A Letter from Ireland:
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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.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. How are things in your part of the world today? I’m writing this week’s letter from the centre of the city of London – the rain is falling outside and it is a bit on the cool side. This is a city that has massive connections with the Irish down through the centuries – do you have any suggestions on where you would like us to visit while we are here? I’m looking for places associated with the Irish – so, do leave your comments below and let me know! Today we’re going to put a focus on the Top 10 Irish Surnames among our readers – perhaps your Irish surname is among them?

I’m having a cup of Barry’s Tea (yes, in London) as I write, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.

The Top 10 Irish Surnames In Our Reader’s Irish Family Trees.

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.

And now, on to Number 1:

  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.

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  • 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

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