The 10 most popular Irish last names
Click links after each family to see complete clan story and photos
Irish and Irish-Americans alike tend to be immensely proud of their surnames.
Many a Irish family proudly declare their Irish roots by displaying the crest of their clan in their homes.
But which last names win in the battle of Irishness?
IrishCentral took a look at the list of the most common surnames in Ireland in order to come up with a top 10 list.
Smith and Murray are two of the most common, but one is of British origins and the other’s Scottish, so they didn’t make the cut.
Here, then, are the 10 most Irish last names:
1. Murphy - the sea battlers
Murphys – you win the prize for most common and widespread name in Ireland, especially in County Cork.
This surname, which means “sea battler,” translates to Gaelic as MacMurchadh (son of Murchadh) and O'Murchadh (descendent of Murchadh), a derivation of the first name of Murchadh or Murragh.
O'Murchadh families lived in Wexford, Roscommon and Cork, in which county it is now most common, with the MacMurchadhs of the Sligo and Tyrone area responsible for most of the Murphys in Ulster.
The name was first anglicized to MacMurphy and then to Murphy in the early 19th century.
2. Kelly – the bright-headed ones
Kelly comes second to Murphy as the most common surname in Ireland.
The Kellys are all over Ireland; the name originates from at around 10 different and unrelated ancient clans or septs. These include O'Kelly septs from Meath, Derry, Antrim, Laois, Sligo, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and Roscommon.
O'Kelly comes from the Gaelic O Ceallaigh, meaning "descended from Ceallach," an Irish chieftan. “Ceallach” means war or contention. It is an ancient first name that is no longer used as a first name in Ireland. However, Kelly is a popular first name for women in the U.S.
3. O'Sullivan – the hawkeyed ones
Kellys may have bright heads, but O’Sullivans have hawk-like eyes.
The O'Sullivans or Sullivans are one of the most populous of the Munster families. In Irish, O'Sullivan is O'Sileabhin, and there is no doubt that origin of the name comes from the word sil (eye), though whether it is to be taken as "one-eyed" or "hawkeyed" is in dispute among scholars.
Originally lords of the territory around Cahir, County Tipperary, in the 12th century, they migrated to what is now West Cork and South Kerry, where the name is still very prominent.
4. Walsh – the Welshmen
The meaning of this “Welsh” name is pretty straightforward.
The name Walsh is one of the most common of the Norman associated names found in Ireland. It seems to have been the name used by the many different groups of Welsh people who arrived in Ireland with the Normans during the 12th century.
The name comes from Welsh, which simply means Welshman, and its early Norman form was "Le Waleys." But this became gradually anglicized to Walsh.
5. O'Brien – the noblemen
O’Briens are pretty lucky – they are descended from one of the greatest and most famous Irish kings.
The name O’Brien, also spelled O'Bryan or O'Brian, translates to Ó Briain in Gaelic, which means "of Brian.”
The name indicates descendance from Brian Boru, the celebrated High King of Ireland. This gives O’Briens leave to call themselves “high” and “noble.”
Most O’Briens can be found in Counties Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.
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