A Letter from Ireland:
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How Many Generations Back to Your First Irish Ancestor?

How many generations back to your first Irish Ancestor? Ever wonder about the origin of your surname? In this letter we discuss how Irish surnames may not just be about the place where your ancestors came from, but what they may have done for a profession, or even how they appeared as well.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland! I’m launching straight into today’s topic without too much small talk. My question to you is this:

Have you ever wondered when the first Irish ancestor to hold your Irish surname lived? How many generations does it go back from yourself?

It’s a vexing question for many of us, mostly due to the absence of records here in Ireland from the early 1800s back. I’m settling into a cup of Lyon’s tea as I write – nice and refreshing on a morning like this one. I do hope you will join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.  Now, let me tell you what got me thinking about that earlier question on the first person to hold your ancestral surname.

Dropping in to a Baltimore Wedding.

A few weeks back, we visited a hotel in the village of Baltimore near us here in Skibbereen. The place was hopping, as a wedding party were starting a week-long celebration (I know!) – they had family members and friends gathering from all over the globe.

Dún na Séad Castle, Baltimore

We eventually got talking to the father of the bride – and mentioned how we worked with Irish ancestry. That got the questions and stories flowing from him! He held the surname of Cronin – the same as our own Carina. I mentioned:

“You know, it’s funny the way that the holders of certain surnames seem to gravitate towards certain jobs and professions. We’ve noticed, for example, that there seem to be a lot of shopkeepers and accountants among Cronin families.”

He gave us a long look, and replied:

“I’m an ex-shopkeeper myself – two of my daughters are accountants while the other works in finance in the City of London. I wonder how far our Cronins go back, anyway?”

He shook his head as he asked what else might have been pre-destined for his holders of the Cronin surname!

A Shopkeeper Goes Shopping.

Sometime in the early 1900s, a young Bartholomew Cronin left his home/shop in the village of Rusheen in County Cork. He was making a “research trip” to another general store in the village of Ovens – closer in to the city of Cork.

He must have liked what he saw, as he stayed and married a young Catherine Barry – placing the surname Cronin over that shop for the first time.

Like most surnames of Irish Gaelic origin, the surname Cronin comes from a popular first name. The Irish name “Croinin” – means “saffron-coloured one” or “fair-haired person”. The surname Cronin seems to have arose separately in Counties Limerick, Kerry and Cork over the centuries. At one point in the mid-1800s, it was the most numerous surname in north County Cork.

So, who was the first to hold the Cronin surname?

Into the Mists of Surname History.

If we take the Irish records route, we can go back as far as the father of young Bartholomew’s mentioned above – John Cronin was born in 1839 near the town of Macroom in Cork. No records are available before that time for this family.

The very first time that the surname Cronin was written in the history books was in 1601. The holder of the name was a priest called Donagh O’Cronin. He was the tutor to the leader of the O’Sullivans on the Beara peninsula – Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beara. He was tried and hung for treason, and so, the first Cronin enters the history books.

Like so many Irish families and names, outside a very select few, the surname of Cronin cannot be accurately pinpointed before the 1600s. It is certain that Bartholomew’s group of Cronins evolved around the north-west of County Cork and into County Kerry, but beyond that we are unsure. Perhaps DNA studies will throw up a lot more going into the future?

It is believed that this group of Cronins were also probably members of the larger “Eoghanacht” tribe (ruled by the McCarthys, O’Sullivans and many more). The Eoghanacht “probably” arrived in Ireland from what is now Wales about the 500s – driven out by the advancing Angles and Saxons. But, that’s a lot of “probablys”!

Gouganebarra, County Cork

And, what about the connection between the Cronins and the shopkeeping/accountant profession? I like to think that it arises as a result of the Cronins being “erenaghs” (a form of lay-abbot” of Gouganebarra in Cork. They were responsible for the relics of Saint Finbarr – for both attracting paying pilgrims to the area and “renting” his relics out to other jurisdictions. There must have been plenty of money going through their hands – and plenty of accounting required!

How about you? Do you have specific jobs or professions that run in your family? Do reply below and let me know.

A Few Generations Later.

A few generations after Bartholomew headed towards his new bride and shop, in the early 1900s – I turned down that same road myself. I was heading to meet his granddaughter – a young lady by the name of Carina Cronin. She told me to “look out for the shop beside the church”. I found the shop, found her – and here we are thirty years later, another generation having passed! But who’s counting the years?

How about you? Do you know how far back your Irish surnames go in your family? Do reply below and let me know – we’d love to hear!

That’s it for today – as always, do feel free to share any questions or stories you might have yourself.

We’ll see you next week! : )

Slán, Mike and Carina

  • S. Fleming says:

    I don’t know if my family surname qualifies as Irish – the first Webb was born in Ireland (County Antrim) in 1622. His father and mother were from England. Six generations of Webbs were born in County Armagh, Ireland, then my great great grandfather and his brother emigrated to the United States in 1822.

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