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Murphy, Kelly And O'Sullivan Among Most Common Irish Surnames - But What Do They Mean?

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Murphy, Kelly And O'Sullivan Among Most Common Irish Surnames - But What Do They Mean?

What's in a name? Quite a lot it turns out, if you're lucky enough to be born with an authentic Irish surname that is.

In a new piece published on the ambiguously titled website Ireland Before You Die (IB4UD to its stans), the writer Ger Leddin breaks down the Top 20 most common Irish surnames, detailing their origins and true meanings. Whilst the monikers that make the list are somewhat predictable, the stories behind some of these everyday surnames may surprise you.

Unsurprisingly, Murphy came out on top as the name most frequently encountered in Ireland. However, if holding the most common surname in Ireland has left you questioning how special you might be, fear not as the writer explains the name translated from Irish literally means 'sea warrior' proving the Murphys are not to be messed with.

He also goes on to note that Murphys hailing from Cork are especially lucky as there's reason to believe they're descendants of John Murphy (1700 - 1770) - aka the last chief of the Bards of Blarney - meaning you're likely to be blessed with the so-called gift of the gab.

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Second in command to Murphy is Kelly, a name that's apparently native to Galway and Roscommon. The name seems to pose something of a double entendre as apparently the name, derived from the Gaelic O'Ceallaigh or Ceallach, can mean both 'bright-headed' or 'troublesome' - either way you're making an impression.


Sinead O'Connor mural in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Image)
Sinead O'Connor mural in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Image)

Other surnames that leave you tipped for great things include O'Connor (meaning 'champion' or 'patron of warriors'), O'Neill ('passionate'), Quinn ('wisdom' or 'counsel') and Murray (descendant of Muireadach, more commonly known as the Virgin Mary herself).

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The meaning of some surnames however might be put you at less of an advantage than others - Doyle is said to mean 'the dark stranger' for example, whilst O'Doherty comes from the Gaelic word dochartach meaning 'deliberately obstructive and hurtful'...

If these names somehow aren't ringing a bell, the writer also helpfully chooses photos of celebrities from truly all corners of life to represent their respective clans. The chosen few include actress Demi Moore representing the mighty Moores of the world, Disney's Debbie Ryan doing the Ryans proud, comedienne Melissa McCarthy standing proud for her fellow McCarthys and, representing the Walsh tribe, none other than X Factor legend Louis Walsh!

The highlight of the piece is inarguably when we get to the surname O'Brien which is flatteringly depicted with a photo of not a glamourous actress or a globally recognised sports star but, in fact, an image of a stone gargoyle of the 10th-century High King of Ireland, none other than Brian Ború.

Featured Image Credit: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

Topics: Ireland, Cillian Murphy, Irish

Gary Grimes

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