Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Irish Surnames of the Gatineau

Volume 13, page 13

Gunda Lambton

There were Irish immigrants in the Gatineau Valley from the beginning of its settlement. The most southern areas (Hull, Chelsea) and those to the north (Maniwaki) had a large proportion of French and English names and this proportion increased at the end of the 19th century, but in villages with such Irish names as Farrellton, Brennan's Hill, Fieldville, today's census and parish records list much the same names registered in the earliest (1842) census and the first parish records (1850). This constancy of surnames exists in Ireland itself, where the same names were perpetuated in some areas for over a thousand years. Irish surnames were some of the earliest in Europe, dating back to before 1000 AD, the time of King Brian Boru.1

The so-called dark ages in Europe with their destruction of countless centres of Hellenic-Roman civilization were Ireland's Golden Age. There, Christianity, introduced by St. Patrick at the time of the High King Niall, was preserved, and records were kept.2 Most Irish names were preceded either by O (of the clan or family) or Mac (son of).3 The early Canadian census and parish records omitted these prefixes because by the early 19th century many had also disappeared in Ireland. At that time, immigrants from Co. Kerry, for instance, were Gaelic speaking, something the records never mention, though "cannot write" is inserted there quite often, particularly in parish records.

St. Joseph's Mission,4 in what is now Farrellton, is an example of such records. By the time of the first census the tiny log church had existed for nearly ten years. A lane west from it would lead past farms owned by Michael Plunkett and David Cahill to a Kelly farm. The first child baptized at St. Joseph's was Patrick Cahill, the second James Kelly; their families were listed as “property-owners" in the first census. Cahill is one of the earliest Irish surnames on record: Flann O'Cahill was martyred in 938 AD. They were formerly O'Cathail in Kerry and Tipperary, later in Galway; while the MacCathail came from Cavan and Donegal. The Cahill farm of that census now belongs to a Kennedy family. The Irish Kennedys, including the family of the late US president, were once O'Kenneys from Co. Clare who moved to Tipperary. The original O’Cinnéide may be a composite of cean = head and eidigh = ugly.5

Michael Plunkett was born (still in the 18th century) in Co. Louth where the name still prevails. He came as wheelwright to work on the Colonel-By canal.6 The 1842 census lists his seven children under 17 as "born in Canada" so that he and his wife Bridget must have arrived in the mid 1820s.

The most respected authority on Irish names, Edward MacLysaght, gives the name Plunkett as “of French origin, once Pluincéid or blanchet (white). The family came to Ireland with the Norman invasion (1170) and became one of the most distinguished in Irish history.7

The Plunketts later bought the Kelly land further west and sold their original farm on the Gatineau river to Patrick Farrell. John Kelly in 1842 is listed as "a family of 12." Kelly, Kealey, Keeley all have the same root; Ceallaigh = strife. There were famous O'Ceallaighs and MacCealiaighs in Galway and Connacht. The name, most common now in Derry and Leith, is the second most numerous name in Ireland. The name Kealey may also come from Quealey or O'Ceile, an erenagh family in Meath and Co. Louth.8

Those who by 1842 had established themselves, like David Carroll, on some land, were listed as "proprietors" in the census. Carroll farms are still found on both sides of the river; there was also a Carroll’s saloon at Brennan's Hill around 1895. The Carrolls were O'Cearbhaills if from Kerry or Leitrim; if from Leinster they were MacCearbhaills. The Rooneys too, Patrick and Michael, were listed as proprietors and later became innkeepers. The name Rooney, once O'Ruanaidh originated in Co. Down and is now found in all of Ireland except Munster. If from Sligo or Fermanagh the family came from the once powerful O'Runaidhins; in Ulster or Connacht the name may be an abbreviation of Mulrooney.

The name of Edward Higgins, also listed as farmer in 1842, derives from O'hUigiń, the old Irish word for Viking. The family was related to the southern O‘Neills2 who migrated to Sligo and Connacht. In all these early records the ancestors of the present O'Connors are listed as "Connors", but in the late 19th century many, though not all, Irish families restored the original O’ to their names, particularly the O'Connors. Theirs is perhaps the most illustrious name in Ireland. O’Conor Dois was the last High king of Ireland.9 The O'Conchobhairs were six important families in Sligo, Kerry and Connacht. The name is now most numerous along the shores of Co. Clare, for they were pushed north of Kerry by the Norman invasion.

The name of William Cassidy, listed as proprietor in 1842, was once O'Caiside, a Fermanagh family of ollavs (learned men) who, like the Hickeys, were physicians in the Gaelic tradition. John Hickey, baptized at St. Joseph's in 1851, derived his name from O’hlcidhe (Iceadgh = healer), a medical family of Limerick and North Tipperary. Another family of (hereditary) physicians in NW Ulster was that of the O'Siadhail or Shields. Patrick Shields, the third baby baptized at St. Joseph's (1850) was the son of Owen Shields who in the 1861 census is listed as "taylor with seven children". The name Shields is now found in Donegal.

The earliest Wakefield census also lists Michael Mahoney as landowner. The O’Mahoneys were a well-known family of W. Munster. The name Mahon has the same root: Mathghamhna = bear, but the (Mac)Mahons came from Co. CIare. In Thomond the family descended from Mahon O'Brien, grandson of Brian Boru.1

The name of J.Mullen, another proprietor listed in 1842, comes from Northern Ireland (Antrim and Down) and derived from Maolain = bald. MacMaolain was a form of MacMillan and O'Mulligan a diminutive of the same name. The name of Joseph Irwin, listed in 1842 as non-proprietor, is also found in Northern Ireland, where, because of the weaving industry, the famines were not as severe. Most Irwins are of Scottish planter stock,10 but some descend from the O’hEidreamhóins of Offaly. The 1871 census lists Jos. Irwin as Wakefield weaver. Also from Northern Ireland (Armagh and Tyrone) were the McGarrys and McGearys, once MacFearadhaighs. A Hugh McGarry was listed as labourer in 1842 and in 1850 the census lists four McGarrys as labourers in Wakefield. In 1842 Michael Tracy was listed as non-proprietor. The O'Tracys were once O'Treasaigh = war-like, an important Fermanagh family, also in the North.

While the earliest census lists James Pritchard as farmer, Joseph is listed as non-proprietor. Their name derives from Ap Richard (of Richard) and is of fairly recent origin in Ireland - its origin is Welsh. There were later a number of Pritchard farms near Alcove.15 Though listed (1842) as "Born in Ireland” the name of Patrick Rice was originally the Welsh Rhys, long established in Munster.11 Isaac and Sylvester Rice by 1850 were Wakefield shoemakers and are listed as Methodists. Joyce is another name of Welsh origin. The name became so completely Irish that the Joyces were counted as "one of the 14 tribes of Galway.” Michael Joyce was the fourth baby to be baptized at St. Joseph's (3l.3.1850).

By 1850, the year of the second census and St. Joseph's first records, many families listed had been driven from Ireland by the terrible potato famines of the 1840s. Charles and Mary MacCarthy, whose son Patrick was baptized early in 1850, may have belonged to these, for Cork and Kerry, where their name is the most numerous of those starting with Mac, were severely affected. Their name derives from MacCarthaigh (carthach = loving) a family prominent in Munster from earliest times.

The first marriage recorded at St. Joseph's Mission was that of Dennys Flynn and Judith Egan (13.5.1850). The Egans were once MacAodhágains, a family of brehons (members of the Gaelic legal system) in Ormond, now in Galway and Tipperary. The (O)Flynns are wide-spread in Kerry, Cork and Clare. The Cork Flynns were a branch of the famous Corca Laoidhe12 one sept was an erenagh family8, another a leading sept under the royal O'Connors.

The second marriage was between John Wheelan and Julie Ryan. The name Wheelan, found in Tipperary and Wexford, comes from O’Faolain, = wolf. If from Westmeath it may derive from O'Faoileachain = joyful. Julia Ryan “a widow from Ireland", derived her name from the old Gaelic riain for water, still found in names like that of the river Rhine. Ryan is the most frequent name in Tipperary.

The third marriage was that of Thomas Field and Honora Hayes. The Hayes are a Munster family, once O’hAodha, who from the south moved to Central and Northern Ireland. Only in Wexford they were of Norman origin. The name Field may be of English origin, but may also derive from O'Fithcheallaigh = chess player, a branch of the Corca Laoidhe.12 Fieldville took its name from this family. Two daughters, Bridget and Mary, married the two sons of James Barry, who by 1850 appears in both census and parish records and had settled on land west of the Plunketts. One of his sons, Michael, continued to farm there while James Barry Jr. took land north of Low, in Venosta, where many descendants of those first listed at St. Joseph’s moved towards the end of the 19th century. The name Barry is of Norman origin and very common in North Cork. One small, older Gaelic branch derived from O'Beargha = spear-like.

James Barry Sr. was married to Honora Donovan; both they, their two sons and daughter Eleanor (who married a “Venosta” Hayes) were born in Ireland. Another Donovan, Catherine, is named as mother of Catherine (baptized 1852), daughter of Patrick Sullivan, while an Ellen Donovan was listed in 1856 as mother of Thomas, son of Michael Hayes. The Donovans were a powerful Limerick family, the O’Donnabhains, later in SW Cork and Kilkenny. Besides Patrick Sullivan there was also a Dennys O'Sullivan, who in 1851 married Catherine Skillen, daughter of Francis Skillen. Skillen is a Norse name from Co. Down. The O'Sullivans or Sullivans originated in Tipperary and were once O'Suileabhains (suil = eye), a leading family in Munster until forced west by the Norman invasion. Sullivan is the 3rd most common name in Ireland. Murphy is the most numerous; but while there were Murphys in Hull, none came to the Farrellton area until the 20th century.

In 1850 Patrick Farrell is listed as farmer; his wife, 28, was “born in Canada“ as were his three children under eight. A letter still in possession of his descendants was sent him in 1840, so that he must have come to Canada before the famines. The 1860 census lists him as "merchant", and the Farrells until 1985 ran the Farrellton post office and general store. The (O)Farrells were originally O'Fearghails = men of valor, an important and numerous family in Co. Longford (formerly Longphort Ui Fearghail = the fortress of the Farrells.) Patrick's daughter Catherine in 1867 married Francis McCaffrey; in the 1890's the Farrellton hotel was owned by Mrs. McCaffrey. The McCaffreys, once MacGafraidh (son of Godfrey) are a branch of the famous Maguires of Fermanagh and Roscommon. A name sometimes confused with McCaffrey is Cafferty, an anglicization of MacEachgarcaigh (riders of steeds), a Mayo, Derry and Donegal family. A road in the Meech Creek valley is named after a Cafferty family.

Among hotels the most famous was perhaps the O'Neill temperance inn in Chelsea, a hostelry established around 1860. As early as 1851 the birth of Catherine O’Neill, daughter of Dennis O'Neill, was registered at St. Joseph’s Mission. The name O'Neill, with that of O'Brien, goes back to the two greatest Irish kings.1;2 McNeill and Neill have the same origin as O'Neill. O'Brien, the 5th most numerous Irish name, may have been taken on by those who did not descend from Brian Boru, but were MacBryans, MacBroains or Breens or, as in Kilkenny, had the Norman name Bruan. The 1850 census lists a Hugh and Terence O'Brien as farmers "born in Ireland“ but Hugh's three children under 5 as "born in Canada." The same census lists F. Driscoll as labourer; later, the Driscolls took land around Brennan's Hill. Their name comes from O'hEidersceoil, one of the principal Cork families and numerous only in that county, where the famines were so severe.16

The same census also lists names from Northern Ireland like Dennis McLaughlin, whose daughter Anne was baptized at St. Joseph's in 1851, while Mary McLaughlin, baptized the same year, and Michael McLaughlin, baptized in 1850, were children of John McLaughlin. The McLaughlins were a senior branch of the Northern O'Neills and until the 13th century a leading family in Tirconnell, now Donegal.

The 1850 census also lists James and Mary Larkin (28 and 27), whose name originally was O'Lorcain (probably from lorc = fierce, rough) common in counties from Galway to Wexford. Among tradesmen listed in this census was Martin Doyle, shoemaker. The name (O)Doyle derives from O'Dubghaills and is one of the most numerous in Leinster. This family was of Norse origin, but well established in Wexford before the main Norman invasion.

The date of arrival for James Armstrong, shoemaker and tavernkeeper, can be guessed fairly accurately from this census, where he, his wife Mary and one child of eight are listed as "born in Ireland” but two younger children as "born in Canada". The name may be of English origin, for many English families settled in Ireland in the Middle Ages remained Catholics, as this family was listed. It may also be an anglicization of the Gaelic name Traynor (from trean = strong) meaning strong man, strong arm.

In 1850 the children under six of John Landers, blacksmith, are also listed as "born in Canada." Landers is another name of English origin, long established in Munster, derived from the Norman "De Londres” (from London). A blacksmith was an important person in the community, and in the Gaelic system on the legal councils.

On July 7th, 1857, Bishop Guigues of Bytown held the first large confirmation class at St. Joseph's, which included men like Owen Shields (whose son was baptized the year before) as well as boys; grown women as well as girls. Among the latter were Mary Hogan, Sara Daley and Ellen Daly. The Hogans had been O'hOgains(og-young), three old families, one a branch of the Corca Laoidhe.12 The name Daly derives from O'Dalaigh (dail = assembly), one of the great names in Irish literature. Between 1139 and 1680 there were no less than thirty distinguished writers by that name, (now found in Clare, Cork and Galway). The family originally came from Westmeath. Another Ellen Daly was baptized at St. Joseph's that year, the father being Carroll Daly, the mother Bridget McCarthy. Among the 1851 confirmants were Katherine Kilroe and James MacElroy. Strangely enough the latter name is an anglicized version of Kilroe and both derive from MacGiolla Rua (adherents of the Red.); in Connacht the name is often Kilroy.

St. Joseph‘s Mission
St. Joseph's Mission - Church in Farrellton, Quebec. Photo courtesy of Gunda Lambton and Frank Farrell.

Patrick and John O'Rourke, also 1851 confirmants, belonged to a family still well-known on both sides of the Gatineau river. O'Rourke derives from O'Rairc, a great W. Leitrim family. Irish exiles of that name were prominent in Russia, Poland, Austria and France, where most of them held a high military rank. Other confirmants were Michael and Patrick O'Malley, whose name is found in North Connacht. The O'Malleys were famous for their prowess at sea and the romantic tales about Grace O’Malley (1530 - 1600) are founded on truth. She was “a most famous sea-captain, nurse of all Connacht rebellions for 40 years.13"

In 1851 Patrick Hayden, son of Thomas Hayden, was baptized at St. Joseph’s. The name Hayden became well-known in Low, where Thomas Hayden Jr. became councillor. He had been a spokeman during the “Battle of Brennan's Hill” and wrote a ballad about this event.14 Hayden was once O'hEideáin and of Norman origin, first found in Wexford, now Co. Carlow. In 1851, William Brennan was witness to the marriage between Thos. Fitzgerald and Bridget Rice. In 1854, Matthew Brennan married Ellen Donahue. Brennan's hill is named after this family, settled south of Low. Their name derives from O'Braonain, four unrelated families of Galway, Kerry, Westmeath and Ossory. The parish records list Ellen Donahue as "daughter of Margot Donovan of Cannor, Limerick "one of the few precise Irish places given in early records. The Donahues were O’Donaghues or O’Donnchadhas of Desmond, driven there from Cork and Kerry. ”Clonnell, Ireland", another exact place of birth, is given for Thomas FitsGerald. This name was one of the great names of Norman origin. The prefix Fitz equals the French ”fils" or Gaelic "Mac" and all names with this prefix are Norman except for FitzPatrick, where the prefix had been "Mac"; (MacGiolla Phadraigh = followers of St. Patrick) and was normanized to Fitz. Some FitzPatricks settled in the Alcove area, as did the families of Shouldice and Colbert. The name Shouldice, like that of Baldwin (in the Meech Creek valley) was originally German (baldun = bold friend), while the name Colbert is of English origin (CoIbard) though the latter family had settled in Ireland as early as the 15th century. The name Shouldice is one of those belonging to a group of Palatinates, refugees from an area on the Rhine suffering from French attacks in the early 18th century, who then came to Ireland.

In 1861 another confirmation class was held at St. Joseph's and one of the confirmants was James McSheffrey, whose family appeared in parish records before that date. McSheffrey, once MacSeafraidgh, was until 1659 the principal surname in Co. Longford and is now found in Donegal and Derry.

The list of Irish settlers who came later is too numerous to detail; many descendants of those mentioned above acquired new land, where it was opened up by logging further north and west. However, the names of priests who served St. Joseph’s Mission deserve particular mention, especially the two first, who encountered many hardships and much poverty. The first was Father O'Boyle. The O'Boyles were once O'Baoighills and with the O’Donnells shared the leadership of the Irish Northwest after Brian Boru. The Gaelic root for this name is "pledge". He was followed by Father McGoey in 1854, who worked untiringly for the construction of a new church, collecting in shanties and from isolated residents. McGoey is a Longford-Leitrim variant of MacGaughey, once the Ulster MacEachaidh. When finally built, the lovely church (later replaced by the present St. Camillus) on its front bore the inscription:

St. Joseph's of Wakefield
erected by the zeal of
Rev. Patrick McGoey P.P.
AD. 1859


  1. High King Brien Boru (941-1014) was chosen by the other Irish kings for his merit alone, after the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages had ruled until 1002. He instituted new laws (including that of taking surnames) schools and churches.
  2. Dates for St. Patrick (389-467 or 493) are fairly certain. King Niall of the Nine Hostages lived around that time but is more of a heroic, legendary figure. It was than a token of high esteem to send to a king’s court your son or close relation as hostage and Niall had nine: 5 from the 5 parts of Ireland, 4 from England. The O’Neills, Neills and MacNeills are named after his descendant, another King Niall, killed in battle with the Norse in 919 AD.
  3. “Mac” is not specifically Scottish nor “Mc” Irish; the prefix is interchangeable: Mc is simply an abbreviation of Mac.
  4. St. Joseph's Mission was a small log church erected in 1833, replaced in 1859 by a stone church by the same name. St. Camillus, the present brick church was built in 1915.
  5. The Scottish Kennedys are all descended from the Irish family.
  6. Verbally from the late Jack Plunkett, Farrellton.
  7. A Thomas Plunkett was Chief Justice in 1316. In 1681 Oliver Plunkett Archbishop of Armagh, was martyred without cause. He had worked tirelessly for his diocese and was not actively engaged in rebellion. Though there was one Protestant Archbishop Plunkett in Dublin, most Plunketts remained Catholics white still retaining three peerages: Fingall, Looth and Dunsany. Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, early in this century wrote very successful adult fairy stories, preceding the Tolkien stories of our time.
  8. An erenagh was a hereditary priesthood. The family of an abbot would retain tide to certain lands and benefits.
  9. In addition to King Conchobhair of Connacht, who died 971, there were the High Kings Turlough O’C (1188-1156) and Roderick O'C (1116-1198). In N. Clare the O‘Connors descended from another Conchobhair who died in 1002. Many books have been written about this family.
  10. Ulster was the most Irish and most independent part of Ireland, with the fewest Anglo-Irish families. In the 17th century a large number of Scottish and some English families were “planted” in that area. Some had come from Scottish families descended originally from Ireland, but were now Presbyterian. The change in N. Ireland came mainly through industrial dependence on the UK in the late 19th century.
  11. There is also a small branch of Gaelic descent in Louth and Armagh called O'Maolcraoibhe which was anglicized to Rice.
  12. A sept is a branch of a clan or family. The Corca Laoidhe in SW Cork were descended from Corc, a relative and contemporary of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
  13. Edward MacLysaghr, Irish Families, (Allen Figgis, Dublin, 1972) p. 219.
  14. The Battle of Brennan's Hill took place between Nov. 14th and 18th 1895 and was no battle in the true sense. A bailiff had been sent to collect taxes and when unsuccessful had been replaced by a large posse of Quebec police who, when unsuccessful, applied for the help of Ottawa County militia. These were brought in on a special train and camped in Low for a few days. No one was hurt in this battle and taxes were, eventually, paid.
  15. One of the area’s first doctors was of the Pritchard family.
  16. This may account for the Driscolls belligerence at the time of the "Battle of Brennan‘s Hill."

NOTE: Apart from the parish records of St. Camillus, Farrellton, and the census records at the Canadian Public Archives, my source has been Edward MacLysaght: IRISH SURNAMES, Irish University Press, 1973.

List of articles - Volume 13