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 : )

  • That is so cool! I love hearing about your heritage.

  • ann says:

    I love hearing about the names. How they started. My great grandmother’s surname was hunt. Never found much on this.

  • Marylyn says:

    I’m always interested to receive
    your emails. It seems lots of people find
    their ancestors, unfortunately I’ve not
    got any further than my great grandfather
    Michael Finnegan. I did by accident receive
    some information a couple of years ago
    which was held in Harvard University
    library archives about a Michael Finnegan
    and two other Irish men that were
    reported of having stolen a famous
    generals boat in the 1860’s.
    One man was released after Michael
    Finnegan gave an account of what had
    Michael Finnegan the other man were
    then sentencef and sent to jail.
    He wrote a very long letter to the general
    asking for leniency and to be released
    as he said they had not stolen the boat as
    they thought it had been just left there
    and they were just going to borrow it.
    My assumption after reading the
    information was that it left me in no
    doubt that Michael Finnegan was a
    very educated man to have written a
    letter of such length. There was also
    a photo of the three men from a very
    aged photograph taken during the
    arrest. The three men were being held
    at gunpoint by the General.
    After reading the letter the General
    decided to show some mercy and
    release Michael Finnegan.
    I’ve no idea if this MichaelFinnegan
    was my grandfather or not but it
    was very intreging and a document of
    some historical interest. I no longer
    have the information as it was lost while
    transferring it to my new computer. My
    Grandfather was Edward Finnegan b.1874
    and his mother was Bridget Cheevers
    and Michael Finnegan and lived in
    County Galway. As there were many
    Finnegans I don’t think I will every find
    a way forward.


    • Mike says:

      Hi Marylyn – your Finnegans came from Lehenagh in County Galway (Clonbrock Parish). Should be straightforward enough to find their holding in Griffith Valuations from there. Mike.

  • Tom Shortell says:

    My wife’s grandmother was Margaret Mary Moynihan. Margaret Mary was born here in the USA but her father, Timothy Moynihan, (b. 1882) did indeed come from east Kerry, right along the border with Cork, in the town of Rathmore. His forefathers, were Humphrey Moynihan (b. 1838 in Killarney), Andrew Moynihan (b. 1820 in Killarney), and Manus Moynihan.

  • Sandra Colby/Bowman says:

    I love reading your letters and due to Murphy’s and O’Donoghue’s being in my genealogy, as well as they originate from Counties Kerry and Cork I’m always seeking connections, but finding information has been a struggle for me. My Grandmother – a Cashman- her parents were born in Ireland and she was said to have been born on the ship coming to the USA. I guess I just like having a real connection to Ireland….. THANKS…. SandyB

  • Fran Carroll says:

    Thanks Carina, That was interesting. We think we have a Quinlan and a Riordan from around Kanturk and Boherbue (back around 1800). Cheers to all from San Remo, Victoria, Australia (on a hot summer Monday)

    • Mike says:

      Yep – those names sound good for that area alright Fran – thanks for sharing (could also do with a little that heat!). Mike.

  • Darlene Doran says:

    I just love to hear about the people who live around Ireland. Its all about the history of how our ancestors and how they lived. My ggggrandfather Connor Briody was born in Oldcastle, Ireland in 1783 and died in 1876 in Oldcastle. He was a flax farmer. His son James my gggrandfather was sent to England and was told to never to come back why I dont know as that is my brick wall beginning. Does anyone have a Connor(Conor) or James Briody in their family tree they would like to share with me. Thank you Darlene. Keep those letters coming as I love hearing about your family history.

    • Mike says:

      Lots of Connors around Darlene – not so many Briodys. Thanks for sharing, Mike.

      Break down those Irish Ancestry Brick Walls in The Green Room. See more here.

    • Ultan Brady says:

      Hi Darlene, my great great grandfather is Connor Briody from oldcastle, born 1791 based on my research he moved to clonlohan, drumlumman, cavan. His son James moved to England. Connor is listed in the Griffith valuation of Ireland as a resident in clonlohan, drumlumman

  • Marge Vallazza says:

    Loved hearing about the Cronins in your family. I hope to contribute to the knowledge base sometime.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Marge – feel free to jump in with comments, observations and more whenever you wish – all good for everyone! Mike.

      • gayleen says:

        hi Mike i enjoy your letters, very interesting , my father-in -law familey come from caven, very hard to find where his grandfather john was born, they were in the Denn area, still looking, thank you for the letters i love reading them.

  • Beth says:

    Thanks so much for yet another great article! Interestingly, I just found a possible connection to County Cork, so this is really timely. My brother’s YDNA matches at the 5th cousin level to BOLEN. Edward Bolen came to America in 1764 and settled in South Carolina. What’s surprising about this is our surname is BROWN! Anyone have Bolen ancestors in/from Cork and know why a Brown male would be directly related to them?
    all the best!

  • wkofeldt says:

    I notice that there were a lot of Reardsns in County Cork, but it did not show any in County Longford. It was passed down in the family over here in the USA that our Grandma Mary Elixabeth Reardon came from County Longford and she came to this country in 1896 .I found 2 Mary Readons that came here tyhat year, but I do not know which one was she. Her fathers name was Michael Reardon and her mother’s name was Mary E. Fitzsimmons and that is all I know.Who knows maybe she came from another county.It is ashame that when the ships brought people over here from Ireland that it did not give where they come from (What Location). If any body sees this comment and knows this information please let me know.. Thanks Bill Kofeldt

  • I notice Carina family came from Banteer, Cork, Ireland. My first ancestors to come to Massachusetts, USA about 1863 were married in Banteer 19 Feb 1843 , a Cornelius Crean to a Catherine Sullivan. I have found there children were baptized in the parish of Glantain.

  • carol vella says:

    Carina my donoghue/ Hogan family came from Clare they came to australia in the 1800,s as did my Maloney/Quinlan family, they were on the same ship.

  • Irene Bullen says:

    My Grandfather ,came from Bandon co cork went to Australia as a young man or boy with his family ,he returned years later met my Granmother who refused to go back to Australia with him ,he again returned and married her ,she came from Cobh her name was Mamie Allen (not sure on the spelling ) his name was William Anthony Murphy they resided in Boyces Street Cork ,had 4Daughters and my Dad Michael who was born in 1909 the climate in Ireland killed him he died in 1911 aged about 35

  • Michele says:

    Hi Carina
    Hi I’m currently researching my family tree. Can you contact me please.

  • Mark Grace says:

    I have details on Ancestry, but only really getting to the bottom of family stories and real locations having recently moved to West Cork. I share my research results via named web pages on my website and my Facebook research blog “My Irish Ancestry”. Happy to hear from anyone with common interests in the specific West Cork families listed (see welcome post pinned to top of Facebook page for details).

  • Kathleen McElroy says:

    My brother has done a family tree on ancestry.com. I went back far enough to find ancestors born in Ireland. We have Bridget Coyle born 1817 Letterkenny, Maurice McGee born 1825 in (location?) Ireland , Catherine McNulty born 1829 (location ?) Ireland, Hannah Regina Sweeney born 1839 (location? ) Ireland, James Cantlin born 1845 in County Cork, Sarah Vaughan born 1848 County Cork, James J Friel born 1863 Letterkenny, … I would love more info on the McGee line since my Mother’s maiden name was McGee. Grandpa Paul was born in Philadelphia. His father was in politics and they lived on McGee street. Thank you

  • Anna McCann says:

    Hi There, I came across your site and have no idea if it’s still active, but I’m doing some genealogy searching in anticipation of an upcoming trip to Cork. My great grandmother is Hannah Cronin, born April 1 in 1880 (or 1881) in Banteer. She came to the United States in 1897. I don’t know her parents’ names or much else about her. Any insight into how I can proceed and hopefully find either a baptism record or records of her parents/siblings? Thank you!

    • carina says:

      We are going strong and have just celebrated our 5th birthday Anna.
      See our Green Room for more help with your search.

  • […] 2: Have You Unpacked Your Irish Family Tree? In this letter, Carina talks about a the small village in the north of County Cork – and the […]

  • Eileen Garavanian says:

    I love how you were able to access the family tree .. I was in Ireland and could not find one mention of the Cashman Name ?? – My Mother was born in Banteer and have a small outline of all the names but where can I start to see the Tree ?