Mon 27th Apr 2015
This week, we thought we could celebrate the opening of our new Dublin office – Suite 5073, Unit 1, 77 Sir John Rogerson’s quay, Dublin – by taking a look at some popular Irish surnames and explain their origins.
Murphy is by far the most popular Irish surname. It means sea-battler, or sea warrior and it is thought to be the anglicised version of two Irish names, Ó Murchadha/ Ó Murchadh and Mac Murchaidh/Mac Murchadh. Mac/Mc was the prefix for son of, while Ó stands for descendant of.
As well as its popularity in Ireland, it is the 14th most common surname in Northern Ireland and the 58th most common surname in the US. There are plenty of famous Murphys – the Hollywood actor Cillian Murphy (who starred in Batman Begins, The Dark Night, 28 Days Later and the TV series Peaky Blinders); the actor Brian Murphy who played George Roper in the long-running sitcom George and Mildred; and Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour Party leader.
Byrne is another famous Irish surname, thought to apply to the descendants of Bran, the king of Leinster, a clan that originated in County Kildare, and its meaning is raven. The name in Irish is O’Broin and the clan were noteworthy for their resistance to foreign aggression.
Famous Byrnes include Scottish playwright, artist and record cover designer John Byrne; Westlife boyband member Nicky Byrne; and Australian actress Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek).
Kelly is another common surname in Ireland (it is also prevalent in the Isle of Man and in Galloway in south-west Scotland) and it is thought to have various meanings. In many cases, Kelly is thought to be the Anglicisation of the Irish surname Ó Ceallaigh (descendant of Ceallach) or it can also mean warrior or fighter.
Ceallach might also mean “frequenting churches”, from the Irish ceall. The surname also derives from places in Scotland, such as Kellie in Fife, and Kelly, near Arbroath.
Famous Kellys include Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco; Gene Kelly, the American actor, dancer and film producer who starred in Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris; Henry Kelly, the Irish TV presenter; the Irish writer Maeve Kelly; and Katherine Kelly who plays Becky McDonald in Coronation Street.
The name O’Brien has many variations – McBrien, McBrine, O’Brine, O’Brion, O’Bryan, and more. It means, as you have probably worked out, the descendant of Brian – this particular Brian being Brian Boru, a 10th/11th century warrior and leader thought to be the greatest of all the ancient kings of Ireland and credited with driving the Norsemen out of Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf (1014).
Famous O’Briens include Michael O’Brien, American freestyle swimmer, and Edna O’Brien, the Irish novelist.
Finders’ research has shown that there are errors running at about 50 percent on all Irish intestacy matters, which means that not only are legally entitled heirs missing out on what is rightfully theirs, but that solicitors and councils in Ireland are leaving themselves open to the risk of substantial claims. If you would like to discuss any intestacy matters with us, please contact us on +353 (0)1 691 7252 for an informal and confidential discussion.