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Campbell is an extremely popular and widespread name in Ulster where it is the fifth most common name. It is the third most numerous name in County Down, fourth in County Armagh, seventh in each of Counties Antrim, Derry and Tyrone and thirteenth in County Donegal. The majority of Ulster Campbells are descendants of 17th century Scottish settlers but there are significant local differences.

Where Does the Last Name Campbell Come From?

Most Ulster Campbells descend from Scottish clan Campbell who rose rapidly to power in Argyll in the western Highlands of Scotland in the 17th century at the expense of the MacDonalds, ‘Lords of the Isles’. Inveraray Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne became the principal seat of the Campbells, the Dukes of Argyll, in the 15th century. In the 18th century the Campbells were loyal supporters of the English crown in their struggles with the Scottish Jacobites.

Clan Campbell's crest badge

A picture of Clan Campbell's family crest badge which the Latin phrase "Ne Obliviscaris" meaning "Do Not Forget" is seen on it

Inveraray Castle

A picture of The Inveraray Castle, Scotland from the front view. this castle is located on Loch Fyne in County Argyll

A picture of The Inveraray Castle, Scotland, located on the shore of Loch Fyne.

Loch Fyne

A picture of The West bank of Loch Fyne near Inveraray, Scotland.

Scottish Jacobites

A painting of a meeting of Scottish Jacobites for Jacobite Revolution by Claude Andrew Calthrop.

Originally known as Clan O’Duibhne the first to assume the surname Campbell was Gillespic O’Duibhne who, in 1263, was recorded as Gillespic Cambel. The surname is derived from Scots Gaelic Caimbeul, meaning ‘crooked mouth’

In 1609 Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and also Lord High Treasurer, suggested to James I a deliberate plantation of Scottish and English colonists on the forfeited estates of the Gaelic chiefs in counties Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry (then known as Coleraine) and Tyrone. Settlers to Ulster came, by and large, in three waves: with the granting of the initial leases in the period 1605 to 1625; after 1652 and Cromwell’s crushing of the Irish rebellion; and finally in the fifteen years after 1690 and the Glorious Revolution. It is estimated by 1715, when migration to Ulster had virtually stopped, the Scottish population of Ulster stood at 200,000.

Robert Cecil; 1st Earl of Salisbury

A painting of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Lord High Treasurer.

In Donegal, in particular, many Campbells will have an even earlier connection with Scotland.  In the 15th century a branch of Clan Campbell, known as Mac Ailin, derived from ail, meaning rock, were brought to Donegal by the O’Donnells to fight as galloglasses (other spelling forms include gallowglasses, gallowglas or galloglas), i.e. mercenary soldiers. As well as Campbell their name was also anglicised to McCallion.


A picture showing carvings of gallowglasses, also known as Irish Mercenaries. The Dominican Abbey at Roscommon Abbey is known for its famous carving of gallowglasses warriors in their armors.

Campbell Spelling Variations

The different spelling variations for this surname are: Campbell, Cambpbell, Canpbell, Canpble, Campbel, Camppbell, Cambell, Campbelle, Cambel, Camble, Campble, Campbll, Campblle, Campbeel, Cambbell, Camball, Campbeull, Caimbeal, Campell, Cample, Compbell, Camphil, Camphill,  Camphell, Cammell, Champbell,  MacCampbell, McCampbell, MacCamphill, McAmphill and Kempbell.

Campbells Who Have Marked their Surname in History

As well as numerous Scottish immigrants of the name many Campbells, especially in County Tyrone, will have Irish origins. The Campbell sept of County Tyrone trace their lineage to Eogan, son of the 5th century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who ruled from the Hill of Tara, County Meath. Eogan and his brother Conall Gulban conquered northwest Ireland, ca.425 AD, capturing the great hill-fort of Grianan of Ailech in County Donegal which commanded the entrance to the Inishowen peninsula between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle.

Hill of Tara, County Meath

A picture of the Hill of Tara, Ireland.

A picture of The Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland, from above.


a picture of Inishowen head Donegal, Ireland

Campbell, in Gaelic Mac Cathmhaoil, is derived from cathmhaol, meaning ‘battle chief’. This name was initially anglicised as McCawell, and also as McCampbell and McCamphill. The Campbells of Tyrone were the leading sept of Clan Ferady (tracing their descent from Faredach, son of Muireadach (Murdock), son of Eogan). At the height of their power in the 12th century, from their base at Clogher, they controlled a large portion of County Tyrone and had penetrated deep into County Fermanagh. They were one of the seven powerful septs supporting O’Neill.


Aileen Campbell; Scottish politician

A picture of Aileen Campbell MSP, Scottish politician and former cabinet secretary for Communities.

Alastair Campbell; British journalist and spokesman


A picture of Alastair Campbell, British journalist and spokesman known for being Tony Blairs's speaker.

Colonel Alexander Campbell of Possil; Scottish soldier

A painting of Colonel Alexander Campbell of Possil who was a Scottish soldier.

Alexander Campbell; American religious figure and a leader of the Restoration Movement

A portrait of Alexander Campbell, American religious figure and a leader of the Restoration Movement, also known as Stone-Campbell Movement.

Archibald Campbell; 1st Marquess of Argyll

A painting of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll.

Archibald Campbell's memorial

A picture of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll's memorial

Archibald Campbell; 9th Earl of Argyll

A portrait of Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll.

Sir Archibald Campbell; British army officer

A portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Archibald Campbell.

Beck Campbell; American musician

A picture of Bec David Campbell known as Beck, American musician and singer, singing.

Brian Campbell; Canadian former ice hockey player

A picture of Brian Campbell, Canadian former ice hockey player.

Bruce Campbell; American actor of Scottish descent

A picture of Bruce Campbell, American movie and TV shows actor of Scottish descent.

Chad Campbell; American golfer

A picture of Chad Campbell, American golfer, doing a golf swing.

Colin Campbell; 1st Baron Clyde and British soldier

A portrait of Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde and a British soldier.

Danielle Marie Campbell; American actress

A picture of Danielle Marie Campbell, American movie actress. she starred in the series The Originals.

Darren Campbell; British athlete and sprinter

A picture of Darren Campbell, British athlete and sprinter (on the right).

Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy; Scottish landowner

A painting of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, a Scottish landowner.

DJ Campbell; English footballer

A picture of Dudley Junior (DJ) Campbell, English footballer.

Eddie Campbell; British comic artist

A picture of Eddie Campbell, British comic artist.

Eddie C. Campbell; American musician and blues guitarist and singer

A picture of Eddie C. Campbell, American musician and blues guitarist and singer.

Isobel Campbell; Scottish musician

A picture of Isobel Campbell, Scottish musician

John Campbell; 1st Duke of Breadalbane and Holland

A portrait of John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland.

Joseph Campbell; American professor

A picture of Joseph Campbell, American professor with Jonathan Young. His most known work is his book called Heroes with a thousand faces.

Kim Campbell; first femlae Prime Minister of Canada

A picture of Kim Campbell, the first female Prime Minister of Canada.

Lewis Campbell; British classical scholar and professor of Greek

A picture of Lewis Campbell, British classical scholar and professor of Greek, engraved on a round metal medal.

Sir Malcolm Campbell; British holder of world land and water speed records

A picture of Sir Malcolm Campbell, British holder of world land and water speed records with his Bluebird race car.

Naomi Campbell; English supermodel and actress

A picture of Naomi Campbell, English supermodel and actress.

Neve Campbell; Canadian actress

A picture of Neve Campbell, Canadian actress. she starred in the movie Scream.

Niall Diarmid Campbell; 10th Duke of Argyll

A picture of Niall Diarmid Campbell, 10th Duke of Argyll with his father, Captain Lord Archibald Campbell at Inveraray Castle.

Nicky Campbell; critical Scottish TV journalist and presenter

A picture of Nicky Campbell, critical Scottish TV journalist and presenter.

Robert Campbell; 5th Laird of Glenlyon

A portrait of Captain Robert Campbell of Glencoe who was one of the commanding officers at the Massacre of Glencoe.

Ron Campbell; Australian director and animator

A picture of Ron Campbell, Australian director and animator, with the Beatles cartoon drawing.

Roy Campbell Jr.; American jazz musician and trumpeter

A picture of Roy Campbell Jr, American Jazz musician and trumpeter, playing the trumpet.

Sharon Campbell; British Diplomat

A picture of Sharon Campbell, British Diplomat, with her husband Chris Campbell.

Sister Simone Campbell; femenist nun

A picture of Sister Simone Campbell, feminist nun and a leader of the Network.

Tevin Campbell; American singer and songwriter

A picture of Tevin Campbell, American singer and songwriter. two of his hit songs are "can we talk" and "I'm ready".

Thomas Campbell; Scottish poet

A portrait of Thomas Campbell, Scottish poet

William Oliver "Billy" Campbell; American actor

A picture of William Oliver "Billy" Campbell, American actor, known for his role as Luke Fuller on the show "Dynasty" and the movie "The Rocketeer".



Add your Campbell Ancestors

This surname history has been researched and written by Brian Mitchell. Brian has been involved in local, family and emigration research in Derry and North West Ireland since 1982. The database whose construction he supervised, containing one million records (dating from 1628 to 1930) extracted from the major civil and church registers of County Derry, can now be accessed at Brian can be contacted by email at

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