Irish Last Names: Common Surnames of Ireland

Irish Surname Meanings and Places of Origin

Popular Irish Surnames
Kimberly Powell

Ireland was one of the first countries to adopt hereditary surnames, many of which were devised during the reign of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, who fell defending Ireland from the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 AD. Many of these early Irish surnames began as patronyms to define a son from his father or grandson from his grandfather. This is why it is very common to see prefixes attached to Irish surnames.

Mac, sometimes written Mc, is the Gaelic word for "son" and was attached to the father's name or trade. O is a word all by itself, signifying "grandson" when attached to a grandfather's name or trade. The apostrophe that usually follows the O actually comes from a misunderstanding by English-speaking clerks in Elizabethan time, who interpreted it as a form of the word "of." Another common Irish prefix, Fritz, derives from the French word fils, also meaning "son."

50 Common Irish Surnames

Does your family carry one of these 50 common Irish surnames?

Brennan

This Irish family was very widespread, settling in Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, and Westmeath. The Brennan surname in Ireland is now mostly found in County Sligo and the province of Leinster.

Brown or Browne

Common in both England and Ireland, the Irish Brown families are most commonly found in the province of Connacht (specifically Galway and Mayo), as well as Kerry.

Boyle

The O Boyles were chieftains in Donegal, ruling west Ulster with the O Donnells and the O Doughertys. Boyle descendants can also be found in Kildare and Offaly.

Burke

The Norman last name Burke originated from the borough of Caen in Normandy (de burg means "of the borough." )The Burkes have been in Ireland since the 12th-century, settling mainly in the province of Connacht.

Byrne

The O Byrne (Ó Broin) family originally came from Kildare until the Anglo-Normans arrived and they were driven south to the Wicklow mountains. The Byrne surname is still very common in Wicklow, as well as Dublin and Louth.

Callaghan

The Callaghans were a powerful family in the province of Munster. Individuals with the Irish surname Callaghan are most numerous in Clare and Cork.

Campbell

Campbell families are very prevalent in Donegal (most are descended from Scottish mercenary soldiers), as well as in Cavan. Campbell is a descriptive surname meaning "crooked mouth."

Carroll

The Carroll surname (and variants such as O'Carroll) can be found throughout Ireland, including Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Kerry, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, and Offaly. There is also a MacCarroll family (anglized to MacCarvill) from the province of Ulster.

Clarke

One of the oldest surnames in Ireland, the O Clery surname (anglicized to Clarke) is most prevalent in Cavan.

Collins

The common Irish surname Collins originated in Limerick, though after the Norman invasion they fled to Cork. There are also Collin families from the province of Ulster, most of whom were probably English.

Connell

Three distinct O Connell clans, located in the provinces of Connacht, Ulster, and Munster, are the originators of many of the Connell families in Clare, Galway, Kerry.

Connolly

Originally an Irish clan from Galway, the Connolly families settled in Cork, Meath, and Monaghan.

Connor

In Irish Ó Conchobhair or Ó Conchúir, the Connor last name means "hero or champion." The O Connors were one of three royal Irish families; they are from Clare, Derry, Galway, Kerry, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and the province of Ulster.

Daly

The Irish Ó Dálaigh comes from dáil, meaning a place of assembly. Individuals with the Daly surname hail primarily from Clare, Cork, Galway and Westmeath.

Doherty

The name in Irish (Ó Dochartaigh) means obstructive or hurtful. In the 4th century the Dohertys settled around the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal, where they've primarily stayed. The Doherty surname is the most common in Derry.

Doyle

The Doyle last name comes from dubh ghall, the "dark foreigner," and is thought to be Norse in origin.

In the province of Ulster they were known as Mac Dubghaill (MacDowell and MacDuggall). The greatest concentration of Doyles is in Leinster, Roscommon, Wexford and Wicklow.

Duffy

Ó Dubhthaigh, anglicized to Duffy, comes from an Irish name meaning black or swarthy. Their original homeland was Monaghan, where their surname is still the most common; they are also from Donegal and Roscommon.

Dunne

From the Irish for brown (donn), the original Irish name Ó Duinn has by now lost the O prefix; in the province of Ulster the final e is omitted. Dunne is the most common surname in Laois, where the family originated.

Farrell

The O Farrell chieftains were lords of Annaly near Longford and Westmeath. Farrell is a surname generally meaning "valiant warrior."

Fitzgerald

A Norman family who came to Ireland in 1170, the Fitzgeralds (spelled Mac Gearailt in parts of Ireland) claimed vast holdings in Cork, Kerry, Kildare, and Limerick. The surname Fitzgerald translates directly as "son of Gerald."

Flynn

The Irish surname Ó Floinn is prevalent in the province of Ulster, however, the "F" is no longer pronounced and the name is now Loinn or Lynn. The Flynn surname can also be found in Clare, Cork, Kerry, and Roscommon.

Gallagher

The Gallagher clan has been in County Donegal since the 4th century and Gallagher is the most common surname in this area.

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Healy

The Healy surname is most commonly found in Cork and Sligo.

Hughes

The Hughes surname, both Welsh and Irish in origin, is most numerous in three provinces: Connacht, Leinster and Ulster.

Johnston

Johnston is the most common name in the Irish province of Ulster.

Kelly

Kelly families of Irish origin come primarily from Derry, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Leix, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon and Wicklow.

Kennedy

The Kennedy surname, both Irish and Scottish in origin, hails from Clare, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford.

Lynch

The Lynch families (Ó Loingsigh in Irish) were originally settled in Clare, Donegal, Limerick, Sligo, and Westmeath, where the Lynch surname is most common.

MacCarthy

The MacCarthy surname originated primarily from Cork, Kerry and Tipperary.

Maguire

The Maguire surname is the most common in Fermanagh.

Mahony

Munster was the territory of the Mahoney clan, with Mahonys being most numerous in Cork.

Martin

The Martin surname, common in both England and Ireland, can be found primarily in Galway, Tyrone, and Westmeath.

Moore

The ancient Irish Moores settled in Kildare, while most Moores are from Antrim and Dublin.

Murphy

The most common of all Irish names, the Murphy surname can be found in all four provinces. Murphys are primarily from Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Cork, Kerry, Roscommon, Sligo, Tyrone and Wexford, however.

Murray

The Murray surname is especially prolific in Donegal.

Nolan

Nolan families have always been very numerous in Carlow, and can also be found in Fermanagh, Longford, Mayo and Roscommon.

O'Brien

One of Ireland's leading aristocratic families, the O Briens are primarily from Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

O'Donnell

The O Donnell clans originally settled in Clare and Galway, but today they are most numerous in County Donegal.

O'Neill

One of three royal Irish familes, the O Neills are from Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Clare, Cork, Down, Tipperary, Tyrone and Waterford.

Quinn

From Ceann, the Irish word for head, the name, Ó Cuinn, means intelligent. In general, Catholics spell the name with two "n"s while Protestants spell it with one. The Quinns are primarily from Antrim, Clare, Longford and Tyrone, where their surname is the most common.

Reilly

Descendants of the O Conor kings of Connacht, the Reillys are primarily from Cavan, Cork, Longford and Meath.

Ryan

The Ó Riain and Ryan families of Ireland are primarily from Carlow and Tipperary, where Ryan is the most common surname. They can also be found in Limerick.

Shea

Originally the Shea family was from Kerry, though they later branched out to Tipperary during the 12th century and Kilkenny by the 15th century.

Smith

The Smiths, both English and Irish, are primarily from Antrim, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, and Sligo. Smith is actually the most common surname in Antrim.

Sullivan

Originally settled in County Tipperary, the Sullivan family spread into Kerry and Cork, where they are now most numerous and their surname is the most common.

Sweeney

Sweeney families are found primarily in Cork, Donegal and Kerry.

Thompson

This English name is the second most common non-Irish name found in Ireland, especially in Ulster. The Thomson surname, without the "p" is Scottish and is the most common in Down.

Walsh

The name came into use to describe the Welsh people who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions, Walsh families were very numerous throughout all four provinces of Ireland. Walsh is the most common surname in Mayo.

White

Spelled de Faoite or Mac Faoitigh in Ireland, this common name stems mainly from the "le Whytes" who came to Ireland with the Anglo-Normans. White families can be fnd in Ireland throughout Down, Limerick, Sligo, and Wexford.

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Powell, Kimberly. "Irish Last Names: Common Surnames of Ireland." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/common-surnames-of-ireland-1420790. Powell, Kimberly. (2017, March 3). Irish Last Names: Common Surnames of Ireland. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/common-surnames-of-ireland-1420790 Powell, Kimberly. "Irish Last Names: Common Surnames of Ireland." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-surnames-of-ireland-1420790 (accessed November 21, 2017).