Here's what the most popular surnames in Ireland actually mean 5 years ago

Here's what the most popular surnames in Ireland actually mean

Know anyone with these surnames?

A few weeks ago, Irish mothers all over the 32 counties were panicking over the Census because they were desperate to have everyone under the same roof while filling it in. Let's be honest, very few things get treated with more severity by Irish mams than those forms.


You may recall a recent article that we did regarding the most popular surnames in Ireland, as revealed via the last Census that was conducted in 2014. While the majority of you will already know the meaning of your own surname, for those of you that are still curious about what they actually mean, here's the answers.

In ascending order.

10) McCarthy

Origin and meaning: Derives from the Irish MacCarthaigh, mac meaning 'son' and carthach meaning 'loving', it translates loosely as 'a loving person'.

Most popular areas: The MacCarthaigh Septs were mainly based in Munster and were particularly prominent in Cork and Kerry.


9) Doyle


Origin and meaning: Thought to be of Norse origin and comes from the Irish Ó'Dubhghaill or dubh ghall, the "dark stranger or foreigner"

Most popular areas: The majority of descendants can be found in Leinster, mainly in Dublin.


8) O'Connor

Origin and meaning: Derives from the Irish O'Conchobhair, probably meaning 'lover of hounds', 'hound of desire’, 'wolf-lover' or 'patron of warriors'.


Most popular areas:  Originated from at least six Gaelic Septs with a number of distinct branches. The O'Conchobhair Septs were located in Kerry, Cork, Offaly, Clare and Roscommon. Descendants with this name can be found in every county but mainly in Cork and Kerry.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: Musician Sinead O'Connor performs at the Highline Ballroom on February 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

7) O'Sullivan

Origin and meaning: Various interpretations with the most popular being súildubhán meaning 'little dark-eyed one' and by association 'hawk-eyed'.


Most popular areas: The O'Sullivan Mor Sept was based in County Kerry and the O'Sullivan Beare Sept was based in County Cork. It is mainly in these two counties that the majority of descendants can still be found.

Allianz Football League Division 1, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry 1/3/2015 Kerry vs Dublin Kerry's Bryan Sheehan tackles Cian O'Sullivan of Dublin Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

6) Walsh

Origin and meaning: Means "Briton" or "foreigner". Literally a "Welshman" that was taken to Ireland by Norman settlers from Wales.


Most popular areas: Mayo and Kilkenny.


5) O'Brien

Origin and meaning: Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Briain 'descendant of Brian', a personal name that's probably based on the word bre meaning 'hill'. With this in mind, there's a transferred meaning of 'eminence' and 'exalted one'.

By association, the name could then mean "lofty" or "eminent". It can also derive from the word bran, meaning "raven", or, more likely, from Brion, a borrowing from the Celtic ancestor of Welsh which contains the element bre-, meaning "hill" or "high place".

Most popular areas: Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick.

Sean O'Brien 27/1/2015

4) Ryan

Origin and meaning: Anglicized form of the Irish Ó Riain. Ryan means "little king".

Most popular areas: Descendants usually derive from the O'Maoilriain Sept that was based in Limerick or from the O'Riain Sept that was based in Leinster.

Ryan Tubridy GIF

3) Byrne

Origin and meaning:  Variant of the Irish 'Ó'Broin', meaning descendants of/from Branach or Bran, meaning "raven".

Most popular areas: The Byrne or O'Byrne clan were originally located in Kildare but had to move further afield after the Norman invasions and are now most common in Wicklow as well as Dublin.

Gay Byrne

2) Kelly

Origin and meaning: Anglicization of the Irish surname Ó Ceallaigh, which means "descendant of Ceallach " or it can also mean warrior or fighter. The personal name Ceallach has been thought to mean "white-headed", but the current understanding is that the name means "frequenting churches".

Most popular areas: Galway, Meath, Wicklow, Antrim and Sligo.

Alan Kelly

1) Murphy

Origin and meaning: Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Murchadha ‘descendant of Murchadh’, a personal name composed of the elements muir ‘sea’ and cath ‘battle’, i.e. ‘sea-warrior’.

Most popular areas: Derives from a number of native Gaelic O'Murchadha Septs. The main Septs were located in Cork, Wexford, Carlow and Armagh but the majority of descendants now hail from Cork.