Common Irish Surnames

If you have Irish heritage and especially an Irish surname you will want to learn more about that Irish name. Here are the top five names.

Starting with the most common and popular Irish surnames, there is Murphy – the most common last name in Ireland, especially in County Cork. This surname, which means “sea battler,” translates to Irish as MacMurchadh (son of Murchadh) and O’Murchadh (descendant of Murchadh), a derivation of the first name of Murchadh or Murragh.

O’Murchadh families lived in Wexford, Roscommon, and Cork counties, in which county it is now most common, with the MacMurchadhs of the Sligo and Tyrone area responsible for most of the Murphys in Ulster.

The name was first anglicized (more English-style) to MacMurphy and then to Murphy in the early 19th century.

The Kelly surname is all over Ireland; the name originates from around 10 unrelated ancient clans or septs. These include O’Kelly septs from Meath, Derry, Antrim, Laois, Sligo, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and Roscommon. Kelly means the ‘bright headed one’.

Then there is O’Kelly comes from the Irish O Ceallaigh, meaning “descended from Ceallach,” an Irish chieftain. “Ceallach” means war or contention. It is an ancient first name that is no longer used as a first name in Ireland. However, Kelly is a popular first name for women in the U.S.

The O’Sullivans or Sullivans are one of the most populous of the Munster families. In Irish, O’Sullivan is O’Suilleabhin, and there is no doubt that the origin of the name comes from the word súl (eye), though whether it is to be taken as “one-eyed” or “hawkeyed” is in dispute among scholars. Originally lords of the territory around Cahir, County Tipperary in the 12th century, they migrated to what is now west Cork and south Kerry, where the name is still very prominent.

The meaning of this “Welsh” name is pretty straightforward. The name Walsh is one of the most common of the Norman associated names found in Ireland. It seems to have been the name used by the many different groups of Welsh people who arrived in Ireland with the Normans during the 12th century.

The name comes from Welsh language, which simply means Welshman, and its early Norman form was “Le Waleys.” But this became gradually anglicized to Walsh.

O’Briens are pretty lucky – they are descended from one of the greatest and most famous Irish kings. The name O’Brien, also spelled O’Bryan or O’Brian, translates to Ó Briain in Irish, which means “of Brian.”

The name indicates the family is descendants of Brian Boru, the celebrated High King of Ireland. This gives O’Briens leave to call themselves “high” and “noble.” Most O’Briens can be found in counties Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford counties.

Photos: William Martin Murphy who founded one of Ireland’s top media groups, Independent Newspapers; Ned Kelly-anti British outlaw in Australia; and Arthur Sullivan- part of the famous comedy opera writing team of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’.

Related Blogs:

Irish Records Online

Being Irish

Great Irish Move to America

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