scottish Planter Surnames.

From the time of Henry VIII – the English administration took an active interest in making Ireland a more “civilised” place. One of their strategies was to transplant large numbers of Scottish lowlanders and English border natives (with their protestant culture and farming methods) into areas of good land in Ireland – displacing the Gaelic lordships of the region as well as punishing them for resistance and non-compliance with English law and customs.

These “Plantations” of parts of Ireland started in the 1550s and lasted until 1714. The plantations occured in:

  • 1556 AD: The newly established Queen’s and King’s County (what is now Laois and Offaly).
  • 1586 AD onwards: Parts of Munster.
  • 1606 AD onwards: Ulster – the counties of Cavan, Coleraine (now mostly Derry), Armagh, Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh. The counties of Antrim and Down had already been heavily populated with Protestant farmers via privately sponsored placements.

Ireland took in between 150,000 and 250,000 English and Scottish immigrants during these plantation periods (the population of Ireland in 1700 was about 1 million). They arrived as adventurers, tenants, people seeking a better life/escaping religious persecution or as payment for military service. Most remained distinctly apart from the Gaelic Irish – maintaining their own protestant religion and culture.

Some of these planters came from the highlands of Scotland – and so many surnames share a lineage with Irish Gaelic Surnames (e.g. the use of Mac in both Scottish highland and Irish surname systems). However, the majority of planters came from the Scottish lowlands, the Scottish/English borders area as well as the rest of England – where the surnames had a different structure to Irish Gaelic surnames. With the vast majority of Gaelic surnames, the person’s lineage is to the forefront (MacCarthy = son of Carthaigh OR O’Carroll = of the Carrolls).

English and Scottish lowland surnames tend to be mostly occupational (Smith, Cooper, Wright etc.) or related to a geographical feature or place (Churchill, Harland, Hall, Windsor, Wood etc.). Patronymic surnames typically had a “son” at the end (e.g. Thomson or Johnson) or “s” in the case of Welsh e.g. Davies. Personal characteristic-related surnames were in their original form e.g. Armstrong.

One of the easiest rule-of-thumb methods to figure out the impact of these plantations on the population of Ireland is to examine the 1901 census on the basis of religion. The assumption being that the descendants of the Irish population prior to the plantations remained Roman Catholic up to 1901. The majority of the Protestant population in 1901 were descendants of the planter families:

  • Total individuals in 1901 census: 4,429,782
  • Total Roman Catholics in 1901 census: 3,251,414
  • Approximate Protestant total in 1901 census: 957,835 (made up of Church of Ireland – 499,082, Presbyterian – 400,987, Methodist – 57,766)

If we look through the surname listings of these Irish Protestant names in the 1901 census – we see the most numerous surnames as follows – mirroring the main family surnames that arrived in Ireland starting with the earliest plantations in the early 1700s:

Abbott, Abraham, Acheson, Adair, Adams, Agnew, Alexander, Allen, Anderson, Andrews, Armstrong, Arnold, Atkinson, Bailey, Baird, Barr, Bates, Bateson, Baxter, Beacom, Beattie, Beckett, Beggs, Bell, Best, Black, Blackburn, Blair, Bond, Bowes, Boyd, Brown, Buchanan, Burns, Burton

Caldwell, Calvert, Campbell, Carson, Clarke, Cochrane, Cole, Cooke, Cowan, Craig, Crangle, Crawford, Crozier, Cunningham, Davidson, Davis, Dawson, Dickson, Dinsmore, Dunbar, Duncan, Dunlop, Edwards, Elliott, Fanning/Fenning, Ferguson, Finlay, Fisher, Foot, Foster, Fulton, Gibson, Gilmore, Gilroy, Glenn, Goodwin, Gordon, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greer, Hall, Hamill, Hamilton, Hanna, Hanthorne, Harper, Harris, Harrison, Harvey, Henderson, Henry, Hetherington, Hicks, Hill, Houston, Hunter, Hutchinson, Irvine

Irwin, Jamison, Johnson, Johnston, Jones, Kennedy, Kerr, Kirk, Kirkpatrick, Knox, Leeper, Letson, Little, Logan, Magill, Marshall, Martin, Masterson, Matthews, Maxwell, McAllister, McBride, McClelland, McClements, McClure, McConnell, McCrum, McCurdy, McCusker, McDonald, McKee, McKendry, McKinney, McShane, Millar, Mills, Mitchell, Moffitt, Montgomery, Moore, Morris, Morrison, Morrow, Murray

Nelson, Nixon, Oliver, Orr, Paisley, Patterson, Platt, Pollock, Porter, Rea, Reid, Robinson, Ross, Russell, Scott, Shaw, Simpson, Smith, Stevenson, Stewart, Stirling, Sturgeon, Taggart, Taylor, Thomson, Thompson, Todd, Trimble, Walker, Wallace, Watson, White, Whiteford, Williamson, Wilson, Woods, Wright, Young.

The above is a selection of the most numerous “planter” surnames found across the island of Ireland.

Here is a link to the 1901 census for the island of Ireland: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/


1660 AD: Surnames associated with Cromwellian Soldiers.

Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, as many as 10,000 English soldiers were paid with a grant of land in Ireland. Some soldiers took up the offer – while many sold them on to people with the means to accumulate them into larger estates. A number of surnames were established in Ireland by this group (mainly outside Ulster) at this time – and are prominent to this day. Also, bear in mind that many of these individuals arrived in Ireland as single men into estates surrounded by Gaelic Roman Catholics. Over time, many intermarried with the locals. Surnames associated with these “Cromwellian adventurers” include:

Barker, Barrington, Blackwell, Bowen, Charleton, Clibborn, Coney, Davenport, Drake, Duke, Eyre, Fetherston, Filgate, Fleetwood, Greenaway, Hosford, Ivory, Jeffords, Lett, Lyng, Ogle, Pallin, Partridge, Penn, Perry, Pilkington, Poe, Rogers, Sadlier, Sampson, Slater, Smithwick, Starr, Tuttle, Tutty, Upton and Woodcock.

This is just a sample. Many of these surnames were also introduced from England/Scotland into Ulster as part of the Ulster plantation through the 1600s and 1700s. Those Ulster planter families tended to arrive as intact families – often maintaining their original culture and religion down to the current day.


1550 AD – 1700 AD: Anglicisation of Irish Gaelic Surnames.

Somewhere between the mid 1500s and early 1600s, most of Ireland’s Gaelic surnames were translated into an English equivalent – usually by an English-speaking clerk who wrote the Irish he heard into the equivalent phonetic English. The Irish-speaking holder of the name went on to use his Irish surname on a daily basis, but occasionally had the need to use his equivalent anglicised surname.

One example of this was the “O’Fuarain” surname which was found in the east of County Cork and into west County Waterford. If an English clerk heard this surname – he would probably make it out as “Oh-Foor-an”. As a result, this name became phonetically anglicised as “O’Foran” – and eventually “Foran” – across many parts of east Cork and County Waterford. However, another English clerk heard the same Irish Gaelic “O’Fuarain” and decided that “Ford” was the nearest word that made sense to him. And so we have a smattering of Ford(e)s throughout Cork – with both Ford and Foran coming from the same Irish Gaelic surname “O’Fuarain”.

So, when you look at a surname map of Ireland today – and see the Ford surname sprinkled all about – it starts to make sense why many of these Fords are completely unconnected, they just happened to assume an English-sounding name through quasi-translation of phonetic guesswork.

There are many other surnames like this in Ireland – “Coffey” and “Cunningham” are two others that spring to mind – all standing for a pool of Irish Gaelic surnames underneath that are completely unconnected.


1685 AD to 1720 AD: Palatine and Huguenot Surnames.

The “Palatines” and “Huguenots” were Protestant refugees from Germany and France, respectively – who were exiled through the 1600s and 1700s to parts of Europe where their Protestant beliefs would fit with locally held beliefs of the host country. The newly ascendant Protestant landlords of Ireland saw the weaving skills of the Huguenots and the farming skill of the Palatines (as well as the work ethic of both groups) as a desirable addition to their newly establishing towns and estates.


The Palatine Surnames in Ireland.

Over the course of the 17th century, a population of German Protestant farmers and winegrowers established themselves in the Rhineland Palatine to the southwest of Germany. However, it was a volatile area in which to live by the early 18th century. The Roman Catholic armies of France frequently used the area as a battlefield, and felt justified in burning the crops of these Protestant natives and generally making their lives miserable. This, combined with a series of bad harvests, led a group of about 13,000 “Palatines” to head up the River Rhine to Amsterdam, and seek refuge in countries where they could freely practice their Protestant faith and simple way of life.

About 3,000 of these refugees travelled onwards to the colonies of New York and the Carolinas – but the group also caught the attention of a number of landlords in Ireland who were looking to increase the population of Protestant settlers on their land. And so, another 3,000 of the refugees made their way to a number of Irish estates across Counties Carlow, Tipperary, Wexford, Kerry and Limerick in the early 1700s.

The most successful colony was that in County Limerick. By 1720, the Palatines across Ireland consisted of about 180 families, and over 100 of these were in Limerick. Throughout the rest of the 18th century, the families intermarried among themselves and with other Protestant settlers – establishing further settlements in the area.

However, by the late 1700s, many of their lease agreements had expired – and the local families were subject to untenable rent increases. This factor, combined with weather-related crop failures and cholera outbreaks – encouraged a number of Palatine families to try their luck in the newly-established lands and townships of north America.

However, many Palatine families stayed in the area – and remain to this day. You can still find the following Palatine surnames (often German in origin but localised over time) in Ireland:

Baker, Bowen, Cave, Cripps, Crouse, Crowe, Delmege, Fizzell, Hartwick, Heck, Kiel, Laurence, Lodwick, Meyer, Modler, Paul, Ross, Ruttle, Shier, Singer, Stroud, Switzer, Teskey, Wolf and Young.

Are all examples of this type of surname found in Ireland. For more on Palatine surnames see: http://www.irishpalatines.org/index.html


The Huguenot Surnames in Ireland.

Up to 1685, the Edict of Nantes guaranteed the Calvinist Huguenots the freedom of religious expression in their native France. However, when that Edict was suspended the main body of Huguenots left France for the last time, heading to countries with a Protestant tradition. Approximately 5,000 French Huguenots came to live in Ireland, mostly from the countryside around the city of La Rochelle on the west coast of France.

Unlike the farmers from the German Palatine, the Huguenots went to established Irish cities and the newly growing towns around the country. Large Huguenot settlements were established in Portarlington in Queen’s County (Laois), Youghal in County Cork, Lisburn in County Armagh, Castleblayney in County Monaghan, Carlow, Kilkenny as well as the cities of Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Once there, their skills supported the growth of a textile industry. Over time, the families were fully absorbed into Irish society.

However, many Huguenot families remain in specific pockets of Ireland to this day. The following is a selection of Huguenot surnames (French in origin but localised over time) in Ireland:

Besnard, Blanc, Borough, Busse, Camelin, Champ, Champagné, Chaigneau, Cromelin, Delacour, D’Olier, Des Voeux, Gardie, Godsell, Hardy, Lalande, Lavit/Lafitte, L’Estrange, Le Fanu, Le Nauze, Lefroy, Malet, Maturin, Micheau, Perdrian, Perrier, Pick, Pilot, Perrin, Quarry, Saurin, Trench and Vignoles.

Are all examples of this type of surname found in Ireland. For more on Huguenot surnames see: http://huguenotsinireland.com/



I hope that the above overview of the surnames found on the island of Ireland gives you an appreciation of the diverse cultures that have evolved since the introduction of surnames. Overall, you have useful locational clues if you already possess the surnames for an Irish person (or couple) that came from Ireland. While some surnames may have multiple points of origin in Ireland (e.g. Murphy), the place of origin for many Irish surnames remained surprisingly consistent up to the mid-1800s and even beyond. This can be clearly seen when experimenting with the surname map found on johngrenham.com and referenced below in the resources section.

What To Do Next:

  • Read through each of the sections in the lesson above. Do any of your Irish surnames appear in a section? In more than one section?
  • Choose one of your Irish surnames and go to the surname Map on Johngrenham.com. Enter the surname and see where the name was located in Ireland in the mid-1800s. Explore all the information for the surname found on the results page – pay special attention to the spelling variants for your surname.
  • Ask any questions you may have about your Irish surnames in the Ask the Genealogist section of the Green Room forum. See the link below.


Click Here To Ask Our Genealogist a Question Related to This Module.



Related Resources and Quick-Wins.