A Letter from Ireland:

Is your Surname Buried in an Irish Placename?


It’s amazing just how many placenames in Ireland come from the surnames of the leading family of the area. Often, this name is “buried” in the placename as it evolved from the original Irish language.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. We’re just back from a great trip to Tipperary. Yesterday was a typical Irish summers day – composed equally of squally showers, warm sunshine and more!

I hope you are doing well wherever this letter finds you in the world today and that life is treating you kindly. It’s straight up water from the well for me this morning – but I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we chat in today’s letter.

Before I go on, I must mention the letter from last week – where I shared the amazing story of Tadhg O’Brennan from Kilkenny. Have you seen it? You can read the full letter here.

What I love about receiving and sharing these stories is the way that our readers then add so much more to them. Have a look all the way near the end of the comments section and you will see a reply from many of our readers who also happen to be descendant of this “original” Irish-Canadian. Don’t those additions to the letter provide a real full circle? What do you think?

The reason we headed to County Tipperary yesterday was to track down the stories and places around the ancestors of one of our Green Room members – Lorraine Hannan from Australia.

Irish Surnames and Irish Placenames.

We arrived in the Tipperary town of Thurles about 11.00am and it was already getting very busy. You see, Tipperary is one of the great Hurling counties of Ireland and this is Munster Final weekend – featuring Counties Tipperary and Waterford. There were also a lot of other matches being played in the local Semple stadium in the buildup to that main event later today (Sunday).

Tipperary Flags are Flying in Thurles

We were in search of the places and sights associated with the O’Fogarty family – so we were definitely in the right part of the country.

You see, the town of Thurles gets it’s name from the Irish “Durlas” – or more correctly “Durlas Éile Uí Fhogartaigh” (now you understand why it was shortened to Durlas!). This means “strong fort of the O’Fogarty family of the Éile tribe”.

That’s the way it goes in Ireland. Many towns and placenames have this strong family association. However, the association is often buried through centuries of anglicisation.

The O’Fogartys were chiefs of this area of Tipperary before the coming of the Normans in the 12th century and remained a significant family over subsequent centuries. As a result, even today, you will find the Fogarty surname concentrated in this area of Ireland around the towns of Templemore and Thurles – and quite rare in other areas of Ireland.

When the Normans did arrive – they imposed a feudal territorial system on the area within their power. They shired the County of Tipperary in 1210AD (one of the earliest in Ireland). The county was subsequently divided into “baronies”, and these baronies later divided into “Civil Parishes” (terms probably familiar to you when tracing your Irish ancestors).

On Match Day in Thurles

One of these baronies of Tipperary was called “Eliogarty” – which in typical fashion is how the Norman invaders might have heard what the Irish called the area – “Éile Uí Fhogartaigh” meaning “the land of the O’Fogartys of the tribe of the Éile”.

By the mid 1800s, the most numerous surnames in the area were: Ryan, Maher, Burke, Dwyer, Fogarty, Hayes, Cahill, O’Brien, Butler, Cormack, McCormack. Any of your Irish surnames listed here?

So, the attachment of family and place is captured in many of the place names of Ireland – even though you may have to do a little digging under the layers of anglicisation that have taken place down through the centuries.

How about you? Do you have an Irish family name that also appears as an Irish place name? Do let me know in the comments section below.

Slán for this week,

Mike and Carina.

  • McGallion says:

    Based on research I have done, I believe my surname is incorporated into several place names in Ireland, Ulster mostly, but other areas as well. Examples: Morgallion, County Meath, Sliabh Gallion, County Londonderry and others of variant spellings. The name seems to be extremely rare and no research by professional scholars or historians or others exist that I know of. My research is strictly that of an amateur.

  • kevin o'mara says:

    Toomevara Centered around the O’Meara homeland

  • Lynn Swanberg says:

    Family name Connaughty could be from ancient kingdom of Connaught? Traced relatives to Galway and Meath.

  • Annie Barker says:

    Have traced my Delahunty family to Templemore in Tipperary,where would that name originate from?

  • Mark Humphries says:

    My wife’s Great Grand Mother was an Annie Grimes and her father was a Michael Grimes in Templemore where the research hits a wall.

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