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The Royal Families of Ireland

facebook4Have you ever wanted to be a member of a “Royal Family”?

Maybe you are!

Today we’re going to have a look at the royal families of Ireland – and their surnames.

For hundreds of years to up the arrival of the Normans in the late 12th century – Ireland was divided into many autonomous kingdoms – ruled over by a “Ri” or King. These Kings won their lands through military and political might – the boundaries of their kingdoms were constantly changing with the ebb and flow of power.

In fact, you could say that it was this arrangement of “tribal independence” that made Ireland so vulnerable to invasion by a more centralised force down through the years.

We’re going to choose a particular point in time –  roundabout 1515. Why?

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

The Rock of Cashel – Seat of the Kings of Munster

By that time, the surname system had been fully introduced, so we can mention your surnames in connection with these royal families. Also, by that time, many of the Normans had been fully subsumed into Gaelic culture – adopting Gaelic customs. What was left of the old English administration was in an area around Dublin called the Pale. Beyond that was “beyond the Pale” – a land of individual chiefdoms and seeming lawlessness.

So, who were the royal families of Ireland around 1515? A well known English state paper of the time tells us that beyond the pale:

“there reigneth more than 60 chief captains … that liveth only by the sword, and obeyth unto no other temporal person. Also there be thirty great captains of the English folk (Normans) that follow the same Irish order and every one of them makes war and peace for himself without any licence of the King.”

These 90 or so “captains” – (by this time also known as “lords” rather than Kings) – were the autonomous royal families of Ireland.


Castledonovan, County Cork – Seat of the O’Donovans

These Lords were spread through the 4 provinces of Ireland. They had their territory guarded by Gallowglass and the towerhouses and castles we see today. A Gaelic revival was also underway – a remembering of Ireland before the invasions of the 1100s. The lords kept historians and genealogists, they reclaimed old royal inauguration sites, they entertained with their poets and bards.

Donegal Castle, County Donegal - Seat of the O'DonnellsThey intermarried with other royal families to establish beneficial alliances and sponsored churches and monasteries on their lands.

The “overlords” had the right to call up troops from the other lords in their area and extract some taxes – but mostly all of the lordships were autonomous.

So, who were these families? I have listed the family names below.

Is your family name here?

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle, County Clare – Seat of the O’Briens


  • McCarthy (Overlord)
  • O’Sullivan
  • O’Donovan
  • O’Mahony
  • O’Driscoll
  • Finn
  • Fitzgerald (Overlord)
  • Roche
  • Condon
  • Barry
  • Courcy
  • Fitzmaurice
  • Fitzgibbon
  • O’Brien (Overlord)
  • McMahon
  • McNamara
  • O’Grady
  • O’Connor
  • O’Loughlin
  • Butler (Overlord)
  • Power
  • Tobin
  • Purcell
  • Kennedy
  • MacBrien
  • Ryan (Mulryan)
  • Meagher
  • O’Dwyer
Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle – Seat of the Butlers


  • MacMurrough (Overlord)
  • O’Byrne
  • O’Toole
  • O’Brennan
  • O’More
  • O’Dempsey
  • Fitzgerald of Kildare (Overlord)
  • Fitzpatrick
  • O’Dunne
  • Fleming
  • O’Molloy
  • Tyrell
  • O’Carroll
  • O’Connor
  • MacCoghlan
  • MacGeoghegan
  • Nugent
  • Plunkett
  • O’Ferrall
  • Dillon
Trim Castle

Trim Castle, County Meath – One of the first and largest Norman Castles


  • MacClancy
  • O’Rourke (Overlord)
  • MaGauran
  • O’Reilly
  • Maguire
  • MacMahon
  • MacKenna
  • O’Neill (Overlord)
  • O’Donnell (Overlord)
  • O’Boyle
  • MacSweeney
  • O’Doherty
  • O’Cahan (Kane)
  • MacQuillan
  • MacDonnell
  • Savage
  • White
  • MacCartan
  • Magennis
  • MacCann
  • O’Hanlon
Aughnanure Castle, County Galway

Aughnanure Castle, County Galway – Seat of the O’Flahertys


  • Burke (Overlord)
  • O’Shaughnessy
  • O’Heyne
  • O’Madden
  • O’Kelly
  • O’Flaherty (Overlord)
  • Joyce
  • O’Malley
  • Barrett
  • O’Dowd
  • O’Hara
  • MacJordan
  • MacMorris
  • Bermingham
  • MacCostello
  • O’Gara
  • MacDermot
  • MacDonagh
Blarney Castle, County Cork

Blarney Castle, County Cork – Seat of the MacCarthys of Muskerry


If you have any questions, thoughts, comments on any of these families – do let me know in the comments section below!

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