Have you Unpacked Your Irish Family Tree?

In this letter, we unpack the Irish family tree of our own Carina - and have a look at some of the Irish surnames contained within it.

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Have you Unpacked Your Irish Family Tree?

We see a lot of Irish family trees both here and in the Green Room. Do you have an Irish family tree of your own? Perhaps handwritten in a sketchbook, or carefully constructed and annotated on Ancestry.com?

What’s your biggest challenge/wish with the information on this tree? Do leave a comment below and let me know. Today, we’re going to do a little “unpacking” of one family tree that is closer to home – our home, that is!

One Irish Village – Six Irish Surnames. 

The village of “Banteer” lies to the north of County Cork – close to the town of Kanturk. It’s a small, quite farming community – the sort of place you visit because you have a reason, not because you were just “passing by”. Many of the houses, farms and field boundaries have been in the same families for hundreds of years. While many people may have emigrated from this spot over the decades, not too many people arrived in the opposite direction. The territory was ruled over by the McCarthys for many centuries – and their chief families McAuliffe, O’Keeffe, O’Callaghan, Hartnett, Fitzpatrick and O’Riordan. You can see the various families in the area by 1901 here.

This is the village that Carina’s mother left as a young woman in the early 1960s. Her name was Mary O’Donoghue. So, Carina and myself decided to “unpack” her family tree – and cover some of the names and history held within that tree – we do hope you enjoy it.


Cronin families are found all over this part of County Cork – and west to County Kerry. They were probably part of the original Corca Laoidhe Gaelic tribe that occupied these parts for hundreds of years. One of the most famous branches of the Cronins were “Erenaghs” of Gougane Barra (have you been there?). The Erenaghs were a kind of lay abbot, and had responsibility for managing the lands and relics surrounding the Abbey.

You could say they would make good accountants today! Funny enough, there are plenty of accountants in Carina’s family.


There was always a problem with small isolated communities like Banteer (especially before the coming of the bicycle). Marriages occurred between small groups of families – and there were limited opportunities beyond second and third cousins.

John O’Donoghue left his home in Killarney, arriving into Banteer as a Stonemason in the 1870s. As you might imagine, it wasn’t just his work that was assessed carefully by the local families. So, John stayed – married Julia Cronin – and brought the O’Donoghue surname into the Banteer area for the first time. These were Carina’s great-grandparents.

Like Cronin, O’Donoghue is also most likely a Corca Laoidhe name. They established themselves around the Lakes of Killarney in the 1300s. If you have ever visited Ross Castle on the banks of Lock Leane in Killarney, that was built by the O’Donoghues – and that is where you will find most of the name today.


The other name in the Cronin household was O’Connor. Do you have this name in your family tree? The O’Connor name is very prominent in Ireland – especially in the counties of Connaught where they were kings for many centuries. In fact, the family produced the last High Kings of Ireland.

In this case, however, the O’Connor name probably came from north of County Kerry (near the town of Listowel) and drifted towards Banteer over the centuries.


From the Irish, Ó Tuama – and spelled Twomey in Cork, Toomey in Limerick. Today, the Twomey name is quite prevalent all around County Cork – but it originated out of County Clare with the Dàl gCais tribe.

This was the tribe of “upstarts” that were led by Brian Boru. They seemingly came out of nowhere, but quickly established themselves as one of the most powerful cohorts in the country – giving us surnames such as O’Brien, McNamara, Heffernan, Kelleher, Hickey, Kennedy, O’Grady, Sheehan, O’Reagan, Clancy, McMahon – as well as Twomey and many more.

Like many members of the Dàl gCais tribe, the Twomey name drifted outside their homeland down through the centuries – in this case ending up in north and mid-Cork.


So, when the Twomey household was well established in Banteer by the 1880s – along came a shoemaker by the name of Denis Moynihan. He was typical of many craftspeople and labourers who travelled for work – staying with a community for months at a time. He probably started his journey from somewhere along the Cork and Kerry border.

Moynihan is one of those Irish names that tells you a little about where the owner come from. It literally means “man from Munster” and is very prevalent around the lands of north Cork and east Kerry.

Denis Moynihan settled down in Banteer and married a Catherine Twomey. These were Carina’s great-grandparents.


The other name in the Twomey household in Banteer was Murphy. OK – here we are with the most numerous surname in Ireland today. How did it become that way? Well, the Murphy name established itself in 3 very different regions over the centuries. First, there were the Murphy’s of County Wexford – a name that came from the ruling McMurrough family there.

Then, there were the MacMurphys of Tyrone and Armagh – mostly just called Murphy today. Finally, there are the Murphys of central and northwest Cork – on into Kerry. This name is one of the most numerous around the village of Banteer – a native home to the Murphy name for many centuries.

So, there we have it – the Murphys, Twomeys, Cronins and O’Connors of Banteer – joined by the travelling Moynihans and O’Donoghues. All part of Carina’s north Cork family tree.

How about you? Do you know the stories and origins behind the surnames in your Irish family tree? Have you tried to “unpack them” yet?

We hope you have a great week. As always, do feel free to leave a comment below if you want to share a story, a surname, ask a question about your Irish family tree – or just want to say hello!

Slán for this week,
Mike and Carina : )

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