A Letter from Ireland:

The Irish Surname Ryan


Javier Tomás contacted us all the way from Argentina wondering about the Ryan surname (you can see his request at the end of this post).

Ryan is the number one surname – by a margin – in County Tipperary. The primary holders of the name come from the Tipperary/Limerick sept known in Irish as Ó Maoilriain (meaning follower of Rian – we just don’t know who/what Rian was). This was once translated into English as Mulryan – but has been shortened.

A second group of Ryans come from the Irish “Ó Riaghain” – but this name comes from County Carlow where they were  chiefs of the Uí Drona sept.

So – one Ryan was known as Mulryan originally – and another as O’Ryan – but both were shortened to Ryan over the centuries.

There are 3 castles in Ireland associated with the Ryan sept – Cully Castle, Cragg Castle and Gortkelly Castle.

If you would like to add what you know about the Ryan surname, tell the story of your Ryan family OR ask a question – please do so below in the comments section.

Remember – at Your Irish Heritage we consider an “Irish Surname” to be one that belongs in your family. It may belong to an ancestor who lived in Ireland at one stage. We consider old Gaelic, Viking, Norman and planter names to be all Irish – if they fit this criteria.

Here is the request that Javier sent in:
“My surname is Ryan. We live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I guess my grandfather´s father came from Galway. He arrived here at the beginning of the XXth century. In 1980 we visited his land, the fact is that I was a child and I don´t remember quite anything.
Thanks for your mails!.
Javier Tomás Ryan”


  • Joan Nangle Disbrow says:

    While looking up the family name (Nangle), the web took me to de l’Aigle. Because no one ever seemed to know where Gilbert de Angulo (Latin) came from, it made a lot of sense that the reason he disappeared, was because he went back to France/England where there were a lot of family holdings. It seems when they went to another country the name changed to that location. When looking for these names it helps to put yourself in their place and see what comes of it, then look into the info more thoroughly.Takes time but worth the effort. Thanks Mike for your work. Much appreciated.

    • admin says:

      Hi Joan – always interesting tracking Norman names as they do “morph” depending on country. BTW – our local garden centre here in Cork is Nangles. Mike.

  • Virginia Terese Hunt says:

    Recently, while continuing my family roots research – I found a Bridget Ryan (born c 1824) who married my 2nd great grandfather, William McKelvey (born c 1820). They had seven children, including John (born c 1860, my great grandfather) and Patrick (born 1864). Patrick (my great grand uncle) is the only child of William McKelvey and Bridget Ryan that I have so far been able to find any further information on. Patrick was born in Moyne, Co Tipperary on 24 Jan 1864 – so I am assuming that William McKelvey and Bridget Ryan may have been born/ married in that same area. I guess that would make my Bridget Ryan an Ó Maoilriain – and a follower of Rian! (I am so curious now as to who Rian was!)
    Thanks, as always, Mike for all the great information! And if there are any Ryans out there who recognize my Bridget from their family tree -please share!

  • Sharon L McMahon says:

    I have just recently been able to locate information on my birth family as I was adopted when I was a baby. I have been able to locate the County Cork as the origination for the MacMahon surname, but have discovered that my great grandparents were McKinney and I am not able to locate the name in the list available to determine their origin. Can someone help me please?

    • admin says:

      Hi Sharon – McKinney is a name found in Tyrone and Antrim – often derived from the Scottish clans McKinnion and McKenzie. Mike.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Do you have any information about the surname Brannian?

  • kathy helms says:

    I am looking into my family history and have run into a stone wall. According to my father, his grandparents came from Ireland. The Ryan’s and Donahue’s. I was told the Ryan’s are from Sligo county and the Donahue’s from Cork county. I didn’t see the name Donahue anywheres. I am trying to find someway of getting info on my great grandparents but all of my family as passed away and I only have names that my father could remember as his age and poor health. I have names of family members but again don’t know how accurate it is. I really want to keep looking because it is so interesting. Can you help?

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