A Letter from Ireland:
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Do you have an Irish Viking Surname?

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Do you have an Irish Viking Surname? Sharing the Atlantic Ocean with the wandering Viking race, means there is sure to be many interactions. Throughout history the Norse visited and settled the coasts of Ireland, and even built inland cities. The surnames of Ireland reflect this history.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland.

A few weeks back, it was the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. I remembered that I was lying in bed late at night listening to Radio Luxembourg when I heard the news. It really was a global event at the time. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? The occasion also reminded me of a very interesting story we uncovered last year. A story linking the Presleys to a small village in County Wicklow.

Vikings and County Wicklow.

Speaking of County Wicklow, did you know that Wicklow comes from the Norse “Vykyngelo” – meaning a “Viking meadow”? Let’s stay on that subject of Vikings for the rest of today’s letter. One of the most frequent enquiries I receive goes something like:

“I just got my DNA tested and it turned up as 12% Scandinavian. I wonder if that is the Viking blood coming out in my Irish ancestry? Also, do you know a typical Irish Viking surname?”

Just last year, we were on an Irish Homelands trip to County Wicklow. County Wicklow received its name after the local Viking-named town of Wicklow/Vykyngelo. The port was a hive of activity as longboats were prepared for filming the next series of the TV show “Vikings.” Have you seen this show following the adventures of the Norse King Ragnar and his crew? There was also an open casting call for extras for the next season – we were tempted, but I’d probably have to hide the razor for couple of months!

Viking Boats in Wicklow Town

Irish Surnames of Viking Origin.

So, do you have any Irish surnames of Viking origin in your family tree? Well, John Grenham makes the following very good point in an article on that very subject:

“There is no such thing as a Viking surname. True hereditary surnames were introduced in Scandinavia in the late 18th century, more than 700 years after the heyday of Viking expansion.”

However, he does go on to acknowledge that we Irish took to the surname system with great gusto – eager to demonstrate our extended family allegiances. So, it is believed that we had the earliest surname system in Europe with the specific surname of O’Cleary from about the 10th century.

By that time, the age of the great Viking expansion was coming to an end. In Ireland, we first experienced the Vikings during a raid on Lambay island (off the coast of present County Dublin) in 795AD and over the following years, the raiding parties started to settle around harbours about the east and south coast of Ireland. These settlements grew into the modern towns and cities of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick.

Over the following 200 years, the inhabitants of those towns had being trading, mixing and marrying with the local native Irish for many generations. Certain Irish families, like the O’Donovan chieftains, made a habit of intermarrying with the nobles of the Norse town of Limerick. By this time, we were looking at the residents of those original Viking towns as “Hiberno-Norse”.

Hiberno-Norse surnames. 

Many given first names of Norse origin became popular with Irish Gaelic families. Names like: OtirLochlan, Ivor, Olaf, Sitric and so on. So, a little like we do today – someone saw a name they liked and adopted it for one of their children – and this name then carried down in a family through the generations, increasing in popularity and frequency.

As you may know, the Irish system of surnames usually structures a name as either “son of a given name” (Mac) or “descendant of a given name (O). Many of the given names of Norse origin worked their way into a number of surnames that we consider Irish today. Names like:

  • McAuliffe – “son of Olaf”.
  • O’Rourke/Groarke – “descendent/son of Ruarc”
  • McCotter – “son of Otir”
  • McManus – “son of Magnus”
  • McGettrick – “son of Sitric”
  • McIver – “son of Ivor”
  • O’Loughlin/McLoughlin – “son of Lochlann”

Other Irish surnames that have similar roots in a given Norse name include:

Arthur, O’Beirne, McBirney, Bligh, Boland, Broder, Broderick, O’Gohery/ Godfrey, Harold, O’Henrick, O’Hever, Reynolds, Sugrue, Sweetman, Toner, Tormey and many more.

Like to add your Viking surname to our list? Just signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun.

We also have the general descriptive name for a person of Danish origin: “Dubhghaill” – meaning “dark foreigner.” It was also anglicised as “Doyle” and sometimes “McDowell”.

While many of our Irish surnames with a Norse-named root do not have any known direct link back to Viking families – a few are on record as being of Norse origin. One example is my County Galway Grandmother’s name of “Dolphin.” A Norse family that arrived in Galway about the 1200s from the northeast of England.

How about you – do you have an Irish “Viking Surname” in your family tree? What about DNA – do you carry any “Viking blood” in your family? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

That’s it for this week – and we do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Slán for now,

Mike & Carina.

  • Mary Jacq Easley says:

    I’ve always known my great grandparents came from Ireland and their name was Brislin (O’Breslin). So when I took my ancestry DNA test, I was not surprised to learn I was 45 percent Irish and 38 percent English/Scot (my father’s name was Watson). But I was mystified by the 11 percent Scandinavian— until I started reading about the Vikings settling in Ireland. I assume that’s where the 11 percent came from!

  • Annie Malloy says:

    Malloy is my surname, and we suspect it was Molloy before my great-grandfather came over. My grandmother’s maiden name was Bulman

  • Dion Macale says:

    My surname is Macale. I’ve got a record as early as 1746 with the name spelt like that. The family was connected with the Ffrenches, Bourke’s and Eyre’s of east Galway but I suspect they were dispossessed from the Cromwellian era from Mayo. Mac being son of, any idea what the ‘ale’ part might be?

  • Jackie Kiley says:

    Thanks Mike, my DNA mix lists 19% Scandinavian. I have 2 paternal Doyle lines and my maternal Great Grandmother was an O’Beirne – which you mentioned both in your letter. My surname, Kiley/Kiely in from Munster as well.

  • ShelleyLennonMacDonald says:

    Yes my dna contains Scandinavian ancestors and my family last name was Lennon

  • Hope Morrow Vandale says:

    My family Morrow surname originate from County Donegal and not the County mentioned in your letter, apologies I did not note the County. My Great-grandmother x3 was a Hammond. They married in Donegal. Interesting….

  • Francine Canty says:

    I had my DNA done. 55% England
    16% Irish
    and some Norse, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German 19%
    What am I……

  • Marta Owens says:

    O’Rourke … my GGGrandfather Patrick O’Rourke b.1818 in Ireland.
    My DNA shows 13% Scandinavian and 17% Irish.

  • Martin Hodson says:

    I have been told by some Norwegian friends that my Surname ‘Hodson’ has a connection to Norway. Anyone know if this is true ?

    • Derek Hodson says:

      One interpretation is that Hodson is derived from the Scandinavian – Oddson, a common name in Denmark and Iceland. This in turn derived from Odo or Oddo the north germanic form of Otto. Let me know if you hear anything else. Derek Hodson

  • Dee McQuaide says:

    My surname was Gatchell. I’ve traced it to County Waterford, and other than a Gatchell’s Restauant in Waterford, I’ve never encountered it elsewhere, I thought perhaps it was of Viking origin. Have you encountered this name?

  • Linda Corwin-Graber says:

    My DNA indicates nearly as much Viking as Irish.

  • Janet Carey says:

    Hello! Enjoy your letters when they arrive in my email.
    Question…I’m very Irish! On my Father’s side of I received the Carey surname. His Mother (my Grandmother) used Rourke but I’ve seen “O” added in her surname as well. Where would these families originated in Ireland? Thank you. Janet

  • Kathleen says:

    My grandmother, Delia Lee, was from Derrigimlagh, Galway and my Grandfather, Patrick J. Murphy was from Feakle, Clare. Also have Mongon, Heanue, Sweeney, King, Markham, Folan surnames (so far) in my Irish Tree.

  • Carolyn Burke says:

    Have 8% Scandinavian

  • Charlene says:

    I am totally lost on any of this done, that came. Back not what we thought. But yes viking was there.

  • Ros mcknight says:

    I want to know about sir henry browne hayes, my great great great grandfather

  • Robyn Deerchaser says:

    Dear Mike, my Irish family came to Jamestown VA in 1650, the O’Fandhagain’s an Anderson’s, I found my Anderson people but the O’Fandhagain’s have been a challenge, they come from John O’Fandhagain of County Cork. I don’t know what ship, it started from Dublin, or why the whole families came over, usually only the criminals we’re sent to work. My O’Fandhagan’s married the Powhatan Indians and went all over the states, they changed their name to Feagin,, hard for an Indian to say O’Fandvagan,,,, do you have any resources to help me in my adventure, I am also Viking. Thanks for this article, it was a good read.

  • Tdowd says:

    my last name dowd. ive been raised being told that my family is primarily irish and british with a bit of germen , when I research it just tells me the stuff I already know like the extended form of the name O’Dubhda.

  • Jenn says:

    Thanks for this 🙂 When I read that Limerick was among the settlements my DNA made sense. Great grandparents and all before from there and area forever.. Surprised with 23% Scandinavian and only 8% Irish ? Go figure lol

  • Debra says:

    I recently learned I have 40% Scandinavian & 31% Irish heritage. I knew of Irish heritage but, thought I was less. Never before had I been told of any Scandinavian heritage. I know my great great grandfather was James Conley, his son Martin Conley came to America, his son George was my grandfather. Married to my grandmother Girty (Gertie) Weeks daughter of William Henry Weeks. I am very confused regarding Scandinavian bloodline.

  • Charles E. Toner says:

    I have been reviewing Viking History as I am 83% Scandinavian (Norse) per DNA. It has been interesting, especially the settlements in Ireland. In my travels with the military I have run into several Irish with my last name — Toner. Most were originally from PA or Maryland.

  • Kevin Freaney says:

    I had a DNA test kit for a present, sent to Dublin and it came back 85% Irish and 15% European. My surname is Freaney.

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