Sloinnte Gaelacha in Ultaibh

This article does not attempt to gather indiscriminately everything that has ever been written about Gaelic surnames, reliable or unreliable; nor is it an attempt to produce prescriptive lists of Gaelic forms of surnames without regard to historical authenticity. There is no need to add to the existing examples of either. Rather, within the set limits, we try to assemble credible evidence and thus to help towards identifying the real historical Gaelic forms. I do not claim familiarity with the written Gaelic genealogies from the middle ages, dealing with what names existed in that period and what their origins were. I am concerned rather to look at how Gaelic surnames (regardless of their earlier history) became transformed into English forms during the language shift since around 1600.

The main part of this page contains an (incomplete) alphabetic list of Gaelic surnames found in Ulster, each with various anglicized forms. The content is largely based on the writings of such reliable scholars as Séamus Ó Ceallaigh (SÓC), Seaghán Ó Annáin (SÓhA), Seaghán 'ac a' Bháird, Éamonn Ó Tuathail (EÓT), who drew on first-hand oral sources and on public records; and I have added observations of my own from the same kinds of sources, while trying to avoid speculation.  There is no difficulty in compiling a list of this kind; the difficulty lies in judging what is plausible to admit.  So, in the present state of our knowledge, the list is certain to contain errors, and I would be grateful for notification of these, as well as additional information on the traditional location of surnames, and unusual anglicizations.  Of course, a surname based on a common forename can arise independently in different places, eg. Mac Eochaidh or Mac Con Uladh; and similarly, common surnames such as Ó Ceallaigh need not be traceable to a single family.

The list includes local phonetic versions of some names, in O'Growney phonetics, taken mainly from the work of Ó hAnnáin or Ó Ceallaigh.  For some additional comments on their use of the O'Growney system see here.  Occasionally, phonetic versions by others and in other systems are given — hopefully these do not require further explication.

Ó Tuathail, The surnames of the parish of Upper Creggan (South Armagh) in Béaloideas 3 (1932) 401–8, gives Ó hAnnáin's phonetic versions of many surnames.  That data is presented in full here.  One of Ó Tuathail's main conclusions is that the Mac or Ó element is weakened after a (male) forename, and for this reason, in giving Ó hAnnáin's phonetic forms from this paper, we have indicated where the surname is "not preceded by a forename" in Ó hAnnáin's written form; otherwise it may be assumed to be so preceded.  The presence of this annotation means only that no forename was actually written or transcribed; it would be unsafe to assume, in every case so annotated, that the phonetically-transcribed form was not preceded orally by a forename.

In passing, we may note other evidence for the above-mentioned lenition. Neilson's An Introduction to the Irish Language (1808) has three examples on page 102: Seamus Mhac Seain, Uilliam mhac Neill and Brian mhac a Bhaird. A fuller list of Neilson's forms is given here.

Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh quotes Omeath forms sean-Phroinnsias Mhac Eachmharcaigh and Aodaidh Mhac Eachmharcaigh in An tUltach 3:3 p 7, 4:10 p 6, 8:3 p 7, 8:9 p 3. On an earlier occasion he writes Aodaidh Mhac Chearcaigh (An tUltach 2:7 p 3), which strongly suggests the pronunciation.

The regular weakening of the prefix of a surname after a forename (Mac > Mhac or 'ac; Ó > a) is most important to appreciate.  However, surnames will be written here without such weakening, where they are being used without a forename.  But the weakening should not be forgotten when using a forename with the surname.  This weakening can cause Mac and Ó to fall together in speech, and in some cases is presumably the reason why names are found written with either prefix indiscriminately (Mac/Ó Catháin, ?Mac/Ó Cathmhaoil, Mac/Ó Gránna, Mac/Ó Gormáin, etc.); it is certainly the reason in the case of Mac/Ó Grianna (where Mac is the historically correct form), but in the important cases of Mac/Ó Domhnaill and Mac/Ó Néill, both forms are historically correct — the Mac forms came from Scotland and are not directly related to the Ó forms. However doublets are found even where the forms would not entirely fall together phonetically, as in Mac/Ó Brádaigh, Mac/Ó Broin, Mac/Ó Díomasaigh, Mac/Ó Donghaile, Mac/Ó Donnchadha, Mac/Ó Labhraidh, Mac/Ó Labhradha, Mac/Ó Líonacháin, Mac/Ó Murchaidh, Mac/Ó Muireadhaigh, Mac/Ó Rabhartaigh, Mac/Ó T(h)oirdhealbhaigh; Mac/Óh Aodha, Mac/Óh Eochadha, Mac/Óh Eochaidh, Mac/Óh Uiginn.

One other general property of Ulster surnames may be mentioned.  It is not the traditional practice in Ulster to use Mhic and in forming the surnames of married females.  As in Gaelic Scotland, Nic and are used. In other words, "Mary Ward" is "Máire Nic a' Bháird", whether she is Miss or Mrs. (To indicate the marital status explicitly, Mrs (Mary) Ward is "(Máire) Bean Mhic a' Bháird" and Miss (Mary) Ward is "(Máire) Nighean Mhic a' Bháird".) For evidence we can point to the dedication to married couples of the church windows in Gort a' Choirce — these are listed in Seán Ó Gallchóir (eag.), Teach Pobail Chríost Rí, Gort a' Choirce 1953–2003, 2003, pp 140–4; a typical example is "Seosamh agus Brighid Nic Giolla Chearr". Or to several Gaelic gravestones in Mevagh cemetery which are misinterpreted if "Ní Dhochartaigh" or "Nic Giolla Bhríde" are taken to be maiden surnames. There are similar examples in Annagry cemetery, eg. the very first stone in that listing has "Máire Nic Pháidín" who was née Bell. There are examples too in the schools folklore collection from Rann na Fearsaide, as found in Rann na Feirsde, Seanchas ár Sinsear by Conall Ó Grianna (1998), eg. "Róise Ní Ghallchobhair" (p 26) was née Ní Dhomhnaill; "Máire Ní Ghrianna" (p 357) was also née Ní Dhomhnaill. Or again, take a typical 1911 census form from the townland of Mín na Leice, where the married daughter of the Mac Giolla Easpaig family is named as "Nuala Ní Dhubhgain". The lists of Teilionn Gaelic speakers derived (mostly) from Seán Ó hEochaidh are also worth examination: in Wagner's Gaedhilge Theilinn, pp xiii–xiv, married females include Máire, bean Uí Cheallaigh (3); Caitlín, bean Uí Eachaidh (11b); and Bean Uí Dhomhnaill (13); but also Máire Ní Eachaidh (7, née Nic Sheagháin); Máire Ní Dhonnagáin (8, née Nic Lochlainn). Of the others, Máire Ní Bheirn (2) was unmarried, and I do not know the marital status of Ciotaí Ní Dhuibhir (10). It is likely that Wagner's speaker 3 is the same as Máire Ní Cheallaigh [M. Shéamuis] on p viii of Ó hEochaidh's Sean-chainnt Theilinn. The most extensive list is given by Uí Bheirn, Cnuasach Focal as Teileann pp v–vii; all the female names have Ní (18 examples) or Nic (3 examples), with the interesting exception of "Cáit Iníon tSeáin (marbh 1940)", where we may surmise the original may have had "Nighean". Anyone desirous of further evidence can check the female surnames in Tobar na Gaedhilge and whether their fictitious bearers were single or married!

I now see from a paper by Liam Mac Mathúna that the same system prevails in Conamara (see his section 5.1.2.2). So it seems that in this situation, as in so many others, what is presented to learners of Irish is at variance with the authentic practice of the greater part of native-spoken Gaelic.

We sometimes find that a Gaelic surname is reduced or shortened, eg. Mac an Déanaigh to Mac an Éanaigh, or Mac Giolla Fhinnéin to Mac Shlinnéin.   Such shortened forms may be the basis for bizarre mis-translations (respectively: Bird and Shoulder).  Some of the names presented in the first column here may yet turn out to be reduced forms of names still to be added. Another likely example of the type is suggested by the fact, communicated to me by Gerry Oates, that Sands and Ginniff were interchangeable in Co Armagh throughout the 18th century — Mac Condhuibh is a possible original, often anglicised to MacAniff or McAnuff, but here reinterpreted as Mac Gainimhe. Yet another example is Ó Maolmhoichéirghe, generally anglicised as Ear(d)ley; but in South Ulster it may be reinterpreted as Ó Machaire and anglicised as Field(s) or Park(es)(Oates, Seanchas Ard Mhacha 2013 pp 246–50). And yet another case could be Mag Fhearadhaigh, reinterpreted as Mac Geairrfhiadh and then (mis)translated Hare.

Mac Condhuibh/Mac Gainimhe also provides us with an example of ambiguity in the placement of stress, transmitted to the anglicised forms also. In this case, we have opted to regard the differently stressed names as variants of a common original, as also with Mac Aonghais, giving McGuinness etc. or McCreesh etc. — while in others we have regarded them as separate names — Mac Conmhaigh vs Mac Con Midhe. The resolution of this conundrum is far from clear.

Other sources drawn on include the following:
Livingstone, Peadar: "Roinnt de shloinnte Fhearnmhaí", An tUltach 60:4 (4/1983) 14–16 (leagan Gaedhilge le P Ó Casaide)

One of the interesting things about anglicizations of Gaelic names, whether personal names or place-names, is that they are often a more reliable guide to the former local Gaelic pronounciation than Irish forms introduced in the course of the language revival and given a non-local pronunciation. If the anglicised forms of surnames can be located to specific areas, they may — in conjunction with place-names, and with the variable pronunciation of personal names — provide evidence for the nature of geographical variation in the erstwhile spoken Gaelic of East Ulster.

Tá rud le rádh ag Seán Mac Maoláin fá na sloinnte i dTír Chonaill i measc a bhfuil aige annseo.

If you use this page to locate the Gaelic sources of a particular anglicization, remember that not all possible Gaelic names are included here — far from it.

This page may also contain assorted notes on Ulster Gaelic surnames.

General and specific reading

MacLysaght, Edward: The surnames of Ireland (1957)
Bell, Robert: The book of Ulster surnames (1988)
Turner, Brian: various works
Dillon, Charlie: Sloinnte / surnames
Smyth, William J: Atlas of Irish Names

Name (and Grouping) Anglicizations

A
Ó hAdhmaill Hamill (N Armagh, E Tyrone)
Mac Aedhghil ? McCail, McQuail, Quail, ?MacHale, ?Coyle
Pron. ma-Kae′-ĭl (S Armagh, SÓhA, An tUltach 6:1:3)
Ó hAgáin
(Cineál Eoghain)
Haggan (Derry, Portadown)
O'Hagan (Newry)
Ó hAghartaigh Hearty (S Armagh)
Mac Ailín / Mac Cailín
(Gallóglaigh)
Campbell (Donegal)
Switching between anglicisations Campbell and McCallion has been noted in Termonamongan (W Tyrone)
Mac Ainmhire Convery (S Derry)
Mac Alasdair McAlister (S Derry, elsewhere)
Ó hAlpainn Halfpenny (S Armagh)
Pron. ă-hăl′-păan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Anna McCann (N Armagh, S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-KaN′-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Possibly from earlier Mac Cana.
McGann, McGahan (S Armagh, N Louth) — may not be same as McCann
Ó hAnnluain
(Oirghialla)
Hanlon, O'Hanlon (Armagh, N Louth)
Mac Annrais Henderson, ?? McCambridge (this perhaps from Mac Ambróis)
Ó hAnrachtaigh Hanratty (Farney)
Mac Aodha McKay (rhymes with "day", Newry)
? McCoy (S Armagh)
McHugh (Donegal)
Hughes (Armagh, Down, Monaghan, Tyrone)
Ó hAodha Hughes (S Armagh)
Pron. ă höo′-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó hAnnáin gives nă mah′-ee öo′-γă for "The Hugheses" (? for "Maca Uí Aodha) and tin′-ee öo′-γă for the disease wildfire.
Mac Aodhagáin Keegan (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ă-Köo′-Găan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Aoidh McKay (rhymes with "die", Randalstown)
Magee, McGee (widespread, inc Donegal; Islandmagee), McKey (mid-Down), McKee
McHugh (Donegal), Keyes (Donegal)
Hughes (Armagh, Down, Monaghan, Tyrone)
Mac Aonghais
(Craobh Ruadh)
(1) (initial stress) McGuinness, Guinness, McInnes, Magennis, Ennis
(2) (final stress)
McNiece (N Armagh)
McCreesh (S Armagh)
Pron. wa-Kröosh′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
cf Ó hAonghusa > Hennessy
Ó hArbhasaigh Harvassey > Harvey (Crossmaglen)
Mac Ardghail
(Oirghialla)
McArdle (Monaghan, N Louth, S Armagh)
Pron. Klan aar′-dhăl for "The McArdles" (S Armagh, SÓhA)
From Ardghal Mór 'ac Mathghamhna, died 1416.
Mac Artáin
(Craobh Ruadh)
McCartan (Down)

B
Mac a' Bháird
(Cineál Chonaill)
Ward, McAward (Donegal)
Livingstone says they were originally from Galway; they spread from Donegal to Fermanagh and Monaghan.
Ó Baoighill
(Cineál Chonaill, Clann Cionfaolaidh)
Boyle (W Donegal, S Donegal)
Ó Baoighillte Boyle (Omeath)
Ó Beaglaoich Begley (S Armagh)
Pron. ă beG′-ă-lĕe; female form, nee veG′-ă-lĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Bheatha McVeigh
Pron. (without preceding forename) maK-veh′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Pron. "McVaa" in North Antrim (Morgan, By the Moyle Shore, vol 1, p 69)
Ó Beirn O'Byrne (SW Donegal)
Ó Bibinigh Dobbin (Omeath)
Mac Bionaid Bennett (S Armagh)
Pron. ă bin′-ĭd (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Bhloscaidh McCloskey (Dungiven)
Ó Bóidín Boden (S Armagh)
Pron. ă bau′-dăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Brádaigh Brady (Monaghan)
Ó Bradáin Salmon (S Armagh)
Pron. ă bradh′-ăan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Braonáin Brennan (Finn valley)
Together with Scanlons, came from midlands — Kilkenny and Meath are mentioned — after Scariffhollis (Dom 'ac Fhlionn).
Breathnach Walsh (Donegal, S Derry, N Tyrone)
Ó Breisleáin Breslin (Donegal)
Mac Broin McBrinn
Ó Broin Burns, Byrne (S Armagh)
Pron. ă brin′ or (without preceding forename) ō-brin′ or (most commonly) bran′-ăh (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Brolcháin Brollaghan, ?Brolly
Bradley (S Derry, N Tyrone, elsewhere)
Brodie (SW Scotland)
Bhulsan Wilson (S Armagh) (thus Gaelicised)
Pron. (without preceding forename) wŭl-săn-ă or ăn wŭl′-săn-ăh (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Buithe Boyce (Donegal)

C
Note that any name beginning with Ca in Irish is apt to have the broad k corrupted to slender in anglicized pronunciations.  Similarly for Ga.
Mac Cába
(Gallóglaigh, associated with Maguires and McMahons)
McCabe (Monaghan, Cavan, S Armagh)
Pron. i-dheeh′ vee Chaa′-bă for "in McCabe's" (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Livingstone links their Scottish origins to the McLeods.
Ó Cairealláin
(Clann Diarmada)
Carlin, Kerlin, Carolan, Carland (N Tyrone)
Ó Caiseadaigh Cassidy (S Derry)
Ó Ceallaigh writes Ó Caiseadaigh for Ballinascreen,
Michael J Murphy corroborates by writing "Keshidy" in Glenelly (CBÉ MS1724 p82).
Ó Canannáin
(Cineál Chonaill, kindred to the O'Donnells)
Cannon (Donegal)
Ó Caoilte Kielty = Small (Kildress, Tyrone) (PRONI T/550/31/419)
Kielt (Co Derry)
Small (Omeath)
Ó Caonáin ?? Keenan (S Armagh, Louth)
Pron. ă Kee′-năan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Caornáin Rowans (S Derry)
Ó Casaide Cassidy (Fermanagh, Monaghan, elsewhere)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ō Kes′-ă-dă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Catháin O'Kane (Derry, Omeath)
The monosyllabicity and vowel sound of the anglicization are probably true to the local Gaelic.
Re the vowel, Fr Patrick Hegarty writes "Chaoin" in list of Colonsay converts in 1624
(ref. Kevin Byrne, Colkitto! — A celebration of Clan Donald of Colonsay (1570-1647), an appendix culled from Vatican records by Catholdus Giblin)
Ó Cathaláin
(Oirghialla)
Callan (Farney, N Louth)
Ó Cathasaigh Casey (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ō Kaa′-see (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Cathmhaoil Campbell (Tyrone etc)
McCaul, McCawell (Down)
Mac Cealbhaigh McKelvey (Donegal)
? McGilloway
Ó Ceallacháin Callaghan (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ă kaL′-ă-hăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Ceallaigh O'Kelly, Kelly (S Derry, Farney, and many other places)
Ó Cearbhaill
(Oirghialla)
Carroll (Monaghan)
Ó Ceithearnaigh Kearney (S Armagh)
Pron. wō-kaer′-Nee, (female form) nee h-yaer′-Nee (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Cianaigh Keeney (Donegal)
Ó Cianáin Keenan (Fermanagh, Tyrone)
Kinnane (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ă kin′-ăan (S Armagh, SÓhA; so pronounced also in Farney, EÓT)
Mac Cionnaith McKenna (N Monaghan; S Armagh; S Tyrone; to S Derry from Monaghan in 17thC)
Pron. wah-keN′-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Cléireacháin Pron. Ó Cléirighean by Eoin Ó Cianáin of the Clarkes of Fallagh (Tyrone), although Ó Tuathail writes Ó Cléirigh and takes "ionn" to be a separate word.
Spellings Clerin and Cleri(o)n found in Tithe Applotment (1830) for Fallagh.
Clerion (Monaghan)
Clerkin (Ballinascreen, Monaghan, Cavan)
Clarke is the prevalent anglicisation in many areas.
Ó Coinneacháin Kinahan, Counihan, Cunningham (S Armagh, SÓhA, An tUltach 6:2:4)
See also Mac Cuinneagáin
Mac Coirthe ??? Carr, Kerr (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-Kŭr′-hă or mah-Kir′-hă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
McCorry, Carr, Corr, pron. ma-Kir′-hă (S Armagh, SÓhA, An tUltach 5:5:3)
Mac Colla Cahill (Farney)
Mac Comhdháin ??? Cowan (S Armagh)
Pron. wah-Koo′-ăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Conacháin Conaghan (Donegal)
Mac Con Allaidh
(Cineál Moén)
McAnally, McNally (N Tyrone), pron. (m)akɔn′•aLU from Ó Ceallaigh JRSAI LXXXI 39
but see also Mac Con Uladh
Ó Ceallaigh says McNally in Tyrone has no connection with the Mayo name Mac an Fhailghigh
Mac Con Deacair Hardy (Omeath)
Pron. Mac 'on Deacair (Donn Piatt, An tUltach 46:6:7)
Mac Condhuibh (final stress) McAniffe, McAnuff
(?initial stress) Cunniff, Ginniff
(Mac Gainimhe) Sands (Co Armagh, 1791)
Ó Conghalaigh Connelly (Monaghan, elsewhere)
Pron. ă Kon′-ă-lee (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Con Mhaoil McConwel > McConville (N Armagh)
Mac Con Midhe McNamee (W Tyrone)
Mac Conmhaigh McConomy > Conway (N Tyrone). Probably from Cú Mhaigh.
?McCooey (S Armagh), but this is also similar to McCoy
Mac Conshnámha ? (Mac Giolla an Átha ?, Mac an Átha) Forde (Leitrim)
Mac Conuisce Watters (S Armagh)
Mac Con Uladh McAnulla (N Tyrone) ??> McCullagh
McAnella, McNellis (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mah′-ăn-ul′-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Connelly (Farney), from Cú Uladh 'ac Mathghamhna, fl. 1375, according to Livingstone
cf Mac an Ultaigh
McAnally, McNally (S Antrim, N Down, Monaghan), according to Ó Ceallaigh, JRSAI LXXXI 39
cf Mac Con Allaidh
Ó Corragáin Corrigan (Fermanagh, Monaghan, elsewhere)
Ó Creag Craig (Donegal)
Mac Criostail McCrystal (Tyrone)
Mac Cuarta McCourt (Omeath)
Mac Cuileannáin Cullinane
Hollywood (N Tyrone, S Armagh)
Hollywoods in Badoney formerly "Cul-yin" (RBÉ MS1782.209)
Ó Cuinn
(Cineál Eoghain)
O'Quinn, Quinn (Armagh, Tyrone)
Pron. Klin (or Klan) wee CHŭn for "The Quinns" (Clann Uí Chuinn) (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Cuinneagáin Cunningham (S Armagh, Monaghan)
Pron. ă Kŭn′-ă-Găan or Kŭn′-ă-hăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
See also Ó Coinneacháin
Mac Cuirc ?? McGurk (S Armagh)
Pron. wa-Gŭrk′ also Klin vee GHwirk′ for "The McGurks" (S Armagh, SÓhA)

D
Mac Daibhéid (1) McDevitt
(2) McDaid (from interchangable shortened form Mac Daeid)
(3) (with lenition)McKevitt (S Armagh, N Louth), McCavitt (Down)
Ó Dálaigh Daly (Farney)
Livingstone says they originated in Westmeath.
Mac an Déanaigh McEneany (Farney, S Armagh)
Pron. wah′-ă-nae′-nĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Livingstone derives it from a McMahon, Dean of Clones, who died in 1365.
(Mac an Éanaigh) Bird, Birdy
Ó Dochartaigh
(Cineál Chonaill)
O'Doherty, Doherty (Inishowen)
Ó Doibhlin
(Cineál Eoghain)
Devlin
Ó Doighre ?? Deery (S Armagh)
Pron. ă dhöo′-ree (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Dolacháin Dullaghan (S Derry)
Mac Domhnaill
(Clann Domhnaill; some as gallóglaigh in E Tyrone)
(1) McDonnell, McDonald (Antrim, elsewhere)
(2) (with lenition) Mac Dhomhnaill: McConnell, McGonnell (Portadown)
Pron. wa-Kōn′-năl (S Armagh, SÓhA); so pronounced also in Munterloney (EÓT)
Ó Domhnaill
(Cineál Chonaill)
O'Donnell (Donegal)
Mac Donghaile Dudley (Omeath)
Madowell
Pron. Ma-doo′alĕ (doo very nasal) (Omeath, SÓC)
Ó Donghaile
(Cineál Eoghain)
Donnelly (Tyrone, elsewhere)
Pron. ă dhon′-ă-la, nee DHon′-ă-lă [?recte nee GHon′-ă-lă] (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Donnchadha Donaghy (S Armagh)
Pron. wah-Kŭn′-ă-CHoo,  nee GHŭn′-ă-CHoo (S Armagh, SÓhA) — note lenition of male form (= McConaghy) and Ó-like female form
Elsewhere in Ireland, we have Ó Donnchadha becoming Donoghue (Munster), and Mac Donnchadha becoming McDonagh (Connacht).
Mac Donnchaidh (1) Donaghy, Dunphy
(2) (with lenition) Mac Dhonnchaidh: McConaghy; in Scotland, Robertson.
Ó Doraidhean Dorrian (Donegal)
Mac Dhubháin Historically associated with Tír Éanna (Donegal), see Donegal Annual (2014).
Has been suggested as the original form of the Northern Mac Gabhann (q.v.)
Ó Dubhrais Doris (E Tyrone)
Ó Dubhthaigh
(Craobh Ruadh)
Duffy
Dooey (Antrim; so pronounced too in Donegal, Tyrone, even though written Duffy)
See Mac Dúithche
Ó Duibhín
(Cineál Moén)
Diven, Devine (N Tyrone, S Derry)
Ó Duide Duddy (Derry)
Ó Duinnín Dunnion (S Donegal)
Mac Duinnshléibhe
(Craobh Ruadh)
Dunleavy, Leavy
(with lenition) Mac Dhuinnshléibhe: McAleavy (Armagh, Down)
Leevison (W Tyrone), Levison (Portadown)
Livingstone (SW Scotland)
Ultach (Donegal), cf Mac an Ultaigh
Ó Duirnín Durnin, Durning (Donegal)
Durnan (S Armagh)
Pron. ă dhŭr′-nĭn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Dúithche Duffy (S Armagh)
Pron. wah-dhooh′-yĕ (S Armagh, SÓhA), ă dúiche (Farney, EÓT)

E
Ó hEachain / Ó hEochaidhéin Haughian (N Down, S Antrim)
(Ó hEachain) Haughan, Hawkins (Antrim)
Mac Eachmharcaigh McCafferky, McCafferty (Donegal)
? McGourky, McGourty (Fermanagh)
? McCarthy (Omeath, ?? Kilcoo)
Pronounced in Donegal Irish as if "Mac Amharcaigh"
Mac Eairc McGurk (Tyrone, Derry)
Mac Eochadha McGeough (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-gau′-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
?? McHugh (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-kōh (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó hEochadha Hoy, Hoey (N Louth, S Armagh)
Pron. A hă′-hoo (second h very light) (Omeath, SÓC)
Mac Eochaidh McCaughey, McGaughey, Hackett
Ó hEochaidh Haughey (Down, Armagh, Tyrone, S Donegal)
Mac Eoghain McKeown (S Armagh)
Pron. wa-kaun′, (female form) nee kaun′, Klin vĭ-kaun′ for "The McKeowns" (S Armagh, SÓhA)
McGeown (N Armagh)
McGuone (Tyrone)
Seaghán Ó hAnnáin writes (An tUltach 3/1928, p7): Mac Eoghain .i. McKeown (pron. mă-kaun′) — níl sloinne ar bith ins an Ghaedhealtacht d'ár scríobhadh Mac Eoin air. Do cuireadh mar Ghaedhlig é ar Johnson...

F
Mac Fhearadhaigh McGarry, Megarry
McCarry (Antrim)
Possibly mistranslated to Hare.
Compare Mac a' Rí.
Mac Fhearchair Carragher (S Armagh, Monaghan)
Mac Fheidhlimidh McPhilemy (W Tyrone)
Mac Fhibín McKibben (Down)
Mac Fhilip McKillop (Antrim)
Mac Fhinn Maginn (S Armagh, S Down)
Pron. wah-gin′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Fionáin ?? Fanning (S Armagh)
Pron. ă fwin′-ăn or ă fŭn′-ĭn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Fhionnachtaigh McGennity, McGinnity (S Armagh, Fermanagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mah-gin′-ăad (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Fionnagáin Finnegan (Farney)
Livingstone says they came to Farney from Cavan.
Mac Fhionnlaoich McGinley (Donegal)
McKinley (Antrim)
Ó Frighil
(Cineál Chonaill)
O'Friel (Donegal)

G
Mac Gabhann Goan [o:], McGowan [o:], [au], ?McCone, ?Coan (Ballyshannon)
Smith (Cavan, Monaghan)
In the North, the main syllable of Mac Gabhann is pronounced [o:].
For the pronounciation [au], see also under Mac Mathghamhna.
There is some historical evidence to suggest Mac Dhubháin (q.v.) as an earlier form for some (at least) of this group.
Mac Gabhráin McGoran [o:] (Down)
cf Mac Shamhráin
Ó Gallchobhair
(Cineál Chonaill)
Gallagher
Mac a' Ghallóglaigh
(Gallóglaigh, is dóiche!)
Gallogly (Cavan)
Ingoldsby
Mac Gartnáin
(Norman)
Gartlan (S Armagh, Farney)
Pron. ă Garth′-lăn-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Garland
Originally Gernon, according to Livingstone.
Mac Géibheannaigh ??? McGeeney (S Armagh)
Pron. wah-gee′-nee (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Geimhinn Given (S Donegal)
Consider also 'ac Dhuibhín as source
Mac Giolla Magill (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-gil′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
A final slender ll is reminiscent of gille in Scottish Gaelic surnames, but in any case we often find the forms gilla or gille for giolla in Ulster Gaelic manuscripts.
(Mac Coiligh) Cox
Compare also Mac a' Ghoill.
Mac Giolla Ádhaimh (Mac Clamha, Mac Láimh) McClave, Hand
Mac Giolla Ádhmhair Lucky (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mal-aa′-wŭr (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Family tradition among the Luckies of Drummuckavall was that the surname derived from Irish sona. The 1766 census of Creggan has a Bryan Sonna resident in the townland, but no Luckies. In 1828 (tithe applotment) there are Luckies but no Sonnas. Murray, History of the Parish of Creggan in the 17th and 18th Centuries JCLAS 8.2 (1934): "A very interesting name is Brian Sonna of Drummackewall — represented today by numerous families who call themselves Lucky."
Mac Giolla Bhrighde McBride (W Donegal)
(Mha'l Bhrighde) McBride, Kilbride (S Armagh, Monaghan)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mal-vree′-dă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Giolla Bhláin Blaney (N Armagh) — from St Blane
Mac Giolla Bhuidhe McGilvoy > McEvoy (Down, S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) maK-ĭl-wĕe or mah′-il-wee′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
McElwee (Donegal), possibly also McKelvey
Mac Giolla Cheara McElhar, McIlhar
Carr, Kerr (Donegal)
Mac Giolla Chiaráin McElheran (Antrim)
McElherron (Armagh)
Kearney (Cooley)
Mac Giolla Chomhghain McElhone > Coyle (Tyrone)
Mac Giolla Domhnaigh McEldowney, Downey
Mac Giolla Dhuibh McIlduff (Tyrone)
('ailte Dhuibh) Black (Rathlin)
Mac Giolla Eáin McErlean (Derry)
Pron. ac’il-aan (Derry, SÓC) — cf Scottish pron. of Mac Gill-Eathain
Mac Giolla Eoin Maglone (Tyrone, S Derry)
cf Ó Luain, Mac Giolla Uain, Mac Leocháin.
Mac Giolla Easbuig Gillespie (Donegal)
Mac Giolla Fhinnéin McLennan
McGlennon (E Down)
McAleenan (S Down)
(Mac Shlinneáin) Shoulder (S Armagh)
Pron. waK-lin′-ăan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Giolla Ghunna McElgunn, Gunne
Pron. (Kaa′ĕl bwee′) wal-γun′-ĭv or mal-γun′-ĭv (Farney, SÓhA, Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge 14:177 810)
Mac Giolla Íosa Gilleece (Fermanagh)
McAleese
Mac Giolla Mháirtín Martin (Farney)
Mac Giolla Mhura Gilmore (Down, S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-gil′-mŭr (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Ceallaigh says this name refers to St Mura of Fahan.
?> Murray (Down)
Morrison (Rathlin, Scotland)
Mac 'Ille Mhoire is often used by Morrisons in Lewis. In Rathlin, a similar form is used (though not very distinct) by Alec Morrison on tape T1080 of the School of Scottish Studies. The written form of Morrison used in Sgéaltan X Rachreann is Mac Giolla Mhuire.
Mac Giolla Phádraig McIlfatrick
Patterson (Mull)
Mac Giolla Pheadair Kilfedder
Mac Giolla Riabhaigh McAreavey, Reavy (N Armagh)
Mac Giolla Ruaidh McElroy (Fermanagh, S Armagh, elsewhere)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mah-ĭl-roo′-ei (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Gilroy (Leitrim, stressed on second syllable), Kilroy
Mac Giolla Uain McCloone, McLoone (Donegal)
McAloon (Donegal, Fermanagh)
(Mac a' Luain) Mundy (South Donegal)
See also Ó Luain, Mac Giolla Eoin.
Mac Giolla Uidhir McAleer (N Tyrone)
Mac a' Ghirr McGirr, Short
Mac Glaisín Green (Glenvar)
Mac Gofhraidh McGorry (Tyrone, Derry)
Mac a' Ghoill McGuill (S Armagh, N Louth)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-Gŭl′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
McGill (S Donegal)
The McGills in the Ardara area are supposed to have come from Co Antrim after Scariffhollis (Béaloideas 8 p109).
Compare also Mac Giolla.
Mac Gormáin Gorman (Monaghan)
Ó Gormleadhaigh
(Cineál Moén)
Gormley, ?Grimley
Grimes, Graham (Tyrone)
Mac Gránna McGrann, McGrane (N Armagh)
Grant (S Armagh, S Down)
Pron. wah-Graa′-nă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Gránna Grant (Inishowen)
Gréamach Graham (thus Gaelicised), Grimes (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) grae′-mă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Grianra McGrenera, McGrenery (Termon, Donegal)
(Mac Grianna) Greene (NW Donegal)

I
Ó hInneirghe O'Henry, Henry (S Derry)
Mac Íomhair McKeever (Mid Armagh)
McIvor (Tyrone)
Ó hIomna Hanimnagh, Ansbro, Hanbury, Hanmore (S Armagh)
Elmore (Omeath)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ō hin′-ĭm-nah′ (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Spelled Ó hAinmneach in Sgéalaidhe Óirghiall.
Ó hÍr O'Hare (Down, Armagh)
Pron. mah-ă-yeer (? for "Maca Uí Ír") cf under Ó hAodha (S Armagh, SÓhA)
ă heer (Omeath, EÓT)
The Irish spelling (í) and its Oriel pronunciations (ee) are at odds with the long open e in O'Hare. O'Growney appears to have no symbol for this sound but uses a close e (ae) where open e would be expected (eg. féar).

L
Mac Labhraidh (1) (with abh > av) Lavery
(2) (with abh > o:) McClorey
(3) ? Lowry [au]
cf: Labhrás > Lowrass in Oriel, Lavrass in Derry
RBÉ MS1470.270: the McCloreys of Burren (?Carrickmacstay) came from "Knock below Rathfriland"
Mac Laithbhheartaigh McClafferty (Donegal)
McLaverty (Antrim)
Ó Laithbheartaigh O'Lafferty, Laverty (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ō Lif′-ăr-thĕeh (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Leocháin ??? Malone (S Armagh)
Pron. nee lōh′-ăn (female form) (S Armagh, SÓhA); also Klin′ vĭ-klō′-hăn for "The Malones" — note Ó-like female form.
Possibly a reduced form of Mac Giolla Eoin, which see.
Compare also possibly McLogan.
Mac Leóid McGlade (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-glae′-ăad (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Líonacháin Lenaghan (S Armagh)
Leenaghan, Linehan, Lenihan
Pron. (without preceding forename) ă lee′-nă-hăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Compare McClenaghan.
Mac Lochlainn
(Cineál Eoghain)
McLoughlin (Inishowen)
McLaughlin
Ó Longaigh O'Loy
Ó Lorcáin Larkin (Armagh, N Louth)
Ó Luachráin Loughran (Tyrone, Armagh)
Ó Luain Lambe (S Armagh, N Louth)
Pron. ă Loo′-ăn or wō loo′-ăn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Lamph (N Armagh)
Munday
May be reduced form of Mac Giolla Uain. cf also Mac Giolla Eoin.
Luimneach Limna (Omeath)

M
Mac Maghnuis McManus (Fermanagh)
Ó Maolagáin Mulligan (Monaghan, S Armagh, elsewhere)
Pron. ă mwil′-ă-Găan, (female form) nee wil′-ă-Găan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Maoláin Mullan, Mullen, Mullin (S Derry)
Ó Maolcholm Mulholland
Pron. "mu-HOLL-am" in the Portadown area.
Pron. "Mu-hol-om/um" in ?Burren area of County Down (RBÉ MS1483.226)
Ó Maolchraoibhe Mulgrew (Donegal)
Rice (S Armagh, Down)
Ó Maolfhabhail Lawel > Lavelle (S Armagh)
See also Mac Giolla Ádhmhair.
Ó Maolmhaodhog Logue (Donegal, Derry)
Ó Maolmhoichéirghe Early, Eardley (Breifne, S Armagh)
Pron. ă mōh′-ăr-ĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
(Ó Machaire) Field(s) (Armagh), Park(es) (Monaghan)
Ó Maolmhuaidh Molloy (Donegal)
Loy (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ō Lau′-ĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Compare McCloy ?
Mac Mathghamhna
(Oirghialla)
McMahon (Monaghan, S Armagh)
Pron. wah-Gaouh′-nă (S Armagh, SÓhA); "locally pronounced as if spelt Mhag Gamhna — wŏ-Gou′-nă" (Farney, Laoide, Sgéalaidhe Fearnmhuighe, 112); "MhacGamhna, adeirthear" (SÓhA, Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge X:112 60).
Note this pronunciation [au] — could the McGowans/Smiths of Cavan/Monaghan be McMahons?
Matthews (Farney)
Ó Mealláin Mellon (Tyrone)
Mallon (S Armagh)
Pron. ă maL′-ăan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Mearáin
(Oirghialla)
Marron (Farney)
Ó Miagáin
(Oirghialla)
Meegan (Farney, S Armagh)
Pron. ă mee′-Găan, (female form) nee vee′-Găan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Mongáin Suggested as possibly the original for Moan(e)/Mone (S Armagh, Monaghan)
Ó Mothla ?? Moley (S Armagh)
Pron. (female form) nee wō′-lah (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Muimhneach Mimnagh (Omeath)
Moyna (Monaghan)
Mynah (S Armagh)
Mac Muircheartaigh McBrearty (S Donegal)
?[with lenition] McCurdy (N Antrim), pronounced Mac Curatraigh in Rathlin.
Elsewhere in Ireland, Ó Muircheartaigh gives Moriarty (Munster).
Mac Muireadhaigh McMurray
(Mac Mhuirich) Currie (SW Scotland)
Ó Muireadhaigh
(Cineál Eoghain)
Murray, O'Murray (Monaghan, S Derry, S Down)
Ó Muireagáin Morgan (S Down, S Armagh)
Pron. ă mŭr′-ă-Găan (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Murchaidh (1) Murphy
Obviously (rather than Mac Murchadha) the direct source of English form "Murphy".
South Armagh — by emigration from Muintir Byrne; na Beirnigh
Kintyre: McMurchy, Murphy, etc. (ref.: Angus Martin, Kintyre, the Hidden Past)
(2) (with lenition) Mac Mhurchaidh: Furphy

N
Mac Neacaill McNicholl (Derry)
Mac Neachtain McNaughton (Glens of Antrim)
McCracken
McGrattan (Ards)
Mac Néill
(Gallóglaigh)
McNeill
McCrail (Bannside)
McGreal
Ó Néill O'Neill (Tyrone, Armagh, elsewhere)
Neilson, Nelson
Pron. Klan wee nael′ for "The O'Neills" (Clann Uí Néill) (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Niallghuis
(Cineál Chonaill)
McNelis, McEnealis (Donegal)

O

P
Mac Partholán McParland (N Armagh)
McPartlan (S Armagh, N Armagh)
Pron. waK-parth′-lăn-ă (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Bartley, Berkeley (Antrim?)
(with lenition) Mac Pharthólan: McFarland, McFarlane
Mac Pheadrais McFetridge (Antrim)
Patterson
Mac Péice McPeake (S Derry)

R
Mac Raghnaill Reynolds (Derry, S Armagh)
Pron. wa-Gran′-ăl (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Crangle (E Down, via Isle of Man)
Mac a' Rí McAree
King (Down, S Armagh)
Pron. wah′-ă-ree (S Armagh, SÓhA) — note stress, if correct.
Possibly a reduced form of a fuller name, such as Mac Conroi or Mac Fhearadhaigh.
Mac Riabhaigh McGreevy (S Down)
Reavy, McCreevy
Ó Rodaighe Ruddy (S Armagh)
Pron. ă rŭdh′-ee (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Ruaidhrí
(some at least in Tyrone were Gallóglaigh)
McCrory, McRory (Tyrone)
McGrory (?Antrim)
Rodgers (S Down, Tyrone)
Rogers (NW Donegal, S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mă-Groo′-ă-rĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Pronounced with c unvoiced (Mac Ruairí) in spoken Irish of Tyrone (Tyrone, EÓT)
Ó Ruanadha Rooney (Down, S Armagh)
Pron. ă roo′-noo (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Ó Ruibhleáin, Ó Reibhleáin Formerly known in the Derry–Tyrone border area by Lough Neagh
Thought to be a form of Ó Doimhléin. Occurs in story "An Fathach Mór Ó Reibhleáin"
(GJ 119; Sgéalaidhe Óirghiall 26–34 & 149). A different story later appears
entitled "An Fathach Mór Ó Cléireacháin" (Sgeálta Mhuintir Luinigh).
The personal name Ruibhleán became Roland in Omeath.

S
Mac a' tSagairt McEnteggart (S Armagh, N Louth)
Pron. (without preceding forename) mah′-ă-theG′-ărt (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Taggart (W Tyrone)
Mac a' tSámhaidh McAtavvy (S Armagh)
Pron. wah′-ă-thaa′-wĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Tavey (S Armagh)
Pron. ă-thaa′-wee (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Shamhráin McGovern [ov], McGowran [o:w]
cf Mac Gabhráin
Mac a' tSaoir McAteer (S Down)
McIntyre
Freeman (Monaghan)
Mac a' tSasanaigh McAtasney, McAtarsney (N Armagh, E Tyrone)
Mac Seagháin McShane (S Armagh, elsewhere)
Pron. Klin vik shaen′ or Klan shaen′ for "The McShanes" (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Johnston (thus Gaelicised, as well as to Mac Eoghain)
Seaghán Ó hAnnáin writes (An tUltach 5:2, 1928, p7): Cuireadh ... Mac Seoin (Mak-shōn′) ... (agus Mac Séoin) ... mar Ghaedhlig ... ar Johnson ... . The MacShanes are called Clann tSéaghain and even the form is used individually: Mícheál Chlann-tSéagháin (M. Chloinn tSéaghain).
Ó Scannláin Scanlon (Finn valley)
Together with Brennans, came from midlands — Kilkenny and Meath are mentioned — after Scariffhollis (Dom 'ac Fhlionn).
Mac Seibhleáin Shevlin (Farney)
Ó Siadhail Shiels (Donegal, S Armagh)
Pron. ĭ-dheeh′ ă-tae′-lee for "in Shiels'" (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Somhairle
(Gallóglaigh, possibly)
McSorley (Derry, W Tyrone)
Pron. Mac Sōr′le (SÓC)
Mac Suaigeáin McSwiggan (Tyrone, Derry)
Sweeney (Derry)
Mac Suibhne
(Gallóglaigh, associated with Cineál Eoghain)
McSweeney, Sweeney (Donegal)

T
Mac Taidhg

McTeague, Teague (S Derry, Tyrone), later Montague (Tyrone)
(with lenition) Mac Thaidhg: McKeague, McKaig, etc

Mac Thoirdhealbhaigh (with lenition) Curley, McCorley
Ó Toirdhealbhaigh Turley (S Down)
Mac Tréinfhir Treanor, Trainer (Down, S Armagh)
(with lenition) Mac Thréinfhir: McCreanor > Traynor (S Derry)

U
Mac Uaid McQuaid (S Armagh, N Louth)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-Kō′-ăd (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Uibhilin McQuillan (Antrim)
(? Mac Cuilm) Pigeon (S Armagh)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-Kŭl′-ĭn. With forename, nee CHŭl′-ĭn (female form). Klin vee-CHŭl′-ĭn for "The McQuillans" (S Armagh, SÓhA) — note Ó-like female form
Mag Uidhir
(Oirghialla)
Maguire (Fermanagh and elsewhere)
Pron. wah-Giv′-ĭr (S Armagh, SÓhA) — thus Siubhán Nic Uibhir of the song!
So pronounced also in Glengevlin (EÓT)
"Maguibhir deir na daoine i gcomhnaidhe" (Donegal, Seaghán Bán 'ac Meanman, Árd-Léightheoir Gaedhilge, II, 57)
?? McKeever (N Armagh, W Cavan, S Derry), McGeever (Cavan), ?? McIvor
cf Mac Giolla Uidhir
Mag Uidhrín McGivern (S Down, N Louth — diminutive of Mag Uidhir)
Mac Uiginn McGuigan (S Armagh, Tyrone, S Derry)
Pron. (without preceding forename) ma-Goo′-găn (S Armagh, SÓhA)
Mac Uinnseannáin Nugent (S Armagh, Tyrone, Derry)
Mac an Ultaigh McAnulty, McNulty (S Armagh)
Pron. wah′-ăn-ŭl′-thĕe (S Armagh, SÓhA)
cf Mac Con Uladh, Mac Duinnshléibhe

Confusion between Ó and Mac

There are circumstances where Ó and Mac can sound the same, and where there may be uncertainty over which one to write, knowing only the pronunciation of a surname.

As pointed out above, in Ulster it is normal for the m of Mac to be lenited or even silent in a surname, when preceded by a forename — it is often then written as Mhac or 'ac.  Now, if the next part of the surname begins with C or G, this merges with the c of 'ac, and it is impossible to know from the sound whether the surname contains Mac or Ó.  The vowel in either particle will be an obscure one, and the following k sound could come from Mac or from the next part of the name.  This has often been noted, e.g. McLysaght (More Irish Families, p. 117) remarks on the "not uncommon substitution of Ó for Mac with names beginning with C, G and K".  Such substitutions were not confined to the ignorant — one was made by a leading Gaelic scholar when he wrote Ó Coilín for a Donegal 'ac Ailín (Royal Irish Academy Minutes of Proceedings, Session 1931–32, p. 30)!  Seán Ó hEochaidh confirmed to me that the family in question here — some of whom later settled in Killybegs — employed the anglicisation "Campbell", as is usual for 'ac Ailín.  They are named "Campbell" in the 1901 and 1911 census returns for Mín a' Droighin. That the weakening of the initial of "Mac" is not confined to Ulster is shown by a reference to the same phenomenon in relation to Mac Collatáin in Wexford (Ó Crualaoich in Ainm xiii, 2016, p. 56).

Ó Droighneáin (An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus an tAinmneoir,  1972, p. vii) raises the case of the writers from Rann na Fearsaide, the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna.  Their surname is pronounced ə'griəɴə — but should it be written Ó Grianna or 'ac Grianna? The sound cannot tell us which. As schooling and other official matters would have used the anglicised form Greene, the question would not have arisen until the brothers began to write in Irish and the name had to be printed in its original Irish form.  The elder brothers, Séamus (1889–1969) and Domhnall (1894–1962), chose the more direct Ó Grianna. Some historical research, however, disclosed that the correct historical form of the name was Mac Grianna (actually, Mac Grianra), and this form was adopted by the younger brothers, Seosamh (1900–1990) and Seán Bán (1905–1979), and also — possibly earliest — by their cousin Domhnall Frank (c1894–1972).

This explanation of the fact that two brothers are known as Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna is very fully given by Gearóid Stockman in his book Cruinneas Gramadaí agus Corrfhocal Eile (1996) on pp. 99–100.  Hopefully it has laid to rest the ludicrous suggestion that the divergence of surname may have been "agreed on ... either to avoid confusion of them as writers, or for simple difference of taste when they adopted the Irish forms of the English name Green [sic]" (Brady and Cleeve, A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers, 1985, p. 311; partially repeated in McRedmond, Modern Irish Lives, 1996). The problem was not to "invent an Irish form" for Greene; it was to find a way to write the oral ə'griəɴə.

Regarding the second element of the name, like Professor Stockman, I too heard the late Seán Bán Mac Grianna trace the family's origins to Termon near Kilmacrenan. He had arrived at the conclusion that the proper written form is Mac Grianra. Support comes from the fact that McGrenry is a name associated with the Termon area, whence it has spread to Derry and Belfast. But Greene is the preferred anglicisation in north-western Donegal, and McLysaght (More Irish Families, p. 219) notes written Irish forms from Donegal in 1602 which lack the second r. Much of this information is also given by Uinseann Ó Dónaill (Vincie Shíle) in the Donegal Annual (1987) p. 59.


Ciarán Ó Duibhín
2015/11/23
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