The first official attempt to analyse surnames in Ireland was made by Robert Matheson in 1890.

His ‘Analysis of Surnames and Forenames in Ireland’, listed the 100 most common names beginning with Murphy, Kelly, Sullivan, Walsh and Smith.

At the time, the Irish Times acknowledged Matheson’s work with an editorial.

The newspaper praised Matheson, who was a barrister-at-law, Secretary of the General Register Office, for his “great skill and assiduity . . . taken up this troublesome work”.

The alphabetical list was also prefaced with explanatory chapters which the Times noted would “engage the attention of the literary scholar as well as of the professional searcher”.

Matheson commented that his work presented a very interesting study of Irish names.

“Apart from the official purpose for which they have been prepared, the indexes form a most interesting study. Like the figures in the kaleidoscope, names are continually changing, old names dropping out and new ones appearing,” the author said.
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