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History of The Irish People

 Our Surname: McCormick (British).  "Son of Chariot Lad" (Irish and Scots Gaelic). Motto Translated: Without Fear.  (more)

Irish History Information Links
Irish Surnames: Common Irish Surnames 
How And When They Emigrated: Known "Irish Immigration" To America
Counties of Ireland With Highest Emigration: Counties of Known "Irish Emigration" To America
Irish percent of US Immigration: Recorded Irish Immigration Statistics


Irish Surnames History

The Vikings: A Brief History

The Vikings were Scandinavian warriors who raided the coasts of Europe, the British Isles, Iceland and Greenland during the 8th to 10th centuries. However, the Vikings were merchants as well as raiders and they exchanged furs, amber and fish for European goods. They sailed to their destinations in longboats, which were magnificent ships that were over seventy feet long and were fast, flexible and easily maneuvered. The adaptable longboats permitted the Vikings to cross both oceans and the shallow rivers of Europe.

Traditionally, the Scandinavian kings were chosen by the earls and they acted as leaders among equals, rather than as autocrats. Yet, at the end of the 8th century, the kings began to consolidate their power. Consequently, the earls and royal pretenders who were threatened or displaced by the kings, began to go viking, or raiding, in order to replace the wealth or influence they had lost at home with booty from abroad. In general, the Swedish Vikings looked east and traded with the Slavic and Byzantine Empires while the Norwegians moved into Ireland, Scotland and later, Greenland, Iceland and North America. The Danish Vikings focused on England and the Frankish Empire.

The Viking raids on England in the 8th and 9th centuries are described in great detail in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Year after year, the Danes landed and plundered the countryside before being driven off or leaving of their own accord. To begin with, their raids were brief summer affairs, but in 851 they retreated only as far as the Isle of Thanet in east Kent and they stayed there for the winter.

The Norman people, or Northmen, were descendants of the Vikings. Under their Chief Stirgud the Stout, the Vikings violently attacked the Orkneys and Northern Scotland in the 9th century. A century later, under their Jarl Thorfinn Rollo, they invaded and devastated France. After Rollo laid siege to Paris, the French King Charles the Simple conceded defeat and granted northern France to the Vikings. Rollo became the first Duke of Normandy, the territory of the North Men. Under Cnut, the Scandinavian Vikings ruled England from 1016 to 1042, when Edward the Confessor reascended the throne.

These warriors had also been long established in the Dublin area of Ireland until they were evicted by King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. In 1066, England was attacked on two fronts, by Harold Hardradi, the King of the Norwegian Vikings, and by William, who was the Duke of Normandy and a descendant of Rollo. William was the victor at the Battle of Hastings and Norman rule was established in Britain until 1135.

Viking society was composed of three distinct social classes. At the top of the hierarchy was the jarlar, who were wealthy chiefs or earls. The jarlar had numerous servants, slaves and free retainers. The middle class, which formed the majority of the population, consisted of peasant freeholders. At the bottom of the hierarchy were thralls, or bondsmen. The Scandinavian Vikings enjoyed personal glory and the many spoils of war. They valued military ability and political power, which were skills that were equally prized in women as well as men. In comparison to European society, particularly before the 10th century, Viking women had a considerable amount of freedom and authority.


Anglo-Normans: A Brief History

When the Anglo- Normans began to settle in Ireland, they brought the tradition of local surnames to an island which already had a Gaelic naming system of hereditary surnames established. Unlike the Irish, the Anglo- Normans had an affinity for local surnames. Local surnames, were formed from the names of a place or a geographical landmark where the person lived, held land, or was born. The earliest Anglo-Norman surnames of this type came from Normandy, but as the Normans moved, they often created names that referred to where they actually resided.

Therefore, English places were used for names when the Normans lived in England, and then Irish places when the Anglo- Normans had been settled in Ireland for some time. Originally, these place names were prefixed by "de," which means "from" in French. However, this type of prefix was eventually either made a part of the surname, if the place name began with a vowel, or it was eliminated entirely. The Irish family originally lived in the counties of Armagh or Antrim. As one might expect, the surname simply refers to a person from Ireland.

Scribes and church officials generally spelled a name as it sounded; as a result a person's name could be spelt innumerable ways in his lifetime. Different spelling variations of the Anglo-Norman surnames were found in the many archives researched. This is a list of many of the most common Irish surnames found in the United States and also their root derivations. Like most Western names, many of these are based upon an ancestor's occupation or appearance or place of residence.

Surname Prefixes

The prefixes of "O'", "Mc", and "Mac" are common in Irish surnames. These are all references to ancestry. Mac is the Gaelic word for son. It is now often abbreviated to "Mc", but originally it was the longer word and normally followed by a space and then the surname. There is a tradition that Mac is Irish and Mc is Scottish, but this is false. Both variations are in wide use in both countries.  

O is really a word all by itself, it means "grandson". Only in recent years has it been attached to the surname with an apostrophe. In ancient Ireland, there were no fixed surnames. A man was known as the the "son of" his father's first name. Occasionally a man would be known by his grandfather's name (by the word O) if his grandfather was especially noteworthy.  

Around the twelfth century, most all of Europe and England adopted standardized surnames. Irish families did the same.

The other distinctively Irish prefix is Fitz, as in Fitzgerald or FitzAlan. This is a Norman French prefix, brought to Ireland by the Normans who previously had lived in England. It is derived from the French word fils, meaning "son of". Therefore, Fitz and Mac mean about the same and were interchangeable at one time.  

It is now common for the O and Mac prefixes to be eliminated entirely. The original Celtic words are listed in parentheses.



Coats of Arms Heraldry: Timeline

11th Century
Many of the symbols adopted into armory have been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, but heraldry itself did not begin until the 11th century. In continental Europe, the most ancient recorded Coat-of-Arms was discovered upon the monumental effigy of a Count of Wasserburg in the church of St. Emeran, at Ratisbon (Regensburg), Germany. The ensigns were "per fess argent and sable, a lion rampant counterchanged", dated 1010.

12th Century
The earliest known Shield in England was that which King Henry I gave his son-in-law, Geoffrey of Anjou, when he knighted him in 1127.

13th Century
Heraldry was so well accepted across Europe by this time that it acquired the rules and terminology which are the basis of its present laws and language. The specialist in this field became known as heralds.

15th Century
England incorporated the College of Arms in 1484.

16th Century
With the passing of the tournaments, heraldry changed from a functional art to one of decoration.

19th Century
The Victorian Age brought about a revival of simple, spirited heraldic design.

20th Century
Heraldry is now used as a decorative art, displaying the early symbols associated with our ancestors, and forms a proud link with our heritage.


For more information visit The House of Names


Barry - from the Norman French surname de Barri, Motto Translated: Faithful to king and law.
Brennan - O Braonain, descendant of Braonain (a word for "sorrow")
Burke - from the Norman French surname de Burgh or de Bourg, Motto Translated: One king, one faith, one law.
Byrne - O Broin, descendant of Broin (bran means "raven"), Motto Translated: I have fought and conquered.
Casey - O Cathasaigh, descendant of Cathasaigh (cathasach means "watchful"), Motto Translated: By various fortunes.
Daly - O Dalaigh, descendant of Dalaigh (dalach means "assemblyman"), Motto Translated: Loyal to God and king
Donohue - O Donnchadha, descendant of Donnchadha (donn means "brown haired")
Dunne - O Duinne, a descendant of Duinn (donn means "brown" or "brown haired", Motto Translated: Victory for the Dunns.
Fitzgerald - son of Gerald (a Norman French name), Motto Translated: Crom for ever.
Fitzpatrick - This name was originally Mac Giolla Padraig, meaning a descendant of a devotee of St. Patrick.  In later years the Mac prefix was changed to the Norman "Fitz", Motto Translated: Might is Right
Flynn - O Floinn, descendant of Floinn (flann, meaning "ruddy")
Kelly - O Ceallaigh, descendant of Ceallaigh (ceallach is the word for "strife", Motto Translated: God is a strong tower to me.
Kennedy - O Cinneide, descendant of Cinneide (ceann means "head", eidigh means "ugly"), Motto Translated: Consider the end
Lynch - from the Norman French surname de Lench
McCarthy - Mac Carthaigh, descendant of Carthaigh (carthach means "loving")
Murphy - O Murchadha, descendant of a murchadh (sea warrior), Motto Translated: Brave and hospitable.
O'Brien - O Briain, descendant of Briain (Brian Boru), Motto Translated: The strong hand from above.
O'Connor - O Conchobhair, descendant of Conchobhair, Motto Translated: From God Every Help
O'Donnell - O Domhnaill, descendant of Domhnaill
O'Neill - O Neill, descendant of Neill ("Neill of the Nine Hostages")
Quinn - O Cuinn, descendant of Conn
Regan - O Riagain, descendant of Riagain
Reilly - O Ragailligh, descendant of Ragaillach
Ryan - O Malvilriain, descendant of Mavilriain (a name not identifiable), Motto Translated: I would rather die than be disgraced
Sullivan - O Suileabhain, descendant of Suileabhain (suil means "eye" and Levan is a Celtic deity.  Therefore, this is the "eye of the god"), Motto Translated: The steady hand to victory.
Walsh - a person of Welsh origin, Motto Translated: Transfixed but not dead.

For more Coats of Arms visit
The House of Names Armory Pages  


Irish Timeline

Many times it is interesting to study the history of a country or region in order to understand why an ancestor emigrated or even to find where his ancestors may have originated from.  This file is a "timeline" or brief historical outline of Irish History.  It may help you understand why your Irish ancestor left Ireland looking for better opportunities in the New World and also give hints as to where to find records of genealogy interest.

For an expanded timeline visit rootsweb pages.


6,000 B.C.
The first human settlements in Ireland, an island lying on the western fringe of Europe, were made relatively late in European prehistory,
around 6000 BC.  These were mostly Celtic people called Pretani or  Cruithin.  The arrived from Britain and settled mostly in east Ulster.
The Loiges, another branch of the Cruitin, live in the midlands.

600-150 B.C.
Sometime between about 600 and 150 BC, other Celtic peoples from western  Europe, who came to be known as GAELS, invaded Ireland and subdued the  previous inhabitants.  They spread from Antrim to Kerry.  Erainn from Britain also settled in the south of Ireland and later conquered the rest of Ireland. The basic units of Gaelic society were the tuatha, or petty  kingdoms, of which perhaps 150 existed in Ireland.  The tuatha remained independent of one another, but they shared a common language, Gaelic,  and a class of men called brehons, who were learned in customary law and helped to preserve throughout Ireland a remarkably uniform but archaic social system.  One reason for the unique nature of Irish society was that the Romans, who transformed the Celtic societies of Britain and other societies on the Continent with their armies, roads, administrative  system, and towns, never tried to conquer Ireland.

250 B.C.
Laigin from Armorica in northwestern France arrived in southeast Ireland.

50 A.D.
Gaeil or Goidets migrate from Europe to the Kenmare River in south Kerry and the Boyne estuary near Drogheda.

450 A.D.
Another consequence of Ireland's isolation from Romanized Europe was the development of a distinctive Celtic type of Christianity.  Saint Patrick introduced mainstream Latin Christianity into the country around the year 432 arriving at Tara in Meath. The system of bishops with territorial dioceses, modeled on the Roman Empire's administrative system, did not take secure root in Ireland at this time.  While the autonomous tuath remained the basic unit of Gaelic secular society, the autonomous monastery became the basic unit of Celtic Christianity. During the 6th and 7th centuries the Irish monasteries were great centers of learning, sending out such missionaries as saints Columba and Columban to the rest of Europe.  What was for most of Europe the Dark Ages was for Ireland the golden age. Religious art, such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts, flourished alongside secular, even pagan, artistic achievements, such as the Tara Brooch and the great Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailgne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley).

before 600 A.D.
St. Brendan of Kerry is said to have sailed to North America (not proven).

Vikings land near St. Columcille's monastery on Lambay Island.

Norwegian Vikings plunder many Irish monasteries.  In 845, Thorgils, king of the Norsemen in Ireland, is captured and killed by Maelseachlainn, king of Meath.

Danish fleet defeats the Norwegians and takes possession of Dublin.


Irish defeat Norwegian and Danish forces at Clontarf. 1066 William the Conqueror becomes King of England. 1169 First Norman settlers arrive in County Wicklow, accompanied by 300 soldiers from southern Wales. 1169 Invaders are repulsed by the Danes of Waterford.

Christopher Columbus sails to the New World, William Eris (or Ayers), a man from Galway, is reportedly amongst the crew. He is said to be one of the forty volunteers left behind in Hispaniola and apparently killed by Indians after Columbus' departure.

British Queen Mary encourages English settlements in Ireland. 1598 An Irish rebellion against the English began. Promised Spanish help did not arrive until 1601, too late to help.

The most determined resistance to reconquest came from the Gaelic chieftains of Ulster (the northeastern quarter of the island), led by Hugh O'Neill, 2d earl of Tyrone, at the end of Elizabeth's reign. In suppressing their rebellion between 1595 and 1603, English forces devastated the Ulster countryside. Once these chieftains had submitted, however, King James I of England was willing to let them live on their ancestral lands as English-style nobles, but not as petty kings within the old Gaelic social system.

Dissatisfied with their new roles, the chieftains took ship to the Continent in 1607. This "flight of the earls" gave the English crown a pretext to confiscate their vast lands and sponsor scattered settlements of British Protestants throughout west and central Ulster (the Ulster Plantation). The crown's actions indirectly encouraged the much heavier unsponsored migration of Scots to the coastal counties of Down and Antrim. Land was sold to Scottish immigrants for six pence per acre. These settlements account for the existence in present-day Ulster of numerous Protestants (many of them Scottish Presbyterians) of all social classes.

Elsewhere in modern Ireland, Protestantism has been confined to a small propertied elite, many of whose members were the beneficiaries of further confiscations a generation after the Ulster Plantation.

The pretext for these new confiscations was the rebellion of the Gaelic Irish in Ulster against the British settlers in 1641. Indeed, this rebellion triggered the English Civil War, which put an end to King Charles I's attempt to create an absolutist state (represented in Ireland by the policies of his lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth, 1st earl of Strafford).

Daniel Gookin (1612-1687), son of an early Irish settler in Virginia, moves to Massachusetts and eventually becomes a member of the Governor's Council, major general of the militia, and superintendent of Indian affairs.

Oliver Cromwell quickly imposed English authority on Ireland. Cromwell repaid his soldiers and investors in the war effort with land confiscated largely from the Anglo-Irish Catholics of the Irish midlands who had joined the rebellion hesitantly and only to defend themselves against Puritan policies. 1652 A list of inhabitants of most of the southern part of County Dublin is assembled.

Thousands of Irish men and women were involuntarily "transported" as laborers to the West Indies by Cromwell's forces. Many of these people and their descendents later moved to the United States. 1654-1656.  A civil survey is recorded of major landholders.

A census was made of all major landowners.

Hearth money rolls registered for property owners.

Charles McCarthy from Cork leads a party of 48 Irish immigrants in founding a colony at East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

About 100 Irish families sail from Barbados to Virginia and the Carolinas.

Many French Huguenots seek asylum in Ireland. 1691 Treaty of Limerick penalizes public worship for Catholics and Presbyterians.


Ulster lands were confiscated from Irish owners and offered to British and Scottish immigrants.

Partial lists of male householders for Kilkenney enumerated separately by religious denomination and parish.

Registry of Deeds established.

Over 6,500 Palatines leave war-torn German countries and settle in Ireland.

200 Palatine families leave Ireland for Britain.

Noting that some 2,600 Irishmen had arrived in Boston during the past three years, the governor of Massachusetts complained of the "public burden" imposed by the coming of "so many poor people from abroad, especially those that come from Ireland". The General Court of Massachusetts warned immigrants from Ireland to leave the colony within seven months.

Over 3,000 immigrants arrive in 21 years in the U.S. from Ulster alone.

The Charitable Irish Society was formed on St. Patrick's Day in Boston by 26 Irish immigrants "to aid unfortunate countrymen, to cultivate a spirit of unity and harmony among all Irishmen in Massachusetts colony and their descendants, and to advance their interests socially and morally." This is now the oldest Irish society in the U.S.

Protestant householders in counties Antrim, Armagh, Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone are listed.

A census of most of County Roscommon, part of County Sligo, and nine parishes of County Galway is taken. 1750 Catholic inhabitants of County Tipperary were taxed. 1757 Military oaths of allegiance are registered.

Rectors of the Church of Ireland record householders by parish, indicating religion and other details. The only records still surviving today are for North Cork and the counties of Limerick, Londonderry, Louth, Tipperary and Wicklow.

A decline in the linen trade and exorbitant rents spurred a new wave of emigration from the north of Ireland. Some 30,000 Ulstermen sailed for America in a five-year span.

Men of Irish birth or descent formed netween one-third to one-half of the American Revolutionary forces, including 1,492 officers and 26 generals. 1790 The first census of the United States records 44,000 Irish-born residents, more than half of whom lived south of Pennsylvania. Historians consider this figure to be lower than reality.

James Hoban, a native of Kilkenny, designs the White House, modeled upon Leinster House in Dublin.

A revolutionary uprising by the Society of United Irishmen was destroyed by the British, many of the Society's members emigrate to the United States.


The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland abolished the Irish legislature and created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

A census of Protestant parishioners was made, records of 28 parishes still survive.

50,000 Irish immigrants enter the United States.

A general population census is taken (most of which was destroyed by fire in 1922).

Tithe applotments (or tax lists) are compiled.

The Emancipation Act lifts penalties for Catholics and Presbyterians.

237,000 Irish immigrants enter the United States.

Vital registration begins.

Poor Relief for Ireland enacted.

The Great Famine strikes, more than 1,000,000 Irish men and women emigrate.

800,000 Irish immigrants enter the United States.

All of Ireland is mapped for the first time, many county boundaries finally defined.

A householder list is compiled of every householder and land owner/renter.

Tenant-Right League founded, it's goals were: fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale.

Government census taken, most of which was destroyed in a fire in 1922.

Tenement Act provides for a uniform evaluation of property for tax purposes.

Probate Act changes jurisdiction from the Church of Ireland to the newly-established Court of Probate.

1861 & 1871
Censuses were taken and then destroyed by order of the government.

Irish Reform Bill passes British Parliament, allows a million more men the right to vote.

Disestablishment Act deprives the Irish Church of property and authority.

Irish Land Act provides protection for tenants.

The administrative counties are formed.


A government census was taken, this one survives today.

Second surviving census.

Great Easter Rebellion suppressed by the British.

Irish Republic adopts a constitution.

Irish Free State becomes an independent member of the British Commonwealth.

Public Record Office and Four Courts fire destroys many irreplaceable records.

Republic of Ireland Act establishes a free country independent of Britain.


Irish Immigration to the USA

These figures do not include Irishmen entering the United States from Great Britain who were normally counted as "British", nor does it count those who entered (legally or illegally) via Canada.


Year Immigration Year Immigration Year Immigration Year Immigration Year Immigration
1820 3,614 1850 184,351 1880 83,018 1910 29,855 1940 839
1821 1,518 1851  219,232 1881 67,339 1911 29,112 1941 272
1822 2,267 1852 195,801 1882 68,300 1912 25,879 1942 83
1823 1,908 1853 156,970 1883 82,849 1913 27,876 1943 165
1824 2,345 1854 11,095 1884 59,204 1914 24,688 1944 112
1825 4,826 1855 57,164 1885 50,657 1915 14,185 1945 427
1826 4,821 1856 66,080 1886 52,858 1916 8,639 1946 1,816
1827 9,772 1857 31,498 1887 69,084 1917 5,406 1947 2,574
1828 7,861 1858 31,498 1888 66,306 1918 331 1948 7,534
1829  9,995 1859 41,180 1889 60,502 1919 474 1949 8,678
1830 12,765 1860 52,103 1890 52,110 1920 9,591 1950 5,842
1831 13,598 1861 28,209 1891 53,438 1921 28,435 1951 3,144
1832 15,092 1862 33,521 1892 48,966 1922 10,579 1952 3,526
1833 14,177 1863 94,477 1893 42,122 1923 15,740 1953 4,304
1834 16,928 1864 94,368 1894 39,597 1924 17,111 1954 4,655
1835 13,307 1865 82,085 1895 52,027 1925 26,650 1955 5,222
1836 15,000 1866 86,594 1896 39,952 1926 24,897 1956 5,607
1837 22,089 1867 79,571 1897 32,822 1927 28,545 1957 8,227
1838 8,149 1868 57,662 1898 30,878 1928 25,268 1958 9,134
1839 20,790 1869 66,467 1899 38,631 1929 19,921 1959 6,595
1840 25,957 1870 67,891 1900 41,848 1930 23,445 1960 6,918
1841 36,428 1871 65,591 1901 35,535 1931 7,305 1961 5,738
1842 49,920 1872 66,752 1902 29,138 1932 539 1962 5,118
1843 23,597 1873 75,536 1903 35,310 1933 338 1963 5,000
1844 37,569 1874 48,136 1904 36,142 1934 443 1964 5,200
1845 50,207 1875 31,433 1905 52,945 1935 454 1965 5,463
1846 68,023 1876 16,432 1906 34,995 1936 444 1966 4,700
1847 118,120 1877 13,991 1907 34,530 1937 531 1967 1,901
1848 151,003 1878 18,602 1908 30,556 1938 1,085 1968 2,268
1849 180,189 1879 30,058 1909 25,033 1939 1,189 1969 1,989
                1970 1,562

                Note: From 1971 through 1980 a total of approximately 11,600 Irish immigrants arrived in the U.S.  Maximun:1851, Minimum: 1942.

Irish Immigration to the US


Counties of Irish Emigration


Where did they come from?  During the period 1856 through 1910, the following ten counties in Ireland had the highest rate of emigration:

1 Kerry
2 Cork
3 Clare
4 Longford
5 Leitrim
6 Galway
7 Limerick
8 Mayo
9 Tipperary
10 Cavan

Note: The county of Dublin has had the lowest rate of emigration.



Irish percent of US Immigration


The Irish constituted 42.3% of all immigrants from 1820 through 1850 and 35.2% of all immigrants between 1851 and 1860.  Thereafter the percentage declined continuously:


1861-1870 18.8%
1871-1880 15.5%
1881-1890 12.5%
1891-1900 10.6%
1971-1980  0.3%




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