The majority of surnames borne by Irish people of today are of Irish origin even in Ulster. Of the names the O’ names are more numerous than the Mac/Mc. After the famine and particularly towards the latter quarter of the 1800s’ Irish people became more conscious of their surnames and where the surname originated. Reputed Genealogical sources say that Irish surnames began after the 11th century and were one of the first in the first in the world to introduce them. By the end of the 12th century surnames were universal among Irish families – according to Rev. Patrick Woulfe – Irish Names and Surnames(1923). The Progenitor of Irish names table below a listing of the earliest Gaelic Irish names and when they were first recognised.

Progenitor of the more Common Irish Family Names –
Source – Dr. John O’Donovan (1806 -’61)
A.D.
O’Clery
Offaly
flourished
850
O’Kelly
Ui Maine
flourished
874
O’Dowd
Tiereragh
flourished
876
O’Rourke
Breifny
flourished
893
O’Boyle
Tirconnell
flourished
900
O’Cahill
Ui Fiachrach
flourished
900
O’Doherty
Tirconnell
flourished
901
O’Neill
Ulster
Slain
919
O’Keeffe
Desmond
flourished
950
O’Donnell
Tirconnell
flourished
950
O’Gallagher
Tirconnell
flourished
950
O’Sullivan
Desmond
flourished
950
O’Toole
Leinster – died
Died
950
O’Faelain
Decies
flourished
970
O’Donovan
Ui Fidgente
Slain
976
O’Connor
Offaly – died
Died
977
O’Loghlin
Burren
Died
983

Woulfe writing about the above Progenitor table remarked “It is remarkable fact, though so far as I am aware hitherto unnoticed, that Ireland was the first country after the fall of the Western Empire to adopt hereditary surnames. ————- All these must have been older than any other existing surnames in Europe. The oldest surnames in mainland Europe are in France and Italy, especially the Province of Venice, but the earliest date assigned to them is the 11th century. Among the common people hereditary surnames were not universal until more than two or three centuries later” As for England William Camden – the oldest authority on the subject found no hereditary surname before the Conquest 1066. Whereas with regard to Wales, it is stated in the 16th Annual Report of the Register for England and Wales (1853) that, hereditary surnames were not in use even amongst the gentry until the time of Henry V111.
After the Battle of Kinsale the native Irish were forced to simplify their surnames into the English version and as a result by the 1700s’ most Irish people had dropped the O’ & the Mac.. It was to show their Landlord that they were to some extent becoming Anglicised and less Gaelic Irish. According to McLysaght (foremost Genealogist) towards the latter half of the 19th century % of people that were using the O’ then began to change back as Landlords began to lose power and the establishment of the Gaelic League had a significant difference. It should be said that Douglas Hyde – the son of a Church of Minister and our 1st President with an Anglo Norman name was one of the foremost promoters of the restoration of the Irish Language and Culture through the Gaelic League and Trinity College.

% of Irish Families
using the O’
Yr
%
1886
4
1890
13
1914
20
1944
60
Source McLysaght

The ten most numerous surnames in Ireland in a listing compiled by the 1890 Matheson report were in the order of frequency were: Murphy, Kelly O’Sullivan, Walsh, Smith, O’Brien, Byrne, Ryan, O’Connor and O’Neill.
From what is written it is no coincidence that Walsh an Anglo-Norman name is the 4th most numerous name in Ireland – Walsh a person from Wales with relatively easy access to Ireland – on arrival dropped the patronymic name and adopted Walsh as a surname. This it must be said applied also to others arriving on our shoes without a surname and adopting the most numerous name in the particular location. This obviously happened much more on the coastal counties adjoining the Irish Sea who consequently tended to this day have much more Anglo Irish names than native Irish ones – for example some of the surnames commonly found in the County Wexford include Bolger, Dempsey, Roche, Rossiter, Fanning, Walsh, Myers, Sinnott, and Keogh


 

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