The BIG Guide to Irish Surnames (AKA Irish Last Names) and Their Meanings

irish surnames and meanings
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We get thousands of emails every year (literally!) asking about Irish last names / Irish surnames.

So, we decided to spend a lot of time delving into unique, unusual and common Irish last names to learn about their origin and what they mean.

In the guide below, you’ll find over 100 Irish surnames and their meanings along with how to pronounce them and more.

A guide to popular Irish last names / Irish surnames

Irish surnames can be found all over the world, from Ballymun to the Bronx and everywhere and anywhere in between.

Originally the Irish people lived in family “kin” groups or clans (read our guide to the Celts for more info). And many of those Irish surnames remain strong today.

Over the years Ireland has been settled by Anglo-Normans, Vikings, Scots and the English and each group has added to the tapestry of Irish culture.

Over the centuries many native Irish people emigrated (most notable during the Famine), carrying their Irish customs and way of life (and Irish last names!) across the globe. 

The Most Popular Irish Family Names 

The first section of our guide tackles the most common Irish surnames. This is where you’ll find your Murphy’s and your Byrnes.

Below, you’ll discover the origins behind each of the various Irish last names, how to pronounce them and famous people with the same surname.

1. Murphy

Murphy

Murphy is one of the most popular Irish last names that you’ll come across and it’s particularly popular in County Cork. It is a version of Ó Murchadha and Ó Murchadh, two very old Irish surnames.

Popular Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Murphy

  • Pronunciation: Mur-fee
  • Meaning: The name Murphy is steeped in seafaring history and is said to mean sea-warrior or sea battler
  • Famous Murphys: Eddie Murphy (actor), Cillian Murphy (actor in Peaky Blinders) and Brittany Murphy (actress)
  • Fun fact: Murphy tops the list of the most common last names in Ireland. In fact, it’s been the most common for over 100 years!

2. Byrne

Byrne
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Derived from the Gaelic ó Broin, the Irish surname Byrne is common in Dublin and Wicklow. Originally O’Byrne, it meant “descended from Bran”, the 11th-century king of Kildare. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Byrne

  • Pronunciation: Burn
  • Meaning: Descendant of Bran (Bran was the son of the great King of Leinster) or Raven
  • Famous Byrnes: Rose Byrne (actress), Gabriel Byrne (actor) Nicky Byrne (singer in one of the more famous Irish bands)

3. Kelly

Kelly
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Kelly is one of the many Irish last names that can be found right the way across the USA. The surname Kelly comes from the Gaelic ó Ceallaigh.

The original O’Kellys were descended from a great Irish chieftain and the word in Gaelic means “war” or “contention”. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Kelly

  • Pronunciation: Kel-ee
  • Meaning: Descendant of Ceallach or fighter
  • Famous Kellys: Grace Kelly (actress and Princess of Monaco), Gene Kelly (actor) and Ellsworth Kelly (artist)

4. O’Brien

O’Brien
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O’Brien is one of many Irish surnames in this guide that has a strong link to royalty. O’Brien is said to be a lucky surname and comes from the Gaelic ó Briain.

Descended from Brian Boru, the celebrated High King of Ireland, the O’Briens are one of Ireland’s most aristocratic families.

Common Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name O’Brien

  • Pronunciation: O Bry-an
  • Meaning: Hill, high place, high or noble
  • Famous O’Brien’s: Conan O’Brien (comedian), Dylan O’Brien (actor) and Pat O’Brien (guitarist)

5. Ryan

Ryan
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The Irish name Ryan comes from the Gaelic “righ” meaning little, and “an” meaning king. O’ Riain is a shortened version of the older Irish name ó Maoilriain.

It is one of the more common Irish surnames that you’ll find in counties Carlow and Tipperary as well as in the UK and USA.

Popular Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Ryan

  • Pronunciation: Rye-ann
  • Meaning: There are many different references to the meaning of this name. Some say the Irish surname Ryan means water or ocean while others say that it means king
  • Famous Ryans: Meg Ryan (actress), Debby Ryan (actress) and Katherine Ryan (comedienne)

6. O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan
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Coming from the Gaelic name ó Súilleabháin, O’Sullivan or the shorter name Sullivan is based on the word súl meaning “eye” with various interpretations.

Originally lords of Cahir, the clan migrated to West Cork and South Kerry where it is a prominent surname. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name O’Sullivan

  • Pronunciation: O Sull-ih-van
  • Meaning: Dark-eyed or hawk-eyed
  • Famous O’Sullivans: Maureen O’Sullivan (actress), Richard O’Sullivan (actor) and Gilbert O’Sullivan (singer)

7. O’Connor

O’Connor
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O’Connor is arguably one of the most popular Irish family names that you’ll find in the States. O’Connor is a variant of the Gaelic ‘Ó Conchobhair which was used to refer to a  hero or champion.

The clan that was one of three Irish royal families descended from Conchobhar, King of Connacht, who died in 971 AD. There are various variations including O’Conner, Connor, Connar, Connair and Cauner. 

Irish American last names: what you need to know about the name O’Connor

  • Pronunciation: O Conn-er
  • Meaning: Patron of warriors
  • Famous O’Connors: Sinéad O’Connor (singer), Flannery O’Connor (novelist) and Sandra Day O’Connor (retired US Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) 

8. Walsh

Walsh
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The name Walsh is a common Irish last name found in Ireland. It was mainly used by Welsh people arriving in Ireland with the Normans in the 12th century.

It originated as “Le Walys” but was anglicized to Walsh. The Gaelic equivalent is Breathnach. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Walsh

  • Pronunciation: Wol-sh
  • Meaning: Welshman or foreigner
  • Famous Walshes: Louis Walsh (TV personality), Kimberley Walsh (Girls Aloud band member and singer) and Kate Walsh (American actress)

10. McCarthy

McCarthy
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Next up is another of the many Irish surnames that tends to crop up everywhere from the UK to Australia.

McCarthy, also spelt MacCarthy, comes from the Gaelic Mac Ćarthaigh meaning “son of Cárthach”. The Irish word Ćarthaigh actually means “loving”.

It is the most common “mac” name in Ireland and belonged to the main family of the Kingdom of Munster, prominent in early Irish history.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name McCarthy

  • Pronunciation: Mick-art-hee
  • Meaning: Loving person
  • Famous McCarthys: Cormac McCarthy (American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist) and Melissa McCarthy (actress)

11. Doyle

Doyle
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The Doyles were descendants of Dubhghall, an active 13th century leader. The name is anglicized from “Dubh ghaill”. It is thought to be Norse in origin and the name evolved into Mac Dubghaill (MacDowell and MacDuggall). 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Doyle

  • Pronunciation: Doy-ul
  • Meaning: Dark stranger
  • Famous Doyles: Arthur Conan Doyle (writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes) and Roddy Doyle (novelist and screenwriter)

Most Common Irish Last Names

The second section of our guide tackles the most common Irish last names. This is where you’ll find your Barry’s and your Murray’s.

Below, you’ll discover the origins behind each of the various popular Irish surnames, how to pronounce them and famous people with the same Irish surnames.

1. Barry

Barry
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Derived from the Gaelic De Barra, the name Barry was originally a Welsh-Norman name. De Barr (Barry) is a place in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. It is also the anglicized form of Ó Báire and Ó Beargha. The name is most popular in Munster.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Barry

  • Pronunciation: Bahh-ree
  • Meaning: Spear-like or plunderer
  • Famous Barrys: John Barry (composer for James Bond scores) and Richard Barry (US pro basketball player)

2. Campbell

Campbell
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Campbell is one of a number of Irish last names that originated in Scotland and migrated to Ireland. It is prevalent in Donegal, particularity in families descended from Scottish mercenary soldiers. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Campbell

  • Pronunciation: Camm-bull
  • Meaning: Crooked mouth
  • Famous Campbells: Naomi Campbell (model), Sol Campbell (footballer with Spurs) and Donald Campbell (world speed record-breaker on land and water)

3. Murray

Murray
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The Irish surname Murray comes from Ó Muireadhaigh’ a word meaning Lord in Irish and used to denote the descendants of Muireadhach.

It is prolific in Donegal. This Irish last name originated in Scotland by those living on the Moray Firth and “Moray” evolved into “Murray” over time. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Murray

  • Pronunciation: Muh-ree
  • Meaning: Settlement by the sea
  • Famous Murrays: Andy Murray (tennis player), Bill Murray (actor) and Neil Murray (bass musician)

4. Nolan

Nolan
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Nolan is another of the more common Irish last names that’s closely lined to royalty. From the ancient Gaelic name of ó Nualláin, and from the word nuall which is Gaelic for “shout”, the surname Nolan or Knowlan is widespread in Carlow.

The Nolans historically held hereditary office under the Kings of Leinster. The name is also found in Fermanagh, Longford, Mayo, and Roscommon but is most predominant in North America.  

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Nolan

  • Pronunciation: Know-lan
  • Meaning: Famous or noble
  • Famous Nolans: The Nolan Sisters (musicians and Ireland’s First Family of Music) and Christopher Nolan (film director)

5. Bell

Bell
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Listed among the 100 most common Irish last names, Bell comes from the Old English word “Belle”. It is prevalent in Ulster and Northern Ireland counties.

It originated in Scotland where the Bell family were an infamous clan of the Borders who migrated to Ulster during the Plantation.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Byrne

  • Pronunciation: Bell
  • Meaning: Bell ringer/bell maker
  • Famous Bells: Kristen Bell (actress), Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) and Jamie Bell (BAFTA winning actor in Billy Eliot)

6. Kenny

Kenny
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Kenny or Kenney is one of the most common Irish last names that was anglicized from the Gaelic ó Cionaoith and O Coinne family names.

Common in Galway and Roscommon, the name comes from the Gaelic Cion meaning love and affection and aodh the god of fire. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Kenny

  • Pronunciation: Ken-e
  • Meaning: Fiery love or fire sprung
  • Famous Kennys: James Kenney (Dublin playwright) and Emer Kenny (actress)

7. Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick
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Fitzpatrick is the 60th most common Irish family name and the only Irish surname with the Norman/French prefix “Fitz”.

It comes from the Mac Giolla Phadraig Clan, an ancient family of Ossary which is now Co. Kilkenny and Co. Laois. It and translates as “son or devotee of St Patrick”

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Fitzpatrick

  • Pronunciation: Fits-Pa-trick
  • Meaning: Devotee of St Patrick
  • Famous Fitzpatricks: Ryan Fitzpatrick (US footballer), Anna Fitzpatrick (British tennis player) and Colette Fitzpatrick (Irish news anchor)

8. Gallagher

Gallagher
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Gallagher is the most common surname in County Donegal where the clan originated. The name has been around since the 4th century.

The Gaelic word Gallchobhair comes from gall meaning “stranger” and cabhair meaning “help”. There are 23 variants of the name including Golliher, Gallahue and Galliher.

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Gallagher

  • Pronunciation: Gal-a-her
  • Meaning: Lover of foreigners or foreign help
  • Famous Gallaghers: Liam and Noel Gallagher (Oasis band musicians), Stephen Gallagher (author and screenwriter) and Katie Gallagher (fashion designer)

9. Hayes

Hayes
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Hayes is one of several old Irish last names that roughly translates to ‘Fire’. It comes from the Gaelic Ó hAodha’ referring to the descendants of Aodh.

It comes from the Old Irish word Aed which means “fire” and was the name of the mythical god of the Irish underworld. The clan name originated in Co. Cork and is now common in the USA. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Hayes

  • Pronunciation: Haze
  • Meaning: Fire
  • Famous Hayes’s: Rutherford B. Hayes (19th US President), Elvin Hayes (basketball player) and Joseph Hayes (author)

10. Smith

Smith
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Smith is the 5th most popular surname in Ireland. It was an English settler name although the Smith clan was also a leading sept in Co. Cavan. Smith is the anglicized equivalent of Mac an Ghabhain (MacGowan) and is sometimes spelt Smyth.

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Smith

  • Pronunciation: Smit-h
  • Meaning: Smith or blacksmith by trade
  • Famous Smiths: Will Smith (actor), Maggie Smith (actress) and Patti Smith (singer-songwriter)

11. Flanagan

Flanagan
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The Flanagan’s were the most important lords under O’Connor, King of Connaught and consequently the clan was extremely powerful. The name is also spelt Flannaghan or Flannigan and is the English form of the Gaelic Ó Flannagáin.  

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Flanagan

  • Pronunciation: Flan-a-gan
  • Meaning: Red or ruddy
  • Famous Flanagans: Tommy Flanagan (actor), Christa Flanagan (actress) and Fuinnula Flanagan (actress)

12. O’Dwyer

O’Dwyer
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The O’Dwyers were a leading sect in Tipperary, known for their resistance to English rule. The Gaelic equivalent is ó Dubhuir from dubh and odhar. It is a popular surname in Australia along with Dwyer. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name O’Dwyer

  • Pronunciation: O Dwy-r
  • Meaning: Black or dark-coloured
  • Famous O’Dwyers: Edmund Thomas O’Dwyer (cricketer) and Luke O’Dwyer (National Rugby League player)

13. Graham

Graham
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The family name Graham stems from 17th-century settlers and outlaws who were banished from the Scottish borders.

This is one of a handful of old Irish surnames that is almost exclusively found in Antrim. The Graham family was later active in the United Irishmen cause of 1798.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Graham

  • Pronunciation: Gray-am
  • Meaning: Grey home
  • Famous Grahams: Lauren Graham (actress), Joe Graham (Belfast writer) and Billy Graham (American evangelist)

14. Dunne

Dunne
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Dunne has largely dropped its prefix from the original Irish name of Ó Duinn meaning “dark” or “brown” as in the English word “dun”.

The original Ó Duinns were based in Laois, Meath and Wicklow and built several castles over the years.  

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Dunne

  • Pronunciation: Done
  • Meaning: Brown or dark
  • Famous Dunnes: Ben Dunne (founder of Dunnes department stores), Tommy Dunne (hurler) and Pete Dunne (pro wrestler)

15. Quinn

Quinn
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The surname Quinn comes from the Gaelic ó Cuinn (descendant of Conn, a Gaelic chief). It is one of the most common Irish last names.

Currently held by over 17,000 people in Ireland, particularly in Tyrone. Most Catholics spell their name Quinn with two n’s while Protestants spell it with one, i.e. Quin.     

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Quinn

  • Pronunciation: Kwin
  • Meaning: Wisdom or intelligence
  • Famous Quinns: Aidan Quinn (actor), Glenn Quinn (actor) and Niall Quinn (Footballer)

Popular and Old Irish Last Names in the USA

The third section of our guide tackles some of the most popular Irish surnames that are found scattered across the USA.

Below, you’ll discover the origins behind each of the various Irish last names, how to pronounce them and famous people with the same surname.

1. Molony

Molony
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When it comes to Irish American last names, the name Moloney tends to spring to the minds of many.

Why? Well, the name Molony is one of several old Irish last names that tends to be given to many Irish characters in American shows and films.

This Irish surname dates back to the 6th century as it’s named in the “Book of Battles” by Saint Colum Cille. Maol Means bald, possibly referring to the monk’s tonsure. Still a common surname in Limerick and Tipperary.

Popular Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Molony

  • Pronunciation: Ma-loan-ee
  • Meaning: Decedent of the servant of the church
  • Famous Moloneys: Janel Moloney (actress) and Jason Moloney (boxer)

2. Moore

Moore
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A common English surname with Scottish Gaelic origins, Moore can be spelt as Moor, Muir, Mure and the Irish O’More. The Anglo-Norman Irish Moores established themselves in Munster. It is a common name in Australia and the USA (9th).

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Moore

  • Pronunciation: More
  • Meaning: Bog
  • Famous Moores: Roger Moore (007 actor), Demi Moore (actress) and Bobby Moore (footballer)

3. Moran

Moran
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Moran is one of several traditional Irish surnames that is mainly found in Leitrim. The surname Moran is descended from the Gaelic Ó Móráin, an ancient kingdom sept. 

Traditional Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Moran

  • Pronunciation: Moor-an (Irish compared to More-ann English)
  • Meaning: Great chieftain
  • Famous Morans: Caitlin Moran (Times journalist) and Dylan Moran (comedian)

4. Mullan

Mullan
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Mullan was first found in Connacht province where several spellings are recorded including Mullen, Mullin and Mullan. It is the name of several Irish towns in Northern Ireland and Co. Cavan. Derivations include Mullane and McMullan, a common Gaelic surname. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Mullan

  • Pronunciation: Mull-an
  • Meaning: Pleasant/bald
  • Famous Mullans: Ciaran Mullan (Irish Gaelic footballer), Peter Mullan (Emmy award-winning actor) and Dan Mullane (celebrity chef)

5. Healy

Healy
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From the Gaelic O hEalaighthe, the surname Healy was first found in Co. Sligo where they held a family seat. The Healy family name derived as Haly, Hely, Halley and O’Healey.

Traditional Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Healy

  • Pronunciation: Hee-lee
  • Meaning: Ingenious or claimant
  • Famous: Edmund Halley (astronomer after whom a comet was named), Cian Healy (rugby player) and Dermot Healy (novelist and poet)

6. Higgins

Higgins
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The name Higgins is an English-Irish surname from the name Hugh and also derived from the Gaelic name Ó hUiginn. They were Irish poets between the 14th and 17th centuries. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Higgins

  • Pronunciation: Hig-ins
  • Meaning: Sea rover
  • Famous: Alex “Hurricane” Higgins (snooker champion), Andrew Higgins (inventor) and Henry Higgins (botanist)

7. Hogan

Hogan
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Hogan is from the Gaelic Ó hÓgáin, sometimes used as O’Hogan or Hagan in Northern Ireland. The name is descended from an uncle of King Brian Boru and well established in Munster.

Popular Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Hogan

  • Pronunciation: Hoe-gon
  • Meaning: Youth
  • Famous: John Hogan (sculptor from Waterford), Jim Hogan (European gold medal distance runner) and Paul Hogan (Australian actor)

8. Hughes

Hughes
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Originally from Wales, the surname Hughes (various spellings including Huw) is common in England and recorded in the Domesday Book. Branches of the family emigrated to Ireland and to the USA in 1634/35. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Hughes

  • Pronunciation: H-use
  • Meaning: Fire 
  • Famous: Hughes Brothers (film directors), Ron Hughes (footballer) and John Hughes (“Grogg” ceramicist)

9. Magee

Magee
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Possibly of Scottish origin, the name Magee (also McGee or McGhee)was first found in Donegal and Tyrone. The word gaoth meaning “wind” is pronounced “ghee” and was the first name of the Chief of Muintir, Maolgaoithe. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Magee

  • Pronunciation: Mer-Gee
  • Meaning: Fire
  • Famous: Jimmy Magee (sports broadcaster nicknamed “Memory Man”) and Eamonn Magee (boxer and Olympics bronze medallist)

10. Maguire

Maguire
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Maguire (also found as McGuire) is an ancient Irish surname from the Gaelic Mag Uidhir, the son of Odhar descended from the 3rd century king. The Maguires ruled Fermanagh from the 13th to 17th centuries. 

Traditional Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Maguire

  • Pronunciation: M-choir
  • Meaning: Son of the dark-coloured one
  • Famous: Hugh Maguire (violinist), Darragh Maguire (Irish footballer) and Tobey Maguire (actor best known as Spiderman)

11. Maher

Maher
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Maher is derived from the Gaelic michair and first records are in Tipperary in the 13th century as O’Meagher. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Maher

  • Pronunciation: Mar
  • Meaning: Kindly
  • Famous: Greg Maher (Irish footballer), Joseph Maher (actor) and Alice Maher (artist and sculptor)

12. Martin

Martin
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Martin is a Norman name that is derived from the Latin Mars, Roman God of war and fertility. It was also a popular saints name. Spellings include Martyn, Matin, and Mattin. 

Popular Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Martin

  • Pronunciation: Mar-hn
  • Meaning: The son of Martin
  • Famous: Sir George Martin (musician and the “5th Beatle”), Chris Martin (Coldplay rock musician) and Henry Martin (cartoonist)

13. Johnston

Johnston
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First used in Dumfries, Scotland, the name Johnston comes from the name “John” and the word “toun” or town. It has many derivatives including Johnson, Jonsum and Johnstoom. Part of the family moved to Ireland and also to the USA and Canada as early settlers. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Johnston

  • Pronunciation: Jon-ston
  • Meaning: John’s town
  • Famous: Daniel Dale Johnston (American singer songwriter), James Johnston (steward aboard the RMS Titanic. He was rescued but a family of 4 passengers with the surname Johnston died in the sinking)

14. Kane

Kane
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Kane is an Old Irish surname that comes from the Gaelic O Cathain or Mac Cathain and is descended from Niall of None Hostages, the 5th-century king. Common in Londonderry and spelt variously as Kayne, O’Kane and Cain. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Kane

  • Pronunciation: Kay-n
  • Meaning: Warrior or battle
  • Famous: John Kane (early settler in Maryland USA in 1674), Harry Kane (Spurs footballer and captain of England team) and Candye Kane (American singer)

15. Kavanagh

Kavanagh
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The original Gaelic form of Kavanagh is Caomhanach, referring to St. Caomhan. It was adopted by the son of the 12th century king of Leinster. There are many different variations including Cavanagh, Cavanaw, O’Kavanagh and M’Cavanna.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Kavanagh

  • Pronunciation: Cavern-are
  • Meaning: Follower of St. Caomhan
  • Famous: Patrick Cavanagh (Irish poet), Gianni Kavanagh (Urban clothing retailer) and Kavanagh QC (fictional barrister played by John Thaw)

16. Keane

Keane
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From the Gaelic “O Cathain” the surname Keane originated in Derry. It is popular as a boy’s first name. There are many different spellings including , Keyne, Cahan and Keaney. Early US immigrants named Keane arrived in Philadelphia from 1840 onwards. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Keane

  • Pronunciation: Keen
  • Meaning: Distant or long
  • Famous: Roy Keane (footballer), Ruaidri Dall Ó Catháin (16th century harpist) and Keane (rock band)

17. Sheehan

Sheehan
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From the Gaelic siodhach, meaning peaceful, the name Sheehan was first used in Limerick and Munster where the clan had an ancient family seat. First settled in Precott USA in 1825. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Sheehan

  • Pronunciation: She-an
  • Meaning: Peaceful
  • Famous: Cornelius Mahoney Neil Sheehan (American journalism and Pulitzer prize-winner, Alan Sheehan (Irish footballer) and Patrick “P.J.” Sheehan (Irish politician)

18. Stewart

Stewart
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From the Scottish royal clan, the surname Stewart (also Steward and Stuart) has its roots as a steward or servant in a noble household. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Stewart

  • Pronunciation: Stew-ert
  • Meaning: Guardian of the hall
  • Famous: Jimmy Stewart (Academy award-winning actor and US Air Force Brigadier-General), Rod Stewart (pop singer) and Marta Stewart (TV home designer)

19. Sweeney

Sweeney
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Sweeney comes form the ancient Gaelic name “Suibhne” and was first found in Donegal. Suibhne O’Neill, was a chieftain in Argyll, Scotland and his descendants migrated to Ireland as mercenary fighters in the 12th century.

They formed three septs: MacSweeney Fanad, MacSweeney Banagh, and MacSweeney na dTuath. Variations include MacSweeny, MacSwine and MacSwyny.  

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Sweeney

  • Pronunciation: Swee-knee
  • Meaning: Pleasant
  • Famous: Alison Sweeney (American TV actress), Sweeney Todd (fictional Demon Barber in the musical) and Tim Sweeney (Epic games founder and CEO)

Irish Last Names that Get Confused as Being English

1. Scott

Scott
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The surname Scott originated in the Scottish borders and is common in England. It was also used to denote someone who moved to Ireland Scotland ie. he was a Scot. The double T is the most common spelling although “Skotts” and “Scot” are around. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Scott

  • Pronunciation: Scot
  • Meaning: Someone from Scotland or a Gaelic speaker
  • Famous: Robert Falcon Scott CVO (led the Antarctic Discovery Expeditions), Ed Scott (Swiss founder of Scott Sports) and Sir Walter Scott (Scottish poet and novelist)

2. White

White
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The name White has both Scottish and Irish origin, from the Scottish Gaelic MacGillebhàin meaning “Son of the fair gillie” and the Irish “de Faoite” common in Limerick in the 13th century list of sheriffs and mayors. It is one of the top 50 most popular surnames in Ireland, also Whyte, Whit and MacWhitty. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name White

  • Pronunciation: Why-t
  • Meaning: White – Used to denote a person with white hair or fair complexion
  • Famous: Betty White (American actress), Priscilla White (stage name Cilla Black) and Ed White (first American astronaut to walk in space)

3. Wilson

Wilson
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Derived from the mediaeval first name of Will, the surname Wilson arrived in Ireland with the Viking settlers who were descendants of the Prince of Denmark. It is common in Scotland, Ireland and is the 7th most common surname in England. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Wilson

  • Pronunciation: Will-sun
  • Meaning: Son of Will
  • Famous: Harold Wilson (UK Prime Minister from 1964-70 and 1974-76, Jeff Wilson (NZ rugby player) and Robert Wilson (crime fiction writer)

4. Reid

Reid
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Most common in Northern Ireland, the name Reid is in the top 30 popular surnames. It is also popular in Scotland (12th most popular). It referred to someone with red hair or a ruddy complexion. Also spelt Reed, Rede and Red. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Reid

  • Pronunciation: Reed
  • Meaning: Red
  • Famous: Thomas Reid (philosopher), Spencer Reid (fictional character in TV crime drama Criminal Minds) and Sam Reid (actor)

5. Robinson

Robinson
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Interestingly enough, Robinson is the 15th most common surname in the UK but it is only really common in the province of Ulster in Ireland. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Robinson

  • Pronunciation: Rob-in-sun
  • Meaning: Son of robin
  • Famous: Robinson Crusoe (fictional castaway), Anne Robinson (TV presenter) and Michael Robinson (Irish international footballer)

6. Duffy

Duffy
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The surname Duffy comes from the original Gaelic O Dubhthaigh. The first portion of the name is the word “dubh” which means “black”.

The Duffy sept was descended from the ancient Heremon Kings of Ireland and Murdagh O’Duffy was an 11th century Archbishop in Connaught. Also found as O’Duffy, Duffee and Duffey. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Duffy

  • Pronunciation: Duff-ee
  • Meaning: Black
  • Famous: Shane Duffy (Irish footballer), Keith Duffy (Boyzone musician) and Aimee Duffy (Welsh singer songwriter)

7. Griffin

Griffin
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Griffin is primarily a Gaelic Irish name from Ó Gríofa (male) or Ní Ghríofa (female) who were chieftains with a castle at Ballygriffy. It was anglicised to Griffin, and to Griffith in Wales.  

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Griffin

  • Pronunciation: Gri-fin
  • Meaning: Griffin-like (a Griffin is a mythical creature part lion and part eagle)
  • Famous: Angela Griffin (Coronation St/Holby City actress), Dev Griffin (Radio DJ) and Nick Griffin (former leader of the BNP)

8. Clarke

Clarke
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Clarke is of English and Irish origin with variations including Clerk and Clark. It is popular in Ireland, spreading from Galway and Antrim to Donegal and Dublin. It was in common use in the Middle Ages referring to a scribe or clerk.  

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Clarke

  • Pronunciation: Clar-k
  • Meaning: Clerk
  • Famous: Nobby Clarke (footballer), Charles Clerke (sailed on 4 expeditions with Captain Cook) and Gabriel Clarke (sports journalist)

9. Power

Power
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The Irish surname Power was a nickname for a poor man, generally one of took a vow of poverty. The name originated in Devon and Robert Poher accompanied Strongbow and was granted the County of Waterford. They became an eminent Irish family. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Power

  • Pronunciation: Pow-er
  • Meaning: Pauper or poor man
  • Famous: James Power (founder of Powers whiskey since 1791), Peter Power (Irish politician) and Robbie Power (National Hunt jockey)

10. Boyle

Boyle
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Boyle is of Norman origin and is a Scottish and Irish surname also appearing as Bowell and Boal. First found in Ireland in Donegal, it comes from the Irish Gaelic O Baoighill and descendants of the King Maoldun Baoghal.  

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Boyle

  • Pronunciation: Boil
  • Meaning: Peril or having profitable pledges
  • Famous: Susan Boyle (Scottish singer) and Katie Boyle (actress and TV presenter)

11. King

King
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This name dates back to the royal rulers in Anglo-Saxon Britain and may have been a nickname for someone with grand airs. The name King was common in Devon in the UK in the 10th century and migrated to Ireland at a later date.

Traditional Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name King

  • Pronunciation: King
  • Meaning: Tribal leader
  • Famous: Riley “BB” King (Blues guitarist), Jonathan King (record producer) and Stephen King (author)

12. Lynch

Lynch
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The surname Lynch is of English (Kent) and Irish descent with several unrelated Irish families having the name. Some were Lords of the 11th century Ulster Dal Riata kingdom while others were one of the 13th century Tribes of Galway. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Lynch

  • Pronunciation: Lin-ch
  • Meaning: Mariner/Having a fleet of ships
  • Famous: David Lynch (American filmmaker), Edmund Lynch (co-founder of Merrill Lynch Investments) and Ernesto Guevara De La Serna y Lynch (aka revolutionary Che Guevara)

13. Daly

Daly
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Daly is an Irish surname that later migrated to England. It is from the Gaelic Ó Dálaigh, the same root for the word “Dail” the Irish government. The family were 12th century Irish bards. 

Irish family names: what you need to know about the name Daly

  • Pronunciation: Daily
  • Meaning: Assembly or meeting
  • Famous: Fred Daly (Irish pro golfer), Mary Daly (Irish historian and President of the Irish royal Academy) and John Daly (American outlaw)

14. Ward

Ward
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The Norman name Ward migrated to England following the Norman conquest and is found later in Stirling, Scotland and Ireland.

The Old Gaelic surname derives from Mac an Bháird “son of the Bard” or storyteller. It is the 78th most common surname in Ireland and 40th in the UK, particularly around Lutterworth.

Celtic last names: what you need to know about the name Ward

  • Pronunciation: War-d
  • Meaning: Guard
  • Famous: Bill Ward (drummer for Black Sabbath), Sir Leslie Ward (caricaturist) and Burt Ward (actor playing Robin Batman’s sidekick in the 1960s TV series)

15. Buckley

Buckley
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From the Anglo-Saxon “bok lee” meaning meadow or field, the name was used in Anglo Saxon times for those living in places such as Buckley (Buckley Hall near Manchester) or Buckleigh.

Some of the Buckleys moved to Ireland. Variations include Buckly, Bulkely and Bucklie. Ó Buachalla, originally meaning “herdsman” in Irish. 

Common Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Buckley

  • Pronunciation: Buck-lee
  • Meaning: Meadow or herdsman
  • Famous: Peter Buckley (welterweight boxer), John Buckley (sculptor) and Alan Buckley (sports commentator)

16. Burke

Burke
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Arriving in Galway, Ireland in the 12th century, the surname Burke comes from “burh” or “burg”. Richard Oge de Burc, became the Lord Justice of Ireland under King Henry II.

Common Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Burke

  • Pronunciation: Bur-k
  • Meaning: Fortification dweller/dweller of the fortress
  • Famous: John Burke (genealogist and creator of Burke’s peerage list), Johnny Burke (Canadian country singer) and Alexandra Burke (singer and winner of the X Factor)

17. Burns

Burns
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The Irish Burns were a clan of the Scottish Campbell clan and were known to be unruly. Part of the Campbells of Burnhouse, later the name evolved to Burness and then Burns due to the difficulty of pronouncing it in Gaelic. 

Celtic last names: what you need to know about the name Burns

  • Pronunciation: Burns
  • Meaning: An individual that lived next to a stream
  • Famous: Robert “Rabbie” Burns (National poet of Scotland), Thomas Pascal Burns (Irish jump jockey) and Gordon Burns (TV presenter of the Krypton Factor)

Traditional Irish Last Names

The final section of our guide tackles the most traditional Irish last names. This is where you’ll find your Lyon’s and your Kennedy’s.

Below, you’ll discover the origins behind each of the various Irish last names, how to pronounce them and Famous people with the same surname.

1. Lyons

Lyons
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There are several origins of the surname Lyons, including the Anglo-Norman family owning the Chateau of Lyons, Haute Normandie.

The name spread to England, Scotland and then to Ireland in the 14th century. It is also one of the unrelated Celtic last names from the Irish noble families of Ó Laighin and ‘Ó Liatháin which was anglicised to Lane, Lehane and Lyons. 

Common Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Lyons

  • Pronunciation: Lions
  • Meaning: A brave warrior
  • Famous Lyons: Johnny Lyons (Irish sports broadcaster), Jenna Lyons (Fashion designer for J.Crew) and Katie Lyons (actress).

2. Kennedy

Kennedy
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The Irish Kennedy line dates back to 900AD and the name comes from the Gaelic Cinneididh, which translates as grim-headed.

A sept of an unrelated Kennedy clan (originating from Scotland) developed in Ulster in the 16th century. Also spelt Kennedie and O’Kennedy. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Kennedy

  • Pronunciation: Ken-a-dy
  • Meaning: It’s believed that this names means ‘Helmet-Headed’
  • Famous Kennedys: John F. Kennedy (35th US President), Alison Louise Kennedy (Scottish novelist) and Tom Kennedy (TV game show host).

3. Casey

Casey
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Casey is a common Irish surname from the Irish Gaelic Cathasaigh/Cathaiseach. At least six different septs used this name, particularity around Cork and Dublin. Also used as a first name.

Common Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Casey

  • Pronunciation: Kay-see
  • Meaning: vigilant or watchful
  • Famous Caseys: Rob Casey (Irish rugby player), Daniel Casey (actor) and Karan Casey (Irish folk singer)

4. Cullen

Cullen
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Cullen is of Gaelic origin, derived pre the 8th century from Cuileannain or Ó Cuilinn. It is a common surname in Dublin and southeast Ireland while Cullinan or Cullinane is found exclusively on the west coast from Galway to Cork. 

Irish family names: what you need to know about the name Cullen

  • Pronunciation: Cull-in
  • Meaning: The handsome one
  • Famous Cullens: Paul Cullen (Archbishop of Dublin and first Irish Cardinal), Martin Cullen (Irish politician) and William Cullen (Scottish physician)

5. Brady

Brady
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First found in Connacht, Galway and in Co. Clare, the Brady clan was descended from a 2nd century King of Munster.

The name is regularly interchanged as O’Grady and O’Brady eg. Sir Denis O’Grady alias O’Brady of Fassaghmore who was knighted by King Henry VI. There is still a Chief of the Grady/Brady clan in Ireland. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Brady

  • Pronunciation: Bray-dee
  • Meaning: Broad or spirited
  • Famous: Thomas “Ray” Brady (Irish national footballer) and Charles E. Brady Jr (US NASA astronaut)

6. Brennan

Brennan
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From the Irish Ó Braonáin and Ó Branáin, Brennan is a prominent surname from the clan Ua Braonáin (O’Brennan). It is also used as a personal name Branán meaning “little raven”.

Common Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Brennan

  • Pronunciation: Bren-an
  • Meaning: Sorrow/Raven
  • Famous: Enya Brennan (Irish musician), Darren Brennan (Irish hurler) and Debbie Brennan (Paralympic athlete)

7. Brown

Brown
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From the Olde English “brun” meaning brown, this is one of the most common surnames in English-speaking countries. Also spelt as Browne and Braun, it is derived from the Irish De Bhrún or Ní Bhrún.

Common Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Brown

  • Pronunciation: Brow-n
  • Meaning: Brown (of hair or complexion)
  • Famous: Lancelot “Capability” Brown (18th-century landscape artist), Bobbi Brown (cosmetics founder) and Gordon Brown (former British Prime Minister)

8. Cunningham

Cunningham
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Ancestors of the Scottish Dalriadans, the Cunningham clan originated in west coast Scotland before migrating to Ireland where it is in the top 75 most common surnames. Mainly concentrated in Ulster after settling during the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.  

Celtic last names: what you need to know about the name Cunningham

  • Pronunciation: Cun-ing-ham
  • Meaning: Leader or chief
  • Famous: John Cunningham (Dublin actor and playwright in the 18th century), Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7 astronaut) and Jason Cunningham (boxer)

9. Whelan

Whelan
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Anglicised from the Irish surname, Ó Faoláin the name Whelan dates back to the 11th century dynasty of the Déisi in Co. Waterford. Other variations of the name include Felan, Phelan and Whalen. 

Common Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Whelan

  • Pronunciation: Whee-lan
  • Meaning: Wolf/Clan of the wolf
  • Famous: Bill Whelan (Riverdance composer), Dave Whelan (footballer and owner of Wigan Athletic FC) and Gary Whelan (actor)

10. Collins

Collins
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This medieval Irish surname was Ua Cuiléin, which has usually become Ó Coileáin and anglicised to Collins, Colling and Collen. It is an indigenous Irish surname, currently 20th most popular. 

Irish family names: what you need to know about the name Collins

  • Pronunciation: Col-ins
  • Meaning: A fierce young warrior
  • Famous: Phil Collins (musician with Genesis band), Lily Collins (actress) and Jim Collins (author)

11. Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald
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Originating from the 12th century Normans who settled in Gaelic Ireland, the Fitzgeralds were an aristocratic dynasty and have been peers of Ireland since the 13th century. The Gaelic name MacGearailt is very common in the Gaelic-speaking areas of West Kerry.

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Fitzgerald

  • Pronunciation: Fits-Jer-ald
  • Meaning: Son of Gerald
  • Famous: Garret FitzGerald (leader or the Irish Taoiseach), F.Scott Fitzgerald (American novelist) and Frankie Fitzgerald (actor in Eastenders)

12. Flynn

Flynn
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Flynn is the anglicised form of the Irish Ó Floinn with variations including O’Flynn, Flinn and Lynn. They are the descendants of Mac Con, High King of Ireland.

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Flynn

  • Pronunciation: Flin
  • Meaning: Ruddy or reddish (complexion)
  • Famous: Barbara Flynn (actress), Errol Flynn (American actor) and Matt Flynn (drummer)

13. Foley

Foley
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The surname Foley is from the original Gaelic form of Foghladha. The name originated in Waterford and the Foleys had a family seat in the province of Munster from early times. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Foley

  • Pronunciation: Foe-lee
  • Meaning: Plunderer
  • Famous: Scott Foley (actor and director), Charles Foley (games inventor) and Michael Foley (author)

14. Connolly

Connolly
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In the top 30 most common Irish surnames, Connolly comes from the Gaelic ó Conghaile.It was first recorded in Connacht and Munster with various different septs bearing the name. 

Irish family names: what you need to know about the name Connolly

  • Pronunciation: Con-o-lee
  • Meaning: Fierce as a hound
  • Famous: Billy Connolly (comedian), Brian Connolly (musician) and Dame Sarah Connolly DBE, CBE (soprano singer)

15. Donnelly

Donnelly
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This popular Irish surname is derived from the O’Donnelly descendants of Donnghal, a 10th century Irish family of royal descent. Most common in Co. Tyrone and west Ulster. 

Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Donnelly

  • Pronunciation: Don-a-lee
  • Meaning: Brown valour
  • Famous: Meg Donnelly (actress), Declan Donnelly (of Ant and Dec fame) and Liza Donnelly (cartoonist)

16. Donovan

Donovan
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Among the top 100 Irish surnames is Donovan, from the Gaelic Donnabhain. It is derived from the words donn Meaning “brown,” and dubhan a derivative of dubh which means “black”. First used in Limerick. 

Irish surnames: what you need to know about the name Donovan

  • Pronunciation: Don-o-van
  • Meaning: Descendant of the dark brown-haired chieftain
  • Famous: Jason Donovan (Aussie actor and singer), Donovan Leitch (Scottish singer/guitarist known simply as Donovan)

17. Regan

Regan
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Regan is a common Irish surname, particularly in Waterford where the Gaelic O’Reagan is used. The O’Regans of Meath were one of the Four Tribes of Tara. 

One of the oldest records of the name is Morice Regan (1171AD), an Irish interpreter for Diarmaid MacMurchada, King of Leinster. 

Common Irish last names: what you need to know about the name Regan

  • Pronunciation: Ray-gan
  • Meaning: Little king
  • Famous: Bridget Regan (actress), Trish Regan (talk show host) and Regan (a fictional character in Shakespeare’s King Lear)

FAQs about the most common last names in Ireland

If you’ve gotten this far, fair play to you – that was a long aul read to say the very least. The final section of our guide tackes FAQs about common and popular Irish family names.

Below, you’ll find everything from lists of Irish surnames to further insight into certain names and their origins. 

What are the most common Irish American last names?

Some of the most popular Irish American last names are Murphy, Kelly, Sullivan, Ryan Kennedy, O’Connor and Walsh.

What is the most common last name in Ireland?

According to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office in a report from several years ago, the most popular Irish family name is Murphy (no real surprise there – it’s been the most popular surname in Ireland for over 100 years!).

Irish Surnames List

  • Murphy
  • Byrne
  • Kelly
  • O’Brien
  • Ryan
  • O’Sullivan
  • O’Connor
  • Walsh
  • McCarthy
  • Doyle
  • Barry
  • Campbell
  • Murray
  • Nolan
  • Bell
  • Kenny
  • Fitzpatrick
  • Gallagher
  • Hayes
  • Smith
  • Flanagan
  • O’Dwyer
  • Graham
  • Dunne
  • Quinn
  • MacDermott
  • MacDonald
  • MacKenna
  • MacMahon
  • MacNamara
  • O’Doherty
  • O’Donnell
  • O’Farrell
  • O’Keeffe
  • O’Leary
  • O’Mahony
  • O’Neill
  • O’Reilly
  • O’Rourke
  • O’Shea
  • O’Callaghan
  • O’Carroll
  • O’Connell
  • McDonnell
  • McGrath
  • McLoughlin
  • Molony
  • Moore
  • Moran
  • Mullan
  • Healy
  • Higgins
  • Hogan
  • Hughes
  • Magee
  • Maguire
  • Maher
  • Martin
  • Johnston
  • Kane
  • Kavanagh
  • Keane
  • Sheehan
  • Stewart
  • Sweeney
  • Thompson

What is the meaning of Irish surnames starting with O’ or Mac

Strong indicators of Irish roots are found in Irish last names that have the terms “O’ ” or “Mac” as a prefix to the surname.

Mac, sometimes shortened to “Mc” means “son of” and is prevalent in both Irish and Scottish family names. Think McDonald, MacAllister and MacIvor, for example.  

O’ before a surname depicts “of” (the apostrophe indicating the missing letter f) and indicated the person was a “descendant of” or “grandson of”. Good examples of these Irish clan or family names include O’Brian, O’Sullivan, O’Connor and O’Neill. 

Incidentally, if a surname has the prefix “The” it indicated the person was the head or chief of that clan.

Have a question about Irish names?

Irish last names
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If you have a question about Irish family names, ask away in the comments section below and we’ll do our very best to help!

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

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