Irish Surnames - How to Uncover Irish Heritage With Surnames Video
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Video:How to Uncover Irish Heritage With Surnames

with Joe Buggy

Irish surnames are often pretty easy to spot, but it's not always as easy to figure out the meanings of those names. Here's a video explaining the meanings of different Irish surnames.See Transcript

Transcript:How to Uncover Irish Heritage With Surnames

Hi, my name is Joe Buggy, I am a professional genealogist in New York City and today I am going to talk about how to do Irish genealogical research using surnames.

Origins of Irish Surnames

Irish surnames are some of the oldest in Europe with early examples being found in books from the 10th century. There is a tradition that Bryan Boru developed surnames in Ireland, however, in reality, they emerged spontaneously. The first stage of the process involves the word "Mac" or "Ua" being added onto hereditary names. Later, during the centuries, these developed into "Mc" and also "M'," while the "Ua" developed into the well known "O." An early example of this hereditary style of names would be the well known O'Neill name.

Examples of Irish Surnames

And throughout the centuries then, other examples with the Mac and O names developed. Here we have O Suilleabhain, which is the Irish for O Sullivan. We have Mac Fhlannchaidh, which is the Irish for Clancy. And here we have O Bogaigh, which is the Irish for my name, Buggy. These would be examples of "Mac" and "O" being added onto features that a person had, a characteristic of their personality, or even a topographical feature from the land.

Irish Surnames From Other Countries

Throughout the centuries in Ireland, various groups of people would have come from different countries. This also would have been added to the different surnames that can be found in Ireland. Two examples would be the name, Prendergast, which came with the Normans, or the name, Switzer, which came with the Palatine people in the early 18th century. Following the total defeat of the Gaelic classes in the wars of the 17th century, the modern versions of Irish surnames begin to appear.

Reasons for the Emergence of Irish Surnames

There are three main reasons for their emergence. Firstly, the anglicization of the Irish names – the previous example, O Suilleabhain became O Sullivan. The second reason would be the mistranslation of Irish names into English, and the third reason would be the correct translation of Irish names into English. So that explains the history of Irish surnames, and one of the advantages when doing genealogical research in Ireland is the fact that the names can be used to help you with your research.

Irish Surnames Associated With Specific Parts of Ireland

Irish names and surnames are often associated with particular counties in Ireland and even smaller parts within those counties. One of the best places to start is by taking the surname and entering it into some of the large genealogical record sets that are now available online. The two best places to start are the 1901 and 1911 censuses of Ireland, which can be found on the National Archives of Ireland website. The second main genealogical set of records to put your surname into is what is known as Griffith's valuation. And this can be found on the free resource AskAboutIreland, which was a collaboration between Irish libraries, archives and museums.

So that is just a little bit on how to uncover Irish heritage with surnames. For more information on genealogy, Irish heritage and surnames, visit


Read the related article:

Common Surnames of Ireland

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