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Popular Irish Surnames, Gaelic Spelling and Meaning

Did you know that Ireland, the beautiful emerald isle, was one of the very first countries to adopt the use of surnames? Many the Irish surnames of come from the reign of Brian Boru and the clans of that time. Brian Boru was the High King of Ireland who was defeated protecting Ireland from a Vikings invasion.

Like many surnames, Irish surnames were started to identify a son separately from his father or a grandson from his grandfather but from them. Irish surnames you are familiar with like Murphy, Sweeny, Ryan, etc. come from the culture of the Gaels. The Celts that populated Ireland (and ultimately Scotland and the Isle of Man). The Gaels sailed from Iberia to Ireland. A group of kin or family in the Gaelic culture is known as a clan. The unique Gaelic (Gaedhilge) languages fall under the Celtic languages. Gaelic languages are considered endangered today. Gaelic is the language of ancient Ireland and the dialects that have established it, particularly those commonly recognized as Irish. Popular Gaelic phrases you might be familiar with are máthair meaning mother, mo anam cara meaning soul mate or sláinte meaning cheers. These Irish phrases have been popularized by Irish Jewelry and Celtic Jewelry inspired by their meaning.  

Gaelic or Irish surnames are “patronymics” which means, they indicate patrilineal descent such as “son of “. Frequently the Irish and Scottish used Gaelic prefixes with Irish surname meanings. Prefixes such as Mac or Mc, which is the Gaelic word for “son”. So, for the son Mac was attached to the father’s name or trade. Likewise, O is a word all by itself in Gaelic, for “grandson” when used before a grandfather’s name or trade. As Gaelic names became Anglicized, by the English sometimes they lost their prefixes:

List of popular Irish Surnames and Irish Surname Meaning

Brennan

This Irish surname was prevalent, settling in Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, and Westmeath. The Brennan surname in Ireland is now mostly found in County Sligo and the province of Leinster.

Irish spelling: Ó Braonáin/Ó Branáin
Meaning: Ó Braonáin means of the droplet while Ó Branáin means of the raven.

Brown or Browne

Common in both England and Ireland, the Irish Brown families are most found in the province of Connacht (specifically Galway and Mayo), as well as Kerry.

Meaning: It denotes the brown complexion of the skin or brown hair color.

Boyle

The O Boyles were chieftains in Donegal, ruling west Ulster with the O Donnells and the O Doughertys. Boyle descendants can also be found in Kildare and Offaly.

Irish spelling: Ó Baoill
Meaning: Vain pledge.

Burke

The Norman last name Burke originated from the borough of Caen in Normandy (de burg means “of the borough”). The Burkes have been in Ireland since the 12th century, settling mainly in the province of Connacht.

Meaning: refers to a ‘fortress’ or ‘castle.’

Byrne / Burns

The O Byrne (Ó Broin) family originally came from Kildare, until the Anglo-Normans arrived, and they were driven south to the Wicklow mountains. The Byrne surname is still quite common in Wicklow, as well as Dublin and Louth.

Irish spelling: O’Byrne’ or ‘Ó Broin

Meaning: descendant of Bran’ where Bran refers to a ‘raven

Callaghan

The Callaghans were a powerful family in the province of Munster. Individuals with the Irish surname Callaghan (also spelled Callahan) are most numerous in Clare and Cork.

Irish spelling: Ó Ceallacháin
Meaning: the Eoghanacht, descent from Ceallachan

Campbell

Campbell families are very prevalent in Donegal (most are descended from Scottish mercenary soldiers), as well as in Cavan. Campbell is a descriptive surname meaning “crooked mouth.”

Irish spelling: Mac Cailein
Meaning: Scottish Gaelic words referring to crooked mouth’ or ‘wry-mouthed

Carroll

The Carroll surname (and variants such as O’Carroll) can be found throughout Ireland, including Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Kerry, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, and Offaly. There is also a MacCarroll family (anglicized to MacCarvill) from the province of Ulster.

Irish spelling:  Ó Cearbhaill

Meaning: hacking with a weapon

Clark(e)

One of the oldest surnames in Ireland, the O Clery surname (anglicized to Clarke) is most prevalent in Cavan.

Irish spelling: Ó Cleireigh(Clery)

Meaning: ‘clergy’ or ‘priest

Collins

The common Irish surname Collins originated in Limerick, though after the Norman invasion they fled to Cork. There are also Collin families from the province of Ulster, most of whom were probably English.

Irish spelling: Ó Coileáin
Meaning: Descendent of the young warrior/hound.

Connell / O’Connell

Three distinct O Connell clans, located in the provinces of Connacht, Ulster, and Munster, are the originators of many of the Connell families in Clare, Galway, Kerry.

Irish spelling:  Ó Conaill

Connolly

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

Irish spelling: Ó Coingheallaigh

Meaning: nickname for ‘someone as valiant as a wolf’ and later evolved as a last name in Ireland.

Connor

In Irish Ó Conchobhair or Ó Conchúir, the Connor last name means “hero or champion.” The O Connor family was one of three royal Irish families; they are from Clare, Derry, Galway, Kerry, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and the province of Ulster.

Irish spelling: Conchobhair

Meaning: Old Irish and means a ‘wolf’ or a ‘hound dog

Daly

The Irish Ó Dálaigh comes from dáil, meaning a place of assembly. Individuals with the Daly surname hail primarily from Clare, Cork, Galway, and Westmeath.

Irish spelling: Ó Dálaigh
Meaning: Of the assembly.

Doherty / Daugherty

The name in Irish (Ó Dochartaigh) means obstructive or hurtful. In the 4th century, the Dohertys settled around the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal, where they’ve primarily stayed. The Doherty surname is the most common in Derry. Also spelled Dougherty and Daugherty.

Irish spelling: Ó Dochartaigh

Meaning: meaning the ‘descendant of Dochartach.’ ‘Dochartach’ means ‘obstructive’ or ‘dangerous.’

Doyle

The Doyle last name comes from dubh ghall, the “dark foreigner,” and is thought to be Norse in origin. In the province of Ulster, they were known as Mac Dubghaill (MacDowell and MacDuggall). The greatest concentration of Doyles is in Leinster, Roscommon, Wexford, and Wicklow.

Irish spelling: Ó Dubhghaile
Meaning: Descendent of Dubhghal, meaning black valor.

Duffy

Ó Dubhthaigh, anglicized to Duffy, comes from an Irish name meaning black or swarthy. Their original homeland was Monaghan, where their surname is still the most common. They are also from Donegal and Roscommon.

Irish spelling: Ó Dufaigh/Ó Dubhthaigh
Meaning: Black.

Dunne/ Dunn

From the Irish for brown (donn), the original Irish name Ó Duinn has by now lost the O prefix. In the province of Ulster, the final e is omitted. Dunne is the most common surname in Laois, where the family originated. Also occasionally spelled Donne.

Irish spelling: Ó Doinn or Duinn

Meaning: Old English word for ‘dark’ or from ‘donn’ the Gaelic word for ‘brown.’

Farrell

The O Farrell chieftains were lords of Annaly near Longford and Westmeath. Farrell is a surname generally meaning “valiant warrior.”

Irish spelling: Ó Ferghail
Meaning: Man, of valor.

Fitzgerald

A Norman family who came to Ireland in 1170, the Fitzgeralds (spelled Mac Gearailt in parts of Ireland) claimed vast holdings in Cork, Kerry, Kildare, and Limerick. The surname Fitzgerald translates directly as “son of Gerald.”

Meaning: name ‘Gerald’ refers to ‘rule of the spear.’

Flynn

The Irish surname Ó Floinn is prevalent in the province of Ulster. However, the “F” is no longer pronounced, and the name is now Loinn or Lynn. The Flynn surname can also be found in Clare, Cork, Kerry, and Roscommon. It is a patronymic Irish surname meaning ‘son of Gerald.

Irish spelling: Ó Floinn

Meaning: name ‘Flann’ refers to ‘reddish’ or ‘scarlet’ in Gaelic.

Gallagher

The Gallagher clan has been in County Donegal since the 4th century and Gallagher is the most common surname in this area. Descendent of Gallchobhar, an Irish king. Gallagher is the anglicized form of ‘Ó Gallchobhair’ meaning a ‘descendant of Gallchobhar.’

Irish spelling: Ó Gallchobhair
Meaning: two Irish words ‘gall’ meaning ‘stranger’ and ‘cabhair’ meaning ‘help.’

Healy

The Healy surname is most found in Cork and Sligo.

Irish spelling: Ó hÉalaighthe

Meaning: referring to a ‘descendant of the claimant.’

Hughes

The Hughes surname, both Welsh and Irish in origin, is most numerous in three provinces Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster.

Irish spelling: Ó hAodha

Meaning: name ‘Aodh’ is derived from ‘Aed,’ an Old Irish word for ‘fire.’

Kelly

Kelly families of Irish origin come primarily from Derry, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Leix, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon, and Wicklow.

Irish spelling: Ó Ceallaigh
Meaning: ‘Ceallach’ refers to ‘bright-headed.’

Kennedy

The Kennedy surname, both Irish and Scottish in origin, hails from Clare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Wexford.

Irish spelling: Ó Cinnéide
Meaning: anglicized form of ‘Ó Cinnéidigh’ which means ‘descendant of Cennetig.’ ‘Cennetig’ is an Old Irish word referring to an ‘armored head’ or ‘misshapen head.’

Lynch

The Lynch families (Ó Loingsigh in Irish) were originally settled in Clare, Donegal, Limerick, Sligo, and Westmeath, where the Lynch surname is most common.

Irish spelling: Ó Loinsigh
Meaning: Descendent of Loingseach, a seaman. occupational surname referring to a ‘mariner.’

MacCarthy/ McCarthy

The MacCarthy surname originated primarily from Cork, Kerry, and Tipperary. Also spelled McCarthy.

Irish spelling: Mac Carthaigh
Meaning: Son of Cárthach, King of Munster (Ireland’s southern province).

Maguire

The Maguire surname is the most common in Fermanagh. Also spelled McGuire. Maguire is an Irish clan surname from the Gaelic Mac Uidhir, meaning “son of Odhar” or “son of the pale-colored one.”

Irish spelling: Mag Uidhir

Meaning: MacCarthy refers to a ‘son of Carthach’ and Carthach means ‘loving.’

Mahony

Munster was the territory of the Mahoney clan, with Mahonys (or Mahoneys) being most numerous in Cork. Brodceann O’Mahony was the eldest of the four sons of Mathghamain, known as “The Four Descendants”. The O’Mahonys were Cenél nÁeda princes of the ancient Eóganacht Raithlind.

Irish spelling: Ó Mathghamhna (modern spelling O’Mathúna)

Meaning: ‘bear’.

Martin

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

Irish spelling: Mac Giolla Mhartain

Meaning:

Moore

The ancient Irish Moores settled in Kildare, while most Moores are from Antrim and Dublin.

 Irish spelling: Ó Mordha, Muir, Moir
Meaning: Moir/Ó Mordha could mean of greatness or grandiose while Muir means sea.

Murphy

The most common of all Irish names, the Murphy surname can be found in all four provinces. Murphys are primarily from Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Cork, Kerry, Roscommon, Sligo, Tyrone, and Wexford, however.

Irish spelling: Ó Murchadha
Meaning: Descendent of Murchadh, a sea warrior.

Murray

The Murray surname is especially prolific in Donegal.

Irish spelling: Ó Muireadhaigh
Meaning: Descendent of Muireadhaigh, a seaman. Muireadhach is a variant of ‘Muiredach’ referring to ‘lord’ in Irish.

Nolan

Nolan families have always been very numerous in Carlow, and can also be found in Fermanagh, Longford, Mayo, and Roscommon. It is an anglicized version of ‘Ó Nuallain’ referring to ‘descendant of Nuallan.

Irish spelling: Ó Nuallain

Meaning: Nuallan means ‘noble’ or ‘famous.’

O’Brien

One of Ireland’s leading aristocratic families, the O Briens are primarily from Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford. It originates from ‘Ó Briain,’ which means ‘descendant of Brian.

Irish spelling: Ó Briain
Meaning: Descendent of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Brian means ‘high’ or ‘noble.’

O’Donnell

The O Donnell clans originally settled in Clare and Galway, but today they are most numerous in County Donegal. Sometimes modified to O’Donnelly. It is the anglicized variant of ‘Ó Domhnaill’ which means ‘descendant of Domhnall.’

Irish spelling: Ó Domhnaill

Meaning: Domhnall is the Gaelic version of the phrase ‘ruler of the world.’

O’Neill

One of three royal Irish families, the O Neills are from Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Clare, Cork, Down, Tipperary, Tyrone, and Waterford. This surname refers to ‘descendant of Neil.’

Irish spelling: Ó Néill
Meaning: Descendent of Niall Noigiallach, an Irish king. Neil comes from ‘Niall,’ a Gaelic word with several meanings, namely ‘cloud,’ ‘champion,’ or ‘passionate.’

Quinn

From Ceann, the Irish word for head, the name Ó Cuinn means intelligent. In general, Catholics spell the name with two ns, while Protestants spell it with one. The Quinns are primarily from Antrim, Clare, Longford, and Tyrone, where their surname is the most common. It is an anglicized version of ‘Ó Cuinn’ that means ‘descendant of Conn.’

Irish spelling: Ó Cuinn

Meaning: Conn refers to a ‘chief’ in Gaelic.

(O) Reilly

Descendants of the O Conor kings of Connacht, the Reillys are primarily from Cavan, Cork, Longford, and Meath.

Irish spelling: Ó Raghallaigh

Meaning:

Ryan

The Ó Riain and Ryan families of Ireland are primarily from Carlow and Tipperary, where Ryan is the most common surname. They can also be found in Limerick. This Irish surname is an anglicized version of ‘Ó Riain’ meaning ‘descendant of Rian.’

Irish spelling: Ó Riain
Meaning: Descendent of Riain, a king. Rian refers to ‘little king.’

Shea/ O’Shea

Originally the Shea family was from Kerry, though they later branched out to Tipperary during the 12th century and Kilkenny by the 15th century. Sometimes modified to Shay.

Irish spelling: Ó Séaghdha
Meaning: Descendent of the majestic.

Smith

The Smiths, both English and Irish, are primarily from Antrim, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, and Sligo. Smith is the most common surname in Antrim.

Smith/McGowan
Irish spelling: Mac Gabhann
Meaning: Son of the blacksmith.

(O) Sullivan

Originally settled in County Tipperary, the Sullivan family spread into Kerry and Cork, where they are now most numerous, and their surname is the most common. It is an anglicized form of ‘Ó Súileabháin,’ meaning ‘descendant of Suileabhan.’

Irish spelling: Ó Suileabháin

Meaning: name ‘Suileabhan’ refers to the phrase ‘little dark eye.’

Sweeney

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

Irish spelling: Mac Suibhne
Meaning: Son of Suibhne, a Scottish lord whose grandson arrived to Ireland and brought the name with him.

Thompson

This English name is the second most common non-Irish name found in Ireland, especially in Ulster. The Thomson surname, without the “p,” is Scottish. Thomson is most common in Down.

Irish spelling: Mac Tomáis

Meaning:   son of Thom

Walsh

The name came into use to describe the Welsh people who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions. Walsh families were very numerous throughout all four provinces of Ireland. Walsh is the most common surname in Mayo.

Irish spelling: Breathnach
Meaning: Welshman.

White

White families can be found in Ireland throughout Down, Limerick, Sligo, and Wexford. It is a descriptive name given to a person who was fair-haired or had a pale complexion, from the Middle English “whit,” meaningwhite.” Fionn mac Cumhail was a legendary Irish hero who became all-wise by eating an enchanted salmon. He fought against the giant Fomors with his son Oisín and grandson Oscar.

Irish spelling:  Fionn (older Irish finn)

Meaning: person who was fair-haired or had a pale complexion, meaning “fair” or “white“.

Celtic Holidays, Celtic Motherhood Jewelry, Interesting Stories, Irish Jewelry, Irish Traditions, Irish Wit & Wisdom, Mother's Day, News

Key Signs You Were Raised by an Irish Mom or Italian Mom

family, motherhood, children, parenthood and people concept – happy mother kissing her baby over green natural background

Many if our Irish American readers were probably raised by an Irish Mom or an Irish American Mom Irish, even an Italian mom if you Dad was the Irish one.  Irish Moms and Italian Moms are pretty much the same. It hard not to recognize those enduring traits that make them both great moms. They are both their children’s number fan. They are encouraging, caring, and show unconditional love and devotion for us in their own special ways. Both moms have the power to make you cry in fear object fear of a simple cooking utensil, known as the dreaded wooden spoon.

You know you were raised by either an Irish mom or an Italian mom if you know all the important Saints by heart.

Every time you lose something, and you searched high and low for it without success  and you just happen to mention it to mom she will undoubtedly say “Have you said a prayer to Saint Anthony yet?”. Rest assured, without fail good old St. Anthony usually comes through with finding your car keys. Every Irish mother or Italian mother has a favorite saint that they prayer too repeatable that they insist have never let them down.

Shop Irish gifts for mom

“I have eyes in the back of my head you know.”

Were we all just stupid kids but for years we really thought our mothers had eyes in the back of their heads? Mom ALWAYS knew when you were up to no good or lying.

“Don’t make me get the wooden spoon….”

Oh, those dreaded words… even the sound of the draw where it was kept opening was enough to put the fear of God in you. You ran at the sight of a wooden spoon. No matter what the issue was you were battling her over, just when you thought you had her she would start counting to three. Knew the wooden spoon was coming out next.

Mom always slipped you some extra money

If you had an Irish mom, she is good for about a spare 20 quid until you are about thirty. If you had an Italian mom, it was you cannot go out without any cash and you always left Nona’s side $20 richer. It was for candy or ice cream when you were a little kid and later as you got older is was probably gas money.

Let’s face it, motherhood is not easy, but mom always made it seem like it was her greats priority and we were her greatest achievement. Whether you had an Irish mom or an Italian mom her enduring love is a true testament to the enduring bond between a mother and child. Remember to honor her on Mother’s Day with a special Mother’s Day gift like a piece of motherhood Jewelry to show your appreciation for all she has done and continues to do for you. I mean really , what mom wouldn’t want a beautiful piece of mother’s jewelry from her baby.

Irish Traditions, Irish Wit & Wisdom

Erin Go Bragh

The meaning of phrase Erin Go Bragh comes from a Gaelic saying to pledge allegiance to Ireland. The most common modern translation is “Ireland Forever”. The combination of the green in the emerald cz representing the “Emerald Isle” with the shamrocks, the symbol of Ireland just screams “Ireland Forever”. You’ll be the envy of every Irish lass!

Erin_Go_Bragh

This Erin Go Bragh necklace is a true Irish charmer. Exclusively by The Irish Jewelry Company

Celtic Holidays, Interesting Stories, Irish Wit & Wisdom, Mother's Day

An Irish Mother’s Letter…..

Dear Son,
Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive. I am writing this slowly because I know that you can’t read very fast.
You won’t know the house when you come home. We’ve moved.
About your father, he has got a lovely new job. He has 500 men under him. He cuts grass at the cemetery.
Your sister Mary had a baby this morning. I haven’t found out yet if it’s a boy or a girl, so I don’t know if you’re an aunt or an uncle.
I went to the doctors on Thursday and your father came with me. The doctor put a small tube in my mouth and told me not to talk for 10 minutes. Your father offered to buy it from him.
Your uncle Patrick drowned last week in a vat of Irish whiskey at the Dublin brewery. Some of his workmates tried to save him but he fought them off bravely. They cremated him and it took 3 days to put the fire out.
It only rained twice this week, first for 3 days and then for 4 days.
We had a letter from the undertaker. He said if the last payment on your grandmother’s plot wasn’t paid in 7 days, up she comes.
Your loving Mother,
P.S. I was going to send you 5 pounds, but I have already sealed the envelope.”
Shop Irish Gifts for MOTHERS DAY

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About The Irish Jewelry Company

The Irish Jewelry Company is the best online Irish jeweler, the largest retailer and manufacturer of Irish Jewelry and Celtic Jewelry in the world.  The Irish Jewelry Company offers high quality, unique and stylish Irish Jewelry sold exclusively online at the TheIrishJewelryCompany.com or by approved retailers only. All of The Irish Jewelry Company’s designs are copyrighted and come with a certificate of authenticity. They sell a wide selection of Celtic Knot Pendants, Celtic Crosses, Irish Angels,  Claddagh Rings, Trinity Rings, Infinity Claddaghs, Trinity Knot Necklaces, Claddagh Pendants,and Shamrock Pendants including their signature exclusive collections the Celtic Mothers Knot, Mothers Claddagh and the Celtic Sister Knot. (Copyrighted) The Irish Jewelry Company offers high quality, best prices with a dedication to customer satisfaction like no other claddagh ring company. When shopping online with The Irish Jewelry Company us you know that you are getting quality Irish Jewelry direct from the manufacturer for overall best value from Ireland to the US.