Top Irish Surnames and their associated Counties Unlike what is obtainable in most other countries, names in Ireland are usually more common in a specific county. It’s quite easy to determine what county an Irish fellow is from just by the person’s surname. The surname in particular is a pride and distinguishing factor for the Irish. Although these names have evolved from centuries ago, their history remains vibrant and their heritage is solid. Here, we have made a list of the most popular Irish surnames and the counties they are associated with.
Murphy – Wexford
Murphy is a highly popular Irish surname. The name has also been adopted by some non-Irish folks even in the Americas. However, the name is deep in Irish history and is the most popular last name in County Wexford. Murphy was anglicized from the Gaelic equivalent Ó Murchadha which means “sea battler”.
Walsh – Mayo
This Irish surname associated with County Mayo is a name that was introduced to Ireland by the Cornish, Welsh and Cumbrian soldiers during the time of the Norman Invasion of Ireland. The name literally translates as “Welshman” but can be used to also mean “foreigner”. Perhaps, this name is common in Mayo because most of the Welshmen who came to Ireland dwelt there.
O’Neill – Tyrone
O'Neill is quite a popular surname in the whole of Ireland but it appears to be more at home with natives from Tyrone. O'Neill is the anglicized form of the Gaelic phrase "Ua Néill" which means "son of Niall," a surname that in turn means "champion."
McDermott – Roscommon
It is not uncommon to find surnames with the prefix “Mc.” Names like this are of Irish origin and the prefix comes from the Irish word “Mac” which means son. The name McDermott is no exception to this rule. It is derived from the Gaelic “Mac Diarmada” which means “son of Diarmuid”. This can be translated to mean “free man.” The Irish name became popular because of Tadgh mac Diamata, who was King of Connacht before the Norman invasion.
Power – Waterford
One might be tempted to think this name means strength, capacity, or influence. However, this Irish surname of Waterford origin means something almost opposite. The name is derived from the Norman or French origin “povre” and it means “poor” or “pauper”. Nevertheless, Waterford is regarded as one of the best places to live in Ireland today. Perhaps, Irish folks from Waterford were originally poor people?
Matthews – Louth
Matthews is a name derived from the variation of the Gaelic name “MacMahon” which means “son of Matthew”. This surname is quite common with Irish natives from County Louth.
Connolly – Monaghan
Connolly, an Irish name common to natives from County Monaghan is the anglicized form of the Gaelic “O’Conghaile” which means ‘fierce as a wolf.” If you know someone who bears the name, the person probably came from a family of old-time brave warriors.
Ryan – Limerick
In other countries, Ryan is now common enough to be used as a first name. However, the name is of Irish origin and is popular as a surname in County Limerick. On the other hand, it is one of the ten most famous surnames in Ireland. Ryan is usually a shortened form of the surname O’Ryan which was anglicized from the Gaelic surname “Ó Riain.” We are not sure what exactly Ryan means as it is thought to mean king, water, or ocean in Ireland.
Reynolds - Leitrim
Reynolds is a popular surname in Ireland and particularly in County Leitrim for a good reason. The name has transformed from a series of languages into what it is today. Initially, it came from the Old Norse name “Rognvald” which later in Gaelic became “Mac Raghnaill”. In Gaelic, the name means “son of Reynold” and means powerful ruler. Reynolds is the modernized form of “Mac Reynold". Usually, names like this end up with the "Mac" shortened to "Mc" or the prefix is removed totally and replaced with "s" as the last letter as is the case with Reynolds and Matthews.
O’Farrell – Meath
Come to County Meath and you will find O’Farrell to be the most common surname. This name is derived from the Gaelic “O’Fearghail,” a name that means “man of valor.” This very much sounds like a great name to be surnamed with.
Summary Irish surnames speak of their rich history and the vibrance of the culture. Surnames were not a thing in Ireland until the introduction of the Gaelic Clann system in the Middle Ages. The system helped to give natives a shared identity with their tribe members and surnames became one of the ways to identify a tribe.