This Irish Genealogy site offers the Irish descendant (from New York, Canada, UK, Australia...) the chance to trace their Irish family tree and search for their surname origins and the records of their Irish ancestor's birth, marriage or death.
Most Frequently Occurring Anglo-Norman Surnames
(Based on Matheson)
Before we begin our survey a word about the current state of research. Much remains to be done in the area of uncovering the origins and descent of Irelands Anglo-Norman surnames. Little original research is being carried out today, leading to an over-dependency among scholars on the pioneering work of the late Dr McLysaght, author of a very fine corpus of work on Irish surname studies.
MacLysaghts principal and perhaps inevitable failure, given the national scope of his work, was that of lack of detailed local knowledge of many areas, his efforts at compensation for this weakness often consisting of guesswork. Two random examples may be given. Kenneth Nicholls has shown that MacLysaghts belief that the Anglo-Norman Mandeville family of County Antrim adopted the Gaelic patronym McQuillan, a common Antrim surname of today, was erroneous. In fact the McQuillans were a branch of the Scottish McDonnell clan while the Ulster Mandevilles abandoned their Antrim lands and retired to their County Waterford estate in the mid-fourteenth century. Their descendants remained of importance around Dungarvan for centuries after this, and in the seventeenth century adopted the English form Mansfield when their surname re-emerged from its Gaelic form, Mónbhíol, which preserves closely the original French pronunciation. Then we have the Danish origin of the Cork surname Coppinger, as advanced by McLysaght, apparently swallowing the earlier error of a Cork historian of a previous generation. Coppinger, earlier Copiner, in fact derives from the Old English copenere, meaning paramour. Many other examples could be cited. The point here is that while MacLysaghts work remains of major importance, and is unlikely to be superseded for many years to come, much additional work remains to be done.
The importance of local studies in this field cannot be stressed enough. The general view concerning the surname Joyce is that it is a Galway name. While Galway is certainly the ancestral home of most of the Irish Joyces there was a branch of the family settled near Killeagh in east Cork from at least the fourteenth century onwards, whose descendants remain numerous in the area and in nearby Cork City. This explains the Cork City origins of Irelands most famous literary man, James Joyce, whose ancestors were Corkonians.
Another such example we might take would be that of the surname Carew. True Carews are of the same stock as the FitzGeralds (see Part II), i.e. descended from Cambro-Norman aristocrats. In the early Anglo-Norman period members of this family settled in counties Cork, Tipperary, Carlow, and Mayo. The name can still be found, rarely, in the last two counties while my studies have revealed that the Cork Carews are now disguised under the distinct surname Carey, itself usually an Anglicisation of the native Ciardha those of west Cork origin being probably of native stock while those of east Cork origin are likely true Carews. Tipperary and Waterford are the only Irish counties where Carews are relatively numerous today but here, ironically, they are, in all probability, descendants of the native Ó Corráin sept of County Tipperary, whose homeland lay in the same area as that of the genuine Tipperary Carews, never numerous, who had disappeared by the end of the fourteenth century, and whose surname has been culturally borrowed by the Ó Corráin (originally in the late sixteenth century the habit has, of course, endured). Such are the intricacies of Irish surname study.
The greatest obstacle to the researcher in the field of Anglo-Norman surname studies today is the gross neglect and underfunding of both our national repositories and publishing effort, a story which has remained unchanged since the foundation of the state. Genealogists will be familiar with the gross underfunding and resultant understaffing of the National Library and National Archives, and so will not be surprised that a similar situation exists elsewhere. The burning of our Public Record Office by vandals in 1922 destroyed the greater share of our historical and much of our genealogical sources. In light of this one would have expected later governments to compensate by treasuring the remnants of our history: not so, not so. The Irish Manuscript Commission has struggled for decades on a shoestring budget, barely operating. Currently it does not even have a distribution network in the Republic, and farcically, one has to travel to Belfast to obtain its few current publications. Again one has to question the value of what little that house does publish. Material of limited value achieves publication while key source material, such as the seventeenth century Books of Survey and Distribution, a national survey of land ownership arranged by county, remain largely unpublished. Inconsistencies abound. The early seventeenth century Patent Rolls of James I, originally typeset in the 1830s, finally achieved publication in 1966, minus an index, which was however, promised shortly. In many ways this huge volume is almost useless without such a tool, which we still await. Another example concerns the Justiciary Rolls, all that remain of our early criminal case law and material of enormous value to students of history, genealogy, toponomy and criminology. Two volumes were published before 1922, covering the years 1295-1307. By the time of the fire a third volume covering the years 1308-1313 had been typeset; this was finally published in 1955. Material for a fourth volume, consisting of several hundred pages of longhand material on foolscap copied from the original rolls before the fire, with material covering the years 1314-1318, is held in the Archives and has, to the best of my knowledge, not even been microfilmed due to financial constraints.
Substantial quantities of valuable documentation remain unpublished and, in many cases, even unfilmed. Such a situation, probably unique in Western Europe, belies our reputation as a nation which values its history and suggests that at least in the cultural area, we are, to paraphrase Bob Geldof, something of a banana republic.
Most Frequently Occurring Anglo-Norman Surnames
(Based on Matheson)
This is an English name meaning dweller by the ash tree. In the fourteenth century it is found in Dublin, Kildare, Waterford and Kerry. Today the name is well scattered and relatively common only in Kerry and Antrim; in the latter county it is, of course, a seventeenth century British introduction.
Although traditionally thought to be of Welsh Celtic origin this surname came to Ireland from Pembroke in Wales and appears ultimately to be of French origin. Originally settling around Glandore in west Cork in the early thirteenth century, these Cork Barretts obtained lands in Mayo during the invasion of the 1230s and most Irish Barretts must descend from these related stocks. Other Barretts were found in the early period in Tipperary and Kildare. In both Mayo and Cork powerful Barrett lineages forming clans along native lines thrived for centuries; the Cork group by conquering a territory just west of the city in the fourteenth century at the expense of other colonists.
In general Leinster and Munster Barrons descend from an early branch of the FitzGeralds (see Part II) while in northern Ireland (as distinct from Northern Ireland) most Barrons are really MacBarrons, an ONeill offshoot.
This family take their toponym from the island of Barry off the south Welsh coast and appear to be of ultimate Flemish origin. From Pembroke they came to Cork in the 1180s and later obtained lands in Connacht (Castlebar, County Mayo is called from them), north Tipperary and near Dingle in Kerry. It was only in Cork that they thrived, becoming one of that countys major lineages with three major branches and many minor ones. The senior line, the earls of Barrymore, became extinct in 1823 but Barrys remain numerous in Cork and surrounding counties.
A surname derived from the common French Christian name Benoit; the name was common and widespread in Leinster (especially Kilkenny) and Munster in the early period, doubtless commemorating many distinct and unrelated Benoits. Still today common in Leinster and Munster, the name is also numerous in Ulster, where it is of seventeenth century British origin.
The first members of this family came from the English midlands to Kildare with the first invaders in the 1170s. In the 1230s they took part in the invasion of Connacht, thereby acquiring lands in Galway and Sligo. Finally the family acquired lands in Tipperary by marriage, in the 1250s. Although the exact descent of the early generations is unclear it is certain that we are dealing with the one family, and thus that all Irish Berminghams descend from the one stock. Today the distribution of the surname still follows broadly that of the thirteenth century. Of the same stock are the Corish family, who take their name from the Gaelic patronym of the early Berminghams, Mac Feorais (from Piers de Bermingham).
Denoting one of Breton origin, early occurrences of the name are spread over Leinster, Munster and Connacht. The name remains somewhat common in Dublin, Sligo and Tipperary (Britt is almost exclusively the Munster form), the same regions the name was most prevalent during the thirteenth century.
Many brown haired men must have sired todays Browns; in the early period the name was common throughout colonial Ireland, just as it is today.
The first of this family, William de Burgh, a native of Norfolk, came to Ireland with King John in 1185 and obtained lands in Tipperary and elsewhere in Munster. All Irish Burkes claim descent from this William. Williams son Richard was created earl of Ulster and led the conquest of Connacht from his new town of Galway. For a period, his descendants were among the most powerful lords of the colony, being the chief magnates of Connacht and Ulster while retaining extensive lands in Munster. Eventually, with the decay of central government in the colony, the familys unity was fragmented resulting in three separate clans emerging: the Clanrickarde Burkes in Galway, the MacWilliam Iochtar Burkes in Mayo and the Clanwilliam Burkes in southern Tipperary. The latter branch lost much of their lands to an OBrien resurgence in the fifteenth century while those of Galway and Mayo remained powerful into the seventeenth century.
Another great Anglo-Norman lineage like the Burkes, the Butlers descend from Theobald Walter who also came to Ireland with John in 1185, and whose brother was the archbishop of Canterbury. John created Theobald the chief butler of his lordship of Ireland, hence the surname. Theobalds original lands were not especially extensive and lay in Kilkenny, Wicklow and Carlow. The head of the family was created earl of Ormond in 1328, reflecting the growing importance of the lineage, who by the end of that century had become the chief lordly family of south Leinster. Always noted for their loyalty to the English king and his Irish administration in Dublin, the Butlers helped foster the Englishness of their capitol, Kilkenny City, from which they ruled an extensive lordship which included all or part of Kilkenny, Carlow, Wicklow and Tipperary. Several important junior branches evolved, especially those of Cahir and Dunboyne (both of whose lands lay in Tipperary). The senior line of the family, who donated Kilkenny Castle to the state in 1968, are extant.
Descendants of Odo le Archdeacon (Mac Oda = sons of Odo), whose original lands lay in County Kilkenny and who lived in the early thirteenth century. The form Archdeacon remained interchangeable with McCody until the seventeenth century, when the latter dropped its Mac. Cody is much more common than Archdeacon today, although the latter is not extinct. In the sixteenth century the surname was confined to Kilkenny and Tipperary, where it is still most numerous today, while it has spread further afield in the interim. Buffalo Bill Codys ancestors hailed from Tipperary.
This family derive their surname from a place in Staffordshire. Originally de Quemerford, the families original thirteenth century lands lay in Kilkenny and Waterford, from where the name has spread into Tipperary.
Derived from Caunteton, a place in south Wales. This family owe their Irish sojourn to the marriage of Nicholas de Caunteton to Mabil, sister of Raymond le Gros de Carew. Several sons of Nicholas and Mabil accompanied their uncle Raymond, one of the leading invaders of the 1170s, to Ireland, and obtained lands from the latter in Carlow, Wexford and north east Cork. The family lost their Leinster lands to the Gaelic resurgence of the early fourteenth century but went on to form a minor lineage on their Cork lands, despite losing some of these to their deadly enemies and neighbours, the Roches of Fermoy. Condon is still essentially a Cork and Tipperary surname.
The ancestor here is Jocelyn de Angulo (later Nangle), whose descendants took his name as a patronym to give McCostello in English (see Part II), from which the Mac is usually dropped today. Jocelyn was the son of Gilbert de Angulo who obtained lands in Meath, while he himself partook in the invasion of Connacht in 1235, obtaining the barony of Costello (as it later came to be called) in County Mayo. Here the Costellos formed a powerful lineage which endured for centuries.
About the Author Dr. Paul MacCotter obtained his MA in history by
independent research at UCC in 1994. After this he continued his studies into
general and specialist genealogy and medieval history. During this time he
continued to study, research and publish in the areas of medieval history,
Anglo-Norman history, church history, genealogy, and Irish surname studies.
MacCotter currently has nearly fifty papers published and four books. He was
awarded his PhD in UCC in 2006. His book, Medieval Ireland: territorial,
political and economic divisions has come to be regarded as a major
reference work and MacCotter as a leading authority on this aspect of medieval
Irish history. He worked as Historical Consultant for the Heritage Council
funded INSTAR project, Making Christian Landscapes, and obtained a prestigious
Government of Ireland fellowship, in 2010. Dr. MacCotter currently continues
his academic research, and is an assistant lecturer in the Schools of History
and Adult Continuing Education, UCC, and runs his own genealogical and
historical consultancy (www.paulmaccotter.com)