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The Power of a Name

UNCOVER THE RICH HISTORY BEHIND YOUR IRISH SURNAME

Explore the rich tapestry of Irish heritage through the lens of our surnames.

At EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, we celebrate the power and legacy carried within a name. Each surname holds stories of origin, migration, and identity, connecting the past with the present and threading through the fabric of Ireland’s history.

Join us on this voyage through time as we reveal the stories behind 50 prominent Irish surnames. From Brennan and Kennedy to Murphy and Connolly, Irish surnames have traversed continents and generations, embodying the enduring spirit of the Irish people.

Now is the time to discover how YOUR name fits into the grand narrative of Ireland and its global diaspora.

Boyle

BOYLE

A variant of O’Boyle, from the Irish Ó Baoghail, the Boyle surname has an uncertain origin but is generally believed to be linked to the Irish word “geall,” meaning “pledge” or “vain pledge,” or possibly “having profitable pledges.”

The O’Boyle clan, originally chieftains in Donegal, co-ruled west Ulster alongside the O’Donnells and the O’Doughertys. Descendants of the Boyle family can also be found in Kildare and Offaly.

Brennan

BRENNAN

The Brennan surname is widely spread across Ireland, with historical roots in Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, and Westmeath.

Today, it is predominantly found in County Sligo and the province of Leinster. The name originated from the Irish surname, O’Braondin, derived from the Irish word ‘braon,’ meaning ‘sorrow.’

Brown

BROWN

Brown, also spelled Browne, is a prevalent surname in both England and Ireland. In Ireland, it is most commonly found in Connacht, particularly in Galway and Mayo, as well as in Kerry.

The name in Gaelic can come from ‘brún,’ meaning ‘brown,’ or from ‘Donn,’ signifying ‘dark’ or ‘brown.’

Burke

BURKE

The Burke surname is of Norman origin, derived from the borough of Caen in Normandy. ‘De burg’ means ‘of the borough.’

The Burkes settled in Ireland in the 12th century, primarily in the province of Connacht.

Byrne

BYRNE

Derived from the Gaelic O’Broin, Byrne has several meanings, including ‘descendant of Bran,’ ‘raven,’ or ‘the brook.’ The O’Byrne family (Ó Broin) originally hailed from Kildare and relocated to the Wicklow mountains following the Anglo-Norman invasion.

The Byrne surname remains common in Wicklow, Dublin, and Louth.

Callaghan

CALLAGHAN

The Callaghan surname is derived from the Gaelic name Ó Ceallagcháin, widely accepted to mean ‘bright-headed.’

The Callaghan family, also spelled Callahan, was a powerful clan in the province of Munster. Today, individuals with this surname are most numerous in Clare and Cork.

Campbell

CAMPBELL

The Campbell surname, meaning ‘crooked mouth,’ is prevalent in Donegal, where many Campbells are descended from Scottish mercenary soldiers, as well as in Cavan.

Carroll

CARROLL

The Carroll surname, including variants like O’Carroll, is widespread across Ireland, with significant populations in Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Kerry, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, and Offaly.

It originates from the Irish surnames Ó Cearbhaill and Cearbhall, meaning “fierce in battle.”

Clarke

CLARKE

One of Ireland’s oldest surnames, O’Clery (anglicized to Clarke), is most common in Cavan.

The name originates from the Gaelic word “Cléireach,” meaning ‘clergyman’ or ‘clerk.’

Collins

COLLINS

The Collins surname originates from Limerick. Following the Norman invasion, many Collins families fled to Cork. There are also Collins families from Ulster, likely of English origin.

This surname comes from the ancient Gaelic name “O’Coileain,” which roughly translates to ‘young warrior’ or ‘whelp,’ symbolizing youth, strength, and bravery.”

Connell

CONNELL

The Connell surname comes from three distinct O’Connell clans in the provinces of Connacht, Ulster, and Munster. Many Connell families are located in Clare, Galway, and Kerry.

The name derives from the Gaelic ‘O’Cuilleain,’ which translates to ‘whelp’ or ‘young hound.’

Connolly

CONNOLLY

Connolly is commonly regarded as an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic O’Conghaile, meaning “fierce as a hound.”

Originally from Galway, the Connolly clan settled in Cork, Meath, and Monaghan.

Connor

CONNOR

The Connor surname, derived from the Irish Ó Conchobhair or Ó Conchúir meaning “hero or champion,” is from Clare, Derry, Galway, Kerry, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, and Ulster.

The O’Connor family was one of three royal Irish families.

Daly

DALY

The Daly surname, from the Irish Ó Dálaigh meaning “a place of assembly,” is primarily found in Clare, Cork, Galway, and Westmeath.

Doherty

DOHERTY

The Doherty surname (Ó Dochartaigh) means “obstructive” or “hurtful.” The Dohertys settled in the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal in the 4th century and remains numerous there and in Derry.

Variants include Dougherty and Daugherty.

Doyle

DOYLE

The Doyle surname, from the Irish ‘dubh ghall’ meaning “dark foreigner,” is of Norse origin.

Doyles are concentrated in Leinster, Roscommon, Wexford, and Wicklow.

Duffy

DUFFY

The Duffy surname (Ó Dubhthaigh in Gaelic) means “black” or “swarthy.”

Originally from Monaghan, it remains the most common surname there and is found in Donegal and Roscommon.

Dunne

DUNNE

From the Irish Ó Duinn meaning “brown,” the Dunne family originated in Laois, where this surname is most common.

It is also found in Ulster (where the final letter can be omitted).

Farrell

FARRELL

The O’Farrell leaders ruled over Annaly, located near Longford and Westmeath.The surname originates from the personal name Fearghal, signifying “man of valor.”

Today, Farrell ranks as one of the most prevalent surnames in Ireland, predominantly concentrated in Leinster, especially in counties like Longford, Meath, and Westmeath.

Fitzgerald

FITZGERALD

The Fitzgerald family, of Norman origin, came to Ireland in 1170.

The surname, meaning “son of Gerald,” is common in Cork, Kerry, Kildare, and Limerick.

Flynn

FLYNN

The Flynn surname (Ó Floinn) is prevalent in Ulster, although the “F” is no longer pronounced, resulting in Loinn or Lynn. The surname is an English adaptation of the Gaelic Ó Floinn, which means “descendant of Flann,” a nickname that signifies “red” or “ruddy.”

It is also common in Clare, Cork, Kerry, and Roscommon.

Gallagher

GALLAGHER

The Gallagher clan has been in County Donegal since the 4th century, where the surname is most common.

The name Gallagher has ancient Gaelic origins, derived from the word ‘gallchobhar,’ meaning ‘foreign help.’

Healy

HEALY

Healy is a shortened form of O’Healy, an anglicized version of either the Gaelic surname Ó hÉilidhe, meaning “descendant of the claimant,” or the surname Ó hÉalaighthe, meaning “descendant of Éaladhach,” which translates to “ingenious.”

The Healy surname is most commonly found in Cork and Sligo.

Hughes

HUGHES

The Hughes surname, of both Welsh and Irish origin, is very common in Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster.

The surname evolved from the ancient Irish name Ó hAodha, translating to a grandson or descendant of Aodh, meaning “fire.”

Johnston

JOHNSTON

Did you know that the Johnston surname is the most common in the Irish province of Ulster?

It is derived from “John’s town” or “John’s settlement.

Kelly

KELLY

The Kelly surname is primarily from Derry, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon, and Wicklow.

It translates to “descendant of war,” originating from the ancient Irish name “O’Ceallaigh.”

Kennedy

KENNEDY

The Kennedy surname, of both Irish and Scottish origin, is from Clare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Wexford. Several etymologies have been proposed for the surname.

One theory suggests that it is an Anglicization of Ó Cinnéide, meaning “grandson of Cinnédidh” or “grandson of Cinnéidigh.”

Lynch

LYNCH

The Lynch families were originally settled in Clare, Donegal, Limerick, Sligo, and Westmeath, where the surname is widely spread.

It’s a shortened Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Loingsigh, which means ‘descendant of Loingseach,’ a name meaning ‘mariner’.

MacCarthy

MACCARTHY

MacCarthy or McCarthy (Mac Cárthaigh in Irish) is a common Irish surname, which translates to “Son of the Loving One” or “Loving.”

It is primarily from Cork, Kerry, and Tipperary.

Maguire

MAGUIRE

The surname Maguire originates from the Irish ‘Maguidhir’, meaning ‘son of the brown(haired) one.

This surname is most common in Fermanagh, with the variant McGuire.

Mahony

MAHONY

The Mahony clan, also spelled Mahoney, was originally from Munster, particularly Cork.

The surname Mahony originates from the ancient Irish ‘O’Mathghamhna’ (modern spelling O’Mathúna), which translates to ‘bear.’

Martin

MARTIN

The Martin surname, common in both England and Ireland, is primarily found in Galway, Tyrone, and Westmeath.

In Ireland, this surname is derived from the Gaelic name “Mac Giolla Mhártain,” which means “son of the follower of Martin.”

Moore

MOORE

The ancient Irish Moores settled in Kildare. Today, most of the modern Moores are from Antrim and Dublin.

The surname is derived from the Gaelic “O’Mordha,” where “O” signifies “descendant of” and “Mordha” comes from “Mor,” meaning “great, chief, mighty, or proud.”

Murphy

MURPHY

The Murphy surname, the most common in Ireland, is found in all four provinces, particularly in Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Cork, Kerry, Roscommon, Sligo, Tyrone, and Wexford.

This surname is a modern adaptation of the ancient Irish name “O’Murchadha,” which translates to “descendant of a sea warrior” or “strong, superior.”

Murray

MURRAY

The Murray surname is especially prolific in Donegal. In Irish tradition, the name Murray signifies a ‘Sea Protector’ or ‘Mariner.’

Its roots are found in the ancient Gaelic words ‘muir,’ meaning ‘sea,’ and ‘eadhach,’ meaning ‘protector’ or ‘guardian.’

Nolan

NOLAN

The Nolan surname is very common in Carlow, and also found in Fermanagh, Longford, Mayo, and Roscommon.

It is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Nualláin, meaning ‘descendant of Nuallán,’ a personal name derived from the diminutive of ‘nuall’, meaning ‘famous noble’.

O'Brien

O'BRIEN

The O’Brien family, one of Ireland’s leading aristocratic families, is primarily from Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.

The traditional Gaelic name employed by the O’Brien family in Ireland was Ó Briain, meaning “descendant of Brian.”

O'Donnell

O'DONNELL

The O’Donnell clans originally settled in Clare and Galway, but are now most numerous in County Donegal. The surname is sometimes modified to O’Donnelly.

It is derived from the Irish ‘O’Domhnaill’, which means ‘descendant of Domhnall’, a name translating to ‘world-mighty’.

O'Neill

O'NEILL

The O’Neills are one of three royal Irish families and usually come from Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Clare, Cork, Down, Tipperary, Tyrone, and Waterford.

This surname is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Néill, which means ‘descendant of Niall’ (Irish word for champion).

Quinn

QUINN

The Quinn surname, originating from the Irish word ‘Ó Cuinn’, meaning “intelligent,” is most common in Antrim, Clare, Longford, and Tyrone, where it’s from.

Catholics typically spelled it with two Ns, while Protestants used one.

Reilly

REILLY

The Reillys, descendants of the O’Conor kings of Connacht, mainly hail from Cork, Meath, Longford, and Cavan.

The surname “O’Reilly” combines the prefix “Ó,” meaning “descendant of,” with “Raghallach,” a personal name possibly derived from “ragh” (race) and “ceallach” (sociable).

Ryan

RYAN

The Ryan surname (Ó Riain in Gaelic) is most common in Carlow and Tipperary, and is also found in Limerick. The name “Ó Riain” means “descendant of Rian.”

Rian is thought to derive from the ancient Gaelic word “rí,” meaning “king,” which could mean “little king” or “illustrious.”

Shea

SHEA

The Shea family originally from Kerry later spread out to Tipperary and Kilkenny. Shay is another variation of this surname.

It originates from the Gaelic term ‘séaghdha’, which signifies hawk-like or stately.

Smith

SMITH

The Smith surname, of both English and Irish origin, is primarily found in Sligo, Cavan, Leitrim, Donegal and Antrim. It is the most common surname in Antrim.

It originates from the Irish Gaelic name Mac an Ghabhain, which translates to “son of the blacksmith.”

Sullivan

SULLIVAN

Originally from County Tipperary, the Sullivan family spread into Cork and Kerry where the surname is the most common.

Commonly understood as “hawk-eyed” or “little dark-eyed one,” this surname originates from the Irish ‘Súildhubhán’, combining suil (eye) and dubh (black).

Sweeney

SWEENEY

The Sweeney families are found primarily in Donegal, Kerry, and Cork.

The Sweeney surname derives from the Irish Mac Suibhne, meaning “Son of the pleasant one.”

Thompson

THOMPSON

The Thompson surname, of English origin, is the second most common non-Irish name in Ireland, especially in Ulster. The variant Thomson, without the “p,” is Scottish and most common in Down.

Derived from the personal name Thomas, this surname means ‘son of Thom’.

Walsh

WALSH

The Walsh surname, originally used to describe the Welsh people who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions, is very numerous throughout all four provinces, especially in Mayo.

White

WHITE

The surname White, known as de Faoite or Mac Faoitigh in Irish, traces its origins to the “le Whytes” who arrived in Ireland with the Anglo-Normans.

Today, White families can be found in Down, Limerick, Sligo, and Wexford.

See more from EPIC here, or visit those who fled Ireland during the famine on the Jeanie Johnston.