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The Tribes of Ireland – Ireland at the Birth of Your Irish Surname.

Tribes of Ireland

In last week’s newsletter we introduced Turlough O’Connor – High King of Ireland up to 1156.

If Turlough was in the habit of reading maps back at that time, he might look at his kingdoms through the lens of this map – showing the major tribes, over-kingdoms and towns on the island of Ireland at his time.

Now, let’s take a brief tour (we’ll take a much longer tour in our book ) around these kingdoms and just some of the surnames associated with them.

Please do leave your comments and questions at the end of this post!

A Tour Around the Over-Kingdoms.

Ireland in 1150AD


Turlough and his kin were from the  Síol Muireadaigh  tribe. Connacht became one of the dominant kingdoms on the island under Turlough. He was the first man west of the River Shannon to have the title of High King of Ireland. Turlough and his kin had taken on the surname O’Connor from this Gr,Gr,Gr Grandfather – Conchobar mac Taidg Mór  who had died in 882.

During his time – he annexed the kingdom of Mide and asserted control over Dublin – even then becoming the political capital of the Island. The O’Rourkes (cousins of the O’Connors) were kept under control in Breifne. To the south, in Tuamumu – the O’Briens were effectively allies of the O’Connors – as  Muirchertach Ua Briain (O’Brien) had fostered Turlough as a young boy to groom him for his future position.

The other leading families of Connaught at this time were:

Mac Hugh, (Mac) Egan, MacBrennan, MacHale, (Mac) Cunneen, (Mac) Conneely, Gaffney, (Mac) Conroy, MacDermot, MacDonagh, Keogh , MacManus, (Mac) Garry, (O) Boland, Coyne, (O) Cannon,  (O) Cahill, (O) Keane , (O) Kelly, (O) Canavan, (O) Carney ,  (O) Kenny, (O) Clery, Coleman, (O) Coffey, Quigley , Conlon ,  (O) Conway,  (O) Connelly, Conlon,  (O) Cosgrave, Coogan, (O) Coolihan, (O) Curran,  (O) Devlin, (O) Donnell, (O) Donlan , (O) Donohoe,  (O) Duggan , (O) Dowd, Dolan,  (O) Downey, (O) Fallon, Fahy,  (O) Feeney,  (O) Finn , Finnegan,  (O), Flannery, O’Gara,  (O) Glavin, (O) Hanley, O’Hara, (O)Henaghhan, (O) Hynes,  (O) Horan,  (O) Lavin,  (O) Lynch, (O) Malley , Mannion, Molloy, Mullan, O’Mullally, Moran , Murray , Morris , (O) Ratigan ,  (O) Shaughnessy ,  (O) Tarpy, (O) Tierney ,  (O) Kilkelly,  (O) Carney,  (O) Gaughan, (O) Murphy,  Mac Clancy

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


Tuadh Mumhan (nowadays known as Thomond and covering the counties of Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary) become a separate Kingdom within the province of Mumhan (Munster) as the powerful tribe of the Dál gCais rose to power. The most famous member of this tribe being Brian Boru and the first High King of Ireland in reality.

The O’Briens were the ruling family of Tuamumu and other leading families include:

(Mac) Clancy (Mac) Conway (Mac) Corcoran (O) Bannon (O) Boland (O) Cahill (O) Carroll (O) Connor  (O) Dea (O) Donovan (O) Dooley (O) Drennan (O) Dwyer (O) Fennessy (O) Flaherty (O) Flanagan (O) Fogarty  (O) Galvin (O) Grady   (O) Halloran (O) Hannon  (O) Heffernan  (O) Hehir (O) Hickey (O) Hogan (O) Honan  (O) Hurley  (O) Kearney  (O) Kelleher  (O) Kennedy  (O) Kiely   (O) Loughlin (O) Meagher  (O) Melody  (O) Mulcahy (O) Naghten  (O) Quirke  (O) Reddan  (O) Regan (O) Reidy   (O) Shannon  (O) Sheehan  Ahern Buckley Collins Curry  Flannery Gilroy  Gleeson Houlihan  Mac Considine Mac Enery  Mac Namara  MacDonnell MacGrath  MacInerney MacMahon  Maher Malone  Maloney  O’Meara  Ryan  Sexton 

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


The Kingdom of Desmumu (South Munster) came about in 1118 with the further rise to power of the Dal gCais tribe of north Munster. Munster was divided into Tuadmumu – ruled by the O’Briens, and Desmumu – ruled by the MacCarthy Mors (one of a number of MacCarthy tribes).

The kingdom covered the modern counties of Cork, Kerry, Waterford, South Tipperary and South Limerick.

Other leading families of Desmumu were:

Mac Auliffe, MacGillycuddy, (Mac) Cotter , (O) Canty,  (O) Brosnan,  (O) Keefe , (O) Cahill, (O) Callaghan, Carey ,  (O) Coffey, (O) Coughlan, Connolly, (O) Connell, (O) Cronin, (O) Crowley, Cuddihy, (O) Cullinane, (O) Quill , (O) Collins, (O) Dorgan, (O) Dwane, (O) Donegan, (O) Donoghue, (O) Duggan, (O) Doheny, (O) Dennehy, (O) Dinneen, (O) Downey, (O) Falvey, (O) Phelan, (O) Field, (O) Flynn, Foley, Foran, Forde , (O) Garvey, Griffin,  (O) Hea , (O) Hennessy, Healey, (O) Driscoll, (O) Hurley, Harrington, (O) Noonan , Green , (O) Leahy, (O) Leary, Lehane , Mannix, Mullins, (O) Mahony , (O) Meehan, (O) Moriarty , (O) Riordan , (O) Scanlan , (O) Shea , (O) Sullivan , (O) Tracy, (O) Twomey, (O) Duggan,  (O) Kennedy, (O) Cagney, (O) Leary, (O) Dullea, (O) Coffey, (O) Cowhig, (O) Cullinane,  (O) Driscoll

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


The Kingdom of Laigin (or Leinster – but it was significantly smaller than the current province of Leinster) – was ruled over by the Sil Fáelchán tribe of the Uí Cheinnselaig.  Diarmait Mac Murchada (MacMurrough) was the King of Leinster at the time of Turlough. When we look back at Ireland at this time (around 1150ad), we often think of it as the “twilight years” for the Gaelic Dynasties. A few years after this, Diarmait was deposed as King and played a pivotal part in triggering the invasion of the Anglo Normans in 1169.

Other leading familes of Laigin were:

Fitzpatrick, O’Larkin, Kavanagh, O’ Brennan , O’Cullen, O’Doran, O’Nolan, O’Ryan, FitzDermot, O’Toole, O’Byrne, O’Carey, MacKeogh, Phelan, (Mac)Breen, O’Kelly, O’Coveney, O’Carroll, O’More, O’Devoy, O’Duff, O’Dempsey, O’Tracy, O’Gorman, O’Dowling, O’Cosgrave, (O)Rafter and Murphy

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


Mide (the modern counties of Meath and Westmeath ) was one of the ancient provinces of Ireland and held the ancient capital – Tara. However, before Turloughs time the effective capital had become Dublin. The main tribe and family of this area at the time of Turlough was the Mac Laughlin of the Clann Cholmáin. Other leading families included:

Quinlan, Devine, O’Hea, O’Hennessy, O’Connolly, O’Breen, O’Higgins, Mac Geoghegan, O’Brennan, O’Hart, O’Curry, O’Daly, MacAuley, O’Dooley, O’Scully, Mulholland, MacGee, O’Donoghue, Gaffney, MacConway, O’Ronan, O’Farrell, Mac Coughlan, O’Houlihan, O’Molloy, O’Carney,  Fox, O’Keary, , O’Regan, O’ Casey and O’Carroll.

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


The Uí Briúin Bréifne were the main tribe within Breifne (appropriated meaning “Hilly” as it covered the modern counties of Leitrim, Cavan and parts of Sligo).

The Kings of Breifne were the O’Rourkes – other leading families included:

Brady, McCabe, Gaffney, MacDonnell, (Mac) Clancy, MacGowan, (Mac) Elroy , MacEnroe, MacManus , (Mac) Murray, (Mac) Shanly , MacSharry, (Mac) Tiernan, MacGovern , Maguire, O’Banan, (O) Boylan, Cassidy, (O) Kenny, (O) Carroll, (O) Carolan, (O) Connolly, (O) Corcoran, (O) Corrigan, (O) Farrelly , (O) Finnegan, (O) Heany ,  (O) Muldoon and the second leading family – the O Reillys. 

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


Airgialla (later also known as Oriel in English and covering Counties Armagh, Louth and Monaghan) was an unusual case – it was really a federation of smaller kingdoms rather than a kin group. The Kingship rotated among the various tribes and at the time of Turlough was held by Donnchadh Ua Cearbaill (O’Carroll).

Other leading families of the Airgialla included:

Mac Cann, MacArdle, MacCasey, MacNally, MacConville, (Mac) Crilly, (Mac) Cullen, (Mac) Loy,  (Mac) Gillespie, Mac Mahon , (Mac) Quaid/Wade, (Mac) Scanlan , (O) Callan, (O) Keenan, (O) Cosgrave, (O) Crehan,  (O) Lynn, (O) Finn, (O) Flanagan, (O) Garvey,  (O) Hanlon ,  (O) Hare, (O) Sherry, Fagan, (O) Rogan, (O) Creehan, (O) hAedha,  (O) Keelaghan, Traynor.

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.

Northern Ui Neill

The Northen Ui Neill (not to be confused with the surname O’Neill) was a kin group who were descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages – legend was that his sons Eoghan, Conall and Enda moved into modern county Donegal in the 5th century. From these individuals came the tribes of Cenél Eóghain and Cenél Conaill who established themselves as lords in northwestern Ulster.

Over time, the Cenél Eóghain gained prominence and they expanded into what are modern counties Derry and Tyrone. By the time of Turlough, the leading family of the Cenél Eóghain, were the Mac Lochlainn (McLoughlin) – but they dominated the Northern Ui Neill alongside the the O’Donnells and O’Dohertys of the Cenél Conaill.

Other leading family names were:

McCluskey, Kearney , MacNamee , MacGee, Mac Guigan, (O) Breslin, (O) Bradley, (O) Carolan, (O) Cannon, (O) Kane, (O) Colgan, (O) Crean, (O) Quinn , (O) Donnelly, (O) Farren, (O) Ferry, (O) Flanagan , (O) Gormley, (O) Gallagher, (O) Hamill , (O) Hegarty, (O)Hoban, Hunt, (O) Lunney , (O) Mellan , (O) Murphy , (O) Neill , (O) Peyton, (O) Scully , (O) Muldorey, (O) Boyle,  (Mac) Ward , (Mac) Kelvy,  MacGonigle, MacCusker, (Mac) Daid, (Mac) Caffrey, (Mac) Garvey , MacBride, (Mac) Cole, Coyle, MacIlhoyle, Gilmartin , Mac Loughlin , MacGrath, MacRory, MacSweeny, (O) Boyle, Begley, (O) Corr , Coonee, (O) Doohan, (O) Duffy,  (O) Friel, (O) Laverty, (O) Hagan, (O) Harkin,  (O) Mulligan, (O) Muldory 

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.


Ulaid (from which modern Ulster gets its name – and occupying modern counties Antrim and Down). Their main ruling tribe were the Dál Fiatach, based in Downpatrick (which gives County Down its name). The King of Ulaid at the time of Turlough was Cú Ulad mac Conchobair Chisenaig Mac Duinn Sléibe (Mac Dunleavy). Other leading families included:

MacAteer, MacNiece , MacCartan, (Mac) Carroll , Mac Donnell , (O)Colter, Dunleavy, Greene, Magennis, Kenny, MacKenna , (O) Flynn, (O) Flattery, Hughes, Haughey, Lavery , (O) Long, Miller  and Rooney.

Note: Some of these surnames may have evolved shortly after 1150AD.

And that’s it for our mini-Tour around the Kingdoms of Ireland around 1150AD – a time when Irish surnames still coming to the fore. And just before a time when Ireland was to change forever, with the invasion of the Normans.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below! Mike.

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