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.

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How Many Generations Back to Your First Irish Ancestor?

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.

  • Roberta Robinson says:

    My grandfather . John james Lyden born in Greenaun, county Mayo in 1919. He came to the US in 1925. He passed away in 2014. His mother Mary Ellen Coyne Lyden came with John to the US in 1925. His father Michael Patrick Lyden came in 1923.

  • Will O'Keefe says:

    Hello, I have been to Ireland a few times and have travelled quite a bit, and your story about Baltimore reminds me of when Sept 2000 . I was in Baltimore staying at Casey’s. It was a Friday night and I was expecting them to have the usual Trad music in the bar. I was informed that it was cancelled for the weekend because of a local death of a 14 year old girl, sure enough the next morning when I looked out the window at the back of the hotel ,2 men were hand digging a grave in the church cemetery.After the funeral there was a huge wake in the hotel, lots of people attended , both kids and adults. I had never been to a traditional Irish wake until then and found it to be very interesting. On the part about the Cronin’s, my O’Keefe and Mahoney relatives from the Rathmore area married into the Cronin ‘s of that area and moved to Massachusetts .

    Thanks, Bill O’Keefe

    • carina says:

      How sad for the family of that young girl.
      Casey’s Hotel is a focal point of the neighbourhood and would be a gathering place for all occasions. It is situated in a beautiful spot overlooking the water. We were there last Summer and a group of Cronins were celebrating a family wedding.

  • William P Sullivan says:

    My great grandfather, Patrick J Sullivan came to Boston in 1881. Married to Catherine O’Shea, they raised a family of 7… Best that I can determine both were from Cahirciveen, Kerry… I’ve spent nearly 30 years tracing my genealogy… My mother’s side, the Sheehans, are from County Clare. They arrived in Boston in the 1850s… I’ve been to Ireland once and unfortunately it was prior to the start of my research… I can’t wait to go back…
    Wm. P. Sullivan

  • Matt Keough says:

    I can only trace back my great great grandfather, Patrick Keough, to when he left Liverpool to come to the US. He arrived in New York in 1850. My great great grandmother, Ann Murray, arrived into Canada, in 1851. They married, moved to Arlington, VT, and had 6 children – 5 sons and 1 daughter. As much as I have tried, cannot get past the year they immigrated across the pond. Ireland feels like home to me. Have been going back and forth since 2009. Usually two to three times a year. Will be relocating there in 2024.

  • George Atkinson says:

    Genetically related to Niall of the nine hostages. More info needed if you have it. Thanks!