SURNAMES FROM IRISH PLACE NAMES
This is a very rare category of surname. I have only been able to identify a few. The earliest Irish surnames were based on the names of a male ancestor; O’Neill ( Ó Néill, descendant of Niall), McCarthy (MacCarthaigh, son of Carthach). Some of these names were very old, dating back as far as the late ninth century, but adoption of hereditary names was a lengthy process among the Irish. Some names only date back to the 16th century, a result of septs dividing and new branches taking new surnames.
It is my belief, though, that the adoption of place name surnames took place after the English invasion and occupation of parts of Ireland, beginning in the late 12th century.
At that time most English people had not adopted hereditary surnames. The same could be said of many Irish, but the clan system in Ireland meant that many who didn’t have an inherited surname of their own would be counted as being of the sept, and therefore the surname, of their recognised king or chief.
The English saw the clan system as a barrier to the complete subjugation of the Irish and the imposition of the feudal system. So they set about breaking the link between chief and clan, and the surname became a target.
The Statutes of Kilkenny of 1367 introduced by the English ordered all Englishmen and “Irish dwelling among them” to use English surnames, speak English and adopt English customs. By that time some English settlers were becoming more like the Irish and some had Irish as well English names, Bermingham became MacFheorais,
d’Exeter MacShiúrtáin, Mandeville MacUighilín.
So where the English were able to impose their rule English surnames became de rigueur, while elsewhere Irish clan names and hibernicised English names were unaffected.
In adopting English style surnames some Irish may have opted for place-names they were associated with. It’s also possible that English settlers chose new names from their new homes, so such names cannot tell us anything of the origins of their bearers, English, Welsh, or Irish.
I think it’s important to establish that some Irish county names, usually imposed by English administrators, might appear to have been adopted as surnames, but surnames such as Louth and Mayo can usually be shown to be English imports with other meanings.
So, on to some examples of this rare type of Irish surname. Irish language versions are in brackets
Athy (Ataoi), from the town of Athy in Kildare, though the surname now belongs in the main to Galway. The Athys were one of the fourteen “tribes” of Galway, families that dominated the economy and politics of Galway City.
Corbally (de Corbaile), the name of townlands in twenty Irish counties, though Dublin, Meath and Louth are where the surname is mainly found. Corbally means “odd townland (no further explanation). Corballis, a variant, is found as a place name in County Meath, and as a surname in County Louth.
Craughwell (Ó Creachmhaoil), there is a village of the name in East Galway, where the surname is found. However, the Irish language version of the name takes the form of a patronymic (Ó meaning ‘descendant’). Ó Creachmhaoil would be pronounced “Oh Crahweel”. So identification of Craughwell as a toponymic-type surname is not beyond doubt.
Dease (Déise), from Deece in Couny Meath, “in which county the family has been continuously since the thirteenth century” (MacLysaght, “The Surnames of Ireland”).
I remember reading that this name was adopted by a branch of Anglo-Norman family of Nugent (originally de Nogent), but I can’t remember where I read it.
Dromgoole, Drumgoole (Dromgúl), was a place name of County Louth (Dromgabhail), and a surname of Louth, Dublin and Meath.
Finglas (de Fionnghlais), a place name of County Dublin, meaning “clear stream”, and a Dublin surname.
Galbally (de Gallbhaile), place names in five counties, meaning “foreign townland”, i.e. held by settlers of non-Irish origin. MacLysaght (loc. cit.) tells us the name is in Kildare since 1359.
Santry, (de Seantraith) Santry is in Dublin but the surname belongs to County Cork.
Slane (de Slaine), there are places of this name in Meath and Antrim. The surname belongs to Northern Ireland. Slaney, which, as a surname is found in Waterford, may be a variant or a lost place name.
Trim (de Truim), a place name of County Meath, the surname belongs mainly to County Wicklow with some of the name in Monaghan.
Finally, an Irish surname that MacLysaght suggests is locative –
Powderley which he posits as deriving from Powerlough, County Meath. He writes (loc. cit.), “My suggestion … is supported by the fact that references to the surname since 1750 are nearly all to Co. Meath and Louth. I have not met it earlier than that date.”