A Letter from Ireland:

The Top 10 Irish Surnames on our List.


Top 10 Irish Surnames

As you may already know – when people contact us on Facebook – we ask them for their Irish surname(s) and the county their ancestors came from. We then add this to our list and use it to figure out good stories that need telling.

And now we’re hitting almost 4000 readers on that list! So, we thought it would be fun to share the Top 10 Irish Surnames on our list.

The Top 10 Surnames in Ireland.

We started by looking at the current Top 10 Surnames in Ireland today – and they are:

  1. Murphy
  2. Kelly
  3. (O)Sullivan
  4. Walsh
  5. Smith
  6. O’Brien
  7. Byrne
  8. Ryan
  9. O’Connor
  10. O’Neill

Any surprises there for you? Probably not – except perhaps for number 5 – and more about that later.

Now, let’s compare that to your names on our list. They are (from most numerous down):

  1. Kelly
  2. (O) Sullivan
  3. Murphy
  4. (O) Reilly/Riley
  5. (O) Doherty
  6. McCarthy
  7. O’Brien
  8. (O) Connor
  9. Walsh
  10. Smith

And “bubbling under”: Ryan, Kennedy, Lynch, (O) Mahon(e)y, Murray, (O)Neill, (O)Shea, Byrne/Byrnes/Burns

You see, the majority of our readers are in the US (about 90%). This means that a lot of the names on our list represent people who left Ireland for the US as emigrants in great numbers.

That points to one time in Ireland’s history – the Famine – from the 1840s onwards.

At that time, most of the names on the list were really over-represented in the west, north-west and south-west of the country. These were the typical names of Connaught, Southwest Munster and Northwest Ulster.

It also strikes me how many of these names were the old royal families and chieftains of Ireland – but were pushed westward into poorer lands from the 1600s onwards.

Interesting Point 1: Readers often mention how “the O got dropped when my ancestor came to this country”. But it was common practice in mid 19th century Ireland to have the O dropped – they were not re-established until later in the 19th century – so when your family arrived in their new country – that was usually the way the name was in Ireland.

Interesting Point 2: I was looking at another site’s list and they wanted to leave out Smith as it was “English” – which is ludicrous! We have many “Smiths” in Ireland for 2 reasons: 1) It was a common English Planter name which came to various parts of Ulster AND 2) it is also the Anglicisation of the the Gaelic name “Mac an Ghabhann” or “son of the smith”. If you look in the Irish telephone directory today you will see thousands of “English” names – but most are anglicisations of old gaelic names (like my own – Collins).

Does your Irish surname(s) appear on the list? What else do you notice?

  • Maura Fenlon says:

    What are the ten most popular Irish first names??

    • Mike says:

      You know Maura – I have no idea! I’m sure Google would give you some insight. I guess they might be related to whatever is on TV at the time! Mike.

  • diana murphy-enenstein says:

    My father had told us that our lineage was from County Cork. His grandparents were born there. They must have arrived in the U.S. during the time of the” Potato Famine”…because his father was born here in 1859. The knowledge that our surname is first on your list…means it will be very difficult to trace our roots. Guess that’s “Murphy’s Law” ~

  • Kate Leonard Reisig says:

    What about Leonard, Linnane, or Lennane, or Lenane?

  • Matt M says:

    My Irish ancestry includes the names:

    1) Brady
    2) Butler
    3) (O’) Callahan
    4) Reilly
    5) Malone

  • Alice McCartney says:

    Is McCartney an Irish surname? I’ve never seen it on your lists, however, I have seen McCarthy. Any info you can provide on McCartney would be appreciated. Thank you!
    Alice McCartney

    • Mike says:

      Hi Alice – McCartney is distinct from McCarthy. It is a scottish name that has been in Ireland (Ulster) since the 1600s. The closest Irish name is MacCartan – which comes from the same root “son of Art” – Art being a first name. Mike.

  • Gregory Cary says:

    My mother was McGorry and her mother was a Smith. Where are they rated or from and how about Cary?

  • Jeanne Connell says:


    My father’s father was Michael Connell from Co Roscommon and my father’s mother was Catherine Collins from Co Roscommon. My mother’s people were Kealy’s and Mara’s. The Kealy’s were from Co Derry and I don’t know where the Mara’s were from.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Jeanne – nice mixture of Irish names there! I can even give you a village for the Maras/Mearas – “Toomevara” in County Tipperary – Tuaim Uí Mheára meaning place of the Mearas. Mike.

  • JJ O Hara says:

    i think the O Hara name should be in there,We having O Hara Clan Gathering on the 26th of October at Castle View B&B our website is http://www.leitrimbandb.com.Can you please promote this,

    • Mike says:

      Hi JJ – O’Hara is probably in the top 50 of most commonly used Irish names – but our list is the most popular names among the readers of this blog. Good luck with your O’Hara gathering. Mike.

  • Thomasina says:

    Where does the name Mc Glone originate? I know the Irish spelling is Mac Giolla Eoin.

    • Mike says:

      Thats right Thomasina – “devotee of Saint John”. It comes from around the counties DOnegal and Tyrone – and sometimes in Leitrim. Mike.

  • BOBBI says:

    We were always told that our ggfather came here and married an Indian princess. But he fathered 19 children, my ggfather name is Charles Forbes. Where did the name originate?

  • My maiden name is Joyce, i think my ancestors were from Galway, not sure.

  • Jasmin says:

    I would like to know more about my Irish surname Lockhart.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Jasmin – when found in Ireland, Lockhart is a name of Scottish origin that arrived in Ireland after the 1600s. Mike.

  • Jim Hess says:

    Mike, my mother’s maiden name was Jolley, which we believe was French/ Heugonot Scot. But another family researcher has determined that his Jolley ancestor came from Ireland. Are you aware of any appreciable number of Jolleys in Ireland?

  • Anne Marie says:

    Great parents, grandparents, parents names:

  • Jeremy S says:

    O’Grady,Welch, Murphy, Thompson, Hanagan. Burke, Bean (Beahan?) FitzGerald, Cannon, Curran, Maxwell, McCoy, O’Leary, Dwyer, Kelly, Elms

  • Ken says:

    No Anderson or Andrews?

  • Eileen Lawler Fried says:

    Mike, been doing my geneaology for at least fifteen years. Always knew I had some Irish but only three years ago found out my grandfather Andrew Lawler was born in Dublin in 1867. Shocker. His wife was Mary Connolly. These are the only two names I can lay claim too as yet. Still plugging along.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Eileen – lots of Lawlers in Dublin and further west into Laois. Also – lots of Connollys in Dublin.

      Have you looked at the 1901 census to remaining family members in Dublin? Mike.

  • Linda Reed Pronowicz says:

    My mother was from Holyoke and her maiden name was Kane, Marion and she was also related to the Dan Kane Singers. Dan was her nephew.

  • Barry Evans says:

    You say your name is Collins.my mother was a Collins from County Mayo. I have had great difficulty tracing her Collins family members. They were from the general area of Bellmullet.

    Any suggestions on how to trace them.


    • Mike says:

      Hi Barry – You need to start with the best guess date of when she left Mayo. From that there is a number of options. Mike.

  • Lauren Frost says:

    My maiden name was Henry. I believe I remember my dad saying something about County Cork or Mayo. Does that ring a bell with anyone?

    • Mike says:

      Lauren – Henry would not be very common in Cork – but you will find it in Mayo /Galway alright. It is a version of MacHenry or FitzHenry. Mike.

  • Maureen Jackson says:

    My maiden name is Hannon. It doesn’t seem to be one of the more common Irish surnames. I would like to know what part of Ireland we are from. I read somewhere that the Hannon clan may be from Galway?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Maureen – the surname Hannon comes from around County Limerick Which is not a million miles from Galway. Mike.

  • Patricia O'Connell Esterline says:

    My ggfather Maurice Foley had a letter from Edward Foly 1873 to Dennis Foly asking about other brothers and sisters in USA. Edward was in Ireland in Kerry county town of Cahirsveen. I have been looking for the parents of these brothers names my greatgreatgrand parents for years. They mention in letter about a farm. Like a little help to find them.

  • Jeff Letson says:

    Traced family to Belfast. Lots of Letson’s but no idea of where to go further. also spelled with two tt at Ellis Island. Mc Murtry maternal side and Carroll as family name. Any ideas? Thanks in advance for any help.

  • Pam Finney says:

    Hi there! My name is Finney. I think maybe from N Ireland? Any insight you can give, I would truly apprecaite. Thanks Pam

  • Diana Goetsch says:

    I have one side of my Mom’s family that are Murphy’s and also McGowans, and Henrehans. A lot of Irish there in my family.

  • Catherine Monaghan says:

    My surname is Monaghan, not on the list. My grandfather Joseph D. Monaghan was married to Mabel E. Keve. My grandmother claimed that Keve was Scotch Irish. My great grandfather Charles P. Monaghan was married to Marie L. Bryan. I’m not sure if the Bryans were Irish or not but they immigrated to the USA in the early 1700s and settled in Maryland. They were catholic as were the Monaghans. His immigrant father, Daniel J. Monaghan, was married to Elizabeth U. McLaughlin. McLaughlin also not on the list. And Daniel’s father, Patrick, was married to a woman from Wexford named Margaret. We’re not sure of her surname, but it could be Redmond, since the family was traveling with a child named James Redmond when the emigrated from Ireland, via Liverpool, to Baltimore, Maryland in 1853. Redmond’s not on the list either.

  • Timothy Valentine says:

    My Irish/Scottish heritage is on my mums side. The surnames are “Rogers” and “O’Hara”. My problem is I can’t get past the US as far as my lineage.

    • Carina says:

      Why not check out our Green Room?
      There our US based genealogist assists members and then our Ireland based genealogist takes over the research once all records are followed up in the US first.

  • >