The top ten most popular Irish surnames

The top ten most popular Irish surnames




Kelly is one of the top ten Irish surnames – read on to find out if your family name made the cut.Photo by: Michael Ray Kelly, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you are Irish or Irish-American, you’re probably immensely proud of your surname.

Many Irish families declare their roots by displaying the crest of their clan in their homes.

But which last names win in the battle of Irishness?

IrishCentral took a look at the most common surnames in Ireland in order to come up with a top 10 list.

Smith and Murray are two of the most common, but one is of British origins and the other’s Scottish, so they didn’t make the cut.

Here, then, are the 10 most Irish last names. Some have already been featured for Irish Clans Month – click through to learn more history and fun factt.

1. Murphy The Sea Battlers

Murphys – you win the prize for most common and widespread name in Ireland, especially in County Cork.

This surname, which means “sea battler,” translates to Gaelic as MacMurchadh (son of Murchadh) and O’Murchadh (descendent of Murchadh), a derivation of the first name of Murchadh or Murragh.

O’Murchadh families lived in Wexford, Roscommon and Cork, 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 to MacMurphy and then to Murphy in the early 19th century.

2. Kelly – The Bright-Headed Ones

Kelly comes second to Murphy as the most common surname in Ireland.

The Kellys are 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.

O’Kelly comes from the Gaelic O Ceallaigh, meaning “descended from Ceallach,” an Irish chieftan. “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.

3. O’Sullivan – The Hawkeyed Ones

Kellys may have bright heads, but O’Sullivans have hawk-like eyes.

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 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.

4. Walsh – The Welshmen

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, which simply means Welshman, and its early Norman form was “Le Waleys.” But this became gradually anglicized to Walsh.

5. O’Brien – The Noblemen

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 Gaelic, which means “of Brian.”

The name indicates descendance from 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.

6. Byrne – The Ravens

Byrnes can be found flying around all over Counties Wicklow and Dublin.

Byrne, originally O’Byrne, comes from the Gaelic O’Broin meaning “descended from Bran,” an 11th century King of Leinster.

The O’Byrnes were chieftains of what is now County Kildare until the Norman invasion when they were driven from their lands and migrated (ha!) into the mountains of County Wicklow.

There, together with their allies the O’Tooles, they successfully resisted Norman and English domination for centuries.

7. Ryan – The Little Kings

The meaning of the Irish name Ryan comes from the old Gaelic word “righ” and the old Irish diminutive of “an,” which together form the meaning of “little king.”

The name Ryan comes from the Irish name O’ Riain – a contraction of the older Irish form O’Mulriain, which is now virtually extinct.

Ryan is also an extremely popular first name, especially in Britain and the U.S.

The Ryan family motto is ‘Malo More Quam Foedari’, which, when translated, means ‘I would Rather Die than be Disgraced’. And they call them “little” kings…

8. O’Connor – Patrons of Warriors

They might not be warriors themselves, but at least O’Connors descend from them!

The O’Connor name, with its varied spellings, doesn’t spring from a common source. The name arose in five areas of Ireland: Connacht, Kerry, Derry, Offaly and Clare and split into six distinct septs.

The most prominent sept is that of the Connacht O’Connors who gave us the last two High-Kings of Ireland: Turlough O’Connor (1088-1156) and Roderick O’Connor (1116-1198). They trace their heritage and name from the Irish “Ua Conchobhair,” meaning from Conchobhar, a king of Connacht.

9. O’Neill – From Niall of the Nine Hostages

The O’Neill family traces its history back to 360 A.D. to the legendary warrior king of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who is said to have been responsible for bringing St. Patrick to Ireland.

Niall is also said to have been incredibly fertile – he has 3 million descendents worldwide.

“O’Neill” is derived from two separate Gaelic words, “Ua Niall,” which means grandson of Niall, and “Neill” meaning “champion.”

Ireland’s O’Neills were known by the nickname “Creagh,” which comes from the Gaelic word “craobh” meaning branch, because they were known to camouflage themselves to resemble the forest when fighting the Norsemen. Crafty fellows, those O’Neills.

10. O’Reilly Descendants of Raghaillach

The O’Reillys round out the top 10 most popular names in Ireland.

Their family name is derived from the Gaelic “O’Raghailligh,” meaning descendants of Raghaillach.

The O’Reillys were the most powerful sept of the old Gaelic kingdom of Breffny (Cavan and the surrounding counties), and the family is still prominent in the area.

Ireland’s top ten towns for tourists

Ireland’s top ten towns for tourists revealed (PHOTOS)




Ardmore bay and coast, Waterford. National tourism development authority praises inspirational attractive towns around the county.Photo by: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development authority, has announced their shortlist of the “Ten Top Tourism Towns in Ireland” which have been selected for the 2014 Tourism Towns Award. The shortlist was announced as part of the National Tidy Towns Awards, held in The Helix in Dublin.

The shortlisted towns are:

• Ardmore, Waterford [small town]• Carrick on Shannon, Leitrim [small town]

• Glengarriff, Cork [small town]

• Kinsale, Cork [small town]

• Lismore, Waterford [small town]

• Portmagee, Kerry [small town]

• Killarney, Kerry [large town]

• Cobh, Cork [large town]

• Westport, Mayo [large town]

• Kilkenny [large town]

Kilkenny City was today named Ireland's Tidiest Town, out of the 849 towns and villages throughout the country.

Kilkenny City was today named Ireland’s Tidiest Town, out of the 849 towns and villages throughout the country.

As part of their short listing, the selected towns have already been subject (over the last few weeks) to a series of unannounced inspections from a crack team of independent ‘secret shoppers’ who visited each location and assessed the quality of visitor experience to be had.

The Tourism Town Award focuses on how participating towns have developed their local area in the following key tourism areas:

• Sense of Place – How the town tells its own unique story to visitors, what’s special about it and what distinguishes it from other towns.

• Tourism Experiences – What the town has to offer visitors.

• Local Involvement in Developing Tourism- How the local community works together to provide an authentic visitor experience.

• Development and promotion of the town – How the town takes a unified approach to marketing and developing the town into a “tourism town.”

Welcoming the shortlist, Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Michael Ring emphasized the important premise behind the Award scheme: “This award is all about recognizing those Irish towns, villages and communities which are putting their weight behind tourism and working hard to make their town even more attractive for tourists. I hope that the towns and villages shortlisted today will be an inspiration for other communities around Ireland.”

Fiona Buckley from Fáilte Ireland, speaking at the launch today said, “This award provides a tangible recognition of those magic ingredients which give the Irish welcome a unique advantage – people, place and passion.”

Two overall winners will ultimately share the ultimate accolade of Ireland’s top Tourism Town, one for the best large town and the best small town, when the winners are unveiled, in November, by Fáilte Ireland

Christmas in Ireland

Here are just a few of Ireland’s favorite things at Christmas – some old, some new, but all activities and aspects that make Christmas in Ireland particularly special:

1. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve

If you’re looking for a Church packed to the rafters, look no further that any church in Ireland at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. This is a huge social gathering where family, friends, and neighbors who you may not have seen all year come together and celebrate Christmas.

With Christmas carols being sung and, often, live music being played, midnight Mass in Ireland is a great place to catch up with old friends and get in touch with the local community at Christmas.

2. Horse races on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec 26)

St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses, but I am almost positive that this is not the reason that horse races on St. Stephen’s Day have become a tradition in Ireland. The races in Leopardstown in south Dublin, attract almost 20,000 people every year, but I think this has little to do with the old Germanic tradition of racing horses on St. Stephen’s Day to honor the saint.

In Ireland heading off to the races is a chance to get out of the house, stretch your legs, perhaps have a flutter on the horses and have a drink with friends.

3. Christmas Day Swim, Forty Foot, South Dublin

Christmas day swims take place all over Ireland on Christmas morning, but probably most famously at the Forty Foot Rock, just south of Dublin. On Christmas Day hundreds of people can be seen jumping off the rock into the Irish Sea wearing only their bathing suits.

The water in the Irish Sea on Christmas Day is usually around 50F / 10C. Unfortunately, the temperature outside the water is usually far below that, making the experience bracing to say the least. This is certainly not for the faint of heart but is a proven hangover cure, and participants often receive sponsorship for charities.

4. Reading of James Joyce’s story, “The Dead

“The Dead” is a short story from James Joyce’s collection “Dubliners.” A group of Dubliners gather together for a post-Christmas celebration in James Joyce’s transcendent tale of the banality and magic in life and death.

This tale has rather become like an Irish version of “The Christmas Carol,” a tale of reflection on our past, our present and future. Awful Christmas sweaters

This started off with aunties, grandmothers and relatives handing over the most hideous sweaters as presents for Christmas, but somehow Christmas sweaters have turned into a competition on the streets of Ireland. The woollier, hairier, and more ridiculously decorated the better. In fact, this year I spotted a gentleman with fake robins, bells and fairy lights all on one sweater.

6. Christmas caroling/The Wren Boy and strawboy procession

During penal times a group of soldiers were about to be ambushed. They had been surrounded, but a group of wrens pecked on their drums and woke them. The wren became known as “The Devil’s Bird.” To remember this, on St Stephen’s Day people have a procession and go door-to-door wearing old clothes, blackened faces, and carrying a dead (now more often fake) wren on top of the pole. Then, crowds of “strawboys” dressed in straw suits and masks march to celebrate the wren.

This later evolved into a caroling event. Although people no long go door-to-door, or at least very rarely, carolers can be heard on more main streets over Christmas raising money for charity. It there’s one thing the Irish love doing is making music and Christmas is the perfect excuse to make some noise.

7. USA boxes of biscuits

Recently I saw an Irish comic speak about USA biscuits for five minutes straight. It was only then that I realized that everyone I knew had a tin of biscuits in the house over Christmas when I was growing up.

Although there were the traditional mince pieces, pudding, and chocolates too, the biscuits and the rules about the tin are something that everyone I’ve spoken to remembered. There were about 10 types of biscuits in each layer of the tin but you were not allowed to break through to the second layer without finishing the first layer. This would cause at least one fight a day among the family. The tins were also filled with old fashioned biscuits like pink wafers and bourbon creams.

8. Decorations / holly wreath

Christmas decorations in Ireland traditionally were just a wreath of holly on the front door of the house. However, National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” seems to have been a blue print for many Irish households as they are now lit up like Rockefeller Center.

Also traditionally, decorations would go up on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and come down on Little Christmas, January 6. However, this year I spotted full Christmas decorations on some houses in the first week of November. What can we say? The Irish love Christmas.

9. The shopaholic’s lament

Most stores are closed Christmas and Stephen’s Day, but a brand new tradition sees more and more stores now opening after Christmas Day for exchanges and tempting deals.

10. Women’s Christmas / Nollaig na mBean

January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, is traditionally when the Irish finish celebrating Christmas. It is also known as Nollaigh na mBean in Irish (Women’s Christmas).

Tradition has it that women get the day off and the men of the house get to do the housework, cooking and take down the Christmas decorations. Women meet up, have a day out and treat themselves.

Ireland Christmas Traditions


Ireland, like most countries, has a number of Christmas traditions that are all of its own. Many of these customs have their root in the time when the Gaelic culture and religion of the country were being supressed and it is perhaps because of that they have survived into modern times.


The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas eve is still practised today. It has a number of purposes but primarily it was an symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter.

The candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was not allowed.

A further element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name ‘Mary’.


After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail of the welcome.


During Penal Times there was once a plot in a vilage against the local soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as ‘The Devil’s bird’.

On St. Stephens day a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In olden times an actual wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole.

This custom has to a large degree disappeared but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much part of Christmas.


The placing of a ring of Holly on doors originated in Ireland as Holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and which gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings.

All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas (January 6th.) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.


The Gaelic greeting for ‘Merry Christmas’ is:christmas-candle christmas greeting christmas-candle Holly the crib The Holly wreath the laden table
‘Nollaig Shona Duit’
……which is pronounced as ‘null-ig hun-a dit’.


Irish Christmas Traditions – An article provided by The Information about Ireland Site.

Can you smell it?

Originally posted on I want to be waving:

Cinnamon swirl,

Orange mist,


The smell of snow is in the air.

Candle wisp,

Frost trim,


The smell of snow is in the air.

Window jewels,

Ruby felt,


The smell of snow is in the air.

Dragon breath,

Knitted profanities,


The smell of snow is in the air.

Baking apple,

Mulling wine,

It stirs.

Snow is in the air.

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