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Irish Last Names

What are the Most Popular Irish Last Names in Use?

Irish people were one of the first to adopt hereditary last names. Read the article to learn more about the history of Irish last names, and also some common ones along with their meanings.
Entertainism Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Last names, also known as family names, always come with a little bit of interesting history attached to them. A last name tells the other person little more about your origins and ancestral roots. All over the world, every culture uses a last name to distinguish it from others. Also, there are different rules and preferences regarding their usage in different cultures. The same goes with the surnames of the Irish.

In earlier times, the Irish population was extremely small, and people did not leave the country in large groups as well. Because of this, every person was known by his own first name and there was no concept of a last name. Since there were no two people with the same name in a locality, there was no problem either. Also, the Gaelic clan system ensured that people of a common tribe or area got a common identity. During the eleventh century, Irish population began to grow, which led to the breakdown of the single name system, as better means of identification were required. This was when prefixes like Mac and 'O were invented. 'O means grandson of, while Mac means son of.

When the English invaded and colonized Ireland in the seventeenth century, they made all Gaelic sounding surnames illegal. This created a lot of confusion, as a lot of Irish last names were changed during this time, which resulted in Irish last manes being a little messed up till date. Prefixes like 'O and Mac were dropped and last names like MacMahon became Vaughan.

However, these rules started easing up from nineteenth century onwards when people started retaining their traditional Gaelic names, and even prefixes were added back. Not everybody did this, and hence you will find Gaelic as well as the anglicized forms of the same Irish last names still prevalent today.

Popular Irish Last Names and Meanings

To compile a full list of Irish last names is a tough task, as there are more than 3000 of them. The list below states the more popular last names along with their meaning.
  • Murphy ― Sea-battler
  • Walsh ― Welshman
  • Kelly ― Bright-headed
  • O'Connor ― Patron of Warriors
  • Smith ― Son of the Smith
  • Ryan ― King
  • O'Sullivan ― Dark-eyed
  • Byrne ― A raven
  • O'Neill ― From Niall of the nine hostages
  • O' Brien ― Noble
  • Kennedy ― Helmet headed
  • Doyle ― Dark foreigner
  • Moore ― Majestic
  • O' Doherty ― Hurtful
  • McCarthy ― Loving person
  • Murray ― Master, Lord
  • Gallagher ― Love of foreigners
  • Lynch ― Exile, seafarer
  • Quinn ― Chief, wisdom
  • Wilson ― Son of William
  • Collins ― Young Warrior
  • McLoughlin ― Viking
  • O'Connell ― Strong like a wolf
  • Burke ― From Richard de Burgh
  • O'Carroll ― Valorous in battle
  • Dunne ― Brown
  • Daly ― Assembles frequently
  • Brennan ― Sorrow
  • Connolly ― Fierce like a hound
  • Campbell ― Crooked mouth
  • Nolan ― Famous
  • O'Farrell ― Man of valor
  • Clarke ― Clergyman
  • Maguire ― Dun-colored
  • Fitzgerald ― Spear rule
  • Johnston ― Son of John
  • Brown ― Son of the judge
  • Hughes ― Fire
  • Martin ― Devotee of Saint Martin
  • Flynn ― Bright red
  • Duffy ― Black, dark
  • White ― Of fair complexion
  • O'Donnell ― World-mighty
  • O'Shea ― Stately, fine
  • Thompson ― Son of Thom
  • O'Mahony ― Bear-calf
  • Healy ― Scientific, artistic
  • O'Callaghan ― Bright-headed
  • Boyle ― Vain pledge
  • Sweeney ― Pleasant
  • McGrath ― Son of grace
  • Foley ― A plunderer
  • Hayes ― Fire
  • Power ― The poor man
  • Casey ― Vigilant in war, watchful
  • Moran ― Great
  • Foley ― A plunderer
  • Kavanagh ― Mild, comely
  • Stewart ― One who superintends
  • Fitzpatrick ― Devotee of Saint Patrick
  • Donnelly ― Brown Valor
  • Mullan ― Bald
  • Regan ― Little king
  • O'Leary ― Calf-herd
  • Flangan ― Ruddy, red
  • MacMahon ― Bear-calf
  • Donovan ― Black, brown
  • McDonnell ― World-mighty
  • Burns ― From Scottish business
  • Barry ― Cambro-Norman name
  • Cunningham ― Scottish Name
  • Lyons ― Gray
  • Robinson ― Son of Robert
  • Kenny ― Fire sprung
  • Ward ― Son of the Bard
  • Kane ― Battler
  • Whelan ― Wolf
  • Sheehan ― Peaceful
  • Reid ― Red haired
  • Scott ― A Scottish Gael
  • Cullen ― Holy
  • Maher ― Majestic, fine
  • Hogan ― Young
  • MacKenna ― Fire-sprung
  • O' Dwyer ― Black
  • O'Keeffe ― Gentle
  • Buckley ― Cow herd
  • Magee ― Fire
  • Molony ― Servant of the Church
  • MacNamara ― Hound of the sea
  • MacDermott ― Free from envy
Common Last Names in the United States

Here is a list of common Irish names that you might hear in the United States. Some of these are also among the most common last names in general.
  • Walsh
  • White
  • Thompson
  • Smith
  • Sullivan
  • Sweeney
  • Reilly
  • Ryan
  • Quinn
  • O'Brien
  • O'Donnell
  • O'Neil
  • Nolan
  • Martin
  • McCarthy
  • McDonald
  • McGuire
  • Moore
  • Murphy
  • Murray
  • Lynch
  • Kelly
  • Kennedy
  • Hayes
  • Hughes
  • Gallagher
  • Farrell
  • Ferguson
  • Fitzgerald
  • Flynn
  • Daugherty
  • Duffy
  • Dunn
  • Calhoun
  • Callahan
  • Campbell
  • Carroll
  • Clark
  • Collins
  • Conley
  • Conner
  • Boyle
  • Brennan
  • Brown
  • Burke
  • Burns
If you are Irish, you probably would be interested in your family crest. Sadly, there are no family crests according to last names for the Irish. A family crest is presented on an individual basis, which can be passed on from father to son, but is not awarded to any particular family name.