Top 10 Irish Surnames

The Top 10 Irish Surnames. When you embark on your journey of tracing your Irish roots, you most likely have a surname to launch your search from.  Chances are you may even have one of the top 10 Irish surnames somewhere in your tree.

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Top 10 Irish Surnames

Today we’re going to put a focus on the Top 10 Irish Surnames among our readers – perhaps your Irish surname is among them?

When people sign up for the Letter for the first time, we ask them to share the Irish surnames in their family tree – and the county they believe they came from. We have been doing this for almost four years now, so as you might imagine, we have built up a fairly large database of surnames.

Let’s take a tour through the Top 10 Irish surnames given to us – in reverse order. Are any of your Irish surnames here?

  1. Collins. At first glance, this looks like an English name – but most Collins’ in Ireland are of original Irish Gaelic origin. The main clan (O’Collins) originated in what is now County Limerick, but spread south-west into Cork over the centuries. You will also find a smaller group in the west of Ulster that were McCollins originally.
  1. Murray. While most Murrays in east Ulster are of Scottish origin, there are also the Irish Gaelic O’Murrys of Roscommon/Galway and the McMurrays of County Donegal. Finally, you will find some smaller Irish Gaelic septs of Murrays/Murrihys in County Clare and County Down.
  1. O’Connor. Conor was a prevalent boy’s name in Ireland in ancient times, and worked its way into many later surnames. The most important branch were in Connacht (Galway and Roscommon) – which gave us the last High King of Ireland. It then had further sub-branches in County Sligo. Then there were the O’Connors of Offaly, Kerry, Clare and Derry.
  1. O’Brien. They led the Dal gCais tribe out of their base in what in now County Clare. This surname is very numerous right across Ireland – but probably most numerous in County Cork and also in Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.
  1. Ryan. The majority of Ryans came out of north County Tipperary where it is the most numerous surname and originally called “Mulryan” there. There is also a separate clan of Ryans in County Carlow – and you will find these spread across Carlow, Wicklow, Kilkenny and Wexford.
  1. McCarthy. The leading family of the Eoghanacht tribe – Kings of Munster. Today, it is mostly found across the southern half of the island – and especially to the south-west. Some people think that surnames with a “Mac” are Scottish and “O”s are Irish, but here is an example of the most numerous Irish surname beginning with a “Mac”.
  1. Walsh (also Walshe/Welsh). This is the most numerous surname in Ireland of Anglo-Norman origin. It means a Welshman – and was a generic name given to many of the footsoldiers who accompanied the Norman knights on the first forays into Ireland from Wales. It is given to many unconnected families in different parts of the country and now the fourth most numerous of all Irish surnames (including among our readers!). You will find the name in quantities in Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary as well as in County Mayo.

Now, on to our Top 3 Irish Surnames:

  1. Sullivan. This is the most numerous surname across the counties of Munster – especially in Counties Cork and Kerry and is third most numerous both in Ireland and amongst our readers. They were part of the Eoghanacht tribe under the McCarthys.
  1. Kelly. Derived from a popular boy’s name, this surname is found in many unconnected clans in Ireland. However, the most important were the O’Kellys of the Ui Maine sept – located in east County Galway and Roscommon. Kelly is both the second most numerous surname in Ireland and amongst our readers. Seperate groups of Kellys can be found in Counties Derry, Galway, Laois (Queen’s County), Meath and Wicklow.

Number 1 Irish Surname:

  1. Murphy. Murphy is the most numerous surname both amongst our readers and in Ireland. This is probably because of its prevalence in so many distinct places in Ireland – and especially in those affected by emigration from the 1840s. The majority of these were O’Murphy descendants – but there were also the McMurphys in Ulster. Murphy is most numerous in the following counties (in descending order): Cork, Wexford, Kilkenny, Kerry, Armagh, Tipperary, Down, Carlow, Mayo, Limerick and Waterford.

How about you? Are any of your Irish surnames in our Top 10? 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.

  • […] Want to find out what the top 10 Irish surnames are? – click here to find out. […]

  • Theresa says:

    My DNA says that I am 65% Irish. And 35 % British. Surnames are Halley, Walsh, Purcell, Stapleton, O’Brien, Thorpe, Kennedy, Kent, Breen and O’Donnell and Neary for a few, also Squires, Tucker and Jennings

  • john mooney says:

    Do you have a lookup Name against County/ town. Also how far are you going back with this list.

    • carina says:

      I would suggest if you want to look up name against county.
      Our list has been compiled over the last 5 years from readers on the Letter from Ireland.

  • […] – 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 […]

  • Bill Clifford says:

    My surname is Clifford, mother’s name is Curtin. her mother was Mehigan ,father’s mother was Lawton

  • Maureen says:

    Crozier is common like Smith but cannot find in your groupings. I did find Graham but northern Irish spelling in Fermanagh for relatives includes e as in Grahame.

  • Adrian says:

    My surname is McCormick, and my grandfather and grandmother(nee McDonald) were from Benbecula, South Uist. A number of their families were sponsored by Lady Cathcart to relocate in Saskatchewan

  • Adrian says:

    MyFather spoke Gaelic as a child exclusively, c. 1894-5. Only learned English when he entered school. He and my wife could converse in Gaelic that she learned in school in Sligo.

  • MaryAnn Cecilia S. Goodrum says:

    Our family names of ancestry relatives—Kelly, Gallagher, Carr, Coyne, Darrock, Dumigan, Kennedy. Caldwell.

  • Kathleen Mc Carthy says:

    My name is Kathleen Mc Carthy, think we came from cork or Sligo I enjoyed looking at all the namesK

  • Patricia McCarthy says:

    Surnames – maternal Burke, Ryan Co. Limerick and co. Tipperary
    Paternal McCarthy, Roche Co. Kerry and Co. Limerick.

  • Richard Anderson says:

    maternal grandmother Mooney, born McKeown from Ballyscullion

  • Frank. Desmond says:

    …is the last name DESMOND an original Irish name”………………………FRANK DESMOND

  • Dianne C Doering says:

    maternal grandmother: Hickey; paternal grandfather: O’Connell. Can we find my family?

  • Maureen O’Connor says:

    So proud of my Irish maiden name and ancestors. The O’Connors of County Roscommon.

  • Julie Eardley says:

    Hi is eardley Irish my grandad was irish

  • Mr.Derlin Gerard Clair says:

    Dear friends,I had a paternal 3XGreat-Grandmother named Amity Morissy.She was born about 1820 in Ireland,and died probably circa 1850 also in Ireland.She married a John Clear(formerly Cleary)circa 1835 in Ireland.He was my paternal 3X Great-Grandfather.They had at least one child,a Garret Clare(Clare)born May 7,1836 in Wexford,Ireland.He was my paternal 2XGreat-Grandfather.Garret Clare apparently traveled without his parents when he immigrated to the USA in 1851.I know this because he had stated in his Naturalization Record from 1868 that he arrived in the USA as a minor without his parents.Perhaps both John Clear,and Amity Morissy had both passed by 1850,so their son Garret had to immigrate to America by himself.Sorry,but I haven;t been able to find their Death Records in Ireland so far.And I was just wondering,is Morissy a real Irish surname,or is it perhaps,Anglo-Irish,prthaps of Norman origin?Anyway,best wishes,slaint,and God bless you.

  • Chrissi Matusevics says:

    As far as I know my father’s family are from Dublin where his father had a cooperage though he said the McNamara name came from County Clare my grandmother on my father’s side was Rochford which at a guess was of Norman origin

  • Sandy says:

    My 3x Great Grandfather was John Monahan of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. He and his brother Hugh immigrated to Canada in 1843. John was a Stonemason and lived to almost 110 years old

  • John says:

    Wonderful site
    Thank you