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Private Heritage Tours Of Ireland

Have you ever been curious about your Irish heritage? For many of us, our past remains unclear and the mystery surrounding our background and the origins of our family name becomes an insatiable itch.
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    Most Popular Irish Surnames


    Murphy is the most common surname in Ireland and is prevalent in both the USA, UK, and Canada, where interestingly enough, is the second most common name in the country. In fact, the name is so widespread that there are over 50,000 bearers of the name in Ireland and even more in the USA.

    It’s derived from the Gaelic personal names MacMurchadh and O’Murchadh meaning sea warrior or sea battler. The origins of the name can first be found in the county of Wexford. Over time, the Murphys began to spread across Ireland with Leinster county becoming an eventual stronghold for the clan.


    Although not quite as pervasive as Murphy, Kelly is one of the most popular surnames in Ireland,  coming in second. The surname was first found in the southwest of Ireland and is derived from O’Ceallaigh, which in Gaelic translates to either ‘bright headed’ or ‘troublesome.’

    Interestingly, a historical reference suggests there may have been a family relationship between the Kellys and the king of England, Henry II. Today, the ubiquity of Kelly is still prominent with it remaining a popular first name for many women in the USA.


    O’Sullivan comes from O Suileabhain, meaning either one-eye or hawk-eyed. Its origins can first be traced as far back as the 13th century in the Munster county of Tipperary.  The O’Sullivan clan ruled as lords in the Cahir town but eventually migrated to Cork and south Kerry, where it remains a popular surname today.


    Intertwining both Irish and Welsh heritages is the surname Walsh, which as you would guess translates to ‘Welsh.’ The surname naturally made its way to Ireland through the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 11th century, denoting a Welsh-speaking immigrant that settled after the war.


    O’Brien is descended from the greatest of all kings in Ireland, Brian Boru, who is most revered for driving for banishing the Norseman from Ireland in 1014. Possessing such regal roots, the surname translates as ‘The Noblemen,’ after the king referred to the clan as ‘high’ and ‘noble.’


    Originally ‘Ó’Broin,’ the surname is derived from the Irish O’Broin, which directly translates as “descended from Bran’, the 11th century king of Leinster who died in 1052. The Byrne clan occupied much of this land until the Anglo-Normans invaded in 1169-70. Today the surname is very prominent in Wicklow, Dublin and Louth.


    Ryan is an Anglicised version of the Gaelic O’Maoilriaghain/O’Maoilriain and the first records of its spelling were identified during the reign of Gerald between 1369 and 1374. Interestingly, the surname is a blend of the word Gaelic ‘righ’ and the grammatical article ‘an,’ which put together means ‘little king.’ Today Ryan is a widespread first name, not only in Ireland but also in the UK and USA.


    Deriving from at least six different Irish septs across Ireland, the O’Connor roots are difficult to trace. But with its variants, the surname is believed to come from O’Conchobhair which translates as either ‘lover of hounds’, ‘wolf-lover’ or ‘patron of warriors. The most famous sept of the six was the Connacht O’Connors, who provided the last two kings of Ireland. Being steeped in historic royalty, if you are an O’Connor, you can take pride in being a descendant of Gaelic aristocracy.


    An entire library section can be dedicated to the O’Neills, who have such a rich history that it dates as far back as 360 A.D. O’Neill originates from the revered warrior and king of Ireland,  Niall of the Nine Hostages.

    The translation of ‘Niall’ is still disputed today with experts believing it to mean ‘cloud’, ‘passionate,’ or ‘champion.’ The king carries a promiscuous reputation and is believed for being responsible for three million descendants around the world. 


    Labelled as ‘the extroverted one,’ the O’Reilly roots come from the ancient Irish name O’Raghaillach, meaning ‘descendant of Raghaillach.’ The family was renowned for being the most powerful sept in the Gaelic kingdom and still to this day the surname is very prevalent in the region.

    They were renowned traders in the early 1300s, creating their own coinage by ‘clipping’ coins from England at a time when reilly was a term for Irish money. In recent times, Reilly has grown to become a trendy name given to both boys and girls in the US.

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