The ten most popular family names in Ireland
Did your name make the cut? See the history behind Ireland's most popular names
The Irish have a habit of travelling all over the world which mean names like O'Reilly, Malone, Doyle and Hughes are common all across but from the 3,500 Irish surnames what are the most popular. Did your name make the cut? And what is the history behind the names?
Here are our top ten Irish surnames explained:
Murphy is the most popular name in Ireland by far 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 while the MacMurchadhs of 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.
The O'Connor name, with its varied spellings, doesn't spring from a common source. The name arose in five areas of Ireland: Connacht, Kerry, Derry, Offaly and Clare and split into six distinct septs.
The most prominent sept is that of the Connacht O'Connors who gave us the last two High-Kings of Ireland: Turlough O'Connor (1088-1156) and Roderick O'Connor (1116-1198). They trace their heritage and name from the Irish "Ua Conchobhair," meaning from Conchobhar, a king of Connacht.
The Kellys are all over Ireland; the name originates from at around ten 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 chieftain.
“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.
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.
The meaning of the Irish name Ryan comes from the old Gaelic word "righ" and the old Irish diminutive of "an," which together form the meaning of "little king."
The name Ryan comes from the Irish name O' Riain - a contraction of the older Irish form O'Mulriain, which is now virtually extinct.
Ryan is also an extremely popular first name, especially in Britain and the U.S.
The Ryan family motto is 'Malo More Quam Foedari', which, when translated, means 'I would Rather Die than be Disgraced'.
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.
Byrnes can be found flying around all over Counties Wicklow and Dublin.
Byrne, originally O’Byrne, comes from the Gaelic O'Broin meaning "descended from Bran,” an 11th century King of Leinster.
The O'Byrnes were chieftains of what is now County Kildare until the Norman invasion when they were driven from their lands and migrated (ha!) into the mountains of County Wicklow.
There, together with their allies the O'Tooles, they successfully resisted Norman and English domination for centuries.
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 suil (eye), though whether it is to be taken as "one-eyed" or "hawkeyed" is in dispute among scholars.
McCarthy or MacCarthaign, in Irisn, means "Son of the loving one" or "loving". This is another popular name in Cork with 60 percent of McCarthys living in Cork. The McCarthys were extremely powerful in the area during the medieval period.
The name originates with Carthach an Eóganacht Chaisil king who died in 1045 in a house fire deliberately started by one of the Lonergans. Carthach was a contemporary and bitter rival of the semi-legendary Brian Boru.
The O'Neill family traces its history back to 360 A.D. to the legendary warrior king of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who is said to have been responsible for bringing St. Patrick to Ireland.
Niall is also said to have been incredibly fertile – he has 3 million descendents worldwide.
“O’Neill” is derived from two separate Gaelic words, "Ua Niall," which means grandson of Niall, and "Neill" meaning "champion."
Ireland’s O'Neills were known by the nickname "Creagh," which comes from the Gaelic word "craobh" meaning branch, because they were known to camouflage themselves to resemble the forest when fighting the Norsemen. Crafty fellows, those O’Neills.
Source - Eoghan Corry "Top 10 of Ireland"
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