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A Letter from Ireland:
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Irish Hounds and Irish Surnames

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What do Irish Hounds and Irish surnames have to do with each other? Did you ever wonder about the origin of your Irish surname? Maybe it had to do with a particular place, or a personality trait of a long distant ancestor? Perhaps it might even have to do with an important animal in the Irish culture.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. How are things in your part of the world today? It’s fair to say that the weather here in Ireland has “closed in” – and the winter feels like it is just around the corner.

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

Have you ever had difficulty figuring out the meaning of the Irish surnames in your family tree? We are asked questions such as the following on a weekly basis:

Just this week, I was chatting with one of our readers from the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. Her name is Patricia O’Connor-Connell – her O’Connor grandfather was born in Dublin. She herself migrated to Barbados where she met a man with the surname Connell and the rest is history! Her husband’s family has probably been on the island of Barbados since the 1600s.

During the conversation, Patricia asked: “I wonder if my O’Connor surname and my husband’s Connell surname are linked in some way?”. That’s an assumption that many people make, Patricia – surnames with a similar sound lead us to believe there is a connection. In most cases, however, you are listening to a surname with “English language ears” and such conclusions are often incorrect.

In this case, though – there is a link between your two surnames that is worth mentioning.

Irish Hounds and The Surnames of Ireland.

The advent of Christianity in Ireland gave us many of the first names we are familiar with today – Michael, Mary, John, Patricia, Patrick and so on. I’m sure you have seen names like these in your Irish family tree!

However, quite a few ancient Irish names survived alongside these more common names – names like “Conor”, “Brian”, “Deirdre”, “Aoife” to name just a few – maybe you have some of these names in your own family? These were all anglicised from the “Old Irish” language – and you will find variations of these old names in both Ireland and Scotland.

Dan O’Connell’s Pub, Ennis, County Clare.

So, what does this have to do with “O’Connor” and “Connell”?

In the legends and myths of old Ireland you will find the usual mix of love, revenge, war – and hunting. What warrior would travel without his trusty hounds as he spent days hunting through forest, mountain and bog in pursuit of an elusive prey? As a result, the Irish for “dog”, “wolf” or “hound” springs up as a part of many old Irish given names. For example, there are the following boys’ names:

  • Conall – meaning “as strong as a wolf” (pronounced Conn-al”)
  • Conchubhar – meaning “lover of hounds” (pronounced Conn-or) and the spelling was later shortened to “Conor”.

O’Connor’s Tavern, Ballydavid, County Kerry.

You might notice that both of these names feature the syllable “Con” – which is the Irish for “hound”. Both Conall and Conchubhar prevailed as boys’ names down through the centuries and when surnames were introduced in Ireland during the 9th century, family groups chose an illustrious ancestor to use within their new surname. They named themselves as either “sons of” (Mac) or “descendants of” (O) the named illustrious ancestor.

It would appear that several distinct families across Ireland (and Scotland) had an ancestor called either “Conall” or “Conor” that they wished to feature in their new surname. As a result, we have a number of distinct groups of “O’Connells” and “O’Connors” across Ireland (and the world) today!

So, Patricia – while it appears that your O’Connor and Connell family names are not connected, the root of both names most likely comes from the old Irish word for hound. Are you a lover of dogs? Or maybe your family are as strong as a wolf?

Thank you so much for “testing” us with those questions – and a big hello to all of our readers across the Caribbean.

That’s it for this week – If you would like to share your ancestral story – or the surnames in your family tree – do feel free to leave your comments below and connect.

We do look forward to you joining us again next week,

Slán for now, Mike & Carina.

  • […] thanks to Joe O’Connell of Newtown Jerpoint for showing around his remarkable farm. As a special gift to you – here […]

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