My Irish Surnames and Other Animals

Do you have an Irish Animal Surname in your family tree? The people of Ireland have long had a strong connection with the animals they share their island with. Part of being an agricultural community is living in harmony with the creatures you raise, and depend on for survival. This important relationship has seeped into the surnames of Ireland.

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My Irish Surnames and Other Animals

A couple of weeks ago, we were travelling around County Mayo for a Green Room Feature, and we made our way into Matt Molloy’s bar for a little refreshment, as you do. Sitting at the bar, we were soon talking to a local schoolteacher by the name of John Salmon.

While I won’t go into the conversation we had just now, we were struck by his surname – Salmon – so let’s go down that path for the rest of this letter.

My Irish Surnames and Other Animals.

Do you have any “animals/fish/birds” in your Irish family tree? I have a few myself – Collins comes from the Irish for a “young dog”. My maternal grandmother was a Dolphin – funnily enough, we have lots of inland “Dolphin farms” all over east County Galway!

Through the 1600s and 1800s, many Irish surnames were anglicised from the original Irish Gaelic, we ended up with quite a few of the aforementioned animal/bird/fish related surnames all over the country. We have surnames like “O’Bradain” (which is the Irish for Salmon). This was either phonetically anglicised as “Bradden” in some parts of the country, while others chose to literally translate it into “Sammon” or “Salmon”.

Joining the creatures of the sea, we had the “Dolphins” – a clan of Norse origin who moved to Galway and Mayo – not to mention the “Pollocks”. The “Fishers”, “Herons”, “Crowes” and “Swans’ kept a close eye on these sea creatures. Speaking of the sea, the novelist James Joyce even managed to find himself a Bridie Barnacle in County Galway. And she stuck with him!

Back on land, we have many mention of the “hound” in the original Irish of a surname e.g. “McNamee” comes from “son of the Hound of Meath” – but somehow we did not end up with any “O’Hounds” or “O’Dogs” in English (just a couple of “Barkers”). However, someone had to look after all those animals as they were domesticated, and so we had “Cowman”, “Bullman” and “Calfer”.

Back to the creatures of the moor and forest – we have lots of “Rabbits”, “Foxes”, “Wolfes” and “Hares” – all seeming to get along with each other in different parts of the country. Out west in Mayo – the odd exotic “Gibbon” has even been spotted.

So, back to our John Salmon at the bar in Westport. Being a teacher, he was very knowledgeable – so we decided to call him “The Salmon of Knowledge” after the old Irish story.

I hope you enjoyed that short, fun tour around the animal-related surnames in our shared Irish family trees. How about you – do you have any of these surnames in your Irish family tree? Maybe you have one of these surnames that we have not included? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

That’s it for this week – we hope you have a grand time over the coming week – in fact, we would like to leave you with an old Irish saying that encourages you to do so:

“Glac bog an saol agus glacfaidh an saol bog tú.”

(Pronounced “Glock bug on sail awgus glockhig on sail bug too”).

This translates as “go easy on life and life will go easy on you”. A nice thought to bring into your day and week.

Slán for now,

Mike & Carina.

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