A Letter from Ireland:
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County Fermanagh Surnames and Families

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Do you have County Fermanagh surnames in your Irish family tree? The beautiful county of Fermanagh with it’s dense woodlands, and hilltop vistas has long attracted migrants from other parts of Ireland, and well as England, Scotland, and Wales. This history of settlers has made for a unique mix of surnames and peoples.

Devenish Island, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. I do hope you are keeping well in your part of the world today. There is a nice summer feeling across much of Ireland at the moment and we are into the middle of traditional “Holidays” season. The schools are out, the weather is fine and the seas are warming up to “just about bearable”! Have you ever swam in the sea in Ireland in the summer? It can be an experience to remember!

I’m having a cup of Barry’s Tea as I write – and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.

Last March, we headed up to the beautiful county of Fermanagh for a trip – it’s a wonderful county full of rolling hillsides, lakes, small villages and ancient structures. Have you ever been to Fermanagh? Perhaps your Irish ancestry came from those parts? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

Now although your family may not have originated in County Fermanagh, I think you will find the following interesting as it provides a nice example of how a particular mix of Irish surnames come to be in a given location in Ireland.

The Families and Surnames of County Fermanagh.

Like many placenames in Ireland, Fermanagh received its name from a local tribe who were dominant in the area up to 1200 AD and beyond. They were the “Fir Manach” – say it fast and you can hear where the anglicised version of “Fermanagh” came from. We’re going to have a closer look at Fermanagh now – as it is a great example of how surnames evolve in an area over time.

Some of our Reader names from County Fermanagh

The “Fir Manach” lived around the shores of Lough Erne and, over time, a number of Irish Gaelic families and surnames came out of this tribe to dominate the county that we know today. As well as the chiefs of the area, the Maguires/McGuires – the local surnames included:

O’Heaney, Mulrooney, O’Durrough, McAuley/McAwley, Drumm, MacDonnell, O’Cannon, O’Cassidy, MacManus, O’Muldoon, McEntaggart, McTully, O’Flanagan, McCaffrey, O’Devine, McMaster and O’Bannion. Are any of your Irish surnames here?

Would you like to add your Irish surname to our list? Signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking hereand we’ll let you know how to join in the fun!

However, with the “Flight of the Earls” in the early 1600s, the lands of Hugh McGuire were confiscated by the Crown and divided among Scottish and English “Undertakers” as well as the native Irish. These Undertakers “undertook” to develop and colonise their granted land with farmers and craftsmen from their existing estates in England or Scotland. The chief undertaker families to benefit under the new settlement were the families of Cole, Blennerhasset, Butler, Hume, and Dunbar.

In Step the “Border Reivers”.

To look at the “colonisation” of County Fermanagh a little deeper, we need to travel over to the border region between England and Scotland in the early 1600s. Up to that time, Scotland and England had been intermittently at war over hundreds of years and royal authority was weak in the area stretching for miles either side of the official border between the two countries. People who lived in this area were loyal to kin – and not much beyond that. A culture of cattle raids existed and whole herds were stolen and moved from one territory to another. So the name “border reivers” (reiver meaning to rob) was attached to the local chief families of the area.

Now, what has this got to do with County Fermanagh? Well, King James I outlawed the activities of these Border Reiver families – and made life very difficult for them. So, just as the border area was being cleared, and opportunities for many Reiver families were evaporating – in came the possibility of a new start in the developing colony of Ireland.

Two of the main “undertakers” in the plantation of Ireland were John and Alexander Hume (from a border family themselves) and they “undertook” to plant 3000 acres of County Fermanagh with settlers from their own border lands between England and Scotland. Many members of these Reiver tenant families saw an opportunity to start afresh on cheap land – and in an area that would appreciate their frontier skills and mentality. By 1649, border names such as: Armstrong, Bell, Crozier, Elliott, Graham, Irvine, Johnston and Nixon had established themselves across the county of Fermanagh.

In County Fermanagh, this mix of original Irish Gaelic names, border reiver names – and later arrivals – remain to this day. By the 1901 census, the following were the most numerous Irish surnames in Fermanagh (starting with the most numerous):

Maguire, McManus, Johnston, Armstrong, Gallagher, Elliott, Murphy, Reilly, Cassidy and Wilson. Are any of your Irish surnames here? Do leave your comments below and let me know. So, that’s the “melting pot” of County Fermanagh – in one way a microcosm of the “melting pot” that Ireland has been over the past 10,000 years.

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

Slán for now,

Mike & Carina.

  • EllenBrown says:

    This is very informative. I did find a relative surname,Maguire.I reLly enjoy the history behind all of the visits.
    Well done!

  • Joyce says:

    Yes , Armstrong and very much appreciate this information. Many thanks.

  • Peggy Mueller says:

    My g grandparents came to Canada from Enniskillen Fermanaugh around 1834. Their names were McDonald so I assumed they were Scots-Irish. My g grandfather married a Gallagher also from Fermanaugh. Cannot find any records of McDonalds in Enniskillen so thought maybe they modified their name.

  • Mary Beggan Mueller says:

    My g-g grandparents, Michael Beggan and his wife Margaret Kelly left Co Fermanagh for America in 1840. Started farming in Wisconsin, and we, their descendants, are still on that same land. They are buried in our orchard.

  • Mollie Griffin says:

    I am wondering if O’Heaney could have become Henry. The name I’ve seen has always been much longer then this, but I was just wondering. Henry is my maiden name, my fathers family. My mothers family were Bells.

  • Wayne Fine says:

    Michael,
    I have been hunting for information on a Thomas Bell and Sarah Armstrong parents. They were both born and raised in Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s(1805 &1803). Haven’t been able isn over forty years to go back any further with them. They were my Great=Great Grandparents on my Mother’s side. This morning I read your Sunday letter and finally visited the surname page and found a letter relating to County Fermanagh.There I found mot only the Bell and Armstrong name, but that of Irvine, Nixon, Johnston, Crozier, Graham and Elliot. All of which are well implanted into Southwestern Pennsylvania. In addition I have Nixon and Elliotin my family tree. I plan on visiting Ireland in October and hope to see some of this area, I will have to consult a map and see exactly where County Fermanagh is located to see if it tis on or near my tour. I hope this finally leads me to my lost relatives.Accordng to my DNA, I am 18% Irish, which in my mind is close to 100%.

  • Carina says:

    That is wonderful news Wayne and glad we were of assistance in your family search. We look forward to hearing how you get on when you are here in Ireland.

  • Rita Nelson (Graham) says:

    Good day thank you for the information my great grandfather Archibald Graham and his Brother William Alexander Graham emigrante to South Africa and become Farmers in North West. He and my Great grandmother and a lot of their descendants were burried on the farm. A small piece of the farm still belongs to the Family were the Grahams holds a Family feast every 3 years
    We will love to find if any of his family is still in fermenagh. On his wedding documents it is stated that he originated from Fermanagh
    From his kids names His father was Archibald John And his mother Alice Jean
    His birthday 12 June 1827

  • Fay Fleming says:

    My Irish surname is Reilly. I would love to know more about them. Love this letter

  • Annie says:

    Maguire. My ancestry dna says Munster Ireland. What does this mean?

  • Noreen Hammond says:

    I have just returned from Enniskillen – the place of my birth – a trip taken with my three daughters & two grandsons to take the ashes of one of my sisters to Lough Erne. But a great revelation was on our visit to the castle in Donegal where we learned so much about the history of the Maguires & the move to Fermanagh. Such wonderful memories created for all of us in a beautiful part of Ireland.

  • Lisa Kennedy says:

    As Murphy is such a common surname it has been hard to trace my relatives. I know that John Murphy my GGGFather married in Broagh in 1856 in Knocklougrim. He was also born there I think. I don’t know if there are any links between my Murphys and Murphys from other parts of Ireland. If you can help me trace further back I would appreciate it.

  • Erin says:

    Nice to read about County Fermanagh! My 2nd great grandmother, Margaret Johnston, was born in Enniskillen and came to Canada in the mid-1800s. Her father was Johnston and her mother was a Wilson, so I’m guessing they were a “border reiver” family who settled County Fermanagh in the 1600s. Fascinating history.

  • Maureen says:

    My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Maguire, was born in Aughaherrish, Co. Fermanagh. She married Patrick McBride in the Monea chapel in 1871. Patrick was born in Tyrone but joined the RIC so was posted in Fermanagh. After his marriage, he was posted to Co. Leitrim. A member of the RIC could not serve in his home county or that of his wife. They had ten children. Two were born in Aughaherrish when Elizabeth returned to her mother. Others were born in Leitrim and Tyrone (including my grandfather, Patrick). I often think of a pregnant Elizabeth making the 50 km journey, perhaps with another infant or two. I am fortunate to have visited Northern Ireland, from Australia, on two occasions now, to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors. Ireland, north and south, is a magical place and I feel a very strong connection to it. I would love to read stories or letters written at the time to understand how my ancestors lived. Any suggestions would be most welcome. Many thanks.

    • carina says:

      On aletterfromireland.com we often feature stories from times past.Join us on the letter and keep an eye out for those stories.

  • Jeffl says:

    I’ve had the pleasure of searching through many records over the past year or more in regards to my great grandmother from fermanagh county. Her family name was Carroll who came from the Newtownbutler area/Drumralla.. Her name was Maryanne Carroll and she left the area late 1800’s and married a Patrick Reilly from the redhills/brockley area of cavan county.settled in Lowell,Ma and had many children, me down the Reiily/Carroll line.. The Carroll family John and Teresa and many of their children including Francis Carroll and Jane Carroll Slowey lived around the Drumralla area and also of notable offspring include their son Edward Carroll and his son Bishop Joseph Anthony Carroll of Dublin(1968-1988) and many more I still search out. They are buried at St.Mary’s RC church Newtownbutler church burial grounds. I will be there in May 2019 and will travel around with my cousin Michael Reilly of the Redhills (who I’ve also found and kindly offered to take me to Fermanagh county) and place flowers on the graves of the Carroll/Slowey families and honor their lives, I’ve learned much researching through all the townlands of beautiful Fermanagh and the places the Carroll family lived working and raising their many children, many left for the states but I do look forward to my visit next month in mid to later on in May and hope its a good time of the year to be in Ireland

  • Rebeecka Johnston says:

    Hello, eh?

  • Tahri McCusker Rohde says:

    My ancestors came from County Fermanagh and their name is McCusker. I was told that McCusker came out of the McGuire clan. Is this true?

  • Rose Maguire says:

    After a divorce, I had my maiden name legally restored to Maguire. Grandfather James T. Maguire married Anna Frances Madden and had eight children, though two died in early childhood. My mother’s mother was a Cannon. This is as far as I’ve been able to go. Regardless, I plan to visit Maguire Castle and surrounds in 2021, God willing.

    • carina says:

      Maguire is a fine surname Rose and so keep in touch on the Letter from Ireland and check out the Green Room for specialist help in reaching back to your Irish Ancestors.

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