Celtic Names

Robert E. Matheson
1909
Chapter IV

The present population of Ireland is a mixture of a number of different races in which the Celtic is the predominant element.

The great bulk of the most common names in the country are undoubtedly of Celtic origin. Many of them still retain the prefixes O and Mac, the former peculiar to Ireland and the latter used both in Ireland and Scotland. In many cases, however, these prefixes have been dropped. It is a matter of common occurrence to find in the same record Celtic names written with the prefixes O and Mac and without them.

It is impossible now, in some cases, to trace whether families are of Celtic or English descent, as some of the English settlers took Irish names, and Irish families were compelled to adopt English surnames.

By a Statute of 1366, it was provided, inter alia, that “Every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish”; and in 1465 (5 Ed. IV., cap. 3), a law was passed enacting “that every Irishman that dwells betwixt or amongst Englishmen in the County of Dublin, Myeth, Vriell, and Kildare … shall take to him an English Surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trym, Skryne, Corke, Kinsale; or colour, as white, blacke, browne; or arte or science, as smith or carpenter; or office, as cooke, butler …”

The existence of the two languages in the country accounts for the practice which prevails in some parts of Ireland of using English names with their Irish translations or equivalents interchangeably, some particulars regarding which will be found in my Book of Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland already referred to.

The Annals of the Four Masters, and other eminent Authorities, afford information whereby the ancient location of the principal Irish Tribes and Septs can be approximately ascertained, and Tribal Maps of Ireland have been published from time to time, among which the following may be mentioned:—

1. A Map showing the territories of the Irish Princes and Chiefs—the various Septs subordinate to them, etc., also the Districts in possession of the English Lords, their armorial bearings, etc., A.D. 1567.

[A copy of this Map will be found appended to State Papers of Henry VIII., Vol. 2, Part 3, and another copy in National Manuscripts of Ireland, Part IV.-1; No. 5.]

2. Hiberniæ, Britanniæ Insulæ, Nova Descriptio, by Abraham Ortelius, 1572.

3. Ortelius improved, or a new Map of Ireland wherein are inserted the principal Families of Irish and English Extraction, who possessed that kingdom on the commencement of the 17th Century. Published according to Act of Parliament by P. Wogan, Old Bridge No. 23, Dublin.

4. A Topographical and Historical Map of Ancient Ireland by Baronies, by Philip MacDermott, M.D., attached to Connellan’s Annals of the Four Masters. Published in 1846. (This Map has since been reproduced both in Ireland and in America.)

From these sources the following list of the principal Ancient Celtic Families, with the Counties in which they were located, has been compiled:—