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Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's in an Irish surname?

If you have Irish surnames in your family tree and are interested in your heritage, there is one 20th-century Irishman's work that you absolutely must know about. Although born in England, Edward MacLysaght (1887-1986) eventually came to Ireland where he developed a deep love for his Irish heritage. Eventually elected to the Senate of the Irish Free State, elected to the Royal Irish Academy, and appointed Chief Herald of Ireland, he was busy within the Irish government for many years, including time spent as Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland and Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In his role as one of the foremost genealogists of twentieth century Ireland, he expanded upon the work of Patrick Woulfe published in 1923 (Irish Names and Surnames - click on the link to read it within Google Book Search). MacLysaght's resulting compilations of the history of surnames in Ireland are a treasure for any Irish family historian. His book The Surnames of Ireland is a detailed guide to over 4,000 Gaelic, Norman and Anglo-Irish surnames and serves also as a type of index to two of his other works: Irish Families: Their Names, Arms & Origins and More Irish Families.

It was on a used book sale table at a genealogical library where I found my 1957 copy of Irish Families. Heading out the door that day, I couldn't pass by the little table without just a quick look. I spotted the title Irish Families and thought it looked interesting enough to justifying paying a few dollars in order to take it home to read. What a treasure I had found!

Read my post entitled Victorious! to learn the story of my long search for the uncommon Cowhey surname and my discovery of its origins within MacLysaght's Irish Families book thanks to that used book table.

Anxious to research your own Irish family surname within MacLysaght's books? Check out the genealogical collection at your local library or purchase a copy for yourself. You can also check out the Irish Family History blog's ongoing series on Irish surnames. The author is in the process of highlighting the top twenty most common surnames of Ireland using MacLysaght's surname histories. Odds are one branch of your family tree may be there!

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