Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. Spring has really sprung in this part of Ireland – the birds are singing wonderfully at dawn. I guess we’ll be getting used to it soon – and calling it “a terrible racket”! I hope the weather isn’t treating you too badly wherever you are in the world today.
I’m sitting down to a nice cup of Lyons tea as we chat, and I hope you’ll have a drop of whatever you fancy as you join me for today’s Letter. Guess what? The subject of today’s letter is “Ireland”. That’s not exactly surprising, but it isn’t what you think! I received the following last week from one of our readers, Nancy Ireland:
The surname is Ireland. It is so hard to research the name Ireland ! My husband has always wanted to know who was the first in his family to come to the United States from Ireland. I have located his 3x great grandfather who was Peter Ireland and recently found that Peters father was a John Ireland who came from Antrim. We would truly love to know more about the Ireland family and the roots to Antrim.
Have you ever visited another county, state or even country – and felt a little self-conscious of your accent? When we’re among “strangers”, we’re often very conscious of where we come from.
And people notice the difference. We tend to name people based on what is different about them. You might get a name based on your look (Hi Slim), or an occupation (What’s up Doc?) or sometimes the place from which you come. That’s where surnames came from originally. Irish names like “kennedy” (ugly head!), Hickey (healer) and Conaty (a person from Connaught) are just some examples.
There is a whole class of surnames known as “topynomic” surnames i.e. they are assigned based on where a person comes from. This is very popular in England where we have surnames like Churchill, Birmingham, Hampton, Hazleton and so on. Then, there is a similar class of surnames, based on the country that a person comes from – and that is what we will look at today.
Have a look at the following names – some very common in Ireland, and others quite rare:
I think you might already have noticed what they have in common! These surnames were typically given to strangers by the natives. Let’s go through each in turn:
But, I am leaving Nancy’s surname until last. You might have guessed that the surname “Ireland” is one that you are unlikely to acquire in Ireland. And you would be right!
The surname/nickname “Ireland” was given in parts of England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man to someone who came from Ireland. These were typically early emigrants – before the 12th century. As you might imagine, it mostly came back to Ireland as a surname of later settlers in the counties of Ulster. By the mid 1800s, the name was sprinkled throughout Ireland – but was found mostly in the Counties of Antrim, Down and Armagh. Returning Irish emigrants if you will!
So – to Nancy Ireland and your husband, I hope that this small introduction to the provenance of your surname whets your appetite to find out even more about your Irish ancestry! And maybe even visit the lovely County of Antrim – homeplace of your “Irelands”.
How about you? Do you have one of these surnames in your Irish family tree?
Slán for this week,
Mike and Carina : )
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